6 Training Splits to Help You Conquer Your Workout Plateau
Last Updated: Sep 01, 2016
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Everyone's been there -- that moment when you realize you're not losing weight or gaining muscle, and it drains your motivation. When unproductive workouts become the norm, it’s time for a change. Unfortunately, modifying only one of your exercises isn't going to cut it. The solution? A new training strategy that will bring fresh motivation, more fat loss and new levels of performance. There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to working out, so read on to learn about six different training splits and decide which one is right for you.
TOTAL-BODY TRAINING SPLIT
Total-body training splits are maximally efficient and train the body as a whole. PROS: This is ideal for those short on time or who are new to weightlifting and looking for a full-body workout. The high frequency of muscle recruitment (how many times you’ll target a muscle in a given workout) and moderate training volume suits many goals and fitness levels. Total-body training is better for athletes and allows easier integration of sport-specific training like sprints. Your workouts will focus on the essential, not 13 variations of an exercise. Total-body workouts are great for beginners, fat loss and general health. CONS: Low intra-workout volume may hinder metabolic-stress-related hypertrophy, or in other words, it'll stunt the increase of muscle size. Stronger lifters may struggle to recover from training just their legs three or more times a week. It’s also difficult to train more than three to four times per week without knowledge of autoregulation, which is when people apply flexibility to their training sessions to accommodate how they're feeling on a given day. SAMPLE SCHEDULE: Monday: power clean 5x3, bench press 3x6, lunge 3x8, farmer walks 3x30 steps, dips 3x12; Tuesday: off; Wednesday: push press 5x3, deadlift 4x6, chin-up 3x8 to 3x12, plank 3x30 seconds, biceps curl 3x12; Thursday: off; Friday: back squat 5x3; bent-over row 4x6, dumbbell bench press 3x8, dumbbell curl 3x12, hip thrust 3x12; Saturday/Sunday: off/conditioning
How to Do a Split-Routine Workout
Body-part splits are common among bodybuilding programs. In most cases, five or six training sessions target a different muscle group each day throughout the week. PROS: Body-part splits use greater exercise variation to target individual muscles. They’re great for shocking muscles into growth due to the heavy load placed on a single muscle group at a time. Increased volume and metabolic stress lead to greater hypertrophy than other splits, so it’s ideal for bodybuilders. CONS: It’s difficult to train with heavy, multi-joint lifts without being hindered by recovery from previous workouts. Body-part splits are time-consuming and impractical for busy people. Body-part splits “major in the minors” and are appearance-based -- not the best option for athletes, beginners or busy professionals. SAMPLE SCHEDULE: Monday: chest; Tuesday: back; Wednesday: shoulders; Thursday: legs; Friday: arms and abs; Saturday/Sunday: off
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UPPER/LOWER TRAINING SPLIT
Upper/lower training splits are a novel progression for total-body training that allows more recovery time than total-body splits while maintaining training volume. Workouts alternate between upper-body (chest, arms, back and shoulders) and lower-body (quads, hamstrings, calves and lower back) sessions for four workouts a week. PROS: Upper/lower training splits are a great option for total-body training and work well for most people. They allow greater training frequency than body-part splits for quicker learning and mastery while still using significant loading. Upper/lower splits offer a moderate training frequency at moderately high volume. CONS: Because upper-body workouts usually take much longer than most lower-body sessions, you’ll have unbalanced training times. Upper/lower training splits offer shorter recovery time between training sessions compared to body-part splits, which may hinder recovery. Lower-body training can be brutal, so doing it twice a week might be too much for beginners. SAMPLE SCHEDULE: Monday: upper body; Tuesday: lower body; Wednesday: off/active recovery; Thursday: upper body; Friday: lower body; Saturday/Sunday: off
Full Upper/Lower Split-Body Workout
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PUSH-PULL TRAINING SPLIT
Push-pull training splits break up training routines by movement pattern (pushing and pulling, hence the name). The movements on the back of the body (legs/hamstrings, back, biceps, lower back) are predominantly responsible for pulling actions, while the front of the body (chest, shoulders, triceps, legs/quads, abs) is responsible for pushing actions. Legs are often paired on pull days. PROS: Push-pull routines are suitable for intermediate to advanced trainees. The routines are an economical way to train, and moderate frequency of movement is better for skill acquisition than body-part split routines. Lastly, push-pull routines can combine with other training splits, such as an upper-lower push-pull routine. CONS: Push-pull splits are limited within athletic populations because they segregate the body by muscles that work together. Additionally, this type of split is probably too advanced for beginners, but it’s great for intermediates. SAMPLE SCHEDULE: Monday: pull; Tuesday: push; Wednesday: off; Thursday: pull; Friday: push; Saturday/Sunday: off
