A “bro split” refers to any workout routine (or “split”) that trains different body parts (or muscle groups) on different days. For instance, training arms one day, chest another, shoulders another, and so on.
The bro split workout routine is commonly associated with bodybuilding magazines and dubious (and often fake natty) fitness “gurus.” As such, it’s often disparaged by the evidence-based fitness community for being scientifically unsound and thus ineffective for gaining muscle and strength.
Is this scorn deserved, though?
In truth, the efficacy of a bro split routine largely comes down to how it’s programmed. Plan your exercises, sets, and reps wisely, and you can make excellent progress following a bro split, especially if you’re new to lifting weights.
Plan your workouts poorly, though, and you’ll likely hit a plateau and spend months spinning your wheels with little to show for it. This is hardly unique to the body-part split, however—every other option can fail when incorrectly implemented.
So, in this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know to make a bro-split work for you, including answers to questions like . . .
- What is a bro split?
- Do bro splits work?
- What is the best bro split workout routine for building muscle?
- How does the bro split stack up against other routines?
A bro split—also known as a body-part split—is a workout routine that trains each major muscle group (or body part) on different days of the week.
Each muscle group is typically trained once per week, so a 5-day bro split workout routine normally looks something like this:
Generally speaking, bro splits also involve doing a lot of sets and reps in each workout, leaving the target muscle group swollen, sore, and pumped.
In fact, this is one of the reasons bro splits are popular. Many people are under the (false) impression that the more you train a muscle group in a single workout, the more it grows afterward.
As you’ll learn in a moment, however, hammering a single muscle group with six or ten or more exercises in a row isn’t a smart way to program a bro split.
Despite what many fitness experts say, bro-splits can be very effective for gaining muscle and strength . . . if they’re programmed correctly (and that’s a big if). And especially if you’re in your first year or so of weightlifting.
To fully answer the question, “do bro splits work?” however, you have to weigh the pros and cons of following a bro split workout routine.
Let’s look at the pros first.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of the bro split routine is that it’s simple.
Each of your workouts has a very specific goal (to train your chest, for example), so you know exactly what you’re doing every time you set foot in the gym.
Many people also enjoy bro splits, and we tend to push ourselves harder when we enjoy our training.
Dedicating an entire session to a single muscle group means you can train it with enough volume (sets and reps) in each workout to get a big pump, which isn’t necessary for muscle growth, but which has also been famously likened to having an orgasm.
Another reason many guys like bro splits is they typically emphasize upper-body training. If you follow a 5-day bro split routine like the example I shared earlier, for instance, then you’re spending four out of five days in the gym training your upper body muscles.
This cuts both ways, though, because bro splits are often lousy for people who want to emphasize their lower bodies, which includes many women. That said, you can set up a bro split in a way that includes more lower-body training.
The biggest criticism leveled at the bro-split is that it doesn’t provide the optimal training frequency or volume for all of your muscle groups.
Research shows that if you want to build muscle as quickly and effectively as possible, you should train each of your major muscle groups at least twice per week (particularly if you’ve been training for more than a year or so) with a total of 10-to-20 sets.
However, when you follow a bro split workout routine, you’ll generally only train each major muscle group once per week.
Some people try to work around this issue by just doing more sets in each workout, but this can cause two problems:
- You’ll probably have to reduce your weights as your workout drags on and your muscles become fatigued.
- You may get so sore and fatigued from a workout that it interferes with subsequent workouts later in the week. For example, “blasting” your chest on Monday will likely cut into your shoulder workout on Wednesday.
While you may not notice these effects at first, they’ll hinder your ability to gain muscle and strength over time.
Another reason people carp at bro-split routines has to do with muscle protein synthesis (MPS), the process your body uses to repair, grow, and strengthen muscle fibers.
Research shows that rates of muscle protein synthesis are elevated immediately following a workout and return to normal 10-to-48 hours later, depending on how experienced you are (the more experienced you are, the faster MPS declines after a workout).
This means that after two-to-three days, your muscles are done growing in response to the previous workout, and if you want them to get bigger and stronger, you’ll have to train them again.
A typical bro split has you training each muscle group just once per week, which means you’re waiting a full seven days before training a muscle again. That’s a lot of time spent not building muscle each week.
That said, there are two reasons this isn’t as problematic as many people make it out to be:
First, when people say that bro splits only train each major muscle group once per week, they’re talking about badly-designed bro split routines. Which, in fairness, includes most of the programs you’re likely to find floating around the Internet.
If you follow a half-decent bro split workout routine that includes plenty of compound exercises, though, you’ll likely train each muscle group more than once per week.
That’s because there’s a lot of muscular carryover between compound exercises. For example, the bench press trains your chest but also your shoulders and triceps. The one-arm dumbbell row trains your lats but also your biceps and shoulders. And the squat and deadlift train your legs and back.
Thus, if you use the right exercises, you’ll probably train each muscle group 1.5 to 2 times per week. And if you do those exercises in the right order for the right number of sets and reps, you’ll have no problem making progress following a bro split routine.
Second, if you’ve been lifting weights for less than a year, you can still grow like gangbusters training each muscle group once per week. People who are new to weightlifting experience a much more prolonged increase in muscle protein synthesis and thus don’t need to train as often as more mature weightlifters.
As I mentioned a moment ago, when it comes to how well a bro split will work for you, the devil is in the details. So long as the bro split you follow is based around compound exercises, you’re pushing for progressive overload in every workout, and, if you’ve been training for a year or longer, you train each muscle group at least twice per week, you can make excellent progress.
