The Six-Day Split (with Program Sample)

TAGS: progressive resistance, heavy loads, muscle retention, low bodyfat, Akash Vaghela, natural lifter, training volume, Muscle Protein Synthesis, contest prep, diet

 

Outside-Submission-Fixed

I’ve always thought that any training program that works well in a hard dieting phase is a program worth doing. When your body fat and calories are low and cardio is high, and you’re still able to build a little or at the very least maintain all your strength, you’ve found a winner. For natural lifters, their training is all they can rely on to maintain their muscle mass when trying to reach the extremes of body fat. We don’t have the benefit of exogenous compounds to protect muscle, so we need to be more meticulous in our training to make sure we hold onto strength in the latter stages of dieting.


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Remember, if you want to maximize muscle retention, you need to focus all your efforts on maintaining your strength. Of course, there will be slight drop-offs here and there (especially in pressing exercises), but if in the grand scheme of things you aren’t too far off your best, and your relative strength is on the up, you’re doing well.

Biggest Training Mistake When Dieting 

The most common mistake I see trainees make when dieting is forgetting the type of training they used to build their muscle in the first place. All too often you’ll see people train super hard in the off-season with heavy weights in the five to 12 rep range, only to change everything and train in circuit fashion with light weights and minimal rest to "maximize fat burn." The problem with this is the overload on the muscle completely disappears, and your body no longer has any reason to hold onto the muscle it’s built. This is when you’ll see dieters end up looking stringy, flat, and just small. A lot of this comes from magazines and advice from heavily juiced bodybuilders using compounds such as insulin, whereby they’re trying to get big pumps via giant sets and "shuttle" carbs into the muscles. This doesn’t work for the average natural lifter.

What You Need to Focus on When Training During a Diet 

Instead, you need to continue to train in the same fashion as you did in your muscle-building phases: with heavy loads and a focus on progressive resistance. To be able to do this though, we need to factor in a few things:

  • The volume needs to be kept low to moderate.
  • Your frequency should remain high.
  • We need to ensure there is a balance between training stress and recovery.

If we can nail all three, we’re onto a winner.

The Progression of My Training Split

This is precisely what I’ve managed to stumble across during my diet for my next bodybuilding show. Typically in the off-season, I like to train four days a week. For the average drug-free lifter I think four days is the perfect sweet spot of being able to train hard, recover, and continue to progress. For the 12 to 18 months prior to dieting, I used the following split:

  • Monday: Lower Body, Lower Reps
  • Tuesday: Off
  • Wednesday: Upper Body, Lower Reps
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: Legs and Back, Higher Reps
  • Saturday: Chest, Shoulders, and Arms, Higher Reps
  • Sunday: Off

About six weeks into the diet, I progressed this to a five-day split on the following:

  • Monday: Lower Body, Lower Reps
  • Tuesday: Upper Body, Lower Reps
  • Wednesday: Off
  • Thursday: Legs, Higher Reps
  • Friday: Chest and Arms, Higher Reps
  • Saturday: Back and Shoulders, Higher Reps
  • Sunday: Off

I think when dieting hard, there can be merit to training a little more frequently for several reasons:

  1. You can spread the volume out a little more during the week.
  2. It allows you to keep food higher, as you’ll be more active.
  3. You can focus more in each session. It’s common for sessions to become a drag when calories get low, so this ensures each muscle receives adequate attention.
  4. You can trigger muscle protein synthesis more often, which is critical when dieting.

For the last six weeks, I decided to step this up to six days a week, which is something I rarely do with clients but wanted to experiment with again this time. During my last bodybuilding prep, I used a similar progression in training frequency but found as soon as I was training six days a week my strength plummeted.

Looking back, I think it was because of the following three reasons:

  1. The volume was way too high in each session. There were too many sets and reps per exercise, which meant intensity dropped too low.
  2. The frequency was too high for the volume I was using. I was training everything three times a week with high volume, which was a disaster for recovery. Remember, if you’re going to use high frequency, you need to use lower volumes to compensate.
  3. The style of training completely changed from what I was doing in the off-season leading up to it.

Not only did my strength fall rapidly, but also I was flattening out so quickly each week — which isn’t surprising when I consider I was doing 30 to 35 sets per workout, all predominantly in the eight to 12 rep range. That adds up to a lot of volume over the week, and unless you’ve got Arnold genetics, you’re not going to recover from while deep in the deficit.

