The Mass-Building, Split Training Ultimate!
Creating the Ultimate “Split” Workout Program
Within the last few weeks I’ve been receiving e-mails that go something like this: “Okay, Sloan, I get it! Full-body workouts are perfectly capable of building muscle mass—hell, they might even be the best muscle building workouts!—but the problem is this: I don’t enjoy full-body workouts. So... if you were to design a split workout program for someone, what would it look like?”
Before we go any further, let me say this: I am not “opposed” to split training programs. I just think for the average lifter/bodybuilder who has limited time to lift weights—and also doesn’t mind a little something called effort—full-body workouts are the best way to go.
However, I also understand that there are a lot of serious lifters who love following split workout programs. And—since you’re not going to stick with a workout program that you don’t enjoy doing (not for long, at least)—I almost always recommend that these guys (or gals) follow a split workout.
And just what kind of split program do I recommend? Usually something that looks a heck of a lot like the following regimen.
(Note: This workout is primarily aimed at gaining muscle mass—not strength. Yes, you will gain strength with it, but that’s not its primary goal—despite some of the low reps that are utilized. In other words, this is meant for bodybuilders; powerlifters, don’t complain.)
The Science of Gaining Massive Muscles
Before we get to the actual workout, you’re going to have to allow me to do a little explaining on just why I think this workout is so effective. (And allow me to unleash my inner bodybuilding geek.)
For years, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, and strength coaches in the Western world thought the best way to build mass was with something called linear periodization. Basically, this involved focusing on different aspects of strength training throughout the year. In other words, an athlete would work on building muscular endurance for a couple of months (one phase). For the second phase, the lifter would then focus on hypertrophy training. The third phase would focus on power. And, finally, in the fourth phase, the lifter would concentrate on building maximal strength. All of us in the West said, “Hey, this linear periodization is really damn good.”
Then came the Russians. Russian strength coaches and researchers were determined to find the fastest, most sure-fire way to produce rapid strength gains. They tried several different systems of training. And they decided that linear periodization, for all intents and purposes, sucked. With a capital S! Big Time!
The Russians saw no reason to focus on different aspects of training throughout the year. Instead, they thought that all the different methods should be trained each and every week. This system is called conjugate periodization.
One thing they did discover about conjugate periodization, however, was that lifters shouldn’t try to combine different methods during the same workout. In other words, one day should be devoted toward developing maximal strength, one day should be devoted toward building speed and power, and so forth. When methods were combined in the same workout, results were lessened.
Too bad it took us so long to finally listen! But then—thank the bodybuilding gods—along came Louie Simmons to save us from our linear ways.
The Powerlifting Factor
Conjugate periodization became popular in powerlifting due to Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell Club. Westside training involves maxing out on an exercise for a week or two and then switching to another exercise. The important factor is that they hit a one or three rep max every week. This method of training is done once each week for upper body and once for the lower body. Another day of the week is devoted toward training for speed—9-12 sets of 2-3 reps using 50-60% of the lifter’s one-rep maximum.
At this point, you may be wondering what all this talk of commies and powerlifting has to do with our mass-building, split workout program. It just happens to be that the Westside template is really good for building muscle mass—not just strength—as long as a few adjustments are made.
The first adjustment is that instead of a “speed” day, you will use a “pump” day. Usually, if a muscle is capable of a good pump, muscle growth will be a result.
The second adjustment is that on the “maximal strength” day, you will limit your maxes to either a 7 rep max, a 5 rep max, or (at most) a 3 rep max.
This program is a four days per week routine. You will be training your upper body on two days per week and your lower body on the other two.
The Split Training Ultimate Workout Program
Day One—Upper Body Pump Day
1. Bench presses, dumbbell bench presses, parallel bar dips, or incline bench presses: 8 sets of 10 reps. Pick a weight where you can get about twenty reps before reaching failure. Use this weight for all 8 sets. Take only about two minutes of rest between each set. Once you have been training on the same exercise for a few weeks, change to one of the others.
