Split routines

I could think of dozens of ways to split up workouts, and Alwyn could come up with dozens of variations on every program on my list. And we'd still miss a few.

The idea is simple: By spreading your structural exercises over two or three workouts (or, in the case of bodybuilders, five to twelve), you make sure you have enough energy to work as hard as possible on each of them. Then, by finishing each workout with assistance exercises, you ensure that you improve your strength, muscle mass, and structural integrity with each workout—and you probably recover a little faster, too, since you aren't completely wiping yourself out every time you step into the weight room.

A few classic splits:

UPPER-BODY/LOWER-BODY I think every lifter, at some point, gravitates toward this one. Most of us will start our workout week with the upper-body workout (specifically, with bench presses; I think 95 percent of all lifters on earth do their bench presses on Monday). This will include at least two types of pushes (chest and shoulder presses), two types of pulls (rows and pulldowns, or pull-ups), and then whatever goofy arm, shoulder, and ab exercises we delude ourselves into thinking will make us more buff and lustworthy.

Enlightened lifters will then focus on squats, deadliftts, and some strategic assistance exercises in the lower-body workout. Typical lifters will avoid those exercises, since they require coordination and effort, and will instead go for leg presses, leg extensions, leg curls, and calf raises. We can only weep for them, and hope they someday see the light.

PUSH/PULL The idea here is that you work your "pushing" muscles (chest, shoulders, triceps, quadriceps, calves) in one workout, and your "pulling" muscles (upper back, middle back, lower back, gluteals, hamstrings, trapezius, biceps) in another.

This type of routine seems out of vogue these days, but twenty-five years ago, I can remember lots of guys doing them. I think the modern equivalents of this are the various bodybuilding splits described below:

THREE-DAY SPLIT Experienced lifters who want to hit it hard three times a week often move toward this configuration, and there are countless ways to do it. Most typical, I think, is the upper-lower-upper split. That is, you do upper-body exercises on Monday and Friday, and lower-body moves on Wednesday. For instance:

monday: bench presses, rows, bench-press variations (incline, decline, close-grip), row variations (cable, dumbbell, wide- or underhand-grip)

Wednesday: squats, deadliftts, lunges, and some variations on those friday: chin-ups or pull-ups (or lat pulldowns), shoulder presses or upright rows, dips, and perhaps some arm exercises (although if you do chin-ups and dips, your arms have already gotten a pretty thorough workout)

FOUR-DAY SPLIT My favorite four-day configuration is one Ian King uses in his more advanced workouts, which you can find on t-nation.com. I use his terminology to describe them:

"Horizontal push/pull": These exercises include bench-press and row variations.

"Hip-dominant": Here, he means deadlifts and deadliftt-type exercises—anything that starts with action from the powerful gluteal and hamstring muscles.

"Vertical push/pull": These include pull-ups and pulldowns, as well as shoulder presses and upright rows, plus dips and pullovers.

"Quad-dominant": You could also say "knee-dominant," since these are the exercises that are more dependent on the muscles surrounding the knee joint. So squats are the featured exercise here, but he also includes leg curls, which bodybuilders would include with their deadlift variations.

WESTSIDE SPLIT Louie Simmons and the powerlifters at Westside Barbell in Columbus, Ohio, use this four-day split:

"Max-effort squat": This routine involves one heavy lower-body move, a variation on either the squat or deadlift, followed by assistance exercises for the lower body.

"Max-effort bench": Same thing, except the max-effort exercise is a bench-press variation, and it's followed by assistance exercises for your upper body.

"Dynamic-effort squat": The goal here is to develop movement-specific speed and power in the muscles used in the squat and deadlift.

"Dynamic-effort bench": Same thing, but with the goal of developing more speed and power in the bench press

BODYBUILDING SPLIT The idea is to isolate muscle groups ("bodyparts") and work them to exhaustion, as if they were revolutionary insurgents in a third-world country who had to be divided and conquered. I've seen bodybuilding routines with twelve workouts a week—two a day for six days. Entire workouts might be devoted to biceps or triceps or hamstrings, isolating these muscles from the ones they're designed to work with. If Alwyn and I believed in this type of training, we'd show you how to do it. But we don't, so we won't.

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