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The 11 muscle group split

Der 11 Muskelgruppen Split

Many moons ago, when I first started training with weights, I worked at a popular supplement store in the local mall.

It was a viable job for an eighteen year old. There was a very well-known gym nearby, and it always motivated me when well-toned girls and guys with comic book proportions came into the store. It was also my first exposure to the incredibly stereotypical muscle guys.

Like most supplement stores, we stocked the most popular bodybuilding magazines. I developed a serious addiction to muscle magazines, reading each of the five magazines that came out monthly multiple times when I wasn't busy selling Saw Palmetto and Horny Goat Weed to creepy old guys.

If there was anything positive about the whole thing, it's that I can look back and realize what I've learned since then. Among other things, bodybuilding magazines can be super confusing for a young guy trying to put together his own training program.

Magazine #1 wrote something about a monster chest workout and I wanted a monster chest for sure, but magazine #4 wrote about a killer superset program for back and chest and that sounded good too, so I thought about using that program instead of the other.

The point is that I was being pulled in many different directions each month and the whole thing was just too confusing. One says to train triceps after your back, another says to train triceps along with biceps and yet another says to train them after chest and shoulders. Who is right?

Looking back, I know they were all right. At the end of the day, it really is as simple as "train all your muscles and they will get bigger." Yes, I'm serious. (As long as you eat right of course, but nutrition is another topic).

Let's take a look, to give direction to today's beginners and even the more experienced guys looking for an effective change of routine, at a method for building a split program that intensely and effectively trains every muscle group from trapezius to calves.

The idea behind this style of program design is simple - divide the body into muscle groups, train each muscle group with at least one exercise per session, build big muscles, get stronger and feel like a winner. Let's take a look at how all of this fits together.

Eleven ways to Sunday

How did I come up with the idea of dividing the 600+ muscles of this great machine called the human body into just 11 areas for training?

Well, they are divided by size into three basic categories: primary, secondary and detail. The muscles that can take up the most space on your body when they are well developed are considered primary.

It may not be the most scientific division, but it is quite practical for our purposes. Depending on how many days a week you train, each training session will work muscles from one or more of these groups.

  1. Primary: back, chest, quadriceps
  2. Secondary: hamstrings, shoulders, triceps, biceps
  3. Detail: abdominals, trapezius, forearms, calves

It is important to note that the divisions into "primary" and "secondary" do not necessarily correspond to the functional roles of the muscles as primary or secondary muscles in a given exercise.

This is a factor in exercise selection and other program details that we will discuss later, but the terms are used here simply as a way to more easily categorize the muscles.

In this context, it should also be mentioned that you should not take the term "detail" to mean that these muscle groups are not worth significant attention. Abdominal muscle training in particular is absolutely essential for strength, performance and appearance. For this reason, you should not read too much into the term "detail training".

On the one hand, it's a priority issue and has something to do with time/effort management - forearms, for example, don't require the same training intensity or volume as quadriceps - but on the other hand, the muscles in the "detail" group are the muscles that most people either neglect completely or only train irregularly or - even worse - only half-heartedly.

You might try to argue that back training should be broken up further, but don't worry about this. If we were to split it into areas like "upper back", "latissimus" and "lower back", then the whole thing would be a 13 muscle group split and that's just plain bad karma.

And as long as you're smart enough to include at least one variation of rowing and one variation of pull-ups or lat pull-downs along with other exercises in your program, you'll pretty much cover the whole back.

So remember this rule - since we're only going to train the back once a week, a back workout without rowing and pull-ups/bibs is not a back workout - (we'll cover a few more general rules in a moment).

Why split training?

As competitive bodybuilding took off in the fifties, many bodybuilders began to move away from full-body workouts and lean more towards various split programs.

This was - and not coincidentally - the same time that bodybuilding magazines of the time began publishing some of the first specialization articles. "Two weeks to titanic triceps!", "Shoulder shockers for shirt-busting growth!"

Splitting the body into multiple parts allowed for higher volume and/or intensity per muscle group per training session, made possible (at least to some degree) by the anabolic "little helpers" that were popping up in locker rooms at the same time.

However, these split programs also reflected the increasing focus on bodybuilding as many strength athletes moved away from the old "train for strength and the muscle mass will follow" attitude that was popular in the earlier years when bodybuilding judges awarded points for "athletic ability" (often based on the three Olympic weightlifting exercises), as well as points for muscularity, symmetry and posing

In any case, you can be sure that the hundreds of thousands of bodybuilders over the past six decades have experimented with every possible combination of "this on this day, with this and everyone on that day with a few of these". In the 21st century, there are no new workout splits, but you can be damn sure there are plenty you haven't tried or even thought of before.

