We’ve both been there. Your bar speed is explosive on every rep, and you’re adding strength regularly.
Your skin is tighter, shirt sleeves stretching, and muscles bulging as you’re building muscle and losing fat simultaneously.
You’ve got tons of energy, feel athletic, and are crushing your training.
Then WHAM. Like getting hit by a semi, your progress comes screeching to a halt.
Suddenly, your joints ache. Without four cups of coffee, you’re unmotivated, mentally foggy, and exhausted. You get through one or two easy warm-up sets and you’ve had enough–the gym is the last place you want to be. Suffice to say, your training sucks.
Except for the occasional finisher, brutal conditioning workout, or off day you should make constant gains and enjoy training. That’s why when your training takes a sharp dive off the deep end and your progress stalls it’s time to change.
Not just your grip or your stance. Nor a change from front squats to back squats.
No, I’m talking a monumental shift. A new training split. Yes, your long-term training principles should remain constant, but you need new methods. As long as you’re adding weight to the bar, moving like an explosive athlete, eating well, and sleeping enough then a new training split is what you need to build an athletic body.
And despite what some coaches say, there’s no one size fit’s all approach to training splits. A bodybuilder shouldn’t train exactly like an athlete, nor should a powerlifter train exactly like a weekend pavement pounder. Your training depends on your goals, energy system requirements, schedule, and individual differences.
That said, let’s review the best splits to help you build a stronger, shredded, and athletic body. I’ll explain the good and the bad of each, giving you the knowledge to pick your next training split so you can build the lean, athletic look you’re after.
Either way, a new program is exciting—renewed motivation will have you attacking each workout with eye-splitting intensity.
Decide your goal, stick to sound principles, and pick the training routine that best fits your goals.
Upper Lower Training Split
Upper-lower training splits are a novel progression for total-body training splits to allow more recovery and training volume. Upper body and lower body days alternate for 4 workouts in a 7-day training split.
Pros: Upper-Lower training splits are a great progression from total body training and work well with most populations looking to gain size and strength concurrently. Upper-Lower splits allow greater training frequency for quicker learning and mastery while still using significant loading, aka big ole’ weights like a boss. Upper-lower splits offer a moderate training frequency and Moderate-high volume for gains hypertrophy.
Cons: There are unbalanced training times with upper body workouts taking much longer than most lower body sessions. Upper-lower training splits offer shorter recovery time between training sessions compared to body-part splits, which may hinder recovery if you’re not getting enough sleep, working on tissue quality, nor eating enough steak. (P.S. here’s my favorite steak recipe)
Lower body training is brutal; doing it two times per week might be too much for the weak minded.
Monday: Upper Body (Push Strength Emphasis)
Tuesday: Lower Body (Squat Pattern Strength Emphasis)
Wednesday: Off/active recovery
Thursday: Upper Body (Pull Strength Emphasis)
Friday: Lower Body (Hinge pattern strength Focus)
Total Body Training Split
Total body training splits are maximally efficient and train the body as a unit rather than it’s component parts.
Pros: Total body splits are maximally efficient for those short on time and looking for full body stimulation. High frequency of stimulation for muscles and moderate training volume suits many goals, such as fat loss, strength building, and muscular hypertrophy. Total body training is good for building an athletic body and allows movement training like sprints.
Minimized “fluff” forces workouts to focus on the essential, not 13 variations of lateral raises. Total body workouts are great for beginners, fat loss, and general health. It’s easy to integrate other training modalities around total body routines as most movements and muscles are hit during each workout.
Cons: Low intra-workout volume will minimize metabolic stress related hypertrophy, so it’s not the best for your sweet, sweet biceps gains.
Plus, stronger lifters tend to struggle with recoverability from training legs 3x+/week. It’s a difficult split to train more than 3-4x per week without knowledge and self-awareness for auto-regulation.
Among all programs, these are the universal “best” for most busy dudes. They cover all your bases and eliminate the fluff.
1.Power Clean 5×3
2.Bench Press 3×6
4a.Farmer Walks 3×30 seconds
4b. Dips 3x 30 seconds timed set
1.Push Press 5×3
3.Chin Up 3×8-12
4a.Plank 3×30 seconds
4b. Biceps Curl 3x 30 seconds timed set
1. Back Squat 5×3
2. Bent Over Row 4×6
3. Dumbbell Bench Press 3×8-12
4a. Kettlebell Crosswalk 3×30 seconds
4b. Hip Thrust 3×12
3. Push-Pull Training Split
Push/Pull Training splits break training up by movement pattern. The movements on the posterior side of the body are predominantly responsible for pulling actions like deadlifts and chin-ups while the front/anterior side of the body is responsible for pushing actions like push-ups.
Unless you’re a glutton for punishment and want to try legs four days per week, pair legs on pull days.
Pros: Push-Pull routines are suitable for intermediate-advanced trainees. Push-pull routines are an economical way to train and allow for flexible planning. Moderate training frequency is better for skill acquisition, meaning you’ll learn movements and exercises faster.
You can combine push-pull routines combine with other training splits to create hybrid programs like an upper-lower push-pull routine.
Cons: Push-pull splits are limited with athletic populations unless you break up upper and lower body sessions. In this case, it becomes difficult to maximize training efficiency. Push-pull routines are a bit advanced for beginners looking to maximize their gains.
