Dividing Up Your Muscle Groups
Trying to figure out the perfect routine can be tough. It’s especially tough when you consider the fact that there’s no such thing as a perfect routine.
Instead, you’re going to have to assess your personal needs and decide which muscles to work on which days. A number of factors will go into this decision, such as:
- What your current training level is, i.e. beginner, intermediate, or advanced
- What type of routine motivates you to work out in the gym
- Which muscle groups are lagging or will require special attention
- What type of routine your training partner is on
- How your body is responding to the workouts you have in place
There are many ways you can divide up your muscle groups to achieve the best workout for you. There are so many combinations, in fact, that I couldn’t possibly cover them all here. Instead, I’m going to point out a few principles that can be used as guidelines to help you choose the routine that’s best suited for you.
Full Body Routine
The full body routine is most useful for beginners. A beginner would be able to do a small amount of work for each muscle group and still see muscle growth. Since small amounts of work are being done for each muscle group, the body might be able to handle more muscle groups in a single workout.
I’ve written an article before about why more rest is better than too little. A beginner can also use a light split routine in the beginning and adjust the intensity until it evolves into an intermediate routine.
I personally believe there is a strong mental advantage to a beginner that learns how to use split routines and modify them early on, instead of having to figure out a new routine as the full-body workouts become too intense.
Upper / Lower Body
This is a great way to divide up the muscles into 2 groups that are approximately equal in size. The lower body includes the quadriceps, hamstrings, buttocks, lower back, and calves.
The upper body includes the chest, shoulders, back, biceps, triceps, forearms, and abs. You could start by grouping upper and lower body muscles and modify the routine as needed.
Pressing, Pulling, and Squatting Movements
The logic behind this method is that certain muscle groups tend to work together in compound movements. For example, many back exercises are pulling movements that work the back, biceps, and forearms together. That means that it makes a lot of sense to do your back and biceps on the same day.
Pressing movements for the chest and shoulders tend to involve the triceps. This goes for exercises like bench presses and shoulder presses. Also, many chest exercises such as the incline bench press will heavily involve the shoulders. So it might make sense to train your chest, shoulders, and triceps together.
Same for the legs. Your squats will hit your quads, hamstrings, buttocks, and lower back at the same time. Again, it makes great sense to train these together as well.
Of course the fact that these muscles all work together so much might be the exact reason you decide not to train them together. I’ve found myself doing my shoulders on a different day than my chest because my triceps were too tired after my chest workout to do overhead presses well. Pay attention to what your body is telling you.
As you advance, giving your muscles the shock they need requires greater and greater intensity. Also, your muscles will adapt to your workouts and learn to recover more quickly. This is the stage where you can begin to divide your body into smaller groups and work them more often and with greater intensity. However, you won’t just arrive at this advanced stage in a short month or even a year.
Here are a few tips:
- Use basic routines to get to an advanced level. You’ll never become advanced by doing an advanced routine… it’s something you work up to over a long period of time.
- Try to work the big exercises and small ones together. Don’t do squats, deadlifts, bench press, and overhead press all in the same day. Spread the big exercises out as evenly as possible.
- Increase the intensity slowly over time. Maintaining a slow and steady momentum will take you further than trying to progress too rapidly. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare, but move as soon as you are ready to handle an increase.
- Listen to what your body is telling you. Your routine should be adjusted to fit your own personal needs.
Coming up: A beginning training program that can be adjusted and modified as a beginner moves into the intermediate stages.