There was a time when I devoted FAR too much of my limited life on this planet to planning my training. I majored in the what, where, and when of training and other minutia. Would every system, muscle, and movement be covered? What about sports? How would the almighty training split fit with my class or work schedule?
Oh, the agony of this #FirstWorldProblem.
Then I found somewhat of a clue about life and cut back from the ridiculous over-the-top scheme meant for steroided middle-aged bodybuilders. The idea was to cut back to three training days per week. It was a decent split that went something like:
Chest, shoulders, and triceps on day 1
Back, biceps, and abs on day 2
Legs on day 3
There would be one to two days off between each work out.
That worked for a while and then quickly turned to over-kill. For example, day one had me doing variations of lateral (shoulder) raises and cable tricep pressdowns after going hard at multiple sets of two or three big "push" moves like bench press, incline dumbbell press, and overhead presses.
The Pummeling Split left muscle groups terribly sore for 3 days, then kind of static. Progress halted but the 3 days of soreness never stopped. I hated training legs only once per week.
So from there I moved to a 4 day per week plan that looked something like:
I Have No Life Except for Weight Training Split:
Lower body (squats and leg press focused) day 1
Upper body (chest and back focused) day 2
Lower body (dead lift, single leg work, leg machine focused) day 3
Upper body (Shoulder and arms focused) day 4
This worked for a while. I was one of those people who you see every time you set foot in the gym, there when you arrive and still there when you leave. I'm not proud to admit that I did this for a long while during college. But there were only 7 days per week to include everything I read in the glossy training mags and what I was being taught in class.
Some college kids go off and go crazy with the drugs and beer. I got caught up in weights and frivolous supplements.
For some reason when I was playing serious flag football and basketball in college I stepped the training down a notch. Finding an ounce of a life and later being involved with physical therapy (grad) school actually worked to my training benefit. I finally had to respect recovery. Isolating the rear head of the deltoids, the medial pecs, and the long head of the who-gives-damn wasn't necessary if I stayed balanced from working hard on the big lifts with nearly perfect form.
That's when my 3 day per week split looked something like:
Lower Body Day 1
Upper Body Day 2
Total body Day 3
I'm happy to admit that I stuck this out for a long while, making plenty of mistakes and refining it along the way. A notable wave of progress in this split came when I quit the big gym. The limited options in my home gym were actually a benefit to cutting the fluff and focusing on what matters.
This split brought plenty of progress and would surely have allowed for more if I would have better refined my goals and kept the workouts even more simple. I let them get too long to fit everything in. I tried to accomplish too much at once (like squatting and dead lifting for low reps and heavy weight within only a few days of each other). But I still like this split.
Then at some point I kept having a job and more kids. I truly quit caring much about training my upper body and I found a love for sprint/plyometric type conditioning. So these days, my total weekly training split looks like:
Total body day 1 (focused on dead lifts, single leg squats, and bench press variation, in that order)
Total body day 2 (focused on weighted Chin-ups, overhead press variation, and 20-rep squats)
Plyo Friday day 3
I do throw in some hard and heavy auxillary work like "lawn mower" rows, barbell curls, and push-up variations, but that's about it.
This is the split that I used to reach a 375 lb bench press, 600 lb dead lift, tuck jump over 5'4", and chin up plus 135 extra pounds around my waist.
These days I'm still learning plenty. For example, I've found that after squatting upwards of 400 pounds X 20 on Saturday, my legs aren't fully recovered for heavy dead lifting on Tuesday. Since it's not easy to postpone or shuffle training days due to work and family schedule, the only alternative is to let one of the major movements drift in order to progress the other.
What training splits have you found effective or otherwise favorable?
Fitness fanatic type people: I dare you to try cutting back just a bit and see what kind of new resolve and effort you pour into your training days. Find what else you can accomplish with that extra time and energy during the "off" days.
**Athletes in endurance-based sports** it is highly likely that you would greatly benefit from the minimalist or the graduate resistance training split - at least for a significant portion of your off season. And ain't nobody not got time fo that ; )
Nonfitnessy type people: serious results can be had by training only 2 or 3 days per week if you're willing to be consistent and pour it on.