Is the Split Routine Dead? - Oxygen Strength and Fitness

Is the Split Routine Dead?


If you had asked me this question in my 20’s I would have categorically disagreed with you.  At that point of my involvement in lifting weights I had only been following the split bodybuilding routines popularised by the likes of Arnie, Franco, Lee Haney, Frank Zane, Danny Padilla, Mike Mentzer and Casey Viator (my idols at the time).

My learning had come from buying my monthly muscle fix of Flex Magazine in my local newsagents – no Youtube back then laddie! I would simply scour the pages for that perfect routine from the legends and then replicate it for myself in the gym. To some degree I did get success and physical change that I was proud of at the time. All these routines just demanded me to add more weight or reps to the bar week on week with little regard for technique in a quest for muscular failure. I was definitely training with poor form on a lot of exercises to mimic cheat reps. They also did not give me a clear vision or map of how I would get to my goals (14 stone Adonis!). Progression and achievement seemed miles away from me at this point. In fact, my weight did go up but my weight gain was due to excessive calorie intake and fat gain with minimal muscle.

In my 30’s I began the sport of Powerlifting and my training was set around the Big 3, Squat, Bench and Deadlift. Technique was more of a focus but still with a high effort on lifting more weight week on week. Then pitching your efforts around several meets a year. I was heavily guided and influenced by 3 people who would become lifelong friends (Dave “Bulldog” Beattie, Johnnie Kiss and Phil MacAvoy). We trained 4 days a week for 2-3 hrs at a time at Dave’s gym in Wembley, London-Genesis Gym. The training had one main lift a day and the rest was muscle work or Hypertrophy based training. I was an equipped lifter so my time was spent getting used to using Squat Suits and Bench shirts. My best lifting numbers were 327.5kg Squat, 215kg Bench Press and a 255kg Deadlift. I won 2 British titles and 1 World title whilst under Dave’s coaching. This was a time when I really cut my teeth in the sport and I really enjoyed training at this time. That said I was still following a plan that was not specific for myself.

Going forward so now I am in my 40’s, the owner of my own gym in Penzance, Cornwall with my wife Michelle. I had been semi-retired from the sport simply by choice to place my efforts into my new business. To get back into the sport I decided to go back to lifting and try RAW lifting instead of equipped as it would be easier for me to train alone and take less time to do. My training looked very similar to my days at Genesis just minus the lifting suits. So, one main exercise and then muscle work. I soon found that this only got me so far in terms of strength gain. I knew now that for me to fully reach my potential I would need a different approach. I can remember winning my 3rd British Masters title and thinking that although I had won, my training felt as if it was in a rut. I had limited success with cookie cutter programmes such a Brandon Lilly’s Cube and 5/3/1 Jim Wendler. I was also getting more questions than answers in my head about programming and progression.

Typical of me I didn’t do anything immediately it took another year and another OK performance at the British finals for me to finally ask for help. Thankfully through Paul George I was introduced to Alexander Clark and he became my coach. Over the past 2 years he has set my training to ensure that I have peaked for my competitions. As a result, I have set a World Record in the Squat 3 times and set British records in the Bench Press and Deadlift. More importantly he has opened my eyes to effective programming for the RAW lifter and how to deploy correct training cycles with the right intensity.

I now Squat and Deadlift twice a week, bench three times a week my volume of assistance or muscle work is lower. My training is set into Upper and Lower body days not Squat, Bench, Deadlift and assistance day as before. In all it has become more specific to my training needs to make me a better powerlifter. I also have a different mindset in the fact that I am always trying to improve my movement pattern to make me stronger rather than totally thinking of muscle size or aesthetics. Making my mantra Technique, Technique, Technique!

So, is the split routine dead? To a degree, yes. Training each bodypart once per week will only get you so far.

So whether you are looking for Hypertrophy, Fat loss or strength be more specific with your training and controlled in your volume/frequency. Start with working the whole body and then look to go to an upper / lower body day. Monitor the results and moderate your plan accordingly as you go along month by month initially then week by week if necessary. This way you will learn how to execute correct movement patterns on the Big 3 and become stronger at a much faster pace. Clear example of this is people who want to change their body shape following complicated programmes and ignoring the value of learning the pillars of strength-Squat, Bench and Deadlift. The old meme of someone’s forgotten leg day comes to mind. Correct workload here will drive change for even the hardest of gainers! So simply drop those cables and pick up the barbells. Look to train hard 4 days a week and get adequate rest and nutrition during your off days.

As a final point I will always back the big 3 to change your physique not only because I am a Powerlifter but purely because they engage a large proportion of joints and muscle groups at the same time whilst making them highly effective at increasing energy expenditure thus making them highly effective movements. Variations of the movements are just as effective whether that is a variation with a different bar or simply switching a back squat to a front squat as an example.

As always, we are here to help. Are you just getting started? Need a structured program? Want to train with likeminded people?

Get in touch to see how we can help you get those BIG 3 in.

You can contact Ian at | 01736 333831 | | insta: humphreys_ian