Body Composition Training 101: Routine Splits

Routine/Training Splits: The way you organize your training week. How you divide your muscle groups up over different training days.

Training Split Recommendations: 3-5 day splits. *Samples at the end of the article.

Ah, the training split — the legends, folklore, and arguments over the right or best training splits date back to the Golden Era of bodybuilding and fitness. Chest and tri’s or chest and back, which one is better? They both are effective. The truth is there is no one right or best training split. In fact, switching up training splits can be a variable you manipulate on a regular basis to change the training stimulus or to emphasize different muscle groups (priority training).

But my belief is that some type of training split is much better than no training split at all — meaning full-body workouts/total body training — at least for physique development. We’ll get to that argument in due time, but first…

MORE ON VOLUME TRAINING

The previous article in the series (volume) presented the science behind my recommendations for a moderate-to-higher volume training protocol for those with physique enhancement/body composition goals. Lets review a few of the critical points in those research findings, and introduce some additional concepts supporting volume training:

1. In the research data, higher training volumes improved both muscle strength and size better than singe-set or single exercise training protocols.

2. Multiple sets per exercise with multiple exercises per muscle group increase acute growth hormone, testosterone, and IGF-1 production more than lower volume training protocols. These all have a positive impact on the muscle building, fat burning, and body composition change processes.

3. Most muscle groups have more than one movement function (hamstrings flex the knee and extend the hip, chest flexes the shoulder and initiates horizontal adduction). Multiple exercises are necessary to train and overload all functions and movement patterns of each muscle group.

4. There are different muscle fiber types and firing thresholds within each muscle group. Changing exercises, angles, and even rep ranges can change muscular recruitment patterns and goes a long way in ensuring maximum fiber recruitment, overload, and development.

5. We all have strong and weak muscle groups. This is often due to muscle innervation patterns, or the way in which the nervous system recruits muscle groups to complete a specific lift. Generally, a weak muscle group is located right next to one or more strong muscle groups. This makes sense — the stronger muscles just take over for the weak muscle and accomplish the task. A mix of compound and isolation exercises (especially for our weak muscle groups) is necessary to correct muscle imbalances and induce maximal, symmetrical muscular development.

6. There are different causes of muscular failure during different lifts. Sometimes we fail during heavy, compound exercises (squats, deadlifts, etc.) because of systematic reasons — nervous system fatigue or oxygen debt (cardiovascular system). Generally, during isolation lifts (dumbell curls, leg extensions, etc.) we fail because of localized muscular reasons — accumulation of lactic acid. Combining compound exercises with isolation exercises covers all bases of muscular failure, and thus maximizes adaptation, improvement, and development.

7. Multiple exercises per muscle group allows you to figure out which one you look the best performing (especially when you are spritzed with oil and a fan is pointed directly on you) for your cover model shoot, or at least for your facebook/twitter/dating website profile pic.

TYING SOME PRINCIPLES TOGETHER

I hope I’ve convinced you — through both the science AND real world examples of physique athletes (bodybuilding and fitness training generally consists of 3-4 sets of 3 or more exercises per body part) — that volume training should form the basis of your training program. Multiple sets and exercises per body part is the way to go for body composition change.

Now remember back to the article on training duration. We explained that due to primarily hormonal reasons, the optimum length of a training session is right around 30-60 minutes. This allows our anabolic/fat burning hormones (growth hormone) to peak and prevents our catabolic/fat storing hormones (cortisol) from rising too high and making the workout counterproductive in terms of physique improvements.

If we are to do a certain amount of volume per muscle group, yet limit our training time; then the only possible answer is to utilize some type of training split. There is no way you can perform adequate volume per muscle group (for physique development) using a full-body routine AND stay within the duration parameters. It just doesn’t work.

What you do is blast 1-3 muscle groups with the right amount of training volume, and come back another day for a different set of muscle groups. By the end of the week you’ve trained the entire body, all with the right amount of volume.

THE BEACH BOYS AND GIRLS

Guys, does this sound familiar? Monday you train chest and biceps. Tuesday you train chest and biceps. Wednesday you train chest and biceps…Girls, does this sound familiar? Monday you train hips and thighs. Tuesday you train hips and thighs. Wed you train hips and thighs…

Remember when you weight train, you are actually breaking down individual muscle fibers. Training is only the stimulus to produce physique change. Your body recovers, repairs, adapts, and develops in all of the processes that take place BETWEEN training sessions.

Research shows that muscle groups can take up to 48-72 hours to fully recover from a volume-based strength training routine. And usually these research studies involve no additional training in that time frame. Additional training — as is necessary for physique development – delays this recovery process and extends the recovery time frame.

If you hit muscle groups before full recovery and adaptation has taken place, you are inhibiting your potential physique development gains. In other words, if you train the same muscle groups day in and day out — as are the case with the above examples, but also with full-body training — your body will not be able to realize optimal development. The muscles remain in a chronic broken down state, and never have the chance to rebuild.

A properly designed training split will ensure you have ample amounts of training volume for physique development while at the same time ensuring proper recovery for each individual muscle group. For example, you overload your chest and triceps one day, and the next day those muscle groups are resting while you train your legs and core. Now, you still need to take complete rest days entirely off from training to allow the body as a unit, including the nervous and hormonal systems, to recover. But you get the idea of staggering overload with recovery across the body for maximum training efficiency.

SAMPLE 3-DAY SPLIT

Monday — Chest, shoulders, triceps
Tuesday — Off
Wednesday — Legs, core
Thursday — Off
Friday — Back, biceps
Saturday — Off
Sunday — Off

SAMPLE 4-DAY SPLIT

Monday — Back, core
Tuesday — Chest, biceps
Wednesday — Off
Thursday — Legs, core
Friday — Shoulders, triceps
Saturday — Get drunk and party like a rock star (just kidding, but wanted to see if you were still paying attention).
Sunday — Off

SAMPLE 5-DAY SPLIT

Monday – Back, core
Tuesday – Chest, calves
Wednesday — Off
Thursday – Shoulders, core
Friday — Quads, hamstrings, calves
Saturday — Biceps, triceps
Sunday — Are you ready for some football, or the Real Housewives of (some city), or whatever you are into, and the couch?

Again, these are only a few of the many possibilities of different muscle combinations and training splits. But again, the take home message is this: I believe some type of training split is better than full-body/total-body training for physique development. Performance-based goals is a whole other ballgame, and the exact opposite may be true, but as physique athletes we don’t really care about those goals.