Updated: Feb 3, 2022
All over the fitness community, it's commonly disputed which workout splits are the best. Some say the classic push, pull, legs split is the best, while others say a higher frequency full body split reigns over all the others.
So which one really is best? In this article, we'll take a look at each split and their benefits, and draw conclusions based off of those, taking into account things like session lengths, frequency and effectiveness.
We'll start by saying, there really is no definitive answer. There is science to back up every single workout split, except maybe the classic 'bro split'.
Each workout split has their benefits and drawbacks, and it's subjective to personal preference and ability as to which one is best for you. So to decide which one is best for you, simply read on and we'll help you decide!
Push, Pull Legs (PPL)
This is your classic bodybuilding split, but is also great for building and training for general strength. It typically has you in the gym six days a week, and trains groups of muscles together that all perform similar movement patterns.
For example, a typical 'push day' will work your chest, shoulder and triceps, all of which are muscles that are responsible for your pressing movements in the upper body.
This is a great split for both bodybuilders and powerlifters, who can center their workouts around the 'big three' lifts (squat, bench & deadlift).
This split allows lifters to work at great intensities and hit optimal workout volume each week, due to the ability of going to the gym six days a week and giving each muscle group 48 hours of rest in between sessions.
However, it is important that you do not overdo it, as your central nervous system does still need rest, and it can take a massive hit from heavy squats and deadlifts.
We'd recommend that you go at a slightly lower intensity on the following exercises after doing heavy squats and deadlifts, as it can seriously affect your next few workout sessions otherwise.
However, if you do not find this to be a problem for you, then you can keep training to that RPE of 8-9.
It's also common for trainees to do less intense variations of the big three lifts on the second session of each 'push, pull, leg' day.
For example, you might hit heavy squats on your first leg day, and choose a less intense variation of a squat on your second leg day such as a goblet squat or a lighter box squat. This is because of the sheer muscular and energy demands of the big three lifts, and it's quite hard to sustain doing each of the big three lifts twice a week.
Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that hitting each muscle at least twice per week is optimal for muscle growth, and the PPL split allows you to do this very effectively. you get great workout volume per session, and ample rest in between them.
Pros of Push, Pull Legs
You get to focus all your energy in a specific workout on certain muscle groups
Lots of recovery time between sessions for your muscles
Optimal weekly frequency per muscle group
Cons of Push, Pull Legs
Difficult to modify and address weaker muscles
Lots of time commitment into the gym
Sessions may be more fatiguing due to high volume per session
Who should do the PPL split?
This workout split works great for intermediate to advanced lifters and those who have lots of time to commit into the gym. It's also good for those looking to get stronger in the main lifts, without sacrificing muscle gain.
Upper Body/Lower Body (UB/LB)
The upper/lower split is also a great choice of workout split for bodybuilders, as it hits every muscle group twice per week, but typically only has you in the gym 4 days a week. UB/LB splits the body up into halves, where you'll train all your upper body muscles on one day and all your lower body on the next.
You'll hit your chest, back, shoulders and arms on day one, and your quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves on the next day.
This makes the UB/LB split a great choice for anyone who wats to spend a little less time in the gym without compromising strength or muscle gain.
However, one major drawback of this workout split is these workouts (especially upper body ones) tend to become incredibly long and even tedious once you get to the intermediate or advanced level.
So if you want to avoid that, you may want to get into the gym six times a week, and reduce the volume per session by a little to avoid painfully long workouts. Then again, that defeats the advantage of the workout where you don't have to commit as much time into the gym.
If opted to go with the 4x per week version, this split will allow you to take your sets a little closer to failure than the PPL split.
You're in the gym less frequently, and your central nervous system has more time to rest before smashing the next workout. There's also less volume done per workout per muscle group, meaning you can take your sets of bench press and barbell rows to a higher level of intensity.
There's usually only two movements per major muscle group, and one exercise per workout for the smaller muscles.
With this split, you can either do all your workout sessions consecutively, and rest for the remaining three days. Or, you could take a rest day after your first two sessions and come back on day four to do your third workout of the week. It's completely up to you and your personal schedule.
Pros of Upper Body/Lower Body
Less time spent in the gym
Hitting each muscle group twice a week
Can focus on 'the big three' (squat, bench and deadlift
Cons of Upper Body/Lower Body
Less volume per workout
Lack of isolation exercises
Potentially long workouts
Who should do the UB/LB split?
