How to design a split-training routine

Training in the gym

Why split-training?

Whole body workouts are oft touted as an excellent way to design your training, and so they are if you’re a beginner. It’s the best way to get started at lifting weights. However, you progress in your training as your body adapts and there comes a point when a whole-body training routine is no longer adequate to sufficiently exhaust your muscles. One session of bench press is no longer enough to make your pecs grow. Even if you add another one or two exercises, you then become to exhausted to work other bodyparts. Other muscles will also require more exercises. Remember, your training session cannot last forever. So the natural extension of a whole body workout when this is no longer enough to make you grow is to split it up.

What is split training?

In split-training routines, you will train different body parts on separate days. You may train every single body part on its own on an individual day or more commonly, group 2 or more together. Knowing how to group them together is what we are going to explain here. You don’t do it randomly but rather look at your goals, your priorities and your restrictions and which muscles need more attention.

Rest time

Don’t train the same muscle again if it is still aching from the build-up of lactic acid. Give it 2 days or more to rest, depending on how brutal your training was and how big the muscle group is.

Number of sessions

Find out how many days per week you can dedicate to the gym. Some people who make a living at lifting weights will spend several hours everyday; the common man on average spends 3 days a week.

Length of session

You shouldn’t also train for longer than 1 hour per session, so this will limit the number of exercises and muscle groups you can train.

Muscle priority

If your chest is lagging behind other muscle groups, then you will wish to train it first, or on its own.

Your goal

What do you seek to achieve by lifting weights? More power? Bigger muscles? More endurance or definition? Losing weight? Your goal will determine what exercises you perform and how you perform them. For example, if you want raw power, you will lift heavy at very low reps. Endurance: light weight, high reps to keep you going.

Let’s have a look now at the different ways you can split up your training.


Upper-lower body split

This is just one step ahead of the whole body programme. You simply train legs on a different day. Your legs have the biggest muscle group in your body and squats are particularly demanding on the whole body. So by giving it a dedicated day, you not only provide it with the full attention it deserves but also take off some pressure on other muscle groups. However, working arms, chest and back together is still a lot.


Push-pull training

This is a simple one in concept. Train all pulling muscles in one session and all pushing muscles in another. So chest, triceps, shoulders and quads together, back, biceps and hamstrings on another day. You can’t work the triceps or biceps first. When you work the chest, your triceps become the weakest link in the chain so you don’t want to exhaust them first or you will never be able to sufficiently stimulate your pecs. Similarly with pecs and shoulders and with shoulders and triceps.


Chest, back and legs split

Next one down the list is to separate the three biggest muscle groups. Each will have its dedicated day, usually with a least a full day rest in between. This split is ideal for those training 3 times a week. You will be working your triceps and shoulders on chest days and your biceps on back days. The advantage is that your arm muscles will already be warmed up so you will need to spend less time on them. However, the weakest link in the chain is still there.


Chest-biceps, back-triceps, legs-shoulders

Here you swap days for biceps and triceps if they need particular attention. Work your triceps when you work your back, your biceps when you train your chest so they do not interfere with each other. Legs and shoulders have nothing in common either.


Chest, back, arms and legs-shoulders

In this split, you train over 4 days and dedicate a day to arms. When you train both biceps and triceps in the same session, you have the opportunity to do supersets or even giant sets. By training only your pecs and only your back, you are able to give them your full attention.


Chest-back and legs-shoulders-arms

This is my current split. I work out 3 days a week and follow this 2-day split so that I end up working each muscle more frequently instead of having to wait a full 7 days. I was previously working chest and back on separate days and working heavy, so now I go light and work them in supersets. My arms already get some stimulation from back and chest days, so when I work them again on leg days, I need to make sure they get plenty of rest in between. That’s why they are at the end of the routine. Sometimes, I might even do one less exercise for the arms. My shoulders get plenty of attention and sometimes I even work them before legs.


Customised training

By this I mean that you can group body parts in any way you like according to your own individual needs and priorities. If you want well-developed biceps, you could train them first or even dedicate a whole day to them. You could work legs and back (maybe too tiring), legs and chest, shoulders and biceps, or any combination you can think of. If you work over 5 days, you can have chest, back, shoulders, legs and arms days. You could also have chest-biceps, back-triceps, shoulders and legs days, a very effective combination that doesn’t use exhausted muscles in the same session.


 Smaller muscles

I didn’t mention small muscles such as calves, abs, forearms and even the bigger glutes (bum muscles). Many of you might not even train them at all and there is no necessity to do so. They get stimulated during compound exercises such as the squats and the back row. If you do want to train them, calves and glutes will go on leg days of course and forearms usually with biceps, however, because they are small, they will have a smaller impact on your training and your overall body development, as long as you don’t train them before the major muscle groups. So you can train them in any session you see fit to add them.


Whatever body part combination you come up with for your split training routine, make sure there is a reason and a goal behind it.

Disadvantages of the barbell curl

This is the final part to the description of the barbell curl exercise and how to vary it.

The barbell curl is most of the time presented as an excellent exercise for the biceps. So it is, but no exercise is perfect. Given how much newbies want big biceps and the barbell curl has been acclaimed as a mass builder, even in this blog, it is only fair that the other side of the coin is shown. Continue reading

The bench press

Prima donna

Ah, the bench press! If the squat is the king of all exercises, then I would say the bench press would be the prima donna of all exercises. Guys always rush to do this exercise first, if not to show their strength, then to develop their chest muscles – their pecs – in order to look better shirtless. The pecs and the biceps are not called the t-shirt muscles for nothing. Continue reading

The back row


The back is the largest muscle group in the body and is also the most complex. From the top of the trapezius at the base of the neck to the bottom of the lower back muscles, a number of other muscles co-exist. As this is not an anatomy lesson and is aimed at beginners, there will be no discussion of each individual muscle. Maybe for another time. Suffice to say that we will divide the group of muscles in the back into the upper back muscles and the lower back as they have a somewhat separate motion.

The upper back muscles serve mostly to pull the arms and shoulders back while the lower back muscles extend the torso away from the legs. It is not possible to isolate each group completely as they assist each other yet completely different exercises will be need to target each group. At this stage we will focus on the upper back as exercises for it also recruits the lower back as stabilisers. The back row is the exercise that targets the whole upper back muscles and the latissimus dorsi in particular and to a lesser extent, the lower back in order to support the upper back. Continue reading