Hit each muscle group twice a week for rapid gains.
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In the world of bodybuilding, hypertrophy is king. Hypertrophy is a fancy way of saying muscle growth. The key to building bigger muscles is to follow a training routine you can stick to and that emphasizes progressive overload. While no routine can ever be deemed the absolute best split, there are certain ways you can tweak your program to make it as effective as possible.
The matter of whether full-body training or split routines are better for hypertrophy is a commonly held debate among bodybuilders. Full-body training involves three to four total-body workouts per week, while splits only require you to hit each muscle once a week, but with a higher volume. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), an approach that combines the two is best for hypertrophy. The ACSM suggests training four times per week and hitting each muscle group twice.
When training each muscle group twice per week, split your sessions in two. The best options here are either an upper-body and lower-body split or a push-and-pull split. The upper-lower split includes two chest, two back, two shoulder, one biceps, one triceps and one trapezius exercise in the upper-body session and two quad, two hamstrings and one calf exercise, with optional extra moves for the abductors, adductors and core muscles, in the lower-body session. For a push workout, do two quad, two chest, a shoulder, a calf and a triceps exercise. The pull workout involves two back exercises and one hamstring, one biceps and one trap exercise, with more optional extras of side or rear deltoid work, abductor, hip flexor and core moves. On both these splits, a two-days on, one-day off, two-days on, two-days off schedule works well.
The Best Exercises
Using mainly multi-joint compound moves is the number one way to ensure you build muscle in your training split, claims strength coach Jim Smith in an article for Eric Cressey's website. This means basing your training around deadlifts, rows, squats, bench presses and pull-ups, rather than leg extensions, leg curls and flyes. Frequent exercise rotation is important too, notes exercise researcher and bodybuilder Brad Schoenfeld. This means that if you usually start an upper-body workout with bench presses, it would benefit you to rotate this every few weeks. You might do bench presses for three weeks, then switch to dumbbell presses, then dips, before returning to bench presses on week 10.
Sample Split and Progression
A sample upper-lower split could look something along the lines of four sets of six on barbell back squats and stiff-legged deadlifts, followed by three sets of 12 on the leg presses, leg curls and seated calf raises for your lower-body session. Your upper-body workout could follow a similar format, starting with four sets of six on bench presses, weighted chin-ups and barbell shoulder presses, before moving to three sets of 10 on incline dumbbell presses, cable rows and dumbbell lateral raises. Finish with two sets of 12 on dumbbell curls, overhead cable extensions and barbell shrugs. To build muscle, progressive overload is critical, so either increase your weights, decrease your rest, bump up your sets and reps or slow down your lifting tempo each workout.