Man does a strength move with free weights during a workout splits routine

Why Workout Splits Could Be the Secret to Building Muscle

Here's how to get started.

By Alyssa SybertzOctober 5, 2023


Selecting your workout for the day can be, well, stressful. Are you in the mood for some intense cardio or a slow yoga flow? Do you want to work your muscles to exhaustion or avoid that next day soreness? And if you're focused on strength training, hitting every key muscle group in your body can seem overwhelming. Enter: workout splits. 

Whether you’re motivated by limited time, a lack of energy, or your individual training goals, workout splits are an effective way to structure your exercise regimen. Sure, in an ideal world, you may squeeze in a total-body workout that includes strength, cardio, and flexibility on a daily basis. But that’s simply not feasible for most people, nor is it necessarily the best way to maximize your results, especially if you’re focused on increasing muscle definition and strength.  Here, we dive into what you need to know about workout splits, including the benefits they provide and the type that may work best for you. 

What Is a Workout Split? 

“A split training program refers to dividing your workout routines to focus on different muscle groups on different days,” explains Peloton instructor Adrian Williams. “This type of training program is really popular because it can allow more recovery and growth. You might work on your legs on Monday, back and biceps on Tuesday, and so forth.” 

Instead of trying to hit each part of your body in a single workout session, you’ll instead focus on just one muscle group at a time, aiming to work it to fatigue. 

The Benefits of Workout Splits in Training 

“One of the biggest advantages of split training is that it allows more direct attention to each muscle group, potentially improving muscle definition,” Adrian says. For example, during a total-body workout, you may only have a few minutes to strengthen your arms with bicep curls, shoulder presses, and tricep kick-backs. But in a split training program, on your designated arms day, you’ll be able to complete three different types of bicep curls, hitting the muscle from different angles. (And you’ll still have time for those shoulder presses and tricep kick-backs.)

“Another benefit of split training is increased workout intensity,” Adrian says. “Since you're focusing on specific muscles during each training session, you can push those muscles harder than you might in a full body workout.” Once the session is over, you’ll give those muscles a few days off to recover. And, yes, while the goal is to work to failure each session, split training can also help you avoid injuries, such as muscle strains or stress fractures, because of that built-in recovery time. 

There’s also a time perk. “Split training also means shorter workout sessions each day, which can be easier to fit into a busy schedule,” Adrian says. This also tends to translate into less boredom, more workout variety, and a potentially higher likelihood of sticking to your routine. 

5 Types of Workout Split Routines

Depending on what your goals and preferences are, there are different workout split programs you can follow. And, no, you don’t have to work out every day with these plans. Even if you’re only exercising every other day, you can still adjust the focus of each session accordingly. Below, Adrian breaks down five of the most popular workout splits.

1. Body Part Workout Split 

“The body part workout split entails dedicating each day to a specific muscle group,” Adrian says. For example, you may spend one day on your legs, the next on your arms, and the following on your back. “It can lead to greater muscle definition by allowing focus on one area,” he adds. 

2. Upper-Lower Split 

If you prefer to keep things very simple, the upper-lower split may be a good option, which divides your workouts into upper and lower body days, Adrian says. It’s also a good starting point if you’re a split training novice. Your workouts won’t be hyper-focused on a specific muscle, and you’ll still give your body a chance to rest and recover. This plan is a great option if your goals include more general fitness gains, instead of intense muscle building and definition.

3. Push-Pull-Legs Split 

“The push-pull-legs split separates workouts based on movement type,” Adrian says. “Push days focus on muscles used for pushing, [such as] chest, triceps, and shoulders, pull days for ‘pulling’ muscles like back and biceps, and leg days for your lower body.” As a three-workout cycle, this plan gives you variety, while also allowing your muscles to consistently build strength.

4. Classic Bodybuilding Split 

“The classic bodybuilding split, often a variation of the body part split, usually revolves around isolating specific muscles each workout,”  Adrian says. “It's popular among bodybuilders looking to increase muscle size and symmetry.” 

Bodybuilders try to train their muscles in perfect proportion to one another, so they all need to be worked for the same amount of time each week. As a result, many bodybuilders complete two short workouts every day (one in the morning and another in the evening), so they’re building strength across their body—without neglecting a particular muscle group. 

To adopt this program for yourself, split your workouts into morning and evening sessions. For example, one day may consist of a quad workout earlier in the day and hamstring exercises later on.

5. Five-Day Split

“The five-day split usually involves focusing on one or two specific muscle groups per day, optimizing for volume and recovery,” Adrian says. “It's often utilized by more advanced exercisers who perform high-volume workouts.” In this program, you would work out five days a week and rest on the other two, focusing on a different muscle group each day. You can also combine two split programs, such as the upper-lower split and the push-pull-legs split, to create a five-day split.

How to Properly Do a Split Workout Routine

If you’re adopting a split training program, preparation is crucial. Create a calendar to track your progress and the exercises you’re doing. And don’t forget to schedule rest days and cardio days alongside your strength training, as a well-rounded workout regimen includes all three.

Each day, a proper warmup and cool down are crucial. “These are fundamental to prepare your muscles for exercise and reduce the risk of injury,” Adrian says. Even though you’re working your muscles to exhaustion, form is still critical. “Incorrect form can lead to injuries and decrease the effectiveness of your workout,” Adrian says. “A trainer or workout buddy can help check your form.”

Ready to get started? Check out the Peloton App; there are a number of split training programs that you can follow.