The Six-Day Split

This time when I decided to train six days a week, I needed to rectify last time’s mistakes. So instead of adding volume, I simply split up my upper body workout into two and followed the split of:

  • Monday: Legs
  • Tuesday: Chest and Arms
  • Wednesday: Back and Shoulders
  • Thursday: Legs
  • Friday: Chest and Arms
  • Saturday: Back and Shoulders
  • Sunday: Off

I still undulated during the week as I like to do, starting the week off with slightly lower reps and finishing in higher rep brackets. The only other way I’d considered doing this was to use a push-pull-legs split, but considering I’d been following this three-way split already in my five-day program, I decided to keep it the same.

Because my results have been so good, and I’ve maintained strength and fullness throughout, I want to give you the program to try for yourselves. In the past, I’ve always been a stickler for four days a week in the off-season, but my thoughts are now to try to train at high frequencies using this system. While I won’t be doing six days a week, I’m going to try three on, one off, but with the added calories and reduced cardio, which should hopefully spark some great growth! Before laying out the program, there a few caveats:

  • You must keep a logbook. This style of training requires it, or you’ll end up spinning your wheels.
  • Where there are only two sets, you need to go for it with each set. The volume is low, so your intensity should be high.
  • There are no free squats. For injury and structural reasons, I don’t really free squat anymore. I get better leg stimulation with hacks, leg presses, and single-leg work, which is why you won’t see any free squats in this program.
  • Hamstrings, glutes, and arms are slightly more emphasized. That’s why I opted for chest and arms before back and shoulders, and why many of the chest moves have strong triceps emphasis.
  • Extreme stretches are key in improving your recovery.

Program Sample

Day 1: Legs

  1. Lying Dumbbell Decline Leg Curl: 1 x 6-10, 1 x 8-12

Set the bench on a decline and squeeze the dumbbell between your feet. The first set should be a max set of six to 10 reps. Your second set should be with about 10% to 15% less weight, and in the eight to 12 rep range.

  1. Romanian Deadlift: 1 x 4-8, 1 x 6-8 Paused

The first set should be a heavy set of four to eight reps, done in normal fashion. For your second set, use 10% to 15% less weight and pause each rep at the bottom for a second. Think of your first set as the heavy loading set, and your second as a "squeeze" set.

  1. Dumbbell Walking Lunges: 2 x 12 Each Leg

Use the same weight for both sets. The last few reps should be hard but not failure reps. You want good muscle stimulation and tension here through the quads and glutes.

  1. 45-Degree Leg Press: 1 x 8-12 Paused; 1 x15-25 Constant

After two to four warm-up sets of six to 10 reps, you’re going to perform two sets. The first set should be with a controlled eccentric and pause at the bottom for a very heavy set of eight to 12. This should be brutal. The second set should be one to two plates lighter, but with no pauses at the bottom. Aim for 15 to 25 reps on this set.

  1. Leg Extension: 1 x 10-12 and Double Dropset

You’re going to do one drop set here. Aim for 10 to 12 reps on your first set, and then with no rest, drop the weight one to two pegs and squeeze out four to six more reps. When you hit failure, drop again one to two pegs and get another four to six reps. I like to do these with the hips right back, slightly leant forward and with a strong squeeze on each rep.

  1. DC Extreme Quad Stretch: 1 x 60 Seconds

Immediately after the leg extensions, you’re going to go into an extreme stretch for the quads. Keep your hips up, try to drive your knees together, and lean back for maximal stretching in the quads. This will hurt, but push through at least 60 seconds here. 

  1. Standing Calves: 1 x 10/10/10 Dropset

Do one warm-up set to get some blood in the calves, and then perform one double drop set of 10 reps each, lowering the weight 10% with each drop. After the last set of 10, hold the stretched position for 60 seconds.

Day 2: Chest and Arms

  1. Dips: 3 x 5 Pause

Use three to five warm-up sets here to work up in weight and then go for three heavy sets of five reps with a slight pause at the bottom, using the same weight across. Take your time with these; the goal is heavy loading here.

  1. Low Incline Dumbbell Press or Feet-Elevated Weighted Push-Ups: 1 x 6-8, 1 x 8-12 Dumbbell Pressing or 3 x 8-12 Push-Ups

I personally used push-ups because of a hand/wrist injury that’s preventing me from pressing with dumbbells in a horizontal position. Without this, I would opt for the low incline dumbbell pressing, but I know the push-ups work too so I’ve written it here as an option. Use a slight pause on every rep. 

