Four Training Splits to Build an Athletic Body

March 30, 2016

About the Author: Eric Bach Performance

If you’re like most lifters you’re interested in more than building muscle: you want an athletic body.

So, how can you build lean muscle, lose body fat, and reveal an athletic body type?

By incorporating proven methods designed to improve athletic performance along with transform your body.

Proven Methods To Build An Athletic Looking Body

Building a strong, lean, and athletic physique isn’t complicated. It requires focusing on a set of time-tested principles to help you optimize performance and longevity.

Building an athletic body isn’t complicated. You have to stick to proven methods designed to transfer your weight room training to real-world athleticism.

Build A Base of Strength

Strength is measured in two ways: absolute strength (the maximum amount of force exerted regardless of muscle or body size), and relative strength (how strong you are for your size).

Absolute strength gets all the likes on Instagram, but what’s more important for being athletic is relative strength–how strong you are for your size.

All other qualities being equal, the person who is relatively stronger will be able to move their body through space better–meaning you can sprint, jump, pirouette or whatever body-weight movement they’re called into action for.

Think Tyreek Hill for the Kansas City Chiefs. Hill is a freak athlete with insane amounts of relative strength: He can sprint like a cheetah and jump out of the gym.

 

Explosive Jumps and Throws

Being strong in the gym is pointless if you can’t generate strength fast.

That’s where power-primer performance boosters in the form of explosive jumps and throws are crucial.

Explosive jumps and throws prime your central nervous system (CNS), activating high threshold motor units, and improving neuromuscular efficiency through optimizing intramuscular (on a cellular level) coordination and intermuscular coordination within a specific movement.

This translates to improved performance on your specific movement patterns and moving more efficiently overall to improve athleticism.

Explosive Lifting

If your goal is to be more athletic you should emphasize lifting heavy weights to build maximum strength and lifting lighter weights faster, which helps you turn strength into power.

Lifting lighter faster has three key benefits:

    1. Improved Muscle fiber recruitment. More recruitment means more muscle fibers are stimulated. This helps you use more of the muscle you already have. If your goal is to put on lean mass, you must fatigue as much muscle fiber as possible.
    2. Less CNS Stress. Explosive lifting can be less stressful than maximum strength training. Stress is systematic and bleeds over from your personal life into training. By properly organizing your training you can mix in explosive training, dial back heavy lifting, and reduce overall stress while getting into athletic shape.
    3. Keep Joints Healthy and Increase Training Frequency. Heavy lifting over time wrecks joints. Play the long game and keep strength gains by introducing lighter, explosive lifting. Painful knees and elbows can disrupt training consistency, one of the biggest factors in achieving the athletic, lean physique you are looking for.

Unilateral Training

Unilateral training can help prevent injuries caused by muscular imbalances.

Have you ever gotten under a squat and noticed one hip coming up first? This could be a muscular imbalance and may lead to injury.

 Single-limb training can help reduce muscular imbalances and improve core/spine stabilization, which in turn, builds more functional strength.

Here’s one of my go-to exercises the single leg RDL.

  1. Sprint

Athletes with the most enviable physiques are often sprint athletes.

Similar to heavy lifting, sprinting requires a huge CNS output, meaning you’ll activate a ton of muscle fibers to rapidly produce high levels of tension.

Sprinting has been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis and HGH release (by up to 230% and 500%, respectively) while increasing testosterone, improving insulin sensitivity and increasing mTor signaling for up to two hours post-training.

In simpler terms, sprinting helps you get shredded and build muscle all while improving athletic performance.

The key to safe sprinting is to start slow and progress intelligently. I recommend most lifters sprint 1-2x per week starting on a hill or incline treadmill.

The incline position decreases the impact due to a shorter foot-fall distance and prevents overstriding–the primary driver of hamstring pulls.

What if you’ve covered your bases and you still don’t have an athletic body shape?

It’s time to get a new training split.

 

The Power Primer, athletic body, athletic body type

Here are 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 and getting in the best shape of your life. 

Athletic Body Split: Upper Lower Training Split

Upper-lower training splits are an excellent training split to help you build strength and muscle with four workouts per week.

Pros: Upper-Lower training splits are a great progression from total body training and work well if you want to gain muscle and strength.

Upper-Lower splits allow greater training frequency for quicker learning and mastering your lifts while still lifting heavy to build strength. Together, this helps you get better at your big lifts, train with enough volume to build muscle, and lift heavy enough to get strong. 

Cons: Upper body workouts can take much longer than lower body workouts. Sure, this is great for your biceps, but if you crave consistency and have troubles working out when life get’s crazy, the inconsistency between workout times might drive you crazy.