This workout split is really great for anyone. It encourages lifters to primarily perform compound exercises, and doesn't force them to commit too much time into the gym out of their week. It's a great alternative to those who want the benefits of a PPL split without having to go to the gym six days a week.
This is exactly what it sounds like. You'll work your entire body every session. It's a common program followed by beginners as it includes mostly compound movements, and is a great way for beginners to learn the basic form of compound movements and build foundational strength.
Usually, it'll have you in the gym 2-3 days a week if you're a beginner. But it's not only for people just starting out. Science has repeatedly shown that training your entire body 4-5 times a week can elicit similar, if not more muscle growth than traditional PPL and UB/LB splits.
This is likely due to the timing of muscle protein synthesis, and how long after your workout your muscles are ready to be worked again.
The full-body split also helps to improve set quality. Think of it like taking your classic chest day, and spreading the exercises across 4-5 separate days.
For an in-depth breakdown of this concept and the full-body split in general, check out Jeff Nippard's YouTube video, which we've included below. He goes into great detail about scientific studies, there's heaps to learn from that video.
Full-body workouts usually tend to be more time efficient, as you'll generally pick exercises that work several muscle groups at once.
This makes it a great split for people who don't have much time to spend in a single session at the gym. You'll also tend to expend more energy per session, due to working more muscles in heavier compound movements.
Overall, this is a great split for anyone who's looking to get stronger in their compound lifts, and build muscle while having shorter workout sessions. It's great for beginners, intermediates as well as advanced lifters, and can be easily modified to suit fitness levels.
Pros of Full-Body Split
Encourages compound movements
Greater energy expenditure
Cons of Full-Body Split
May be more fatiguing to begin with, and hard to get used to
You may not be lifting as heavy as usual, due to higher frequencies - do your heavy compounds (squat, bench and deadlift) early on in the week
Lack of isolation exercises
Who should do the Full-Body split?
It's a great workout split for anyone really, as it can be modified in terms of frequency to suit your fitness level. It also encourages mainly compound lifts, making it a great and time efficient split to follow for those who might not have as much time as others to commit into the gym.
This is the traditional workout split that was popular during Arnold's prime, and on the fitness magazines everywhere in the community.
This split has you in the gym five days a week, training one or two muscle groups per workout. Then, you give that muscle a whole week of rest before you destroy it with another high-volume workout. An example of a bro split schedule would look something like this:
There are variations of this of course, but they're all generally similar to that. They'll focus each workout heavily on one or two muscle groups. The bro split is usually done by bodybuilders, and is quite ineffective if you're a powerlifter.
Each session you'll smash out somewhere around 20 sets for a single muscle. And while this may be great for getting a pump, it's been proven by science to be less effective than other splits such as Push, Pull, Legs or Upper Body/Lower Body.
This is because the bro split only allows you to work each muscle group hard once a week, which we know is sub optimal for muscle growth. We should be hitting them at least twice per week.
However if you are somewhat of a more advanced trainee and you still want to go with this split, it is completely fine. You will still see great progress, it may just be slightly slower than if you were to go with other splits. We will admit, doing a bro split is very fun.
It's pretty common for lifters to take their sets in a bro split very close to failure, as you do only train each muscle group hard once per week. So if you just prefer to go all hard out in a single session, and rest that muscle for the rest of the week, the bro split is still an okay choice.
One advantage of this split is the ability to focus all your attention onto one muscle or muscle group, meaning you'll easily be able to modify the workout to target weak points, and possibly have an easier time building a more symmetrical physique.
Some workouts will also tend to be shorter, such as your shoulder or arm days. This could be better for people who have to fit into a tight schedule, and don't have much more than an hour to commit into the gym.
Pros of the Bro Split
Easy to focus on and target a muscle
Fun and enjoyable to do
Great for getting a pump
Cons of the Bro Split
Suboptimal training frequency
Not great for building strength
Can't really afford to skip a workout
Who should do the Bro split?
The bro split may be a somewhat viable option for intermediate to advanced trainees who are heavily into bodybuilding.
It's also good at taking care of imbalances, as well as weak points. If that's a problem that affects you, it may be an option for you to consider. The bro split also works for people who are guaranteed to be able to get into the gym everyday, and not so much for people who work jobs that run on an on-call basis.
Wrapping It Up
Picking the right workout split for you doesn't have to be a huge hassle that takes up a large chunk of your time.
Simply look at the pros and cons of each popular split and find one that suits both your preferences and your workout schedule!
Which workout split are you currently running, or planning to switch to?
Let us know in the comments below!