When you first start working out, one of the most confusing questions you’ll face is what workout split to follow.
A workout split refers to how you’ll organize your training throughout the week.
The reason it’s called a split is because most workout plans split up your training in a way that has you train different muscle groups or exercises on different days of the week.
Sounds simple enough: some days you train some muscle groups or exercises, other days you train other muscle groups or exercises.
Of course, it’s not that simple.
There are countless ways to organize a week of workouts, but everyone has an opinion on what works best, and they’ll tell you you’re wrong if you’re not following exactly what they recommend.
Should you do traditional bodybuilder workouts where you train each muscle group once per week, obliterating it with as many sets as possible?
Or should you follow one of the minimalist full-body strength-training programs that have become popular over the past few years?
Or should you do something in the middle, like a push pull legs split?
Well, the short answer is that none of these approaches is perfect.
There isn’t one “best” workout split, and the best one for you depends on your goals, training experience, and preferences.
If you’re having trouble deciding how many days per week to work out, which muscle groups to work on which days, or which workout split would work best for your goals, this podcast is for you.
Let’s start by looking at what a workout split is.
4:42 – What is a workout split?
11:05 – What is the best workout split?
13:01 – The body part split
26:43 – The upper lower split
30:16 – Push pull legs
39:24 – The full body workout
Mentioned on the show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Ahoy there! I’m Mike Matthews, this is Muscle For Life. Thank you for joining me today to learn about one of the most confusing aspects of training. Something that I get asked all the time about, and that is, which workout split. To follow and why? What is a workout split? It’s just how you organize your training throughout the week.
It’s called a split because most plans split up your workouts in a way that have you train different muscle groups on certain days or different exercises on certain days, or in some cases it’s just a mashup of. A full body split is one option, for example, and it sounds pretty simple. All right, so you could do a body part split.
For example, you could just train your chest on one day and your back muscles on another day, and your legs and your arms and shoulders. Or maybe you could do a push pull legs. You could train your push muscles one day and your pull and your legs, maybe take a day off and do it again. And there are several other popular splits that I’ll be talking about in this podcast.
Okay. Simple enough. Where it gets complicated though is when you start listening to people talk about which split is best and. And there are many opinions on this. Should you be doing full body programming, which is particularly popular right now. What about body parts splits? Those have been shit on for a long time Now.
Are they actually useless or do they have certain applications? What about push pull legs? What about push legs? Poll and in this podcast I’m gonna give you a crash course in workout splits. I’m going to quickly summarize the major splits, how they work, what the pros and cons are of each, because each popular split does have pros and cons and.
Each popular type of split out there has its uses. Sometimes it makes sense to follow a body part split, sometimes it does not. And that applies to each of the other workout splits that we are going to be talking about in today’s episode. And by the end of it, you will know which split or splits you should be following.
You may have several options. Most people do have several options. For most people there. One single best workout split, and there certainly is not one single best workout split for everyone, no matter their circumstances. Also, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my v i p one-on-one coaching service because my team and I have helped people of all ages and all circumstances lose fat, build muscle, and get into the best shape of their life faster than they ever thought.
And we can do the same for you. We make getting fitter, leaner, and stronger, paint by numbers simple by carefully managing every aspect of your training and your diet for you. Basically, we take out all of the guesswork, so all you have to do is follow the plan and watch your body change day after day, week after week, and month after.
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Okay, let’s start with what a workout split is. I mentioned this in the intro, but you might not have listened to the intro. So a workout split simply refers to what exercises and what muscle groups you’re training on different days of the week. It is really that simple. Now, it is important to follow some kind of split because the best way to make no progress in the gym.
To not go to the gym . And the second best way to make no progress is to just do random things to not have any rhyme or reason as to which exercises you are doing on which day and which muscle groups you’re training on which day, and how much time you are giving those muscle groups to recover before you train them again.
And that doesn’t mean that. To get very fancy and you have to fire up Excel and build out a year long program with all types of Puritization techniques. But it does mean that you need a system to follow, and that system needs to be based on sound training principles that, for example, allow you to subject.
Each major muscle group to enough weekly volume to be able to progressively overload those muscle groups to increase weight on the bar, weight on the dumbbells over time. And also exercise selection plays into this. So how often are you doing, for example, the big compound lifts, How frequently are you doing them and where are they falling in terms of not just your weekly programming?
So for example, are you squatting on. First day of the week or your last day of the week. And in some cases, in the case of if your squat is behind or your legs are behind and you really wanna bring them up, then you should be squatting earlier in the week, not later. Whereas if you are more concerned about bringing up, let’s say you’re bench press or you’re deadlift, you would wanna do those earlier in the week.
And when you’re just fresher and have. Energy and you have less peripheral fatigue accumulated from your workouts, and you’d be squatting later in the week and you get the idea. Those are some of the variables that must be accounted for when you are building out a workout program or otherwise stated building out your workout split.
So just to give you a couple of examples, an upper lower split as it is referred to, involves dividing your workouts into upper body workouts. Lower body workouts, and then you alternate between those. So you might have like upper A, upper B, lower A, lower B, and if you were wanting to emphasize your upper body, for example, you might go A, B, A, Let’s say you’re training five days a week, so Monday, Wednesday, Friday, upper A, B, and then A again.
