Saturday, August 4, 2007

What's Your Split? Pt. 2

2. What muscles to group together

Once you decide you're not going to work every muscle group every work out, you must make a decision about how you are going to split them up. You have a lot of options, and the great thing is, you don't have to stick with one for long. In fact, you shouldn't. When you see your progress slowing, switching your split around is one of the easiest ways to shock your body back into growing.

  • Choose muscle groups first, exercises second

You can't choose a grab bag of your favorite exercises and expect to make progress. Split your week up by muscle group to ensure that you're providing enough stimulation and intensity to grow. Then choose exercises that target those muscle groups.

  • Two day split

The most obvious choice for a 2 day split is upper body one day, lower body another. Some people try to work their quads separately from their hams, glutes and calves. If that's your plan, you could do a push/pull split, working chest, shoulders, triceps, and quads one day, and back, traps, biceps, glutes, hamstrings the next. Trying to divide leg muscles doesn't work well, however, because while some compound movements emphasize quads over rear-chain muscles or vice versa, none come close to isolating them. Compound movements are essential to leg development.

  • Three day split

A good three day split would be a push day, a pull day, and a leg day.

1. Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps

2. Back, Traps, and Biceps

3. Legs

Or maybe you want to hit biceps and triceps twice a week, once each as primary and secondary movers. This would allow your biceps and triceps to be fresh at the start of their workout, and be hit light a second day. That would look like this:

1. Chest, Shoulders, and Biceps

2. Back, Traps, and Triceps

3. Legs

If you choose this path, make sure there are enough recovery days between upper body workouts. If you do chest, shoulders, biceps Monday and then try to do back, traps, triceps Tuesday, your biceps will limit your back workout due to being sore from their work out the previous day.

  • Four day split

This is where things get interesting. You have a lot of options with a four day split. For one thing, you can consider doing a dedicated arm day. If you want to hit arms twice in a week, you can do a triceps burnout exercise like cable pushdowns after a push day, and then hit them again on arm day. You might want to do a dedicated core day, instead of fitting in a few exercises here and there throughout the week. Here are some sample four day splits:

1. Chest and Shoulders

2. Back and Traps

3. Legs

4. Arms

1. Chest and Triceps

2. Back and Biceps

3. Shoulders and Traps (this combo makes upright/shoulder rows a perfect transition exercise)

4. Legs

1. Chest and Triceps

2. Upper and Lower Back

3. Shoulders and Biceps

4. Legs

You'll notice that legs are usually by themselves. The leg muscles are large, powerful, and resilient, being used to carry you around all day long. The hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes are all huge muscles. Any workout that truly tests your leg strength is going to be extremely energy draining. I often pair lower back with leg day, simply because the lower back needs only a few warm up exercises such as superman's or lower back extensions, since the big compound leg exercises, especially dead lift, will build lower back strength.

  • 5 day split

A five day split will allow you to focus almost entirely on one muscle group at a time, allowing it a fresh source of energy and helping assure proper intensity. However, if your body can't recover from this many days a week, your workouts will suffer.

So how did I decide what muscle groups to pair up, and how can you, to successfully create your own splits? I often pair chest and shoulders because most chest exercises heavily utilize your anterior (front) delt head. Even the decline bench and flye position will only minimize deltoid involvement. So your chest workout can warm up your shoulders for their workout. Sometimes, though, because shoulder development is important, you will want to do shoulders on a day when they are the first muscle group worked. In that instance, it can be good to pair them with traps, which are secondary movers in all shoulder exercises, especially rows and laterals. You might want to do your posterior delt head workout on back day, instead of with the rest of your shoulders, because they help pull your arms down and back. Triceps are a natural pairing with either chest or shoulders because they are already secondary movers in all pressing motions, and stabilizers in flyes and pullovers.

As you can see, there are a lot of factors in determining which muscles to group together. It can be overwhelming, but do some research and it can be a lot of fun trying out different combinations.

(To be continued…)

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