Some people swear by training body parts once a week like the typical bodybuilding routine you will see in magazines. As a natural bodybuilder I have found what works for me is to not destroy a muscle group once a week but to train it more frequently. When you train a muscle all the adaptation happens within three days so only training once a week leaves 4 days where your muscles are not being stimulated. For myself I prefer to train a muscle at least twice and often three times a week.
Here are some of the programs I have used since I started training but there are many more out there. Just be sure to track your workouts and work to increase reps and or the weight over time and you should see results.
When I first started training I started out with Dorian Yates’ Blood & Guts 6 Week Trainer. I would use this if you are just starting out or just getting back into training and only for about 6 weeks and then you should move on to a more advanced program.
The next program I trained on is Layne Norton’s PHAT system. PHAT stands for Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training and the exercises can be modified to focus on areas you need to better develop your physique. The idea is that within a single week you would train for strength, power and hypertrophy.
Another similar program I have used is a program by Cliff Wilson called Power Block Periodization and again this focuses on developing strength and hypertrophy in a single week and uses a variety of rep ranges to maximize growth.
Last but not least I have worked with Mike Zordos as well as Alberto Nunez of 3DMJ who both created customized daily undulating periodized (DUP) training blocks for me.
Currently I am working with Alberto Nunez again following a custom program. I run a training log on the forums here.
For a good overall understanding about training I highly suggest watching Eric Helm’s Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid Series.
Dr. Mike Israetel posted the following on his Facebook page. I felt he did a great job of addressing “The Best Bodypart Training Split” and have reposted it here for reference.
“The Best Bodypart Training Split” – by Dr. Mike Israetel via Facebook
Never in the history of social media did a single post about someone’s training split, or even a conversation about how to train a bodypart go without at least one comment to the tune of “so, what’s the best training split?” And that’s a perfectly valid question to ask… of course if there was such a thing, we’d want to know about it! Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a “best” training split, even if you zoom in to a specific sport or outcome, like just bodybuilding, just powerlifting, or just general fitness. In Point #1 below, I’ll discuss the many (though not all) reasons why a “perfect” split for everyone doesn’t exist, but the good news comes in Point #2 in which I’ll share some guidelines as to how to design the right split for you. If you follow them, you won’t be guaranteed the optimal split. But you will sure as hell have a split that does two things; works for you and doesn’t totally suck by committing grandiose errors in program design!
1.) Reasons that there is no such thing as a “best split.”
a.) Number of training days
Some of the most effective training splits for hypertrophy, such as those pro bodybuilder Jared Feather designs and runs, have you training 6 days a week and most of those are double split sessions. Jesus, I don’t think most people have that possible answer in mind when they ask “what’s the best split for hypertrophy” on an Instagram post! Because people can commit only so much time to training and have some days in their schedules that simply don’t allow for training, not everyone can do the 6 day double split. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t great ways of arranging training to grow tons of muscle from anywhere between 3 and 6 days a week of training, with of course quite a few changes to the arrangements of the programs depending on how many sessions there are per week. Another very related concern to session number is session position. You’re going to have a very big difference in splits between two individuals who can both train 4x a week, but one of whom can pick any day they need for a session and the other of which cannot train AT ALL every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
b.) Amount of time one can commit per session
Not only is there a big difference between planning a split for someone who can do two hours of training each time for 4 days every week vs. 45 min each time, but there are asymmetrical concerns as well. For example, two individuals may both be available for 4 hours of training per week over 4 sessions, but one might have two of those days limited to 30 minutes each while the other can do a whole hour each time. The kinds of splits best for all of these scenarios will be vastly different based on the particulars of each scenario.
c.) Muscle Growth Priorities
Some people want bigger upper bodies, some want bigger legs, some want bigger everything, and some want to maintain size while getting super lean. Some have biceps that grow super fast from everything but chests that need the kitchen sink to grow and some have chests that grow from simply being around weights but calves that grow a millimeter a year with the weight of the world on them. How can a one-best-split be possible with so many differences in desires and genetic variants? Easy answer; it’s not!
d.) Frequency Options
The research so far (and there’s getting to be plenty of it) on frequency essentially says that within a pretty broad range of training frequencies, there’s scarcely a difference in outcome. Put another way, you can train each muscle literally every day or train it only once a week, and the net difference in growth will almost never exceed 10% if you equate weekly volume. In fact, it’s often less than that or even undetectable. If we delimit more realistic frequencies, something like training each muscle 2,3, or 4 times a week, the difference in results becomes close to nominal. How can there be a best split if training can be done with such different frequencies for such similar outcomes? Again, there probably can’t.
e.) Recovery and Decay Differences
Due to muscle size, strength, technique, leverage, or just molecular-level genetic differences, different individuals recover from the same kinds of training in vastly different ways. While one person may be able to deadlift 3x a week with 4 sets each time just fine, another individual might only be able to do 1 heavy set per session if it’s 3 sessions per week, or better yet only 3 sets once a week. On the decay front, some individuals need to squat multiple times a week for their technique to stay crisp, but others can squat every 2 weeks and feel completely comfortable. With such major differences quite commonplace, one split for everyone is just not realistic.
