Programmes, Strength

In defence of the bro split – A body part split workout for muscle hypertrophy

A body part split, often referred to as a bro split, sees you dedicating each gym session to just a single muscle group.

A body part split, often referred to as a bro split, sees you dedicating each gym session to just a single muscle group.

This means your training frequency per individual muscle is low, as you train each muscle just once every 7-8 days.

Why this does fly in the face of the more generally accepted wisdom that training a muscle 2-3 times per week is optimal for growth, body part splits are still popular, especially in the pro bodybuilding world. And many trainees make fantastic gains training each muscle just once per week. 

And, it must be said, there is an attractive simplicity and single-mindedness to only having one job to do in the gym each session. 

Below we take a look at the pros and cons of a body part split, or bro split, and provide an example workout program should you wish to run it for your next training cycle. And, despite what you may have heard, a sleeveless hoodie isn’t required……

Please lift safely, with good form, and within your limits. Consult a professional coach or personal trainer if you have any doubts about how to perform nay of the exercises listed. 

How you lift is more important than how much.

What is a body part split workout and why would I run it?

A body part split, or bro split, is classic bodybuilding territory. If your focus is on improving athletic performance or out and out strength/powerlifting then this split isn’t for you.

A body part split sees you hit the gym with an ironclad focus on annihilating just one body part or muscle group per day. For example, Monday may see you working just your legs, Tuesday your chest, Wednesday your back, Thursday your shoulders, and Friday your arms.

Even though we would generally recommend hitting each muscle group at least twice a week for maximum gains, countless research into training frequency has demonstrated that training once per week is sufficient, and there is little statistical difference in the results seen from training more often than this.

But there is an important caveat here, that being that many studies into frequency understandably keep training volume, as in the number of sets completed, the same. This makes sense for benchmarking and comparisons. But in the real world higher training frequency generally also results in higher overall training volume. And we know that it is training volume and intensity that have a bigger impact on muscle growth than frequency.

The short of it is like this. Doing 6 sets of bench press on Monday is likely going to yield the same result as benching 3 sets on both Monday and Wednesday. But, benching 4 sets on both Monday and Thursday will likely be more effective. Not because you are hitting your chest twice in one week, but because splitting your sessions allows you to amass more training volume.

Rather than frequency, training volume will be the bigger determinant of the results you’ll see in the gym. It is far from an exact science, but most research points to a training volume sweet spot of 10-20 working sets per muscle group per week. Whether you hit this threshold in one, two or three sessions is less important than hitting it in the first place.

This goes some way to explain why the body part/bro split can be just as effective as a 4 day upper lower or 6 day push/pull/legs. Provided you hit sufficient volume each week you’ll still see great results.

That said, we all have a finite pool of energy for training, and as we complete working sets we diminish this energy pool. This means you simply can’t hit your 10th working sets with the same intensity as you hit your first. By splitting your training across more sessions you have lower energy demand each session, allowing you to maintain a higher intensity.

This is why bro splits can be very intense, perhaps too intense for less experienced lifters, as you have to hit much higher volumes per muscle per session than you would on a 4 or 6 day split.

The counter to this is the fact that a body part split allows ample time for muscles to recover between sessions, and we know that recovery time is when you do the actual growing stronger and bigger part, provided you’ve delivered a sufficient stimulus from your training and are fueling properly.

If you are a less experienced lifter you may struggle to complete 12+ effective working sets for your chest in one session due to the latter sets having to be completed at a lower than optimal intensity. If, however, you were to complete 6 sets on 2 separate occasions during the week you may find that you can maintain a higher training intensity. Obviously, this later example would be countered by the fact that you would still be completing additional sets for other exercises (e.g. on an upper lower split you may complete 6-8 sets for both your chest, back and arms).

As with all training variables and considerations, it’s swings and roundabouts and there is no absolute answer. You need to experiment with different programs/protocols and see what works best for you at a specific time in your fitness journey.

The bottom line, however, is that provided you can hit sufficient training volumes at sufficient intensity with just one session per muscle per week, you can see great results with a body part split.

Body part split training frequency

An effective body part split will see you hitting the gym five times per week (although you can make do with four sessions, if you combine your tricep and bicep training with your chest and back workouts, respectively).

Each of the five sessions will focus on one particular body part or muscle group. For example,

Monday – Legs
Tuesday – Chest
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – Back
Friday – Shoulders
Saturday – Arms
Sunday – Rest

Some people like the predictability of training the same muscles on the same day each week. In this case, following a 7 day cycle makes sense.

But if you can handle not working out on international bench press Monday, working 2 days on 1 off, will also be effective.

It can also make sense to plan when you hit certain muscle groups in relation to your rest days and other muscle groups.

For example, your leg sessions will most likely be higher volume than your other sessions due to the fact you are having to train more individual muscles. It is a similar story with your back.

So, it can be sensible to position rest days after these more demanding sessions, or as per our example above, place the generally less demanding workouts on the day after.

Similarly, if there is a particular muscle group you wish to focus on during a training cycle and are therefore increasing volume and intensity, it can make sense to position these sessions after a rest day so that you can hit them with maximum effort.

You may also want to avoid working similar muscle groups on consecutive days. For example, your chest training will also hit your triceps and front deltoids. So you may want at least a full day between your chest and shoulder/arm session (unless you are running a hybrid split where you train triceps with your chest, as mentioned above). Similarly with your back and bicep/forearm training as you will hit these muscles to some extent with your pullups and rows.

It isn’t the end of the world, however, if your arm session (and to a lesser extent your shoulders) does follow your chest or back workout. Being smaller muscles your arms and shoulders can generally recover very quickly thus you shouldn’t suffer major ill effects from training them directly after your chest or back.

Ultimately, the key takeaway is to ensure you are hitting each muscle group at least once every 6-8 days. So, you do have some flexibility in how you set up your training.

Do you need a dedicated arm day?

A classic bro split would see you hitting the gym for a dedicated arm day, where you smash your triceps and biceps (does anyone do direct forearm training?!)

As these muscles will be worked during your chest and back days, respectively, it may make sense, from a time efficiency perspective, to combine the sessions. 

A true body part split would see you complete a dedicated arm day each week. However, most of us will see just as good results combining our tricep and bicep training with our chest and back work outs, respectively.

For example, you may complete 3-4 chest exercises and then finish up with 2-3 tricep focused exercises on your ‘chest’ day. 

This has the advantage of meaning 4 sessions in a week rather than 5, which in turn can aid recovery thus allowing you to work harder in each individual session, and/or allow another day for a 2nd session of a particular target muscle. 

But, it may mean you struggle to get in as much specific arm training volume as you need, particularly if you are undertaking your arm specific exercise after your back or chest exercises. 

Again, volume and intensity are key. If you can hit 10 plus sets of biceps after your back workout and still feel sufficient pump and good stimulus then combining your back and biceps is fine. 

If however, you’re struggling to complete your bicep workouts and maybe flagging after 3 or 4 sets due to being so beat up from your pulls and rows, you may want to complete a separate arm focused day to ensure you get sufficient stimulus to see the growth you want.

As ever with lifting, there is no absolute answer and you need to experiment to see what works best for you and what you really want to focus on in the gym. If arms are a focus, run a 5 day split with a dedicated arm day. 

For most trainees, however, tacking on to your chest or back days respectively will likely still deliver great results while allowing you to use the 5th session for a 2nd session for one of the more major muscle groups (should you wish to/need to).

Lifting technique and tempo

As ever, measured controlled lifting is the order of the day. 

Your aim should be to maximise the tension you place upon your muscles, which has been shown to be one of the most dominant contributors to muscle growth. This is even more this case as we are focused on muscle hypertrophy, rather than out and out strength gains. 

Work through a full range of motion every rep, utilising a 2-3 second count for the eccentric portion (the lowering phase of each exercise) and a 1-second pause at both the bottom and top of each lift to remove any momentum. 

Lifting with correct form and efficiency may mean you need to lower the weights for a few sessions/training cycles.

So, as the cliche goes, swallow your pride and check your ego at the door.

Don’t stress, after a short time of lifting with correct form you’ll likely blow past your previous bests and enjoy a far more satisfying pump.

Rep ranges

The aim of this programme is muscle hypertrophy. This means we work in the mid to high rep ranges with the majority of exercises undertaken between 6-15 reps.

Yes, we know there has been some doubt thrown on the rep range continuum, and arguments that rep ranges don’t massively impact outcomes. But we still say moderate reps are best for a bodybuilding style workout. 

But feel free to mix up your rep ranges between exercises. E.g. you may bench in the 6-8 rep range, thus push a moderate to heavy weight, then work in the 10-12 rep range for your dumbbell presses, thus push a more moderate weight.

And although more suited to advanced lifters, there are advantages to switching up rep/weight ranges for the same exercises from session to session. E.g. you may alternate between sets of 6 reps and 8 reps for your bench press, week to week. This is known as undulating periodisation and is a very effective way to ensure you’re varying training stimuli over time (see example below).

That said, more novice lifters will probably be better served keeping reps broadly similar from week to week and instead trying to increase the weight lifted.

Regardless of the rep range employed, remember that intensity and effort are key. You should be working in the 1-3 RIR range for all of your working sets.

Exercise selection

As a body part split is solely focused on muscle hypertrophy, an increase in muscle size, you are free to go with pretty much any exercise you like.

We aren’t interested in shifting big numbers or improving our powerlifting or olympic lifts, but rather on individual muscles. Thus you don’t have to go with the big compound moves if  you don’t want to.

That said, we would still always recommend incorporating the tried and true big compound moves as they generally allow us to shift the most weight in the most healthy way, and thus have a good stimulus to fatigue ratio and positive overall impact on body composition and fitness.

So for your back training we would still recommend pull ups and barbell rows, the bench press for your chest, squats for quads, and an overhead press for your shoulders. And we would also recommend hitting these big moves earlier in your workouts. After this, however, you are free to go with what you enjoy and what feels the best.

Aim for the moves that really allow you to ‘feel’ the target muscle and get a great pump. And, as we’ll only be hitting each muscle once per week, go with complimentary exercise that hit the target muscle from different angles and through different planes.

So your chest training may start off with a flat bench press, followed by a fly variation, finishing with an incline press. As you increase your volume over time you may add in additional exercises such as a machine press and/or different angled fly and press variations.

We’ve included workout templates below that set out what we feel are great exercises for each muscle group. But don’t feel obliged to go with these and feel free to mix up your exercises from training cycle to cycle. Again, the bro split doesn’t care about the numbers, it’s all about the pump and feel so changing exercises is less of an issue then with programs that focus on increasing how much weight you can lift across specific lifts.

That said, it is sensible to stick with an exercise for 4-6 weeks so you have some time to dial in your technique, and a benchmark to measure progress week on week.

Make use of progressive overload for continued gains

As with any training program, to be effective you should be employing progressive overload to increase intensity over time, forcing your body to continually adapt and grow bigger/stronger.

Using a notebook or app, log every one of your gym sessions, noting down the weight lifted and the sets/reps completed for each exercise.

Importantly, also note down the reps in reserve (RiR) you felt you had for the last set of each exercise.

Reps in Reserve is a measure of how many more reps you could do with correct form after you’ve finished your prescribed number. If, for example, you were working to failure you’d have a RiR of 0, that is you couldn’t do another rep with the correct form if your life depended on it. At the other end of the scale, if you push out 10 good reps and feel you had at least another 5 in the tank you’d have a RiR of 5.

