by John Hansen Iron Man Magazine
Q: I have a question about my routine. I’m going to work out four times a week and work every bodypart twice per week. Since I can’t train on weekends, I decided to do this:
Monday: Upper body
Tuesday: Lower body
Thursday: Upper body
Friday: Lower body
For upper body I was going to do two exercises for everything except back and chest—for those I’ll do three. I’ll probably also do three sets for each and eight to 10 reps, to finish within one hour and 15 minutes. My question is, How will I be able to do delts, biceps, triceps, traps, chest and back all within one hour and 15 minutes? That’s 14 exercises, three sets each, which is 42 sets. It’s not possible to do all that within the allotted time. Is there any way I can work my whole upper body in one day?
A: I think the obvious answer is to not train all your upper-body muscles in one workout; it’s too much to do in only one session. Although legs are a very physically demanding muscle group, you can train other muscle groups with your lower body. That will enable you to hit fewer muscle groups on your other workout day and avoid trying to do too much in one workout.
When I was bulking up in my early 20s, I trained on a workout program similar to the one you’re using. Back then, the popular split was the push/pull. We’d train all the pushing muscles—chest, delts, triceps—in one workout and all the pulling muscles—back and biceps—plus legs in the next. So the workout schedule looked like this:
Monday: Chest, delts, triceps, calves
Tuesday: Abs, legs, back, biceps, forearms
Thursday: Chest, delts, triceps, calves
Friday: Abs, legs, back, biceps, forearms
Saturday and Sunday: Rest
That was a very tough schedule because it was difficult to train legs and back in the same workout. They are the two largest muscle groups in the body, and it was physically demanding, but I was able to do it because I was young and motivated to get big.
I remember my training partner at the time was always complaining because we would do all the heavy, basic exercises like squats, leg presses, stiff-legged deadlifts, barbell rows, deadlifts and T-bar rows in one workout and then finish off with biceps and forearms. We were exhausted by the time we left the gym.
Another variation on the four-days-a-week workout where you train each muscle group twice a week is to do chest, back and delts at one workout and legs and arms at the next. I often recommend that routine because it’s less physically demanding than the push/pull program.
Training chest, back and delts together makes sense because those muscles are interconnected in a way. The chest and back are opposing muscle groups, and the deltoids are involved in training both of them. The front delts work hard during any chest routine, and the rear delts are involved in most back exercises.
For the second workout you’d begin with legs because they need the most energy. After that you can train the arms, which are smaller. It won’t be as physically draining to train your biceps and triceps after legs as it would be to train back. Here’s an example:
Monday and Thursday
Bench presses 3 x 6-10
Incline presses 3 x 6-10
Flyes 2-3 x 8-10
Wide-grip chins 3 x 8-10
Barbell rows 3 x 6-10
Deadlifts 3 x 6-10
Seated military presses 3 x 6-10
Lateral raises 3 x 8-10
Barbell shrugs 3 x 6-10
Total sets: 27
Tuesday and Friday
Hanging knee raises 2 x max
Cable crunches 2 x max
Squats 3 x 6-10
Leg presses 3 x 6-10
Leg curls 3 x 8-10
Stiff-legged deadlifts 3 x 6-10
Standing calf raises 4 x 8-15
Pushdowns 3 x 6-10
Dips 3 x 6-10
Incline curls 3 x 8-10
Barbell curls 2 x 8-10
Total sets: 27
Splitting up the workouts like that will enable you to do an equal number of sets at each workout so it’s more balanced. With that schedule, you’re training two big muscle groups (chest and back) at one workout and the other big muscle group (legs) at the other. The shoulders and arms are separated so you’re not training arms the day before shoulders, and you still have energy left for abs and calves.
Give that routine a try, and be sure to push yourself so you increase either the repetitions or the resistance each week. By gradually increasing intensity, you’ll make small improvements each week and be on your way to achieving your goals.