The Bro Split

The “Bro Split” is a typical bodybuilder split that has been used for decades to enhance the physiques of many. Today many people claim you shouldn’t do them at all unless you’re on steroids because they don’t work for the average recreational lifter. Another common complaint is that muscles should be worked twice a week and anything less than this and you’re missing out big time. I actually disagree with some of these statements and I’ll also outline some major benefits that only a “Bro Split” can offer.

First I want to outline what the typical “Bro Split” is. The way I set mine up would look like this:

  • Day 1 – Chest
  • Day 2 – Back
  • Day 3 – Legs
  • Day 4 – Shoulders
  • Day 5 – Arms
  • Day 6 and 7 – Cardio or Off (these days can also be scheduled during the week in between sessions)
  • Note – Abs done every other day or 3 days a week

Very simple and easy. The plan allows the lifter to hit one muscle group a day and then not hit that muscle group directly again for another week. (Although some overlap always exists regardless of what split you use.)

Let me tackle the first complaint against these, which is the split only works if you’re on steroids. The reason that people say this is because most steroid using bodybuilders use this split and do incredibly high amounts of volume (sets and reps) that most people can’t recover from. I agree that if you use a ridiculous amount of volume not only would you not gain muscle, your workouts would actually begin to make you smaller. But this example is taken out of context and is an extreme example that people frequently use to make a point. This split will work awesome for an average lifter if the volume is controlled. Here is a perfect example of a good volume to shoot for, for each body part in order to ensure enough volume is used to break down the muscle, but not so much that regression begins to take place:

  • Chest Day (example)
  • Barbell Bench Press 4×6 reps (strength focus)
  • Incline Dumbbell Press 3 x 8,10,12 reps (pyramid) (size focus)
  • Dips 3 x 8,10,12 reps (pyramid) (size focus)
  • Cable Flys (isolation movement) 3×15 reps (blood flow and endurance)

Simple, effective, and not excessive. Tell me what exactly is wrong with this rep scheme? … – About 90% of intermediate lifters would progress just fine on this and maybe even better than hitting a muscle twice a week, which brings me to my next point.

Hitting a muscle twice a week can be effective if done correctly. For this to be done correctly you have really get you’re volume correct or you really risk overtraining and not allowing enough recovery. Let’s say the lifter lifts on Monday and hits Push muscles (chest, shoulders, and triceps). First of all, in order to complete this in a single day, you would need to drastically reduce the volume for each body part, which if not chosen correctly could lead to under-stimulating each muscle. So the lifter uses two exercises for each body part and lifts with a heavy rep range of 6-8 reps for each exercise. The next day he’s sore the workout went great and he doesn’t have to use these muscle groups again until 2-3 days from now when most of the damage is healed from the previous workout. So Thursday comes around and its time to hit those muscles again. The lifter doesn’t feel too sore and repeats the Push workout with a very similar workout template, expect today the lifter doesn’t feel nearly as strong and his poundages are either the same or worse. What gives? – Well in my experience its due to the muscles not getting enough recovery time. 2-3 days may be correct for most of the damage to be healed from your previous workout, but that’s just it … you’re not only trying to recover from your workout 3 days ago, but you’re also trying to get bigger and stronger in that muscle. The muscle needs to GROW not just RECOVER back to baseline levels. Those are two different things and if you are constantly bashing your muscle groups without enough rest this growth is unlikely to occur.

Another thing no one tells you with hitting muscle groups twice a week is the fact that you have to have one heavy day (4-8 reps) and one light day (10-15 reps) or you’re doing it wrong. They fail to distinguish that if you lift heavy of the same muscle group twice a week then you’re probably not going to get very far. The light day is more of “recovery day” to stimulate blood flow from your previous heavy day. To be fair the “Bro Split” actually does somewhat hit your muscles group more than once a week, but it’s more indirect. For example, Dips on arms day is a heavy chest mover and also close-grip chin-ups which is as much a back movement as a biceps movement.