And then on Tuesday and Thursday lower a lower B. Or you could flip that around if you wanted to emphasize your lower body. You might start the week with lower a Monday and then do upper a Tuesday and then do lower B Wednesday, upper B Thursday, and then lower a again on Friday. And so that gives you an idea of how a workout split works.
Again, there are several other types of workout splits. We will talk about them now. Quickly though, I want to address the claim. That you don’t need to follow any type of workout split. That workout splits just as a concept are antiquated and we have now moved beyond that. And it’s more just about looking very specifically at the exercises you are doing at the major muscle groups you are training at the weekly volume you are doing per major muscle group and how you are progressing and yeah, that’s fine, but even if you start that granularly.
You end up with something that is a mashup of workout splits, you’ll end up with, for example, a push pull leg split with a couple of full body workouts thrown in or something that looks like an upper lower split with a couple of body part workouts thrown in. So a combination of upper, lower and body part or something that is primarily a body part split with maybe an extra leg workout or two thrown.
And so my point is, anyone who negs the entire idea of a workout split is really just engaging in so sophistry. It’s probably for marketing reasons, because saying contrarian things, just going against the norms gets attention, and that is an easy way to do it. You have to stop training like this if you want to supercharge your gains.
So anyway, using workout splits in your programming is an effective way to ensure that your training is effective. In some cases, it is as simple as following a workout split, more or less, exactly as it’s laid out by someone like me, for example. So [email protected], I have articles on different types of splits.
For example, I have articles on upper, lower. Workouts, how to work that split. I have a popular article on the push pull legs split, and I have articles on body part workouts as well, how to make a body part split work. And again, sometimes it makes sense to combine splits into a Frankenstein split, especially if you are minimally in intermediate.
Probably mostly an advanced weightlifter. I think that’s where it makes the most sense to essentially get as fancy as it makes sense to ever get in your programming. When you’re new, you can keep it real simple. You don’t have to overthink it. You don’t have to make things more complex than they need to be.
Your body is so responsive to your training. You just show up and pick things up and put them down in a reasonably logical. Manner in terms of how your workouts progress from one to the next and how they repeat from week to week. And you are going to gain pretty much all of the muscle and strength that is available to you in your first year or so.
But then things get more difficult and you do have to be more deliberate in your. Volume in your progression and in your exercise choices, and also your exercise sequence, how you are doing your exercises in your workouts, and how you’re doing your exercises in your weekly training cycle. Okay, so I think I’ve teased you enough.
Let’s get into the specifics here, starting with, I’m gonna repeat myself, and that is, there is no best workout split for everyone, no matter. The circumstances, you just wanna focus on finding one that is going to work for you, that suits your goals, your training experience, and your preferences, what you enjoy.
That matters because no matter how scientifically optimized a workout split might be even specifically for you and your situation, if you don’t like. You’re not gonna do well with it. Your compliance is going to suffer. You’re gonna miss workouts probably more often than you would otherwise, and you’re gonna have a hard time training with enough intensity in your workouts because you’re not liking it.
Even if you have a lot of self discipline and a lot of willpower. There is a big difference between a workout you enjoy and you look forward to, and one that. Don’t. So keep that in mind when you ultimately make your choice for which workout split you are going to follow going forward from this podcast.
And at any point in the future if you’re gonna switch to a new split, don’t neglect the subjective element of how you experience it, how much you like it. Okay? So the split that you should choose mostly comes down to how much time you. Available to get in the gym and what you like and how hard you need to be training to continue gaining muscle and strength.
And I would say also, which muscle groups you are most concerned with developing, and that might be all of them. If you are new, that’s definitely the case, even if you are an experienced weightlifter, but maybe not. End of your genetic rope, if there’s still a bit of muscle and strength left to gain, you might also feel like I just wanted everything to get bigger.
Or if you’re a woman, maybe you wouldn’t think in those terms. You might think, Oh, just like to get more muscle definition everywhere on my body. And with that, let’s start with the body parts split. This is affectionately. Called the bro split and is probably the most well known workout split because for a long time this is how bodybuilders professional bodybuilders trained, and this is still how many professional bodybuilders train, and this is likely how you got introduced to weightlifting.
It’s how I got introduced to weightlifting. I remember I picked up some body building magazines when I was like 17 or 18, and. Chest. When did you train chess? Of course it was on Monday, and then you did maybe back on Tuesday, and then you did your arms on Wednesday, or maybe your legs on Wednesday and then shoulders, and then if you hadn’t done your legs yet, you’re doing your legs.
On the last day, and again, this was the most popular workout split for a long time. Now, as of man, the last decade or so, it has become less and less popular particularly. Evidence based fitness space, and you have a lot of people who have been saying that it is a very ineffective way to train, or even saying it simply does not work.
You have to be on steroids to make gains on a body part split, and that is not true at all. If you are new. You can do quite well with a body part split, and the reason is, if you’re new, you don’t need to do more than maybe nine or 10 hard sets. Think of that as a muscle building. Set a training set per major muscle group per week to gain more or less all of the muscle and strength that you’re gonna be able to gain for at least your first six months.
I’d say probably like your first year or so. Don’t have to do more than that. You can if you just like to work out and if you wanna burn more calories, but you should not expect much of a difference in bottom line results between, let’s say, 10 hard sets per major muscle group per week and 15 as a newbie, you’ll burn more calories.
