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Bodybuilding Workouts:
Using Split Routines Effectively

When planning your workouts, one technique is splitting your muscle groups up. Splitting your routines gives you the opportunity to work more intensely on a specific muscle group within a workout because you have less area to cover.

Many fitness experts will tell you that only the genetically-gifted bodybuilders should use split bodybuilding workouts because most of us are not blessed with their recovery abilities.

The concern of these experts is not without merit. Overtraining is one of the most common mistakes made by those trying to increase size and strength.

Split routines can be used safely and can be extremely effective for all levels of bodybuilding trainers. They do need to be used with caution, however. When using splits, pay close attention to how your body is reacting. Muscle soreness and tightness are clear indications that a muscle group is not ready to be worked again, directly or indirectly.

For example, your chosen split routine may call for you to work your triceps on day one and then come back on day three with a chest workout. The chest workout will indirectly hit your triceps and unless your triceps are fully recovered from your day one bodybuilding workout, your chest workout will suffer and you will do more harm than good to your triceps as well as be risking injury.

Intensely working a muscle group in a split routine will necessitate a longer recovery period than would a full-body weight training routine.

For the most part, beginners as well as intermediates using split routines will be best served to stick to directly working a muscle group once a week. There may come a day when your body becomes more conditioned to your weight training and will react positively to additional bodybuilding workouts but for many that day will never come.

Full-Body Weight Training Routines

Weight Trainer doing bicep curlsStudies have repeatedly shown that full-body single-set routines can create as much muscle growth as split routines. This is particularly true for beginners. Regardless of your level of experience, a full-body routine can be a great bodybuilding technique to have in your arsenal.

A twice a week full-body routine can be an excellent change from splits. You can choose to concentrate on doing multiple sets of compound exercises or doing a single-set routine which incorporates some isolated exercises in addition to your compound exercises into your bodybuilding workouts. A once a week routine might even be a good thing to try.

The lesson here is that although splits are largely considered the only way to go when attempting to add mass, studies don't necessarily support this conventional wisdom. Dismissing full-body routines as only suitable for beginners can be a mistake.

There is no single best way to work out all the time. Change is good.

Principles of Good Splits

One principle of a good split is that, as much as possible, you want to put muscles that are hit hard by the same compound exercise in the same bodybuilding workout.

For example, triceps pushdowns should not be done in the second workout of the week after having performed bench presses in the first. The bench press's main target is the pecs but it also hits the triceps hard. In the bodybuilding workout following the one with bench presses, the triceps are not likely to be recovered and therefore receptive to another strenuous workout. You'll be overtraining and wasting time.

Similarly, you wouldn't want to put exercises for the glutes in one workout and exercises for the quads in the next. Or, the delts in one workout followed by a triceps exercise in the next. The crossover effect will defeat the purpose of the split.

The best splits either put together muscle groups which co-habitat nicely (triceps and pecs) or have little to do with one another (hams and biceps). This having been said, when you venture beyond two-day-a-week splits, it can be difficult to find enough splits to totally prevent crossover and satisfy your desires to keep the body from adapting to a specific split.

Visible muscle illustrationSome crossover is necessary and can be okay. Your upper body (abs, chest, arms, and shoulders) will generally need the least amount of recovery time. This has to do with the fiber make-ups of these muscles. In a three-day-a-week bodybuilding workout schedule you may be able to handle pecs exercises in workout one and then, three days later, triceps exercises in workout three (followed by two days rest).

Your legs will be less likely to be able to handle increased workouts. Your lower back muscles will need the most time to recover (splitting the glutes, quads and hams into different workouts, all of which call for exercises that stress the lower back, should be watched carefully). Pay attention to soreness or tightness in the lower back as this can mean your splits are causing these muscles to be overtrained. Only experience and tracking will tell you how your body reacts to various bodybuilding workouts.

Don't be scared to experiment but don't do so without some sound reasoning.

Another bodybuilding technique to apply when designing or deciding on a split is to place the body-part which is your trouble spot at the first of the week. This will be the time when you are most rested and have the most energy to give to your bodybuilding workouts.

