Selecting a Suitable Training Split for Your Goals
Understanding the benefit of suitable training split selection is imperative for really getting the most bang for your buck. The selection of an appropriate training split is entirely subjective to varying factors such as:
- Overall goal
- Recovery capability
- Time available
- Equipment available
Each training split will be subject to change depending on the individual but will follow the same principle of progressive overload in order to induce hypertrophy.
Probably the most popular split among the general population, the “bro” split has plenty of plausible rationale behind it despite surrounding negative stigma. A typical “bro” split session will comprise of workouts such as chest and triceps, back and biceps etc, with workouts relying on varied exercise selection to provide stimulus to a selected muscle, this method focuses primarily on training specific muscles as opposed to a movement pattern e.g. chest as opposed to push movements.
This training split is typically not the most ideal for amateur athletes, the reason for this being the limited frequency in which muscles can be trained over a weekly period, as this split typically only facilitates 1 session per week. Assuming efficient nutrition and rest protocols are being adhered to, a muscle group will not require an entire week of rest, regardless to whether or not there is a significant amount of localized volume during sessions.
Training a muscle group once per week reduces the capacity to accrue a higher amount of weekly volume. A reduction in frequency when not required, is sub-optimal when the goal is overall muscle hypertrophy, for example, if one trains their chest twice per week using a basic upper/lower split, they would end up with 104 individual opportunities for hypertrophy over the course of 1 year for that particular muscle, as opposed to the 52 you would get by training it only once per week.
For those with sport specific training or muscular imbalances, where maximal hypertrophy is not the primary goal, this split may prove effective at targeting sport specific movement patterns or focusing training intensity to a specific muscle group. This approach will still elicit muscular hypertrophy regardless of training experience, however, just not at an optimal/maximal rate.
Typically, this split will accommodate 5-6 sessions per week, although is subject to change depending on individual need.
My personal favourite of all training splits is the push/pull/legs split and is one that is applicable to any nature of athlete whether that be amateur or professional. This approach allows one to accrue more accumulative volume over the course of the training week, in which more emphasis is placed on multi-joint compound exercises as opposed to isolation-based exercises or targeting specific muscles. (these workouts will still contain isolation movements).
Push workouts typically consist of chest, shoulders and triceps, with pull workouts targeting back and biceps. Leg workouts include quads, hamstrings and calves.
As mentioned above, this split prioritises the use of multi-joint compounds such as horizontal/vertical pressing variations, hip hinges (e.g. deadlifts/RDLs) and horizontal/ vertical pulling motions. Due to increased muscle recruitment, these sessions will lead to a higher degree of systemic stress, as a result a higher amount of rest days will typically be required (around 3/4).
Depending on individual recovery capability and needs, this split can have additional sessions, such as a second leg focused day, however, recovery should be a top priority when programming this.
In my opinion, this split is particularly effective at achieving sufficient stimulus for maximal hypertrophy, provided there is appropriate recovery protocols and few form discrepancies, as this will mitigate systemic stress.
Another exceptionally advantageous option when choosing an appropriate training split, upper/lower splits do exactly what they say on the tin and can benefit everyone, from someone just looking to begin weight training, or an experienced bodybuilder.
Upper/lower splits accommodate a versatile and pragmatic approach to programming, typically programmed as either 2 sessions or 4 sessions per week. They allow for increased training frequency across the board, although due to the increased volume of compound movements within each session, strict recovery is often a necessity. Due to the majority of available energy stores being used for multi-joint movements at the beginning of the session, those who utilize this strategy are typically short of energy when it comes to isolation movements (e.g. bicep curls) at the end of the session.
This split is exceptionally suitable for those with limited availability to train, whether those limitations be from time/schedule or from lack of access to kit. This split may be suitable for those new to the gym, as well as an effective approach for trained athletes, provided that workouts are carefully structured to individual needs with recovery capabilities considered.
The final option when deciding on a training split is the option of training only on a full body basis, most suitable for those who are training solely for leisure purposes, those who have limited equipment or those who have sport specific training. Training on a full body basis is sufficient to elicit muscular hypertrophy, although not optimally due to the sheer length of these workouts, restricting the intensity in which you can perform across the board. Training full body increases the risk of training above one’s maximal recovery volume (MRV), thus increasing the risk of poor recovery and possible injury. They are a generalized training approach best suited to beginners, the elderly etc as they will elicit some muscular hypertrophy and allow for the strengthening of tendons/ligaments, however under most circumstances would not be applicable to the experienced athlete.
These are not the only training approaches available and can be moulded/ mixed to suit individual needs. Before carrying out such approaches it is important to understand the varying definitive/limiting factors that are subjective to one’s situation, only then can a suitable training approach be chosen
By Tireoghain O’Neill