Your training split will be an integral component of your program design.
The training split can be used intelligently to allow a client to perform at a very high level. Likewise, training splits can be poorly utilised which can impact recovery after sessions and performance in future sessions.
All in all, basics win out. The training split is something I think too many people over analyse. While other times it’s underutilised as a component of intelligent program design.
When simply put, a training split is how you distribute your training volume over a week.
For instance, if someone is training 3 days a week their training split will differ from someone training 5 days a week. The frequency of training sessions will influence someone’s training split.
However, if two clients are both training 5 days a week this does not mean their splits will be identical. We can break up the training splits into different focuses. A basic staple of mine is to alternate between upper and lower body training days.
For women, I love to use a 3/2 training split for the week. 3 lower body days and then 2 upper body days. For men, the opposite. 3 upper body days balanced out with their 2 lower body days.
Why the difference between upper and lower body splits between men and women?
This is due to the client’s goals. When training women they tend to have a stronger desire to grow their lower body which means more training volume dedicated to the lower body. While men, their program design will be more heavily focused on the upper body, while still incorporating 2 lower body sessions into their program design.
The upper/lower body training split is not the only option. The beauty of program design is we have a plethora of options for creating effective programs for our clients. We can utilise whole body training sessions.
For example, when someone can only make it to the gym 3 days a week, my go-to will be whole body sessions, rather than splitting the week into upper/lower body days. I target each key movement pattern in a whole body session.
If someone is training 4 days a week. The training split I utilise is commonly a 2/2 upper lower split, but not always! If there is a big focus or need for the client, we can split their training up into more specific splits.
Here’s an example 4-day split for a male client who needs more chest:
- Day 1 – Chest and shoulders
- Day 2 – Back, biceps and triceps
- Day 3 – Legs
- Day 4 – Upper body (chest, back, shoulders, triceps, biceps)
As you can see here, we train each muscle once a week. But, we also train the upper body twice a week through direct focus push days – chest and shoulders. Then pull days are back and biceps. Followed by a 3rd upper body day for more specific volume. Yes, only one session is used here for the lower body. But, this is fine in the training phase.
Not every training split needs to be identical.
We can bias a muscle for a training phase. Then the next phase would go back to a more balanced training split of 2 upper and 2 lower splits.
The point is, you have options! Lots of them!
I feel trainers get caught up in trying to create the most perfect training split in their program design, which often leads to overthinking and becoming very stuck.
It’s fantastic to think and process. That’s what our Program Design course is all about! Extreme detail to coaching and program design, but we also don’t want you to have a situation where you are scared to make changes to a split. Or, making changes over and over with no real thought processes behind them.
Effective training splits take into account the client’s availability AND goals.
The next component of training splits is to also be thinking about the client’s recovery.
Let’s say your client is training 5 days a week – 3 lower body and 2 upper body days. They have 2 squat days and 1 deadlift day.
That’s a lot of work on the lower back. This is where the training split comes into place, we want to consider when we program rest days. What is the key lift or goal of the program? If it’s the squat, for instance, I want to program that key session after a rest day. Not after 4 big training sessions back to back.
- Monday – Lower body squat session (key indicator lift to the phase)
- Tuesday – Upper
- Wednesday – Deadlifts
- Thursday – Rest
- Friday – Upper
- Saturday – Lower squat accessory day
- Sunday – Rest
See how our key lower body sessions are in the first session of the week, after a full day of recovery. This is done specifically because I want the client to be performing that in a somewhat recovered state.
Not for instance after a big volume session the day before.
This is where the training split for your program design can influence performance. By strategically placing your rest days in the week, a rested client can then lead to improved performance in the gym!
In summary, training splits are just a way to distribute training volume over the week.
They are not the be-all and end-all of program design. But, poor use of the training split can negatively impact a client’s performance.
When creating the training split think about:
- Client’s goals
- Client’s availability
- Client’s recovery
- Client’s key indicator lift of the program
Get these correct and your client will be on their way to great results!
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