Training splits are one of the most popular methods for structuring your workouts, and it’s one of our favorites too! But just like with many other approaches to fitness, one size doesn’t fit all. We all have different bodies, goals, and fitness levels, so if you’re interested in splitting your workouts or if you already do it but are not sure if you’re doing it correctly, don’t worry, we’re here to tell you all about training splits and how to properly implement them in order to reap all the benefits! We’ll go over the most common and effective splits, as well as a few rules to keep in mind when splitting your workouts. So grab your pen and paper and let’s start!
What are training splits?
Ever heard someone talking about “leg day” or “back day”? That person probably has training splits! This training method consists of “splitting” your workouts in order to train specific muscles or body parts on each day, dedicating around one hour of your time to hit those specific muscles. By focusing on a handful of muscle groups at a time, you maximize your training and optimize muscle building and strength, allowing your muscles to rest for longer periods of time while you work out your other muscle groups. This is especially useful when your goal is to build muscle mass since you put more focus on each set of muscles, promoting hypertrophy and repair as well as fat loss. It’s also a great method for those who are trying to grow a specific muscle group like the arm muscles because you can target them more intensively with your strength training. So basically, with training splits you have more space to shape your workouts effectively in a way that works for you and your goals while promoting muscle growth and reducing the risk of overtraining!
Common training splits
There are many ways to divide your workouts depending on your goals and your fitness level, so let’s go through some of the most common ones…
- Upper body/lower body split
Just as the name indicates, with this basic training split you work out your upper body on one day and your lower body on another day. The most common plan for this split is working the upper and lower body two times a week, for example: on Monday and Tuesday you train upper and lower body respectively, rest day on Wednesday, repeat your split, then finally you rest until next week. This ensures that your muscles are activated and working while still getting the rest that they need!
- Push/pull split
With this split, you work out your upper and lower pushing muscles (think chest, triceps, calves, quads, shoulders) on one day, and the pulling muscles (biceps, back, hamstrings, abs, glutes) on the next, since these are major muscle groups that support each other in their movements. Some common pulling movements are curls, deadlifts, pull-ups, and chin-ups, and some common pushing ones are squats, lunges, push-ups, and bench press. You can structure this workout just like you would with the upper/lower body split by working out on two consecutive days, resting, training two more days, then resting again.
- Push/pull/legs split
This split is very similar to the push/pull split, but it comes with a twist! Instead of training your upper and lower pushing and pulling muscles, you divide your workouts into three days: upper-body pushing muscles, upper-body pulling muscles, and legs (lower body). This combination of the first two splits is a more dedicated one, focusing on even more specific muscle groups that support each other while targeting the legs on a separate day to really get your lower-body muscles working.
- Five-day split
Looking for more of a challenge? Another popular split is the five-day split, in which you work out each body part on each day, which means dividing your workout into chest, back, shoulders, arms, and legs, with two non-consecutive resting days in between. Abs can be included with chest exercises as well as with back exercises. The catch is that the fewer muscles you train on each day, the more exercises and sets you need to do for each of them in order to really reap the benefits of this workout split.
There’s also the advanced six-day split in which you train chest, back, shoulders and arms but divide the legs into two different days, leaving the last day for resting. This training frequency is preferred by already very active people who have worked their way up and are looking to build a lot of muscle, such as bodybuilders and the more advanced lifters (like powerlifters). An important thing to remember is that everybody is different and our muscles have different recovery times, so body part splits like the 6-day training split or even a 5-day split is definitely not for everyone. There are a few rules to training splits, and one of them is starting slow and working your way up, but we’ll go over that in a second. First, let’s talk about splits as a routine structuring method!
Is it better than a full-body routine?
That’s a good question, but it really depends. There are two main things that you need to take into account in order to determine what’s best for you: your fitness level, and your time.
Considering your fitness level is incredibly important when deciding your approach to working out. If you’re a beginner, training splits can be a little too demanding for you. Since they target specific muscle groups or body regions, you train each of those muscles at a higher intensity, which could be exhausting and even harmful if you’re not used to physical activity since your muscles need more time to recover than regularly active muscles. A full-body routine is great for beginners since they get your entire body working without it being too demanding on any particular muscle group while helping you establish a habit of working out. Then once you’ve adjusted to your routine and need more of a challenge, you can work your way up to training splits. But this doesn’t mean full-body training is just for beginners! By adding some more exercises, more weight, and a few more sets and reps, full-body routines can be great for those at an intermediate to advanced level. It really just depends on each person’s lifestyle and their specific goals!
The other thing that we mentioned is time. Why? Because with training splits you have to be very consistent and work out a few times a week in order to really tackle each muscle group, which means no skipping the gym whenever you want! You need time to commit to this training program, so if you’re a bit short on time, perhaps consider full-body workouts in order to get your training done in less time. For those who are just active enough for two and three-day workout splits, time is probably not a problem yet and you can choose between training splits and full-body workouts, whichever works better for you and your goals. But if you’re looking to work your way up to four and more training days, then you’re going to need some extra time (and energy!) for your active week.
