April 15, 2012

The Most Balanced Training Splits You Can Follow To Maximize Results, While Minimizing Overtraining

“Fail to plan, plan to fail”. Unfortunately as it relates to strength training, many people show up at the gym each day with virtually no plan set in place before they get there. While it’s in your best bet to have a clear and concise plan as far as what exercises and how many sets, reps, weight, etc. you plan to perform, you should at least have a general idea of what bodypart you’re going to train (though you don’t NEED to, and can still get results).

As far as hypertrophy is concerned, you grow when you’re not at the gym. The training is simply done to elicit the response. If you can make it to the gym 5-7 days a week then you can pretty much hit each specific major bodypart once a week on its own day and give it a sufficient amount of time to recover before hitting it again. You could even hit each bodypart twice a week, but I wouldn’t recommend that for a natural lifter, unless it was for some sort of specialization cycle, as it can quickly become too much volume for the body to recover from, therefore leading to overtraining.

For those that don’t have the time or luxury of working out almost every single day, a 4 day split is ideal. Less than 4 in my opinion is not enough and here’s why.

To get the most positive response from your training, as far as hypertrophy is concerned, you want to recruit and fatigue as many motor units as possible. To do this is you need to expose your muscles to as many exercises as possible, but you still need to stay within a given timeline (preferentially under 60 minutes). Testosterone levels significantly drop after 60 minutes of training, while cortisol levels significantly elevate creating a muscle losing environment.

Regardless of how many days a week you train, depending on the density of the workout (how much work that is done within a given amount of time), it isn’t likely that you’ll be able to fit in more than 8 exercises, for 3 sets a piece (and that’s if you are barely resting between sets and exercises). It’s safe to say by the time you set up, pick up the weight, perform all your reps, and put the weight back, you’ve lost roughly one minute. Multiply that by 24 (8 exercises times 3 sets) and you’re at 24 minutes (not so bad). Add in roughly one minute of rest between sets and you’re now at 48 minutes (now you’re cutting it close to an hour). Also you need to take into consideration that warm-up sets or “rehearsal” sets take time, as well as there is time needed to set up each and every exercise, and there’s your 60 minutes right there.

So, based on that, if you can only make it to the gym 3 times a week, you’re looking at 24 total exercises to be performed for your entire body. While the arms and shoulders do take on a great deal of the load for chest and back exercises, they aren’t fully fatigued, at least not to the point they would be if they received some direct work. It is for all these reasons that a 4 day split is ideal for optimal hypertrophy.

A 4 day split also offers at least 3 days of rest a week, which is ideal in bringing your body to a new level of physical preparedness the next time you train a given bodypart. Even if you could train 5-7 days a week, doing so may not allow your body the time needed to recover from the amount of stress you exposed your body to during the week.

Even though a 4 day split allows you to both train each bodypart with enough volume to generate a positive hypertrophy response, and give you enough rest before training it again, if you train similar movements before you’ve recovered from the last workout you will negatively impact the end result.

For example, if you were to train arms on day 1, and chest + back on day 2, it is likely that your chest + back workout will suffer due to the arms not being nearly recovered from the day before. So what are some good 4 day splits?

There are 3 different 4 day splits that adhere to the principles outlined above. The following are 4 day splits that enable you to train each bodypart with maximum intensity, and do not overlap throughout the week. They are:


Day 1: Chest + Triceps

Day 2: Back + Biceps

Day 3: Legs

Day 4: Shoulders

This is a very common, well balanced routine that Ronnie Coleman was known to use at times during his valiant career as a bodybuilder and Mr. Olympia. Those who are relatively symmetrically developed will prefer this routine, as it enables you to hit all the major bodyparts while you’re fresh, with the smaller muscle groups like the arms receiving direct attention once the larger muscles have been trained.

Since the triceps are heavily involved in all pressing movements, training them after chest with some direct work is enough to fully tax all remaining motor units that were not fully fatigued during chest training.

That goes for the biceps as well as they are heavily involved in all pulling movements (pulldowns, pull-ups, rows) and is why training them after back is appropriate.

The legs are trained on their own day, and as long as you aren’t squatting after deadlifting you’re in the clear. If you choose to deadlift during your back workout, then you may want to select other exercises besides squats for your leg workout to allow your body to recover, unless of course you use some of your days off each week between the back + biceps workout and the legs workout.

