What is the very best workout split to stack on serious muscle mass throughout the entire year and never EVER hit a plateau? In this article, I’ll explain the pros & cons of the most commonly used training splits and give you the BLUEPRINT to applying them in your yearly training cycle.
Let’s get right to analyzing the best workout splits for maximum muscle gains. I’m a naturally skinny guy and natural lifter and have had great success following a few different training splits throughout the year.
As you can see by my results below, alternating between a few splits (keep reading to learn how you can do this) is the best recipe for success!
Let’s get into the first effective muscle building split below.
Push, pull, legs (PPL Split)
If you look into training theory or physiology books, you will learn something very important: As an advanced trainee, hitting every muscle 2x a week is important.
That is because after a workout, the muscles start recovering and reach the state of supercompensation at about the 72~96th hour.
Supercompensation: In sports theory books, supercompensation is the post-training state, during which the function you worked on has a greater capacity than it did prior to the training session
With supercompensation, the body primes all its mechanisms in preparation for more work than it has previously done – Stronger muscle fibers, more muscle energy, more efficient central nervous system.
In simpler words, supercompensation = gains!
Well, the PPL Split is pretty much the best workout split when it comes to training the muscle right when it is at that PEAK state of recovery.
However, worry not – In most cases, when volume of the workout is equated, there won’t be much difference between training each muscle once or twice a week. 1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29470825
This split can look a lot like this:
- Push day – Chest, delts, triceps, calves
- Pull day – Back, biceps, rear deltoids, forearms
- Quads, glutes, hamstrings, abs
After day 3, you can either take a day off or repeat the cycle, with one goal in mind – Hitting each muscle twice for the entire week.
Now, let’s have a look at the actual Pros & Cons of this split.
Pros & Cons of the PPL split
The main advantages of this split are as follows:
- Increased frequency
- The muscle is always recovering or at peak state of recovery (No gaps)
- You hit the muscle again right at the state of supercompensation
However, some of the above have certain disadvantages as well:
- Due to the increased frequency, we train more muscle groups in a day, which makes us sacrifice intensity
- If we train all synergistic muscle groups in a single workout, the ones last in the session will get suboptimal work due to fatigue
- Loss of focus towards the end of the workout is more likely to occur
Now I’m not saying the PPL Split doesn’t work, what I’m saying is that it simply will be suboptimal to do for 12 months STRAIGHT.
This is exactly why following a Zig-Zag split, which I will explain shortly, is your go-to option.
Now first let’s have a look at what happens when you lower the frequency.
Pro Bodybuilder Split
As I just mentioned above, with a PPL split, by the time you reach the third muscle group in a workout, you’ll be toast.
That is not only because you have a bigger number of muscle groups to train, but because they are SYNERGISTIC muscle groups.
Synergistic muscle groups: These are groups of muscles that work together for the same function, such as the chest, triceps and shoulders which are pushing muscle groups.
This is not the case with a Pro Bodybuilder Split, which looks like this:
- Monday – Chest + biceps
- Tuesday – Quads + calves + forearms
- Wednesday – Back + triceps
- Thursday – Hamstrings + Glutes + Abs
- Friday – Delts + traps
- Saturday – Biceps + Triceps
- Sunday – Rest
This is the split that I’m currently using.
The bodybuilder-like split allows you to train each muscle group ONCE a week, splitting the muscle groups into 6 separate days and taking a day off on the 7th day.
NOTE: On the 6th day, I’m training arms for the second time in the week. If you choose to copy this split, place a LACKING muscle group on day 6. For me, those lacking groups were always biceps & triceps.
Pros & Cons
With the bodybuilder split, we have decreased frequency and this is pretty much the only disadvantage I can think of.
The decreased number of groups to train, along with the decreased frequency, allow us to up the intensity, focus & volume!
To top it off, we don’t really train 3 synergistic muscle groups and instead, we have a mix of pulling & pushing movements.
For example, If you’re pushing (chest work) for the entire workout, your biceps will be completely fresh and you will be able to get in a quality ~10 sets of biceps work.
The same goes for the back & triceps workout, where you’re pulling for the back but the triceps remain fresh and you have sufficient energy with little to no triceps fatigue during the second part of the workout.
The conclusion here is that there is NO best workout split that will work year-round for everyone.
As I said, the body is an adaptation machine, which requires new stimulus and diversity every now and then.
If you do push/pull/legs for 12 months straight, you will simply hinder your gains.
And so, how can we combine both splits to make for a perfect sequence of 365 days?
Let’s find out.
The Zig-Zag Split
Alright, I made sure to give my objective opinion and explanation of both training splits.