  1. Cable Flyes: 1 x 20-30 as Rest-Paused Set

How you do these is up to you. I’ve been using cable hooks around my wrists to work around my injury, but normal cable attachments are fine too. The key is to perform one rest-paused set here. You should aim for 10 to 15 reps on the first set, with a pause in both the contracted and stretched position. Once you hit failure, rest 30 seconds and go again, aiming for four to six reps. Rest 30 seconds again before performing the last set, aiming for four to six reps.

  1. DC Extreme Chest Stretch: 1 x 60 Seconds

Immediately after the flyes, you’re going to go into an extreme stretch for the chest. Position the dumbbells half way between a fly and a dumbbell press, using a neutral grip position. Keep your chest up and squeeze your shoulder blades together at all times. Aim for anywhere between 60 and 90 seconds here. 

  1. Arm Superset 1: Straight Bar Cable Curls or EZ Standing Curls with Decline EZ Deadstop Floor Extensions: 1 x 6-10, 1 x 8-12

I like to pair biceps and triceps together in superset fashion, with about 30 to 60 seconds rest between each. The first exercise is a straight bar cable curl or EZ curl performed for one heavy set of six to 10 with a hard flex at the top, and then one lighter set of eight to 12 reps. The same rep scheme is used for the extensions too. With these, use bumper plates so you can set it up on a decline bench, pausing each rep on the floor. If you don’t have access to bumpers, you can do these lying on the floor with normal plates. Both are fine – the key is the pause on the floor.

  1. Arm Superset 2: Standing Incline Supinated Dumbbell Curl with PJR Pullover: 1 x 8-12, 1 x 10-15

You’re going to perform two sets in two different rep ranges here again. For the second set, drop the load by 10% and aim for a few more reps. With the incline curls, pause at the bottom and really emphasize the stretch. After your last rep on the second set, hold the bottom position for 30 to 60 seconds while squeezing your triceps. For the PJR pullovers, use a slight pause at the bottom of each rep. Immediately after your last rep, head over to a free bar about chest height, and perform a bodyweight triceps extension stretch for 60 seconds.

Day 3: Back and Shoulders

  1. Bent-Over Row: 1 x 4-6, 1 x 6-10

Perform these explosively, and go heavy. After three to five warm-up sets, do one heavy set of four to six reps. On your second set, drop the load about 10% to 15% and do a set of six to 10 reps. I think the best form for these is somewhere in the middle – don’t be too strict and don’t get too sloppy.

  1. Pull-Ups: Weighted x 5/4/3/2/1, 2 x Max Bodyweight

I like to use this rep scheme with pull-ups especially when dieting, as it’s one of the few exercises that you can add more weight to as the diet progresses. It’s a good mental trick to keep you motivated, and I got this from Paul Carter. You’re going to add weight each set up to a heavy single (not maximal). If you’ve read my blog, you know I’m not a fan of grinding reps for pull-up progression. After the top single, perform two sets of max reps with bodyweight with two minutes rest in between.

  1. Chest-Supported Machine Row: 1 x 5-8, 1 x 8-12

This will depend on the machine you have available. I use a chest supported angled row machine here. Any of the Hammer Strength equipment should be perfect here, too. Perform one heavy set of five to eight reps, and then reduce the weight 10% to 15% and aim for eight to 12 reps on your second set. Do these strict. 

  1. Weighted Hang: 1 x 60 Seconds

Immediately after the rows, you’re going to go into an extreme stretch for the lats. Hang off a chin-up bar with a wider than shoulder width overhand grip, and try to relax as much as possible for 60 to 90 seconds. Add weight once you can do 60 to 90 seconds bodyweight.

  1. Machine Shoulder Press: 1 x 6-8, 1 x 8-12

Perform a few warm-up sets to get blood into the shoulders, and then aim for a heavy set of six to eight reps followed by a set of eight to 12 with 10% to 15% lighter weight. Control the negative on these.

  1. Cable One-Arm Laterals: 1 x 12-15, 2 x 10-12

Use a cable attachment; you’re going to do one set of 12 to 15, followed by two sets of 10 to 12 with a very slightly heavier weight. Go back and forth between arms without resting. 

  1. Cable Bent-Over Laterals: 3 x 10-15

Use a cable attachment; you’re going to do three sets of 10 15 reps here, going back and forth between arms without resting. Position yourself so you’re bent over completely parallel, and let the cable stretch the rear delt each rep.