By the time you get to the shoulders, it is likely that they will have recovered from the exercises they were involved in earlier in the week. As long as you take enough time off between the shoulder workout and your next chest + triceps workout, you should be able to make solid gains with this routine.


Day 1: Chest + Biceps

Day 2: Legs

Day 3: Shoulders + Triceps

Day 4: Back

This is a very balanced routine as well, but is geared more towards those who are not completely satisfied with training their arms after they are fatigued from assisting with a larger bodypart. Johnnie Jackson prefers this type of training split because it enables you to hit each bodypart with as close to maximal intensity as you can while training 4 days a week.

As stated above, after a chest workout the triceps are fatigued and fatigue will be a limiting factor in amount of weight you can lift for triceps exercises. By training biceps after, or during, your chest workout, it is likely that you will be able to use more weight than if you trained them after back, as you would if you used split routine #1, since they are not directly involved in most chest exercises, at least not nearly to the same degree as the triceps.

Of course, following a chest + biceps workout there isn’t much room for any upper body work since the remaining upper body muscle groups will be limited as far as how much weight you can lift. So the only logical bodypart to train following a chest + biceps workout is a leg workout, or take a day off.

After a few days have passed since the chest + biceps workout, the shoulders are ready to be hit with maximal intensity, and depending on the exercises you choose to perform, you can follow a shoulder workout with a triceps workout without losing as much strength as if you had performed a chest workout first in which the majority of exercises are presses. If you choose to do a lot of presses for the shoulders, which is not advisable as the front delts are probably the most overtrained muscle in the entire body, your strength levels will be somewhat compromised going into the triceps workout, especially if you plan on doing compound movements.

If you do not perform many pressing movements for the shoulders, then you can easily hit the triceps with almost as much intensity as if you were training them fresh on their own day. In this case you could even throw in some compound movements for the triceps, which heavily involve the front delts as well, and still use near maximal weights.

Finally when you get to the back workout you should be well rested and ready to go as long as you have used one or more of your rest days during the week. Even if you squatted on leg day, you should still be able to get away with doing heavy deadlifts without negatively impacting recovery, should you choose to.


Day 1: Chest + Shoulders

Day 2: Back

Day 3: Legs

Day 4: Arms

This routine makes the most sense of all from a hypertrophy perspective. The biggest knock against this training split is that many people prefer to train the shoulders on their own day because they like to press heavy weights overhead, which is only really an ego thing, and following a chest workout their overhead press numbers are significantly lower than if they trained shoulders on its own day.

Since the front delts are heavily involved in all pressing movements as is, it is not likely that overhead pressing strength will diminish by training the shoulders after a chest workout. The front delts will stay strong, and overhead pressing numbers will likely go up in direct proportion with your flat, incline, and decline numbers anyways. As long as your chest presses are improving, you can bet your shoulder presses will improve as well.

Even with a heavy chest workout preceding a shoulder workout, it isn’t likely that your other shoulder exercises, besides overhead presses, will suffer. While lateral raises have very little room to grow in comparison with overhead presses, they are also barely affected by training chest before shoulders. For example, if you routinely perform lateral raises with 30 or 35 lbs. dumbells during a shoulder workout, after a chest workout you may only be able to use 25 lbs. There really isn’t much of a loss on those exercises following a chest workout.

You could train back or legs the next day, whatever you choose is really up to you. Whichever you choose however, be sure to plan accordingly and not negatively affect your ability to perform the exercises you choose to do, or your body’s ability to recover. For example, should you do back after the chest + shoulders workout, if you are going to perform deadlifts, make sure you are satisfied with the fact that you shouldn’t be performing squats in the upcoming leg workout, even if you take a day off in between.

After you’ve trained back and legs, all that’s left is biceps + triceps AKA arms. By training arms together you can hit them with maximal intensity, as they are fresh and not pre-fatigued from assisting a larger muscle group. An arm’s only workout will appeal to those who feel like their arms are a weak point they want to bring up, and also those who like to superset arms and create a tremendous pump.

The abs, calves, and forearms can be trained together, or separately (preferred), on any day you choose for any of the above splits. Just be sure that training those smaller muscle groups doesn’t negatively affect your ability to perform movements for your primary bodyparts.

If you have any questions about what training split is right for you for building muscle, feel free to contact me at ben@paramounttraining.ca. I'm available for online consulting and personalized program design, as well as one on one training if you are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

No comments:

Post a Comment