For this programme, you want to be working to a RiR of 1-3 reps for each exercise (note suggestion on working to failure below). When you can finish your last set of a given exercise with a RiR above 3 it’s a good indication that you are ready to increase intensity. Add 5-10% more weight or 1-2 reps until you are back working at the 1-2 rep in reserve range. Rinse and repeat.

Remember, form is paramount and you should only be increasing intensity where you can safely and effectively perform a given exercise at the new weight or rep/set range.

For a more in-depth look at reps and reserve and how to best utilise it in your workouts, take a look at our article here.

Program progression

You should plan your training in 6-8 week blocks, with the aim of increasing intensity week to week.

An increase in intensity could be via increased reps, sets or weight, for one or more lifts, or the use of drop sets, myo reps etc. 

The goal is to peak in the final week of a cycle, e.g. setting new PRs and taking the last working set of an exercise to or very near to failure/an RIR of 0-1. 

You then de-load and recover before commencing another 6-8 week cycle. Hopefully at an increased starting intensity. E.g. an increase in volume via more reps/sets and/or increased weights. 

As a more novice or intermediate lifter, you may find you can increase intensity across your entire workout/whole body throughout a cycle. 

As you progress, however, it is more sensible to have a specific focus for each 6-8 week cycle where you emphasise a specific muscle or muscle group.

You still hit your minimum effective volume for your other muscles each week, but go the extra mile with increased volume or intensity for 1 or maybe 2 muscles to maximise your training and/or address any weaknesses. 

Ease in to any new programme

As with any new workout plan, you should start at a moderate intensity for the first 1-2 weeks and build up slowly over time.

7 out of 10 on the RPE scale is a sensible ballpark for your first week.

It’s all too easy to start too hard, usually with too high a weight on your key lifts, and after just 3-4 weeks hit a wall.

You feel totally beat up, your lifts have plateaued or gone backwards and/or you have numerous joint pains and niggles.

You have to work hard in the gym to see results, so don’t sell yourself short. But remember that you want headroom to increase your workload over time.

Building intensity week to week

Your goal is to work harder week on week, whether that be via an extra rep or extra weight.

Simply record what you did in session and, if you can, do a bit more the following week.

A simple approach is to keep the reps the same but increase the weight.

Using the squat as an example your progress may look like this:

Week 1  – 3 sets of 8 reps @100kg

Week 2 – 3 sets of 8 reps @102.5kg

Week 3  – 3 seat of 8 reps @105kg

Week 4 – 3 sets of 8 reps @ 107.5kg

…..and so on until the end of your cycle.

If you can progress your lifts in this fashion, great, keep increasing the weight throughout your cycle where you can.

If this process doesn’t work or stalls, however, you can employ a double linear progression. This sees you change up your reps between sessions and alter the weight accordingly.

This is likely a better approach for more advanced lifters.

Again, taking the squat as an example your week to week progression may look like this:

Week 1 – 3 sets of 8 reps @100kg

Week 2 – 3 sets of 9-10 reps @100kg

Week 3 – 3 sets of 8 reps @105kg

Week 4 – 3 sets of 9-10 reps @105kg

…..and so on as your training cycle progresses.

Rather than just increasing the weight week to week, you are instead alternating between increases in weight and increases in reps.

You are still increasing intensity but in smaller, more manageable steps.

This may help you progress as you approach the margins of what you can lift.

The above approach works best with the big compound moves (e.g. deads/RDLs, squats, bench, pull ups, rows etc.). The process for your isolation lifts is more straightforward.

Just work 1-2 reps short of failure (or 8/9 RPE) and increase reps or weight where you can, staying around the rep ranges suggested.

A note on training volume

As touched on above, and covered in more detail in this post here, your overall training volume will be one of the biggest determinants to the results you will see. This becomes even more so as you become more experienced. 

The widely accepted consensus on training volume is that 10-20 sets, per muscle, per week, is the ideal range for most trainees to work in. 

This is working sets, taken pretty close to failure (1-3 reps short) and doesn’t include warm up sets.

