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All right, let’s talk about training splits, options, why someone would choose a certain training split and the simple possibilities that you have within training splits as well as the logic behind those options.
To start off, a training split is simply what days you do certain categories of exercises on. And of course, how many days per week you lift is a huge factor within what you are going to do, or what you need to get done in the way of training on the days allotted to training.
So, let’s go ahead and break this down. But before that, I am talking about strictly lifts. We are not adding cardio or conditioning to the mix here. That’s a whole other ball game. For now, we stick to strength or hypertrophy based splits.
How many days per week you can or want to train
Periodization you can use
Goals of training – body building and/or strength
Daily and weekly volume
I just want you to remember those as I cover these examples. I won’t be diving into them, but rather covering the training splits themselves.
4 or 5 days per week with upper body focus 2 days per week and lower body 2 days per week, plus a fifth day of full body.
Within that, you’d likely have a knee dominant lower body day, hip dominant lower body day, and an overhead or vertical press pull day, and horizontal press pull day for upper body.
The upper body days are lower intensity by nature. Generally speaking our body demands less energy to work upper body due to smaller muscles and the muscles being closer to the heart.
Lower body days tend to be higher intensity by nature due to the large muscle groups and higher demand for total energy.
Thus, this split works well for a lot of people simply because it hits the whole body on a weekly basis, allows for adequate rest between muscle groups, and has variation in intensity built in.
This split, however, is not the only split you can choose from.
I am sure you’re familiar with chest and back, bis and tris, quads and calves, glute/ham. This style of training split can be trained six days per week, hitting muscle groups twice per week instead of just once.
You could of course just use it in four day/week spread as well and hit everything once. Also note that you can split up the same volume of 4 days per week over 6 days per week. So more days doesn’t always = more volume necessarily.
This muscle group specific training split works really well with protagonist and antagonist training methods. Meaning you train chest and back, bis and tris. I separated quads and posterior chain in my example, but you could do quads and hamstrings on the same day as antagonist/protagonist twice per week, or just once per week and then dedicate another day to glutes.
I will note, this traditionally body-building centric training split is not the most efficient. Thus, I literally NEVER use it with my programming. But did use it early in my training years to put on mass. And I can attest to that season being the only time in my life that my biceps actually grew. Go figure. Body building works.
So we covered upper/lower split (consisting of more large, compound efficient movements), and body part, antagonist/protagonist split. Likely over more days per week.
You might notice that there could be carryover between these training splits. ABSOLUTELY. Movement is not black and white. You can have pushing and pulling in an upper/lower split. So, remember that as I cover these – crossover is normal, but the MAIN reason for the split is the point.
With a push-pull, I am talking about one day being dedicated to pushing. PERIOD. The following day is dedicated to pulling with the opposite muscle groups. It doesn’t need to be the day after, but another day during the week.
This may look like:
Upper pushing (including vertical and horizontal pressing)
You could feel this out as soreness or fatigue in lower pulling could have effects on upper pulling or vice versa.
But the point is, you’ll essentially destroy all pressing groups, specific to upper or lower body, and then all pulling groups, specific to upper or lower body. A four day split works nicely for this. You could certainly do it in three or add a fifth day for core and limiting factor work as well.
When we train three days per week, we spend less days per week training than not. This is not bad. But something to consider when you think about time elapsed between hitting certain muscle groups or training certain patterns and skills.
With this split, you would simply want to make sure your muscle group combinations made sense. You don’t want to overwork one area of the body accident and create unnecessary imbalances.
Squat and Bench (like upper horizontal and lower pushing together)
Deads and Upper pulling (like upper and lower pulling together)
Overhead Press and Core or Glutes (like upper vertical pushing and body part specific together).
Everything gets a little love per day, and nothing is, in one session, getting destroyed. Note too, that this is ONE WAY you could do full body three days per week. With splits and exercise prescription, the options are truly endless. Which can also be very overwhelming if you’re just starting out. I get that.
Finally, the last split that I’ll cover – This split can be very mentally, physically, and neurologically intense.
DUP is a non-linear form of periodization. So linear periodization has a trainee working primarily on power, strength, hypertrophy or endurance per phase of training.
DUP says, let’s do it all at once. Not really. But kind of.
With DUP, which I have used many times in my own training, you have one day per week within your training dedicated to strength, hypertrophy and power. Traditionally this is performed three days per week. Like a M,W,F split. But I have also do it with a fourth or fifth day added for weakness or conditioning work.
We can also use undulating periodization in a weekly fashion so a week would hypertrophy, week 2 strength, week 3 power and so on and so forth.
With DUP, it’s the main sets that are dictating hypertrophy, strength or power.
So that could be 5×8 or 4×10 for hypertrophy, 4×4 for strength, and 6×2 for power.
This would be for multiple large lifts per training day, and then accessory work will be lower volume and/or intensity. Likely based on specific needs for improving your main lifts or muscular imbalances.
On hypertrophy day you’d do squat and bench, on strength you could do squats, deads and bench or OH press, and on power you could do Squats and overhead press.
It’s…a lot. Like I said. I used it mainly for squats in my rehab journey for my lumbar disc injury. It was a cool experience. Often used in the power lifting world as they’re only training their three main lifts of squat, deads and bench. So it makes sense.
Few, if any of these training splits are concrete. You’re not limited to these, and they are not limited to the examples I gave today. But I hope this made you think, or get curious about training split and programming possibilities in the future.
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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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