Before I became a personal trainer myself, I hired other trainers to prescribe workouts for me. I wanted to see how they worked with their clients and learn a few tricks of the trade.
One of the very first personal trainers I hired used to brag to me about his schedule. He would talk about how he would get to work out in between seeing his clients and how we would perform split routines.
For example, he would do a lower body resistance workout in the morning. Then, he would train his clients for the next 2-3 hours.
After that, he would head home, eat lunch, and take a nap. Then he would come back to the gym in the afternoon, perform an upper-body resistance training routine, and then work with his evening clients.
At the time, I thought, “Wow! What an amazing life. You get paid to workout AND you get to nap in the middle of the day! I wish I could do that!” Sounds like a dream come true. So, yes, I was super-jealous.
Now, this trainer of mine was pretty intense — he was performing a split routine within the same day, which isn’t typical.
What is a Split Routine?
Before I get too far into the weeds here, let me explain what a split routine actually involves.
First, I should be clear that we’re talking about resistance training. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, a split routine involves training different body parts each time you workout. It’s called a “split” routine because instead of working your entire body when you’re at the gym, you split it up into different parts.
For example, imagine it’s your day to do some strength training. You head over to the weight room and say to yourself, “You know what? I don’t feel like working ALL of my major muscles today. I don’t want to have to work my chest, back, shoulders, and legs. I just want to work on my upper body – maybe just chest and shoulders.” You then proceed to only train those muscles and then hit the showers. Then, tomorrow, you decide to perform a leg workout and skip the upper body altogether. That would be an example of split routine.
This is because on one of the days, you only worked chest and shoulders. Then you completed a leg routine while ignoring your upper body. So you “split” your body into its upper and lower parts.
How can I get Creative with Split Routines?
You can get really creative with split routines. You don’t just have to split the workouts into upper- and lower- body.
For example, you could just work your arms one day. After a couple of days of rest, come back and do a chest and leg routine. The possibilities are endless! My former personal trainer was pretty intense. He wouldn’t take a day off between his split routines – he would only rest for a few hours before hitting the weight room again. Which brings me to an important point: the American College of Sports Medicine does not recommend beginners use split routines. If you’re new to the resistance training game, stick with full-body workouts for the time being. But, if you’re at an intermediate- or advanced-level lifter, then the American College of Sports Medicine is fine with folks incorporating this style of training.
Are Split Routines Helpful?
So the next question is, “Are split routines helpful?” Luckily for us, researchers have tried to answer this very question. The American College of Sports Medicine has stated that a split-body program can be quite convenient and effective for building muscular strength and endurance.
Think of it this way — even though you may be working fewer body parts during each workout, you can still train at a high volume and intensity. Not only that, but you can allow some of your muscles to rest without missing a beat.
Again, say you only trained your chest and shoulders one day. You could come back the next day (or, if you’re my former personal trainer, you could come back that afternoon) and totally ignore your chest and shoulders, but work your legs at a high intensity. Researchers believe that it may not be as exhausting to isolate specific muscle groups during each resistance training workout when compared to a full-body workout.
How are Split Routines Effective?
Split routines can be quite effective for building strength and endurance.
But in my experience, what can sometimes happen is folks will perform an upper-body workout and then never come back and work their lower-body. Let’s face it, many of the so-called, “vanity muscles” are located in the upper body – chest, back, shoulders, and abs. So, it’s easy to ignore the lower half of the body. And, for many, “leg day” at the gym is their least favorite day of the week. So, they’ll just skip working their lower bodies altogether. When this happens, we can longer call what they’re doing a split routine – they’re just working their upper body and completely ignoring the other half! So, please don’t do this.
If you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter and want to try split routines, be sure to come back and work ALL of your major muscle groups… not just the vanity ones.