Something to keep in mind when doing full-body workouts is that you shouldn’t train two days in a row, at least not at a high intensity, because you’re probably working out the same muscles as the day before, and thus not giving them enough time to recover properly. With training splits, since you’re working out different muscles on each day, you can work out consecutively as long as you’re giving your body enough time to rest between cycles. Training splits are also preferred over full-body if your goal is building muscle and getting stronger, but if you just want to stay in shape and maintain a healthy lifestyle, then full-body workouts are just as great an option.
Training split rules
There are many things to take into account when splitting your workouts, but we’ve condensed the main ones into six key rules for you to consider when you’re incorporating training splits for the first time into your routine, or to keep in mind if you already follow this method!
These rules are:
- Work from big to small muscles
When splitting your workouts, make sure to start with the bigger muscles each day. Even though smaller muscles recover faster, training them puts a lot of pressure on their adjacent joints and you could risk wearing them out. These small muscle groups also work as secondary and tertiary movers, so if you start by focusing on muscles like the biceps, for example, they’ll be too tired to assist the bigger muscle that they support which is the back when it’s their time to train. Compound exercises are typically the best ones to start with because compound movements work the big muscles with the support of the smaller muscles, and then you can go ahead with isolated exercises to finish your workout!
- Don’t train muscles that support each other on different days
Training muscles that support each other on back-to-back days could put you at risk of overworking them, especially your smaller muscles. You don’t want to work out and fatigue your triceps if you’re going to be training chest the next day! This could seriously decrease your productivity, and then you’ll find yourself working out some muscles more than others throughout the week.
- Don’t skip training days
With training splits, you need to be consistent. If you’re used to full-body workouts, then you know that missing a day may not be the end of the world, since you already tackle every muscle group on each of your workouts. But with training splits, missing a day means missing the entire muscle group that you’re supposed to train that day and you could impair your progress completely. If you think that you can’t keep up with a demanding workout split, whether it’s because of time or because you don’t work out consistently, try reducing it to a two-day split or stick with a full-body routine instead! Or take into account if you have a hectic week coming up and choose to do a full-body split for that week and then go back to your regular training split once you have time.
- Get enough rest
Having an amazing workout routine set up means nothing if you don’t let your muscles recover properly after each day to prevent excessive soreness. And rest doesn’t just mean waiting between workouts, it also includes sleeping well and not engaging in physically demanding activities outside of your own routine unless you decide to incorporate them into your daily workouts - don’t forget that overkill is a real thing! Your muscles need time to recover after being under that much pressure, so be gentle with your body and rest accordingly!
- Start slow and work your way up
As you probably know by now, in the fitness world you must try everything at a slow pace, low intensity, and with lighter weights first before moving on to better and harder exercises. You must do this in order to activate your muscles to prevent injury and build a habit, so take your time to learn proper technique and build a base strength! When trying out training splits, start by splitting your workouts in two days, either with the push/pull or the upper/lower body split, and work your way up to three, four, and five-day training splits as you get stronger and more acquaintanced with the method.
- Keep intensity levels high
Since you’re focusing on different muscle groups each day, you need to work out at a higher intensity than you usually would with a full-body workout in order to really start noticing some progress. Having your training sessions on separate days means more recovery time for each group of muscles if you’re doing it correctly, so training at a high frequency is perfectly safe and actually recommended for training splits! Higher intensity means quicker and more effective results, just be careful with this and remember to work your way up!
There are several ways to get into training splits as we already showed you earlier, but whichever you choose, try to stick with it for about one or two months in order to see the results and see how it works out for you. If the split that you chose is too rough for you, don’t wait to change it, do it right away or lower the intensity to prevent any injuries. But if you see that it works out perfectly and it has the optimal level of difficulty, stick with it for a while in order to build your strength at that specific level and then work your way up to more intense splits!
And while working out according to your fitness level and resting properly are two important pillars of building a healthy lifestyle and achieving your fitness goals, there’s a third one: healthy eating. So be mindful of what you put in your body if you’re looking to get in shape and build some muscle! Getting into a new training method is hard enough, so you don’t need to go all the way in with super healthy foods, instead, you can try to ease into it with these clever and healthy food swaps that we put together for you. With time you’ll start gravitating towards more healthy food choices by yourself and start seeing better results!
If you’re looking for a good training split routine and don’t know where to start, the Fit With Iulia app has you covered! It features goal-focused workouts with a proper training split planned by Iulia (@Fit.With.Iulia on Instagram) every week. There are six programs (4 gym programs and 2 home programs) to choose from, each designed with a specific fitness goal in mind. Plus, it has so many other cool features like progress tracking, videos + directions to help you with form, and all the workouts are available in offline mode, meaning you can download them to workout wherever without needing a WiFi connection!
Want to give it a try? You can try the first workout of any goal for free, no subscription required, just download the Fit With Iulia app, select Goals & Workout, and the first workout for any goal you select will be unlocked for you to try today!