We would suggest starting at around 10-12 sets per muscle per week and then building up your  training intensity over time. 

If you are finishing a particular workout still feeling reasonably fresh and not feeling the target muscle too much then you may be good to increase your weekly volume (or reps, weight etc). Add in another 1-2 sets (total, not per exercises) and re-evaluate week to week. 

Note that you don’t have to keep increasing volume. If you are seeing results at 10 sets per week, in both the weight you can lift and the appearance in the mirror, then great, stick where you are volume wise until you do plateau. 

If you find yourself reaching the higher training volumes and are still not seeing results and/or feeling your workouts then you should probably evaluate your other training variables. 

Are you really working hard enough each set? Do you need to adjust your weight and/or reps? Are you fuelling your body right?

While there may not be an upper limit for training volume, if you are consistently needing to hammer over 20 sets per muscle group per week then you perhaps need to look at the quality and intensity of the individual sets.

De-load between training cycles

After each 6-8 week cycle, or sooner depending on your accumulated fatigue, it is sensible to take a de-load week. 

Cut your volume by 50%, take sets back to an RIR of 3-4, and/or take additional rest days out of the gym. 

This down-time will allow your body to fully recover and prepare you for your next training cycle at a hopefully increased starting intensity. E.g. with higher starting volume and/or weights for one or more exercises. 

As long as you are seeing gains in the weight you can lift and/or improvements in your physique you can repeat 6-8 week cycles for as long as the gains continue.

We would recommend switching up your program every few months, however, as this helps stop things getting stale both physically and mentally.

The low training frequency of a bro split means it may not work for everyone. And an easy way to kick start a muscle back into gainsville is often an increase in training frequency. 

So, a switch to a 4 day upper/lower or a 6-day PPL will get you back on track.

Alternatively, if you have a particular lagging muscle, add in another dedicated session each week. E.g. if your shoulders have stopped responding, and assuming your other training variables are on point, hit them twice over a 7-8 day period.

More workout plans

Nutrition and fuelling your workouts

As important as the hard graft you put into the gym is, it will all be for nothing if you don’t work equally as hard on your nutrition.

The amount you eat and what you eat are important.

This means tracking the food and drink you consume and knowing your target daily calorie count to ensure you are fuelling enough to workout and grow (just 200-300 extra calories per day above your TDEE is sufficient) or, conversely, not over eating and putting on excess fat. 

Stick to natural whole foods and meals you prepare yourself and ensure you are consuming adequate protein to facilitate muscle growth. Aim for approximately 1g of protein for every lb of bodyweight. It’s a good idea to aim to consume a decent portion of your protein (30-40g) post exercise, within an hour or two, as studies show this helps with recovery. But don’t get too hung up on meal timings. The main goal is ensuring adequate calorie and protein intake over a 24 hour period. 

Remember to drink water when you are thirsty and aim to down 6-8 glasses (1.2 -1.5 litres) per day.

For more in depth nutritional information, take a look at our nutrition for muscle growth primer.

Workout templates

We’ve set out an example program below with suggested exercises, rep ranges and sets. But feel free to sub in your preferred moves, if they help you ‘feel’ the target muscle more.

Our example includes a rest day after the first 2 sessions of the week. But you could do all 5 session back to back, if you prefer, and then take 2 days off. Alternatively, work 2 days on/1 day off and run the program over 8 days.

As covered above, you want to try and increase workout intensity week to week. An increase in intensity could be an increase in the weight you lift, the number of reps you complete per exercise,  or the total number of working sets per muscle.

Due to the lower training frequency of the a body part split, an increase in the number of working sets you complete is often required to see continued gains. 

We’d suggest starting around 10-12 sets per muscle group and building up over a 6-8 week cycle to anywhere form 16-24 sets, depending on your experience and results. You’ll find that more experienced lifters generally require, and can tolerate, higher volumes.

