Pros and Cons of Split Training

Doing some interesting reading for my classes right now and I thought it might be a good idea to do a little blog about some of the info I have learned in regards to “split training” programs because I have noticed from people that I have talked to and from advice and programs I often see in magazines that split training is still very common and popular.

First things first:

What are Split Programs? 

Split programs are programs that focus on individual body parts/muscle groups on different days.

Examples of split programs are: Upper/lower body split, push/pull split, front/back split and chest, shoulders, triceps/back, biceps/legs, trunk split.

A little bit of history….

“Split routines first appeared sometime in the late 50s or early 60s around hte time that steroid use was becoming widespread in bodybuilding and power lifting. This is when programs needed to be changed to allow people to ‘hit’ their individual muscles more and more, hence, the evolution of the split training style program. Remember though, that the loading patterns we use today were only just being developed and the new concept of periodisation was being used with elite athletes and not the average bodybuilder who wanted results. Today, we are in a much better scientific position to implement periodisation and choose the right program.” (Taken directly from Australian Institute of Fitness text book).

* note: Periodisation refers to dividing training programs into a number of training periods with different goals and in order to vary intensity for example having off and pre=season training periods for athletes.


Pros of Split Training 

– good for body builders for example because once they reach a point where they need to progressively overload the program would be too long or too hard to perform on one day if they tried to work the entire body.

– allows you to focus on hitting muscles from every angle and potentially even out weaker muscle groups


Cons of Split Training 

– Research indicates to get stronger each muscle needs to be trained 2-3 times per week. You usually only ‘hit’ the muscle once a week in split programs; even though you might go to the gym 2-5 times a week you are not stimulating every major muscle group each time. Therefore if your goal is to get stronger this time of training does not provide the frequency that you need.


– It is assumed that you can train different muscles on different days with minimal rest because the target muscles are different  However it is not just the target muscles that require recovery but also the assistant and stabiliser muscles, connective tissue, endocrine system and central nervous system that are influenced every time you train and can be susceptible to fatigue. Inadequate recovery = little to no results! It is still better to have rest of 2-4 days depending on the intensity and volume of the program.


– increased risk of injury due to overlapping of muscle groups that commonly occur. Split programming promotes the over training of the smaller assistant and stabiliser muscles that are involved with many types of movements for example the rotator cuff which works during all shoulder actions. Over training of these muscles may also be why many of these programs do not bring about optimal training returns in muscle size and strength.




Resistance Training: Differences between training for muscle endurance, hypertrophy and strength

Vegan Body-builder Kenneth G. Williams.

There are three main goals people have when they resistance train, these are working on muscle endurance, increase  muscle size (hypertrophy) or increase muscle strength. For each of these different goals the amount of exercises, repetitions and weights you should use change. The information I am going to post here is taken mostly from my Fitness Instructor text book – we were told never to lose this information, it’s sort of like a ‘cheat sheet’ when writing programs.

The first thing we need to know however is what 1RM means and how to calculate it.

Calculating one- rep max

Your “one rep maximum” is one way to measure training intensity. This means you can perform an exercise with good form for one repetition at a certain weight but you physically cannot perform a complete second repetition. This is therefore your maximum and once you know this you can calculate what weight you should be lifting as a percentage of this maximum.

Finding out this one rep maximum is most accurate through trial and error in the gym, however it can be dangerous especially when lifting at a high load – for many exercises you will need a spotter or two. Make sure you warm up the specific body part before hand however do not fatigue the muscle you want to be able to perform at your best.

Alternatively you can do a three rep max and then estimate the weight for a one rep max or you can use this online calculator


Muscle endurance will improve the muscles’ ability to repeatedly contract.Working on muscle endurance is great for all levels of fitness as it uses light weights. The many repetitions involved result in a  high energy and relatively continuous workout also great for general fitness and you will get some muscle size gains as well (but minimal strength gains).

Number of Exercises

5-10 predominantly compound covering legs, push and pull, plus core


Light to moderate

50-75% 1RM

Reps & Sets 

12-30 reps

2-3 sets


Beginner: 2:2

Intermediate/Advanced 1:1 up to 3:2

Rest Between Sets

Minimal in example of a circuit or up to 60 seconds in multi sets


Muscle hypertrophy is an increase in muscle size which influences body shape and composition as well as assisting in fat loss by increasing metabolism. There is a greater intensity and volume used than for muscle endurance.

