Pritchard: How to divide your training (column)
Better Version of You
Recently I’ve received questions regarding the best way to split up your training.
Unfortunately, like many topics, the answer falls under the “it depends” category. An inordinate number of variables come into play when constructing a weekly program, including but not limited to training experience, sport profile, goals and time available. The way in which an elite athlete constructs their training regimen will vastly differ from that of a recreational athlete.
The most common mistake I see in general population is adhering to a body-builder type routine. Typically, this entails devotion of an entire training day to one body part: Monday — chest, Tuesday — back, Wednesday — shoulders, Thursday — legs, Friday — arms.
The fallacies with this model are abundant, and I believe most individuals who follow this type of routine are simply misinformed or do not have clearly defined goals.
The first issue with this split is you are limited to one training goal, muscular hypertrophy. If this is your goal that’s fantastic, however, there are much more appropriate ways to go about it. If muscular hypertrophy isn’t your goal, then you may want to shuffle the cards. The frequency in which in which you train under this model is high, but the frequency in which each muscle is trained is rather low. This means that if you are aiming to increase muscle mass and you have 18 sets of chest exercises to do, you must do them all in that one workout. Unless you are extremely advanced or on anabolic steroids, you will not adequately recover from that type of stimulus. Optimally, you would spread those chest exercises across three separate days, where you are only doing six at a time with maximal effort and allowing for proper recovery.
If your goal is maximal strength or power, the body builder split should be thrown out all-together. Training with these goals in mind requires large movements such as the hang clean for power, or the back squat for maximal lower body strength, meaning they don’t recruit only one body part. Additionally, you cannot train for these goals consecutively day after day because of the inability to properly recover.
How to structure
Once you’ve obtained a firm understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all training split, you can begin to construct one that suits your own needs. Some examples include: Day One — upper body, Day Two — lower body, Day Three — upper body, Day Four — lower body; or Day One — push, Day Two — pull, Day Three — legs.
The way I train most of my athletes is through full body routines approximately three times per week. This allows for adequate recovery, and enough time for sport practices or conditioning sessions on the other days. You must always account for frequency, total volume and intensity when constructing a program. The way in which you choose to divide these factors ultimately determines the success of a program. From all of the above information provided, my number one piece of advice is to keep the plan simple and something that you can execute effectively. Many individuals get bogged down with details that are irrelevant or follow what somebody else is doing with no reason. I hope this article helps provide you with a basic understanding of how and why training splits vary as well as what suits your individual needs. Thanks for reading.
Jimmy Pritchard has a BSc in exercise science from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the director of strength & conditioning at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.