Training plans are confusing things. Some people say you don’t even need one, others say you’re wasting your time without one. Some people swear by the classic “bro-split” of chest and triceps, back and biceps, etc. Others dismiss that as nonsense and claim that “push/pull/legs” is the only way to go. How can you know what to believe?
Well, before we dive into the specifics of which training plan you should choose, I want to get a few things clear about what a training plan is actually for first.
Training plans are tools that we use to map out our path to hitting a goal. No more, and no less. So keeping this in mind, choosing a training plan should not be a tribal, emotional decision, that leaves you arguing with someone else on the internet about which plan is better. It should be a cold, hard, detached decision based purely on two things:
- Which approach will get you to your desired result the fastest
- Which approach you’ll enjoy the most (and therefore want to keep doing!)
That’s pretty much the only two variables I consider when deciding which approach to take for my training plan & my clients’ training plans. Once we’ve picked an approach, there are of course a lot more of the little things to figure out and personalise for each person, but you can’t decide the little things until you’ve decided the big ones.
So, now we’re clear on what we need it for and how to decide which one is best, let’s examine a few of the most common & effective training plans, giving you the benefits & drawbacks of each…
Training Plan #1: The Full Body Workout
The full body workout is, as the name would suggest, a workout plan that targets the whole of your body in every session. This means that instead of doing things like “leg day” or “arm day” you’ll give a small amount of attention to each of the major body parts in every session. So it’s kinda like having 3-4 mini “leg days” or “chest days” every single week.
If your recovery isn’t amazing (for example, if you’re a beginner) then full body workouts are a fantastic option for you. The reason? Annihilating one part of your body, your legs for example, in one day will leave you broken in half and struggling to sit on the toilet for a week if your recovery isn’t great. However, splitting up the volume you would have done on one day and spreading it out over the course of a week, allows your body to recover from each mini stimulus as it comes, preventing the soreness that would happen with a one-day obliteration of the muscle.
This is particularly useful for beginners as it means they are able to practice key movements more frequently. Training is a skill, much like learning to drive, and it requires practice in order to improve. When you’re new to the gym there’s a lot to think about and a lot to take in, so allowing yourself the extra time to practice key movements frequently is important if you want to get better.
If you’re a relatively advanced gym-goer, who’s been training (and seeing results from your training) for 6-12 months or more, I’d advise you go for a more advanced training plan. This is because while it’s easier to recover from a full body workout plan, it’s more difficult to cause the stimulus you need to build muscle & strength without being a little more specific. If you’ve built up a certain amount of tolerance to weight training and you’re able to recover from hard workouts within 2-3 days, I’d advise going for one of the other workout plan approaches detailed below.
How Do You Do It?
Full body workout plans are the simplest ones to set up. This is the format I always give new clients that are beginners to the gym or are coming back after a lengthy break from fitness. Whether they stay in this area for a few weeks or 6-12 months depends on how quickly they progress and how quickly they’re ready for a higher intensity of workouts, but I always start people off with this approach.
The approach is known as “German Body Composition Training” (GBC) and was first introduced to me by an old mentor of mine many years ago. Popularised by a famous strength coach named Charles Poliquin, the idea behind GBC is to pair an upper body & lower body exercise together in a “superset” fashion. This means that you’ll essentially “squash” the two exercises together, performing a full set of the upper body exercise (for example, a shoulder press) and then moving immediately onto the lower body exercise (for example, a squat), then taking a short rest (usually around 30 seconds) before repeating both exercises. You’ll normally do 3-4 sets of this before moving onto the next two exercises, until you’ve done a total of 4 supersets (or 8 exercises) in the entire workout. It should take you no longer than one hour.
(For help implementing GBC training or getting started with your workouts, you can apply for 1-1 personal training in Doncaster, online coaching or one-off training/nutrition programs by clicking here).
Training Plan #2: The Upper/Lower Split
The upper/lower split is the next training plan I’d move someone onto after graduating from the full body workout plan. Again, as the name would suggest, this workout plan involves alternating focusing on the upper and the lower body. This is what you might call the “intermediate” level training plan, the kind that’s more specified than full body workouts, but not so specified that you’re dialling in on one specific muscle and smashing it to pieces.
