Training

Rethinking Training Splits

Overview

We all like training. We like to talk about training. Sometimes argue about training. On the internet of course. We like to check out training splits of popular bodybuilders. We like to see how “they do it”. We like to plan our week with particular training days in mind. 

Bottom line: we like training splits. They are like toys. And even though we’ve pretty much seen them all, they never get boring to look at. Just like many of you I like to do the same. Spreading different muscle groups across several training days is fun. It’s organizing for meatheads. It’s like an early stage of program hopping on paper. But what I see way too often is the idea that training splits can only be categorized into:

Full BodyUpper/LowerPush/Pull/LegsBro split of your choice.

This is a broad overview of what level of customization can be reached, but of course you want more. That’s why you’re here. Let me show you how creative you can get without your training split turning into disaster impairing recovery.

Before we get into different training splits we have to answer one question: what muscle groups are relevant to bodybuilders? If you think in terms of “back” and “legs” you’re doing yourself no favor. Saying you’re going to train your “back” is like saying you’re going to train your “front”. I would argue the relevant muscle groups that make up the “back” are lats and traps since those muscles are 1) visible (unlike the rhomboids for example) and 2) the largest muscle groups attaching to the humerus and scapula.

Obviously both can be trained within a single training session or on separate days. Same goes for “legs”. Training quads and hams on the same day is certainly an option, but not a law. I find splitting them up into separate training sessions helps a lot with recovery and allows for more customized program design.

Therefore I encourage everybody to split up the body into the following bodyparts for hypertrophy purposes:

- Chest (includes the front deltoid which gets hammered during all chest pressing)
- Shoulders (lateral and rear deltoid)
- Triceps
- Biceps (includes dedicated brachialis or any other forearm work if one decides to incorporate it)
- Lats- Traps (upper, mid and lower)
- Quads
- Hams
- Calves

I’m sure you’ve also heard about the terms “back width exercise” and “back thickness exercise”. I remember back when I did Doggcrapp Training these terms would be thrown around a lot. This is one point where I disagree with Dante Trudel, the creator of Doggcrapp Training. Everybody I’ve talked to is unable to make a reasonable case for categorizing back exercises into these two groups. What constitutes a “width exercise” or “thickness exercise”? Usually you get the answer that any sort of vertical pull gives you “width” while any sort of horizonatal pull or deadlift variation gives you “thickness”. Hence I assume that “back width exercises” are supposed to mainly target the lats, while “back thickness exercises” are supposed to mainly target the traps, which of course brings me back to the beginning of using actual muscle groups to split up our training.

Additionally what exercise targets what muscle group is determined by your execution and exercise mechanics. A barbell row can target your traps while leaving your lats unstimulated and vice versa. Where you place tension depends on your technique. Don’t get me wrong. I get what Dante is getting at - I just think it’s phrased very poorly. Therefore I’ll stick to actual muscle groups as it makes the most sense for bodybuilders.

I’ll focus on 2-day and 3-day training splits in this article. Both of these groups offer a wide range of application for many training levels. As soon as we tap into 4-day split territory, splitting up muscle groups becomes a lot more obvious and easy so that I don’t think you need any guidance if you understand the concept behind my approach to 2-day and 3-day training splits.

Full Body Splits

Unpopular with most people, mainly because they are a pain in the ass. Who wants to do bench presses, squats, barbell rows, chin-ups and romanian deadlifts in one session? Don’t expect me to put my hand up. You first. No seriously, full body splits are not a favorite of either beginners or advanced. And we know adherence plays the biggest part when selecting a training routine. Plus it’s hard to get in any appreciable amount of volume for every muscle group.

An advanced bodybuilder would have to kill himself to provide sufficient stimulus to all muscle groups listed above in a single session. For a beginner, full body splits can work (very often not though, because nobody adheres to them long-term in my experience). Therefore I’ll continue to talk about 2-day splits and leave the full body splits to the “functional” crowd.

2-day Training Splits

Most lifters don’t think beyond the ever-classic Upper/Lower split when it comes to 2-day splits.  With an Upper/Lower you’d train your entire upper body (chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, lats, traps) on Day 1 and the entire lower body (quads, hams, calves) on Day 2, then repeat. While this is a fine choice and can be used with beginner to advanced athletes, there’s nothing special about it. It’s a basic, solid training split that allows for some flexibility and customization.

