Ditch the Body Part Split!

I’d venture to guess that most of you landing here at Primal Strength Camp for the first time train using some kind of body part split.

Does your routine look like one of these?

Chest                                               Chest and Tri’s
Arms                                                Back and Bi’s
Legs                                                Legs and Shoulders
Back and Shoulders                        More Legs

I bet it is fairly similar.  What I’ll also bet is that you are not a professional or aspiring bodybuilder.

So let me break the bad news to you; unless you plan on getting on that stage any time soon to compete, you are sabotaging yourself.

Body part splits are “gain killers”.  Stop doing them.  You can’t keep working out the way these awful muscle magazines or the meatheads at your local gym tell you.

Recruit More Muscle to Build More Muscle

Seems like a straightforward concept right?  The more muscle you can stimulate in a given period of time, the more growth you can trigger.

The key to accomplishing this is through total body workouts, or for the intermediate and advanced lifter, an upper/lower split.  Instead of just training your chest and triceps in a given workout, using your entire body recruits far more muscle resulting in much bigger gains.

body workouts

Want a real world example?  Think about male gymnasts.  Ask any dude out there if he would want to look like a gymnast and I bet he can’t tell you no with a straight face.  Those dudes are jacked!

Think they look like that because they focus half their gym time in a given day on their biceps?  No!  They train total body each and every day.

By recruiting more muscle, you will make far bigger strength gains than you would training with isolated body parts as well.

Eliminate the Garbage 

Workouts consisting of squats, clean and presses, pull-ups, and pushups are going to recruit far more muscle than one consisting of lat pulldowns, bent over rows, preacher curls, and concentration curls.

Cramming a total body workout into a single training session forces you to eliminate the crap and choose your exercises carefully.  Ditch the isolation movements and feed yourself a steady diet of compound exercises and plyometrics.

Most of us aren’t bodybuilders so there is no sense in training like one.  You will get far better results training like an athlete.

Frequency

Looking at the split routines I laid out in the beginning of this post, you will see it takes 4 days of work to fully train the entire body.  Add in a prescribed two days of rest, and your week of training is over.

Now let me ask you, who ever got good at anything by practicing once a week?  Because that is exactly what you are doing if you are following a body part split; the way the spit works out, you hit your chest once a week, your back once a week, etc.

With total body workouts, or upper/lower splits, you are hitting your muscle groups with at least twice as much frequency meaning you are triggering twice as many growth phases. In any given year, if you are only training each body part once a week, that is 52 growth phases.  Lose the body part split and you are already up over 100 growth phases. That should blow your mind!

Now ask yourself, who is going to be bigger and stronger at the end of the year?  The person growing 52 times a year or 100?

And since you are not spending inordinate amounts of time on any one body part, your recovery times for muscle groups are cut in half, leading to more growth time and avoiding a possible onset of overtraining.

strength training body workouts

So what is the best training split?

I’d start with none!  If you are experienced, switch to an upper/lower.

If you need a jumpstart, check out this post on a full body or upper lower split.

Implementing a Full Body or Upper Lower Split

If you want an entire 8 week program based on using an upper lower split, then join the thousands of others in Primal Nation and download Uncaging Your Primal Strength from the right hand side of this page.

Have questions, feel free to email me via the contact form or drop a comment here on this post and I’ll be glad to help!

Evolve!!

— Tank

16 thoughts on “Ditch the Body Part Split!”

  1. I have been rehabbing a left shoulder after surgery to repair a badly torn labrum (bicep detachment too). I’m 6 months into recovery, and would love to change my routines. I am working with an athletic PT trainer, and he is already showing me a few things. How can I modify full body workouts such as pull-ups, dips, which are stressful for my shoulder? I love workouts like these!

    1. Without knowing all of the details of your situation, I’d stick with what your current trainer tells you. But when you are on your own, I would try using things like TRX systems, the assisted pull-up machine, resistance bands, and the tricep pushdown machine.

      Take things slow and gradually build up your strength; no need to re-injure yourself. Even modified pushups could help build up your shoulders.

      Resistance bands are a great way to build up basic strength and are awesome for shoulder rehab. Band pull-aparts and dislocators are essential; they are required part of my warm-ups.

