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June 13, 2022 7 min read

Leg day is a popular day in the gym world, and sometimes even a dreaded one. The funny thing is, you don't hear a lot of hype around arm day or upper body day in general.

That may be because the back squat and deadlift are considered some of the Kings of exercises, but knowing how to incorporate all of the other muscle groups into your routine is important for a healthy, balanced body. 

Walking into the gym with a plan in mind is part of what helps keep you motivated and on track. Otherwise, you may find yourself wandering aimlessly and barely even working out at all. 

What are Workout Splits? 

Exercising different muscle groups, body parts, or movements on specific days throughout the week is considered a workout split.

This approach to a workout routine can help bodybuilders and the average lifter optimize their performance and goals.

With a consistent routine, you can eliminate the need to just go with the flow. In any other instance, this may seem fun and spontaneous, but in the gym, it could make or break your workouts. 

Following a program can help make you successful in your fitness journey, and in fact, several bodybuilders utilize a workout split for building muscle.

Even if you're not looking to sculpt your physique like Arnold, organizing your workouts through muscles or movements can help you build your desired body composition and can improve muscle imbalances

Aside from staying organized, a workout split can give your muscles enough time to recover in between sessions, and recovering properly plays a large role in building strength and muscle.

Types of Workout Splits

Choosing the best workout split can be determined by a couple different factors.

The first being your goals. Powerlifters who are looking to build strength will likely have a different split routine than bodybuilders who are looking for muscle growth.

Same goes for your training experience. Beginners may need less intense workouts to avoid overtraining, whereas advanced lifters may need more recovery days and more intense workouts. 

Another factor is how your daily life affects your time in the gym. Maybe your work schedule is so demanding that you can only spend three days a week in the gym. If that's the case, you'll want to get the most out of the time you have.

You'll also want to understand your weaknesses in the gym. If your weak point is your arms, you may focus on these first after a rest day, or first in a workout in general. 

Either way, determining a split depends on you. There are different types of workout splits to choose from, but it's important to stay consistent with whichever one works best. Consistency is key when it comes to getting results. 

Push/Pull/Legs Workout Split 

A poor balance between pushing and pulling exercises can result in poor flexibility, strength, posture, and movement patterns.

The push/pull/legs workout split helps reduce these risks by dividing these movements equally between different days.

It is typically spread out between three to six days, either spending one or two days a week on each section. This can be beneficial for lifters with varying availability because at least three days in the gym is sufficient and typically an attainable goal. 

It's split between upper body push and pull, and legs have a separate day.

This can be ideal for powerlifters because they can then focus on the pushing for bench press, pulling for deadlifts, and legs for squatting all on different days of the week.    

If you decide to train up to six days a week, it's important to do it safely to help avoid unnecessary stress on your body. One of the best ways to utilize a six day push/pull/legs split is dedicate three times a week to bigger, compound exercises and three times a week to smaller, isolated exercises. 

An example of a push/pull/legs routine may look like: 

  • Monday: Heavy bench press (push)
  • Tuesday: Heavy deadlift (pull)
  • Wednesday: Heavy back squat (legs)  
  • Thursday: Rest day 
  • Friday: Low weight triceps extension (push)
  • Saturday: Low weight biceps curl (pull)
  • Sunday: High volume lunges (legs) 

Upper/Lower Body Split 

Splitting your workout into upper and lower body can be beneficial for lifters who need to optimize the time they have for the gym. This split is typically done between two to four days per week, which can help give you plenty of recovery time in between.

Although two days a week may seem like not enough, it can be beneficial for bodybuilders or anyone focusing on hypertrophy

The days dedicated to your upper body typically consist of chest, upper back, shoulders, biceps and triceps. Whereas, the days dedicated to the lower body typically consist of core, lower back, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves.    

Your upper body consists of several muscle groups, so it may seem overwhelming to get all of them in in one session, so it can be best to use compound exercises like the barbell row or the leg press to target several muscles at once.  

An example of an upper/lower split may look like: 

  • Monday: Two upper body major muscle groups  
  • Tuesday: Two lower body major muscle groups 
  • Wednesday: Rest day 
  • Thursday: Two upper body smaller muscle groups 
  • Friday: Two lower body smaller muscle groups  
  • Saturday: Rest day 
  • Sunday: Rest day 

Body Part Workout Splits 

Isolating one to two body parts per training session is a beneficial way to get those muscle gains.