And my final favorite criticism is the if you hit your muscles twice a week then you will have 104 workouts per year vs 52 from only hitting a muscle twice a week, which is far better for growth and elevates protein synthesis. Under this logic, you might as well say “Just hit all your muscle groups every day so you can fit in 365 workouts a year for maximum growth.” An extreme example, but more doesn’t necessarily mean better. Also, while elevated protein synthesis is a good thing, it’s not the only thing needed for a muscle to grow.

Those are the main points I wanted to make. I still think hitting muscles twice a week can be used effectively if you program it right, which most people don’t. If you stay on them too long you will plateau and switching to a “Bro split” may actually increase your muscle growth due to the extra rest you receive.

One thing to caution here is that a “Bro Split” can also be ineffective if you don’t structure your days correctly. Let me give you an example of a terrible split:

  • Day 1 – Arms
  • Day 2 – Shoulders
  • Day 3 – Chest
  • Day 4 – Back
  • Day 5 – Legs

Terrible:

  1. Always structure bigger muscles first in the week and finish with smaller ones.
  2. Put legs in the middle in order to prevent the upper body from being used too many days in a row.
  3. Separate shoulders away from chest to prevent the muscle from being sore the day you workout.
  4. Its wise to stick a rest day in between every 2-3 days of lifting (not absolutely necessary, but helpful).

Now I want to outline some of the benefits of the “Bro Split”:

  1. Allows the user to dedicate maximum focus and intensity to each target muscle group (try shoulders after heavy bench presses and you’ll see that intensity drops way off).
  2. Allows maximum rest for each muscle group and only hits each muscle directly once a week to allow for the Growth of the muscle not just recovery from the last workout (if structured properly – see above).
  3. Takes much less time each day and allows user to finished between 30-45 minutes if lifting intensely.
  4. Prevents overtraining that many plans that attempt to hit two muscle groups a day frequently do.
  5. Its easier to program. Most lifters don’t want to program every last detail. Tell them to hit their chest hard once a week and then let it recover vs tell them to hit their muscles twice a week with a heavy/light scheme and the questions start to pour in.
  6. It’s Proven. Take a trip over to Bodybuilding.com and look at some of the transformations people have done, especially in regards to gaining mass. I’d say at least 80% of them used some sort of split routine that hit a muscle once a week vs. a full body or upper/lower split. The results speak for themselves.
  7. It’s fun. These splits allow for intensity techniques (drop sets, high rep finishers, rest pause sets) that would be almost impossible to do while training 3 muscle groups on the same day.
  8. It’s easier to push your limits. Example – Lifter gets 200 x 6 reps on a barbell bench press the previous Monday. This Monday he shoots for 205 x 6 reps or even 202.5 for 6 reps. Trying increasing like that every 3rd day and I guarantee you it will not happen.
  9. It allows for maximum breakdown of the muscle. This is an important one, but sometimes an annihilation workout to each muscle can actually be very effective from the standpoint of getting in enough volume for growth provided the recovery is there. Sometimes by splitting your volume up twice a week and working multiple muscles per day may leave some muscles under-worked each day and overworked for the week.
  10. Allows for cardio to be done each day. Some may see this as HUGE negative, but cardio is really important for building mass. Insulin sensitivity, more mitochondria of the cells, wakes up the CNS to prepare for heavy lifting, increased blood flow and removal of waste products to name a few. Only 5-15 minutes of moderate intensity exercise is needed to stimulate these benefits.
  11. Allows for more lifting days overall. By only going in and hitting one muscle a day it allows the lifter to lift more often (almost every day if programmed correctly) without burning out.
  12. Psychological reasons. This is more of rehash, but sometimes going into a lifting session only having to hit one muscle is far more mentally refreshing than going in having to hit 3 or more muscles in the same day and making sure each is sufficiently worked.
  13. Targeting different areas of the muscle. The shoulder has three heads. While you don’t need a ton of volume to stimulate each, only doing compound shoulder presses and ignoring lateral and rear delt raises is a mistake that could prevent optimal development of that muscle.

