By Nick Cheadle
Does your training split look something like this:
Monday – Back & Biceps
Tuesday – Chest & Triceps
Wednesday – Off
Thursday – Legs
Friday – Shoulders
Saturday – Cardio, Calves, Forearms & Abs
Sunday – Off
If it does, you’re not alone.
In fact, most gym goers across the world are following routines almost exactly like this.
And on the face of it, there would appear to be nothing wrong with the above. After all, it’s relatively balanced, with every muscle group being hit once a week. There’s no overlap, and no fear of an accessory muscle like your triceps being fatigued before heading into a chest session.
There’s absolutely no doubt – you won’t be “over-training” with this.
In fact, it’s pretty much the perfect example of the program you’d see guys like Phil Heath, Dexter Jackson & anybody else that might compete on the Olympia stage recommending in magazines & on bodybuilding sites.
If it’s good enough for the pros, then surely it’s good enough for you to build mass & make lean gains. Right?
“You Don’t Want to Over-Train, Bro”
The main reason why so many bodybuilders & physique athletes follow this once-a-week body part split is because of this ingrained worry about over-training.
Over-training is the concept of training so frequently that your progress begins to decline. Maybe your strength begins to decrease, your energy goes down the toilet & in extreme cases, you might begin to lose muscle.
This all sounds like it might be reasonable, and the idea is that by giving each muscle a full 7 days rest before you hit it again, you’re allowing for optimal performance & preventing over-training.
Over-training comes about due to a multitude of factors, however. Training frequency does come into play, but then so does intensity, volume – and far more importantly – injury, illness, and stresses outside of the gym. In fact, how often you train each muscle actually comes much further down the spectrum in terms of what’s most likely to bring on over-training syndrome and muscle loss.
While old-school bodybuilders like Arnie, Frank Zane & Vince Gironda may not have adopted the once-a-week split, and favoured more of a full body approach, or at least trained 2 to 3 muscles together a couple of times a week each, the majority of modern day bodybuilders tend to follow a split like the one at the top of this article.
While you can’t argue that this ‘works’ for them, it simply isn’t optimal for the vast majority of trainers & athletes out there. In fact, if you’re reading this article – I’d bet good money that a traditional bodybuilding split IS NOT giving you the best gains possible.
First up, the pros you see on stage, are more than likely taking a lot of gear.
Essentially, they use anabolic steroids to improve rest & recovery, boost muscle protein synthesis & can get away with one “balls to the wall” workout on each muscle every week.
Probably even less than that.
But that’s not you.
As a natural trainer, hitting each muscle twice a week (or potentially even more often) will always be superior.
What the Science Says
The best way of looking at what’s optimal is to go with the scientific literature. A study from Stuart Phillips in the “American Journal of Physiology” found that following resistance training, muscle protein synthesis spiked to 65% above baseline after 24 hours, was 34% above baseline at 48 hours, and then more or less returned to normal. (1)
As keeping muscle protein synthesis elevated is vital to maximise your growth potential, this study demonstrates how leaving it 7 days from training a muscle group is leaving you with 5 whole days where MPS is down at baseline.
A second study, from the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” concluded that (when training volume was matched) subjects who trained just one day per week only had 62% of the strength gains of those who split their work over 3 days per week. (2) By only hitting each muscle group once a week, you’re seriously compromising your results.
Common Sense Approach
If your whole family was kidnapped, and you were told you had 6 weeks to add 40 kilos to your squat, or an inch to your biceps, would you only squat once a week, and stick to your body part split workout and train biceps once a week?
Or – would you squat every day, and blitz your arms at every opportunity?
Training for strength and size is a skill, and as such, should therefore be practiced frequently.
While you do need to take recovery into account, and training every muscle group every single day likely isn’t the best idea, to an extent, it makes sense to train as frequently as you can, while still getting stronger, and not feeling too sore.
You might be worried that you’ll be too sore training everything twice a week, but fear not. Like any stress, your body will adapt to pretty quickly, and once this higher frequency is habitual, you’ll start reaping the rewards.
So, Where to Start?
If you’re still on the bro split bandwagon, a good place to start is with a basic upper-body, lower-body split.
Monday – Upper body (strength focused)
Tuesday – Lower body (strength focused)
Wednesday – Off
Thursday – Upper body (hypertrophy focused)
Friday – Off
Saturday – Lower body (hypertrophy focused)
Sunday – Off
However, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to programming. If you can build yourself something that allows you to hit muscle groups more than once per week, allows you to add load and volume over time and has you enjoying your training – you really can’t go wrong.