  1. Machine Shrugs: 1 x 15-20 as Rest-Paused Set

You can either use a standing shrug machine or a heavy barbell. The key is to perform one rest-paused set here. You should aim for eight to 10 reps on the first set, with a three to five count on the top of each rep. Once you hit failure, rest 30 seconds and go again, aiming for three to five reps. Rest 30 seconds again before performing the last set, aiming for three to five reps. Go heavy and use a full range of motion. 

  1. Seated Calf Raises: 3 x 12-15

Nothing fancy here. Just three hard sets of 12 to 15 reps with about a minute rest in between. After the last set, stretch the calves at the bottom for 60 seconds.

Day 4: Legs

  1. Lying Leg Curl: 1 x 6-10, 1 x 8-12

The first set should be a max set of six to 10 reps. Your second set should be with about 10% to 15% less weight, and in the eight to 12 rep range. If you don’t have access to a lying leg curl machine, use a dumbbell again, but this time use a flat bench for variation.

  1. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift with Band: 2 x 8-12 Paused

Loop a medium resistance band around your neck and stand on it with your feet. Perform two sets of eight to 12 reps with a solid one to two second pause at the bottom of each rep. Squeeze your glutes hard at the top of each rep. 

  1. Dumbbell Deficit Reverse Lunges: 2 x 12 Each Leg

Use the same weight for both sets. The last few reps should be hard, but not failure reps. Pause slightly at the bottom of each rep and pull through the front leg on each rep.

  1. Hack Squat: 1 x 6-10, 1 x 10-15

After two to four warm-up sets of six to 10 reps, you’re going to perform two sets. The first set should a very heavy set of six to 10. The second set should be 10% to 20% lighter, aiming for a set of 10 to 15 reps. Push these hard.

  1. Leg Extension: 1 x 20-30 as Rest-Paused Set

Do one rest-paused set here. You should aim for 10 to 15 reps on the first set, with a strong squeeze at the top of each rep. Once you hit failure, rest 30 seconds and go again, aiming for four to six reps. Rest 30 seconds again before performing the last set, aiming for four to six reps.

  1. DC Extreme Quad Stretch: 1 x 60 Seconds

Immediately after the leg extensions, you’re going to go into an extreme stretch for the quads. Keep your hips up, try to drive your knees together, and lean back for maximal stretching in the quads. This will hurt, but push through at least 60 seconds here.

Day 5: Chest and Arms 

  1. Ring Push-Ups: 3 x 10-15

If you haven’t tried these before, get ready for a great chest pump. Position these wide so you can force the pecs to work harder, and if possible, elevate your feet. At the bottom, spread the rings wide and at the top bring them closer together. Perform three sets of 10 to 15 reps with two minutes rest.

  1. Barbell Inclines (Any Barbell Variation You Feel Well) or Dips: 1 x 6-8, 1 x 8-12 Barbell or 3 x 8 Dips 

I personally used dips because of a hand/wrist injury that’s preventing me from pressing heavy with barbells in my hand. Without this, I would opt for the low barbell pressing, but I know the dips work too so I’ve written it here as the option I followed. If dipping, go for three straight sets of eight reps across. If barbell pressing, perform one heavy set of six to eight reps, and one lighter set of eight to 12 reps.

  1. Cable Flyes: 1 x 20-30 as Rest-Paused Set

The key is to use a different variation than what you used on the first chest day of the week. I used hooks standing on one day, and then lying on the floor on my second day. The key regardless is to perform one rest paused set here. You should aim for 10 to 15 reps on the first set, with a pause in both the contracted and stretched position. Once you hit failure, rest 30 seconds and go again, aiming for four to six reps. Rest 30 seconds again before performing the last set, aiming for four to six reps.

  1. DC Extreme Chest Stretch: 1 x 60 Seconds

Immediately after the flyes, you’re going to go into an extreme stretch for the chest. Position the dumbbells half way between a fly and a dumbbell press, using a neutral grip position. Keep your chest up and squeeze your shoulder blades together at all times. Aim for anywhere between 60 and 90 seconds here.

  1. Arm Superset 1: 2 x 10-12 Dumbbell Spider Curls and 2 x 10-12 V Bar Pushdowns

The first exercise is a dumbbell spider curl performed for two sets of 10 to 12 reps with the same weight. Expect a drop off on the second set. The same principle applies to the pushdowns, but in a 12 to 15 rep range. For both, perform hard flexes in the contracted position. 