You’ll get to spend more time in your beloved gym, but you’re not gonna gain much more in the way of muscle and strength. Something else to keep in mind is you can only do so many hard sets for one major muscle group in one training session before you reach the point of diminishing returns and any further work isn’t going to provide much more in the way of muscle growth and research shows.
That’s probably around. 10 sets or so, maybe nine sets in an individual training session. You could think of that as the maximum effective dose training dose in an individual session. And so when you marry those two concepts, when you map them on each other, you go, Oh, okay. So I guess if I were new, I could just do nine or 10 sets of chest on Monday and then nine or 10 sets of back muscles on Tuesday.
And if I’m deadlift, there’s also some lower body in there. So that’s cool. And. Come Wednesday, if I’m deadlift, I don’t wanna squat, so I’ll do some shoulder work. I’ll do some more work for my front del tos and my side, and do some side raises, some rear raises. Okay, cool. And then on Thursday I’ll squat.
I’ve given my legs a day to recover from the deadlift, or if that they’re not enough. Maybe you do your arms on Thursday and then you squat on Friday. If the body part split is programmed halfway intelligently and it provides 10 ish hard sets per major muscle group per week, and you’re not doing, of course, than any more than 10 sets for an individual muscle group in any individual workout.
And also keep in mind that you have direct and indirect volume. So direct volume in you’re training your chest is of course you’re doing the bench press. Volume for your chest, but it also is providing volume for your OIDs. It is providing, especially the front deltas obviously, and it’s providing volume for your triceps and your lats are involved to some degree.
Not enough to where I’d count that as volume, but it’s reasonable, for example, to count one set of the bench press as one set of direct volume for your pecks and maybe a half a set. Volume I should say one set of just volume for your packs and then maybe a half a set of volume for your triceps and your front belts, and so you have to keep that in mind as well.
When you then go to train your shoulders, let’s say a couple of days later, and you’re doing now three or four direct volume sets for your front delta. Yeah. Okay, fine. You only did three or four in that workout, but you did nine. Let’s. Sets of pressing, or it could be like bench press, or it could be the dumbbell press, or it could be a dip.
All exercises that provide direct volume for your packs and indirect volume for your front deltas. And so really you came out of your Monday with four, maybe five. Sets of volume for your front Dels in particular already done. And so now you do three or four more direct now direct volume, and you’re right where you need to be for the week.
And the same goes for, let’s say, pulling in the biceps you’re pulling that you’re doing of any kind really. You could probably argue about the effectiveness of deadlifting on the biceps, and maybe you wouldn’t count that volume. However, you certainly would count barbell row as something toward your biceps and a chin up, of course, is very much involving the biceps.
It’s probably direct volume for the biceps. Really the pull up is indirect volume. So similarly, let’s say you’re doing 10 ish sets of pulling. In your pull workout you might have, let’s say three, four biceps sets already done. So then when you go to train your arms later and you do another, let’s say, four sets for your biceps, you’re getting up there to about where you need to be.
And so all of those words mean that the bro split really can work. I’m not saying if you’re new, you should follow a bro split. You have other options, but it really can work. And where it makes the least sense actually is with an intermediate. Weightlifter where now the amount of volume that is needed to continue gaining muscle and strength for all of the major muscle groups is higher.
You might need 15 hard sets per major muscle group per week to continue making progress. And of course you could get there with a bro split if you looked at, okay, I can’t just train my chest once per week. Now I’m gonna have to train it twice per week. Okay, fine. So I’ll do, let’s say seven or eight sets.
Chest workout, but then you’re gonna have to do the same thing for each of your other major muscle groups. And when you start building that out in Excel, it no longer looks like a body part split. It looks more like an upper lower split, for example. Now when we then progress beyond our intermediate phase, and now we are in the advanced phase where there’s.
Not much left to gain in terms of muscle and strength. We can use a body part split for maintenance. It is more than adequate for maintenance again, and a reason to do that might be that you just like it. You enjoy that style of training and it’s perfectly fine to maintain your physique. That’s what I did essentially for.
Six months of lockdown was mostly a body part split because I have a very limited setup at home. I just have some dumbbells that go up to 90 pounds. I have some bands and it was just very easy for me to program. Okay. I’ll do a bunch of chest stuff. I can do obviously dumbbell pressing. I can do some flies and I can do some dips.
I have a little dip station. I can do banded pushups with my feet elevated and Okay, I’ll just get in. Eh 12 sets in that workout of pressing, and then maybe do a little bit of something else, maybe a little bit of biceps as well. And then I’ll do my pulling. I’ll go do Pullups in my basement, in the mechanical room on an I-beam, because I can’t even use a pull up bar that sets up in a doorway because.
Rips the molding. It didn’t happen, but if I would’ve kept doing it, it would’ve ripped the molding off of the doorway, unfortunately. So have to just grip an I beam. Okay. I’ll do some pullups there. I can do some one arm dumbbell rows and I can do some inverted rows on my dip station. Cool. Let’s just get in enough volume again, just to maintain, rinse, repeat for each of the major muscle.
Also groups, throw in a little bit of extra work just so I can get to a weekly volume between eh 12 and 15 hard sets per major muscle group per week. That’s what I was doing simply. Stay in good conditions. So when I got back into the gym, I wasn’t too far behind what my numbers before the cove arrived, and now that I’m back in the gym and under and over the barbell, I’m seeing it worked out quite well.