Let’s take a look at a bro split workout routine that checks all of these boxes . . .
- Flat Barbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
- Incline Barbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
- Flat Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 8-to-10 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
- Dumbbell Chest Fly: 3 sets of 10-to-12 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
- Barbell Overhead Press: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
- Arnold Press: 3 sets of 8-to-10 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
- Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise: 3 sets of 10-to-12 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
- Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise: 3 sets of 10-to-12 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
- Barbell Back Squat: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
- Romanian Deadlift: 3 sets of 6-to-8 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
- Leg Press: 3 sets of 8-to-10 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
- Seated Calf Raise: 3 sets of 10-to-12 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
- Close-grip Bench Press: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
- Barbell Biceps Curl: 3 sets of 8-to-10 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
- Overhead Triceps Extension: 3 sets of 8-to-10 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
- Incline Dumbbell Curl: 3 sets of 8-to-10 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
The push pull legs (PPL) split has been around for decades and is one of the most proven workout splits of all time.
The idea of PPL is simple . . .
- On push days you train all the pushing muscles in the upper body, like the pecs, delts, and triceps.
- On pull days you train all the pulling muscles of the upper body, like your back muscles and biceps.
- On leg days you train all the muscles of the legs, including glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves.
In most cases, a standard PPL split looks like this:
- Monday: Push
- Tuesday: Rest
- Wednesday: Pull
- Thursday: Rest
- Friday: Legs
- Saturday and Sunday: Rest
The pros of this workout split are that it’s simple, time-tested, and time efficient.
The main cons of the traditional PPL, though, are that each muscle group is trained only once per week, and because you only train three times per week, it’s difficult to do enough volume in each workout to maximize muscle growth.
If you’re pressed for time and can only make it to the gym three days a week, the PPL split will probably fit your schedule better than a traditional bro split. However, if you have a little more time to dedicate to training, you’ll probably gain more muscle and strength following a well-designed bro-split.
Full-body workouts are more or less exactly what they sound like: workouts in which you train several major muscle groups in each session. That said, many “full-body” workouts are more accurately described as “high-frequency” workouts where you train each muscle group three or more times per week.
Either way, most full-body workout splits have you training anywhere from three-to-five days per week, depending on your experience, goals, and schedule, and normally look something like this:
- Monday: Full Body
- Tuesday: Rest or Full Body
- Wednesday: Full Body
- Thursday: Rest or Full Body
- Friday: Full Body
- Saturday and Sunday: Rest
The biggest pro of full-body workout splits is the frequency—they train every major muscle group at least twice per week, which is the sweet spot for building muscle.
The main con of full-body training is that it can be easy to mess up.
Because of the high frequency, if you don’t manage your volume and exercises properly, you run the risk of doing too much work while getting too little rest, which can quickly lead to overreaching or injury. Thus, you have to be very careful about properly managing your workout volume and intensity, which is something most people struggle with.
What’s more, research shows training a muscle group more than once per week isn’t much better than training it twice per week when you’re new to weightlifting. Thus, a bro-split would likely be just as good for beginners as a full-body split.
The calculus changes as you become more advanced, though, and after your first year or so of weightlifting, you’ll likely build muscle and gain strength faster by training each muscle group at least twice per week (though it’s still debated if training each muscle group more than twice per week offers any additional benefit).
The basic idea is you do upper-body exercises on your upper-body days, and lower-body exercises on your lower-body days.
Here’s how most people set it up:
- Monday: Upper
- Tuesday: Lower
- Wednesday: Rest
- Thursday: Upper
- Friday: Lower
- Saturday and Sunday: Rest
The main pro of the upper lower split is that it offers a great mix of volume and frequency—training each major muscle group at least twice a week, while allowing plenty of time for recovery between workouts.
The biggest con of this workout split, though, is that workouts tend to be a bit longer than most other splits.
For example, on a typical upper-body day you’ll generally do exercises for your chest, shoulders, arms, and back in one go. It’s a push pull workout for your upper-body, basically. While this is very workable, the gears begin to grind when you start doing more than about 15 sets per muscle group per week (at which point you may want to spread those sets over more workouts).
Most upper lower splits also train your lower and upper body equally, which may or may not be optimal for your circumstances. For instance, if you have small legs but a well-developed upper body, you’d probably be better off spending more time training your legs than burnishing your upper body.
+ Scientific References
- M, W., J, A., & R, T. (2007). The influence of frequency, intensity, volume and mode of strength training on whole muscle cross-sectional area in humans. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 37(3), 225–264. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200737030-00004
- F, D., S, P., FC, V., & C, U. (2015). A review of resistance training-induced changes in skeletal muscle protein synthesis and their contribution to hypertrophy. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 45(6), 801–807. https://doi.org/10.1007/S40279-015-0320-0
- E R Helms, P J Fitschen, A A Aragon, J Cronin, & B J Schoenfeld. (n.d.). Recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: resistance and cardiovascular training – PubMed. Retrieved July 25, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24998610/
- BJ, S., D, O., & JW, K. (2016). Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 46(11), 1689–1697. https://doi.org/10.1007/S40279-016-0543-8
- GT, M., JR, H., AM, G., JR, T., AJ, W., AR, J., KS, B., CH, B., AA, M., R, W., MB, L., DH, F., NA, R., & JR, S. (2015). The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men. Physiological Reports, 3(8). https://doi.org/10.14814/PHY2.12472
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