I hope you don't take this training approach as an invitation to "overanalyze". "Okay, leg curl today. I need to make sure I do the single leg mCurl with the toes pointing in for the semitendinosus and the lying curls with the toes pointing out for the semimembranosus." This is the kind of ridiculous, overthinking that continues to make you look like an 85-pound pudding in an 80-pound bag.

I know some over-enthusiasts now want to shout "Hey Colucci, since we're breaking things down so far, why aren't we talking about things like external biceps head, gastrocnemius separation and vastus for an arched quadriceps form?" Well, for a whole host of reasons.

But the most important reason is that you don't really need to talk about this right now.

The guy who still burns scrambled eggs doesn't have to worry about not being able to make the perfect hollandaise sauce for his eggs benedict. Yes, I've already talked about training for aesthetic symmetry and what I've said still applies.

But finishing touches like improving the lines of the quadriceps or other issues that competitive bodybuilders need to address are things that ordinary exercisers like us don't need to waste time or energy on until we're much closer to our individual goals.

For most of us, it will be much more effective to stick with a well-constructed training program that addresses each muscle group and gives us sufficient volume and intensity. And speaking of training programs, here are a few templates to help you put that plan into action.

Training 3 days a week

Option one

Day 1:Back, trapezius, biceps, forearms
Day 2:Chest, shoulders, triceps, abs
Day 3:Quadriceps, hamstrings, calves

Note: Yes, this is a basic push/pull/legs split. It's straightforward, it's simple, and it's rarely a bad idea. Think you're too advanced for something this basic? It was three-time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane who favored this split.

Option two

Day 1:Quadriceps, chest, calves, abs
Day 2:Back, hamstrings, trapezius
Day 3:Shoulders, triceps, biceps, forearms

Note: A variation of a push/pull split with day one being mainly a "push" day, day 2 being a pure "pull" day and day three being direct training for shoulders and arms. This is also the first example where you will see separate days for quadriceps and hamstrings. Most people could stand to train their legs harder - whether they want to or not - which is why this is a great option.

Back and leg curls on the same day can work well, as deadlifts and deadlift variations are great exercises that can work both. Quadriceps and chest are a pretty good pairing, as heavy squats will have minimal impact on heavy bench presses.

Training 4 days a week

Option one

Day 1:Back, hamstrings, trapezius
Day 2:Chest, triceps, abs
Day 3:Quadriceps, calves
Day 4:Shoulders, biceps, forearms

Note: Expect a lot of heavy pulling on day one, so plan well in advance. Biceps and forearms will be trained on day four when you are fresh. Who doesn't enjoy going all out on bicep training?

Option two

Day 1:quadriceps, hamstrings
Day 2:back, forearms, abs
Day 3:chest, shoulders, trapezius
Day 4:triceps, biceps, calves

Note: A big day for back with some training for smaller muscle groups afterwards. The trapezius is trained for some change when it's relatively fresh. Don't be a sucker for skipping calf workouts after arm workouts. Calf training is a must.

Train 5 days a week

Option one

Day 1:Back, trapezius
Day 2:Chest, biceps, forearms
Day 3:Quadriceps, abs
Day 4:Shoulders, triceps
Day 5:Leg curls, calves

Note: Day two turns out to be "beach muscle day". This is one of the side benefits of splitting leg training into two workouts per week. You can't ignore the legs, so it doesn't matter. Enjoy your bench press and curl day.

Option two

Day 1:quadriceps, hamstrings, calves
Day 2:back, trapezius
Day 3:chest, abs
Day 4:shoulders
Day 5:triceps, biceps, forearms

Note: Another proven split - legs, back, shoulders and arms - a proven way to work all muscles over the course of the week, starting with the largest muscles and working down to the smallest.

Training 6 days a week

Day 1:back, forearms
Day 2:chest, abs
Day 3:quadriceps
Day 4:shoulders, trapezius
Day 5:hamstrings, calves
Day 6:triceps, biceps

Note: There is nothing wrong with training six days a week, but the majority of exercisers do not need six training days a week because more training usually does not guarantee more results.

However, if you are an enrolled, die-hard gym junkie who wants to give it your all, then you should understand that a lot of hard training is pointless without adequate nutritional intake. If there was such a thing as an advanced training split exclusively for experienced strength athletes, it would look something like this.

The rules

As I've already mentioned, there are a few rules you should keep in mind when setting up a workout like this. These will help you to make every training session as efficient as possible.

1. every forearm workout should include a neutral grip or overhand curl exercise to emphasize the forearm flexors below the elbow instead of the biceps, as well as a variation of underhand wrist curls to emphasize the wrist flexors with minimal biceps involvement.

