I apologize for the clickbaity headline, but it’s a question a lot of people — especially novices — ask.
In my experience, the best training split is the one that:
- Your body best responds to
- Will help you achieve your goals
- Fits your work/life schedule
- Stimulates; not under/over-trains
- Challenges you; giving a sense of purpose
- Most importantly, you enjoy
Point number six is most important because if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you might give it up. And that’s something we want to avoid.
I’ve known of bodybuilders who would blast and cruise on the harshest compounds for shows for several years only to lose interest in the sport and give up the gym altogether before they turned 30.
Even the most devoted lifters can lose interest and concede the gains they painstakingly made.
Enjoyment in lifting can come from witnessing success; watching your body grow before your very eyes or piling on the plates every month is enough to motivate many.
I’ve had friends, who would be considered “hard-gainers” by some, that gave up lifting weights completely because they weren’t happy with the results they were getting.
They would normally struggle with keeping down a force-fed 3000 calories — and, as they weren’t getting in enough food, they failed to pack on any significant size.
Of course, it ceased to become enjoyable or provide a sense of purpose. To them, it was exerting unnecessary effort and throwing money down the drain.
How frustrating it must be to bust your ass only to gain 2.5lb of bloaty water weight — mostly held in the face, love handles, and lower abs — after a year’s hard work.
I had a friend who fit the above profile and would work 60+ hours a week, making it too difficult to upkeep. Needless to say, one lower back injury suffered while deadlifting killed off his contagious motivation.
Also, training to “get big” or “get girls” are rather nebulous terms — and neither are conducive to happiness in the long run. What’s more, most novices often imbibe false, misleading, and inefficient information peddled by the fitness industry to push their lackluster supplements onto desperate newbies.
It is important to visualize success. Choose microcycles and macrocycles for the gym. What do you want to look like in a year vs what do you want to look like in five years?
It is also important to choose a realistic goal; you’re not going to put on 40lb of lean tissue in a year. Even if you blast test, tren, deca, hgh, ‘slin, etc, for a year straight and ate nothing but 4500kcals of chicken, rice, and broccoli a day; unless you have muscle memory, you would struggle to gain that amount of size.
If you have great genetics, you could put on 10-15lb in your first year if everything is on point. After that, the law of diminishing marginal returns kicks in. In your second year, you’d be lucky to put on 8lb; then 5; then 3; then 2; and so on…
Overvaluing your potential achievement is a great way to give up prematurely.
With experience, you will learn which training split(s) ticks all the boxes above. I’ve had dozens of different splits throughout my life. Many of them, although supremely effective, haven’t been enjoyable as they were too demanding and pushing. “Off” days in the gym could offset an entire week, for example.
I’m getting older; I don’t have the same energy levels at 30 as I did at 22. Heck, at 26 is when I noticed things going down hill — but you learn to accept it.
Cutting to the chase, my most effective split when I was powerlifting looked like this:
Sumo deadlift for reps
Weighted back raise
Lat Pull Downs
Seated Chest-Supported Rows
Heavy Barbell Rows
Weighted Back Raise
Seated Military Press
Heavy Incline Press
Weighted DIPS AMRAPS
Seated Chest-Supported Rows
Side Lateral Raise
Again, these splits were monstrously effective in gaining strength but were extremely taxing on my body.
I managed to work with this split for several years, but working with heavy spinal loads for this period of time led to spinal compression in my lower back as I stupidly failed to do any decompression work and neglected stretching.
Now, as I made the decision to switch to bodybuilding, with a view to compete in the classic physique division in the future, my split, although requiring six days of training a week on average, is both enjoyable and causes less irritation to my lumbar spine.
It looks a little something like this:
Day 1, Chest:
Bench Press variation — dumbbells or barbell
Incline Bench Press variation — dumbbells or barbell
Floor pec flyes — I do them off the floor because they are uncomfortable when elbows reach 90 degrees
Dips — I currently don’t have a multi-pulley cable machine as I’m in lockdown
Burnout set — AMRAP of pushup variations to force blood into the muscles
Day 2, Back:
Weighted Pull Up Variation — teaching myself some intermediate calisthenics for fun.
Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row
Inverted Bodyweight Row
Day 3, Shoulders and Arms:
One Overhead Pressing Variation — currently using the Bradford Press
Seated Side Lateral Raise
Standing Side Lateral Raise — really focusing on 3D Cannonball look
Band Face Pulls
Curl Variation 1
Curl Variation 2
Tricep Extension Variation — triceps are already stimulated from pressing
Day 4, Legs:
Squat Variation — Keep weights light and reps high to compensate
Lunge Variation — as above
Day 5, Rest.
Not only is this workout split enjoyable, but it addresses all the muscles I am seeking to stimulate. I love training; and this routine allows me to train almost six days a week on average.
I don’t think it’s necessary to throw in an extra arm day, personally, but that would be the lifter’s own prerogative. Plus, I also find doing back then biceps and chest then triceps to be overkill — but experience varies from person to person.
The list at the top of the post will also assist with choosing the best split for you.
If you’re an avid sportsman, the typical bodybuilding bro split — chest and tris, back and bis, shoulders, arms and abs,
skipped leg day, rest — probably isn’t going to do the most for you if sheer athleticism is your goal.
Either a full body, upper-lower (my favorite for athleticism), or push-pull adding athletic/explosive exercises might favor you more as an athlete.
If you’d like to know what I think your best training split would be, please don’t hesitate to email me at [email protected].