In today’s episode, we shall cover the basics of how to go about setting up a time-efficient weight training program to hit your goals. We will quickly cover the basic training splits, the logic behind different training splits, how frequently you should be training for maximum results and how to incorporate all of this information to build an easy routine according to your own time schedule.
After this episode, you will be able to set up a solid workout program for yourself. You won’t have the frustration of switching from one training program to another with poor quality results every time. No more dealing with that generic program that your trainer writes out for all of his clients.
Every individual has a different preference to training styles: while some of you might enjoy slogging out hour after hour at the gym. You could also be someone who wants to just get the job done in a short session. Not everybody is a hardcore gym rat and the good news is, you don’t have to be one to be in good shape.
Training Splits 🏋️
So, let’s get started with the first bit on training splits. A training split is just the way in which you would divide your weekly workout sessions to hit different body parts. Since we have a lot of body parts, it can be very difficult to train everything effectively in just one session. So we split up the work over multiple days.
There are probably dozens of ways to design your split. But we will be covering just 4 of the most popular ones today. These 4 are the basis of most modern day training programs. If you know them, you can easily modify your own program as you would like it.
The Bro Split 💪
The first one is the most common one you will see the gym bros doing and hence it is called, you guessed it: the bro split. This is where most of us start.
The bro split involves you splitting up your workout into 6 sessions a week with each session dedicated to one specific body part: so, monday is chest day, tuesday is back day, wednesday is the best day: leg day. Seriously though, this is one of the most inefficient ways to train for anyone who isn’t an advanced bodybuilder. Here is why.
Scientific evidence shows that muscle protein synthesis lasts only for about 36 hours after a training session. So, after you blast your chest muscles on monday, the rebuilding process is only going to last at most till Wednesday. Even if you are sore afterwards for a week, that doesn’t mean you are creating any new muscle tissue. Muscle soreness has not been proven so far to be a reliable indicator of growth.
Your body also has limited capacity to recover from a single training session. When you do endless number of sets on one body part in just one session, you are not really gaining anything extra. In fact this only decreases your ability to recover properly and makes you more prone to injuries. The only reason this works for advanced bodybuilders is that they have a much higher capacity for workload tolerance due to years and decades of serious training. Their muscle potential is already near maximum and to push themselves further, they need to do more and more work using their muscles. They do this by performing a high number of sets for every single muscle. You must also keep in mind that many such advanced athletes are medically enhanced. This allows them to recover much easily from super intense training sessions.
So if you are developing joint pain or tendon pain in your elbows and knees, one common cause is you could just be doing too many sets. Let’s address a question that might be popping in your head right now. “But my trainer put me on a bro split. Will I not see any results?”. No, you will definitely see results as long as you are doing some form of training and eating right. But is it the most effective way to achieve your goals? Definitely not.
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Effective Training Splits 💯
So, if the bro split is pretty ineffective for most people, what should we instead do? Well, there are actually a number of other effective and possibly more time-efficient training splits. They all have some things in common.
- They involve training multiple muscle groups per session
- They make you work the same muscle group at least twice a week
- They are highly flexible to suit any schedule and any style of training.
The first split is called a Push-Pull-Legs split. It’s super simple. On Monday you do pushing movements, on Tuesday you do pulling movements and on Wednesday you do leg movements. And you repeat this one more time during the week and then take Sundays off. Push movements for those of you wondering, are the exercises where you have to push weights away from your body: like the bench press or an overhead press. They work your chest, shoulders and triceps.
Similarly, pulling movements are the opposite. You pull the weight towards you. eg. when you perform chin-ups or dumbbell rows. These build your back and your biceps. Can you recall pulling on your blanket as your mom dragged you out of bed during school days on cold winters? You were never quite able to keep that blanket and always lost the pulling game. That was actually an indicator that your mom had better back and biceps strength than you. And also probably better posture. Because weak pulling muscles cause you to slouch and hunch over. So if you’re trying to improve your posture, focus on your pulling movements. And the leg movements which come after the Pull workout are of course, to hit your leg muscles.
The push-pull-legs split is the best split to go for if you are someone who has access to a gym 6 days a week. If you like a daily schedule where you have a fixed 45minutes or 1 hour for the gym, you should definitely go for this.
But what if you can’t get to the gym every single weekday? Maybe you have other hobbies or other social activities that you enjoy. Then you should look into the Upper Body-Lower Body split. This split lets you setup a 4-day program. You can pick any 4 days of the week without issue. It could be Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday or Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday. Really. Any combination works. All you have to do is train your upper body on one day and your lower body on the next day. So, Upper Body-Lower Body then again Upper Body-Lower Body. Super easy. If you have a free week coming up, you can extend this 4 day schedule into a 6 day schedule just by adding in another Upper body-Lower body block during the week. It is more flexible in terms of time as compared to the Push-Pull-Legs routine.