The PPL Split is superior in terms of frequency, but with the bodybuilder split, we can express more intensity, focus and mix things up.
Both splits work in their unique ways and the best approach would be combining them.
The Zig-Zag split will give you INSANE gains over the next year and will prevent you from overtraining and even hitting a plateau.
Alternating between splits
As the name “Zig-Zag” implies, we are alternating between the following 3 splits:
- Push/Pull/Legs with high frequency – Growth mode, Hitting every muscle twice a week (Used to make gains)
- Push/Pull/Legs with low frequency – Rest mode, hitting every muscle once a week with less intensity and volume (Used as a brief recovery period from high intensity workouts)
- Bodybuilder Bro Split – Growth mode, Maximum effort and intensity for each muscle group, hitting every muscle once a week with max. intensity and volume (Used to make gains)
Let’s see how we can alternate between those splits throughout the year.
Yearly training cycle
Here is a hypothetical distribution of all 3 splits, throughout the whole duration of the year.
Months 1-3 – PPL High frequency – GAINS!
During the first quarter of the year, you can go for a full-on bulk mode with a PPL High frequency split.
This is your bulking period and you should focus on heavy, frequent lifting & a good load of food.
Month 4 – PPL Low frequency – Rest mode.
After 3 months on this high-intensity, high-frequency split, you will more than likely feel a bit burnt out.
This is exactly when it would be adequate to include the second split – PPL Low frequency split.
For the next 30 days, do moderate intensity & volume workouts every other day.
Rest assured, gains will be maintained and you will be able to recover for the next round of intense training.
Months 5-7 – Bodybuilder bro split – GAINS!
After recovering well with a moderate intensity & volume split, it’s time to go heavy again.
During months 5-7, you can utilize the intense stimulus which the Bodybuilder bro split offers.
Focus on blasting each muscle once a week with heavy weights & higher volume.
Month 8 – Rest mode.
Now, months 5-7 will certainly be more intense than months 1-3.
Intensity by nature is strenuous and so, our central nervous system might be a bit exhausted from all the intense training.
To facilitate good recovery and hence gains, we can include another 30 days of low-frequency, moderate intensity PPL split training.
Months 9-11 – PPL High frequency – Final gains of the year!
For the next 3 months, you will be going back to the Push/Pull/Legs split to max out the gains for the year.
Note that months 9-11 are colder months in most areas, which is the BEST time to bulk up!
The body naturally stores more of everything in preparation for the winter (A bit like bears).
Do not be afraid to make use of that – Up the intensity & Food intake to facilitate anabolic processes!
Month 12 – Bodybuilder Bro split – Final gains
As you see, for the most part of this yearly cycle, you’ve been doing high-intensity & high frequency constructive training.
During the last month of the year, we decrease frequency slightly and focus
Needless to say, the body needs some rest too, which is why we include low frequency rest modes every ~3 months.
You can finish off the year with another 30 days of rest mode and prepare for the next year.
This last month will allow you to unwind and relax from both the physical and psychological strain of intense training.
Remember that proper recovery is KEY to gains!
The best workout split does not really exist, as the body is an adaptation machine and it requires different approaches and new stimulus.
By utilizing the zig-zag split, we give proper, intense stimulus to the body, but we also allow it to rest every 3 months.
For the most part, we are using the high-frequency approach, as it is king when it comes to pure muscle gains.
Nevertheless, with intensity being the best, most potent growth stimulus, we also apply the bodybuilder split.
This is the exact split that allows us to give more of our attention and effort on separate muscle groups and maximize intensity.
Ultimately, your main goal is to have a balanced ratio between:
Zig-Zagging between these two splits & throwing in rest every now and then is without a doubt one of the best ways to optimize your gains throughout the next 12 months. This is the recipe for success and no doubt the best workout split for maximizing growth.
So there you go. As you just learned, there really isn’t a best workout split that will work year-round for every single one of you reading this.
This is exactly why it is best to alternate between different splits, that help you express different training variables and rest periods.
Ultimately, if your main goal is muscle growth as an advanced trainee, you should focus on splits that are in favor of frequency.
Nevertheless, you should also incorporate more intense splits, abundant of volume that also give you more rest times.
Last but not least, including moderate-intensity training will be optimal for recovery and taking the load off of your body & psyche.
Now that you have the blueprint, go ahead and apply it in your yearly training cycle!
If you have not yet established such a cycle, take our QUIZ to find out where you should start from!
In case you are an advanced trainee, but are stuck with the same old exercises, check out our exercises directory to find out new additions to your arsenal!