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Six Training Splits to Optimize Results

Choosing which training method is best can be a very difficult task. There are so many systems out there that most people don’t truly understand how to pick the best method for their goals. To add to the confusion, you also need to find the best training split. Should it be a full body split? A push/pull? An upper/lower? 

When I first started weight training back in 1988, I would follow the workouts from an old-school Italian bodybuilding book that was translated to French, “Le Grand Livre Du Culturisme”, written by Jean Cianti. This book was my first exposure to training and I would follow all the programs diligently. I remember doing all kinds of training splits and always being fascinated with the reasoning behind every microcycle set-up. One of the splits was an upper/lower split that was repeated three times per week for a total of six sessions per week. Compounded with the fact that each session lasted 2 hours, I quickly became exhausted with the high frequency and high volume. I was always excited for my rest day on Sunday.

Then I stumbled on Mike Mentzer’s “Heavy Duty II: Mind And Body” where some of the splits called for one full body session once every fourteen days. I was so excited that training less was finally the answer. Fast-forward three days, I was so bored that I went back to the high frequency split I was using before.

At this point, I’ve tried countless training splits with myself and my clients. Some were great and some not so great. In this article, I will reveal the most succesful splits I use for different situations and goals.  I will cover splits for body composition improvements, hypertrophy training and strength development. With each category, I will also elaborate on the reasons why I believe these splits are the most effective for each training goal. If you are interested in understanding the reasoning behind my favorite training splits, keep reading!

Body Composition

First, it’s important to understand that the primary goal of a body composition block is increasing metabolic cost of exercise while optimizing hormonal environment for fat loss. For this reason, whenever I design a program for someone looking for fast changes in their body composition, I like to use a full body split.

Here is an example of a 3-week phase:

Week 1

Monday: Full Body 1

Tuesday: Full Body 2

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Full Body 1

Friday: Full Body 2

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

Week 2

Monday: Full Body 1

Tuesday: Full Body 2

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Full Body 1

Friday: Full Body 2

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

Week 3

Monday: Full Body 1

Tuesday: Full Body 2

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Full Body 1

Friday: Full Body 2

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

I like to use two different full body sessions that are repeated twice during the training week. I have found that with the majority of clients, using more than two different full body sessions during a microcycle leads to less than optimal results. The reason might be attributed to the increased motor learning demands required to adapt to multiple upper and lower body movement patterns at every session.

Alternating between full body 1 and full body 2 for a total of four sessions per week over a three-week phase will allow you to repeat each session six times. Six sessions will be enough exposures to create the metabolic adaptation required for increased fat mobilization, but not so high that stagnation occurs.

Undergoing a body composition cycle using a body part split is fine for physique competitiors, but for trainees looking to greatly enhance overall fat loss, the metabolic demand of full body training is unmatched.

In my opinion, fat loss is best achieved when the training is aggressive and focused for a period of three months. Using high volume and high frequencies beyond twelve weeks through full body exposures becomes counter productive as a point of diminishing return will follow due to excess fatigue.

Hypertrophy

With hypertrophy training, I like to use a different split depending on if I’m writing an accumulation phase or an intensification phase. Because the accumulation phases call for more overall training volume, I like to use a body part split to better spread the work load throughout the week. The more volume per session you subject a body part to, the less frequency is required for a positive training response.

Here are my favorite three-week splits for hypertrophy accumulation phases:

Option 1

Week 1

Monday: Arms & Shoulders

Tuesday: Lower Body

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Chest & Back

Friday: Off

Saturday: Arms & Shoulders

Sunday: Lower Body

Week 2

Monday: Off

Tuesday: Chest & Back

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Arms & Shoulders

Friday: Lower Body

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Chest & Back

Week 3

Monday: Off

Tuesday: Arms & Shoulders

Wednesday: Lower Body

Thursday: Off

Friday: Chest & Back

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

With this option, you will be training each body part once every five days for a total of four sessions each over the course of the entire phase. This split is my favorite introductory hypertrophy phase. The workouts are challenging, but the frequency allows enough recovery for constant progress.

Notice that the smaller upper body muscles are stacked right before the lower body workout, leaving the bigger upper body muscles of the chest and back session alone between two off days. I have found that this set-up is favorable for recovery purposes.

Option 2

Week 1

Monday: Chest & Arms

Tuesday: Lower Body

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Back & Shoulders

Friday: Off

Saturday: Chest & Arms

Sunday: Lower Body

Week 2

Monday: Off

Tuesday: Back & Shoulders

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Chest & Arms

Friday: Lower Body

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Back & Shoulders

Week 3

Monday: Off

Tuesday: Chest & Arms

Wednesday: Lower Body

Thursday: Off

Friday: Back & Shoulders

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

This split has the same frequency as option 1, but the pairing of a larger muscle with a smaller muscle is beneficial for stronger trainees or athletes with reduced work capacity. 

