Weight Training Program Splits

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Mass Confusion over Split Workouts

I have been trying to follow your workout plan, however, it is difficult to follow, I would like to work out 3 times a week, one day legs, one day back/ chest and I guess arms/abs, please help. Cannot understand the ABC concept.

On the Workout Menu, Each letter represents a particular workout on successive days. So ABCX would represent 4 consecutive days. Workout A on the first day, Workout B on the second day, and Workout C on the third day, followed finally by a recovery on the forth day indicated by X. The cycle would start all over again on the 5th day. Some programs conform to a 7 day week whereas others do not.

The 3 day splits are designed for advanced trainees working out most days of the week. According to the ACSM Recommendations for Resistance Training Exercises each muscle group should be exercised twice a week. Other Strength Dose-Response studies also suggest that the optimal training frequency is 2-3 times per week, depending on weight training experience. With some exception, this means that the 3 day splits are typically not recommended for those only planning to work out only 3 time per week.

If you are a beginner or just starting back from a layoff, consider designing a full body workout. At this stage, no more than one movement for each major muscle is necessary. As an intermediate trainee a 2 day split would allow you to perform more exercises while still keeping your time at the gym brief. See guidelines according to experience level under Number of Exercises and Sets question / answer.

If you believe a split program is appropriate for you, the design of the split program should allow for adequate recovery between workouts. The split you outlined may not allow enough time for the arms to recover when performed on successive days. Since arms are heavily involved during torso work it would be recommended perform a leg workout the day following a chest and back workout before training arms directly on the third day. Similarly, a recovery day on the fourth day would allow the arm to be more fully recovered before resuming with another torso workout. This is eluded to in the Workout Menu under the 3 Day Split Workouts Header where it indicates 6 days a week for Push/Pull... programs only.

Training the torso and arms on separate days allows the shoulders and arms to be emphasized at the expense of full intensity of either the chest or back (whichever is exercised later in the torso program). This split is however a bit less flexible than the Push/Pull/Leg or Thigh Split since one day off (X) between each cycle (every fourth day) is typically required with that split, thereby allowing the arms to be recovered for their involvement on torso day.

Also see Workout Creation Instructions.


Alternating Rest with Workout Days on 3 Day Split

I was wondering, on the Workout Menu you list workout templates, and under the 3 day split program I noticed there was no mention of XAXBXCX as a split method. Is there a reason this is not included - is it not a good idea?

Dose Response studies suggest more strength gains can be achieved by exercising each muscle group more often. See Strength Dose-Response Curve. If your ability to recover between workouts is compromised by a high volume workout, other physical activities, inadequate nutrition, or other reasons that you are unable to recover within a couple days, you may possibly make more progress exercise for each muscle group less frequently. See Low Frequency Training.


Exercise Order

I am making a training program with the existing templates on your website. The templates on your website are really good. I am really interested in the 4 day split push pull protocol. But when I looked at it, I noticed that after a big muscle, like hamstrings, a smaller one is performed, like biceps. For what reason is this interruption? Is it not better to do first of all the big muscles and after that the small ones (Eg Hamstring, Hamstring, Biceps)?

Great question! You could certainly do it the way you proposed and I have personally done it this way as well on other sort of splits. The templates are suggestions and certainly can be customized. I sometimes like performing leg curls before exercises like straight-leg deadlifts as a kind of pre-exhaust.

Generally large muscle groups are exercise before smaller muscle groups (ACSM 2002), particularly when the smaller muscle group will act as synergists or stabilizers in the exercise for the larger muscle group. See Weight Training Guidelines. However performing specific exercises earlier in a workout (regardless of their relative size to other muscle groups) also emphasize these movements or muscle groups (Spineti 2010).

Keep in mind the main rationale of placing large muscle groups first is that it is supposed to allow you to handle more weight for exercises that utilize larger muscles, requiring more energy. Placing a small unrelated muscle (eg: biceps, calves) between a second exercise for the larger muscle (eg: hamstrings, chest) is a techniuqe that may allow you to use greater resistance on that second exercise for the larger muscle, utilizing that short rest period, but you could certainly make an argument for performing them consecutively without an unrelated muscle group in between, as is traditionally done. The choice is certainly yours, but I would encourage you to try it both ways for at least a few weeks at a time to find your favorite.

Keep in mind, the 4 day split accommodates a higher volume program with more exercises and possibly more sets. Consequently, muscle groups are exercises less frequently than 2 or 3 day splits. For most people, I would suggest to only perform 4 day split programs sparingly, if at all. It is the sort of program you could use for leading up to a bodybuilding competition to accommodate more exercises. I would not suggest such a program for off season training..

Kraemer WJ, Adams K, Cafarelli E, Dudley GA, Dooly C, Feigenbaum MS, Fleck SJ, Franklin B, Fry AC, Hoffman JR, Newton RU, Potteiger J, Stone MH, Ratamess NA, Triplett-McBride T; American College of Sports Medicine (2002). Position Stand on Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc.;34(2):364-80. [http://exrx.net/WeightTraining/Guidelines.html]

Spineti J, de Salles BF, Rhea MR, Lavigne D, Matta T, Miranda F, Fernandes L, Simão R (2010). Influence of exercise order on maximum strength and muscle volume in nonlinear periodized resistance training. J Strength Cond Res;24(11):2962-9


Other 3 and 4 Day Split Options

Barbell SquatIn your list of 3 day and 4 day splits, I would also like to suggest another couple of options you might want to include:

  • 3 day split: AXBXCXX
    • Which is the 3 day split that most people follow.
  • 3 day push/pull/legs: ABXCX
    • Vegan bodybuilder friend of mine has made great progress with this split.
  • 4 day powerlifting: ABXCDXX
    • A = speed squats
    • B = speed bench
    • C = heavy squat assistance
    • D = heavy bench assistance

This routine (Westside Barbell Program) has produced several 900# squatters and 600# benchers for Louie Simmons.

BTW, your site is a common recommendation on the misc.fitness.weights newsgroup... where I'm a regular. We think it's great. Thanks again,

Watson (the ninja of nice) Davis

Watson, Thank you for your useful suggestions. Regarding "3 day split: AXBXCXX" (above), working each body part just once a week may be appropriate for maintenance work or for a program requiring longer recovery, such as high volume training or as a part of a periodization type program.


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