  1. Arm Superset 2: 2 x 10-12 Seated Incline Hammer Curls and 2 x 12-15 Overhead Kneeling Cable Extensions

Similar to the previous pairing, you’re going to perform two sets in the same rep range with the same weight, expecting a drop-off from the first to second set. For both exercises, pause in both the stretched and contracted position, squeezing the opposing muscles when stretching. After your last rep on the second set for the curls, hold the bottom position for 30 to 60 seconds while squeezing your triceps. After your last rep on the second set of extensions, hold the stretched position for 30 seconds, and then head over to a free bar about chest height and perform a bodyweight triceps extension stretch for a further 30 seconds. 

Day 6: Back and Shoulders 

  1. Ring Pull-Ups: 50 Total Reps, 60 Seconds Rest

You’re going to aim for 50 total reps over as few sets as possible, taking no sets but the last one to failure. Use 60 seconds in between each mini-set. Expect a big drop off, something like 10/6/6/6/5/5/5/5/5. This is normal. Allow the hands to move naturally as you pull up.

  1. Chest-Supported Elbows-Out Rows (Dumbbells or Machine): 1 x 8-10, 1 x 10-12 Paused

We want to target the upper back here. For the first set you’re going to aim for a heavy set of eight to 10 reps. On the second, drop the load 15% to 20% and aim for 10 to 12 reps, but this time pausing at both the stretched and contracted position. Make these super strict and focus on the right muscles.

  1. Dante Rows: 1 x 25-35 as Rest-Paused Set 

Anchor your feet against something by the cable machine, keep your body parallel to the ground, and use a rope attachment for these. Emphasize the negative and get a big stretch on every rep. Really focus on opening the shoulders up here. You’re going to perform one rest-paused set here. You should aim for 10 to 15 reps on the first set. Once you hit failure, rest 30 seconds and go again, aiming for five to eight reps. Rest 30 seconds again before performing the last set, aiming for five to eight reps.

  1. Weighted Hang: 1 x 60 Seconds 

Immediately after the rows, you’re going to go into an extreme stretch for the lats. Hang off a chin-up bar with a wider than shoulder width overhand grip, and try to relax as much as possible for 60 to 90 seconds. Add weight once you can do 60 to 90 seconds bodyweight.

  1. Rear Delt Swings: 3 x 25

Using a heavy weight and controlled momentum, perform three sets of 25 reps with 60 seconds rest. Aim to try "push out" using the rear delts on every rep.

  1. Seated Dumbbell Six Ways: 3 x 10

Use light weights for these, and focus on maximal stimulation of the delts. Come up to the side, bring them in front of you, then above your head, then back down the same way. Do three sets of 10 with 60 seconds rest. 

  1. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 1 x 30-40 as Rest-Paused Set

This won’t be heavy after all the other shoulder movements, but it’ll be hard. Aim to hit failure after 15 to 20 reps on the first set. Rest 30 seconds and go again, aiming for four to six reps. Rest 30 seconds again before performing the last set, where you’ll probably drop off to three to five reps.

  1. Seated Shrugs: 1 x 20-30 as Rest-Paused Set

Sit on the edge of a bench with dumbbells and perform one rest-paused set of 20 to 30 reps. You should aim for 10 to 15 reps on the first set, with a two to three count on the top of each rep. Once you hit failure, rest 30 seconds and go again, aiming for five to six reps. Rest 30 seconds again before performing the last set, aiming for five to six reps. Go heavy and use a full range of motion. 

  1. Leg Press Calves: 3 x 1 Minute On, 1 Minute Off

Use a horizontal leg press machine for these. Do one warm-up set to get some blood in the calves, and using a weight you can do 12 to 15 times, perform sets of one minute on, one minute off, for three rounds. By the end you may just be doing partials. After the last minute, hold the stretched position for 60 seconds.


Akash Vaghela specializes in transforming the bodies of city executives, CEOs, actors, physique athletes, and regular people who want to be in the best shape of their lives. He blends scientific knowledge, evidenced by his first-class sport science degree from the University of Birmingham, with the practical experience of successfully competing in both powerlifting and bodybuilding, to generate maximum results in minimum time for his clients.

Akash can be best found on Instagram (@akashvaghela), on Facebook, and on his website at www.rntfitness.co.uk. You can contact him directly via email at info@rntfitness.co.uk.

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