A workout split, also interchangeably called a training split is the blueprint of your individual training program for natural bodybuilding. For example, you might alternate between training your upper body and lower body every other day.
I have used multiple workout splits over my now 25 years in the iron game. And the best training split you can use is the one that allows you to maximize your primary training goal.
Someone training primarily for fat loss, or muscle growth, or just plain strength gains are all going to have different training splits.
Honestly, the exercises, sets/rep combinations will probably look very similar, but the overall frequency of the training, especially the cardio/conditioning and the amount of weight being used is definitely going to look different. One issue that many trainees run into is using the wrong split for the wrong goal.
The training split for a natural bodybuilder who is in contest prep will typically involve more cardio/conditioning. This is because their primary goal is fat loss/muscle retention and using cardio/conditioning as a tool to assist in fat loss is helpful.
While natural bodybuilders should strive to continue to lift relatively heavy during contest prep to maintain muscle, the fact is that your numbers will dip a bit. This is due to the lack of calories/carbs coming in.
The training split for the same natural bodybuilder, who is in the offseason and looking to build more muscle will typically involve less cardio/conditioning. This is because the primary goal is now muscle growth and if you are burning too many calories through cardio it will make it harder to add quality size to your frame.
With that being said, you should still be doing cardio/conditioning in the offseason, just reduce the amount of it in comparison to contest prep. There is never a good reason to be an out of shape lifter!
The contest prep season is all about maintaining muscle and losing body fat. The offseason is all about building muscle mass, improving your weak areas, and minimizing fat gains.
You will absolutely gain some body fat in the offseason. Your goal should not be to try to remain at 7 percent body fat all year because you will severely limit how much muscle you can build to improve your physique. But you also should not end contest prep at 7 percent body fat and then end up at 25 percent body fat during the offseason.
The Best Workout Split For Natural Bodybuilding
Lifting weights 3 to 5 days per week works well for most natural bodybuilders and lifters looking to build/maintain muscle or lose body fat.
Doing conditioning or cardio 2-4 days a week is great during a muscle growth phase. It’s not admirable or desirable to fall completely out of shape in the offseason.
During contest prep, 2-4 days per week of cardio may be all you need at first. But as you get deeper into your diet, the caloric intake is getting lower, and it becomes harder to lose body fat, you may find yourself needing 5-7 days of cardio to keep dropping body fat.
Two of the best training splits are the ones that have worked since the beginning of natural bodybuilding. You can check out two sample workout splits below:
Push Pull Legs (training specific muscles every 5 days)
Monday: Back, Biceps, and Forearms (conditioning)
Wednesday: Legs (cardio)
Friday: Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps (conditioning)
Saturday: Repeat the cycle starting with the Back, Biceps, and Forearms workout
Upper/Lower (training specific muscles every 4 days)
Monday: Lower Body
Wednesday: Upper Body (conditioning)
Friday: Lower Body
Saturday: Upper Body (conditioning)
The most important part of creating your workout split is knowing what your primary goal is.
When I coach natural bodybuilders and athletes from other sports like track and field, the workout splits are never the same because the end goals are different.
To maximize your physique, design your workout split based on your goal.