The progression of any weight training program comes down to one central tenant, the continued and progressive improvement of one's physical performance capabilities. To achieve these advancements, training variables must be manipulated, and limits must be pushed to some degree. Whether this is by adding weight to the bar over time, adding reps to a weight that may stay the same, tacking on an extra set, minimizing the rest, take-home point is, your body won't change unless you give it a reason to. That being said, a second question arises, WHAT is the best way/schedule to train to OPTIMIZE my continued progression in fitness? There is no simple answer to this. As with any fitness program, the individual's lifestyle and needs will dictate the schedule on which they train. No matter how busy someone is, there is a training frequency and split that will work into any schedule.
What does the science say?
A recent study by Yue et al compared two EQUATED volume programs (meaning both groups did the same amount of work) the difference between the groups was that one group trained two times per week, and one group trained four times per week. The data revealed little to no difference in measures of strength or body composition between the two and four-week group (1).Compare this to a meta-analysis from Schoenfeld, Ogborn and Krieger published in 2016 that illustrated two times per week training to be superior to single session per week training (2). And inference could be made after reviewing the data from both the Yue and Schoenfeld studies that one training session per week is TOO LITTLE and that four or more training sessions per week is TOO MUCH. The data suggests that two times a week is probably the optimal training stimulation for gains in both strength and hypertrophy with a three time a week frequency showing little to no added benefit.
What does this mean for you? Simple, train movements and muscle groups anywhere from two to three times a week. Yes, that’s right, your bro split – has got to go. The days of hitting chest, back, shoulders, arms, and legs once per week are long gone. Instead, opt for one of the following protocols:
OPTION 1: TOTAL BODY 3 x WEEK.
I like this split for novices, busy schedules, and those looking to build strength over time as it promotes frequency over intensity (driving adherence) and allows for mastery of the foundational lifts through skill acquisition. In other words, if you want to be a good squatter you have to squat - and squat often. There is also tons of time for recovery and additional mobility or even athletic work in between training sessions. I have seen both linear and daily undulating periodization work well with this split. From what I have seen this split is better for strength than size gains, but making solid progressions with aesthetics is not out of the question at all.
OPTION 2: Upper/Lower days 4 x WEEK
This is a more simple approach to a body part split. This allows for a slight increase in volume for most trainees and allows more time to be spent with each muscle group/movement pattern to drive the desired adaptation. This type of split allows for the introduction of non-linear forms of periodization that focus on two different adaptations. Such as days that can be divided into an upper and a lower workout for both strength and two for hypertrophy. Or one for max strength and speed (Westside) this is a great split for both in and out of season athletes as it allows enough time for skill work.
OPTION 3: Push Pull Leg (PPL) 6x week
This is the split that allows for the greatest volume and still respects the need for frequency (as we now know the literature shows about 2x week to be optimal) this split can lend itself to many different periodization schemes as well. So two adaptations can be trained concurrently (for example: strength the first three day wave, and hypertrophy the next three day wave), while this example is not optimal for driving one adaptation this split does offer a great deal of versatility. However this type of split and volume is best reserved for those looking to grow and really shines when run as a purely hypertrophy based program.
To conclude, the take home points are as follow:
- Aim for a 2-3 time per week training stimulus per muscle group.
- Find a way to fit that into your schedule in a way that allows for
- Don’t be afraid to break paradigms, ditch the bro split and try something new.