Article last updated: December 2017 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
Whenever you read an interview with a fitness model or bodybuilder, +90% of them will be on a classical split routine that goes something like this:
It’s the worst training structure you can follow and now I’ll give you the top reasons to why.
#1 Protein Synthesis Only Lasts 24-48 Hours After A Training Session
Your muscles only have the potential for growth for 24-48 hours after a training session.
This means that given your diet and sleep are dialled in, you can train a muscle anywhere from 3-7 times per week.
With a classical split routine you are only training each muscle group once per week so you’re missing out on a lot of gains.
There will of course be some spillover when you have your chest, shoulders and triceps or when you train back and biceps.
But that spillover is not enough to achieve optimal gains.
In addition, you can’t make up for a lack of training frequency by adding more volume to one training day.
There’s a big difference between doing 40 sets for chest on Monday compared to doing 10 sets on Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Sunday.
When you split up your sets into several days, your sets will be of a much higher quality since training performance is higher and you get the advantage of achieving protein synthesis multiple times per week instead of just once.
Overall, you can train a muscle directly 3-7 times per week as long as you select movements that have a low impact on the joints, vary the movements and change between volume based training and intensity based training.
This is what I’ve learned from reading all the top research on training and training injury-free myself the last +7 years.
This is also how I helped my client Francis get in the best shape of his life in 10 weeks. (He trained full body almost everyday).
You see… Even skinny-fat guys with below average genetics benefit more from training muscles at a higher frequency.
The key is to build up to it gradually and select low impact exercises that you can do often without experiencing any pain.
So why limit yourself to only hitting a muscle once per week when it can grow way more with 3-7 times?
#2 The Classical Split Sets You Up For Shoulder Injuries
The most common injury on the classical split routine is the shoulder injury because the front shoulders get worked way too much compared to your back shoulders and upper back muscles.
Your front shoulders are getting worked on your chest day, shoulder day and arm day.
And you’re rounding them forward most of the day while sitting down in your chair working.
In contrast, your back shoulders are typically only getting worked at the end of your shoulder training and the upper back is only getting worked once per week on back day.
This results in that kypothic posture where your shoulders round forward and that sets you up for a serious shoulder injury because you are doing almost all movement from a terrible starting position.
To prevent kypothic posture, your training should be balanced.
You want to do at least as much:
- Horizontal pulling (rowing exercises) as horizontal pressing (chest presses).
- Rear delt work as front shoulder work.
- Vertical pulling (pulldowns, pull ups) as vertical pressing (shoulder presses, dips).
And if you have poor posture from years of doing splits or front shoulder dominant work, you want to do more upper back and rear delt work and stretch your chest between sets and after training sessions.
Now, how many people in the gym are getting this balance right?
I rarely see it and that’s also why it’s so rare to see a guy with a developed back and rear shoulders.
#3 Limited Width and Thickness From Splits
If you’re naturally skinny-fat with narrow shoulders, getting big front delts, arms and chest aren’t going to cut it to appear big in a shirt.
To get wide looking shoulders and a powerful looking physique, you also need a wide and thick back and rear shoulders.
The back can get much bigger than the chest and the rear shoulders are REQUIRED to develop big looking shoulders.
Whenever I stop training my rear delts, upper back and lats my XXL shirts start hanging loose and my shoulders start looking small and flat.
And I already have a developed chest and 16″ lean arms without a pump.
This is why so many skinny-fat guys who follow splits still look small after years of training.
They are missing out on a lot of width and thickness by only hitting back and rear shoulders once per week (and often with limited intensity).
The Importance of Rear Delts For Posture, Development and Injury Prevention
Developed rear delts can make the difference between having small shoulders and big looking shoulders and they can be trained every single day.
You can hit them hard with dropsets 3 times per week on non consecutive days and then do straight sets at the end of your pushing exercises to prevent muscular imbalances and gain more size on the delts.
This is what I’ve done for 2-3 years and it has only done good things to my strength, posture and I’m 100% injury and pain-free +7 years into hard training.
Rear delt training is so effective that I feel immediate improvements in my posture after a training session.
My shoulders pull back after a long day of sitting down and I feel way less tension on my upper body.
The key to rear delt training is to focus 100% on technique and to use light weights.
I started off with 2 KG for my dumbbell rear delt raises and some of my clients start off with 1 KG.
The rear delts are a very small muscle group and the key to bring them up is to leave the ego at home and use extremely light weights and perfect form.
Also, the fact that weak rear delts are the norm means there’s a lot of potential to grow them bigger when you get stronger on the different exercises for rear delts.
If you start off like this and train them 3-7 times per week, you will see muscle gains in shoulder size within a few weeks.
The Upper Back Is Like Having An Extra Back-Pack On You
One mistake many guys make is to focus on the chest when the upper back can grow way way bigger.
The last few months I’ve started doing upper back work again and my shirts immediately fit much tighter I would have girls during 2 night outs in clubs run their hands from between my shoulders blades to the middle of my spine to feel the upper back muscles.
I also saw another guy with a wide and thick back in a club yesterday and his physique really stood out.
After these things happened I realised again how rare a developed back is.
Most guys who workout have chest, arms and legs so if you really want to stand out the upper back, lats and rear shoulders are a much better way of doing it. Because so few people have developed these muscles.
A good standard to aim for is to be able to bent over row at least as much as you can bench press.
So if your bench press max is 200 pounds for 5 reps, you better be able to also row 200 pounds for 5 reps to ensure you have the right balance between the front and back of the upper body.
A Better Way To Structure Your Training
There are many alternatives to the classical split program that are much better.
Let me outline a few below.
- 2 Split for 4-6 days per week: Chest/Front Shoulders/Triceps alternated with Back/Rear Shoulders/Biceps/Legs (This is the training structure I used for Harshit Godha from my article They Didn’t Think I Could Get A Summer Body, But I Did!
- Full Body: Train full body 3-7 days per week. Alternate light and heavy days, change up intensity and volume and change up exercises to prevent overuse injuries. (This is how I train now).
- Push/Pull/Legs/Push/Pull: You can add an extra leg day at the end but for most people one leg day per week is enough. (This is how I would train if your recovery is below average, you don’t get good sleep, stress levels are high or you are just starting out on a weight training program).
With all of these you’re optimising for maximum muscle growth while developing your whole body in a balanced way.
As a drug free lifter you will get much better results with any of these structures compared to the classical bro split.
And if you train calisthenics, you can still add rear delt and upper back work by using bands in your training. To learn more about this, check out my post How to Get Muscular with Calisthenics: 6 Proven Strategies to Accelerate Your Gains
Be proud but stay hungry!
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer