Spoiler alert: There is no perfect training split when it comes to building an athletic body, or any body for that matter. It’s best to find a program you’ll do consistently even when life gets in the way. That said, knowing which “knobs” to turn is essential in developing a body that performs as good as it looks.
When your training takes a sharp dive off the deep end and your progress stalls it’s time to change.
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 athlete, eating well, and sleeping enough then a new training split is what you need to build transform your body and get a strong, jacked, and athletic body.
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, athleticlook 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. The Power Primer is such a program.
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.
Plus, if you’ve been following bodybuilding style body part splits (chest on Monday, back on Tuesday etc), then you might notice you’re not recovering as quickly. Of course, you can fix this by spending time with recovery methods like foam rolling, getting 7-8 hours per sleep, and when all else fails, eating more steak.
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)
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.
P.S. Want to build a body that looks as good as it performs? Grab your copy of the Power Primer below.
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 back side of your body.
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.
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 back side 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.
-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.
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
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 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.
This is focused on keeping you athletic, but a bit more on body composition so you look great naked. We call it the Athletic-Aesthetic Program, which we developed for our friends over at T-Nation.
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?
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 do consistently.
How 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.
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, for a 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 as my energy fluctuated. 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 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.
Strong, lean, and athletic.
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 Power Primer, 2.0.
I’ve created a Full Eight Months worth of programming to get you Strong, Shredded, and Athletic.
This isn’t a program for athletes.
It’s for those of us that refuse to accept pathetic athleticism a the cost of building your best-looking body.
It’s time to bridge the gap between looking your best and performing like an athlete.
It’s time for the Power Primer. And it can be yours for less than $.17 (yes, 17 cents) per workout.