I can feel the science-based community foaming at the mouth on the other end of their phone/tablet/computer just at the thought of this article.
But, since “I thought bro-splits were deemed ineffective” is a comment we commonly receive on some of our workout routines, it’s a topic that needs to be addressed.
A lot of resources have been put into finding the “optimal training split”.
And, as a result, we have some pretty solid guidelines on training volume, training intensity, and training frequency: 10-20 weekly sets per muscle group1, rep range dependent on ultimate goal with a variety of rep ranges being key for optimal muscle growth2, and a 2x per week optimal training frequency3.
The automatic assumption based on this information by a lot of science-based practitioners was that the body part split (aka bro split) was inefficient at building muscle.
And, since our society likes to view things as black or white, that statement has become the general consensus among most fitness enthusiasts.
Today, I’m going to make the argument for the bro split.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m science-based myself when it comes to program design. But, I’m also a realist. Not everything in life is going to be by-the-book and we must look at things as a part of a bigger picture.
The training style is what a lot of us grew up doing, and whether it’s an optimal training protocol or not, it still has a place in some people’s programming and shouldn’t be completely thrown aside and discredited.
1. Body Part Splits Can Train Each Muscle Twice Weekly
The main argument against body part splits is that its set up only permits each body part to be targeted once throughout the week.
And thank you to Dr. Brad Schoenfeld, we know that the optimal training frequency for maximum muscle growth is at least twice per week (for most major body parts)3.
What is missed by overgeneralizing this information is the fact that many compound movements indirectly target other muscles within the body.
Related: M-F Workout Routine: 5 Day Body Part Split Workout
Therefore, when designing a body part workout split for yourself (or clients), it is important to consider your exercise selection on each individual body part day and determine how this can account for total training volume based on overlap.
The body very rarely is trained in isolation. Nearly every movement you can think of indirectly involves another muscle group to some varying degree.
For instance, let’s take a look at the lat pull down or pull up. Most think of this vertical pull movement pattern as a back exercise, focused primarily on the lats. And it is.
You might even be thinking next level, getting ahead of the words I’m currently typing, nodding your head as you read that they also indirectly target the biceps. They indeed do.
Brace yourself, because I’m about to blow your freakin’ mind.
Both movements also require a certain amount of shoulder extension, which will obviously incorporate your deltoids, but will also slightly activate your pecs and even triceps.4,5
Back day just became back, bicep, shoulder, chest, and tricep day – frequency gainz, baby!
A well-designed body part split can target each muscle group multiple times per week – the shoulders for instance may be hit directly and indirectly up 4-5 times weekly. Depending on your individual goals, you may need to incorporate direct volume for lagging body parts.
From anecdotal experience, the one body part that may require an additional training day as it may not be hit frequently enough with a body part split is the quads. However, this can easily be incorporated via an intense HIIT biking cardio session or the inclusion of the stair climber some days per week.
2. Doesn’t Account For Long-Term Sustainability
My biggest beef with the research is that it doesn’t, and ultimately can’t, account for sustainability.
You see, enjoyment plays the biggest role in long-term success. If you enjoy what you’re doing you can be consistent. If enjoyment is leading to consistency, it ultimately breeds a level of sustainability.
If you don’t enjoy a certain workout routine that is prescribed to you, odds are you’re probably not going to follow through with the protocol regardless of how optimal it is for your goals.
If you enjoy pump-chasing and you’re put on a full body program full of compound lifts targeting different muscles of the body for an inclusive workout that inevitably doesn’t get you the pump you’re looking for… you’re probably going to bail. It’s not what you want to do.
In the grand-scheme of things, who will make more gains?
- A. The person with an optimal split who does it for 4-6 weeks before leaving the gym until they get motivated to try lifting again?
- B. The person who performs a “less optimal” body part split, gets addicted to the pump, stays a member of the gym for life experimenting with various “more optimal” routines and falls back into a body part split if s/he needs it to regain motivation?
Obviously, body part splits don’t work for everyone. A lot of people don’t have 5+ days to make it to the gym. That makes it less sustainable for them and that’s totally understandable. A lot of people enjoy the more inclusive workout in the example above. That makes it more sustainable to them and that’s totally understandable.
If a body part split is what gets you motivated to go to the gym more regularly and you have the ability to go that frequently – don’t let anyone tell you it’s not a good strategy because it’s not as optimal as other splits.
There’s really no reason to believe that methodology. You do you. You make gainz.
3. Training Each Muscle Once per Week is Still Effective
For arguments sake, let’s assume a body part split did only target each muscle group once per week.
Which do you think is more effective for building lean muscle?
- A. Training a body part once weekly
- B. Not training that body part at all
Related: Concurrent Training - Using Cardio to Optimize Muscle Growth
My bet is the one that actually involves training. Add to that some built in progressions that achieve progressive overload throughout the duration of that individual’s training career and we’re even more in the business of making gains.
Not to mention, if your goals are aimed more towards achieving optimal health as opposed to optimal strength gain or muscle gain, a body part split that sees you making it to the gym 5 times weekly will likely do more in disease prevention over time – especially if you include 15-20 mins of cardio post body part training – than no training at all.
Organizations such as the American Heart Association and National Osteoporosis Foundation both call for regular weekly exercise for prevention6,7.