As you can see the “Bro Split” may get made fun, but has tons of benefits and an impressive track record that speaks for itself. If you have been plateauing on a “new -age split” that has you hitting muscles twice a week, a “Bro Split” may be a game changer.

*Bonus – Sample routine for size and strength:

  • Day 1 Chest
    • Barbell Bench Press 3×6-8 reps
    • Incline Dumbbell Press 3×8-10 reps
    • Dips 3 sets of AMAP (As many as possible)
    • Cable Chest Flys 3 sets of 12-15 reps
    • Pushups 100
  • Day 2 Back
    • Dumbbell Row 4×6-8 reps
    • Chinups 3 x AMAP
    • T-bar Row 3×12-15 reps
    • Lat Pulldowns 3×12-15 reps
  • Day 3 Legs
    • Barbell Squats 4×6-8 reps
    • Dumbbell Lunges 3×10 (each leg)
    • Leg Extensions 3×12-15  reps
    • Leg Curls 3×12-15 reps
  • Day 4 – Rest
    • 30-45 minutes of cardio
    • 100 pushups throughout the day
  • Day 5 Shoulders
    • Barbell Shoulder Press 4×6-8 reps
    • Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3×10 reps
    • Lateral Raises 3×10 reps
    • Rear Delt Machine 3×15 reps
    • Shrugs 3×15 reps
  • Day 6 Arms
    • Close Grip Chinups 3×6-8 reps
    • Close Grip Dumbbell Press 3×6-8 reps
    • Two-handed DB curl 3×10 reps
    • Skullcrushers 3×10 reps
    • Cable Curl 3×15 reps
    • Rope Pushdowns 3×15 reps
  • Day 7- Rest
    • 30-45 minutes of cardio
    • 100 pushups throughout the day
  • * Can easily put both rest days back to back at the end of the week

Progression Scheme – 3 sets of 6-8 reps means you should get all 3 sets for 8 reps before adding weight. Once you hit 8 reps on all 3 sets then you should add 5lbs to your current lift. This is much easier if you are using barbells.

This routine prioritizes the main lift at the beginning of each workout. This is the lift you want to increase over time. The next move is a compound moderate rep exercise geared towards size gains. The last two moves are high rep, pump style that are isolation or machine moves that are there for blood flow and finishing off an already tired muscle for the week.

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11 thoughts on “The Bro Split

  1. Finally someone who gets the right perspective on this. I struggled to progress on a upper lower due to the low reps one day vs high reps the other upper day.

    Regards

    Paul Sohal

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Paul,

      Yeah man, I really hated Upper / Lower splits with a passion. Even though for a long time they were “optimal.” Doing a super heavy upper day left me done by the third move and I still had 3 moves left. Not so with an approach like the “bro split.” It’s also still used more than any other split I’ve even seen with great results and also highly customizable to the person’s liking.

      Thanks for the input.

      Like

  2. Hello Michael,

    I am 23 years old 6 foot 182lbs 17% bodyfat. I need sum advice. My lifts are 265lbs deadlifts, Rows are 145lbs, OHP is 100lbs, Bench Press is 75lb dumbells.
    I Need help. I am doing a push pull legs routine from mike matthews with low volume.

    Can I progress linearly on a bro spilt with moderate volume. Can I add 5lbs to all my lifts every week for upper body and 10lbs to my lower body movements. Or could you help give me a bro spilt program or either a push pull legs. My arms got smaller on a low volume push pull legs. I only had 2 sets for tricep in the program i am following. only 3 sets for bicep.

    Regards,

    Paul Sohal

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Paul,

      Mike Matthews makes some good routines but he goes a little too heavy in my opinion.

      If you want to use a bro split you should have a main move each day and it should be for 3-4 sets for 6-8 reps with good form. The rest of your exercises should be 3 sets of 8-10 reps and one high rep move at the end. I would also start doing more dips, chinups and pushups. Dips and chinups should be done at least 2 days a week and pushups ideally everyday. Start doing pushups and youll be surprised how much of a pump you get.

