Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Research on The Best Workout Split for Muscle Strength and Size


Whether you want to start building muscle with the best workout for beginners or take your workout to the next level, finding the best workout split is imperative in maximizing muscle growth. The best routine split can maximize your bench press and every other important lift. The perfect workout split might even end the old argument about whether to have separate shoulder days. In an attempt to determine the workout split that produces the most muscle growth, numerous studies have been conducted. I bring you the best of these and their findings. Hopefully, this will help you to determine what exercise routine would best suit your individual goals. The results might surprise you!

Previous Studies on Training Frequency and Muscle Growth

The Study

Wernbom, Augustsson and Thomee (2007) analysed previous studies to compare the relationship between stimulus frequency and muscle growth. Conclusions were derived from these different studies. 

The Results

Elbow flexors (biceps and forearms) gain 0.18% per day when trained 2 or 3 days a week (no difference between 2 or 3 times a week). Training these muscle groups for 4 times a week resulted in 0.59% growth per day. Another study showed 0.10% growth when trained 4 times a week.
Knee extensors (quads) grew by 0.11% when trained 2-3 times a week. (No difference was seen by increasing from 2 to 3 times a week).

The Conclusion

Since 3 different studies were used to come to these conclusions; different training programs, diets and volumes were used for each. It is hard to draw conclusions from this because there are too many variables that could be responsible for the reported outcomes. The study concludes with the need for further research.

Split Differences for Beginners

Calder, Chilibeck, Webber, and Sale (1994) studied the difference between a split and full workout routine for beginners.

The Study

30 women were divided into three groups. All women were previously untrained to investigate the effects on people who are new to training. One group performed their entire routine in one day, another split their routines and another acted as a control group (they did nothing). There were 10 woman dedicated to each group. Both active groups did the same exercises: 5 sets of 4 upper body exercises (6-10 RM) and 5 sets of 3 lower body exercises (10-12 RM). The test lasted for 20 weeks.
The whole routine group did all these exercises in one day, training twice a week.
The split group did the upper body exercises on one day and their lower exercises on another, training 4 days a week.

Findings

Strength increased (by measurement of one rep max) by 54% in arm curl, 33% in bench press and 21% in leg press for woman who did the whole routine in one day.
Strength increased by 69% in arm curl, 32% in bench press and 22% in leg press for woman who split their routines.

However:

Muscle tissue increased (by measurement of dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) by 10% in arm muscle, 3.4% in trunk muscle and 4.9% in leg muscle for woman who did their whole routines in one day. Whole body muscle tissue increased by 4.1% and fat decreased by 1.1%.

Muscle tissue increased by 9% in arm muscle, 2.7% in trunk muscle and 1.7% in leg muscle for woman who split their routines. Whole body muscle tissue increased by 2.6% and fat decreased by 1.3%

The woman who split their training programs therefore gained more strength on average, but not as much muscle tissue increase or fat loss. The differences between these groups were considered minimal and not significant enough to draw accurate conclusions. 

It was officially concluded that split and whole training routines yielded similar results for the first 5 months of training.


Exercise Routine Split Differences for Bodybuilders

www.researchgate.net published a study that was very useful. It stated that no other study researched the differences of workout splits in trained athletes - at least at the time of its publishing. Muscle tissue that is used to physical stimulus (training) is different to muscle that is not trained. It reacts differently to training because of the fact that it has already been stimulated to grow and strengthen; and therefore has changed its function, response, anabolic signalling and protein synthesis (creation of new tissue) as a response to exercise. This study was used to investigate the difference in different training splits in individuals that have already trained. The researches hypothesized (guessed) that the group of subjects that trained for 6 days (3-day split) instead of 4 days (2-day split) would see greater gains in muscle size and strength.