Direct wrist extensions such as reverse forearm curls are not as important as these muscles are already heavily involved in neutral grip curls and overhand grip curls.

This doesn't contradict my "train everything directly" theory, in case you think you caught me. This is about training economy. If your wrist flexors actually need extra attention after a few sets of Scott curls or hammer curls with a rope grip, then perform additional training for those. But if your forearms are that much cause for concern, then the rest of your body better be pretty darn impressive already.

  1. For back training, we've already mentioned the "law of pulling and rowing". If you're training biceps and/or forearms on the same day as your back, then grip aids are acceptable on (and only on) the heaviest sets of most back exercises - generally the last one or two sets. This will help you better control grip muscle fatigue, which should allow you to work at a slightly higher intensity after the back workout.
  2. The leg curls deserve to be trained similarly to the back workout with a curl variation and a deadlift variation in every training session. To minimize overloading (not overtraining) the lower back, you may consider pre-fatiguing with leg curls if your lower back feels fatigued at the start of your leg curl workout.
  3. When training the abs, you should try to train each basic abdominal muscle function (flexion, rotation, anti-flexion and anti-rotation either during the same training session or rotate them on a weekly basis.
  4. Depending on which muscles are trained during the same session, you should be careful not to overload the secondary muscles. This means that if you are performing a chest-shoulder-triceps workout, you should not perform five variations of the bench press and three variations of the shoulder press only to be surprised that your triceps no longer have a hint of energy for direct training.

As a side note, this method of directly attacking the muscles will benefit from a maximum mind-muscle connection to ensure that each repetition focuses on putting 100% of the training stress where it belongs.

Take all the necessary steps - from strict form and targeted muscle contractions to activation techniques or pre-fatigue - to ensure that you train what you want to train when you want to train it.

When, what, how much volume, intensity and frequency

There are countless "best exercises" articles on the internet, so I will refrain from compiling another detailed list of exercises you should use for each muscle group.

Your specific needs will vary depending on your knee issues, a poorly equipped basement weight room, or that shoulder you broke as a kid, but make sure you're choosing the right tools for the job.

For example, if you don't know how to feel your latissimus during pull-ups, then pull-ups are not a suitable back exercise for you. If your squat technique leaves your leg flexor and gluteus muscles sore for days, then squats do not belong in your quadriceps training session.

We only train each muscle group once a week. This is another proven way to do good, hard work and make long-term progress. Training a muscle group once a week is absolutely sufficient for muscle growth if you are consistent in your training. Training at a higher frequency is a variable that you can try and use several months later.

Targeting each muscle group once a week means that a full seven days will pass before it is trained again, so the intensity of each training session must be high. If you're relatively inexperienced, this could mean using intensity-boosting techniques such as rest-pause or negative reps on the last sets for each muscle group. Or it could mean ramping up the volume and giving your muscles a serious reason to need a week of recovery.

If you're still a beginner, it means putting all the give and everything you have into each repetition and learning how to push yourself past the point where your brain says "If I put the weight down now, I can be home by noon to play with the Xbox." However, I don't recommend that beginners train to muscle failure or beyond.

Rest days should be built in as needed, depending in large part on how the secondary and primary muscles are trained throughout the week. Ideally, you would not perform a training session during which a muscle is re-trained that was significantly indirectly fatigued just one day earlier. What do I mean by this? Try doing a serious biceps and forearm workout the day before the back and trapezius workout and let me know how the second workout went.

Just like with the specific exercises, I won't go into too much detail regarding the number of reps and sets because of all the training factors, volume is probably the most important factor that needs to be specifically tailored to your individual goals. This is the reason why bodybuilders, powerlifters and triathletes do not train with the same volume of weights.

Use a repetition range that is effective for your training goal. Since we're talking about bodybuilding, the majority of your sets will likely be in the 6-8, 8-10 or 10-12 range, but performing lower reps with heavier weights will build foundational strength that will benefit you later.

Flirting with higher reps is another occasional option you can consider - either for burnout finishing sets or as an active recovery training session for a muscle group that may be problematic elsewhere.

Divide and conquer!

Good old bodybuilding isn't fancy or complicated (unless you're doing it wrong) and it's not something you should do for just four weeks at a time. Setting long-term goals seems to have become a forgotten art form, but if you look further into the future, you can come up with a better overall plan instead of having to constantly change your workouts.

Give a split an honest chance for a few months and keep an eye out for new growth. Once you start training each muscle directly on a regular basis, your body will have no choice but to grow.

By Chris Colucci | 12/07/12


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