A sure fire way to screw up ANY chances of making gains is to train anything other than chest on a Monday.
Fortunately for me, yesterday my upper body session fell on a Monday, which meant I could reap all the gains of International Chest
With all joking aside though, where did this idea of training chest on a Monday come from?
What can it teach you about your training split?
And how can you use this to maximise your gains?
^^^ That is exactly what I’ll be going over today.
The origins of international chest day
When you started out lifting, chances are you scoured the internet for your favourite bodybuilders training programme, flipped open the latest fitness magazine or followed the advice of the most jacked guy in your gym.
Either way, odds are you started out just like most other lifters by following the classic ‘bro split’.
By that, I mean you dedicated each session to a particular muscle group (chest, back, shoulders, legs, arms), hitting it once per week
And because chest (along with arms) is without doubt the most important muscle group to develop for us bros, prioritising it at the beginning of the week when motivation and energy levels are highest is my best guess as to the origins of International Chest Day (otherwise know as monday).
At least that was my rationale when I first started out lifting. This bro split then had me hitting the other muscle groups on subsequent days, allowing a weeks rest for each.
This is the typical bro split I (and many others) used to follow:
Monday – chest and tris
Tuesday – back and bis
Wednesday – legs (if they were lucky enough to even get a session)
Thursday – Shoulders
Friday – Arms
Saturday – off
Sunday – off
Whilst I made some pretty solid progress taking this approach, my bro split most likely cost me a load of potential gains.
This is for a couple of reasons:
- I missed opportunities to stimulate growth
- It reduced the quality of my training
Bro splits = missed opportunities to stimulate growth
To understand this flaw of the bro split, you need to view what you do in the gym as a stimulus that your body adapts to.
In other words, when you lift heavy stuff, your body adapts during the recovery process and these adaptations result in gains so your body is better able to handle that stimulus in the future.
The main adaptation your body makes to lifting heavy is ramping up muscle growth (ie: muscle protein synthesis/MPS).
- Training stimulus –> increase in muscle growth as a response to the stimulus –> gains
So, our muscles grow because through sufficient training and recovery, muscle protein synthesis/growth gets ramped up.
Muscle growth stays elevated for roughly 24-48 hours after a session before returning back to baseline levels as shown in the graph below
Graph from (1)
So if you train a given muscle group one day (eg: chest Monday), the muscle growing process will stay elevated for a couple of days. After that, it will drop down to baseline levels, ready for another training session to stimulate another increase.
In practical terms, this means that if you’re waiting a whole week after training a given muscle group before hitting it again, you’re essentially wasting opportunities to re-stimulate growth and are therefore missing out on gains.
Bro splits = reduced training quality
For this second flaw, I need to give a quick background on training Volume.
In a nutshell, training volume is the total amount of work you do and can be worked out with the following equation:
Volume = weight on the bar X reps X sets
So 100kg for 8 reps and 3 sets is a volume of 2400kg.
Training volume is one of the main determinants of strength and size gains
The other two being intensity (weight on the bar) and frequency (if you hadn’t worked it out already, frequency is what this article is all about).
Provided your training volume goes up over time and you therefore shift more iron, you’ll make gains (I cover this all here).
With the classic bro split, all the weekly volume for a given muscle group is crammed into one session. Whilst this inevitably leads to a sweet pump and leaves you with that satisfying feeling that you smashed your session, it could hurt your long term progress.
This is because it can screw up the quality of your training as the muscles you’re targeting will end up fatiguing relatively early in the session and before you’ve got all your sets in. Ultimately this means you’ll be forced to use lighter weights (less intensity) for the latter exercises/sets of your session and over time, this will mean you won’t be lifting as much total volume. Remember, volume and intensity are damn important for building muscle, so this drop will most likely cost you gains.
To drive this point home, do you think you could shift more weight on a heavy set of incline dumbbell bench press after having already done 4 chest exercises:
5×5 barbell bench
3×8 close grip bench
3×10 chest press
3×12 cable flyes
When you’re fresh at the beginning of a session/after a few sets of bench
The latter, of course.
So what’s the solution? And what split should you use instead?
Based on what I’ve highlighted above it should come as no surprise that to maximize gains it’s best to go with a higher training frequency than the classic bro split of hitting each muscle group once per week.
In fact, a recent study pooling the results of previous research found greater gains in muscle size when lifters hit each muscle group 2-3 times per week rather than once (2).
This frequency of training each muscle group 2-3 times per week is a good guideline for most lifters to go by as it:
- makes sure you get in plenty of recovery time between sessions
- allows 24-48 hours or so for muscle growth to return to baseline levels
- and enables you to split your volume up into manageable chunks, thus improving your performance.
Now, to work out the best split for you, you need to take this guideline and consider it alongside the total number of sessions you have per week.
Sessions/week guideline: 3-6 sessions per week is about right for the vast majority of lifters, with beginners starting at the lower end (3-4 sessions/week) and more advanced lifters using the mid to higher end (4-6 sessions/week).
To determine what split to choose, simply make sure it enables you to hit each muscle group 2-3 times per week given the total number of weekly sessions you have.
For example, if you were training 3x/week in total you might choose 3 full body sessions (hits each muscle group 2-3x/week)
Whereas if you hit the gym 4x/week you may go for an upper/lower split (hits each muscle group 2x/week).
Here are a few more examples:
As you can see, there are a tonne of ways to spin it and there is no right or wrong answer; just select the split that best meets your needs, preferences and takes into account the guidelines I’ve mentioned.
But what do you do about training volume and intensity?
Both volume and intensity are worthy of individual articles themselves as like I indicated earlier, along with frequency, they are big players in your training and if you fail to consider them in your programming, your results will be below par.
I covered them in the second part of my ‘How to get jacked’ series which you can read here.
However, if you want to take the guesswork out of the equation with your training programming and hand the reigns over to myself, you can apply for coaching here: Click Me
(1) MacDougall et al., (1995). The Time Course for Elevated Muscle Protein Synthesis Following Heavy Resistance Exercise
(2) Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2016). Effects of resistance training frequency on measures of muscle hypertrophy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 1-9.