To Split or Not to Split: The Athlete-Training Question

TAGS: lower body split, upper body split, team programming, body part training, full body training, performance training, Ashley Jones, programming, hypertrophy, strength training

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Recently I fielded a question from a colleague in reference to whether it is better to train full-body workouts or to split the training into body parts or body areas. Previously I have written in this column about exercise variation from bars to angles and also an article on a variety of rep schemes to use in your programming so I think it is timely to discuss this question of full body versus body part training.

The questions that need to be asked and answered first are:

  1. What is the goal of your training program?
  2. What is your training age?
  3. What is your training time allocation?

I think initially everyone can experience great gains on a three-day per week full-body program and I still to this day prescribe this type of program for a certain group within my team programming — whether that program be the classic Bill Starr Strongest Shall Survive program or variations of it using the same philosophy of basic and big of compound multiple joint exercises of a pull, push and squat. I would have someone start on three movements each of three training days and then add a fourth movement focused and then a fifth movement, as listed below with an example of each.

3 Days Per Week (3 Exercises Each Session)

Screenshot 2016-03-08 09.53.48

3 Days Per Week (4 Exercises Each Session)

Screenshot 2016-03-08 09.54.07

3 Days Per Week (5 Exercises Each Session)

Screenshot 2016-03-08 10.09.04

When a player gets to this number of exercises in a session, I like the old Poliquin expression of, “if you are training longer than an hour you are making friends, not building size and strength.” The hour mark fits especially well in our training day strategies and also using the sets and reps protocols that I have listed. It would be very hard to get a session done within the time frame of an hour and would compromise other aspects of the performance program. This is when some of the programs may be of a split body nature to allow for greater volume on particular movement patterns — particularly important if someone is on a hypertrophy type protocol.

In this case, there are two preferred option:

  1. A traditional upper body/lower body split, which could be body-part oriented or movement oriented setup (my personal preference)
  2. Anterior/posterior split to accommodate greater exercise volume and also specific weakness training

You could even do a combination of them both, if that is preferable to the individual and will meet the goals set. These splits are usually done over a four-session per week plan, but can also be done as a split on two days and then a full-on a final third session for the week. You can use the same exercises for each of the two training days for that particular area and change the sets and reps protocols for each training day. Another variation would be to change the type of equipment used to kettlebells, dumbbells, machines, or grips as listed in the introduction of this article, or to simply change the order of the exercises to another variation to the stimulus. I prefer three-week loading plans in most of my programming with the fourth week being a deload week ahead of another three-week block using different protocols or exercise variations.

Training Split Options

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It would be remiss of me not to includes some workout plans to complement the above split training options.

Option 1: Traditional Upper/Lower

Screenshot 2016-03-08 09.55.34

Option 2: Variation Posterior/Anterior

Screenshot 2016-03-08 09.55.49

Option 3: Traditional Split + Full

Screenshot 2016-03-08 09.56.09

Option 4: Variation Split + Full

Screenshot 2016-03-08 09.56.36

 Option 5: Combination Split

Screenshot 2016-03-08 09.56.52

In summary, I prefer to use the four-day splits for any player who is in need of hypertrophy and the full body workouts or the hybrid split/full three-day per week programs for more performance training.

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