The Participants (Bodybuilders)

10 Male participants were randomly selected. These participants were healthy and responsive, with an average age of 27 years. Participants' age was not above or below this average age by more than 3 years. 5 were to chosen use the one training method, and 5 the other. The allocation process was randomized: no participant could choose which exercise program he would like to follow. According to pre-trial tests, there were no significant lean mass and strength differences between test subjects. Food intake for all participants were planned and offered to individuals by nutritionists throughout the duration of the study. All 10 participants were elite bodybuilders, affiliated with a national bodybuilding federation. They had all been competing for at least 3 years, did not used any steroid for at least 6 months prior to the study, were non-smokers and not drink alcohol. All these bodybuilders needed to all be in their off-season, and be currently training at 6 days a week.

The Exercise Programs Used

The study lasted 6 weeks: 4 weeks for training and 2 weeks for testing. 4 sets of each exercise were executed using 6-12 repetitions maximum (RM) for both test groups. These sets were done in a pyramid style, increasing load and decreasing repetitions with each proceeding set. All training sessions were supervised and no other exercise outside of this program was done.

2 Way Exercise Plan (4 Days a Week)

The people in this group trained 4 times a week, doing the same routine (split into 2 sessions) twice.

On Mondays and Thursdays the participants performed following exercises:

  • Bench Press
  • Incline Dumbbell Fly
  • Cable Crossovers
  • Barbell Military Press
  • Lateral Raises
  • Lying Triceps French Presses
  • Triceps Push-downs
  • Standing Calf Raises
  • Seated Calf Raises
  • Crunches
  • Cable Crunches

On Tuesdays and Fridays the participants performed the following:

  • V-Bar Pull-downs
  • Bent over Barbell Rows
  • Seated Cable Rows
  • Arm Curls
  • Alternate Incline Dumbbell Curls
  • Palm-up Barbell Wrist Curls
  • Palm-down Barbell Wrist Curls
  • Squats
  • Leg Extensions
  • Leg Curls
  • Oblique Crunches
  • Seated Leg Tucks

3 Way Exercise Plan (6 Days a Week)

The people in the group trained 6 times a week, doing the same routine (split into 3 sessions) twice.

On Mondays and Thursdays the participants performed following exercises:

  • Bench Press
  • Incline Dumbbell Fly
  • Cable Crossovers
  • Barbell Military Presses
  • Lateral Raises
  • Lying Triceps French Presses
  • Triceps Push-Downs
  • Crunches
  • Cable Crunches

On Tuesdays and Fridays the participants performed following exercises:

  • V-Bar Pull-downs
  • Bent over Barbell Rows
  • Seated Cable Rows
  • Arm Curls
  • Alternate Incline Dumbbell Curls
  • Palm-up Barbell Wrist Curls
  • Palm-down Barbell Wrist Curls

On Wednesdays and Saturdays the participants performed following exercises:

  • Squats
  • Leg Extensions
  • Leg Curls
  • Standing Calf Raises
  • Seated Calf Raises
  • Oblique Crunches
  • Seated Leg Tucks

Methods of Measurement

Dual energy x-ray absorptiometry was used to determine body composition and 1-rep max bench press tests were used to determine strength differences. A calibrated electronic scale measured body mass.

Results

The results were reported in the table below.

Conclusions by Researchers 

Similar strength and muscle increase resulted from both training programs. The differences were too low to draw any solid conclusion. The researchers' hypothesis was therefore signed off as: refuted. More time needed to be given to the study, since 4 weeks was not long enough to draw any plausible conclusions. Even though there are differences which can be seen in the above table, these were not significant enough to provide sufficient evidence.


What Does This Mean?

This results from the above studies to bring us to a variety of conclusions:

  1. The perfect workout split does not exist.
  2. A variety of workout splits can be effective. 
  3. Other factors should determine which program you follow like train time available, total length of time spent during each session and fitness level.
  4. The old saying 'The best program is the one you haven't done' rings true here. Doing something that your body is not used to would lead to muscle confusion and therefore greater stimulus and response.
  5. Use the training routine that works best for you.
  6. A lot of different training programs can build muscle efficiently. Even high rep training programs can build muscle.
  7. A certain split might be best for you right now, but another might be better for you later on.