As an intermediate trainer, or even sometimes as an advanced trainer (I’ve switched back to this split many times and loved it), you can get amazing results using this approach. This plan is specific enough to focus on certain areas of the body in a way that full body workouts can’t, while still being generalised enough to allow for a decent level of frequency on each muscle. By using this workout plan you can start to switch from learning the movements with lighter weights to building a lot of strength in a small amount of time.
If you’re a beginner or mega advanced athlete, this may not be the best approach for you. Beginners will need a more generalised approach (i.e. full body), and advanced athletes may need a more specific approach due to their higher level needs & advanced recovery capabilities. But honestly, for 90% of people, once they’ve been through the “learning phase” of a full body workout plan, this is a solid program to follow long into the future.
How Do You Do It?
You’ll probably want to set aside 4 sessions per week in the gym for this program. This means you’ll get 2x upper sessions and 2x lower sessions. Whilst the specifics of how to do this workout plan will make this article far too long, I’ve attached one of my YouTube videos below to give you more information on how to get started with upper/lower split workout plans:
(By the way, if you need help implementing the upper/lower workout split or any other workout split, you can apply for 1-1 personal training in Doncaster, online coaching or one-off training/nutrition plans by clicking here).
Training Plan #3: Push/Pull/Legs
The push/pull/legs workout is, in my opinion, the gold standard of workout plans that the most advanced lifters would be wise to employ. This is my preferred method, and I honestly just alternate between this plan and the upper/lower split plan depending on which one I feel like running (note: when I say “alternate” I mean every 5-6 months, I don’t flick between training plans often).
The idea behind this plan is that it’s based around three major workouts:
- A “push” workout – which incorporates all of the upper body “pushing” movements (mainly targeting chest, triceps, shoulders)
- A “pull” workout – which incorporates all of the upper body “pulling” movements (mainly targeting the lats, mid-back, rear delts & biceps)
- A “legs” workout – which, as you may have guessed, focuses on your lower body.
There will then usually be an extra 1-2 days used at your discretion, usually focusing on whatever area you feel is weakest and you’d like to bring up. I’d advise against doing anything too heavy on those extra days, as the push/pull/legs workouts themselves are incredibly demanding when done properly and will take a lot out of you.
There is honestly no workout plan I’ve ever done (and I’ve pretty much done them all) that compares to push/pull/legs in terms of intensity. If you can train hard and you want to progress muscle & strength, this is the plan for you. A great combination of all-out strength training and blood volumisation style “pump” work, following this plan will definitely see your body change.
This plan is not designed for beginners & is definitely not for the faint-hearted. I don’t prescribe this plan to many people, but when I do it’s to guys/girls that have been training for years, not months. This approach takes a lot out of you and will require a good commitment to recovery – being consistent with sleep, nutrition, stress management and more. If you can’t commit to that, go for a simpler option like the ones detailed above.
How Do You Do It?
The push/pull/legs approach is slightly more complex and requires a different approach for each day, the specifics of which are beyond the scope of this article. However, as a generalisation, I can say that each workout revolves around 2-3 big, heavy compound movements – such as squats, leg presses, deadlifts or chest presses. These movements are used for building strength and lifting heavier weights. Once these movements are complete, you move onto slightly lighter work, more isolation based movements like leg extensions, bicep curls or lateral raises, with shorter rest times to maximise bloodflow in the target muscle.
In conclusion, the training plan that’s right for you depends on where you are in your fitness journey. Those that are right at the beginning will likely benefit from a more general approach, whilst those that have been training for a long time will need a more specified plan. There’s no “right” or “wrong”, it’s just different for different people.
If you need help deciding which is right for you, or help designing your workout plan in a way that’s not only effective but specific to you & your body, you can apply for 1-1 personal training in Doncaster, online coaching or one-off training/nutrition programs by clicking here.
I hope this article was useful, thanks for reading!
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