If you’re new to the gym this spring you’re quickly figuring out that fitness has a language all its own. You have the bootcamp class going for AMRAP while the guy at the squat rack is bragging about his one rep max. As you rest before attempting the next set of dips, another woman asks to “work in” on the assisted dip machine. She asks you, “Is it chest and tri day for you, too?”.
You stare at her thinking, “Are my triceps supposed to have a special day?”.
Workout splits, or how often you work a particular muscle group, can be one of the most confusing parts of a new strength training regimen. With the emphasis on high intensity programs in gyms and online training programs most people are training every muscle, every workout. The idea of a workout dedicated to just upper body or a specific muscle group seems foreign, even outdated, but making sure a muscle has adequate rest and attention is key to creating the physique you really want. Whether you’re new to the weight room or thinking about your first figure competition, there is a split that is right for you!
Full body workout: I always recommend beginners start with full body workouts 2-3 days per week with at least one day of rest in between each workout. Real fitness begins with building a base. Start by mastering basic, but functional, movements like planks, squats, lunges and push-ups before you move on to more advanced techniques.
Upper/lower: This one is a great next step, after full body workouts, in your strength training education. You can still do the big compound exercises you’re used to, like push-ups and squats, just do them on different days. It is also one of the most flexible splits for those who can only devote three days a week to strength training. Simply alternate workouts so you train both lower and upper body three times over a two-week period. If you’re short on time, an upper/lower split lends itself well to a giant sets (4-5 exercises done circuit style).
Push/Pull/Legs: Instead of thinking about individual muscles, you can think more about muscle function with this split. For example, you would do push-ups on push day, working not only the chest but also the triceps and core. This is also a great split to use along with “catch up” training. If you have a part of the body you feel is “lacking” you can add a fourth day in the gym to give it more attention. Do you feel you need to work on posture? Add a day for the rear delts and lower back. Or are you in search of a better backside? Add a fourth day to work on shaping your glutes.
Body part per day: Arms have their day. Chest, back, shoulders and legs each get their own days as well. Abs can be added to chest or shoulder day. Legs might get a second day if time allows. You will spend more time in the gym this way, but if you have the time it can be well worth it. Focusing on one group at a time, with multiple exercises per muscle, promotes muscle building and definition. Try this split combined with 3-4 days of cardio and a clean diet to build muscle and define your physique.
The magic of strength training happens at rest. It is during recovery that muscle tissue is repaired, rebuilt, and made stronger. If you don’t allow your body time to do so, by working every muscle every day, you may actually be derailing your progress. To avoid over-training and to get the most from your workouts make sure you’re using a split that makes sense for your goals and schedule.
Enjoy being a beginner. Don’t worry if you don’t have the lingo down yet. You’ll impress your fellow gym goers with your dedication and commitment if you keep coming back all year long!