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What are splits?

Popeye’s buddy is working chest and back today. Why so specific? He is splitting his workout. (Let’s just not get into Mr Performance-Enhancing-Spinach’s routine!)

Splits help:
– To let muscle groups “rest” in stages during the week
– To build a variety in workouts that supports better results
– To make the most of limited workout time

People who are training for a size or performance goal use different kinds of workouts and cycles in order to apply “training stimulus.” When building size or strength in muscle, a heavy or “high-volume” workout (a heavy weights session or a long run) actually causes microtears in muscle, and so the muscles need rest while they repair those microtears and get bigger or stronger. People sometimes express this as “gains are made during rest.” If you don’t allow enough recovery time, you can lose your progress and even reverse it.

If you have 1 hour at the gym 3 or 4 times a week, splits can help you use that time to focus on a particular muscle group and give it a very thorough workout. Your next gym day, the worked muscles will still be recovering, and so you focus on a different muscle group. Splits let your muscles work — and recover — on a staggered schedule. (Part of that recovery relies on getting enough sleep, too.)

A split schedule can also mean work on different activities during the week. A lifter might focus on strength building for 3 out of 4 gym visits a week, and use that 4th visit to focus on cardio conditioning, for example, with a sprint session or by doing sled pushes.

Similarly, a cardio-focused athlete (such as a runner or cyclist) might use a couple of gym visits a week to do a mix of strength training and moderate cardio, also do a weekly sprint session, and use a fourth workout day to do a longer cardio session at a slower pace.

Should I do splits?

Yes. At the very least, you should be doing a mix of strengthening and cardio exercise. If you are focusing on a distance-oriented activity, like running or cycling, you should vary your pace and/or do different-length sessions during the week.

The human body is a splendid engine of “adaptation.” If you do exactly the same workout every single day — same distance at the same pace, same weights for the same number of reps and sets — your body will become excellent at that workout. It will use less energy over time to do the same work, as it gets more practice.

Splits and different “intensities” (faster and slower paces for shorter or longer times; heavier and lighter weights for fewer or more total reps) help to put the body through different workouts in a structured way, so you can improve and grow over time. Splits can also keep working out a little more interesting than just doing the same thing every session!

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