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Training

Muscle-Building Basics: Split the Difference

Of all the splits in the world — the banana and gymnastics varieties come instantly to mind — none is more neglected than the training split. Admit it. When it comes to workouts, there are certain variables that are bandied about constantly: what exercises to do, how much weight to use, how many sets and reps, and how much rest to take between sets and training days. But one of the most fundamental variables in training — how muscle groups are paired during workouts and how often those groups are trained — gets fairly little attention. Most people just slap a few muscle groups together and stick with that for infinity. But this little factor may be even more critical than the exercises, weights, rep ranges and number of sets you do.

In simple terms, a training split is a weekly lifting schedule. It refers to which muscle groups you train on which days of the week. And there are an infinite number of ways to organize your training split. So how do you know which way is right for you? That’s precisely the purpose of this article. M&P will cover four of the most common training splits, outlining their benefits, so that you can pick the best split based on your experience and your goals. And if you find you’re not able to decide on the best split for you, don’t worry. Just follow our “Split the Difference” training program, which gives you a trial run of each of these splits. Once you’ve tried them all out, you’ll be better able to judge which one works best for your body and your schedule.

Whole-Body Training Split

As the name implies, a whole-body training split trains the whole body each workout. This lets you train each muscle group more frequently each week — about three times per week, allowing for at least one day of rest between sessions.

This is the best split for beginners because it limits the number of sets performed per muscle group and because training each muscle group so frequently best trains the nervous system, priming it for future strength and size gains.

But it’s not just for beginners. Whole-body splits help stimulate muscle growth by keeping the muscle-growth genes in muscles constantly turned on. Furthermore, the more muscle groups you train in a workout, the higher the boost in the anabolic hormones testosterone and growth hormone. Plus, training more frequently is a good shock to your muscles if you are currently training them once per week. And an additional benefit to this split is that training so many muscle groups in one workout enhances fat burning.

Sample Whole-Body Training Split Workout

Try this sample workout on Monday, Wednesday and Friday or any three days of the week, allowing one complete day of rest between workouts.

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Two-Day Training Split

The two-day training split simply divides all the muscles of the body into two separate workouts. A common two-day split is the Upper-Body/Lower-Body Split, in which you train all your upper-body muscle groups in one workout and then all your lower-body muscles in the second workout. This is typically repeated twice a week for a total of four workouts. The benefits here are that you can do more exercises per muscle group and train each muscle with more intensity, which can promote greater muscle gains. Plus, because you are training half the body’s muscle mass in each workout, each workout still hits a large amount of the body’s muscle mass, which leads to a big increase in anabolic hormone levels while also stimulating greater fat burning.

Sample Two-Day Training Split Workout

Try these workouts on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, or any four days of the week.

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Workouts 1 and 3 (Monday and Thursday)

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Workouts 2 and 4 (Tuesday and Friday)

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Workout 1 (Push)

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Workout 2 (Pull)

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Workout 3 (Legs)

Four-Day Training Split

In case you haven’t noticed the trend here, the four-day split breaks all the muscle groups of the body down into four separate workouts. With this split, you’ll train even fewer muscle groups in most workouts, and that increased volume and intensity can encourage even greater muscle growth. A common way to divide the muscles is to train chest, triceps and abs on Monday; back, biceps and forearms on Tuesday; rest on Wednesday; train shoulders, traps and abs on Thursday; and legs and calves on Friday, then rest over the weekend.

Although some bodybuilders have been known to go with a five-day or even six-day split in which they may train only one muscle group each workout, we suggest that you do not split up your muscle groups more than a four-day split. You need to train an adequate amount of muscle groups to stimulate the release of our favorite anabolic hormones, growth hormone and testosterone. Training too few muscle groups in a workout may limit the anabolic-hormone response you get, thereby limiting the response you get from your muscles. So consider the four-day split your upper limit.

Sample Four-Day Split

Try this split on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, or any four days of the week.

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Workout 1 (Monday)

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Workout 2 (Tuesday)

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Workout 3 (Thursday)

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Workout 4 (Friday)

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Split the Difference

Can’t decide on the best split for you? Try this training program, which allows you to take all four splits for a test run. Then you can decide which one to use as your primary training split.