The body part split, also known as the bro split, typically focuses on each body part twice a week, so you can have enough time to recover in between, which is essential for muscle building.

Exercising a muscle twice a week has been shown to create the greatest hypertrophy, and the body part split is a great way to still hit the gym frequently without overtraining or being limited by soreness.  

This training program is popular among bodybuilders because it can help avoid exhaustion, which a full body workout might create.

This can also help create a more symmetrical body and improve imbalances, so you're not doing the same exercises everyday.    

With this split, your muscles can get two to three days of recovery before hitting them again. If you have less time to spend in the gym, you may be training two body parts per session, such as chest and triceps, but some lifters only focus on one. 

Here's an example of what one might look like: 

  • Monday: Chest/triceps   
  • Tuesday: Back/biceps  
  • Wednesday: Legs/shoulders  
  • Thursday: Rest day 
  • Friday: Chest/triceps  
  • Saturday: Back/biceps  
  • Sunday: Legs/shoulders

Five Day Split 

This training split divides your sessions into a five day workout plan, which can allow you to hit every major muscle group through the week.

Typically, you would use Monday through Friday as your training days and use the weekend as your recovery, but you can split the days however works best for you. Although the training frequency is higher, it doesn't necessarily mean your training volume has to be lower since each muscle group gets their own day. 

Structuring your 5 day split is up to you and can depend on when you want your rest day or if you're implementing cardio, but the idea of separating each muscle group stays the same.

This split can be effective, but it requires a lot of dedication.

Spending an hour in the gym almost everyday may not be feasible for some lifters. 

This type of split can be high-intensity since you can be putting more stress on your body. It's also important that you take full rest days, eat the proper nutrition, and get enough sleep to help avoid exhaustion. Your sleeping habits can greatly affect your workout and recovery, so developing a good sleep schedule and taking a sleep aid like Rested-AF for deep sleep and recovery can help.  

A 5 day workout program may look something like this: 

  • Monday: Chest   
  • Tuesday: Back  
  • Wednesday: Shoulders  
  • Thursday: Legs 
  • Friday: Arms  
  • Saturday: Rest day   
  • Sunday: Rest day 

What's Wrong with a Total Body Workout?

Technically, nothing. Training the full body in a workout will require you to exercise as many muscle groups as you can in a single training session. Doing compound movements can be the most efficient way to get this done without having to spend hours in the gym.

It can be a good way to build strength, but it may not be the most efficient way to build muscle since isolated exercises help to build hypertrophy. If you're new to weightlifting, this may seem more appealing because the training volume is often lower, helping to minimize delayed-onset muscle soreness. This also allows new lifters to get used to equipment or certain movements. 

Workout splits help give strength training more structure and flexibility.

If muscle growth is your goal, dividing your workout into splits can be a better choice than a total body workout. However, total body workouts can be beneficial for building strength. It also depends on your schedule. Splits typically work well with lifters with limited availability. Working out one to three days per week can be sufficient enough, especially if you're working with heavy isolated or compound lifts.   

The split or total body training approach can be done using barbells, dumbbells, or bodyweight and can be interchanged. Either can be beneficial for you, depending on what your goals are. 

So Which One is Best?

This is a tough question to answer because each split comes with its own benefits.

The push/pull/legs split is a fairly popular one among powerlifters because you can train the three big lifts: bench press, back squat, and deadlift.

That doesn't go to say you can't train these with a lower/upper body workout too though, but the structure and frequency is different.

The bro split is popular among bodybuilders because it enables you to hit each muscle group separately and gives ample recovery in between.

The five day split is beneficial for spreading out each muscle group throughout the week and also gives enough rest time for growth. 

Deciding on the best workout split will take some evaluating on your part. How much availability do you have to dedicate to the gym? Is your goal to build the most amount of muscle? Or strength? Is your goal just to be active everyday? 

Just walking around the gym may help you get your steps in, but that's about it. Structure and routine is the best way to stay on track, and it will help take the guesswork out of your training program.

Whether you're training one day or five days per week, remember to practice proper recovery by eating enough and getting enough sleep. Once you have a structured workout and rest day schedule, you'll be seeing results in no time.