A split workout routine targets one or two specific muscle groups on different days. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that for general health, do two days a week of weight training that targets every muscle group at least once. The American Council on Exercise suggests split workout routines for people who are accustomed to exercise but want to gain more muscle strength, tone and definition. Talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.
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You have many options for three-day splits, depending on your goals and preferences. In their 2008 book "Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning," Thomas R. Baechel and Roger W. Earle say the best range to define your muscles is eight to 12 repetitions for about three sets. Rest 30 to 60 seconds between sets. Do about four to six exercises per muscle group in your splits, to overload the muscles and achieve faster results. If you are new at split routines, start with similar muscle groups in each session; e.g., your pushing and pulling muscles.
Start your split workout routine with the pushing muscles of your chest, shoulders and triceps. The best chest exercises include dumbbell chest presses, dumbbell flys, pushups and bench presses. For the shoulders, try dumbbell shoulder presses, lateral raises and frontal raises. Your triceps muscle acts as a secondary muscle during these pushing exercises, so you do not need to separately work the triceps as hard as you might otherwise. Finish your workout with triceps kickbacks and cable rope pull-downs.
The next day of your split, focus on your legs. Target your hamstrings, your glutei maximi, or glutes, and your quadriceps and calves. Start with the larger muscles first, and finish with your calves. Begin with squats, lunges and deadlifts for total leg activation and muscle gain. For definition, do leg presses, machine leg extensions and lying leg curls. Finish with standing and seated calf raises.
The last day of your three-day split workout routine involves the pulling muscles of your back, along with your biceps and abdominal muscles. Start with lateral pulldowns, seated rows, standing bent-over barbell rows and single-arm dumbbell rows to target all the muscles of your back. For your abs, do planks for 30 seconds, bicycle crunches, incline crunches and leg raises. Do the leg raises on a Roman Chair, often referred to as a Captain's Chair, if one is available. If not, lie on your back for the leg lifts. For your biceps, do dumbbell biceps curls, hammer curls and cable barbell curls.
Ideally, do three-day splits on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, using Tuesdays and Thursdays for cardiovascular workouts only. This enables your body to recover after intense weight training sessions. Change your training splits every four to six weeks to keep your body from falling into a rut and impeding results.
Organizing your weight-training workouts into split routines allows you to spend more time on each muscle group. This is ideal for lifters who are trying to build muscle mass and must spend a significant amount of time in the gym. To increase muscle size, your workouts have to be of high enough volume that your muscles are left overloaded, as this type of stress stimulates them to get bigger. Most weight-training exercises designed to build size require the recruitment of multiple muscle groups, so when putting together a split routine, you want to group muscles that often work together.
Lift weights four or six days per week. A six-day workout schedule allows you to spend even greater time on the muscle groups assigned to each workout, which is ideal for advanced lifters looking to put on size. If you're just starting out on a higher-volume workout or are looking to focus on strength, begin with a four-day workout schedule.
Group your muscles into separate workouts. The major muscle groups include the chest muscles, back muscles, shoulder muscles, biceps, triceps, leg muscles and core muscles. Most chest exercises also recruit the muscles of the shoulders and at times the triceps, so you want to put these muscle groups together. The biceps are often involved in back exercises, so these muscles could be assigned to the same workout. If you're working out four days per week, you want a total of two separate workouts. Group your chest, shoulders, triceps and core in one workout and your back, biceps and legs in the other. If you're working out six days per week, you'll want three separate workouts. Group your chest and shoulder muscles in one workout, your back and leg muscles in the second workout and your biceps, triceps and core in the third workout.
Design your workout schedule so each workout is performed twice weekly. For example, a four-day workout schedule would involve working out on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Focus on your chest, shoulders, triceps and core on Mondays and Thursdays, and your back, biceps and legs on Tuesdays and Fridays. For a six-day workout schedule, hit your chest and shoulders on Mondays and Thursdays, your back and legs on Tuesdays and Fridays and your biceps, triceps and core on Wednesdays and Saturdays. These schedules give your muscles the 72 hours of rest they need between workouts.
If you’re interested in your workouts building strength, complete three to five sets of six or fewer reps of each exercise. If instead you’re trying to build size with your workouts, do three to six sets of six to 12 reps of each exercise.
Work out with a partner so that you each have someone to act as spotter. See your doctor for a physical before starting a new workout program.