My deadlift, let’s see, I think I had three 30 or so for sets of five four. Five wasn’t very difficult, which I was surprised because I haven’t deadlifted, in six months. This was my, was it my third deadlift session now? This week? Yeah. I think it was my third in six months. And so my strength is quickly coming back up there.
Bench press one RM seems like it’s down maybe only 10 pounds, which is cool. And my squat onem is down quite a bit, 40 or 50 pounds. I expected that because although I was training my lower body, I was doing heavy dumbbell front squats, for example, and I was doing heavy lunges and heavy split squats, all effective exercises and Nordic hamstring curls, for example, which are quite difficult.
It’s just not the same as the barbell squat. The barbell squat is the most technically demanding exercise of the bench press and the deadlift and the squat squats the most. D. And it’s just hard. My squat Onem is down probably 40 or 50 pounds despite doing 12 to 15 hard sets. I’m talking about no more than 10 reps per set.
I have enough weight to do that, taking those sets close to failure. Didn’t miss a single workout for six months, and my squat onem is still down about 50 pounds. It feels way harder than I expected, to be honest, but on the whole my little maintenance strategy. Worked out well and I did it with mostly a body part split and you don’t need much volume to maintain muscle and strength.
That is one of the lessons here. If you get in, let’s say you are an advanced weightlifter like me, and you get in probably five , maybe six hard sets per week per major muscle group. That is almost certainly enough to maintain all of your muscle and a lot of your strength. Okay, so let’s do a quick pros and cons of the body parts split here.
So on the pros side we have, it’s very simple to program. It’s very simple to follow. It works, it gives special emphasis to the upper body in particular, which is what many guys care about, the beach muscles, right? So again, especially with guys who are new, you don’t need to be squat. More than once week.
If you are also deadlifting to get the lower body that most guys want, period, you don’t ever need to do anything more than probably nine or 10 sets of heavy lower body work. Direct lower body work doesn’t have to be all squats, but it’s gonna be squats and rdl and leg press and leg extensions and leg curls and so forth.
Plus, let’s say three or four sets of dead lifting. That’s it. That’s enough. You do that long. You’re gonna be happy with your legs. The upper body, however, is gonna take a lot more work. You’re going to have to do a lot more isolation work for some of these smaller muscle groups that are just difficult.
They’re just stubborn like the shoulders. Like for most guys, at least one of the arm muscles, the triceps tend to do better because they’re bigger. They’re a lot bigger than the biceps. So many guys have trouble developing their biceps. The lats are notoriously. Stubborn. And so the body part split is more suitable probably for guys because it allows them to really hone in on those individual upper body muscle groups they want to develop the most.
And that also applies to advanced weightlifters who. Let’s say really wanna bring up their biceps, but because of where they’re at, they need to do 20 hard sets of biceps a week 22 to make progress. And so that’s a small muscle group. So you could probably pick one more. So let’s say you have an advanced weightlifter, he’s Eh, I want my biceps to get bigger.
And my shoulders, particularly my side and rear belts. Those are the main issues on my shoulders, and those are also gonna require a lot of volume. A body part split allows him to blast those muscle groups. So he is not gonna do it all in one training session. Of course, he’s gonna have to split those up.
Into at least two, if not three individual training sessions to reach that volume. And so what it’ll do then is follow basically a body part split where he is gonna have a couple of arm and shoulder workouts per week, and then just enough volume for the other major muscle groups so he doesn’t fall behind.
And I guess that would apply equally to women too. They might have more emphasis though on their lower body. It might be not just their legs anymore, but their hamstrings in particular, or their quads in particular, and their glutes. And to get enough volume, they have to follow a body part split of sorts or something that looks mostly like a body part split.
Now, on the cons side of things here, the body parts split does not, and I touched on this, but I’ll just say it again. It does not provide the optimal training frequency or allow you to get to the optimal weekly. Intercession volume for each major muscle group. If you are still able to gain a significant amount of muscle and strength after a couple of days, two or three days of recovery.
If you’re an intermediate weightlifter, you can train a muscle group again, and you are gonna have to do. More weekly volume than you can cram into just one session, and that’s what you have to do. Of course, if you’re falling, just a traditional body part split, but as I just mentioned, you can get fancy and have a body part split that has workouts that are repeating or muscle groups that are repeating.
So you can get around the frequency issue, but you can’t do it for all the major muscle groups or you’re no longer following a body part split. It just doesn’t look like a body part split. Okay, let’s move on now to the upper lower split, which divides your training into upper body days and lower body days.
And usually these splits are four days a week and you’ll do two upper body days per week. You will do two lower body days per week, and you’ll have a rest. Day in between them. So it might go upper, lower rest, upper, lower rest, and then you repeat. And the pros of the upper lower split is that it allows you to train each major muscle group at least twice a week, which means that you get to up the volume.
So you can now get beyond 10. You can easily get beyond 10 hard sets per major muscle group per week, and you also can get in a little bit of extra frequency, which is probably good as an intermediate or advanced weightlifter, just in and of itself. Most important though, is reaching the volume, the amount of volume you need to do.
And of course, increasing frequency is how you do that, right? And so that’s really the major benefit of it. It’s also, it is simple. It’s easy to work with, it’s easy to think with. It’s easy to change on the fly if you need to. Downside though is upper lower workouts can get long because of the amount of volume you need to do for each major muscle group to make progress.
