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I want to know how can I decide whether I should do one body part a day or do 2-3? I have a lean body and I want a lean muscular one.

By body parts I mean:

  • chest
  • shoulders
  • back
  • biceps
  • triceps
  • legs
  • abs

I was doing 1 or 2 of the above in a day (leading to a 6 days cycle to complete) but now in my new gym I have been given a 3 days cycle of:

  1. upper body
  2. lower body
  3. abs

I am sure it depends on many personal factors (current body-type, expected body-type, since when I have been gymming), but I wanted to understand how to decide this.

In both my experiences I feel that my muscles are being developed and so I cannot judge the effectiveness of one over the other.

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The core basic principles that apply are the following:

  • Total volume per body part is the biggest driver for muscular hypertophy (growth)
  • Manage recovery to enable adding volume over time
  • Work you enjoy ensures you are going to keep doing it

Beyond this, studies have shown that there really doesn't make a tremendous difference the shape of the volume (sets * reps) or the order in which you work the muscles.

You have several ways of breaking down your work, which can be by muscle group or by movement. I personally am a fan of full body training 3x a week, but selecting different sets of isolation work. As an example, I will have a push, pull, and squat variant every training day, alternate between biceps/triceps and shoulders for isolation work, and then whatever else I need. However, that's just how I like to do things.

To boil it down:

It just doesn't matter. Just train the way that feels most natural to you, and incorporate new things over time as you focus on "problem areas".

Keep in mind that compound movements that use larger muscles do trigger more growth than isolation movements alone. However, if you add in isolation movements after compound movements, you'll see increased response in those muscles.

While I do a full body training day every time I work out I manage fatigue by having different training styles. Example:

  • Heavy day: 85-90% of my max, 4 sets of 2-3 reps
  • Rep day: 75-80% of my max, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Speed day: 65-70% of my max, several sets of 2-4 reps

The heavy day helps get the body used to heavier weights to enable increasing weight over time. The rep day is the meat and potatoes of getting stronger. Speed day is kind of a mental break and active recovery day--while focusing on moving weight quickly. Since I have 3 main compound movements, I alternate which one gets which emphasis. I also make sure each main compound movement gets a different emphasis for that day. That way I'm not going heavy on bench and deadlift in the same session.

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There is a recovery time for muscle-building. A common mistake when starting out is to do the same exercises every day and to stall out in gains, or to lose motivation, because the muscles don't have time to recover. That period is variable based on age, health, and individual constitution, but it is only approximately 24-48 hours. Thus, your current plan has longer rest days built into it. If you're not in the best of help, or your recovery time is slower, your method might work better for you. But you might also be giving the muscles a little too long to rest in between.

Try ramping up to their schedule, and see how your body reacts. If you find that you're seeing diminishing gains, or the strain is so much that you don't feel motivated to work out, scale back a bit. You may even find some middle ground by doing more days of two body-areas at a time instead of just one, but not quite going for their setup of three at a time.

As to specific parts of the body that are being worked out, their method is focusing on opposing muscles. By working just the upper body, then just the lower body, you're making sure that you're not getting lopsided, say bulking your pectoral muscles without building up the back muscles to hold them extra muscle in place. And by making it a more regimented set of exercises, it reduces the change you'll decide to skip out on a part of the body "just this once" and wind up doing it all week.

  • I definitely don't want shorter than a 3 day cycle. Right now the recovery time is 3 or 4 days. – vedant Apr 27 '15 at 12:56
  • It is dependent on what works for your body and what your goals are. If you do a search for "one body part a day weightlifting", you'll see that the general tenor of the discussion is that it was more common a decade or two ago, but these days, for the sake of efficiency, more workouts get combined together. That way, you maximize the amount of muscle you're training by allowing one set of muscles to recover while training the other. – Sean Duggan Apr 27 '15 at 13:10
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5-days cycle is better but if I'll go with the 3-days cycle I would put it as:

  • Day 1: Chest + Biceps + ABS
  • Day 2: Shoulders + Triceps
  • Day 3: Back + Legs
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    Saying 5-days cycle is better is very opinion-based. The split is often best dictated by your goals and experience. – Alec Apr 28 '15 at 16:56
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    yeah. Please add more to "why" and/or "how" is it better. – vedant Apr 29 '15 at 17:21
  • It's better as it gives the chance to focus on a single or couple set of muscle per training session and this gives the muscle more time for the training in the session and more time to recover over the rest of the week. – XIII Apr 30 '15 at 23:22
  • Chest and biceps on the same day? Really? – Rob Sterach Aug 21 '15 at 13:38
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YES, YOU MUST DO MORE THAN A SINGLE BODY PART A DAY. I would suggest combining chest, shoulders, and triceps together and back and biceps together, 2-3 times a week. Legs can go with either or, and so can abs, but truth about abs is, they're probably already there and crunches and that other cheap stuff you see in movies isn't going to work your abs. In fact, one barbell squat will work your abs more than 150 crunches. Abs will be worked more through squats and deadlifts than that other stuff.

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