What is a workout split?

Discover what is a workout split, how it differs from a full body session, and why it could benefit you

Person doing workout
(Image credit: Getty)

Questioning; what is a workout split? In the health and fitness world, there are so many different methods of training. For example, some people love nothing more than to sweat through an intense HIIT session for 30-minutes before aiding their recovery with one of the best protein powders for weight loss. While others might like to go for a run outside.

But if you’re looking to shake up your training, why not try a split workout? Unlike a total body session, a workout split refers to the process of splitting up your training across the week. And according to research, doing so can have beneficial impacts. 

To unpack this and find out how to create a workout split, we turned to science and spoke to Chris Gagliardi, American Council on Exercise’s (opens in new tab) scientific education content manager and certified personal trainer, health coach, and group fitness instructor.

Chris Gagliardi
Chris Gagliardi

Chris Gagliardi is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Health Coach, Group Fitness Instructor, and Medical Exercise Specialist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, NBHWC certified NBC-HWC, and NASM Certified Personal Trainer who loves to share his enthusiasm for fitness with others and is committed to lifelong learning. 

He holds a bachelor's degree in kinesiology from San Diego State University, a master’s degree in kinesiology from A.T. Still University, and a certificate in orthotics from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

What is a workout split?

A workout split is a term typically used in relation to resistance training. Essentially, the phrase refers to the process of splitting up your training program so that different muscle groups are trained on different days. 

Gagliardi says: “There are many ways to create a split routine and the key is to find a way to train all the major muscle groups within the number of days you have available to exercise.”

You could create a workout split by focusing on just one body part, region, or lift (like isolating either pushing or pulling exercises), or specific muscle groups, like your lower leg, upper leg, hips, core, back, arms, chest, and shoulders.

Person doing workout

(Image credit: Getty)

What are the benefits of using a workout split?

1. It can help you focus

As Gagliardi explains: “For example, you may train your arms, legs, chest, back all on different days and can dedicate all of your time and energy to a specific body part or muscle group on those training days.”

And, according to research published in the Sports Science Journal (opens in new tab), researchers found ‘strong evidence’ to suggest that resistance training frequency does not ‘significantly or meaningfully impact muscle hypertrophy when volume is equated’. They concluded: “Thus, for a given training volume, individuals can choose a weekly frequency per muscle group based on personal preference.”

2. It can help with recovery 

Rest and recovery are important parts of any health and fitness journey. And when you follow a workout split program, it could allow enough time for sufficient recovery of different muscle groups. 

Gagliardi tells us: “If you split your routine by upper and lower body workouts then you can workout on more days because your upper body can recover on the days when you are training your lower body.” 

According to a study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science (opens in new tab) which compared the effect of 24, 36, 48, 72, and 96 hours of rest in men – 48 hours between sessions is the sweet spot to help you optimize your performance.  

3. It can boost muscle strength and hypertrophy

In one 2021 journal (opens in new tab), researchers compared the effects of split and full-body workout routines on muscle strength and hypertrophy and measured this across a 10-week period.

This saw researchers conclude: “Individuals in the split workout routine and the full-body workout routine groups experienced similar maximal strength gains from baseline to post-intervention.”

And, in some cases, individuals who completed split workout routines had minimal but slightly higher gains, especially when it came to bench press and squats. 

4. You can enjoy higher volume and higher intensity 

According to the findings of researchers in a 2022 trial (opens in new tab),  a split workout routine can help support a high volume of work per muscle group, while keeping session duration manageable. 

Researchers said: “It is possible that a higher session frequency would lead to shorter and more intense sessions with less accumulated fatigue, ultimately resulting in more work performed.” However, as researchers highlighted: “Proper manipulation of load, volume, rest and frequency is essential to improve muscular hypertrophy and muscle strength.”