You don’t have to follow the plan as suggested below directly. Rather, pick 3-4 exercises that allow you to hit your volume target. As you increase your weekly volume you can add in additional exercises, if required.

We have included a dedicated arm day but would stress that many trainees will see great results tacking their tricep work on to their chest day, and undertaking their bicep work with their back. 

Day 1 - Chest

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Flat or slight incline bench press

3-4

6-10

Machine or cable flys

2-4

8-12

Incline DB press

2-4

8-12

Weighted dips*

2-4

8-12

You can sub in your preferred variations of the above moves, but make sure to include both straight pressing and fly movements.

*You can alter body angle to place more/less emphasis on your chest or triceps.

Day 2 - Back

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Weighted pull ups

3-4

6-10

Barbell row

2-4

8-12

Lat pull down

2-4

8-12

Seated cable row

2-4

8-12

Barbell shrugs

2-4

8-12

Include both vertical (e.g. pull ups/pull downs) and horizontal movements (rows) every session. Pendlay rows and DB rows are also great options, as is mixing up your grip for your pull ups every so often (e.g. overhand, neutral, underhand). 

There is some crossover with your shoulder day as you will also work your rear delts with your rowing movements on back day, and your traps on shoulder day with your upright rows. 

Day 3 - Rest

Day 4 - Legs

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Back squat

3-4

6-8

Lying leg curl

2-4

10-15

Lunges

2-4

15-20 each leg

RDL

2-4

6-10

Leg extension

2-4

10-15

Calf press/raises

4-6

15-20

You can sub in leg presses for your squats or lunges, hip thrusts or kettle bell swings for more glute focus, and deadlifts for your RDL.

Bro split leg days can be daunting as you are having to get in a lot of volume across a number of muscles.

While the above example is slightly more quad focused. You may want to alternate focus from week to week, cycling through more quad, glute or hamstring focused sessions. E.g. add another exercise or complete more working sets sets for the focus muscle while keeping the others at a slightly lower, maintenance volume.

Alternatively, you could split your leg volume across two sessions to make it more manageable and to allow you to hit higher volumes. This obviously wouldn’t be a strict body part split, but you shouldn’t be wedded to a particular frequency. Your weekly volume and intensity matter more.   

Day 5 - Shoulders

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Seated DB press

3-4

8-12

Barbell upright row

2-4

8-12

Seated DB side lateral raise

3-4

15-20

Machine rear delt flys

2-4

8-12

Prone rear delt flys

2-4

15-20

You can sub in a military press or machine press for your seated press and cable side raises are a great variant or addition to your DB raises. There is no direct front deltoid work as you should get sufficient stimulus from your presses on chest day.

There is some crossover with your back day as your rowing movements will hit your rear delts and your upright rows will hit your traps.

Day 6 - Arms

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Narrow group bench press

3-4

6-8

Skull crushers (DB or Barbell) 

3-4

8-12

Rope or straight bar push downs

3-4

12-15

Barbell curl

3-4

8-12

DB hammer curl

3-4

8-12

Incline seated DB curl

3-4

12-15

Dips are also a solid tricep builder. And machine curls, preacher curls and spider curls are all great alternatives/additions for your biceps.

Adding a myo set (cables are great for myo reps) to the end of your tricep and bicep work respectively is a very effective way to finish off your sessions. 

As per the the workout guide above, you don’t have to have a dedicated arm day and can add your tricep routine on to your chest day and your biceps to your back day. 

Day 7 - Rest

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Size Guide

Measure around the fullest part of your chest – keep the tape measure close under the arms

Size

Chest – Inches

Chest – CM

Small

31 – 34

78.7 – 86.4

Medium

35 – 38

88.9 – 96.5

Large

39 – 41

99.1 – 104.1

X-Large

42 – 45

106.7 – 114.3

2X-Large

46-48

116.8 – 121.9

Size

Chest – Inches

Small

31 – 34

Medium

35 – 38

Large

39 – 41

X-Large

42 – 45

2X-Large

46-48

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