Take a look at other ways to structure training with a 2-day split. You may be surprised how much more you can do with 2 different training sessions than just splitting them up into upper and lower body. Please note that the order of individual muscle groups in each split is not suggesting the order in which muscle groups should be trained. Exercise sequence has to be customized and depends on numerous variables. Without further ado, some suggestions for 2-day training splits:

Dante Trudel’s 2-day Doggcrapp Split
Chest, Shoulders, Triceps, Lats/TrapsCalves, Biceps, Hams, Quads
Upper Push, Lower Push/Upper Pull, Lower Pull
Chest, Shoulders, Triceps, Quads
Hams, Traps, Lats, Biceps, Calves
Quads, Upper Beach/Chest, Lower & Upper Pull
Quads, Biceps, Triceps, Shoulders, Calves
Chest, Lats, Traps, Hams
Upper/Lower with Session Focus
Upper 1 (Chest Focus)
Lower 1 (Quad Focus)
Upper 2 (Lats/Traps Focus)
Lower 2 (Hamstring Focus)
The Unicorn (name made up, obviously - hopefully)
Lats, Rear Delt, Quads, Calves
Chest, Lateral Delt, Traps, Biceps, Triceps

All these splits “work”. It is up to you how many days a week you train, but these 2-day splits require very little thinking in advance. You simply alternate between sessions, regardless if your training days per week are an even or uneven number. Training 4 days a week? Session 1, session 2, rest, session 1, session 2, rest, rest. Week 1 in the books. Training 5 days a week? Session 1, session 2, session 1, rest, session 1, session 2, rest. Works great for beginners, works great for intermediates, works great for advanced lifters if they can get enough training sessions in to increase overall training volume via frequency within a microcycle.

3-day Training Splits

This is where things are getting interesting in my opinion. 72 hours of recovery between muscle groups if we’re talking no rest days and a lot of freedom to move things around. Just like the Upper/Lower is the most popular when it comes to 2-day splits, with 3-day splits the Push/Pull/Legs split is ubiquitous. Everything else is often considered “wrong" or not practical. Hopefully the following suggestions can open your mind a bit:

1 Chest, Lats, Traps
2 Shoulders, Arms
3 Quads, Hams
1 Lats, Hams, Biceps
2 Chest, Traps, Shoulders
3 Triceps, Quads
1 Chest, Shoulders, Biceps, Triceps
2 Lats, Traps
3 Quads, Hams
1 Chest, Quads
2 Hams, Lats, Triceps
3 Biceps, Traps, Shoulders

All of these are fine options. You could program 2 versions of each training day to allow for a greater pool of exercises to be used or to use different periodization models. Most importantly 3-day splits allow us to evenly distribute stress across training days in a more nuanced manner than the 2-day split. This is a valuable feature and allows for great customization. I didn’t list calves since you can sprinkle them in on most days as needed.

What Not To Do

Splitting up bodyparts in a way that results in some days being completely crammed with stuff hence diminishing recovery is a poor idea. People often tend to do this to allow for an "arm day” or some other beach workout day. Yeah those sessions are fun, but the other training sessions beat you into the ground. So here’s how you should not split up your training:

Chest, Quads, Hams, Lats, Traps
Shoulders, Biceps, Triceps, Calves

or

Biceps, Triceps
Chest, Lats, Traps, Hams, Calves
Quads, Shoulders

Chest, quads, hams, lats and traps are fairly large muscle groups. You have to “respect” the SFRA-curve (stimulus, recovery, fatigue, adaptation) of each one of them and space them out. Refer to the splits I posted above to get a feel for that.

Conclusion

There are more options than Upper/Lower and Push/Pull/Legs to play with when you design your training program. While both of these choices can cover all training ages, they can be tweaked and made better. I hope this article helps you get a bit creative and think outside the box. Don’t shy away from taking muscle groups and spreading them across 2 or 3 training days without adhering to the Upper/Lower or Push/Pull/Legs dogma. As long as you make logical decisions there’s very few you can screw up.

Of course exercise selection would be another huge issue to address in context with training splits. I will cover that in another article. For now you should have plenty to tinker with. Get out your pencils and start program hopping on paper.

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