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Evidence-based articles & blogs to help with making training more effective, nutrition more flexible & life more enjoyable.
Only ever trained one muscle group per day? The results are in - it's highly likely that you're leaving some serious gains on the table as a consequence.
Let me ask you a question.
Does your training split look something like this…
If it does, you're not alone.
In fact, most people across the world are following routines almost exactly like this. I certainly did when I first started training.
And on the face of it, there would appear to be nothing wrong with the above. After all, it's relatively balanced, with every muscle group being hit once a week, usually with relatively decent amounts of volume. There's no overlap, and no fear of an accessory muscle like your triceps being fatigued going into a chest session.
Above all, there's absolutely no doubt that you won't be "over-training" with this.
In fact, it's pretty much the perfect example of the program you'd see guys like Phil Heath, Branch Warren and Dexter Jackson recommending in magazines and on bodybuilding sites.
If it's good enough for the pros, then surely it's good enough for you to build mass and make lean gains. Right?
One of the main reasons that so many wannabe meatheads, bodybuilders and physique athletes follow this once-a-week body part split is because of an ingrained worry and fear of over-training.
Over-training is the concept of training so frequently that you begin to burn out. Your strength begins to decrease, you feel like you've been beaten up, and you could actually begin to losing muscle/ size.
This all sounds well and good, and the idea is that by giving each muscle a full 7 days rest before you hit it again, you're allowing for optimal performance and preventing over-training - but this is far from the case.
While over-training can come about due to a multitude of factors, training frequency is merely one of them - intensity, volume, stress, injury, illness etc can all come into play as well. In fact, how often you train each muscle actually comes much further down the spectrum in terms of what's most likely to bring on over-training syndrome and muscle loss.
While old-school bodybuilders like Arnie, Frank Zane and Vince Gironda may not have adopted the once-a-week split, and favoured more of a full body approach, or at least trained 2 to 3 muscles together a couple of times a week each, the newer school certainly is on board with the "bro split."
While you can't argue that this might 'work' or 'work for them', it simply isn't optimal for the vast majority of trainers & athletes out there, and I'm about to hit you with some science as to exactly why that is.
In fact, if you're reading this article - I'd bet good money that a traditional bodybuilding split IS NOT giving you the best gains possible.
First up, the pros you see on stage, are - how shall we say - chemically assisted.
Essentially, they use anabolic steroids to improve rest and recovery, boost muscle protein synthesis, and can get away with one "balls to the wall" workout on each muscle every week.
They can probably afford to completely obliterate their muscles once a week, because at the end of the day, they're likely going to respond well to whatever form of training regime they do follow - they may well work harder than most, but anabolic steroids are powerful substances. Plus, what I'm about to discuss is still likely to be a better option for drug takers anyway.
If you're not taking steroids, you probably want to ensure the training you are doing, is as effective as it possibly can be, because without that, you're not going to build muscle as quickly as possible.
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As a natural trainer, hitting each muscle twice a week (or potentially even more often) will always be superior, and here's why:
Let's go with the scientific literature. A study from Stuart Phillips in the "American Journal of Physiology" found that following resistance training, muscle protein synthesis spiked to 65% above baseline after 24 hours, was 34% above baseline at 48 hours, and then more or less returned to normal. (1)
As keeping muscle protein synthesis elevated is vital to maximise your growth potential, this study demonstrates how leaving it 7 days from training a muscle group is leaving you with 5 whole days where MPS is down at baseline.
A second study, from the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" concluded that (when training volume was matched) subjects who trained just one day per week only had 62% of the strength gains of those who split their work over 3 days per week. (2)
Pretty easy to deduce from these that by only hitting each muscle group once a week, you're seriously compromising both your ability to build and retain muscle and strength.
If your whole family was kidnapped, and you were told you had 6 weeks to add 40 kilos to your squat, or an inch to your biceps, would you only squat once a week, and stick to your body part split workout and train biceps once a week?
Or - would you squat every day, and blitz your arms at every opportunity?
Training for strength and size is a skill, and as such, should therefore be practiced frequently.
While you do need to take recovery into account, and training every muscle group every single day likely isn't the best idea (think about the law of diminishing returns) it makes sense to train as often as you can, while still getting stronger, and not feeling too sore.
You might be worried that you'll be too sore training everything twice a week, but fear not. Like any stress, your body will adapt to it soon enough, and once this higher frequency is habitual, you'll start reaping the rewards.
Something else to consider here, is training volume. Ultimately, the more training volume you get through, the more strength and muscle you'll be able to build (generally speaking).
Consider your typical chest session - perhaps you perform 6 exercises. By the time you get to those last 2 exercises, your chest is already going to be pretty beaten up, and as such, your performance during those sets is likely going to diminish. It makes sense that if you were to split these 6 exercises up over two days, and performed 3 chest exercises in each of those sessions, you'd likely end up getting through far more 'quality' work, and ultimately lift more total weight over the course of that week, because you aren't as tired or fatigued in comparison to hitting 6 exercises on the one day.
If you're still on the bro split bandwagon, a good place to start is with a basic upper-body, lower-body split.
Monday - Upper body (strength focused)
Tuesday - Lower body (strength focused)
Wednesday - Off
Thursday - Upper body (hypertrophy focused)
Friday - Off
Saturday - Lower body (hypertrophy focused)
Sunday - Off
This is just an example of course - but ultimately incorporating frequency-based training protocols into your routine will give you a far better opportunity to build more strength and more muscle.
I've been coaching clients for over 10 years, and have worked with more than 1000 of them for periods of 12 weeks or longer. I've ever written a single bro-split for any of them, and while there are certainly some clients who initially push back against the higher frequency training model, it isn't long before they realise their strength and muscle mass is increasing significantly more so than it was when following a more typical 'bro-split'.
If you're interested in learning more, or are ready to accelerate your own strength & muscle gain, feel free to shoot through an enquiry and we can talk about optimising your training regime, and putting you in a better position to build the physique of your dreams more quickly than you could have imagined.