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Updated on April 24, 2012

Let's Split

Progress can be achieved with 3 days a week training. Strength, flexibility, and cardio benefits can be improved with limited but consistent workouts. However, there comes a time when you want to push your fitness to the next level. In order to do that you will have to train more often or train longer. The trouble with training longer is at some point a workout can become such a long laborious task that effort toward the end of the workout is nowhere near what it was in the beginning. The later exercises in the workout suffer.

My initial training was 3 days a week and a workout lasted over 2 hours. I do not recommend that to anyone; however, there are young, enthusiastic lifters who train in this marathon fashion. These extra long workouts get to be more of an endurance test than anything else and can tax the adrenal system which slows your progress. It must be remembered the lifting of weights tear down the muscle fibers and the rest period is the time for rebuilding. These long workouts are counterproductive and are a prescription for over training or worse, an injury.

So you have trained 6 months on a 3 day total body program. You've been consistent, made progress, but recently you've hit a plateau. This may be the time to consider a split routine. A split routine is a technique for dividing the workload. Instead of training the full body in one workout, you take 2 or 3 workouts to complete the entire body. There are many ways to split the workouts and one split is not necessarily better than another. Often it comes down to personal preference. I prefer to mix them up after 6 or 8 weeks in order to stay fresh and maintain enthusiasm. It also keeps the muscles guessing so they never become accustomed to one program. You've heard of "muscle confusion".

Let's consider a 2-day split routine. Here are several suggestions of the most popular programs: Upper/Lower Body, Push/Pull, and Torso/Appendages.


Day 1: Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms
Day 2: Thighs, Hamstrings, Calves

Note: Many lifters enjoy this routine; however, the workouts are not balanced time wise. The upper body workouts usually take longer than the leg workouts. Some people do not see this as a disadvantage but rather prefer it. This split program is worth the consideration of any serious lifter.


Day 1: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
Day 2: Back, Legs, Biceps

Note: This routine splits the muscles by their function. Pushing muscles one day and the pulling muscle groups the next training day. Some lifters don't like to split the biceps and triceps preferring to train the total arm during the same workout. Leg training involves both the push and pull muscle function depending on whether you are working the quads or hamstrings. Usually the leg workout is not split and both quads and hamstrings are trained at the same workout.


Day 1: Chest, Back, Shoulders
Day 2: Legs, Arms

Note: Working the complete torso in one workout is a favorite of many bodybuilders. Because of the close proximity of the muscle groups the blood is concentrated in one general area which produces a good pump. On leg day it may take longer to get the pump in the arms because of the blood congestion in the legs. This workout trains the largest muscle group first (the legs) and then the smallest group (the arms).

A 3-day split routine should be reserved for the lifter who has experience with the 2 day split and has a good feel for a split routine. You must be consistent on all split routines because to miss a workout throws off your momentum. A 3-day split is demanding and takes three days to complete the full body. Sometimes you train the three days in a row and then take a day off. That is very demanding on your recovery and should not be considered except for a limited time; such as before a contest. It is more suitable to train two days and rest one before finishing the third day of the 3-day split. Rest a day or two and then repeat the sequence again. Resting one day after your third workout would give you a five day cycle to train the full body. Resting two days after the third workout gives you a 7 day cycle to complete the entire body. The length of a training cycle is determined by many factors such as your level of fitness, time constraints, and your energy level. I was going to include age but "energy level" sounded so much better! On a 3-day split one workout day is reserved for legs only.


Day 1: Chest, Back
Day 2: Legs
Day 3: Shoulders, Triceps, Biceps

Once you've tried a split program it is unlikely you'll go back to a full body workout. The split routines are time efficient and that extra time allows a selection of a wide variety of exercises, set and rep schemes. You've probably noticed that I did not include abdominal work in the split routines; so where does the abdominal work fit in? Answer: EVERY DAY!!!


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