A workout split refers to how your workouts are organized in terms of which exercises you do and which muscle groups you train in each session, and everyone seems to have a different opinion on what works best.
Some people claim that the traditional bodybuilding method of training one major muscle group in each workout is optimal. Others decry the body-part split, however, and beat the drum for something else, like the full-body split or upper/lower split. Still others disagree with all of that and are convinced that you should organize your training around “movement patterns” or some other feature or factor.
Separating the sheep from the goats can be difficult, too, because you can find “sciencey” explanations for many of these assertions. The main problem, however, is that all of these opinions focus on brushstrokes instead of the big picture.
Ultimately, it isn’t a workout split that drives muscle growth — your biceps don’t care if they get trained in an “arms,” “pull,” or “upper-body” workout. Your muscles will grow when you do the right amount of the right exercises with the right amount of weight and post-workout rest and recovery.
Your workout split is just a tool that helps you accomplish those ends, not a target unto itself, and therefore, no single workout split is “best” for everyone, under all circumstances, at all points in time.
For example, if your goal is to maximize the development of your upper body muscles while still growing your lower body, the best workout split for you will look very different than if your goal is to compete in a powerlifting competition (which requires tremendous lower-body strength).
There are other factors to consider when choosing a workout split, too, such as other demands and obligations in your life, training experience, and personal preferences, etc.
Now, if you’re like most people reading this email, your goal is probably either . . .
- A lot more upper-body muscle and strength, with enough lower-body development to maintain good proportions (dudes).
- A lot more lower-body definition, with enough upper-body development to maintain good proportions (dames).
And you probably also care about staying injury free and highly engaged in your home and work life. And to do all of that, you don’t have to follow one particular workout split (many can do the trick), but you must follow a few non-negotiable training tenets, including . . .
- Achieving progressive overload
- Using the right amount of volume and intensity
- Including the right amount of rest and recovery
- Doing the right compound and isolation exercises
While many workout splits will do the trick, some make this easier than others.
For example, body-part splits often make it difficult to train a muscle group more than once per week, which is a good idea if you’re trying to maximize the growth of that muscle group.
Many full-body workout splits suffer from the opposite issue, overdeveloping some muscle groups and underdeveloping others (at least relative to what people want).
And while push pull legs and upper lower splits tend to strike a good balance for most people, the devil is in the details. That is, one push pull legs split could involve very different exercises, reps, weight, and volume than another, which can drastically change your results. A properly designed bro split could be far superior to a mediocre upper lower split, for instance, and vice versa.
If you want to learn about a few of my favorite workout splits and methods of combining different splits into highly effective “mash-ups,” check out one of my bestselling books for men and women:
For men trying to gain their first 25 pounds of muscle or get to 10 to 15% body fat:
For women trying to gain their first 15 pounds of muscle or get to 20 to 25% body fat:
For advanced lifters trying to reach their genetic potential for muscle and strength:
Go for it!