      Machines will help you build muscle but will largely do the stabilization for you, taking the stress off your shoulders. As you get stronger and more comfortable, you can slowly ween yourself away from the machines and do standard bodyweight stuff, and then slowly get back into adding more resistance.

      Just stay patient and stay smart! Listen to your body. Good luck my friend.

      — Tank

  2. After reading the article it does make a lot of sense to ditch the split routines to help increase mass. Im just a bit confused as to what a upper/lower body routine would look like. Can you email me an example of a routine or a list of movements/exercises that are best to make my own routine out of? Would be greatly appreciated.

  3. Hi great article and seems to make sense. But could you post me an example of an upper / lower body workout?? With reps, sets and rest periods that you recommend for max muscle growth.

    Many thanks

    Sol.

  4. Yea, that's a perfect time to do them, or at least biceps. If I do any curling, I do that on lower body day.

    If you are doing direct triceps work though, I'd try to fit that in on upper body day. Otherwise, if you do a bunch of pressing one day, then go hit your tri's with dips etc the following day, they will not have proper time to recover.

    — Tank

  5. Hi, I’ve been lifting for just about a year now and through this time I’ve just been using the body part split. I just want to give upper body/ lower body split or full body split a try but I don’t know how to split it or which exercises to acquire or disregard. Could you please show me an example of your workouts that you perform in the gym.

    Thanks

  6. Great article. Ive been weight lifting for a while now doing the traditional body split chest Monday, back Tuesday etc. And I’ve made great strength gains but I would like to hit each body part more frequently. How exactly would I choose the proper exercises for the upper/ lower split? How many exercises to do per body part? Do I still do direct arm work or stick to strictly compound movements. And Lastly what rep range do you feel would be optimal for this kind of split.

  7. "What I’ll also bet is that you are not a professional or aspiring bodybuilder."
    True, but that's because most people that work out aren't professional or aspiring bodybuilders. There are professional bodybuilders that promote splits and they know what they're talking about. In fact, I haven't witnessed a bodybuilder that promotes this type of training… At the end of the day, I'd say to do what works for you. Although the article says you're hitting your muscles more frequently, it leaves out the intensity… Getting a few sets of bench press in a workout isn't the same as having sets of bench, incline, decline, and different kinds of flies. I witness first hand people getting huge off of splits, so why would I switch my training regime just because I am not a professional bodybuilder? Just some healthy criticism.

  8. Mo,

    You are proving my point for me by saying that most people that work out aren't bodybuilders, so they shouldn't be training like one. Bodybuilders train for size, symmetry and aesthetics, not functionality, whereas the average gym goer wants to get bigger and stronger or perform better for some kind of sport. My point is that you need to train to your goals. 90% of people I come across are using body-part splits because they don't know any other way and are mimicking other guys in the gym and copying stuff out of magazines.

    Bodybuilders have in fact taken an upper-lower split approach, Dorian Yates being one of the most famous examples. But you are right that most would not take this approach because they are focused on training to judging standards and an entirely different set of goals than most of the gym population.

    This kind of training very much takes intensity into account, although this post may not address it directly. By hitting your muscles more frequently but with less daily volume, you work with much higher intensities and total poundages than you would by training 4 different variations of one body part. Where this is evident and many bodybuilders (not all) get exposed is in their relative strength levels.

    Intensities for this style of training handle loads in the 3-8 rep range, whereas body builders work with much lower intensities and higher reps.

    I've witnessed first hand how people switching from body-part splits to training full-body or with an upper-lower split have sky-rocketed their gains in size AND strength/performance, so really it just comes down to you trying it. Bodybuilding has its merits and is very effective. I would never claim otherwise. In fact, I use many of its principles (and even cycles) to produce hypertrophy in clients, but it shouldn't necessarily be your focus unless you have specific goals conducive to that style of training.

    As you said, doing what best works for you is the right approach to take. But a lot of times, what is best for the person is to make a change.

    — Tank

  9. Yep; I agree. The routine that has given me the best results is an upper/lower split training four times per week. Two different upper workouts and two different lower workouts.

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