I like the saying: “little by little, a little becomes a lot”!
One training session will not transform your physique – however, weeks, months and years of regular workouts can bring you the desired progress. Ask anyone who’s physique you find impressive – and they will most certainly tell you that their results were obtained through lots of dedication and an impressive amount of time exercising!
Photo: Our Ambassador Andii and her amazing BBR Journey from 2018 to now!
So, consistency is certainly key – but you also need to apply your efforts correctly!
You hear a lot of talk by coaches about the ‘best exercise’ or the ‘hardest workout’ to get results. You will also hear endless discussions by the same people on how many sets and reps you need to do to grow muscle.
However, one of the biggest aspects of training often gets overlooked! See, sets and reps are, of course, important – but how about the bigger picture – your overall workout split? The way you organise your workout week can truly make it or break it, as it dictates the volume, recovery and priority muscles receive during a training cycle. For example, if there are areas in the body that are lagging and you find difficult to develop, it may be a symptom of a training split that is less than ideal for your goals!
In this blog, we will dive deep into what makes a great training split, and how you may want to customise yours based on your lifestyle and goals.
Let’s get planning!
Designing your split
Creating your weekly training split may seem overwhelming – however, if you know the steps, it can be a fairly straightforward process, I promise!
Here are some considerations for achieving the best possible split for your goals!
Step #1: Training Frequency
The first factor to consider is how many days a week can you train.
The training process is a fine balance of work and rest. The workout provides the stimulus for change in the muscle, which, in turn, requires rest for the adaptation to take place. The precise amount rest we need between workouts is highly variable – depending on age, fitness level, volume, training intensity of the session and the type of muscle actions used in the workout. Regardless, you typically don’t want to hit the same body part in the exact same way within 24 hours after your session – hence the need to ‘split’ body parts in a way that allows for sufficient rest.
Determining training frequency is a great first step to create the base of your split! According to research, that for progress in muscle growth and strength, a minimum of two sessions a week would be needed. If you’re someone who can only train twice a week, your best bet is to implement a ‘total-body’ split hitting all major muscle groups during these sessions! This could be the same workout repeated twice in the week or two separate workouts, emphasizing different exercises for the same muscle groups.
If a full body sesh doesn’t sound particularly attractive, there are other options too:
- Split training into upper body on one day and lower body on the other
- Divide the workouts into exercises that target the pushing muscles (calves, quads, abs, chest, shoulders and triceps) on one day and exercises using the pulling muscles on the next (hamstrings, glutes, low back, lats, upper back and biceps).
As with everything, there are pros and cons to all approaches!
The first option (total body) allows for greater frequency but lesser training volume per muscle group in each session. The second two options create workouts with a higher volume of exercise for each muscle, however less frequency. None of these approaches has been found superior by research, so it’s a good idea to do a bit of both through several training cycles!
However, science does suggest that people who are new to resistance training do not require as much exercise volume to see optimal results, and that’s why ‘total body splits’ may be preferential initially.
Can train for more than 2 days? Great, you now have more options to consider, while still following the ‘split’ logic!
While as little as 3 days a week can bring good results, and a 6-day split can be applied over intense training phases (such as doing a BBR Challenge!), long-term four to five day a week provides a sustainable balance of work to rest without overtraining.
Step #2: Training Goals
Once we have determined the number of sessions in a week, it’s time to consider your training goals!
The training split can look really different for 2 people with different desired outcomes, even if they train the same number of times each week! For example, If the goal is primarily fat loss and body composition, then the week will contain more cardio and overall activity compared to someone who is looking to build lean muscle mass.
Another factor to consider is the exercise order within the workout session and training week. Coaches often call this the principle of priority: the muscle group that goes first in the session receives the best training effect. This principle can be applied to any muscle group. If, for example, developing glutes is a very important goal to you, make sure glute-dominant exercises are positioned first within the workout session (and even training week as a whole.
Step 3: Fine-tuning Your Split
Now that you’ve considered the above steps, it’s time to design your training split, allowing several muscles to be trained while the others are recuperating, multiple times a week!
The logical starting place is to first divide the days into upper body workouts and lower body workouts. From there, you have a number of possibilities!
The lower body exercises can be broadly classified as movements that emphasize the glutes, hamstrings, and the lower back. Coaches term these hip dominant or posterior chain exercises. Similarly, the opposing muscle group would be the quadriceps, called knee dominant exercises. Classic examples of hip dominant exercises are deadlifts and hip thrusts, while squats and lunges are typical examples of knee dominant movements.
Therefore, leg days can be hip dominant, knee dominant or an equal combination of both. If following a four-day split, you could dedicate 2 sessions to the legs, with one being a hip dominant day and the other focused on the knee dominant patterns. If the lower body was a priority, then a third lower body day is an order, making it a 5-day split. This third lower body day might be comprised of movements not included on the previous leg days or a combination of knee and hip dominant exercises.
Similarly, upper body days can be divided into pushing and pulling in either a horizontal plane or a vertical plane. Horizontal movement patterns would be presses for the push and rows for the pulls. Vertically, overhead presses are the pushes, and pulldowns or chin-ups are the pulls. Here are three possible options for an upper body split, based on the above principles:
- Horizontal push (chest) with horizontal pull (upper back) on one day and vertical push (shoulders) and vertical pull (lats) on the other.
- Horizontal push (chest) with vertical pull (lats) on one day and vertical push (shoulders) with horizontal pull (upper back) on the other.
- Horizontal push (chest with vertical push (shoulders) on one day and vertical pull (lats) with horizontal pull (upper back) on the other.
Step #4: Considering Injuries and Imbalances
One of the primary errors in training splits is the uneven distribution of muscle groups across the weekly training sessions. This ultimately results in muscular imbalances, postural complications and potentially overuse injuries. Splits similar to the above help hit every muscle group, emphasising balance.
Training Split Cheat Sheet
That sure was a lot of information, girl! Let’s put it all together – essentially, designing a training split boils down to these simple steps:
- Decide which days of the week will be your leg days
- Depending on how many days you dedicate to lower body training, decide which movement patterns to include
- Insert upper body days, as well as any additional work such as cardio and core
- Remember that the above rules may need to be altered based on your individual goals, injuries, and imbalances – don’t be afraid to experiment and figure out what works for you!
- Choose your exercises – and do the workouts (that’s the fun part!)
In my BBR app, you will find a completely customisable Workout Planner that can help create and fine-tune your very own workout split, based on your individual preferences and goals!
Stick to your recommended Program, experiment with creating a training week from scratch, or mix it up – the choice is yours!
I really hope you found this blog informative and helpful! I encourage you to experiment with your training and find what works best for YOU – and I’m always here to help and guide you.
Tony Boutagy and Rach