Option 3

Week 1

Monday: Chest & Back

Tuesday: Lower Body

Wednesday: Arms & Shoulders

Thursday: Posterior Chain

Friday: Chest & Back

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

Week 2

Monday: Lower Body

Tuesday: Arms & Shoulders

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Chest & Back

Friday: Posterior Chain

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

Week 3

Monday: Arms & Shoulders

Tuesday: Lower Body

Wednesday: Chest & Back

Thursday: Posterior Chain

Friday: Arms & Shoulders

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

Option 3 is my personal favorite. The upper body muscles are trained four times each within the three-week period while the lower body muscles are trained three times. Considering that smaller muscles recover faster, this split (fourteen sessions instead of twelve over the three-week period) allows for more overall work while still maximizing recovery.

Option 4

Week 1

Monday: Chest

Tuesday: Back

Wednesday: Lower Body

Thursday: Arms & Shoulders

Friday: Posterior Chain

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

Week 2

Monday: Chest

Tuesday: Back

Wednesday: Lower Body

Thursday: Arms & Shoulders

Friday: Posterior Chain

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

Week 3

Monday: Chest

Tuesday: Back

Wednesday: Lower Body

Thursday: Arms & Shoulders

Friday: Posterior Chain

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

This split is great with advanced lifters who already possess a substantial base of hypertrophy and strength. The frequency of each body part trained once every 7 days requires the use of greater volume to account for the extra recovery days. With this split I like to use between 24 to 36 sets per workout.

Now, let’s take a look at my favorite three-week split for hypertrophy intensification phases:

Week 1

Monday: Upper Body 1

Tuesday: Lower Body 1

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Upper Body 2

Friday: Lower Body 2

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

Week 2

Monday: Upper Body 1

Tuesday: Lower Body 1

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Upper Body 2

Friday: Lower Body 2

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

Week 3

Monday: Upper Body 1

Tuesday: Lower Body 1

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Upper Body 2

Friday: Lower Body 2

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

With hypertrophy cycles, I feel that one very underrated aspect of the muscle mass equation is strength. The ability to use more motor units and fire higher threshold fibers will definitely be beneficial for the following volume based phase. The more total fibers you can train, the more mass you can gain. Strength is best developed with primary compound lifts. The use of body part splits can be counterproductive to this goal.

Strength

Strength is a trainee’s ability to create intramuscular and intermuscular coordination of motor units through quality rehearsal of multi-joint compound movements. Generally, the most efficient way to achieve this neural adaptation is with moderate volume, but higher exposures. At this point, spending training units on smaller muscles detract from the goal of achieving superior strength development.

Here is my favorite split for 3-week strength phases:

Week 1

Monday: Upper Body 1

Tuesday: Lower Body 1

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Upper Body 2

Friday: Lower Body 2

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

Week 2

Monday: Upper Body 1

Tuesday: Lower Body 1

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Upper Body 2

Friday: Lower Body 2

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

Week 3

Monday: Upper Body 1

Tuesday: Lower Body 1

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Upper Body 2

Friday: Lower Body 2

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

With this split, each muscle group is trained twice a week for a total of four weekly training sessions. Although the volume per body part is moderate, the higher training load from the compound lifts require more overall recovery. With intermediate to advanced lifters, I like to use two different upper and lower body sessions per microcycle to challenge the adaptive mechanism to a greater extent while minimizing joint overload from high frequencies of identical motor patterns.

I prefer to train the lower body on Tuesday and Friday so that the most demanding sessions are followed by a recovery day. Furthermore, the performance of the overhead press (a key exercise for upper body strength) is optimized when the lower back and abdominal musculature is fully rested from the weekend break. Trying to execute your best overhead press performance the day after you trashed your lower back on squats or deadlifts is not the best thing for overall upper body strength development.   

There are many different splits to choose from when you are designing a training program. Some are great, some not so much, but it is key to make sure the training split makes sense for the goals you are trying to achieve. I hope this article provided some insight in helping you choose your next training split.

-SC

www.kilostrengthsociety.com

Stéphane has spent the last 24 years perfecting his work. He has a strong formal academic foundation, earning a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from the University of Montreal. Stéphane recently published his first book, 66 Strategies to Program Design.  In his career Stéphane has personally trained professional athletes in football (NFL), baseball (MLB), and hockey (NHL).  Stéphane’s passion is program design. His program design is carefully structured with every possible component taken into consideration to ensure the trainee reaches and exceeds their goals, making his work a combination of both science and art.

 

Written by Stephane Cazeault