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Also known as noncompeting supersets, these training splits work opposing muscle groups in the same session. For example, a dumbbell bench press and a chest-supported row or a biceps curl with a triceps extension. PROS: Noncompeting supersets are good for building muscle and achieving one-to-one training balance on opposing sides of the body. Antagonist supersets may improve performance, metabolic stress and muscular-damage-related hypertrophy. Noncompeting supersets are flexible and can allow for three to six days of training based on training age. Supersets are easily done to maximize training efficiency. CONS: The splits are difficult to integrate with movement skills, making noncompeting supersets as a primary method less than ideal for athletes. It’s also a bit advanced for beginners and tough to recover from for older lifters if the volume is too high. SAMPLE SCHEDULE: Monday: chest/back; Tuesday: legs (shoulders optional); Wednesday: off; Thursday: chest/back; Friday: biceps/triceps; Saturday/Sunday: active recovery/off
Opposing-Muscle Superset Workout
These splits combine major movers of an exercise with secondary movers in the same training day. For example, the back and biceps together or chest and triceps together. PROS: Primary-mover supersets offer flexible training frequency with three to six days of training per week. Supersets create time-efficient workouts. High training volume yields greater muscular damage in between workouts, a key factor in muscle growth. CONS: These training splits are too advanced for beginners and tough to recover from for older lifters. Variability in training frequency may be difficult to organize without formal education and practice. SAMPLE SCHEDULE: Monday: back and biceps; Tuesday: chest and triceps; Wednesday: legs (optional shoulders); Thursday: back and biceps; Friday: chest and triceps; Saturday/Sunday: off
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CONSIDER WHAT YOUR GOAL IS
To maximize your training split, your goals must be clear. Focusing on isolation isn’t ideal for athletes; you need to move the body as an integrated unit. If you’re aiming to lose as much fat as possible, you don’t need to spend time working your biceps. Make your goal as specific as possible, and then tailor your training split to help you reach it.
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TAKE YOUR SCHEDULE INTO ACCOUNT
Regardless of how busy you are you still have 24 hours in a day like everyone else. The question isn’t whether you have the time, it’s whether you’ll make the time. If training two hours a day, five days a week isn’t ideal for you, pick a more efficient split. A workout is only as good as it’s execution. Determine what you’ll do, and then act on it.
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THINK ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE LEVEL
Training age is a highly variable but important factor in training. Beginners jump on body-part splits and isolation workouts before they’re strong enough to reap the rewards of focused isolation. Older lifters find they can’t train as hard as often due to greater neural requirements, joint stress and recovery. Pick a training split that challenges you but doesn’t provide more than your body is able to recover from.
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FACTOR IN YOUR RECOVERY TIME
The body is an integrated system. Rather than simply looking at recovery based on how your muscles feel, you must also take into account everyday stress, your nervous system, sleep quality and nutrition. The volume of your activity adds up by the end of the week. Sometimes circumstances and injuries make it so that you can’t train as hard or as heavy as you once could. Take into account all the little stressors for your training and adapt based on how your body feels.
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There’s more than one way to do things. A body-part split might not be the best for you, as some people respond better to total-body training splits and higher frequency. While this isn’t an exhaustive list of training splits, it’s should infuse some new ideas into your training. Don’t overcomplicate things -- find a program that fits your schedule and your goals and stick with it for a few months. Then, once results slow down, revisit this article to shock your body to new levels of fitness.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Have you used any of these training splits before in your workout regimen? How did they work for you? Did you see the results you wanted? Which one of these are you going to try next? Are there any splits we missed? How do you vary your workout? Let us know in the comments below!
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