If you ask anyone for tips about maximizing muscle growth, they’ll tell you to hit the gym consistently, lift weights, and down protein shakes. That’s because consistency, weight-lifting and protein are time-tested and science-backed ways to increase muscle mass. However, if you ask about workout splits, you’ll probably get a variety of responses. Let’s take a look at the most popular workout splits to get an idea of which one is most supported by scientific evidence.
In this article, I’ll compare the “Full-body Split”, “Upper/Lower Split”, “Bro Split”, and “Push/Pull/Legs Split”.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with these splits, here are simple examples of each one:
- Frequency: 3 sessions per week
- Monday: Full-body
- Tuesday: Rest
- Wednesday: Full-body
- Thursday: Rest
- Friday: Full-body
- Saturday & Sunday: Rest
- Upper/Lower Split:
- Frequency: 4 sessions per week
- Monday: Upper-body
- Tuesday: Lower-body
- Wednesday: Rest
- Thursday: Upper-body
- Friday: Lower-body
- Saturday & Sunday: Rest
- Bro Split:
- Frequency: Five sessions per week
- Monday: Chest
- Tuesday: Back
- Wednesday: Shoulders
- Thursday: Arms
- Friday: Legs
- Saturday & Sunday: Rest
- Push/Pull/Legs Split:
- Frequency: Six sessions per week
- Monday: Push (ie. chest, anterior deltoids, lateral deltoids, triceps)
- Tuesday: Pull (ie. Back, rear deltoids, biceps)
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday: Push
- Friday: Pull
- Saturday: Legs
- Sunday: Rest
A study by Krieger et al. found that training a muscle group twice a week promotes superior hypertrophic results compared to training once a week. The group that trained a muscle group twice a week grew nearly 60% more muscle than did the grouping training a muscle group once a week.
Applying these findings to the splits above, we can conclude that the Bro Split, despite having a frequency of five sessions per week, would not produce hypertrophic results as effectively as the others. Unlike the other splits, which work each muscle group two to three times a week, the Bro Split focuses on more specific muscle groups once a week. That being said, the Bro Split will let you focus more on specific aspects of and motions for each muscle group. This can be great for mastering the technique of targeting specific muscles.
The study did not measure significant differences between training two and three times a week, so the Full-Body split, which trains each muscle group three times a week, isn’t necessarily superior to the other splits.
Duration of Each Session
Most of us don’t have the time to spend hours in the gym multiple days a week. Even though a huge benefit of the Full-Body split is that you’ll only have to hit the gym three times a week, each session takes substantially longer than the other splits. A full-body day will definitely take up a larger part of your day than a chest day.
On top of the daily time commitment, the intensity of your workout will inevitably decrease throughout the session as you become fatigued and depleted of energy. In a study conducted by Yue FL et al., training a muscle group two times a week with greater volume per session was demonstrated to produce greater hypertrophic effects than training a muscle group four times a week with lesser volume per session. That is, those that worked High Volume at a Low Frequency gained more muscle mass than those that worked a Low Volume at a High Frequency.
These findings suggest that the Full-body Split, which trains each muscle group most frequently with a lower volume, would not lead to as much muscle growth as would the Upper/Lower Split or the Push/Pull/Legs Split.
Comparing the Upper/Lower Split to the Push/Pull/Legs Split in the context of this study, we can conclude that the Push/Pull/Legs Split leads to a greater increase in upper-body muscle mass than does the Upper/Lower Split. This is because the Push/Pull/Legs Split, by segmenting the upper-body into a push and pull day, allows for a greater total volume to be lifted.
No split is objectively better than another, but these scientific studies can inform our decision.
Bro Split: The popular Bro Split is not the best for maximizing muscle growth, because it only hits each muscle group once a week.
Full-Body Split: The Full-Body Split is a great option for those of you that don’t have the time to hit the gym four or more days per week. Despite being an extremely simple split with sessions that are too long for maximal intensity, the Full-Body Split covers all of the muscles and hits them three times a week. Keep in mind, however, that hitting each muscle group three times per week isn’t necessarily better than twice per week.
Upper/Lower Split: The Upper/Lower Split is a great balance that hits each muscle group twice a week and requires only four gym days per week.
Push/Pull/Legs Split: For those of you that are dedicated to the gym, the Push/Pull/Legs Split might just be the best option. Not only does it hit each muscle group twice per week, the upper-body is partitioned into two different movements. The Push/Pull/Legs Split covers all the bases:
- Trains each muscle group twice a week
- Maintains a high volume per session
- Gives each muscle group plenty of time to recover
I hope you learned something new! Join the discussion about workout splits by leaving a comment below!
Ochi, et al. “Higher Training Frequency Is Important for Gaining Muscular Strength Under Volume-Matched Training.” Frontiers, Frontiers Media SA, 28 May 2018, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2018.00744/full.
Schoenfeld, Brad J, et al. “Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27102172.Yue, Fu Leon, et al. “Comparison of 2 Weekly-Equalized Volume Resistance-Training Routines Using Different Frequencies on Body Composition and Performance in Trained Males.” Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism = Physiologie Appliquee, Nutrition Et Metabolisme, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29216446/.