I’ve been asked countless times “what kind of workout split do you do, Jon?”
Here’s the answer to that question, but let me provide just a little background first:
Over the years I have come across countless links and articles out there that have claimed how to get a better workout, how to blast this or that muscle, how to work your whole body in a certain amount of time…..and so on. I read them often because I’m always looking for another little nugget to add to my repertoire. But with my schedule, my goals and through learning how my body responds to my workouts, I have solidified the perfect workout routine for myself.
I have been using my current split routine for a little over one year now. Since I train clients at the gym Monday through Friday, those are the days that I also work out. Saturday and Sundays are rest days from work and exercise, so that I can focus my energies on my family and to take advantage of the muscle recovery. A few years ago when I was in my mid 30s I was working out 6 days a week, with rest on Saturdays. But it was at that point I realized the beginning of middle age creeping up on me. The warning signs included little creeks and pops in my joints, minor muscle strains and constantly feeling tired. So when I eliminated Sundays from my client schedule and made them a second consecutive rest day it improved my sleep and actually increased the performance of my workouts.
As I lay out the following routine, be advised it is not intended as a prescription for anyone’s exercise routine. I do hope that it inspires you to take your workouts more seriously, or give you an idea of how to progress your routine to be more efficient. But be mindful of your own abilities, goals and the time you have available. I’m a fitness professional that spends a good deal of time in the gym and I do physique competitions. Without sounding like a jerk – you may not be at that level…….yet, so be warned.
Each time I work out any muscle group there is a central focus on a main compound movement. I would do 3-4 sets of warm up and then hit the working weight (moderate to heavy resistance) for 4 or 5 sets. My central focus for doing them is to build maximal strength and to start a muscle burn for the rest of the workout. These movements are:
Bench press for chest
Squats for quads and glutes
Pull-ups for lats
Military press for delts
Deadlifts for pretty much everything from ribs to knees and for grip strength
Following these main compound moves, there are 2 or 3 secondary movements (4-5 sets each). The main purpose of these exercises is to move the muscles just a little differently to stimulate muscle growth. Another equally important function is to iron out any flaws in my movement to improve my main compound lifts. Among the secondary exercises I use are:
Flat/incline dumbbell bench presses, flies and dips for chest
Walking lunges, Bulgarian squats, leg extensions and leg press for quads & glutes
Barbell/dumbbell rows, cable pulldowns, and cable or decline pullovers for lats
Overhead dumbbell presses, Smith Machine presses and variations of arm raises for delts
Weighted Roman chair extensions, single straight leg deadlifts and glute-ham raises for deadlifts and hamstring/erectors
The first part of the routine is set workout days. These are the days that are designated for specific muscle groups. Monday and Thursdays are abdominal days. On Mondays I focus on obliques with some additional rotation for rectus abdominis (washboard) work, and Thursdays are solely for rectus abdominis. Tuesdays are deadlifts, erectors (lower back) & a light leg workout with hamstring emphasis. Wednesdays are for calves. Fridays are a heavy quad and glute day followed by a light workout for an upper body muscle, which I will touch on in a bit.
*I will note here that at the moment I am recovering from a lower back injury, so as soon as I am 100% I plan to switch Tuesdays to heavy deadlift/light squat & ham day and Fridays with a heavy squat – heavy quad/light deadlift focus. I’ve only been deadlifting once a week and I’m at a point where I want my performance on that exercise to improve.
The second component of my split is the rotation for upper body muscle groups. This serves two purposes:
1- I can hit those target muscles twice in one week (a heavy and light day), and three times within 10 days.
2- So that I never get stuck missing a muscle group because it’s on a fixed day that might get cancelled. For instance, have you ever missed Monday “International Chest Day” because you were sick, and when you felt better on Tuesday just didn’t know how to move on because you wanted to make up for chest, but have to hit something else too? So I just follow the rotation and just take it from where I left off the next day. Granted, if I ever had to skip on my fixed leg days, then I would just create a circuit with goblet squats, lunges and leg curls to make it up for one or two workouts.
The upper body split would be as follows with the three big torso muscles split up to different days:
B) Shoulders – delts, upper and mid traps, rotator cuff muscles – I find that these are best worked all together because of all the stabilizing and activation of all the surrounding muscle groups around the shoulder girdle.
Each muscle group will be worked for 15-16 sets, with a rep range of 5 to 20 to maximize strength and muscle building. “A” would be Monday’s muscle group which also gets hit again on Friday but only for 9-10 sets, in a 10 rep range and working at about 75% the resistance of Monday’s workout. This is designed to get blood flowing to the muscle and maintaining my strength without overtraining.
Biceps & triceps are smaller groups that I float to days where they can be effectively worked. Sometimes I will work the tris right after chest and bis after lats. Other days depending on how many muscles I am hitting that day and the time I have available to workout I float it to other days, but keeping in mind not to fatigue the arm muscles without effecting the big lifts and muscle groups they add assistance to (i.e. – won’t hit tris day before chest day, or bis before lat day, unless I’m absolutely looking to crush them for a different muscle stimulus). Then on some rare occasions if I have a gap of time between clients in the evening I will work my arms out during that time – which may end up being a second workout that day. The only muscle group I don’t work at all are my forearms. Because frankly I just don’t have to. They’ve been pretty meaty since my growth spurt in my teens. Plus, with my wrist ligament issues now it would only make it worse.
My quickest workouts are about 45 minutes to one hour, longest about 90-120 minutes, which is not including cardio. I don’t include cardio because the gym is a 15 minute walk away from home and I make that trip 4 times per day. I do split shifts of morning and evening sessions, so it’s home to the gym, then gym back home for my break, then repeat again. That’s an hour of combined walking. Plus, I lean out very quickly when I add cardio to my routine so I just save it for competition prep.
For example, I would start Monday off with Chest and abs,
Mon A – chest, obliques
Tue d-lift, erectors, hams
Wed B – shoulders, calves
Thu C – lats, rectus abdominis
Fri A – light chest, quads & glutes
* I might do tris on Monday and bis on Thursday, or do both arm muscles on Thursday after lats and abs or possibly add them in on Tuesday if I had enough time.
The following week, I rotate the groups:
Mon B – shoulders, obliques
Tue d-lift, erectors, hams
Wed C – lats, calves
Thu A – chest, rectus abdominis
Fri B – light shoulders, quads & glutes
*I would probably do tris on Tuesday or Thursday, and bis on Wednesday or Thursday
**On Friday I would emphasize more work on mid delts so that the front delts don’t get overused from 2 shoulder & 1 chest day)
The following week, I rotate the groups again:
Mon C – lats, obliques
Tue d-lift, erectors, hams
Wed A – chest, calves
Thu B – shoulders, rectus abdominis
Fri C – light lats, quads & glutes
*Bis on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, tris on Monday or Wednesday
Then the following week I go back to the first week above.
Some days if I’m pressed for time I will superset muscle groups, and other days when not in a rush I pace myself. Then other days I may keep it heavy weight/ lower reps and others lighter weight/higher reps. I also change dynamics of the exercises up like single or both limbs moving, paused reps, longer stretch, slower negative, alternating sets with hi and low reps, drop sets, upward pyramids, or a superset/circuit for the same muscle. Those are all great tools to avoid stagnation and boredom.
Another crucial component I should point out is a de-load week. I commit to a de-load week after every 12 weeks of serious lifting, and for two weeks after competition and at the end of the year. It is a period of time where I decrease the weight to 50-75% of my normal resistance and only execute 8-10 reps. I focus only on the major lifts (bench, squat, Military, pull-up and deadlift) and only one secondary movement for each of those exercises. It’s an important step in the process because it allows the joints and muscles to take a break without stopping movement altogether. The joints, ligaments and central nervous system need rest from the demand of constant heavy loads and the muscles need some quiet time so they can be re-stimulated or shocked again. So when I resume my regularly scheduled broadcasting, the weights don’t feel so heavy and my body so stiff.
So as you can tell I take my fitness seriously. And so should you. It doesn’t have to be as convoluted as mine but at least have some sort of plan action for yourself so that you can keep moving. There is no right or wrong routine. Even if you just have a simple routine that keeps you from regressing, it’s better than a sophisticated routine that isn’t done at all. You got this!