Here’s a sample outline:

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)

Saturday/Sunday: Off

 

Total Body Training Split

When you train your upper and lower body in the same workout, you’re doing a total body workout. Another way to think of it is rather than training each muscle individually, you’re training your body as an integrated machine.

Pros: If you only have three days to workout per week or have issues skipping workouts, then look no further. Since you’re training your entire body you’ll minimize the fluff. There’s no need for 13 variations of lateral raises when your training pressing, pulling, squatting, lunging, and deadlifting movements multiple times per week.  

Since you’re training muscles as much as 2-3 times per week, you’ll trigger more frequent protein synthesis in your muscles being trained, potentially helping you build muscle faster.

And if you’re looking to drop a few pounds?

Total body workouts can cause a massive disruption to your body as it tries to catch up with multiple muscle groups working in a short period of time to help you lose fat.

Cons: One of the downsides of total body workouts is you may get bored, especially if you crave variety and the novelty of a well-timed biceps pump. Plus, if you’re looking to maximize muscular size, then the low volume of workouts will limit some of your gains. A key component of muscle growth is metabolic stress, so unless you add a high-rep finisher like biceps curls to failure, you won’t get as big as a house with total body training.

Moreover, stronger and more experienced lifters struggle recovering from three hard leg training workouts per week. You’ll need to vary how often you go heavy, possibly adopting an undulated periodization model.

Still, among all training splits total body workouts are your best bet if you tend to program hop, skip workouts, and get “too busy” to train….especially if you’re skipping leg day.

Example:

Day One:

1.Power Clean 5×3

2.Bench Press 3×6

3.Lunge 3×8-12

4a.Farmer Walks 3×30 seconds

4b. Dips 3x 30 seconds timed set

Day Two:

1.Push Press 5×3

2.Deadlift 4×6

3.Chin Up 3×8-12

4a.Plank 3×30 seconds

4b. Biceps Curl 3x 30 seconds timed set

Push-Pull Training Split

If you’re like most people, you have a tendency to train what you see in the mirror while conveniently forgetting about the backside of your body.

Tsk. Tsk.

As much as we all like to push it like Salt-N-Pepa, building a strong, athletic, and shredded body requires more balance.

Enter the push/pull training split, arguably the most balanced training split for total body strength, size, and athleticism. This is one of our go-to training splits in our One Hour Body Protocol, which you can grab for free.

On “pull” days, you’ll hammer the backside of your body, hitting muscles like your lats, traps, glutes, and hamstrings.

 

On push-days, you’ll hit the movements to train your chest, shoulders, triceps, quads, and abs.

You can work the entire front side of your body or the backside of your body all in one workout. Alternatively, you can break these days down further by breaking these workouts into upper body and lower body days each.

For example…

-Upper Body Push (chest, triceps, shoulders)

-Upper Body Pull (Lats, biceps, rear delts, traps)

-Lower Body Push (squats, leg extensions, lunges)

-Lower Body Pull (deadlifts, good mornings, hip thrusts)

Pros: Push-Pull routines are a great option for experienced lifters as they’re both efficient and flexible. You’ll be able to train with enough volume to trigger muscle growth without living in the gym. 

Cons: There are very few issues with these workouts. The biggest hiccup will come if you miss workouts and start skipping “pull” or “lower-body” workouts. Push-pull workouts are okay, but not great for beginners in the gym.

Example:

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

Intensive/Extensive Training Split

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 bodybuilding style day.

This also corresponds with conditioning.

For example, a workout with squat jumps followed by heavy squats, and sprints workout is intensive, as it is very demanding on your nervous system and joints.

If you pair too many neurally intensive workouts in a row, you’ll end up beat up, beaten down, and overtraining.

Hard pass, right?

Instead, it’s best to follow an intensive training split with an extensive workout. An example here would be doing an upper body workout focused on higher reps sets of 10-15 reps, shorter rest, and lighter weight.

You lift as heavy, but you’ll  create tons of metabolic stress to build muscle, lose fat, and improve your endurance. 

Pros: Intensive/Extensive training splits are lifting strategy ideal for people looking to get stronger, more muscular, and more athletic at the same time.

If you want to train like an athlete, it’s easy to add high technical sprint work on the intensive days.

If you want to build muscle, you’ll train heavy enough to trigger increases in anabolic hormones and the tension needed to build muscle. Still, extensive days allow you to train light enough to get an incredible pump.

And for fat loss? 

They work here too. The variety of training stimulus isn’t too much to recover from, yet it’s enough to help you lose fat.

Cons: They’re difficult to program. If your primary goal is to look hot naked (hey, I can’t blame you), you’ll want to eliminate some of the intensive work and focus on some more higher rep work. If your goals are performance-based, the opposite is true.

