How to Choose the Right Training Split for Your Goal – Part I

Full-body Workouts, Upper/Lower Splits, and the Push/Pull/Legs

Hey Angels and Alphas,

You can’t deny it – one of the leading long-term contributors to achieving your fitness goals will be the way you’re scheduling and structuring your workouts.

Of course, nobody is going to magically invent a routine that solves all your problems and gives you the body of your dreams overnight. But that doesn’t mean that striving for it is a bad idea!

If you want to be the most productive you can be in the gym and reach your strength or weight goals faster, you have to decide upon a consistent, productive training split.

You’ll probably go through a lot of different ones over the course of your journey. Through some parts of your life, you’ll only have the time to squeeze in 3 workouts a week. While at other times, when you’re more focused on your fitness goal, you can allow yourself 6 days of training.

These splits are the structure by which your average week in the gym goes by, and learning more about your options is essential to making the right fitness decisions long-term!

To organize the perfect training program, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself:

  • What’s my goal right now?
    Are you pursuing rock-hard triceps and chiseled abs? Are you just trying to stay fit? Or are you planning to pursue a competitive goal?
  • How experienced am I?
    If you’ve been training for a long time, you can allow yourself a higher training frequency.

    There’s no problem moving from a 5-day routine to a 6-day routine, but beginners or people who only train 1-2 times per week should be careful when it comes to sharp jumps in the intensity of their regimen.
    Also, take into account your weaknesses at this point. If you’re doing a longer split, you will have the opportunity to fit an extra body part in your workout so you can add a little bit more emphasis to it.
  • How many days a week can I train?
    If you’re always running around, juggling a dozen things between work, family, and your social life, you might not have the physical capacity to dedicate 6 days of the week to working out. (Even though short workouts work wonders, but that’s another story.)

    But if you’re fully dedicated to reaching a specific goal, you have enough time to pursue it, and you’re giving every major muscle group enough rest in between training days, 6 days a week of training could actually be a significant benefit.
    Keep in mind that, just because you’re bringing more work days doesn’t mean you’re increasing intensity. What you are doing is decreasing the amount of rest you get between those days. So be careful and DON’T work out the same muscle group directly without giving it at least 48 hours of rest.
  • How much rest do I need?
    Rest days aren’t what you do on your day off your routine. Rest days are a part of your routine, and they should be treated with the same importance as training days.
    And we’re not talking about just physical recovery. If you’re living a super busy, stressful life, you might need more physical rest than the average person. And that’s completely okay. But if that’s the case, you also need to do something to re-charge your batteries. This could be a rest day. It also could be a day dedicated to self-care or a day you spend outside!
    Either way, don’t fall in to the trap of demonizing rest days and labeling them as “days of not chasing your goal”. Because in fact, those are the days when you experience your most significant growth.

Once you’ve answered these questions for yourself, it’s time we start taking action!

Down below, I want to talk about the 3 most popular training splits in modern fitness – the full-body workout split, the push/pull/legs, and the upper/lower-body split.

There are a billion options you can choose from when it comes to actually structuring your exercises, sets, reps, and rest periods, so we’re just following a general model.

And the basics are always the right place to start.

If you’re stepping inside the weight room for the first time, stick to the first option – full-body workouts.

As you get more advanced, you gain the experience necessary to be more aware of your body, of all the exercises you do, and how much intensity you can handle on each.

Advanced lifters can handle less rest, more intensity, and more volume. Therefore, for those of you who have some experience under the bar, refer to the 4 questions and then make the best decision for yourself!

Let’s look at the 3 most popular training splits right now and I’ll give you an example at the end of each!

1. The Full Body Split

This is a training split most often categorized as a beginner’s go-to. And for good reason!

Training all your major muscle groups in one go usually involves doing just a few exercises with only a few sets on each.

This lower volume gives your body the ability to start adapting to this new stimulus, utilize more muscle fibers, and reduces the muscle soreness that sometimes discourages beginners.

Not to mention, full-body splits often get linked to more fat burn, as well as faster strength gains for beginners.

The split usually involves training all big muscle groups in the same workout and repeating that 3 times a week, with 48 hours of rest between training days.

Here’s an example week of training with this split:

  • Monday: 1 exercise for each major muscle group, 4 sets, 10-12 reps
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: 1 exercise for each major muscle group, 4 sets, 10-12 reps
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: 1 exercise for each major muscle group, 4 sets, 10-12 reps
  • Saturday: Rest

2. The Push/Pull/Legs

This is a classic split, a favorite among all gym goers.

