This question may not pop up everyday, but the reason you don’t hear it often is because people think the answer is simple; full body, everyday.
What’s wrong with that?
This is a really incorrect approach to this question and decision. This week I want to take the time to go through a few of my favorite type of splits; one for 3 days, one for 4 days, and one for 5 days.
Training splits take much more planning than a simple assumption. Firstly, people need to be honest with themselves on how many times they actually have time to train per week. This does not mean “how many days per week they think they want to train”. If you are a beginner and want to get results fast, going 5-7 days per week will burn you out...fast. Why? Because your body is not used to doing any activity. You don’t know proper nutrition to help you recover from that daily activity. And you don’t know how to plan a proper training schedule for 5-7 days.
I do full body 5 days a week, so I’m good
Hang on...how much time do you spend training? An 30 minutes, an hour, 90 minutes? Did you know you have 640 muscles in your body? Are you telling me that you can focus on training the function and strengthen, and condition all your major muscles in that time?
I personally don’t know anybody that can. And the people that do this often find themselves with weird misalignments, aches and pains and injuries in the long run. Why? Because they cut corners. Muscles are there to perform a function. If they are not trained to perform that function, then something goes wrong; your knee buckles slightly to the left, your spine curves, your lower back hurts, your shoulders roll forward often, your stomach sticks wayyyy out in front of you. Do any of those sound like you? You probably have a muscular embalance. One that can be fixed by properly training the muscles that are currently too weak to do the function they were designed to do.
I’m dedicated! Why can’t I go all out?
Here’s the fact: if you are a beginner you DON’T NEED to be in the gym that often.
It’s like a game of poker. You have a certain amount of chips to bet (and you don’t have many). The first round is the ante. Your task is to string the game along so that you see as many cards on the table as you can while gambling the minimum amount of money you can. Why would you gamble all your chips when you have no idea how the cards will play out?
Back to fitness, what I mean is this: start your fitness lifestyle with 3 days per week of physical activity (unless you have a professional carefully planning every aspect of your training and diet- such as myself).
3 days per week?! That’s not going to get me results?!
....I beg to differ. Three days is plenty of time to get a ton of resistance training done for every part of your body, especially for a beginner. Furthermore, this allows for 24-48 hours for your body to recover and rebuild before you train again.
So here’s my recommended split for a 3-day per week resistance training program:
Day 1: Push
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Pull
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Legs
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Off
Okay. I’m listening...what should I do on each day?
This program is built around functional training. The concept of the split is to divide the body by the way it moves and the muscles it uses. This program is framed around 3 major lifts (known as the Big 3 in powerlifting).
These lifts are as follows:
Push days: Bench Press
Pull days: Deadlift
On each of these days, the idea is that you always do these big lifts first. For each of these exercises, try to really build the weight up to the point where it is challenging to do the number of reps you wanted to do. The rep ranges I recommend are 5-8, and 8-12. Stay on this exercise for about 5 working sets; that means you are actually working to get the weight up for your goal number of reps.
After you are done with the first exercise, the rest of your time in the gym can be spent doing accessory work. Accessory work are exercises that focus on emphasizing particular parts of the muscle or isolate one muscle at a time.
Exercises should target muscles in the following order:
Push days: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
Pull days: Back, Traps, Rear Delts, Biceps
Legs: Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves
These are the basics to designing a good 3 day split. I hope that this provides you with a good foundation on how to plan and commit to training.
Tomorrow, I will be releasing my favorite 4 day split with more details on how to build it. This will be another function based split with a little more attention to muscle shaping and proportions.