So for example, in an upper body, You might train a lot, you might train your chest, your back, your shoulders, bicep, triceps and core, like really your entire upper body. And that’s a lot to do, especially again, if you need to do quite a bit each week to make all of those muscles get bigger and stronger.
Now, in some programs you’ll have an upper A, upper B. That’s how I prefer to program upper, lower. So some people love combining chest and back. I’ve done it in the past and. Don’t particularly enjoy it. I would prefer to follow something that looks maybe a bit more like a push pull where like upper A would be chest, shoulders and triceps, and upper B would be back and biceps and maybe some core work.
But that’s just a matter of personal preference. I know there is a good argument for why you should do it the other way, and I don’t even disagree with that. That may even be slightly more. It’s just subjective for me. , I like a push workout more than a chest and back workout, and so that’s how I’ve done it.
But if you don’t prefer one or the other, or you like chest and back more, so you might want to go, let’s say chest back and triceps or chest back and biceps on upper a. And then you might want to go chest back and shoulders on upper B, or you might want to go shoulders, biceps and triceps or back, shoulders and biceps.
There are many different ways that you can mix and match depending on where you’re at and. What you need to be doing and what you’re trying to accomplish. And I mentioned that these programs are usually four days a week, but they don’t have to be. Of course, you can turn it into a five day by going upper, lower, upper, lower, upper rest.
You can certainly do that, or you could go lower, upper, lower, upper, lower rest.
If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my v i p one-on-one coaching service because my team and I have helped people of all ages and circumstances lose fat, build muscle, and get into the best shape of their life faster than they ever thought possible. And we can do the same for you.
Okay, let’s move on to push pull legs, which is a workout split that I have long enjoyed and I’ve used for a long time. At least some kind of variation of push pull legs, for example, in bigger leaner, Stronger and thin, Leaner stronger. Those really are push pull legs programs with a little bit of body part work added into them.
So they’re basically like a basic strength program with some additional body. Part work, some body building work thrown in to increase volume selectively in certain muscle groups. And if you’re not familiar with pushable legs, it is a workout split where you divide your workouts into push days, which is your Ps, and dealts and triceps, and then pole days, which is where you train your back and your biceps.
That would include your deadlift as well. And then you. Leg days where you train your legs, your glutes, your hamstrings, quads, calves, that’s usually your squat day. And an example of a push pull legs, like in bigger lean or stronger. For example, you might do your pushing on Monday and then you’re pulling on Tuesday and you’re squatting on Thursday or Friday to give your legs a couple of days to recover in between the dead lifting because you are doing three sets, I believe it’s three sets in bigger and strong.
Four sets and beyond. Big lean, stronger of deadlifting in a workout, and that takes its toll on your lower body when it’s heavy weight. And the reason why push pull legs is popular is of course these muscles work. Together. So when you are benching, as I mentioned earlier, that’s direct volume for your pecks, but it is indirect volume for your adults and indirect volume for your triceps.
And so you can then do additional volume, essentially direct volume for those muscle groups in the same workout, and then come out from that workout, from that push workout or that pull workout with a. Good amount of volume for each of those muscle groups when you tally up the direct and the indirect.
Another reason push pull legs is popular is it makes it easy to recover from your workouts because you’re not doing a ton of volume for your. Pecks, for example, you might do, let’s say you most push workouts, probably four to maybe eight sets of pressing for your pecks, and then maybe three or four sets for your direct volume for your delta, maybe another three or four sets of direct volume for your.
Triceps, and that’s it for the workout. So it’s a decent amount of volume, but you don’t get too sore from it. And then the following day, let’s say you pull, Now your push muscles are resting, you’re recovering from your push workout while you train your pull muscles. And then you’ll usually have some rest in between your pull and your legs if you’re deadlift.
If you’re not deadlift, you should be deadlift. But if you’re not deadlifting, then of course you could squat the day after you’re pulling. But if you’re doing several sets of hard deadlift, You can squat the following day, but you are probably going to do a little bit better. If you give yourself at least one day, give your legs at least one day to recover from the dead lifting before you squat.
And so for example, if you are training three days a week, you might go Monday, push Wednesday, pull and Friday legs. If you’re training more frequently than that, you could take that basic template of a big push workout, a big pull workout, and a big leg workout, which really means you’re bench pressing, your overhead pressing.
You’re deadlifting and you’re squatting back squatting, front squatting, right? Those are the key exercises that you are gonna be doing in an effective push pull legs routine. So you take those basic workouts and then you fit in extra volume on the other days, depending on, again, where you’re at and what you are trying to accomplish.
So you could look at where the push pull legs, workouts, land you in terms of the exercises you’re doing and the. Weekly volume for each of the major muscle groups, and then you could build out the other days accordingly. So those might turn into additional push or pull or leg workouts. They might be body part workouts, they might be full body workouts.
So that’s one of the reasons I’ve always liked push pull legs. I’ve always found it as a good. Foundation, a good base for strength training in particular, that then you can augment with additional workouts based on whatever you’re trying to do, and also to reach your preferred training frequency, which for me is lifting five days a week.
I like to lift five days a week. I take. Two days a week off of the weights. And currently these days I’ve been doing some cardio every day. Just 30, 35 minutes of low maybe slash moderate intensity. No high intensity right now, and I haven’t done any high intensity for the last six months or so. It’s just with the lockdown.
