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Before you start your workout, you often ask yourself how you can make your workout efficient. Every person has their own individual problem zones, and at the beginning, you focus on these problem zones and train only these. But mostly you do not reach the desired goal. The key to success is to train several muscles together to make your workout effective and efficient. 

Human anatomy: an overview of the muscle groups

Every athlete usually has different goals, so to train effectively, you need to know how your body works. Bodybuilding focuses primarily on the muscles, but one key to success is to train several muscle groups together.

In our body, the muscles are responsible for a wide variety of tasks. The skeletal muscles play a major role in the truest sense of the word: they ensure that we can stand upright and move. The latter is achieved by alternating tensing and relaxing (i.e. contracting and releasing) the muscles. They are held in place by the surrounding fascia, i.e. connective tissue sheaths, and are connected to the bones via the tendons.

A movement always requires two phases: To perform a movement, an interplay of opposing muscles is always required, since a muscle cannot stretch on its own once it has contracted. The agonist (player) executes the movement, the antagonist (opponent) takes care of the countermovement. For example, the biceps flex the arm, while the triceps stretch.

The muscles are divided into so-called “functional groups”. We show the 6 most important muscle groups with the corresponding muscles in the following table:

Muscle group Related muscles
   
Legs Adductors, abductors, leg biceps, quadriceps, twin calf muscle
Arm Biceps, triceps, brachialis (upper arm muscle)
Back Extensor, latissimus, trapezius muscle, large and small round muscle, rhombic muscle
Chest Large and small pectoral muscle
Abdomen Straight and oblique abdominal muscles, pyramidal muscles
Shoulders Supraspinatus (“upper bone muscle”), infraspinatus (“lower bone muscle”), deltoid

Why does it make so much sense to train multiple muscles together?

By splitting muscle groups, you can train more closely and efficiently in less time. In contrast to whole body training, individual muscles are exercised and defined much more extensively. In addition, the isolation exercises of the split training allow you to exploit the potential of a muscle 100 percent.

Besides, there are further advantages that speak for training several muscle groups together:

More training units per week are possible:

The muscles need time to regenerate after strength training, because the effect of supercompensation only sets in after recovery. With an average recovery time of 48 hours, you could realistically train the whole body three times at most. With a split, you can avoid this limitation and theoretically you can even train with a 3 or 4 split every day.

Faster muscle growth:

By splitting the training on different days, we can exercise the individual muscles more strongly and specifically. In addition, you have the possibility to set new or larger training stimuli again and again to prevent stagnation and to profit maximally from the effect of supercompensation.

Training despite injury:

If you put too much strain on a muscle, injuries can occur during training. Thanks to Split, however, you still don’t have to give up your units. For example, if you have pulled your thigh, you can still train your shoulders or arms.

Which muscle groups can we train together?

If you have only just started your training, you need not worry too much about muscle groups and how you can train them together. Your focus should be on a total body workout, i.e. you work all muscle groups within one workout.

As your training progresses, you can then start with a split workout. Ideally, a workout always includes one large and one small muscle group. A very proven combination is, for example a 3-way split, comprising:

  • Chest / arms
  • Legs / belly
  • Back / Shoulders

Three days a week (usually Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) a different muscle group combination is trained and in between there is always a day off for regeneration. In two successive units, muscle groups that are always separate from each other are trained. In this way, the entire body is worked once in a week.

A possible 3-split training plan, which is also suitable for beginners, would look like this:

Weekday Muscle group Exercises
     
Monday Chest / armsFor the chest: Bench press (with a barbell or dumbbell), Incline bench press (with a barbell or dumbbell), cable pull, negative bench press (with a barbell or dumbbell)

For the arms: biceps curls (with a barbell or dumbbell), hammer curls, French press, triceps press (on cable pull)
Tuesday Break / regenerationLight endurance training (running, cycling, swimming)
Wednesday Legs / abdomenFor the legs: squats, leg extension, cross lifting, leg curls, calf raises, leg press  

For the abdomen: crunches (with variations), hanging leg raises, forearm support, hanging knee raises
Thursday Break / regenerationLight endurance training (running, cycling, swimming)
Friday Back / shouldersFor the back: deadlifts, lat pull down (upper or lower grip), pull-ups, rowing (with a barbell or dumbbell), hyperextensions

For the shoulders: shoulder press (sitting), side lift, front lift, butterfly reverse, chest press  
Saturday Break / regenerationLight endurance training (running, cycling, swimming)
Sunday Break / regeneration       

Good to know: After strength training, allow the body at least 48 hours (or at least 72 hours with maximum strength or muscle-building training) to regenerate. This always refers to the part of the body that is under stress, so you can also use your break days for a relaxed endurance training.

