Everyone has a training split they believe is best. The most common splits that you have probably heard of are: full body, chest/back/legs either once or twice a week, or every body part once a week. Personally, I was training every body part once a week. What that looks like is chest, back, shoulders, legs, and arms. Every major group is hit once a week for a balanced look. Nowadays many people don’t have time to hit the gym five days a week. I switched to a three day split because my schedule changes so much I can’t consistently train five days in a row. Many people are now switching to an upper/lower split or full-body because they can hit every body part whenever they are able to train. However, are these splits hurting your strength and muscle gains?
Lets take a look at frequency and volume. Whether you are hitting one full body workout versus two or even three makes a difference. A study by Thomas and Burns for the International Journal of Exercise Science compared three full body workouts a week to a push/pull/legs once a week. The volume was kept the same, meaning the low frequency group performed nine sets per body part a week while the higher frequency performed three sets three times a week. Results indicated that after 12 weeks, lean mass was about the same, meaning the amount of volume is linked to muscle gain. Similarly, the strength gain was only slightly higher in the lower frequency group.
Another study by McLester et. al. for the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that spreading the volume over three days rather than one produced better results in lean mass and strength gains. Still, the difference was minimal. So it seems the total volume that an individual plays a more significant role than frequency. A routine with a set volume can be split however you like and you will pretty much achieve the same results.
So what is the answer? What should you do? The answer is, it depends on the individual. Everyone’s life is different so you should adjust according to your schedule. Pick a split that works with you and makes you happy. I could hit full body three times a week, but I prefer hitting each muscle hard once a week. Another thing I suggest is to try a split or set a target volume and see how you like it. Everyone’s body is different so there is no right answer! I respond well to low frequency, but others may respond well to high frequency. Remember volume is more important than your split, so if you can’t change your split then play with your volume and set x rep scheme.
The most important takeaway is that everyone is different, so find a split and total volume that works with you and be consistent! I think too many people get caught up trying to optimize split and every set and rep for each exercise. Be happy and live healthy!
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