This blog is coming from a former avid bro.
I had the full starter pack
A ridiculous stringer vest hardly covering my chest.
A outlandish haircut.
Tanned up to the max.
A cupboard full of pointless supplements and more importantly, I religiously followed the bro split or single body part training split.
My training schedule normally followed something like this.
Monday - Chest
Tuesday - Back
Wednesday - Legs (if I felt like it)
Thursday - Shoulders and Traps
Friday - Arms (this workout was an insane amount of reps for such a small body part)
Saturday - Cardio and Abs
Sunday - Rest or if I was bored go to the gym anyway.
So why on earth did I follow a training split like this, even though I was a relative beginner and had no real experience of lifting weights.
It's simple all the pros were doing it. Every magazine you picked up on the high street had one of the top guys on the front cover. They were huge, they were muscular, they had six packs. That's what I wanted to look like, so it made sense to train like them right?
These sort of popular fitness publications, would feature all of the training splits of all the top bodybuilders in the world! Jay Cutler, Dexter Jackson, Phil Heath and many more. If these training splits were what the pros were using, then surely I should be following suit!
What is wrong with the bro split?
So what is wrong with the traditional body part split and why should we seek another more efficient way of training?
Firstly it is a HUGE mistake to copy the pros and the guys you see up on stage, shall we say they are heavily chemically assisted. They use a huge range of anabolic steroids to help improve rest and recovery, boost muscle protein synthesis, not to mention their natural genetics to begin with are far more superior. For the average natural trainer to try and replicate this sort of environment is a huge mistake and one I made for a good number of years.
So what does the science say to back us up and how can we start training in a more efficient way that is going to get us stronger, bigger and leaner.
One of the main principles of any training programme should be total training volume. Training volume is highly correlated with muscle hypertrophy which is what we all want!
So what is total training volume?
You can work this out by doing sets x reps x weight.
So say for example on your squats, you do 3 sets of 8 reps at 100 kilos
Your total volume for the squats would be 2,400 kilos, so your goal would be to gradually add more volume to this lift over time and you can do this is many different ways. You could add more weight to the bar, or you could add more reps and do 10 reps, or you could add another set to the exercise. All of these ways are increasing your training volume which is key.
The image above courtesy of Eric Helms, shows you the most important principles, when it comes to any training programme. As you can see training volume is extremely important as is training frequency.
A major downfall of the typical bro split, is that your training frequency is far too low for a natural trainer. You know the story, you absolutely smash your legs to kingdom come, the next day you nearly fall down the stairs and think you had a dream legs session yesterday. You now believe that you have to rest your legs for a whole 7 days before training them again and you do this with all muscle groups. This is not optimal for natural trainers you need to be hitting muscle groups 2-3 times a week and the science backs us up on this.
A 2007 study by Wenbom et al (link to the study here) this study looked at the effect of frequency, intensity, volume and type of strength training on whole muscle cross section in humans. It concluded that for hypertrophy gains, training a muscle group 2-3 times a week is better than training the same muscle group just once, even when volume is the same.
What this is telling us, is that instead of smashing your legs in just one session and not being able to walk or sit on the toilet for 2 days. You are far more better off splitting this one workout into 2. I know that means you have to train your legs twice a week, but your sessions will be more productive, you will be able to recover faster and your be getting better gains what is there not to love about that. In other words don't go balls to wall every single gym session.
What to do next?
Your probably now thinking.
How should I train then?
I've been following this body part split for the last few years and I have no idea, where to turn and what to next.
Well I am here to tell you, that you are far more better off following a training programme that gets you training a muscle group more than once a week, you need to be training a muscle group at least twice a week to try and maximize gains.
Don't just take my word for it.
Dr Brad Schoenfeld the godfather of muscle growth, did a controlled study looking at the effects of a total body training programme vs a split body training programme, (link to the study here)
What Schoenfeld, and his team did was take 19 individuals, with a average lifting career of 4 years so they were not beginners at all.
They were randomly assigned two different training programmes.
The first group performed a total body training programme, so they worked all major muscle groups in one session.
The second group performed more of a body part split.
The table below shows the programmes for both groups
The most important aspect of this study, was that both programmes had the same total volume. So both groups lifted the same amount of weight,
The results may shock you!
Schoenfeld and his team found that, both groups increased muscle hypertrophy in the arm and leg muscles. But the group who performed the total body workouts, significantly increased muscle mass in their biceps, bigger guns results! The total body group also saw major increases in their quad size. So bigger arms and bigger legs in the total body group, loving it!
As for strength gains, both groups increased their 1RM performance in the squat and bench, although the total body group's bench increased more!
The bottom line? All the muscle groups studied showed a greater growth from higher training frequency.
Put it this way, if a man was holding a gun to your head and said you had 6 weeks to add 20 kilos to your squat otherwise he would come back and find you, sounds like a poor movie plot. But if this happened would you stick to your bro split and only train legs once a week, or would you start training them more frequently. The chances are you will add that extra 20 kilos if you squat more than once a week. Your probably get bigger legs in the process as well.
The Wrap up
So what's the morale of this story?
Man up and start training bodyparts more frequently!
I cannot tell you the amount of popular bodybuilding routines I have followed in the past, you name it I probably did it for a period of time. DTP, GVT, modified GVT, Arnie's programmes, superset programme, pre exhaust programmes. Yep I've done a lot in my time. Like I mentioned though all of these programmes that your favourite bodybuilder or favourite athlete performed had a little extra help shall we say.
Plus all of these programmes neglect the muscle and strength pyramid that I posted earlier in this blog. Firstly they neglect adherence, it is extremely hard to stick to these programmes in the long term. They also normally neglect volume and frequency which are crucial to muscle growth. You end up with these programmes, just going into the gym and destroying yourself every session.
This meme is ironic, as I was spending at least 6 days a week in the gym at this time. But not getting the reward for my time and effort. It was my own fault for following these insane bodybuilding splits. That had me smashing each muscle group just once a week.
If your a natural trainer and you go all guns blazing every single session. 6 sessions a week, 52 weeks a year. You will burn out and get injured.
If your injured all the time you cannot put on any muscle.
We know now, that there are more efficient ways to train as a natural trainer and bodybuilding splits are not the way to go.
You need to follow a training programme that is going to up your training frequency, while allowing enough time to rest and recover.
We hope that this blog has shed some light on the typical bro splits and hopefully we have given you the information and knowledge to start training in a more efficient way that will get you bigger, stronger and leaner!