Common Sense Splits for Strength and Size

There is a simple compromise that will give you the right balance of frequency and intensity to keep the gains coming.

It’s funny how rapidly things come and go and then come back around again. Training isn’t any different. When it comes to building quality muscle and strength, the pendulum has swung incessantly from one extreme to the other. Many decades ago, champion bodybuilders would perform full-body routines that built impressive, rugged physiques. As time went on, body part splits became the norm as training techniques, and volume took hold the “secret” to building muscle.

As body part split training evolved, so did average gym attitudes and behaviors. No longer did you have to take on the challenge of training so many body parts in one session; now you could focus on a single muscle group and pummel the living heck out of it. And why not, when you have a full week to recover?

Then nostalgia reared its head, and many started to integrate the old ways of full-body training. It came back around, but this time for several different reasons.

The Evolution of the Split

There are many opinions as to how body part training evolved to where it is today in most bodybuilding-style programs. Several include the increased use and ever-improving use of anabolic steroids. This would allow the lifter superior recovery ability, so that he could perform extremely high volume sessions while remaining in an anabolic physical state, without risk of detraining and subsequent atrophy.

Another is the monkey-see, monkey-do mentality. If it’s good enough for professional bodybuilders, it must be good for the masses. Newbies see more experienced lifters on these micro splits, and simply copy them.

But now, we seem to find ourselves back into the good old days of full-body programs and functionally-based training. Many lifters have returned just for the variety, as these programs can include a myriad of training variables. This “master-of-none” attitude is mostly due to the popularity of CrossFit. With its training perspective and inclusion, CrossFit shifted the focus from body parts to systems, big-picture programs, and performance. Like it or not, it has changed things.

But where does this leave the young buck who still desires to build a solid frame of muscle and strength? Full-body circuits, metabolic conditioning, and stamina-based WODs are great for the masses, but what about those who want to pack on slabs of beef to their otherwise rail-thin frames?

The Problems with Bro Splits and Full-Body Splits

Even physique-style training has changed. One main reason is the plethora of research that has flooded the internet. Lifters are much more informed than ever about what science has to say about muscle growth and strength training in general. But somehow, bro-science still dominates most commercial gyms. It dictates that you must train a single body part per day, and only once per week. Mondays are normally reserved for chest, Tuesdays for back, Wednesdays for shoulders or arms, and so on. Legs are optional on bro splits.

The problem for the average, drug-free lifter, is atrophy. Since muscle recovery happens over about a 48-hour timeframe, waiting another five days makes no sense. Over those five days or so, your trained area will have to wait too long for any additional stimulation. Its natural anabolic environment will have come and gone, and you will be starting at square one again. One step forward, one step back.

Sound familiar? How many lifters do you know at your local gym who have failed to change over the last six months, or the last year?

But if adding muscle mass is your goal, training full-body all the time isn’t the answer, either. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with full-body training. It’s great for those who want to get into weight training, and for those after general strength. But for those of you who want to build something powerful and impressive—to reshape your body from a pear to a v-taper—you will need to incorporate some sort of split program. Why? Because in order to facilitate enough volume and intensity into each session, a full-body plan would have you in the gym for hours, and you will quickly burn out as a result.

How to Do Splits Right

Since we aren’t going back to the good old days of full-body training, and bro-splits won’t get us where we want to go, we must meet in the middle, using common sense and realistic expectations. There are several reasons to adopt a simpler split routine that makes sense.

  • It allows you to add more volume if needed without spending a significant amount of time on the gym.
  • You will be able to apply more intensity to each session.
  • You will give your central nervous system time to recuperate.
  • It allows for more creativity when designing your program.

As you can see, a simple split program (one that makes sense and has purpose) is a superior choice for those wanting more from their training.

Sample Splits That Make Sense

Below are a few examples of simple body part split programs that aren’t sliced up into a million pieces. These schedules provide enough frequency, and allow for enough volume and intensity to reap the rewards of all of your effort. Plus, you won’t have to wait an entire week to train something again.

Example A:

  • Monday – Chest/back/shoulders
  • Tuesday – Legs/arms/abs
  • Wednesday – Rest day
  • Thursday – Chest/back/shoulders
  • Friday – Legs/arms/abs
  • Saturday – Rest day
  • Sunday – Rest day

Example B:

  • Monday – Upper body
  • Tuesday – Lower body
  • Wednesday – Rest day
  • Thursday – Upper body
  • Friday – Lower body
  • Saturday – Rest day
  • Sunday – Rest day

Example C: 

  • Monday: Thighs/chest/back
  • Tuesday: Shoulders/arms/abs
  • Wednesday: Rest day
  • Thursday: Thighs/chest/back
  • Friday: Shoulders/arms/abs
  • Saturday: Rest day
  • Sunday: Rest day

Splits Aren’t Just for Bros

You don’t have to be a bro in order to practice a split routine. Stop thinking that body part split training is a dirty term, and adopt a more logical approach to your training.