How many days should you workout?
What’s the optimal split?
Why all odd numbers?
What the hell is a split?
When it comes to working out, you need a plan. Plain and simple.
Without a plan you’re hoping for the best. Which is a piss-poor strategy for results.
Plus, it might be helpful to know what a split is. It’s how you split up your body per workout btw.
When I program workouts for members of the Aesthetic Physiques Online Coaching Program I like to look at a bunch of different factors. Things like:
The reason I look at these things before exercise choice and even a rep scheme is because I want you to be able to do it consistently. That’s where your results come from. If you aren’t consistent there is really no point.
The absolute-best-most-optimal-backed-by-science 6 day program means jack shit if you can only make it to the gym 3 days. Rather than asking what the optimal plan is, ask yourself what you can consistently commit to.
Consistency is the secret sauce for results, like my man Scott can attest to:
So, rather than looking for what’s optimal for people that don’t have day jobs, kids, and that actually get paid to workout, instead let’s focus on what is realistic for you to stick to, so you can get ridic results and look better naked.
After that it becomes what are you capable of doing based on prior injuries, flexibility, exercise equipment and past programs you enjoyed. If you are injury free, have the equipment to pull off the exercises and actually enjoy the program, you’ll get better results.
And it’s all about the results.
So without further ado, here’s my thought process when making a workout for members of the Aesthetic Physiques Online Coaching Program. Plus, I’ll give you some templates I use and best practices I’ve found along the way.
HOW MANY DAYS SHOULD YOU WORKOUT TO BUILD MUSCLE?
Building muscle is an exercise in patience. Like I talked about in my build muscle lose fat article, it takes a long damn time if you aren’t juicing.
For the natty guy, frequency and volume are going to be your best friends. But don’t go crazy, you still need to recover. Research shows 2-3x a week is sufficient assuming you are working hard in the gym.
That’s pretty general, right?
You also want to aim for 10-15+ sets per muscle group per week. Depending on the weight used. With heavier weight you can aim for the lower end.
Pretty wide range right?
That’s because we are all special snowflakes and it’s going to depend on your ability, genetics and your lifting history. But, aiming for those is a good general starting point. If you need more, you can always, and should, add more reps and sets. But in the beginning, pull a Drake.
WHAT’S THE BEST SPLIT FOR BUILDING MUSCLE?
For me, this comes down to compliance. If you do a body part per day type workout and conveniently miss every leg day, kinda defeats the purpose. Also, you don’t need to be in the gym all that much unless you really want to.
If your goal is to build muscle, I would program a Full Body workout 3 times a week. This way if life gets crea and you need to miss a day it’s not that big of a deal. ← Also, a great starting point for beginners.
Your schedule might look something like this:
Monday: Workout 1
Wednesday: Workout 2
Friday: Workout 3
Saturday and Sunday: Rest
Have a rest day between workouts unless your schedule dictates back-to-back days. In this case I’d have to get fancy with exercise selection on the first of the back-to-back days so you’d be ready to go the following day.
For example, I wouldn’t give you a ton of cable flyes on the first day then have you do a heavy bench on the second. Your chest would be toast.
For someone a little more advanced and committed, I might suggest a Push/Pull/Legs split. Here we are grouping muscle groups by function.
Or a Full Body/Upper/Lower. Again, it comes down to whatever motivates you and your schedule. Neither option is better than the other.
With these, your schedule might look something like this:
Friday: Pull <–Biceps on Friday. Always go into the weekend with an arm pump.
Saturday and Sunday: Rest
Monday: Full Body
Friday: Upper <–Again, Biceps on Friday
Saturday and Sunday: Rest
There are a few others that I don’t program all that much but hit all the criteria:
4x/ week Upper/Lower
The further you go down the more compliance is needed. All these work and all will get you the results you need so long as you are consistent. I smell a common thread here.
Once you have the schedule picked out it just becomes filling in the exercises and making sure all the reps meet our criteria from above. But we’ll dig into that a little later with the templates.
HOW MANY DAYS SHOULD YOU WORKOUT TO LOSE FAT?
Honestly, workouts aimed at building muscle and to lose fat should look similar. The goal of your workout regardless of your overall goal should be to at very least maintain muscle. Fat loss isn’t going to happen from a 60 min workout. It’s the other 23 hours that really matter.
So if your goal is to get lean keep the same principles as you would to build muscle.
2-3 workouts per week minimum
10-15+ sets per muscle group per week
The real fat loss results are going to come from your diet and some well placed cardio.
Here’s a few best practices I’ve picked up along the way:
2:1 PULL TO PRESS
At the end of the week, total reps pulled should be roughly double the pressing reps. This helps prevent shoulder injuries and helps with overall posture. Basically 2:1 back to chest total reps. I would also include exercises like Dumbbell reverse flyes as a back exercise because it helps shoulder stability. Military presses would fall into chest/press exercises.
WORK THE CHEEKS
We sit too much which leads to shitty (no pun intended) glute activation when it comes to squats and deadlifts. This makes your lower back overcompensate and you get hurt. Work in some glute exercises like back extensions, glute ham raises and glute bridges. Also, you should do a glute warmup like the one below. Ideally, you’d like to have roughly a 2:1 ratio for here as well.
When I first started hitting the gym, the very first thing I’d do is hit arms.
What a better way to start a workout than with an arm pump, right?
Well thankfully I’ve refined my approach to how my workouts are set up. Now my approach is based on actual science rather than what I feel.
You should structure your workouts based on neural demand. Here’s how I structure workouts now.
Warmup – Warm muscle perform better and have less injuries. Something like the glute exercises from above or facepulls are a pretty good starting point.
Explosive Movements – Jumps or plyometrics type exercises. Technique and nervous system response is key here.
Heavy Strength Exercises – Heavy deadlifts, bench, and squats. To get the most out of these your muscles and nervous systems needs to be warmed up and primed.
Multi Joint Hypertrophy Exercises – Barbell bent over rows, pullups and things like that. Basically, non-isolation exercises.
Isolation Hypertrophy Exercises – Biceps curls, cable flyes, and lat raises.
Each section builds for the next. This way you can optimize your workout for your goal and time.
MINIMUM EFFECTIVE DOSE
Always aim for the least amount of exercises to hit the 10-15+ sets per muscle group. It always easier to add more as time goes on but if you start with a ridiculous amount you don’t give yourself any room to increase. Plus, you need to recover to build muscle and if you are balls-to-the-wall it makes it really hard to do that.
Variation can be as simple as switching grips. Switching grips changes leverage points which emphasizes different muscle groups or parts of the same muscle.
For example, an overhand bent over barbell row is predominantly a back exercise with very little bicep activation. By switching to an underhand grip allows for more bicep activation. Same movement, different grip, different emphasis.
You don’t need a completely different workout every 4-6 weeks. Use the same exercises but switch the grip somehow.
Start with a strength focus, then move to endurance and finish off with hypertrophy – If muscle building is your jam, strength and endurance are the starting points to get the most out of your hypertrophy phase.
If you want to look better naked, incorporate all three into a workout or a week and have a way to progress every 1-2 weeks. Either add another rep, set, or weight. Pick one.
WORK MOVEMENT PATTERNS RATHER THAN EXERCISES
The base of all workouts should contain hip hinge, knee dominate, push, pull ,core exercises. Everything else is gravy. No specific exercise is an absolute. Yes, this includes squats.
Foam rolling, stretching and/or light exercises should be done before ever grabbing a barbell. This allows for better and safer lifting as well as faster results.
3x/ week Full Body
3x/week Full Body/Upper/Lower
4x/ week Upper/Lower
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