I’m no longer driving to the office and I wasn’t driving to the gym, so I had that extra time in the morning. It’s Whatever. I’ll hop on the bike, I’ll burn some additional calories and I’ll read, so I wake up early in the morning. I get in the infrared sauna, I read for a bit, and then I just hop on the bike and Joan away for another 30, 35 minutes and get some more reading in.
And it’s nice. I’ve lost like nine pounds since the beginning of the cove and none of that is muscle, obviously. Some of it is water and collector, and it’s not all fat, but a lot of it’s fat. I’m as lean now. Almost as lean as I’ve ever been. I’ve been a bit leaner than this, for sure, for photo shoots, but I’m within probably three or four weeks of like photo shoot lean, and surprisingly, I don’t notice any negative side effects.
I don’t notice anything in the way of additional hunger or sleep disruption or sex drive disruption. I just seemed to be fine at a fairly low body fat percentage, which again, I’m a little bit surprised that because I remember in the past when I had gotten very lean for photo shoots. It wasn’t grueling and there weren’t any major side effects, but I did notice lower energy levels, higher levels of hunger, lower levels of sex drive, and a bit of sleep disruption.
I was waking up more often than usual at night, and no matter what. Tried in the way of manipulating my macronutrients, deloading in the gym more often, cutting down on the cardio. The only way to reverse those unwanted effects was to get fatter, was just to eat more food and allow my body fat levels to get to a higher, more healthier level.
Now again, I’m not as lean now as I was then, but I’m close to that and notice nothing. So far, which means that my physiology has somehow leveled up or maybe my normal just isn’t what it once was. Maybe that’s what it is. Anyway, getting back on track here to push pull legs. So the pros are mostly, it’s just simple.
It is time tested, it makes free good starting point for strength training, and it gives you plenty of time to recover in between your workouts and it is very customizable. As far as cons go, the major one is if you’re only training three days a week and it’s just push pull legs, then you’re training your major muscle groups once a week and you are not gonna be able to make progress with that if you are an intermediate or advanced weightlifter, which already explained earlier in the podcast when I was talking about a body part split.
So push pull legs is limited in the same way that the body part split is limited. However, unlike the body part split, if you are training. For five days a week, then you can make push pull legs work as an intermediate or well as an intermediate weightlifter in particular. Again, as an advanced weightlifter, you actually definitely can make the body part split work, especially if you want to specialize, if you want to emphasize one or two major muscle groups at a time in each macro cycle, in each training phase.
Now in the case of push pull legs, because you are able to distribute volume among more muscle groups. In each individual workout, you can build it out as an intermediate weightlifter, just following on a strict push pull legs, where then you have additional push pull or leg workouts to make up the extra day or two.
And if you put in Excel and you look at your volume, you can hit a good amount of volume for each major muscle. With this format, with this template. So there isn’t much in the way of downsides. And one other thing worth noting, I had mentioned push legs pull a couple of times in the podcast, and that’s a variant of push pull legs for people who want to emphasize their squat over their deadlift.
So the first workout in a push legs pull would be a push workout, and then it’d be followed by the leg workout, and then usually a day. Two, or maybe even three of rest before the deadlift workout, and that setup makes more sense if you want to emphasize lower body development and progression on your squat versus posterior chain development and progression on your deadlift, which would be more emphasized in.
Push, pull legs. Okay. I have saved the juiciest Mor for last, which is the full body workout. This is something that’s getting a lot of attention right now. I’m getting asked about it a lot. I recorded an episode with Meno Helman’s on full body training that went up. I think a couple of weeks ago now, and it is doing very well and I chose Meno specifically for that discussion because he has been beating the drum for full body training for a long time now.
It is his preferred split and it was a great discussion and I agree with many of the points he made. And I probably will record my own episode on Full Body Training, a new episode on full body training because I recorded one some time ago, and I do think a bit differently about. Now, and I’ll just summarize my current position here, but probably in a couple of months I’ll record an in-depth episode specifically on full body training.
So first, let’s just define it, a full body workout. Technically you’d think it hits every major muscle group in the body, in every workout, and yeah, maybe sometimes, but in better designed full body workouts, you’re not actually training your entire body. In a workout, it almost looks like sometimes it’s just an upper lower, and then in some workouts there actually is a little bit of everything.
So you might do a squat and a bench press and a pull exercise, for example, in, in one workout. And then in another workout you might squat again, and you might do an. Overhead press and you might do some biceps and so forth. You get the idea where, again, you’re not necessarily training every major muscle group in every workout because that becomes grueling and essentially impossible when you are an intermediate or advanced weightlifter and the weights are heavy and you have to do a fair amount of volume.
So you have to choose your muscle groups. Deliberately, you have to put some thought into, Okay, so how many sets can I really do in a workout before I have to leave? Let’s just start there. So for me, I have an hour or so to spend in the gym every day. So that means I can get. 16 sets or so done. As long as I watch my rest times in about an hour.
If I’m resting two and a half, three minutes in between each set, if I’m doing some heavy squatting or deadlifting, I’m going to be resting a little bit more. It might take an hour and 15 minutes to get through that. So okay, if I can do 16 sets in the workout in addition to my warmups that I need to do, and what does that mean in terms of exercises well and beyond bigger leaders?