      Dips should be done for 3 to 4 sets for as many reps as possible. Chins should be done the same unless you are using chins as your main movement. Pushups should ideally be done everyday until you are easily knocking out 100 a day then you should bump it up. I guarantee that your arms will get bigger or at least more defined.

      Sample workout for Arms:
      Close grip Chins 3 sets of 6-8reps
      Close grip dumbbell bench 3×6-8
      Two handed Db curl or Ez curl 3×10
      Skullcrushers 3×10
      21s x 3 sets
      Dips (parallel bar not bench) 3xAMAP

      This is a lot of volume but if the goal is to gain muscle and increase the volume from lower to higher this would be a good workout.

      Thanks

      Like

      1. Wat abt progression.
        I was thinking abt
        Day 1 …..Chest and arms
        Day 2…..Legs
        Day 3…. Shoulders
        Day 4…..Back
        Rest one day or two days
        Repeat
        I wanna keep volume enough to still progress but still grow.
        My lifts are low. So i can still keep growing linear progression. Sample chest day or total number of sets to maintain linear progression.

        Will keep spreading this blog.

        Like

    2. Paul,

      For progression, in a 3×6-8 rep scheme, you simply stay with the same weight until you can get 8 reps for all 3 sets. Once you do this you add 5lbs to the lift and continue with the scheme. The weight should feel pretty comfortable at this point before moving on.

      I would recommend doing chest and tris instead of chest and arms and move biceps to back day for your 4 day split. Also, I would recommend lifting 4 days a week and not using a rotating schedule, because those tend to be a pain. So take 3 days off and lift 4 days. I would also recommend a little cardio on your off days. Lifting too often can backfire in terms of motivation and recovery.

      If your main focus is strength then you don’t really want to overdo it with volume. Volume is for size and strength responds best to minimalist style routines.

      Here is a sample chest/tri workout:
      Barbell Bench: 3 sets of 6-8 reps
      Inc DB Bench 3 sets of 8-10 reps
      Dips 3 sets to Failure
      Skull crushers 3 sets to 12-15 reps

      This offers a good blend of both size and strength.

      Like

      1. Hello Michael,

        Sorry to keep bothering you. But give clairfication difference between progressive overload and size.

        On online, everyone says u need to get stronger on main lifts. But is there difference for size.

        In terms of weekly sets for each bodypart how do.u strike a balance?

        Please provide number. I am tried of not getting size gains and am very frustrated.

        Regards and god bless

        Like

    3. Paul,

      It sounds like you want both size and strength. Progressive Overload simply means lifting more weight over time. The rep scheme I presented earlier (3×6-8 reps and increase by 5lbs when all 3 sets hit 8 reps) is a form of progressive overload. Progressive Overload makes your muscles stronger and if you keep it in a moderate rep range (like 6-8 reps) you would also get bigger. The rest of the workout is solely focused on size (3 sets of 8-12 reps is still the best range for pure size and probably always will be). The high rep sets are for isolation moves and bodyweight moves because they can really pump up your muscles after the strength and size work has been done.

      If you want a number of total weekly volume, aim for 3-4 exercises for each major bodypart and 1-2 direct exercises for smaller muscle groups. Reps should be anywhere from 6 reps to about 15 reps. The only exception to this is when doing AMAP (as many as possible) reps on dips, chins or pushups.

      Also, you may want to make sure you are eating appropriately for your current goals. Caffeine really helps me before lifting, you may want to give that a try.

      Like

  3. Hello , Michael.

    I was just wondering whether you could provide me with a four day split , including exercises , sets and reps , please?

    Many thanks , Keith.

    Like

    1. Keith,

      I edited the end of the article, so that you can set up the bro split properly. If you would like a 4 day split, use the routine I provided except skip the Arm day and replace one of the isolation moves for Chest with a Tricep move for 4 sets of 12-15 reps. The same applies to back. Replace one of the last moves with a bicep move for 4 sets of 12-15 reps.

      Like

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