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Setting Up A Split Strength Training Routine

How to set up a split routine

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Updated July 07, 2014

Caucasian woman lifting weights
Blend Images - JGI/Jamie Grill/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

I'm sure I don't have to tell you that weight training is an important part of a complete exercise program no matter what your goals are. However, setting up a weekly routine can be confusing and you may be wondering how to split your training into workable muscle groups. In the past, I've talked about different training methods such as pyramid training for the upper and lower body, as well as Supersetting your workouts. Now you'll learn about different ways you can split your routine.

Splitting Your Workouts

When it comes to lifting weights, many people start with a total body program. This type of workout is great for beginners because it allows your body time to get used to lifting weights and get ready for more strenuous work. However, if you've been doing full body workouts for a while, you may have noticed that you've hit a plateau--a normal event when you keep doing the same workouts for too long.

While total body training is great, there are drawbacks. When you're working all of your muscle groups at once, you don't have the time or energy to focus on each muscle group as closely as you would if you split your workout. Split routines allow you to do more exercises, more sets and use heavier weights. These routines also let you lift more often, since you're working different muscle groups on different days.

So, how do you split your workouts? Which body parts should you work on which days? There are a number of ways to split your routine and there's no right or wrong way to do it. That isn't very helpful is it? Okay, to clear things up for you, I've listed some common split routines below, although these aren't your only options by any means.

  • Divide your workout into upper body and lower body. If you do this, you can alternate the workouts and lift 2, 3 or 4 times each week.
  • Divide your workout into push/pull exercises. Pushing exercises usually involve the quads, calves, chest, shoulders and triceps. For this workout, you might combine squats, calf raises, bench press, overhead press and dips, just to name a few. Pulling exercises often involve the back, hamstrings, some shoulder exercises, biceps and abs. So, for this type of workout would include, for example, lat pulldowns, hamstring curls, upright rows, bicep curls and crunches.
  • Divide your workout into a 3-day split where you split upper body work into a push/pull routine and work your lower body on a separate day. A typical three day split like this would include: Day 1: Chest-Triceps, Day 2: Back-Biceps, Day 3: Legs-Shoulders.
  • Lift weights for one muscle group per day. In this type of workout, your week might look like this: Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms and Legs.

The general rule of thumb is that, as you reduce the number of body parts you're working, you should increase the number of exercises you're doing (pick about 3 exercises per muscle group) and the number of sets you're doing (around 3-4 sets).

Don't forget, your routine should also include cardio exercise. It's best to try to keep your strength and cardio workouts separate (either on different days or different times of day), but if you're pressed for time, doing cardio and strength in the same workout isn't the end of the world. Experiment with different schedules to find what works for you.

If you're ready to try a new split routine, check out this sample Push/Pull Workout that includes 2 workouts you can alternate. These are only samples, so feel free to add more exercises if you're advanced or reduce the exercises if you're a beginner.

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