Before we dive into the most commonly used principle of “Split training”, we will go through some information that concerns the contradiction between some of the principles used by advanced and elite athletes.
When you open up a fitness magazine and read some of the articles on methods, used by elite athletes (competitors), there is a clear contradiction between two of them, mainly:
- Using extreme overload
- Avoid over-training
As we all know, it is not possible to achieve optimal muscle hypertrophy, without going through intense workouts (no pain, no gain).
However, we also know that hypertrophy occurs while the muscle is at rest, and not while you push heavy weights at the gym. The intense workouts you do are the reason, your body increases its mass.
When we started talking about the physiology of muscle growth, back in the ‘Training principles for beginners‘ section, we cleared out that hypertrophy is nothing but a process of progressive overload (in other words- exposing your musculature to new stress).
This process of stress is followed by a state of recovery, during which our diet consists of a positive amount of calories (Calorie surplus- consuming more calories than your body requires to maintain it’s body-weight).
These things combined, lead to an adaptive reaction, which most trainees call “gains” (hypertrophy).
The perfect balance between time spent working out and time spent recovering is very hard to define due to the fact it carries a strongly individual character, as everybody has a different threshold, possibilities and goals.
It would be very simple to define bodybuilding as a process of overloading and recovering of the skeletal muscles, due to the fact that the problems of gaining muscle and shaping it, depend on the condition of the vegetative nerve system (cardio-vascular system, respiratory system, CNS and endocrine system)
Practically, each of those systems could be a limiting factor, in regards to the so desired goal of muscle hypertrophy.
An intelligently built workout routine would be the one that not only exposes, but also compensates for the lacking functions of the vegetative chain of the individual.
Back in 19th century, there were studies showing that after the end of a workout that involves muscle activity, a process of recovery takes place. This process recovers the energetic structures, and for a certain period the body reaches a point of the so called ‘hyper-recovery state’.
Even though there isn’t a complete, in-depth research of this state, we can certainly tell there’s a strong link between it and the value of intensity of the training process.
Thus, we conclude that a sharp stress upon the musculature during our workouts, will lead to a sharp adaptive reaction.
However, we should also know that if the stress exceeds the individual’s physiological capabilities, it turns into the so called ‘negative stress’, meaning that the recovery mechanisms are not optimally activated, the recovery process is prolonged indefinitely, which logically leads to a weakly pronounced adaptive reaction (hypertrophy), due to the lack of a proper state of hyper-recovery.
Process analysis and limiting factors
We can differentiate three hypothetical options, if we analyze the processes of progressive overload, recovery and hyper-recovery:
- Training during the peak of the hyper-recovery state- This leads to a higher level of functionality.
- Training after the hyper-recovery phase- This means you start at the baseline, and no changes in functionality take place. The only ‘significant’ change we observe here is the so-called “Muscle tone”.
- Training during incomplete recovery state- This leads to a decrease in functionality.
Option number two applies to most trainees in the gym, who can not brag about their massive, separated musculature, but are happy enough with the muscle tone they achieve 1-2 days after every workout.
The lack of a constant state of hyper-recovery here is mainly caused by the not so frequent workouts, more than the lack of intensity.
Option number three leads to a complete exhaustion of the musculature and manifests through a sharp decrease in muscle size, muscle tone, muscle density and hardness, and mostly a loss of motivation in the individual.
Option number one is logically the most potent choice, if you really have a clear goal, whether it is increasing your strength, stimulating hypertrophy or achieving greater separation.
The problem with this method though is that if you use it permanently, you will eventually reach the point of plateau in your physical development.
This can be explained by the fact that the skeletal musculature receives strong hypertrophy and energetic stimulus, overtaking the vegetative functions of the organism. In other words- The inertness in development of the nerve system is a temporarily limiting factor.
Temporarily, because while you hold on to the intensity you’ve reached, that you can not overcome, your vegetative functions gradually reach a higher point in their development, creating an actual premise for a new quantity/quality increase in size/strength.
A good frequency for a beginner would be set, at around 3 to 4 workouts a week, however, for more advanced athletes, this would not provide the necessary stimulus, required for a potent process of muscle hypertrophy. It will certainly give us a muscle toning effect, but when it comes to serious goals, this is not the optimal choice of training frequency.
This is where an increase in the number of workouts is needed- 4-5 times a week, however, the question that comes to mind, yet again concerns the recovery/hyper-recovery state.
Usually, under normal circumstances, the hyper-recovery state starts at the 48th hour after the workout.
All the problematic situations and limiting factors that we talked about thus far, have one simple solution which we call ‘Split principle’, in other words- Training your body separately in groups of 1 to 2 body parts (Even 3 for smaller muscle groups like the deltoids, biceps and triceps).
If your workouts are well organized, you can successfully combine intense workouts with a complete recovery and hyper-recovery of the muscle cells, energetic structures and the endocrine system of the individual.
Example split based workout routine (3+1+2+1)
Below, we will present to you a well-rounded, split based workout routine that has been tested on advanced and elite athletes thoroughly.
The idea behind the 3+1+2+1 split is based on the fact that every trainee has well developed muscle groups, as well as lacking ones.
Remember what we talked about in the previous article where we explained the priority principle and its applications?
In case you do, here’s an example workout routine for an individual, who has a bulgy, well-shaped back and chest muscles.
Monday- Biceps, triceps and calves
Tuesday- Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes and abdominals
Wednesday- Chest, back and cardio
This sample workout split is a premise, to achieving the so desired optimal intensity and it grants the harmonic and symmetrical muscle development, due to the fact that it targets the relatively weaker muscle groups, by a realization of the “Priority principle”.
Example split based routine for people who are more socially engaged and can not spend as much time in the gym
The workouts are split into two groups of muscles.
A- Upper Body
B- Lower Body
It is recommended to train antagonistic pairs on each workout (biceps & triceps, chest & back, abdominals and spinal erectors, quadriceps and hamstrings, etc.)
This so called “antagonistic approach”, not only allows you to successfully apply one of the most effective bodybuilding methods, namely supersets, but is also a premise to an increase in joint flexibility, due to the consecutive application of the workload, upon flexors and extensors, located in one joint.
Another thing to remember if we decide to use this split, is to train our lacking muscle groups first after rest days (Thursday and Sunday).
The split principle is the main factor, for realizing the main ideas, behind other principles and methods, used in bodybuilding training.
Without using a split based workout routine, you will have to give up the actual, potent progressive overload that you need, after just a couple of months into training.
A full body, every other day workout would only limit you to 2-5 sets per muscle group, the de-adaptation will be hindered, and priority can only be achieved by not training your strong body parts, which is highly unlikely for an intelligent trainee.