My Powerbuilding Method: Designing A Split

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed my approach to volume, and how I use autoregulation to ensure that I’m doing the appropriate amount of work each training session to meet my goals. In this second installment, I’ll explain how I set up my training micro- and mesocycles.

Okay, before we jump into the fun stuff, let’s go through a quick refresher of micro-, meso-, and macrocycles:

  1. Your macrocycle is your big-picture plan designed to help you achieve your long-term goals. Generally, macrocycles are pretty rough drafts, as it’s very difficult to predict where you’ll be in training (and in life) a few weeks from now, let alone a few months or even years.
  2. So, most lifters break macrocycles down into more manageable blocks, or mesocycles. A mesocycle will typically encompass a 3-6 week block of training, although there are certainly no hard-and-fast rules about mesocycle length.
  3. Within that mesocycle, your microcycle describes your weekly training split, which – in most cases – will remain constant throughout the length of that meso. The microcycle changes not with movement selection but rather with loading (intensity and volume).

Again, these are not strict definitions, but they’re pretty commonly-used ones, in my experience.

Now, I believe that many lifters put too much emphasis on their microcycles and not enough on the meso- and macrocycles. In my opinion, whether you’re doing an upper/lower or push/pull/legs or bro split doesn’t really matter as long as your movement selection and loading is sound.

However, I’ll admit that microcycle design is really fun, so I’m going to share my approach anyway! Just take this as a disclaimer to not stress too much about exactly how you lay things out.

Designing a Powerbuilding Split

Now, I’ll fully admit that when it comes to strength athletes, I’m biased: powerlifting is always going to come first in my mind. So, when I’m designing a split, I typically will start with a basic and traditional powerlifting setup: either an upper/lower split or a bench/squat/deadlift split. For sake of example, here’s how that would be laid out:

Upper/Lower Split

Day 1: Heavy Bench & upper-body accessories
Day 2: Heavy Squat/Deadlift & lower-body accessories
Day 3: Light Bench & upper-body accessories
Day 4: Light Squat/Deadlift & lower-body accessories

Squat/Bench/Deadlift Split

Day 1: Heavy Bench & chest/shoulder/tricep accessories
Day 2: Heavy Deadlift & back accessories
Day 3: Light Bench & chest/shoulder/tricep accessories
Day 4: Heavy Squat & leg accessories

Both of these layouts work equally well in my opinion, although for more advanced lifters, I might give a slight edge to the latter option. That’s simply because when you’re very strong, performing both bench and heavy upper back work and/or heavy squats and deadlifts on the same day can be extremely taxing.

However: this type of program is generally not enough if you’re trying to develop a well-rounded physique past the beginner and intermediate levels. There’s a reason so many successful bodybuilders follow “bro” splits filled with isolation movements: to really maximize hypertrophy, volume is essential. And it’s just not practical to put in a huge amount of volume with heavy, compound movements. Even if you had the time and energy to do so, you’d likely wreck your joints in short order.

Taking Your Split to the Next Level

So, to address that issue, I’ll then add extra “pump” sessions to the basic split. If you’re familiar with the John Meadows style of training, you already know about pump sessions:

  • They avoid barbell work as much as possible and instead use machines, bands and dumbbells to put less stress on the joints.
  • They use light weights to avoid putting undue stress on the central nervous system.
  • They involve short rest periods and typical bodybuilding methods like drop sets and supersets to create an insane pump in a short period of time.

Again, there are two approaches I’ll take to designing these pump sessions. The first is a traditional bodybuilding one: I’ll break them up into chest/shoulder, back, leg, and arm days. That method is probably ideal (and definitely simple) if you’re more concerned about size than strength.

But remember: I’m biased, and I’ll take strength over size in many cases. If you’re of a similar mindset, I suggest instead breaking pump sessions into joint-specific days, like this:

Joint-Specific Pump Sessions

Session 1: Anterior Shoulder (front delt, pec, bicep)
Session 2: Posterior Shoulder (upper back, rear delt, tricep)
Session 3: Knee (quad, hamstring)
Session 4: Hip (lower back, glutes)
Session 5: Elbow (bicep, tricep, forearm)

While this method is definitely a bit more complicated, I think it’s usually superior. That's because I have found the joint-specific sessions are more easily applied to individual strengths and weaknesses than the traditional breakdown of muscle groups. Got biceps tendonitis? Good chance your front delt or pec will be underdeveloped because you tend to favor the posterior shoulder on most pressing movements to take some strain off that area. Miss a squat out of the hole? I’d bet your glutes are a bit small for your size.

Putting It All Together

I highly recommend not including extra pump sessions for all muscle groups – that’s just too much work! Instead, prioritize, and pick your top one or two weaknesses. For me, that’s the posterior shoulder (mainly rear delt and tricep) and elbow. Then, add those pump sessions in where they’ll have the least impact on your heavier training days. Here’s an example:

A Sample Powerbuilding Split

Day 1: Heavy bench and accessories for the pecs, front, and side delts
Day 2: Pump session for posterior shoulder muscle groups
Day 3: Heavy squat and accessories for legs
Day 4: Light bench and accessories for chest, shoulder, and triceps
Day 5: Heavy deadlift and accessories for legs
Day 6: Pump session for elbow muscle groups

This method is flexible, fun, and productive, and I highly recommend you give it a shot. If you want the up-front work to be done for you, of course, you’re welcome to join my training team and follow along with my own programming!

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