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 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)
Easy, 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 probably 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 over training and not allowing enough recovery. Lets 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 to sore and repeats the Push workout with a very similar workout template, expect today the lifter doesn’t feel nearly as strong and his poundage’s are either the same or worse. What gives? – Well in my experience its due to the muscle 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 just recover from what your workout did 3 days ago, you’re trying to get bigger and stronger in that muscle. The muscle needs to GROW not just RECOVER. Those are two very 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. And to be fair the Bro Split actually does somewhat hit your muscles group more than once a week, but its more indirect. For example Dips on arms day is a heavy chest mover and also close-grip chinups 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 still more doesn’t necessarily mean better. Also, while elevated protein synthesis is a good thing, its not the only thing needed for a muscle to grow. So it is beneficial, but it doesn’t mean everything.
Those are the main points I wanted to make and that being said I still think hitting muscles twice a week can be used effectively if you program it right, which most people don’t. I also think that 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
- First always structure bigger muscles first in the week and finish with smaller ones.
- Second put legs in the middle in order to prevent the upper body from being used too many days in a row
- Third separate shoulders away from chest to prevent the muscle from being sore the day you workout
- Its wise to stick a rest day in between every 2-3 days of lifting (not absolutely necessary, but helpful)
No I want to outline some of the benefits of the Bro Split or 1 muscle group a day per week split:
- 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)
- 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)
- Takes much less time each day and allows user to finished between 30-45 minutes if lifting intensely
- Prevents over-training that many plans that attempt to hit two muscle groups a day frequently do.
- 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 the 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.
- Its 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.
- Their 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 in the same day.
- Their 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.
- It allows for maximal 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 of, 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 worth a try.