The Best Body Part Splits

By Stefan Ianev

In the last few years body part splits or ‘bro splits’ as they have come to be known, have taken a bit of hit amongst those in the evidence-based community.  

The reason for that is because most body part splits train each muscle group directly only once a week. A 2016 review and meta-analysis by Brad Schoenfeld and colleagues which included 10 studies reported that a resistance training a frequency of twice a week per muscle group was superior to once a week for hypertrophy when volume was equated (1).

That lead many people who were abreast the literature to jump the gun and write off body part splits in favour of full body training or an upper/lower split. However, a more recent review and meta-analysis by Schoenfeld and colleagues which included 25 studies found no difference in hypertrophy between training frequencies of 1 to 3 times per body part per week, when volume was equated (2). There was, however, a trend to favour higher frequencies when volume was not equated.

These findings are not very surprising, considering that for the most part, most bodybuilders at the amateur or elite level still use body part splits. This is true for both natural and enhanced athletes. You would be hard pressed to find any high-level body builder doing full body training or using an upper/lower split. 

The thing most people overlook however, is that even when using a body part split, there is a lot of crossover between body parts. For example, when training chest, you are hitting triceps and anterior delts indirectly. When you train back you are hitting biceps and rear delts indirectly. If you do deadlifts on back days, you are also hitting the legs indirectly. 

So, if a muscle group is getting one direct hit per week, and one to two indirect hits, you are still getting a frequency of two to three times per week for that body part. Furthermore, you can add in 3-6 sets of direct work on the indirect days, for those muscle groups that you wish to prioritize. This is a great way to get in extra weekly volume for a priority muscle group while managing fatigue. 

Here is an example of an effective 4-day training split that takes advantage of this direct/indirect effect. 

Day 1 – Chest & Biceps (Indirect: Delts, lats, triceps, forearms)

Day 2 – Legs (Traps, rhomboids, lats, forearms)

Day 3 – Off 

Day 4 – Shoulders & Traps (Indirect: Mid traps, rhomboids, triceps, biceps, forearms)

Day 5 – Off

Day 6 – Back & Triceps (Indirect: Legs, delts, chest, biceps, forearms)

Day 7 – Off

Let’s break this down a little bit further so you understand where the indirect hits are coming from. 

Day 1 – Chest & Biceps (Indirect: Delts, lats, triceps, forearms)

  • When you perform any pressing movements for the chest you are indirectly hitting the front delts and triceps. 
  • If you perform pullovers for the chest or close grip chins for the biceps you are indirectly hitting your lats.
  • When you perform any biceps movement you are indirectly hitting forearms.
  • You can also choose to end out the workout with some direct triceps and/or middle/posterior delt work.

Day 2 – Legs (Mid back, lats, forearms)

  • When you perform Romanian deadlifts you are indirectly hitting upper traps, mid traps, rhomboids, lats, and forearms.
  • You can end out the workout with some direct abdominal work. 

Day 4 – Shoulders (Indirect: Mid back, triceps, biceps, forearms)

  • When you perform rear delt raises you are indirectly hitting rhomboids and mid traps.
  • When you perform any shoulder press movement you are indirectly hitting triceps. 
  • When you perform upright rows you are indirectly hitting biceps and forearms.
  • When you perform shrugs you are indirectly hitting forearms.
  • You can also choose to end out the workout with some direct triceps, biceps, or forearm work. 

Day 6 – Back & Triceps (Indirect: Legs, delts, chest, biceps, forearms)

  • If you perform deadlifts or back extensions you are indirectly hitting the legs. 
  • When you perform any rowing movement you are indirectly hitting rear delts. 
  • When you perform and pulldown or rowing movement you are indirectly hitting biceps and forearms.
  • If you perform close grip bench presses or dips you are indirectly hitting chest and anterior delts.
  • You can end out the workout with some direct work for the calves and abdominals.  

As you can see each muscle group is getting plenty of indirect work through out the week even on a body part split, and you can even add in some extra direct work. 

If you need more leg work, especially quads, consider adding in a second lighter leg session on day 5, and take out the deadlifts and back extensions on day 6. You can also throw the extra calf and abdominal work here instead of on day 6.

Lets face it, body part split are more fun than full body training or using an upper lower split, so if you can make it work just as well, and it helps you enjoy training and stay motivated then I am all for it! 

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References  

  1. Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2016;46(11):1689-1697. doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8
  2. Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Krieger J. How many times per week should a muscle be trained to maximize muscle hypertrophy? A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies examining the effects of resistance training frequency. J Sports Sci. 2019;37(11):1286-1295. doi:10.1080/02640414.2018.1555906

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