Upper/Lower Split Training Routines

This type of bodybuilding split is much as the name suggests - you simply divide the body into upper and lower sections, working those sections on alternating bodybuilding workouts. You can do this with a two-day-a-week routine or a four-day-a-week routine as follows:

Split 1: 4-Day-a-Week
Day 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Workout Upper Lower Rest Upper Lower Rest Rest

At least initially, I recommend staying with three-day-a-week programs to gain muscle mass. Here are a couple of examples:

Split 2: 3-Day-a-Week
Day 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Workout Glutes
Quads
Hams
Abs
Rest Pecs
Traps
Lats
Delts
Triceps
Rest Calves
Biceps
Forearms
Abs
Rest Rest

The good part of the above split is that it does a great job of preventing crossover. The bad part is that it therefore limits the time you have to hit your chest and shoulders (remember, no more than an hour per workout).

It does allow for an intense bodybuilding workout for the biceps and calves and if these are problem areas for you (and they are for many) this can be a great split. It is an excellent split for beginners when first switching from full-body routines to splits.

A note on ab training: Abs will be among your quickest recovering muscle groups. Though everyone is different, generally people will respond best to two or three ab workouts per week.

Split 3: 3-Day-a-Week
Day 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Workout Pecs
Lats
Traps
Abs
Rest Glutes
Quads
Hams
Calves
Abs
Rest Delts
Triceps
Biceps
Forearms
Abs
Rest Rest

The bad part of Split 3 is that there is some crossover - you are hitting the triceps two times. The bodybuilding workouts are spaced out as well as possible however. The end result of this split is that it is more balanced than the previous split and if your body can handle it, it can be a very good split to have in your arsenal.

Variations to the above splits can be made to allow you to concentrate more on your weakest spots. For example, if my weak spot is my quads, I may take my calve exercises and put them in my day 5 workout in Split 3. This will allow me to better concentrate on my quads on day 3.

Split 4: 4-Day-a-Week
Day 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Workout Lats
Pecs
Abs
Traps
Delts
Abs
Rest Glutes
Quads
Hams
Abs
Triceps
Biceps
Forearms
Rest Rest

The above 4-day-a-week split allows you to concentrate on shoulders and arms. By giving you 33% more workout time per week, obviously the 4 day-a-week bodybuilding workout program gives you more ability to concentrate on different muscle groups. The above split could be easily modified to concentrate more on virtually any body part. What your tracking will show you is whether or not this extra work is productive for you. It is a difficult concept for many weight trainers to grasp that less can be more.

If results aren't coming, do not assume it is because you are not working enough. Instead, chances are, you are doing too much. Instead of making this assumption, first switch to a two-day-a-week split or a 2-day-a-week full-body routine if your progress has halted and you may save yourself some frustration.

Split 5: 2-Day-a-Week
Day 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Workout Upper Rest Rest Lower Rest Rest Rest

The above simple split might not seem glamorous, it may not make you feel like a warrior looking at it on paper, but it may just be what gets you looking more and more like the monster you imagine.

Remember, the "rest" days are when your muscle's grow.

Push/Pull Split Training Routines

Push exercises are those which require you to push the weight away from your body (i.e. bench press). Pull exercises are those which require you to pull the weight toward your body (i.e. rows). Push/pull routines aim to help keep your muscles balanced. Keeping your muscles strong in both pushing and pulling movements helps to keep them coordinated and able to work together efficiently.

Using an upper/lower split and supersetting a push exercise with a pull exercise are effective ways to work on your muscle balance. For example, the bench press supersetted with dumbbell pullovers.

Push/pull routines have you do only push exercises for one workout and then only pull exercises in the next. The typical push/pull routine (also called push/pull legs routine) is as follows:

Split 6: 3-Day-a-Week
Day 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Workout (Pull)
Biceps
Forearms
Lats
Traps
Abs
Rest (Push,
Legs)

Glutes
Quads
Hams
Abs
Rest (Push)

Pecs
Delts
Triceps
Abs
Rest Rest

A push/pull routine is something that should be in your regular schedule of splits. You should always be thinking about muscle synergy and muscle balance.

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