Ask yourself these two questions: Have you been training for three years or less? Are you following a body part split? If you answered yes to both, then you better re-evaluate your training plan if you want to build muscle OR burn fat. A typical body part split could be one of the following:
Body part split example 1:
DAY 1: Chest
DAY 2: Back
DAY 3: Shoulders
DAY 4: Legs
DAY 5: Arms
Body part split example 2:
DAY 1: Chest & Triceps
DAY 2: Back & Biceps
DAY 3: Rest
DAY 4: Shoulders
DAY 5: Legs
If this resembles your training plan, you better read on to find out why the body part split is suboptimal and how to reconfigure your training to maximise your muscle-building potential.
The Disadvantages of a Body Part Split
A training plan that follows a body part split focuses on training just one major body part per session, e.g. chest on Monday, back on Tuesday etc… You may also bolt on a smaller muscle group to those workouts; combining chest with triceps and back with biceps is fairly common (if your not sure what a training split is check out this article: Training Splits Explained).
You may have copied your current training plan from a top fitness model or professional bodybuilder, but you have to remember that what’s right for them isn’t necessarily right for you. If you’re a beginner (training for less than 1 year) or at an intermediate level (1-3+ years), then a body part split is not going to be the best way for you to build muscle. These guys have been training for years, if not decades, and they are now perfecting their physiques. Also bear in mind that they may be using performance enhancing drugs too…
If you’re still sceptical, then check out Phil Learney, a highly-respected strength coaching expert – Phil refuses to recommend a body part split to any of the clients he is training simply because it is ineffective at building a solid foundation of muscle. Here’s why a body part split is ineffective for building muscle & burning fat:
- Volume: Not enough volume on any body part to stimulate maximum growth (volume = time training muscle).
- Hormones: Missing out on natural testosterone boost by not training large muscle groups every session.
- Metabolism: Recruiting large muscles groups less often reduces your metabolic rate and burns less calories.
So, what is the best workout split for building muscle? Whilst there isn’t one training split that is the best, there are a few key principles it must incorporate:
- High volume (lots of sets & reps for each muscle per week)
- Regularly recruit large groups of muscles
- Adequate rest and recovery
There are two training splits that meet all of these requirements:
1. Push-Pull split:
A push-pull split is broken down into workouts based on pushing or pulling movements. Pushing movements require different muscles than pulling movements, so by splitting it this way and training twice a week you get tons of volume and 2 days rest before training a particular muscle group again. Here’s a basic example of a push-pull split:
DAY 1: Push Squat, Bench Press, Tricep Dips
DAY 2: Pull Deadlift, Pull-Up, Bicep Curl
DAY 3: Rest
DAY 4: Push Walking Lunge, Overhead Press, Calf Extensions
DAY 5: Pull Stiff-Leg Deadlift, Bent-Over Row, Hammer Curl
DAY 6: Rest
For a complete push pull workout plan, check out our 8 Punishing Push-Pull Workouts. Our training & diet plans also use push-pull workouts, as we have seen amazing results when using this training split, both when training ourselves and with our clients. There are other variations of push-pull splits including push-pull-legs, where you separate out the leg work into a specific leg day and run a 3-day cycle before having a rest day. This may be beneficial if your legs are your weak point and they need a lot of work.
2. Upper-Lower split:
An upper-lower split is also split up into two distinct muscle groups: upper body muscles and lower body muscles. This again means you can train your muscles more often, increasing the volume and maximising growth as a result. Hitting legs twice a week also means you’re performing big lifts more often, which will boost testosterone, build more muscle and burn more fat than a traditional body part split.
Here’s a basic example of an upper-lower split:
DAY 1: Upper Bench Press, Cable Fly, Bent-Over Row, Chin-Up
DAY 2: Lower Back Squat, Leg-Press, Leg-Extension
DAY 3: Rest
DAY 4: Upper Single-Arm Row, Overhead Press, Lat Raise, Rear Delt Fly
DAY 5: Lower Stiff-Leg Deadlift, Walking Lunge, Calf Extension
DAY 6: Rest
A body part split will not be very effective unless you have already built a solid foundation of muscle over a number of years. A push-pull or upper-lower split is far more effective at building muscle or burning fat, maximising volume and optimising your hormones, whilst still giving your muscles time to recover and grow.