Further examples of training splits

Split: upper body / lower body

With this form of split training, you train the muscles of the upper body on one day and those of the lower body on the other. It makes sense to exercise first the large and then the small muscle groups.

A classic 2-way split is usually designed for 4 training days per week, which could look like this

Monday chest / arms/back/shoulders
Tuesday legs / belly
Wednesday break / regeneration
Thursday chest / arms/back/shoulders
Friday legs / belly
Saturday break / regeneration
Sunday break / regeneration

The 2-split is based on whole-body training and is therefore also suitable for users with less experience, as it allows an increased training frequency and sufficient regeneration times.

4-way split, 5-way split and more

In professional weight training, training plans are also undertaken in which the units are divided into four, five or even more days. However, these are inflexible and require a very high discipline. They are therefore primarily used for competition preparation.

When does it make sense to switch to a split training plan?

If you have been doing strength training with a full-body workout plan for some time, you may be thinking of switching to split training. This way you want to make faster progress in terms of your strength and/or mass increase.

You should know if split training is right for you and if you are already ready to train with such a plan. You should also be able to judge which type of split training plan is best for your situation.

What is split training anyway?

Split training is a training plan where you train the different muscle groups of your body on different days. This makes split training the opposite of whole-body training, which is usually used to get into strength training.

In a split workout, you divide your muscle groups so you train on two, three or more consecutive training days with different training plans. For example, if you train your chest muscles on one day, you might train your back muscles on your next training day with a split workout. There are different ways how you can split your training.

We can apply the split training to maximum strength training, hypertrophy training, or strength endurance training.

This training has some advantages and is therefore popular with more ambitious athletes.

What are the advantages of split training?

Split training has some advantages over whole-body training because of the division of muscle groups into different training units. I would like to explain these advantages, so you understand what is behind the division of muscle groups on different training days.

In a nutshell, you could say that by splitting your workout you make a more regular, harder and more compact training possible.

More training units in one week

After your muscles have been strained by strength training, the trained muscles need a regeneration phase. Depending on training intensity and individual regeneration (predisposition, training habits, age, etc.), your regeneration period is 48-72 hours (longer if you train at very high intensity). Only after this time of recovery does the effect of supercompensation set in.

The 48 hours is just a rule of thumb, but it works well for many people. Personally, I always give my muscles a little more time to regenerate. I also need this time because of my training experience and intensity.

With a full-body training plan, this would mean that you could only train every 48-72 hours, which limits the number of training sessions to a realistic three sessions per week. With a split training plan, you can avoid this limiting factor and theoretically train with a three-split every day of the week.

Faster muscle growth

By splitting the training into different training days in split training, we can target the specific muscles more effectively than in whole-body training. You have enough time to do more exercises and/or sets per muscle group and thus set a greater training stimulus.

Especially with increasing training experience, your muscles require increasingly greater load ranges to set a sufficiently large training stimulus to continue to profit (maximally) from the effect of supercompensation.

At a certain training level, it is very difficult to achieve sufficient training intensity and range with a whole-body workout. Split training is required for further visible progress. We can implement split training much earlier to take advantage of the increase in strength and muscle mass.

Less time required for a training unit

By dividing the muscle groups into different training days, you will have less muscle to strain with your training on one training day. So even if you do more exercises and/or sets for the trained muscle groups to stimulate them, your workout will be shorter than with a full body training plan.

When is it worth switching to a split training plan?

Most people start their strength training with a whole-body training plan. After some time, you will want to train more often and make faster progress. We recommend changing to a split training program at this stage.