Number of Exercises 

4-8 predominantly compound – legs, push and pull, plus core


Moderate to heavy

60-85% 1 RM

Reps & Sets

Beginner: 8-12 reps

3-5 sets per muscle group eg. 3 sets x 12 reps or 5 sets x 8 reps

Intermediate/Advanced: 6-15 reps

3-6 sets per muscle group (can be differnt ex’s) eg. 6 sets x 8 reps or 4 sets x 12 reps


Beginner: 2:2

Intermediate/Advanced 3:2 up to 4:3

Rest between sets

Beginner: 1-2 mins (no supersets)

Intermediate/Advanced: 0 for supersets, or up to 3 min for compound exercises



Training for muscle strength will improve the neural drive, recruitment of motor units, co-ordination of muscles and also increase muscle hypertrophy.

Number of exercises 

4-6 compound covering legs, push and pull, plus core


Beginner: Moderate to heavy 70-85% 1RM

Intermediate/Advanced: Heavy to very heavy 80-95% 1RM

Reps & Sets 

Beginner: 6-10 reps (start with 8-12 for very first program then increase the load and decrease the reps)

2-4 sets depending on reps

eg. 2 sets x 10 reps or 4 sets x 6 reps

Intermediate/Advanced: 1-8 reps (1-6 advanced)

4-10 sets depending on reps

E.g. 4 sets x 6 reps or 6 sets x 4 reps


Beginner: 2:2

Intermediate/Advanced 2:2 up to 6:3

Rest between sets 

Beginner: 2-3 min for heavy

Intermediate/advanced 3-6 mins for very heavy


– Its a good idea to do some ‘warm up sets’  of the first 2-3 exercises. This means doing a set of 5-8 repetitions with a much lighter weight to warm up the appropriate muscles and practice the movement. Once you have done a warm up set for compound lower body, an upper body “push” exercise and an upper body “pull” exercise you do not need to do warm up sets for the other exercises

– whatever goal you are working at you should always be feeling the last few repetitions of an exercise strongly. You should stop the number of repetitions before you lose good form but you should not be able to many more repetitions, if you can not do a single additional repetition at the point that you stop this is called performing to failure and is the ideal level to be working at to achieve the most benefits

Concurrent Training – is it okay to combine strength and cardiovascular training in the same workout session?

So I’m in the middle of doing my Personal Trainer course. It was a very interesting session tonight on the science behind exercise programming. The information in our text books comes from a range of referenced sources, including the current scientific research. So I thought that I would put a bit of the information here for consideration.

Before I started my PT course I focused mainly on concurrent training which means training to achieve multiple training goals at the same time. So you might do a cardio workout followed by a strength workout (or visa versa) as part of an hour long workout. Or you might do interval training combining cardio exercises and strength exercises (which i find very effective for certain things) now days I also have strength only sessions, cardio only sessions and some where I do one before the other.

But of concern is the question will aerobic exercise impare the resistance training workout performance and hence influence muscular strength and size?

Some research shows strength improvements to be impaired while others show no impairment from this type of training. For the recreational exerciser wanting general fitness concurrent training is generally fine (and can be beneficial as it takes less time).

But if you have more specific goals:

Muscle Strength or Endurance

If your main goal is to develop strength or muscle endurance then this should be performed before aerobic exercise and the aerobic exercise is likely to produce fatigue and limit the ability to work to your capability during the strength training thus impairing strength development. This does however appear to be specific to the muscles used ie. if you ran than trained your legs your leg muscles will be compromised….if you used the bike and then trained your arms the affects may be not so bad.

“Forty minutes of preceding aerobic exercise can compromise strength performance for up to 8 hours.”

Muscle Gains/Size

For the client who wants muscle strength and/or size, evidence suggests that allowing 4-6 hours between cardio and strength training sessions avoids anabolic disruption…. Hence, a client could go for a run at 7am and then lift weights at the gym at 1pm or vice versa.” 

Cardio Endurance 

If cardio fitness is the key goal this should be done first in order to put the most effort and gain the most benefits.

The bottom line appears to be that concurrent training is fine for most fitness goals and can be adjusted to suit your needs, however if you are really looking for muscle gains it is best to keep cardio and weight training separate for the majority of your training sessions.

I will be adding a post on the different types of muscular training (strength, endurance and hypertrophy (increase in size) soon!