Obviously, this can be accomplished through other styles of training and various splits. However, we should refrain from labeling any style of training as “good” or “bad” and “effective” or “ineffective”, if they can aid in the prevention of chronic ailments down the road simply by getting one more motivated than another style of training.
Body part splits can be written in ways that allow for you to train each muscle multiple times per week. We have plenty of examples of these in our workout routines database.
If performing a body part split is more enjoyable for you and you would dreed training otherwise, do a body part split. It’s as effective as it’s always been and it’s far better than foregoing training altogether.
The fact that some in the science-based camp have taken legitimate research, tied it to their own agendas, and labeled the bro-split as completely ineffective is asinine.
Despite how many Instagram memes you see of a dorky average looking guy flexing hard under the title of “bro-split” and John Cena or The Rock under Upper/Lower or PPL, try not to let that discourage you from performing a body part split if that’s what you enjoy.
At the end of the day… they’re marketing. It’s all noise.
As I said before, you do you. You make gains.
- 1. Schoenfeld, B.J., et al., Effects of Low- Versus High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res, 2015. 29(10): p. 2954-63.
- 2. Schoenfeld, B.J., et al., Effects of different volume-equated resistance training loading strategies on muscular adaptations in well-trained men. J Strength Cond Res, 2014. 28(10): p. 2909-18.
- 3. Schoenfeld, B.J., et al., Effects of resistance training frequency on measures of muscle hypertrophy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Med, 2016. 46(11): p. 1689–97.
- 4. Marchetti, P.H. and M.C. Uchida, Effects of the pullover exercise on the pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi muscles as evaluated by EMG. J Appl Biomech, 2011. 27(4): p. 380-4.
- 5. Landin, D. and M. Thompson, The shoulder extension function of the triceps brachii. J Electromyogr Kinesiol, 2011. 21(1): p. 161–5.
- American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids
- National Osteoporosis Foundation Prevention
I was wondering if a person should switch to a 1 body part a week routine after you have reached what kind of physique you want. I’m still trying to put some mass on, doing upper/lower twice a week. Or is it ok to try 1 body part routine once and awhile?? Thank you
Hey Paul - training is 100% a personal preference. If you enjoy doing a body part split, by all means, do it!
Good article. I think the main thing is do what you enjoy and what keeps you consistent. I got sucked in the full body camp for a while but I hate it. I do a mix between a bro split now set up in a push pull fashion. I don't like directly hitting quads and hamstrings on the same day, I also like splitting shoulders into pulling and pushing, this works great for me. Everyone is different and do what they enjoy.
Josh, brilliant article mate. The entire industry has now turned to bickering, Online coaches hammering each other claiming their method is better than the other...just goes on and on. I totally agree with you in the sense that you do what gets you out of the house and in that gym. Yes, you train to what your goals are but stopping people to train using a particular method is ludicrous. Also, every online coach now are 'science based' and what's funny is that if you go back a few years, the very science contradicts itself. For example, a couple of years ago science claimed that doing anything over 20 sets is waste BUT NOW, more then 30 steps is optimal hahaha. Not saying that i don't agree or believe science but the point is that it's not 100% correct all the time. Anyways, awesome article and nice touch in pointing out that you'd rather do something then do nothing.
Thanks for the article. I always feel more calm when I do body part split routines. I don’t feel rushed to jump from one body part to another. So yes enjoyment is the biggest factor when picking up a routine.
Josh, you nailed it with this article. Very balanced! Especially point two is a strong one... I still do the very traditional 5 day split; Monday Legs, Tuesday Chest, Wednesday Back, Thursday Shoulders, Friday Arms... And I enjoy each and every day I go to the gym. Without fail I am doing my 5 days a week and it feels great. Over the last couple of years I tried a few other schedules (push and pull, full body this full body that etc etc)... but indeed it threw me off as I didnt enjoy it as much, resulting in a lack of motivation, eating crap and the story goes on...
I picked up the traditional schedule again... and guess what... It works! It just works... full stop. There is no one who can tell me the bro split doesnt work, because I see and feel it does.
Your article is a great confirmation to what I experience. So thanks!
Hey Josh, this was a great article. I just dont understand why bro splits are so hated on... I like them because they're brief, I seem to recover better on them and I enjoy each workout separately.
But all you see is high frequency programs now and how the low frequency is a waste of time. Like hitting a muscle 52 times vs 104 times per year. Does this really matter? I thought progressive overload was #1 in a program. I only seem to burnout or reach a plateau quicker on high frequency program.
But I feel forced to do programs I dont care for because I want results and how can I go against the latest research?
Thanks for the confirmation Josh. I needed to hear this as I've been lifting for 20 years and just enjoy bro splits more. they're brief, more focused, I usually have time for cardio and havent noticed any difference in better results from higher frequency programs. I also tend to stick with it which is key.
Hi Josh, all of this becomes very confusing with the conflicting experts. I'm a retiree trying to add muscle for metabolic reasons while losing body fat. I don't have the stamina for "sets to failure" protocols (gas tank runs low) or super heavy sets (some arthritis and cranky shoulders). However, I do have the time and desire for 5 days exercise. What kind of recipe split do you recommend that will get maximum muscle growth/preservation for an older, overweight guy like myself?
The point of the article isn't meant to confuse. It's meant to simply state different strategies work for different individuals based on their likes and dislikes.
If you're having issues with stamina and joint/tendon pain and discomfort - I'd suggest working with someone to develop a program which caters to your specific needs in person.