Stronger 2.0, which is. Type of training I’m doing right now. You’re doing four sets for exercise. Okay. So I’m doing four exercises, and if I were building a full body workout, then of course I can’t train every major muscle group with four exercises. I can deliver direct volume to. Let’s say if I really wanted to split it up for major muscle groups and then get some indirect volume for the others, and then on my other full body workouts, I’d have to then make sure that the muscle groups that were getting indirect volume get some direct volume, and then the muscle groups that in the first workout got direct volume.
They might get some indirect volume. Good example of that is if you squat, of course that’s direct volume for your lower. Whereas with the deadlift, most people are not going to count that as direct volume for their lower body. They’re gonna count it probably at 50%. So they’re gonna say one set of deadlift is certainly one set of volume for the traps, for example.
But they’re gonna say it’s a half a set. Of volume for the quads and for the hamstrings. I know some people in the evidence based space go even further and they weight the quads and the hamstrings differently on the deadlift. I don’t need to get that into the weeds with my programming for my purposes, and you don’t either.
But simply understanding that there is a difference between the squat and how it impacts your lower body and the deadlift and how it impacts your lower body is useful. Programming effective workouts if you are an intermediate or advanced weightlifter. And so then with full body training, let’s say you are deadlifting first in the week, okay?
So let’s say you do four sets of deadlifts. That’s two sets of volume for your lower body, and then a couple of days later, You are now going to do some direct volume for your legs. You’re gonna do some squats. Let’s say you’re doing four sets of squats. Okay, good. Now you are at six sets of volume for your lower body, and although you don’t necessarily have to track the volume of it, the squat does train the back, and that includes the upper back muscles if you are squatting correctly.
Now, again, I don’t track that volume. I don’t count my squats as. Quarter sets of volume for my back. Some people do, and again I just don’t think it’s necessary, but it’s just an example of the complimentary nature, the ying and yang relationship of certain exercises when they are programmed this way.
Now, as far as frequency goes with full body training, it can accommodate. Whatever you want to do. Really, if you wanna train three days per week, that’s a common way of going about it. Like push pull legs Monday, Wednesday, Friday, full body workouts each day. If you wanna train four, five days per week, you can make that work with full body training as well.
Again, particularly because they aren’t actually, at least with high quality programs, they aren’t true full body. Workouts. You’re not training every major muscle group directly. You’re usually just focusing on three or maybe four major muscle groups as far as direct volume goes, and then there might be some indirect volume for others.
All right, pros and cons. As far as advantages go for the full body workout split, they make it very easy. To hit all of the major muscle groups multiple times per week, which again, is not terribly important per se, but it is a useful tool for getting in enough volume. And so with full body training, it is easy to make sure that you’re getting enough volume every week in the major muscle groups, especially the ones you want to emphasize.
Focus on the most. Full wide training also is useful for newbies because it allows them to learn the big compound lifts faster, simply because they’re doing them more often. And like anything, the more frequently you practice something, the better you get. And this isn’t a major point because squatting, deadlift, bench pressing, overhead, pressing these.
Are technical movements, but they’re not hitting a fastball or swinging a golf club or pole vaulting. They’re not very difficult, like you learn them pretty quickly and you don’t acquire much skill beyond that point. I would say that you, and this is actually looked at in research, the average person is gonna get to, let’s say, 80% proficiency on these lifts, probably within their first six months of lifting.
And it could even be as little as three months. And from that point, let’s just be generous and say from the six month point on, they’re not gonna get much better. There isn’t much technical improvement left. There is some, they will get better, but there. A major difference in the quality of movement pattern.
At least if somebody is, again, your average person, and they’re in the gym consistently and they care, and they’re trying to do it right at the six month mark, you look at how they’re squatting and deadlifting, bench pressing, overhead pressing, and then you compare that to the six year mark, they will be more refined.
They will be. Better, but it’s not going to be like trying to hit a fastball at six months versus six years. Another advantage of full body training is it’s very malleable as far as scheduling, as far as the programming goes. So for example, if you miss a day, it doesn’t make as big of a difference as missing a body part day, like you missed your.
Now your chest is not gonna get trained that week, and it’s just gonna have to wait until the next week. If you miss your push workout and you’re only training three days a week, no pushing this week. Whereas with full body training, if you miss one of your workouts, it’s not that big of a deal because chances are you’re gonna be training the same muscle groups or at least.
Some of the same muscle groups in your next workout on the next day or maybe the day after that. And the same goes if you need to make some changes on the fly in the gym because equipment isn’t available. Or you go to train something and it doesn’t feel right, it’s just off. And so you can’t train it on that day.
With full body training, it’s not that big of a deal because that really means you’re just gonna be missing out on probably three or four sets of volume for the week, which isn’t ideal, but it’s better than with other splits. If we’re missing your chance to train certain muscles. Might cut the weekly volume in half.
For it might reduce it even further. It might reduce it to zero, like I mentioned in the case of the body part split. And of course you can adjust accordingly. You don’t have to go I couldn’t train chest on Monday, so I guess I’m not training chest. You can make things work by, let’s say, turning your shoulder day into a.
Push days, so you are gonna get some volume in for your chest. You don’t have to robotically stick to be body parts split because I said I would follow a body part split. The point though, with full body training is you don’t have to make any adjustments usually at all. You just carry on and just know that all this week wasn’t perfect because I missed that one workout, but whatever.
