Intermediate Workout Splits To Build Muscle

I am writing this article as an introduction to intermediate workout splits. Before attempting this split/routine you should have at least three to six months decent training under your belt, know what the exercises described are and have your diet in a pretty decent shape (though it can take years to completely perfect). In this article I will outline a split I used with good results, as well as set recommendations for body parts, and probably more…. Now on with the article before this tedious introduction stems my wondrous flow.

So you’ve gone beyond the beginners infamous three day split and stop being one of the Monday, Wednesday, Friday ‘I just wanna get toned’ warriors that grace our gyms with their fancy water bottles, short shorts and sleeveless vests. You want to take it up a notch and start to progress. I personally used this split as a bridge for a year and a half between intermediate training and more advanced training such as periodisation, conjugate splitting and the like. You too may use this to bridge between beginner routines and advanced routines. It won’t turn you into an advanced trainee in weeks, but hopefully you will carve your own path to the advanced stages of training and use this as an able stepping-stone.

The routine is composed to give a chest emphasis, based on the prioritisation principle, which is simple, so I’ll bail out the people who don’t know very much and explain. Basically, the bodypart you train first in the split (after your rest day(s)) will benefit from more effort/energy (and thus stimulation) than the other parts during the week, which will suffer slightly as fatigue sets in (though I believe this difference in effort to be rather minimal). The routine is also designed not to place any stress (or at least allow recovery) on parts that have to be trained or already have been trained. This is achieved by a reduction in sets on those parts that will have been worked as synergists while targeting other bodyparts (more on this later). This may sound simple, but if you think about it, if you train chest, your front delts and triceps are getting hit pretty hard. If you train back, your posterior delts and biceps are under a lot of stress, and that’s all assuming you have your form down.

So, the routine is:

Monday: Chest (push)
Tuesday: Back (pull)
Wednesday: Rest day (you could put this after Shoulders/Calves day if you desire)
Thursday: Shoulders/Calves (push)
Friday: Upper Legs (push)
Saturday: Arms (optional – preferably a rest day) pull/push
Sunday: Rest day

So the theory behind the routine is that the chest receives maximum effort, you hit it hard when you are fresh and strong. Back day effectively gives the anterior and lateral heads of the delts, which are used in most chest movements, a rest ahead of shoulder day. Given that you are training two large bodyparts successively, the rest day is placed on Wednesday to allow a little recovery from the mental/physical fatigue that will undoubtedly set in if you are pushing yourself as hard as you should be (though I’ll go into this more later). This allows the posterior delts (used a lot on back movements) to recover before we hit them directly on Thursday, which is a fairly light day in terms of volume. This is for two reasons; one is to allow maximum effort to be put into leg day, that’s right, if you’re an intermediate trainer you should be training legs. I remember my first leg day, after training for a year and a half I decided to start training legs, I remember feeling incredible afterwards, I could hardly walk. There are steps at the exit to the gym I go to, I jumped down the last three as I normally do and stacked it face first, you really did have to laugh! I was also sore for a week. In short: stop being a wuss and find out what pain is! There are many articles out there on the internet that explain the importance of this often neglected bodypart. The second reason is that these two muscles don’t require a lot of volume to grow; it’s a nice lead back into training ahead of leg day. In the example above you could even switch shoulders/calves with legs if you really wanted. The only issue I have with this is that you will be training your three biggest bodyparts successively, which is not a great idea (think about the fatigue issue), though we do have a rest day to counter some of the problems that may arise. On the other hand it could be argued that you may be tired from shoulders/calves and thus not afford maximum effort to your leg work due to DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) in the calves, which can occasionally interfere with upper leg work. In the end it really is a personal preference. Find out which is better for you, everyone is different. Finally, the end of the training week arrives with arm day. Giving them their own day is completely up to you, it doesn’t hurt to put around 6 sets of bi’s at the end of back day or around 6 sets for triceps at the end of chest day. That’s right guys, the chronic overtrainers can pick their jaws up off the floor, I did say 6 sets. Your tri’s/bi’s are getting hit hard synergistically on chest/back day respectively. Adding some direct work in at the end will be all that is required. If you are someone who responds to volume, you could do 8 sets, but that would really be pushing it. Even if you did give your arms their own day, I’d only recommend 8-10 sets for each MAX. Once again, it’s personal preference; if you want to give arms their own day, go ahead. Personally, I’d rather have the benefits of extra recovery time than have to haul my ass into the gym specifically to train such a small bodypart. Train forearms if you want, I never have and they are coming along just fine, heavy rowing movements and various forms of the deadlift usually take care of them rather well. That’s the split, I’ll now move on to exercise/set recommendations for each bodypart…I’ll start that in a minute as it’s time for me to eat ;)

Right, where was I…set recommendations. These will not be right for everyone, it should be used merely as a guide. As I said, everyone is different; some will grow on high volume, in which case the upper set value should be considered, others individuals will grow on fewer sets. The same is true with rep ranges; some will grow on higher reps (~12) some on lower reps (4-6). You have to find out what works best for you. I have found my best growth comes from sticking to high volume and to around 4-8 reps for most bodyparts, calves have responded best in the 10-14 range. I used to always train to failure; I have since learned that this was neither required nor necessary for reasons that are beyond the scope of this article. Always stop 1 rep shy of failure for the best results, or, if you really must, aim for failure on 1-2 sets per bodypart (you should pick the lower number, if at all, if you were training arms on chest and back days).

