What is Split Training?

Jessica Gore

Split training is a method that divides a full body workout over a number of days, focusing each day on a particular muscle group. This type of program allows athletes to train target areas more intensely and efficiently, and to train on consecutive days without the risk of over-training. Split training programs generally divide the muscle groups based on where they are located, such as working upper body one day and lower body the next; or on what function the muscles perform, as in a push-pull split.

Split training targets specific muscle groups.
Split training targets specific muscle groups.

It is generally accepted that most muscles require approximately 48 hours to recuperate after resistance training. For larger muscles, or those that have been intensely worked, this number can increase to as much as 56 hours. While it may seem trivial, it is during the rest period after weight-lifting that muscle repair and growth occurs. Without this recovery period, no amount of exercise will result in increased size or strength. In fact, the opposite is often true, over-working a muscle or muscle group can result in fatigue, injury, and a lack of gains.

Split training might include one day of focusing on the biceps and a few other muscles.
Split training might include one day of focusing on the biceps and a few other muscles.

For novices, this does not pose much of a problem. Typically, a beginner routine involves a total body workout three days per week, allowing ample time between sessions for the muscles to heal completely. Once an athlete has progressed beyond the novice level, however, logistic problems can occur. More advanced routines often include increased numbers of workout sets, repetitions, or exercises per body part. This can lead to an impractically long workout if all muscle groups are trained in a single day.

Split training solves the problem of muscle recovery, as well as that of time management, by breaking up the workout to take place over a number of days. Most commonly, the routine is divided into two or three phases. A typical split might include pushing movements — involving the triceps, pectorals, and quadriceps, for example — on day one. Day two of the routine could then include pulling movements, such as those of the biceps, latissimus dorsi, and hamstrings. The third day might be a rest day, after which the cycle can repeat.

A common pattern to achieve an extremely high level of training is to split the routine over three days, followed by a single rest day. As it allocates more time per muscle group, this arrangement allows very intense training, employing the use of supersets, drop sets, or other advanced training techniques. Generally, this sort of split training schedule is reserved for training with a specific event in mind, and not employed as a year-round routine.

The beauty of split training is its flexibility, allowing a high degree of customization based on individual strengths, preferences, and time schedules. A common variation is the upper-lower split, which is executed in the same manner as the push-pull, but works all upper body part on one day, and legs on the next. Other athletes prefer to work arms, back, and chest on day one, followed by legs, shoulders, and abdominal muscles on day two. As long as each muscle group is receiving adequate rest times between focused work, there is virtually no limit to what form split training can take.

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