One of the first workout styles people turn to when they just start lifting is called a body part split i.e., you have a day dedicated to each body part. You have an arm day, a leg day, a back day etc. In other words you're in the gym A LOT.
It makes sense that new trainees first turn to this style of training because it’s probably the most well known strength training structure. Ironically, this training style is best used by advanced lifters and isn’t a great option for those new to training.
This workout structure works great for elite bodybuilders because:
- They’ve been lifting for a really long time and
- They’re using steroids.
This means they can push themselves hard enough on arm day to warrant only training arms once per week. Most of us, on the other hand, ought to be training a body part more than once a week.
The more weight you can handle, the longer it takes to recover from a workout. In other words, if you’re squatting 45 lbs for sets of 10 you’re not going to need an entire week to recover from that workout. If you’re squatting 500 lbs… well... you’re going to need a good amount of chill time before squatting heavy again.
This is essentially why body part splits AKA bro splits are favoured by bodybuilders, who in turn popularised them. But the thing to remember is elite bodybuilders are much closer to their genetic limits than you are. Ultimately, our genetics place a ceiling on how much you can lift/how high you can jump/how much muscle you can build etc., and the closer you get to that ceiling, the harder it is to continue making progress. The longer you’ve been lifting, the more work you must put in to get slower results.
This is why advanced lifters can and must work significantly harder and longer to gain 10 lbs on their deadlift or an inch on their biceps. To actually make progress, they might have to train a muscle so hard it takes an entire week to recover before they can train that muscle again.
And so the bro split was born.
It’s also worth noting that before the rise of steroids, all of the great bodybuilders did full body routines. And those guys were massive.
So where you are in your training journey matters.
Someone who deadlifts 500 and wants to deadlift 510 as their main goal will have a completely different workout program than somebody who has never deadlifted and just wants their favorite jeans to fit better.
This why, when reading any article regarding strength training, it’s important to ask who the article is written for.
If you've been lifting weights for a few months, the workouts on a powerlifting site probably aren’t going to be for you, unless they specifically say “for new trainees” or something like that.
Point is, there's tons of great free information out there on the internet, however just because it’s a good article doesn’t mean it’s relevant to you at this phase in your training career.
Of course you can learn from more advanced programs and articles, however, when it comes to implementing that information into your own training, this is important to consider:
Does this apply to my goals and where I’m at right now in my fitness journey?
As Coach Dan John would say, "The goal is to keep the goal the goal".
If something isn't relevant to your goals, bookmark it for later.
Unless, you’re a very advanced lifter, you don’t need to be in the gym 6 days a week. Which is good news!
Now if you like training this way and it’s getting you results, that’s awesome. Keep going until it stops working. I’m writing this mainly because my online coaching clients and in person clients would rather not spend everyday in the gym.
They want fitness to be an important part of their life, but not the only thing in their life.
I can’t tell you how relieved new clients look when I inform them they don’t need to train for an hour every day to lose body fat and build muscle tone. Actually, I can tell you. SOOOO relieved! Like I just told them they no longer had to pay back their student loans.
So the point is, you don’t need to train 6 days a week to see great results.
It’s not even the most effective way to do it for new and intermediate trainees.
In fact, the current research pretty clearly shows training a muscle multiple times per week is more effective. For example doing 3 sets of 10 twice a week with 100 lbs will more effective than doing 6 sets of 10 with 100 lbs once per week. The total amount of work done is the same in both examples, but the former will be more effective.
So the awesome thing about this is, you can go to the gym 3 or 4 times per week and get better results than training everyday.
Here’s how you do it
Lifting on a 3 day per week schedule you have at least one day of recovery in between sessions. Either Monday/Wednesday/Friday, or Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday or however, you just don’t want two lifting days in a. Row.
Each session will include the 5 fundamental movements.
An example of a session with this structure could look like this:
Push-Pushup or Single Arm Bench Press
Pull-Dumbbell Row or Chin-up
Squat-Goblet squat or Dumbbell Lunge
Hinge-Glute bridge or Deadlift
Carry-Farmer walk or... more farmer walks
Limit your workouts to 5-8 exercises and realy push those lifts.
If we train 4 days a week, the sessions will typically be split into “Upper body” and “Lower body” days. And while this protocol has back to back training sessions, you aren’t emphasizing the same muscle groups two days in row. This allows for adequate recovery. A training week doing an Upper/Lower split could look like this:
- Sunday (Rest)
This is just one example. You still do all 5 fundamental movements throughout your training week. You just don’t do them all on the same day. You do Pushes and Pulls on Upper Body days and Squats and Hinges on the Lower Body Days. Carries can go on either day.
As for which protocol is better, I honestly can’t say. Both have their advantages. Both work. It really just depends on your schedule.
Now, if you’re brand new to lifting, literally anything will work. You can get stronger just by looking at a squat rack as the saying goes.
Because you’re so far away from your genetic ceiling, you can add 10 lbs to your deadlift every week, for a while at least. Obviously you can’t continue at that pace forever. Otherwise, you’d be deadlifting over 1000 pounds after lifting for two years!
So don’t overthink it, just keep at it:)
Less is More
So again, doing a bro split might be working for you, which is awesome, but if you’re looking for a way to get better results with less gym time try out either 3 full body days or an upper body/lower body 4 day split. Get better results, and have more time for the rest of your life. If you have fat loss goals, maximising your time is crucial. Why? Because THE most important factor in whether or not that number on the scale drops is your diet.
And if you’re working out so much you don’t have time or energy to focus on nutrition, then it doesn’t matter how hard you push yourself in the gym, you won’t lose weight.
Switching to a 3 day a week workout routine means you'll have extra time to meal plan, grocery shop, and otherwise focus on eating properly for fat loss.
So the best way to tackle fat loss is this:
3 hours a week strength training, 165 hours a week improving your nutrition, getting good sleep, and managing stress.