If you train too many factors too close together, you risk the chance of becoming the “jack of all trades and the master of none,” wallowing in mediocrity and not really getting good at any one thing.

Plus, intensive workouts are longer as you’ll need to pay more attention to your rest if you want to maximize performance.

Sample Workout

This is focused on keeping you athletic, but a bit more on body composition so you look great naked. We call it the Minimalist Muscle Blitz.

Monday: Deadlift/Hinge Focus

1a.Explosive exercise: Broad Jump 3×3, rest 30 seconds

1b. Barbell Cleans 3×3, rest 90 seconds

2.Pure Strength Exercise: Deadlift 5×3, rest 2 minutes

3a. Hypertrophy focus: Barbell Romanian Deadlift 4×5, Rest 0

Notes: Use a 3-4 second eccentric on each rep.

3b. Pigeon stretch 3×30 seconds/side rest 0

4a. Trx/Chain Inverted Row 4×10, rest 30s

4b. Stability Ball lockout 4×45-60 seconds, rest 30s

Tuesday: Overhead Press Focus

1.Explosive exercise: Medicine Ball Overhead Slam 3×3, rest 30 seconds

2.Pure strength exercise: Overhead Press (any barbell variation) 5×3,  rest 2 minutes

3.Hypertrophy focus: Chin Up 4×8 rest 90 seconds

4a. One arm dumbbell shoulder press 3×12,10,8/side, rest 0-30s

4b. Dumbbell lean away lateral raise 3×12/side, rest 0-30s

4b. Dumbbell lateral raise 3×12, rest 0-30s

5a. Dumbbell chest supported row 3×10-12, rest 30s

5b. Dumbbell Shrug with 3-second pause 3×10-12, rest 60s

Thursday: Squat Focus

1a.Explosive exercise: Dumbbell Squat Jump 3×3, rest 60 seconds

1b. Barbell High Pull 3×3, rest 60 seconds

  1. High Bar Back Squat 5×3, rest 2 minutes

3.Hypertrophy focus: Dumbbell Walking Lunge 5×10/leg

4a. Stability Ball hamstring curl 3×12, rest 0

4b. Calf Raise 3×12

Notes: In smith machine, squat machine, or leg press. Five second eccentric, three-second pause at peak contraction of each rep.

5a. Sicilian Crunch 3×10, rest 0s

Notes:

5b. Cable Crunch 3×10, rest 0s 

5c. Elbow Tap 3×5/side, rest 0-30s

 Saturday: Bench Focus

1.Explosive exercise: Incline Plyo Push-Up 3×5,  rest 30 seconds

2.Pure strength exercise: Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press 5×5,  rest 2 minutes

 3a. Hypertrophy focus: Supinating Cable Chest Press 5×12

 3b. Half Kneeling One Arm Cable Row 4×12/arm

 4a. Close Grip Lat Pull Down 3×10, rest 0s

 4b. Incline Dumbbell Biceps Curl 3×10, rest 60s

 5a. Pinwheel curl 3×8/side, rest 30s 

 5b.Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension 3×15, rest 30s

 So, which workout is best for building an athletic body?

Your training must be specific to your goal. 

If your goal is to look great naked above all else, then by all means trade in your power cleans for biceps curls. 

On the flip side, if you need to build muscle from head to toe and get stronger, don’t start your workouts by curling in the squat rack. 

How much time will you dedicate to training?

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 do consistently.

How experienced are you in the gym?

The majority of lifters are best starting with a total body training split or an upper-lower training split. As you get more advanced consider trying an intensive/extensive training split.

Do you focus on recovery…or only training?

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, when I was training elite-level athletes and doing NFL combine training I was doing demonstrations 8-12 hours per day.

 That meant tons of sprints, jumps, throws, coffee, and explosive exercises that weren’t even part of my training.

Therefore, I had to dial back how much volume I did in the gym to accommodate the demanding nature of my job.

Now that I train fewer clients, write more, and demo less, I’m more recovered and can train harder more often.

Your Training Split to Build an Athletic Body

If your current training isn’t helping your build an athletic body, then you need to make a change. 

Don’t fall into the trap of endlessly pursuing one goal at the expense of all others.

That’s fine for elite athletes.

But for the rest of us, we’re after the total package.

You probably want to be…

Strong in the gym, yet athletic enough to kick ass on the weekends.

Happy and confident with your shirt off. 

There’s no better tool to bridge the gap between the body you want and the athleticism you deserve than my latest program the Minimalist Muscle Blitz.

You’ll get stronger, leaner, and build one of those envious athletic bodies.

It’s for those of us that refuse to accept pathetic athleticism a the cost of building your best-looking body.

Grab Your Copy Today: Minimalist Muscle Blitz.

  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.

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