So if one split is ruled out, is the answer to “how do I make a good split” something morbidly banal and barely informative such as “it depends” or “do what works for you.” Nah. The good news is that while there is not one magic split to rule them all, there are some very dependable guidelines for effective split design. Let’s look at a few of them next.
2.) Guidelines for Effective Split Designs
a.) Choose the right number of training days for your schedule
Sounds like a no-brainer but I’ve made this mistake super often, and seen many others make it as well. Should you do the Jared Feather 6 day super split? Only if you can recover from it AND COMMIT to it RELIABLY. The best 5 day split is highly thrown off if you can only make it 4 days per week on the regular and only sometimes manage to squeeze in 5. Because doing a split only partially throws off so much of its effect, it’s a good idea to take whatever number of days a week you “think you might be able to train,” reduce that by one day, and try that. Or put another way, only choose a split that you KNOW you can commit to churning out, even on your super busy weeks.
b.) Choosing Your Training Frequency
Muscle respond pretty close to optimally to between 2 and 4 sessions of training (per muscle group) per week. When you build your split, make sure that every muscle is hit at least twice per week and you’re fundamentally good! Even if it’s not hit DIRECTLY in all of those sessions, that’s totally ok. For example, if you have one day on which you do curls and another on which you do a bunch of pulldowns and rows, biceps still basically get hit in some capacity twice and you’re good on that end.
c.) SRA Symmetry
The SRA Principle of training (Stimulus-Recovery-Adaptation) essentially says that your muscles grow in between training sessions, so that if you want the most growth, you should probably spread your sessions out pretty evenly. Instead of training arms Monday and then again Tuesday, training them Monday and again on Thursday would be much better. Once you’ve made your plan, reviewing it for any major SRA violations is likely a good idea.
d.) Priority Emphasis
Whatever muscles or movements you want to improve most should be trained early. That means both early in the training session and even early in the training week when you have the most energy to commit to the task. If you tell people that your split emphasizes chest but you train chest on Friday after Shoulders on Wednesday and Triceps on Thursday, and Friday’s session has a whole back workout before you even get to chest… you’re not actually prioritizing chest no matter what you tell people. On the flipside of priority; if some muscles are being deemphasized that session or that mesocycle, they should be placed towards the end of the session or hard training week where even the minimal energy you have left is good enough to cover their needs
e.) Hard/Easy Structure
When training muscle groups multiple times a week, there should be at least a smidge of hard/easy biasing to the sessions. This means that while maybe half to ¾ of the sessions can and should be hard and very taxing, the other sessions should be easier to allow for SOME recovery to occur for the next week. For example, if you’ve got biceps training every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, you might want to smash biceps on every day but Tuesday with 5 sets of legit work, but on Tuesday maybe just do 2-3 sets of some cable stuff. That Tuesday session still ads some volume and some stimulus, but also lets you recover a bit better and not overwhelm the system.
f.) Avoid Limiting Factor Mistakes
Some split designs are less effective because one of your training days impinges heavily on another, or one of your bodyparts in a session impinges heavily on another bodypart. For example, if you plan to deadlift Wednesday, don’t do tight-arch benching or lots of bent-rows on Tuesday, as that will fatigue your back so much it’s gonna make providing a safe and overloading stimulus on Wednesday a super uphill battle. On the intra-session front, don’t train your grip hard before heavy back work or your triceps before heavy chest work. Try training grip before lighter back work that isn’t limited by grip or training triceps a couple of days before your big chest session instead.
g.) Choose Economy of Effort vs. Economy of Time
If you do antagonist compound supersets (like bent rows with bench press or pullups with pushups) your workout will be super-efficient from a time perspective but will require a huge pain in your ass to set up and take some stimulus away for efficiency’s sake. On the other hand, straight sets of the same bodypart, exercise after exercise with normal rest is super stimulative to the bodypart, but takes a long time to pull off. If your goal is to get a certain amount of time-efficiency out of training vs. max hypertrophy effect, make sure your split reflects your priorities.
h.) Competing Activity Workarounds
If you work 14 hours of manual labor every Thursday but work an office job most other days, don’t put your heavy squat day on Thursday. And if you play another sport and practices are on Wednesdays and weekends, make sure you plan your split intelligently around those days instead of just assuming that your Monday leg workout will go fine even though you ran 10 miles total in a soccer game on Sunday.
That’s about it for the big chunks. If you make a split and it meets all of the above guidelines, the rest comes to programming (choosing your exercises, their volumes, intensities, and progressions from week to week) and periodization (how you structure your mesocycles together). And so long as you do that stuff well, your program will work great! Because of the diverse reasons described in Point #1, your split might not look like that of someone else or even the splits your ran before, and it’s not likely to be OPTIMAL, but, it will work very well!