Which Training Split is best for building muscle?
I absolutely love writing out training plans, I used to enjoy it so much that I would pretty much change my plan every 2 weeks or so because I suddenly thought of a new way to organise the days, the exercises and the recovery. Only issue with this is that it doesn’t really give your body time to adapt or feel the full benefits of that style of training before moving on. Thankfully I can now express this love of programme writing by doing everyone else’s programmes for client’s on this website (even though I won’t lie more than once I’ve been writing out someone’s programme and felt slightly jealous about a particular part and then sneaked it into my own training, just because I couldn’t resist.)
*The training splits mentioned are not an exhaustive list, they are just some of the main training splits that I have found effective for either myself or clients training over a variety of number of days a week. Moreover, these splits are aimed predominantly at people who are looking for aesthetic benefits (build muscle, tone up etc) people looking for power lifting or Crossfit programming could run these splits but personally for these people I would structure the splits differently. Additionally, anyone who has an injury or more specific needs likely may need a different structuring of the split, just drop me a message and I would be more than happy to help!*
What are the main training splits?
To answer that question, the first question is how many days a week can you train because this combined with your goals can often make 80% of the decision for you in regards to training split.
1 or 2 days per week:
For most people this is very low volume unless you are a complete beginner, progress will be a lot slower because of this lower volume. If you do chose this option, then I would say your best choice is Full body both days.
3 days per week
For the large majority of 3 day per week trainees I would recommend the Push, pull, legs approach. I have personally used the 2nd choice here and recommended it to only two people in my entire time of doing programmes, this is because the 2nd recommendation is only really valid for a certain group.
Push (Chest, Shoulders, Triceps), Rest, Pull (Back and biceps), Rest, Rest, Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes and calves), Rest
Push (Chest, Shoulders, Triceps), Rest, Pull (Back and biceps), Rest, Rest, Full body, Rest
The group that I recommend the later to are people who currently do a sport or activity outside of the gym which is very leg dominant such as running or cycling (I used it when I was running) but they’re goal is not sport specific and instead is aesthetic with them wanting to increase the amount of muscle they have in the upper body, to help facilitate this the volume of upper body training has been set so you can hit all upper body major muscle groups twice per week, and on the full body day most leg exercises will be the big compounds to get most ‘bang for your buck’ then the rest of the leg stimulus will come from the sporting training.
4 days per week
Upper, Lower, Rest, Upper, Lower, Rest, Rest
· Hit all major muscles twice per week
Push, Pull, Legs, Rest, Upper, Rest, Rest
· Similar to above main difference is places more emphasis on the upper body so the better choice of the two if that is more your goal
5 days per week
Push, Pull, legs, Rest, Push, Pull, Rest
The above approach and any approach with the same 5 days, just in a different order is ideal for anyone who is slightly more focused on building upper body muscle than lower body muscle, this approach also works for the groups mentioned above who train their legs additionally through other outside of the gym exercise.
Push, Pull, Legs, Rest, Upper, Lower, rest
This approach gives you most of the benefits of the 6 day a week 2 rounds of push, pull, legs approach but saves you and extra day!
6 days per week
Here’s the juicy one with endless possibilities:
1. Push, Pull, legs, Push, Pull, Legs, Rest
2. Push, Pull, legs, Rest, Push, pull, legs
3. Legs, Push, Pull, rest, Legs, push, pull
4. Legs, Push, Pull, Legs, Push, Pull, rest
5. Pull, Push, Legs, Pull, Push, legs, Rest
I could continue with these slight variations of push, pull, legs for about another 2 pages but I think you get the idea. Let me just explain why you might chose a few of the different ones and which one I personally would recommend.
Whether you put the rest mid week or at the end of the week is entirely up to you, one main argument for the mid week rest is if in option 2 you have hit some heavy squats in the leg session on day 3 or in option 3 you have hit some heavy deadlifts in either scenario more than just your body will be tired, your Central Nervous System will be heavily taxed and usually after this sort of treatment to your body rest is the perfect treatment.
Some people dread legs in which case training them first day of the week on a Monday is a great way to make sure you don’t skip it! Additionally, most people train upper body on a Monday so if you go against the grain and train legs you will find it far easier to get on all of the equipment you need. Lastly if your legs are a lagging area that you really want to target then train them right at the start of the week and give them 100%.
Here’s where it really becomes smart, if like me your lower back can sometimes be a tiny bit temperamental and doesn’t really like working too hard then doing deadlifts in the pull workout on day 2 then squats in the leg workout on day 3, it will likely lead to some mighty uncomfortable moving about in the following days, that is why whenever I run this split I do Pull day 1 (including deadlifts), legs day 3 (including squats), then pull day 4 (but this time more focus on pull ups and rows).
Moving away from push Pull legs you have also got:
Upper, Lower, Upper, Lower, Upper, Lower, Rest
The main benefit of this is VOLUME! You have the opportunity to train each muscle group 3 times per week, I have tried this approach before and I liked it, the main reason I stopped it was my legs don’t need to be trained 3 days per week, they respond pretty well to lower volume so I took out one of the leg days to focus more on upper body.
7 days per week
I personally don’t believe anyone should train in the gym 7 days per week and for the most part the scientific community agrees with me on this. I do however, quite often go for a run or a cycle or teach a spin class on a day that is my “rest day” from the gym. I have tried training in the gym 7 days per week and depending on your level of training experience you can sometimes get away with it for a few weeks but sooner or later the quality of all of your sessions starts to suffer because your body is just not getting the chance to recover!
To Sum up
Your training split is a very personal thing and ultimately you just need to find the one that works best for you, the main things I consider with clients when deciding what training split works best for them are:
· Does it help achieve their goal?
· Does it fit in with their lifestyle?
· Is it sustainable?
· Does it allow adequate recovery time?
· Do they enjoy it?
I included the last point because I think sometimes we all forget ultimately training should be something we enjoy, we may not enjoy every set of every exercise but in general it should be a pleasant experience and our training split should help facilitate that!
As always if anyone has any questions just drop me a message, and go check out the personalised programme options here on BM Fitness!
Next Week’s Topic – Hot and Cold Therapy