Day One: Pull (legs/hamstrings, back, biceps, lower back)
Day Two: Push (chest, shoulders, triceps, legs/quads, abs)
Day Three: OFF
Day Four: Pull (legs/hamstrings, back, biceps, lower back)
Day Five: Push (chest, shoulders, triceps, legs/quads, abs)
Day Six: OFF
Day Seven: OFF
4. Intensive/Extensive Training Split
These are my favorite.
The intensive/extensive split bases training splits on the neural demands of a workout. For example, a heavy/explosive day is often followed by a metabolic/higher volume day.
This also corresponds with conditioning.
So, a workout focused on jumps, cleans, heavy squats, and sprints is neurally demanding as it drains your nervous system. Without ample recovery between intensive training sessions, you’ll feel like garbage and injury risk will sky-rocket.
Instead of back-to-back heavy, you’d want to make your next session higher rep, less intense (in terms of loading and explosive exercises), and focused more on the pump.
Three or four days of training per week works best.
Pros: Intensive/Extensive training splits are advanced programming strategy for athletes looking to take the next step. Great for building an athletic body and training movement skills like acceleration in coordination with resistance training. Intensive/Extensive splits offer a sound progression for developing greater levels of performance.
Cons: Intensive/extensive training splits are advanced and complicated to design. IF your primary goal is to look great naked, you’ll want to eliminate *some* of the movement training and focus more on higher-rep work for better muscle building. Workouts are longer in duration on intensive days due to neural recovery demands of intense exercise.
Get Athletic an Athletic Body:
This example uses a Push-pull split (mentioned above) with movement training if you’re a competitive athlete.
Monday: Speed work (before if competitive, conditioning if non-competitive athlete), Olympic lift+ compound push exercises
Tuesday: Metabolic/ change of direction (before if competitive, conditioning if non-competitive athlete), Pull Emphasis
Thursday: Speed work, Olympic lift+ compound push exercises
Friday: Metabolic focus, pull emphasis in weight room
Saturday/Sunday: Active Recovery
Look Good Naked:
This is focused on keeping you athletic, but a bit more on body composition so you look hot.
Monday: Olympic lift+ compound push exercises, Heavy and explosive. Light conditioning.
Tuesday: Pull Emphasis, high rep (8-15+) and hypertrophy focused. Hard conditioning.
Thursday: Olympic lift+ compound pull exercises. Heavy and explosive, light conditioning.
Friday: Pull Emphasis, high rep (8-15+) and hypertrophy focused.
Saturday/Sunday: Hard conditioning 1x, active recovery
5. Primary Mover + Opposing Supersets
Also known as non-competing supersets or agonist, antagonist supersets these training splits work opposing muscle groups together. For example, a dumbbell bench press and a chest supported row.
Pros: Non-competing supersets are good for building muscle and achieving training balance.
You don’t want to be lopsided or injury prone, right?
Increased blood flow to antagonist muscle groups may improve performance and metabolic stress-related hypertrophy. Non-competing supersets are flexible and can allow for 3-6 days of training based on training age. Supersets are easily done to maximize training efficiency.
Cons: Difficult to integrate movement skills, but you can easily use jumping rope or sprinting as conditioning as a second workout. A bit advanced for beginners and tough to recover from for older dudes.
Monday: Chest+ Back
Tuesday: Legs optional Shoulders, sprints
Thursday: Chest/Back, sprints
Saturday/Sunday: active recovery/off
Training Split Considerations:
Above all else your training must be specific to your goal. IF that means getting jacked and athletic, then stop wasting your time on useless body part splits.
No matter how #beastmode you go– you won’t be a stronger, leaner, and more athletic by spending half your time curling in the squat rack.
How much time will you dedicate to training? Regardless of how “busy” you are you still have 24 hours like the rest of us. I don’t say this to be a dick, but it’s true.
You have the time to prioritize training if you want your dream body. Regardless, weigh how committed you are and pick a training split you know you’ll crush. For most dudes, that means crushing a total body training split so they cover all their bases.
Remember, a so-so training split done consistently is better than the best training split done inconsistently.
Training Experience: How strong and experienced are you in the gym?
For most guys, they’re best off crushing total body or upper lower training splits to get strong, explosive and athletic. Still, make sure you’re varying training as you gain strength and experience to prevent plateaus and minimize joint stress.
Recovery: The body is an integrated system. Rather than looking at recovery based on how your muscles feel you must take into account everyday stress, the nervous system, sleep quality, and nutrition.
For example, for a the past few years I crushed training in a high-end performance facility. That meant tons of sprints, jumps, throws, coffee, and explosive demonstrations. All these short, high-intensity bouts added up quickly, and I had to dial back heavy lifting, sprints, and jumps.
Now that I train fewer clients, write more, and demo less, I’m more recovered and can train harder more often.
Stress is systemic, everything counts and should be factored into your training.
Your Training Split to Build an Athletic Body
If your current training isn’t helping your build an athletic body, then you need to analyze your training, recovery, diet, and supplementation to fill in the gaps.
It doesn’t need to be complicated– find a program that fits your schedule, allows hard, athletic training, recover, and stick to it for the next 12 weeks. Then, reassess things once gains slow down and revisit this article to shock your body into new growth.
Most lifters fall into the trap of endlessly pursuing one goal at the expense of all other training parameters.
That’s fine for elite athletes. But for the rest of us, we’re after the total package.
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1. Gould D, Petlichkoff L. Participation motivation and attrition in young athletes. In: Smoll FL, Magill RA, Ash MJ, eds. Children in Sport. 3rd ed. Champaign IL: Human Kinetics; 1988:161-178.