How To Split Your Workouts
Going to the gym can often leave you confused and intimidated by how much equipment there is available to you. Sometimes you may be tempted to just go in and “wing it” and just hop between different machines until you feel that you had a sufficient workout. I want to stress that having a plan is going to help you in the long run, because you are then able to make sure you are working out all of your muscle groups (or getting a variety of cardio workouts in), and you spend less time wandering around the gym trying to figure out what you want to do next.
Like meal planning, I like to plan ahead. Even if it’s while I’m on my way to the gym, or when I’m at work on my lunch break, I make sure that I never walk into the gym without at least a general idea of what area of my body I will focus on that day. It’s important to try to focus on different areas of your body each day of the week so that you give your muscle groups enough time to heal while you focus on others. Depending on how many days per week you exercise, you may be able to focus on more (or less) groups at a time.
I try to get to the gym at least five days per week, and I perform strength training AND cardio on each of those days. My current workout split looks something like this:
Monday: LEGS & GLUTES + Cardio (incline treadmill, stair climber, leg-focused)
Tuesday: SHOULDERS & BACK + Cardio (rowing, treadmill, cycle to ease off of legs)
Wednesday: ABS + Cardio (typically I will do a longer cardio session on Wednesdays)
Thursday: LEGS + Cardio (stair climber, cycling, treadmill)
Friday: ARMS + Cardio (treadmill, cycling, rowing)
*I do not do ALL the cardio machines listed; those are just examples of what machines I typically prefer on those days.
You can most certainly split your week very differently, depending on what you want to prioritize, or if you don’t have enough time to do strength and cardio on the same day. A sample split if you want to separate your strength and cardio sessions could be like this:
Monday: LEGS & GLUTES
Wednesday: BACK & ABS
Friday: ARMS & SHOULDERS
Now let me break down the strength groups that I’ve listed, so that you can better understand what exact muscles I focus on for each category.
LEGS: Inner thighs, quads (front of thighs), hamstrings (back of legs), calves
GLUTES: Gluteus Maximus, Medius, and Minimus (aka Upper, Middle, and Lower butt)
BACK: Lats (outside your rib cage), “bra fat” area, lower back
ABS: Upper, lower, and oblique (sides)
ARMS: Biceps, triceps (back of arms)
SHOULDERS: Delts (shoulder “caps”), rear delts (the back of shoulder), chest (front delt area)
I like to pair up certain areas of my body so that I can rest the entire area the next day. For example, I often pair up legs and glutes because they are both located on my lower body, so that the next day they get to rest while I focus on the upper body (arms, shoulders, back, and/or abs).
When it comes to the actual workout itself, I try to aim to spend roughly 45 minutes performing strength exercises, and anywhere from 30-45 minutes on cardio. My strength training is broken down into 3-4 sets that will include 2-4 movements per set. That may sound confusing, but let me break it down for you:
Repeat entire set 3 times
Repeat entire set 4 times
Repeat entire set 2 times
When completing a set, I will perform each move consecutively, and rest once all the moves of the set are completed. Then I’ll rest for about 60 seconds, and perform the set again. Most people do not complete the move just once per set, they often perform reps (repetitions) of the move, ranging between 3-10+ reps per set. For beginners, sticking with a light (or no) weight and performing 10 reps per set is sufficient enough to get you familiar with correct posture and form. Otherwise, it’s best to challenge yourself and choose a weight that feels moderately difficult and causes your muscles to fatigue around 5 reps without losing correct form. To put that into a visual:
Move #1 (no weight) X 15 reps
Move #2 (light weight) X 10 reps
Move #3 (light weight) X 10 reps
Rest 60 seconds
Repeat X 2
Move #1 (medium weight) X 8 reps
Move #2 (heavy weight) X 5 reps
Move #3 (very heavy weight w/ correct form) X 3 reps
Rest 90 seconds
Repeat X 2
*It is important to rest your body a little longer when performing sets with heavier weights
I typically try to incorporate a move for each specific muscle in each of my sets so that I am not spending an entire set focusing on biceps, for example. If it’s leg day, one set will include a move for quads, a move for hamstrings, and a more dynamic move (like deadlifts) that could incorporate multiple muscles.
Just as a reminder, especially to my female readers, heavy weights will NOT make you large and bulky!
When planning your exercise for the week, make sure you are planning for all of your muscle groups, finding the sets and splits that work best for you and your schedule, and determining how many reps you would like to complete for each movement depending on the weight that you use.
If you would like to see sample workouts with actual moves, please feel free to check out my WOWs (Workout of the Weeks) as well as my custom fitness plans, where I can take the hassle out of planning and do it for you!