2. Wide grip chins, bent-over rows, or wide grip lat pulldowns: 8 sets of 10 reps. Use the same technique as the first exercise.
3. Barbell curls or dumbbell curls supersetted with skullcrushers or triceps pushdowns: 5 sets of 10 reps (each exercise). Take each set one or two reps shy of failure. Take about a one-minute rest between each superset.
4. Lateral raises, dumbbell presses (seated or standing), or military presses (barbell): 4 sets of 10 reps. Your shoulders should be pretty pumped from all of the other exercises. This is the reason you are only going to do 4 sets.
Day Two—Lower Body Maximal Strength
1. Squats, Olympic-style squats, box squats, bottom-position squats, or deadlifts (sumo or conventional style): Work up to a max set of 7, 5, or 3 repetitions. Pick one of these exercises and work up over at least 5 sets until you reach your maximum weight for your repetition range. In other words, if you chose squats, and your max set was 375 for 3 reps, your set/rep sequence would look like this: 135x5, 225x3, 275x3, 315x3, 350x3, 375x3, 405x2 (lifter reached failure on third rep with 405). Stick with the same exercise for two to three weeks, attempting to break your record each week, and then rotate to another exercise.
2. Lunges: 5 sets of 5 reps. Perform all 5 sets with the same weight. Only the last two sets should be really taxing.
3. Incline sit-ups: 3 sets of 20 reps. Perform these on a steep incline bench.
Day Four—Upper Body Maximal Strength
1. Flat bench presses, close-grip bench presses, bottom-position bench presses, close-grip bottom position bench presses, rack lockouts, board presses, or incline bench presses: Work up to a max set of 7, 5, or 3 repetitions. Pick one of these exercises and work up over at least 5 sets until you reach your maximum weight for the chosen repetition range. Your flat bench press workout might look like this: 135x5, 175x5, 225x5, 245x3, 265x3, 280x3, 300x2 (missed the 3rd rep with 300). Stick with the same exercise for at least two to three weeks before rotating to one of the other exercises.
2. Wide grip chins, close grip chins, bent-over rows, or t-bar rows: Work up to a max set of 7, 5, or 3 repetitions. Use the same format as the first exercise.
3. Barbell curls, e-z bar curls, reverse curls, or dumbbell curls: Work up to a max set of 7, 5, or 3 repetitions. Use the same set/rep format as the first two exercises.
Day Six—Lower Body Pump Day
1. Squats, front squats, leg presses, or hack squats: 8 sets of 10 reps. Use a weight that allows you about 20 reps before reaching failure. Use this weight for all 8 sets. Take about two minutes rest in between sets. Rotate exercises every few weeks.
2. Leg extensions: 6 sets of 20 reps. Perform these with a weight that will allow you about 30 reps before you would normally reach failure.
3. Leg Curls: 2 sets of 25 reps. You simply won’t need very much hamstring work due to the first exercise in this workout and your lower body maximal strength day.
4. Hanging Leg Raises: 3 sets of 20 reps.
Some Words of Advice
This program actually looks pretty simple, doesn’t it? But don’t be fooled by its simplicity. It’s actually quite tough. The pump days are harder than they look, and you’ll have to really push yourself on the maximal strength days.
If you need work on them, then don’t be afraid to add some calf work on each training day. Standing calf raises, seated raises, and donkey calf raises would all do the trick. Use higher reps on these exercises.
If you want to gain as much mass as possible, then make sure you’re eating enough calories and protein each and every day. This isn’t a pre-contest regimen, so don’t be afraid to eat bread and plenty of red meat, not to mention drink a lot of milk while you’re on this program. Make sure you get enough calories every day, as well. Eat at least 12 times your bodyweight in calories each day. 15 times your bodyweight would be even better.
Is this the “ultimate” split workout program? You won’t know until you actually try it.