Making a Plan pt. 4 - The Training Week

To continue to figure out what the best plan to follow for you this post will discuss the training week as whole. Looking closer at some of the common ways people set their training up.

Before I continue, It is important to note the crucial aspect of having a goal in place. Setting a goal will help you better figure out what split will be best for you.

Once you have your goals figured out it will be easier to understand how you may want to divide your training to achieve your goals in the most efficient manner. Hence the importance of understanding different ways to set the week up.

Often times a training week is divided into different days called splits. These splits can be designed in such a way to be specifically more advantageous for one goal compared to others. Granted, it is not all cut and dry. When I write programs I'll often use a combination of different splits, or mix match the advantages of one to the other. However, I have also spent a few years writing programs. For our intents and purposes it is important to understand what is on the inside of the box before we get concerned thinking outside of the box. 

In regards to the training week the 5 most common splits you'll see are;

  1. Upper/Lower
  2. Push/Pull
  3. Conjugate
  4. Undulating
  5. Exercise based

Upper/Lower Split  - The upper lower split might be the most common split used in commercial gyms, or at least the most recognizable. The general idea is the trainee will workout roughly 4x/week. 2 days will be devoted to upper body exercises and 2 days will be devoted to lower body exercises. For the bros out there it is imperative you don't skip leg day.

The major advantage of this kind of split is you will be working out a group of muscles twice in a week. When it comes to building muscle, frequency is the name of the game. Thereby, strategically working out your muscles like this twice a week can help catalyze your gains.

The major disadvantage of this kind of split is the risk of overuse injuries such as tendinitis. If you don't pick your exercises carefully and provide enough variety you may accidentally cause these types of injuries to occur. 

Push/Pull  - This is another very common split, similar to upper lower. However instead of doing solely upper body exercises and solely lower body exercises you will do two days focused on "pulling" exercises, and two days focused on "pushing" exercise. In other words, two days will be focused on the posterior chain (i.e anywhere from the back of the legs to upper back) and two days focused on anterior chain (i.e anywhere from the fronts of the legs to pectorals).

 

The advantage with this type of split is the ability to train the total body each day. Many would argue this is best, because you never use your body in isolation. The other benefit is you will still get the frequency of an upper/lower split that is require for muscle growth.

However the disadvantage is the toll this type of split takes on recovery. Due to the nature of training the total body it can really affect our central nervous system. A lot of people will perform the split slightly differently by having a push day, pull day, lower body day, and upper body day. Where the latter two days will be focused on lighter exercises with more reps. Providing the body more time to recover. 

Conjugate  - This method of dividing the week is often advocated for athletic performance and strength. The reason is because two days will be focused on max strength (max effort days) and two days will be focused on power work (dynamic effort days). Sometimes plans will have max effort days back to back and then dynamic effort days back to back. Although typically this kind of split will look more like the one of the following:

  •  Max Effort, Dynamic Effort, Max Effort, Dynamic Effort or
  •  Max Effort, Dynamic Effort, Dynamic Effort, Max Effort

Aside from the lay out it is essentially a different way to do an upper and lower body split. Where a max effort day and dynamic effort day will be devoted to lower body, and the other two will be devoted to upper body.

The advantages is this method can be very good for building athletic performance and strength as there will be at least two concentrated days focused on building power as well as two days focused on strength. When smartly programmed it can also enhance the recovery process between max effort days by using the dynamic effort days to recharge the central nervous system.

The disadvantage of this method is it can be very difficult to use with beginning trainees. I find conjugate training works best with athletes and trainee's who are well established in the weight room and are looking for a way to bring their weight room strength over to performance. Many young athletes still need to focus on the basics and simply build the foundation of strength. 

Undulating - This method is based on dividing the week based on exercises and volume. This method is effective in gaining both strength and muscle as it will deal a lot in frequency. The only caveat I will make is if you are using deadlifting as one of your main exercises I would typically only deadlift twice. As this exercise may really fry your recovery capabilities.

Typically with undulating the week will be divided into three days. Where the foundation of the program is centered around three main lifts. This is a popular method for powerlifters as they can choose the squat, bench, and deadlift for their main exercises. Aside from the three main lifts it's up to the trainee to throw in whatever else they want to do. 

Each lift will then be programmed like this: one day devoted towards power, the next day for strength, and a third day for muscle (the third day is where I recommend skipping the deadlift). However you will alternate these three qualities for each exercise. 

  • Monday
    • Deadlift = Power
    • Squat = Strength
    • Bench = Hypertrophy
  • Wednesday
    • Bench = Power
    • Deadlift = Strength
    • Squat = Hypertrophy
  • Friday
    • Squat = Power
    • Bench = Strength
    • Deadlift = N/A

Usually on the last day I will substitute the deadlift with an exercise like the hip bridge.

The major advantage with this type of training is the frequency of each exercise. This plays a role in both building muscle and strength as it creates better motor learning which enhances strength, and with high frequency also comes high amounts of volume which will increase the potential for the muscles to grow. The frequency of lifting is also helpful for beginner lifters to really learn the movement.

The major disadvantage of this type of split is the risk of overuse injury. If you are doing the same exercise over and over again, three days a week, there is definitely a risk of developing inflammation. And to that same extent this type of training can hurt the ability to recover if done too much. 

The other major disadvantage is the lack of variety. Variety is important especially when a trainee comes upon a plateau.

Exercise Based - This type of split is really common among powerlifters and olympic weight lifters. Each day is devoted to a different competition exercise. For example, a power lifter will have a deadlift day, a bench day, and a squat day. All the exercises after the main lift of the day will be aimed to improve the main exercise.

The major advantage for this type of training revolves around the SAID principle, or specific adaptation to imposed demands. Basically, by training their competitive lift powerlifters will get better at performing their competitive lift. I also think there can be some value in this type of training for those looking to get stronger. As there is a lot of real world carry over from the main power lifts and olympic lifts.

The major disadvantage of this type of training tends to be the lack of variety. If you get bored easily this type of split might not be the kind of training that will work for you.

There you have it, 5 common splits to help you better understand what you can do to help you move closer to your goals. Not one split is inherently better than the others. They all can be useful, the key is to know your goal, and from there know what will work best for you. I've done all of them and have seen them to be effective. The most fun is simply experimenting with each one. 

After figuring out what you want the year to look like, then the month, and now each week the next important part of creating your program is deciding upon what exercises to use.

- Dave