As you’ve probably noticed, there are countless workout splits to pick from: upper/lower, 3-day, bro split, full-body, and more.
For whatever reason, people feel paralyzed when choosing a split and worry if they’ve made the right choice.
To that end, we’ve decided to break down the more popular approaches and answer the question of, “Which split is best?”
What Makes For a Good Workout Split, Anyway?
Many things go into the workout split equation. What might be suitable for one person could be terrible for another. The most crucial consideration is sustainability. A good split for you will be one you can follow, enjoy, and fit into your schedule.
Your second consideration should be your training objective. Do you want to build muscle, lose fat, get stronger, or improve in all areas over time? How you organize your training split should depend on what you want to achieve.
And finally, your split should reflect your fitness level and recoverability. A split might be fantastic, but it’s not good for you if it leads to overtraining.
What Does It Take to See Good Training Results?
Everyone has unique training goals. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll go over the most popular goals: strength and muscle gain.
Research shows that training volume - the amount of work we do in the gym - is the primary factor that determines training outcomes. Doing more work delivers better results, as it should. But only to a point. Doing too much can lead to overtraining.
In general, you should aim for 10 to 20 weekly sets per muscle group (1). For example, 12 to 15 for your larger muscles (chest, back, and legs), and around 10 for smaller ones (biceps, triceps, and shoulders).
Training frequency is also important, but more so for strength than for muscle gain. Research shows that doing exercises two to four times per week allows for quicker strength gains (2). As far as muscle gain goes, training each group twice per week seems optimal (3).
Intensity - the amount of weight you’re lifting - is also essential. Research finds that lifting heavier (3 to 5 reps) is more beneficial for strength gains (4). Of course, this doesn’t mean a good strength program should only feature heavy lifting. You should break that up with lighter weights.
In contrast, lifting between 60 and 75 percent of your one-repetition-maximum is more beneficial for muscle growth (5). So, anywhere from 6 to 25 repetitions, spread across different movements.
And finally, we have exercise selection, which allows us to train our muscles in different ways and from unique angles, resulting in optimal muscle growth. Strength-oriented folks should also do multiple exercises to keep their training fresh, prevent overuse injuries, and take advantage of different loading ranges.
What Are The Best Workout Splits?
So long as the workout split you choose covers the above criteria, it will work well for you. Enjoying your training, having it fit your schedule, and recovering well between workouts matter much more.
For instance, if you want to train four times per week, an upper/lower split would work well. With two upper and two lower workouts, you get to train all muscles twice per week, do enough training, and still have time to recover.
In contrast, if you can only train three times per week, a 3-day or push/pull/legs split might work better simply because scheduling it is more straightforward.
Instead of looking for the best workout splits, understand what drives progress and ask yourself, “Which split would work best for me in my situation?”