With time, as you progress in your fitness journey, you’ll develop the resilience necessary to train your body with more specificity.

One of the most common ways of categorizing which muscles to train on which day is looking at your major muscle groups, and the movements they’ll be doing.

Essentially, it entails grouping all your pushing muscles – your chest, shoulders, and triceps, and training them on the first day. Then taking all your pulling muscles – your back and your biceps, and training them on day two. And finally, leaving the best for last, training your legs on day three.

Abs can be trained pretty much every day.

The reason they’re grouped this way is that by using multi-joint exercises, you are essentially training all the muscles that are aiding that movement.

If you’re doing a barbell row, you’re engaging your biceps and your rear delts. If you’re bench pressing, you’re also hitting your triceps and your shoulders.

Alternatives such as the 4-day or 5-day split might not allow enough recovery time for these major muscle groups, so this split naturally became the most productive choice for the average but ambitious gym goer.

The Push/Pull/Legs split also allows you to efficiently work on your weaknesses by adding a third exercise for the muscle group you want to focus on.

For example, if you notice that your rear delts aren’t looking as sharp as usual, you can add one more exercise that solely focuses on them during your pull day.

With this split, you can either choose to rest once every 6 days or once every 3 days. If you choose the latter, you’ll essentially be hitting the entire 3-day split twice in the course of 8 days which is excellent when it comes to training volume for bodybuilding.

Here’s a quick example:

  • Day 1: Chest, shoulders, and triceps – 2 exercises each; 4 sets; 12, 10, 8, 6 reps.
  • Day 2: Back and biceps – 3 exercises each; 3 sets; 12, 8, 6 reps.
  • Day 3: Legs – 4 exercise; 3 sets; 12, 8, 6 reps.
  • Day 4: Rest or Repeat!

3. Upper/Lower-Body Split

The Upper and Lower-body Split is a super productive choice for the intermediate level lifter who wants to start transitioning form full-body workouts to the more impactful splits like push/pull/legs.

It allows you incredible control over your volume of work – you keep your volume low and slowly increase it until you can reach a point where you can train your upper body in two separate days.

You perform the split by separating your body into your upper part – chest, back, shoulders, arms, and abs, and the lower part consisting of your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and abs.

Yes, abs can be done pretty much every day.

By using this split, you can quickly identify your weak spots, so you know for sure what body parts you need to start emphasizing.

By increasing the volume for your weaker body parts, you’re building a solid foundation that will make the transition into advanced methods much more smooth.

With the upper/lower split, you can either choose to do 6 to 8 reps per exercise and put the emphasis on strength, or focus on hypertrophy by picking a wider rep range like 10 to 12 or even 15.

Because you’re doing a bit more volume for each body part (compared to full-body workouts), you’ll need more rest days before repeating the same workout again.

Here’s what it looks like:

  • Day 1: Chest, Back, Shoulders, Biceps, Triceps – 1 exercise each, 5 sets, 6-8 or 10-15 reps
  • Day 2: Quads, hams, glutes, calves, abs – 1 exercise each, 5 sets, rep ranges 10 down to 6 or 15 down to 10
  • Day 3: Rest.

And repeat!

Pro tip: You can also repeat the split once before you take a rest day, but I recommend doing this only if you’re past the beginner stage. If you want to just generally increase intensity for smaller body parts, you can try doing 2 exercises for each body part, for 3 sets each!

But we’re going deeper…

So far, we’ve looked at the 3 most popular training splits in the fitness community!

Your natural progression from total-body workouts, to an upper/lower split, to then a push/pull/legs split… is something that will happen in the course of your journey.

Maybe not even in that order.

But with time, you’re going to try different things, you’ll find out what split suits your lifestyle the most, and you need to be using the one that’s the most productive and enjoyable for you.

We’re not going to stop at these 3 training splits…

What about more advanced splits?

Are there ways you can train that will let you get more out of your exercise in a certain situation?

Training splits that are engineered around your lifestyle, your weaknesses, and your body’s neurological needs?

For those of you who want to go in-depth on the topic of choosing the right training split…

I’ve created a Part 2 of “How to Choose the Right Training Split for Your Goal”, in which I’ll go over the more advanced, specific, complicated training regimens out there.

So If you want to learn more about training splits like the 4-day, the 5-day, the Intensive/Extensive split, and more…

I’m waiting for you in Part 2 – read right here!