How to devise a split-training routine

My last blog post discussed the disadvantages of whole-body workouts and when it is time to move on to split-training routines.

Split-training is simply training specific muscle groups in a session so that over the course of several consecutive training sessions, you end up working all the muscles in your body which you would have done all in one session in the whole-body approach.

You might think that you can randomly group bodyparts together to work in one session.  It’s not like that. You need to decide carefully how you will split out your training. Here are a few examples:

  • Upper-lower body
  • Push-pull muscles
  • Upper push-pull and lower body
  • Synergetic split
  • Antagonistic split
  • Non-competing split
  • Individual muscle groups


Upper-lower body

This is the next logical step from the whole-body workout. Split your training over 2 non-consecutive days and train your upper body muscles on one day and your lower body muscles on the other day.


This is one step further. Work all the muscles that push in one session and all the pulling muscles in the other session. So for e.g. Day 1 can be for the chest, triceps shoulders and quadriceps. Day 2 will be for the back, biceps and hamstrings.

Upper push-pull and lower body

Because the upper body has quite a few different muscle groups, the upper-lower body split means the training is imbalanced over the 2 training days with the upper body day involving many more exercises. So by combining the above 2 splits, you spread out your training over 3 days by further splitting the upper body training day into push muscles day and pull muscles day.

So far we have been grouping bodyparts together. Now let’s drill down to muscle groups.

Synergetic muscles split

Synergetic muscles are muscles that help one another. So you would group back muscles with biceps, chest muscles with triceps and so on. This is a great combination because your smaller arm muscles will already be warmed up by the time you finish with the back or chest. Just don’t work your arms first though or you will be too tired to push or pull afterwards.

Antagonistic muscles split

This is the opposite and you work opposing muscles like the chest and back, biceps and triceps together. The disadvantage will synergetic muscles split is that by the time you finish with your main muscle group, the secondary muscle is not fresh anymore. With the antagonistic muscles split, there is no overlap. This combination is great with supersets as you work one muscle group while the other recovers.

Non-competing muscle groups

While working the chest and back together sounds good as there is no overlap, you will need a lot of energy to thoroughly work these two main muscle groups in one session. On the other hand, working just arms in one session is not a lot. So you combine different muscle groups in such a way to balance out all your training days. And you combine them in a non-competitive way.

That means not training your back with biceps, not training your pecs with shoulders and so on because working one muscle group will also recruit the other. Instead, try combining back with triceps, chest with biceps and legs with shoulders. This is my favourite 3-day split training routine.

Individual muscle groups

Finally, you can train just one muscle group in one workout so that it gets your full attention. This is mostly for advanced and professional athletes who not only require to push themselves hard but also have enough time to train everyday, sometimes twice a day. Here’s a taster on the various exercises for triceps that you can choose from.

If you are not one of them, what you can do is train only your weakest muscle group in one session and combine your other muscle groups in other sessions. So if you are lagging behind on chest development, you can dedicate a training session just for the pecs.


You can come up with your own split-training routine to suit your needs but remember these few rules.

Work your big muscles first during your workout. They are responsible for most of your visual and physiological development, so you want to give them priority, rather than a tiny muscle group like the biceps, despite its great popularity.

Prioritise your weakest muscle groups first. You want them to catch up with the rest of your body’s development, so give them your full attention with you are still fresh and strong.

Give yourself a few day’s rest before training the same muscle again and never train it again if it still feels sore after a workout. Muscle stimulation and breakdown occurs in the gym but muscle growth, which is what you want, occurs outside the gym.


So use these rules, the examples here and your imagination when coming up with your own split workouts.

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