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If you’ve spent the past few years following the same body-part split— chest on Monday (duh, bro), then back, shoulders, arms, and legs—we’ve got some news for you: It’s time to change it up.
While Matt Pudvah, C.S.C.S., head strength coach at the Manchester Athletic Club in Manchester, MA, admits that a typical body-part split isn’t a bad approach to accumulating the volume necessary to gain muscle, he thinks that there’s something to be said for focusing your efforts when it comes to programming.
The first suggestion he makes is to get on a push/pull split, which is defined as performing two workouts a week that consist of just pushing exercises and another two workouts that are made up of only pulling exercises.
“You’ll be able to perform higher-quality work, as opposed to doing six chest moves, so you’ll be able to go heavier and, in turn, do more work overall,” Pudvah says. “Also, for a general person, unlike for a high-level bodybuilder, six to eight exercises for each muscle group is way too much.”
You’ll want to be cautious of your exercise selection. Since you’ll have fewer choices overall, you need to be more precise in your pickings. Pudvah suggests: “Start with double-leg, compound movements like squats, deadlifts, bench presses. Then you can do your accessory movements like biceps curls. Think about performing the largest patterns and moves, then the smallest patterns and moves.”
Homing in on just a handful of exercises per session lets you become efficient at each, as opposed to being faced with the litany of movements required when you hit each body part once a week. This also lets you be more precise with your mode of progression, which brings Pudvah to his second point.
“With your traditional bodybuilding split, the question is, ‘How do I make this move harder?’ You add weight,” he says. “You’re already doing so much that it’s hard to keep track of everything. You’re a jack-of-all-trades and a master of nothing.”
To remedy this scattershot approach to week-to-week progress, Pudvah likes the five-by-five method for the main compound movements—adding five pounds at the end of each month—and increasing your rep count on accessory moves like dumbbell flyes and dumbbell curls by only one rep each week.
“Adding one rep at a time may piss some people off,” Pudvah says, “but if you add too many reps session to session, you’re going to end up eventually compromising your form and, in turn, your gains.”
Well, there you have it, folks. Complicated? Not at all. Effective? You better believe it. Give the push/pull split a try and find out for yourself.
Perform the push days on Mondays and Thursdays and the pull days on Tuesdays and Fridays, resting the remainder of the days. For the moves done for 5×5, add five pounds at the end of each four-week cycle. If you add weight and can get only two or three reps with that load, that’s fine—reduce your rep count, and keep trying each week until you get all five sets of five reps. For the other moves, simply add one rep each week. After four weeks, increase the load by five pounds and start the rep cycle over again.