The decision to switch to a split training plan depends on several factors. If the following requirements are not met, then you should (for the time being) not switch to a split training and instead prefer to continue with the whole-body training.

You have already gained some training experience

You should already have at least three to six months of experience with strength training. Split training places a greater load on your entire musculoskeletal system because of the greater frequency and intensity involved. A beginner should not start with split training directly, because his body should first get used to the strain of strength training.

If you are not yet used to strength training, you should first train for a few months with a full-body workout. Even if your nerves and muscles are already capable of a greater load, slower adapting parts of your musculoskeletal system (bones, tendons, ligaments) must also get used to the training. For this reason, you should not do maximum strength training in the first few months.

You want to train harder and make faster progress

Is your whole-body workout too easy for you? Do you want to speed up your progress through more effort? Split training could be a good option.

In the beginning, it is easy to set growth impulses by training. This becomes increasingly difficult. With split-training, it is possible to put more strain on your muscles by a higher intensity and training frequency and thus make faster progress.

However, it is important that you do not expect miracles. In the first months, most people make immense progress swiftly and then expect it to continue. As time goes on, invest more and more to make further progress, but it will be slower and slower. But if you keep at it consistently for months and years, it will reward you with a well-trained body.

You plan at least three training days a week

To take advantage of the hypercompensation benefits of a split training plan, you should (be able to) train at least three times a week (depending on the plan). A firm commitment is important here to get the maximum out of it.

If you don’t have time for three or more strength training sessions during your training week, then stick to whole body training. Here, the joint training of all muscle groups is the way to go.

For split training, you have to stick to your training plan. It is not an option to skip single days. This can always happen once. But if this happens more often, then you should think about returning to full-body training. When training all muscle groups together, the shifting of individual training units is easier to get over.

You master the movement sequences

If you plan to increase your intensity and train more often, it is important that the quality of your movement is good.

The quality of your movements is always very important for your strength training. However, during whole body training, your musculoskeletal system has even more time to regenerate. If you now train more often with mistakes in the execution, which strain your tendons, joints, etc., your body has less time to compensate. Injuries and possibly even long-term damage are anticipated.

If you are not sure, it is best to have a trainer control your movements. Booking a session with a good personal trainer is suggested if you want to improve the quality of your performance.

Because of the higher intensity, it is also very useful to train with a training partner during split training.

 Using bodyweight exercises for split training

The human body has over 600 different muscles that help us move and support our bodies. If you want to build muscle mass, strain these muscles accordingly. Strength training causes muscle fibers to tear, which you may feel as sore muscles. The body regenerates in the subsequent resting phase (approximately 48 hours). During this time, the body repairs the muscles and new muscle fibers are formed. This results in more muscle mass. The more muscle mass, the more strength.

A very effective method of training several muscles together is called Calisthenics. This involves functional strength exercises with your own body weight. A special feature of these functional strength exercises is that you can train several muscles – i.e. a lot of muscle mass – with only a few exercises.

Advantages of training several muscles together using body weight?

Effective workout in less time

Since you train several muscles together, it is an effective and efficient workout. A workout session may comprise many basic exercises, whose complex movement sequences train complete muscle groups by challenging both movement and support muscles. This saves time because you do not have to train each muscle individually.

Reduce and prevent the risk of injury

By exercising with your own body weight and performing natural movements, you reduce the risk of injury and reduce wear and tear on joints. But be careful: there is always a certain residual risk. You should also slowly approach the target level when exercising with your own body weight.

Improved performance

The improved performance is noticeable throughout the body – both in everyday activities and in sports. If you have more strength in your entire body, it is easier to carry shopping bags. Activities at the desk also do not turn into tension pains in the back or neck. You also have more energy and stamina when playing with the children. In addition, the effects of such training also improve performance in other sports activities, such as team sports.

Train anytime and anywhere

Training with your own body weight can be done anytime and anywhere, because usually no equipment, weights or similar are necessary. It can also be done in short intervals or spread over the day (e.g. if time or physical condition does not allow for the complete workout).

I hope this overview has helped you a bit and you know enough about split training to make the right decision for yourself.

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