Exercise recommendation, again, this comes down to personal preference. If I were to give one piece of advice here I would tell you not to wimp out. If you’re doing legs, don’t just stick to leg extension and leg curls, get some compound movements in there, indeed, use compound movements as much as possible. Yes, it’ll hurt (you should know the difference between good pain and bad pain), but the rewards are worth it. I’ll give you a breakdown of my old routine in full. Once again, the rep ranges and set quantity herein are the ones I found worked the best for me. You may (and in all probability will) find a different rep range that works better for you; it’s all about experimentation.

Chest 12-18 sets
Flat bench 4, 4, 6, 6, 8 (Dumbell or Barbell, I believe dumbbell is better for a multitude of reasons)
Dips [possibly weighted](with forward lean) 6, 6, 8, 10
Incline Press 5, 5, 7, 7
Decline Press 4, 6, 8, 8
[Triceps (if you decide to incorporate them into this workout)] 6-8 sets]
V bar/rope cable pushdowns 6, 6, 8
Skullcrushers/Overhead Extension 6, 6, 8

Back (Emphasis on thickness) 12-18 sets
Deadlifts - 6, 6, 8, 8
T-Bar Rows - 6,7, 8
Chins – 6, 6, 6, 6
Overhand Wide Grip Cable Rows - 5, 6, 7, 8
Bent Over Rows 7, 7, 8
[Biceps (if you decide to incorporate them into this workout)] 6-8 sets]
Barbell Curls 6, 6, 8
Dumbell Curls, Preacher curls, Hammer Curls etc 4, 6, 8.

Shoulders 12-14 sets/Calves 5-8 sets
Overhead Dumbell Press/Military Press/Arnold Press 5, 5, 6, 8
Lateral Raise 6, 6, 8
Posterior Raise 8, 8, 8
Anterior Raise, 6, 8, 8
Calf Raise 10, 12, 12, 12, 14, 14 and a 5 stage dropset to finish.

Leg Day 18-22 sets(Prepare to go to WAR!)
Squats 4, 4, 5, 6, 8
Stiff Leg Deadlift 4, 4, 6, 6, 8
Leg Press 6, 7, 8
Leg Extension 8, 8
Leg Curl 5, 5, 6, 7, 8

Arm day 12-20 sets (combined)
V bar/rope cable pushdowns 6, 6, 8
Barbell Curls 6, 6, 8
Skullcrushers/Overhead Extension 6, 6, 8
Dumbell Curls, Preacher curls, Hammer Curls etc 4, 6, 8.

Why do I like dumbbells over barbells for heavy pressing movements? Well, I used bars pretty much exclusively for a year and a half. Not only did it right royally bugger my shoulder joints (giving me a recurring problem in my left shoulder that still exists to this day), but I also experienced hardly any growth. I moved to dumbbells, and my chest and shoulders grew more in three months than in the one and a half years I had been using bars. But, once again, you should use whatever apparatus gives you the best results.

You should also aim to change this routine around a little every two months or so, maybe move the rep ranges about, switch exercises etc to prevent a plateau. Your body will adapt to any stress you place upon it, our aim as bodybuilders is to never keep that stress the same, forcing the body to continually adapt and therefore progress and grow. Your body does not like change and will make every effort to stay in a stable state. If you keep doing the same thing for too long, your body will adapt and then stick and result in your progress faltering. You should aim to increase the amount of weight you are using for most exercises each time you step in the gym, this is another strategy to prevent a plateau. Even if it’s as small as 2.5 lbs, its still 2.5lbs you couldn’t do last week. Your strength gains will probably stall from time to time; try to use this as an indicator of when you need to switch it up.

So, that’s it. The example routine above is set out for a hypertrophy (bulking) phase, if you wanted to use it for cutting, drop the reps down to the 3-7 range and also lower the volume a touch. I used this in a cutting phase and retained my muscle remarkably well though I also attribute my success to my nutrition and cardio strategies. I think I’ll leave those for another article though; it’s not the kind of thing you can cover in a paragraph!

Until next time,

Go heavy, go hard.

by James T. McRae

If you have any questions about this article, my e-mail address is Jimmy.magix@gmail.com
I am quite busy but am open to questions and will endeavour to respond to any queries in a timely manner.

About the Author

Job Role Sports Nutritionist and Social Media Coordinator Qualifications Bsc Sport and Exercise Science Steph has a competitive athletic background which spans 19 years. As a child she performed with the English Youth Ballet and had performed on the West End stage by the age of 10. Her enthusiasm for sport and fitness continued to grow as she did, encouraging her to learn more about nutrition and training. She began using her knowledge and personal experience to help others when she began coaching at the age of 16. From here, she went on to study Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Essex during which time she also received the Most Promising Newcomer Award from her University to mark her outstanding contribution to sport. During her first year of study she was introduced to partner stunt acrobatics and artistic gymnastics. After one year of dedicating herself to a lifestyle revolving around her sport, she was training with the best team in the UK who are currently ranked fifth in the world. Steph has worked in both the private and public sector coaching children and adults from grassroot to elite level as well as providing them with cutting edge advice on how to reach their goals. Steph has received awards for her choreography and has competed nationally and internationally meaning that she can back up her scientific knowledge with a wealth of experience. As our resident Sports Nutritionist, Steph is here to provide the most current and evidence based fitness, health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals.
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