'Workout splits' sculpt and tone the body faster by targeting muscle groups, trainers say. Here's how to do it.

·3 min read
A woman lifting two dumbbells at her shoulders.
A workout split can help you achieve results without overtraining or excessive soreness. Getty/Mireya Acierto
  • A workout split involves exercising different muscle groups on alternating days during the week.

  • It can help allow time for muscle recovery and growth without taking a full rest day.

  • A good workout split can help maximize your muscle gains and avoid injury, an expert says.

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If you're looking for ways to build more muscle in a shorter time, consider a workout split.

This technique, used by bodybuilders and athletes, involves alternating among different muscle groups and movements on different workout days. This approach helps you maximize the work you can do in the gym while avoiding burnout and giving your muscles time to grow, according to Jessica Mazzucco, a personal trainer in New York.

"The body's muscle groups are given ample time to recover in between workouts rather than being overworked and injured," she told Insider.

Following a workout split can help you improve strength, muscle growth, and overall fitness while preventing side effects of exercise like soreness and fatigue. Here's how to do it.

Workout splits can improve gains by allowing your muscles to rest

When you work muscles with exercise, you cause small tears in their fibers. The tissue can grow back bigger, leading to muscle gain, but only if you allow enough rest in between.

Research suggests that workout splits can be effective because they give your muscles the right amount of work and rest without having to take days off from the gym.

"Workout splits allow a person to exercise specific muscle groups to exhaustion and then recover while focusing on a different muscle group," Mazzucco said.

"A person can target particular areas more intensely without needing to use them again for another few days."

A common example is splitting workout days among pushing exercises, pulling exercises, and leg exercises.

For instance, you might include push-ups, shoulder presses, and bench presses on Monday; pull-ups, rows, and curls on Tuesday; and squats and deadlifts on Wednesday. The sequence might be followed by a rest day and then repeated.

An even simpler split divides workouts between upper-body exercises and lower-body exercises.

You can also mix and match elements of both.

"There is no specific workout split that works best for everyone," Mazzucco said. "Instead, you should see which split helps you exercise to the best of your ability and use that."

How to plan your workout splits

Workout splits can boost your gains, but only if you plan them properly and then stick to them.

"A person cannot take random days off on a split schedule, as some muscle groups will not be exercised for prolonged periods," Mazzucco said.

If you're a beginner or don't have a lot of time, you might do best with just a few full-body workouts each workout, resting between sessions.

If you're spending two or four days in the gym, consider alternating between upper-body and lower-body workouts. If you can manage three to five days, a push-pull-legs split might be more helpful.

If you're an advanced athlete who consistently hits the gym five or six days a week, your split may get even more specific, such as targeting shoulders and glutes one day and back, core, and quads the next.

Example exercises for workout splits

Common exercises you might try on different workout days include:

  • Upper body/push: bench presses, shoulder presses, triceps dips/extensions, chest flies, and push-ups.

  • Upper body/pull: curls, rows, lat pull-downs, pull-ups, and reverse flies.

  • Lower body/legs: squats, lunges, glute bridges, deadlifts, and leg extensions/presses.

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