Training just 2 days a week? 🤔
But what if you can’t even spare 4 days for the gym? Some of you have really hectic lives. It can be a dream to make time for even two days in a week to workout. Guess what? You can do just that and still build a pretty damn good body. And for most beginners, 2-3 days a week of weight training can actually get you absolutely fantastic results. For this however, you have to train using a full-body split. That’s right. You’ll train every single body part in every session. This is the most flexible routine if you have a crazy schedule where you never know when you’ll have time. This is the polar opposite of the bro-split where you do just one body part a day. But this is way superior to the bro-split. In fact, even many professional athletes use full body splits, sometimes upto 6 days a week. This split can be really really effective.
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So the 4 splits in short: Bro split (I’d suggest not doing it. But if you are already on it, continue it for a while and see how you like it. And switch to another more effective split as soon as you are done with the program), Push-Pull-Legs, Upper Body-Lower Body and Full-Body. Just pick any one of them depending on how many days you can put into your workouts every week.
Duration of sessions ⌚
Now that you have picked your split. How would you manage the duration of your sessions? The duration of your session would depend on two things: the number of exercises you do and the number of sets you do per exercise. For example on a push day you can pick any number of pushing exercises. You have pushups, bench press, dumbbell press, incline press…and so many more.
The key here is to keep things simple. Just pick two exercises you like for the big muscles, and one exercise for the small muscles. Big muscles in your upper body are all on your torso. Your chest is a big muscle and your back is a big muscle. But your biceps and triceps are small muscles. Even your shoulders are a small muscle group.
So, remember. Torso = Big Muscles = 2 Exercises. Anything on your arms = Small muscles = 1 exercise. So, on push day, you’ll pick two chest exercises, 1 shoulder exercise and 1 triceps exercise. These can be any exercise you enjoy. They can be using dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands or even using bodyweight. For every exercise, perform 3 sets. Just 3 sets, every single exercise. That is it.
Are you thinking “Can I do more sets?”. Certainly. But more isn’t better. More is just more. Better is better. They are not the same thing. Doing more sets will make you spend more time at the gym. This may seem fun for a while but for a lot of people, it can just become exhausting after sometime. Then you start dreading the long sessions and finally you just stop going to the gym.
If you are just starting out, the best thing to do is to keep your sessions short. If you are focussed in the gym, it should take no longer than 1 hour for you to get everything done. If you start to like training more, you can add in more sets definitely, but it won’t always get you better results than doing less.
Current research shows that for almost all muscle groups, you need to do a total of just 10-15 sets a week (or even lesser) for optimal growth. That’s in an entire week. So let’s take chest. 2 exercises on Push day for 3 sets each. That’s 6 sets on your 1st push day for chest. And you’ll be doing this again later that week. So that is 12 sets in total. You are already in the optimal zone.
But you may say, “For triceps , I did only 1 exercise. That will make it less than optimal.” You have to understand that whenever you do movements that involve large muscles, you’ll also use smaller muscles. So, small muscles are constantly involved in any big movement. If you are doing a pushup, sure your chest is the main focus, but your triceps and shoulders are also working. That is why just one exercise per session is more than enough to optimise your growth for smaller muscles.
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Now let’s summarise the key points to set up your own training program:
- Pick a training split from among Push-Pull-Legs, Upper Body-Lower Body or Full Body. All of these splits are equally effective. They are also way superior to the very popular bro-split. You should choose your split depending on your time availability. If you have 6 days to train, take the Push-Pull-Legs, 4 days? Take the Upper Body-Lower Body. Just 3 days? Or maybe 2 days? Pick the full body split.
- Big muscles cover a large area in your body and are capable of doing a lot of work. For big muscles groups like chest, back, quadriceps and hamstrings, do two exercises in one session. You can pick any exercise depending on what equipment you have. If your trainer suggests any specific exercise, go for it.
- Small muscle groups cover very little area in your body. They are also involved during all your big muscle movements. So for small muscles like shoulders, biceps, triceps, and even abs, just one exercise per session is more than enough. Don’t spend hours doing bicep curls or abdominal crunches.
At the end of the day, all that matters is that you pick a program that you can stick to long term. Don’t try to overcommit when you know you have less time. If you are very busy and are new to fitness, start with 2 days a week with a full body program. But do it consistently for at least 3 months. Then re-evaluate. If you enjoy it, you don’t have to add in extra work. But if you think you can do more, just do 3 days a week instead. In the longer term, what really matters is consistency.
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Don’t start a 6 day a week program and then quit after a month. The people in your life who have terrific physiques or are super fit don’t spend hours exercising each day. But they exercise consistently for years throughout their lives. So, start small and stick to your habits. The results will follow.
What does your current training split look like? Is it getting you results? Let me know.
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