And so in the final. Then I would say full body training is good for newbies if they want to get up to speed as quickly as possible on the big lifts. Beyond that, for newbies, I would say it doesn’t offer any significant advantages over really any of the other splits we’ve discussed. And as far as intermediates and advanced weightlifters, Go full body training can certainly work, but so can several of the other splits.
So this is one of those subjective points. What do you like? How do you like to train? Do you like full body workouts or do you like push pull legs or push legs? Pull or upper lower. If you’re an intermediate weight lifter, I probably wouldn’t recommend a body part split because it’s going to make it difficult.
It’s just gonna be awkward to try to get to enough weekly volume for each major muscle. When you could just follow one of these other splits and make it a lot easier on you. And one other benefit of full body training I should mention is allows you to pair muscle groups that aren’t related to superset them.
Not in the way that many people superset, which is back to back like. And often people will superset muscle groups that are related, so they’ll superset, maybe it’s the same muscle group, they’ll go from one chest exercise to another, or they’ll go from a chest exercise to a triceps exercise or a chest exercise to a shoulders exercise.
I actually don’t recommend that style of superset. The style I recommend is called antagonist paired sets, which you could think of an antagonist as a muscle that does the opposite function of the agonist of the whatever muscle that we are contracting. Okay, so let’s say we. The biceps. That’s the agonist.
The antagonist is the triceps, right? And so what you can do is if you’re doing full body training, let’s say you’re doing some pushing and some pulling, you’re doing some bench pressing and some seated cable rows. What you can do is you can do a set of bench press, and then you can rest maybe 90 seconds or so, a half or half, about half of what you’d normally rest, and then go over and do your set.
The seated cable row, rest about 90 seconds. Do your bench press and you shouldn’t see any noticeable decline in performance. And you may actually see a slight increase in performance. Memo talked about this with this pairing in particular with push and pull muscles. In the interview we did, but if there is a benefit, it is small and not likely to make much of a difference in terms of results.
It’s just interesting. What is best? That setup is, it just lets you get through your workouts faster so you can get in your volume, you can get your work done, you can lift your heavy weights in less time. And so that’s it. That’s all I have for you in this episode. I hope you found it helpful. And if you are thinking about changing your workout routine, pay attention to the volume.
Make sure that you can get enough volume in. Per major mall group per week, make sure that you’re choosing something you like. Make sure that these are workouts you look forward to you enjoy. Make sure that your workouts aren’t getting too long. Don’t try to cram too much volume into individual workouts.
And also consider changing your routine if you haven’t done something different in a long time, because it can just make your training more. And that alone can translate into better results because you apply yourself more stren in your workouts. You’re more focused on your training, and you’re more interested in trying to hit your rep and your weight targets.
And who knows? You might find that you really enjoy a workout split that maybe you once didn’t enjoy or you just haven’t done in a while, or maybe you’ve never done it before. That said, you don’t want to make major changes to your workout programming too frequently, so I’d recommend changing your split maybe every 12 or 16 weeks or so if you want to make a change that often.
I don’t. I’m just following the beyond bigger leaders, stronger 2.0 workouts, and I really like the programming. I enjoy the training and I’m making progress with it, getting my numbers, my strength numbers. To previous prs. I know I don’t really have anything left in the way of muscle to gain, but I certainly can get my big three numbers back to where they were several years ago when I was at my strongest.
That was at the end of a lean bulk when I was doing BLS 1.0 actually. So it’s only fitting that BLS 2.0 takes me to the next level. And yeah, so I like the programming. It is technically sound and I enjoy the workouts, so I’m not inclined to change anything, and you might find a setup that works equally well for you, but it’s still nice to know that six months from now, 12 months from now, six years from now, whatever, whenever you feel like.
Making a change, you can change and you know that you’re not going to be moving backward. All righty. Thanks again for spending some time with me today to learn about workout splits and make sure to keep tuning in because in the next episode I have a success story. Brian Miller came on the show to share his journey, and then I have the next q and a episode, and then the following week, starting on the.
First, I am going to begin the official launch of Beyond Bigger, Leaner, Stronger 2.0. So I will be talking about a giveaway where I’m gonna be giving away over $6,000 in free stuff to people who buy the book during the launch period. And then I’m going to be sharing some of the audio book chapters with you here as episodes so you can get an idea of what the content is give you a taste.
I have a couple of q and a episodes specifically for. BLS 2.0 and more. All right. That’s it for today’s episode. I hope you found it interesting and helpful. And if you did, and you don’t mind doing me a favor, could you please leave a quick review for the podcast on iTunes or wherever you are listening from?
Because those reviews not only convince people that they should check out the show, they also increase the search visibil. And help more people find their way to me and to the podcast, and learn how to build their best body ever as well. And of course, if you wanna be notified when the next episode goes live, then simply subscribe to the podcast in whatever app you’re using.
To listen and you will not miss out on any of the new stuff that I have coming. And last, If you didn’t like something about the show, then definitely shoot me an email at mike muscle for life.com and share your thoughts. Let me know how you think I could do this better. I read every email myself and I’m always looking for constructive feedback.
All right, Thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you.
+ Scientific References
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- MacDougall JD, Gibala MJ, Tarnopolsky MA, MacDonald JR, Interisano SA, Yarasheski KE. The time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis following heavy resistance exercise. Can J Appl Physiol. 1995;20(4):480-486. doi:10.1139/h95-038