Have you ever wondered if bro splits are the right workout strategy for your bodybuilding goals? You’re not alone. The quest for the ideal training split for bodybuilding has been debated for years. In this complete bro split for bodybuilding review, we’ll dive into the pros, cons and expert opinions surrounding the classic bro split. Here’s what we’ll be covering:
- What are bro splits?
- Common bro split routine examples
- Pros of bro splits
- Cons of bro splits
- Expert opinions on bro splits
- Overall verdict on bro splits
- Frequently Asked Questions about bro splits
Let’s jump straight in…
What are Bro Splits?
As old as the gym itself, bro splits are the name given to a workout routine where you train a single muscle group per day, typically spread over five to six days a week. The term “bro split” stems from its popularity among recreational bodybuilders, often associated with gym “bros.”
All in all, bro splits are the most common way that guys train in the gym.
The Most Common Bro Split Example
- Monday: Chest
- Tuesday: Back
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday: Shoulders
- Friday: Arms
- Saturday and Sunday: Rest
As you can see, in each muscle gets its own focus day, for example, monday is the focus day for chest, a.k.a. ‘international chest day’
4 Day Bro Split Example
A 4 day bro split is also fairly common, the overall structure is very similar, you simply combine shoulders and arms into the same workout, as they have a lot of overlap anyway.
- Monday: Chest
- Tuesday: Back
- Wednesday: Rest
- Thursday: Legs
- Friday: Shoulders and Arms
- Saturday and Sunday: Rest
Pros of Bro Splits
High Training Volume Per Session
One of the most significant advantages of bro splits is the high training volume dedicated to each muscle group per session, allowing for maximum muscle stimulation. Since muscle hypertrophy is often best achieved through a combination of high training volume and moderate to heavy loads. By focusing on a single muscle group per day, bro splits enable you to achieve this high training volume, potentially leading to greater muscle growth.
Intensity and Focus
Bro splits allow you to concentrate your efforts on one muscle group at a time, which can result in more focused and intense workouts. This level of focus and intensity can be beneficial in maintaining proper exercise form and maximizing muscle stimulation during each session, especially through focus on range of motion and stretch under load (Schoenfeld & Grgic 2020)
Don’t get me wrong, it’s you can still bring great intensity and focus to full body or upper/lower sessions, it’s just that some people find it easier to focus when there’s only one muscle to think about.
Since you’re only training one muscle group per day with bro splits, each muscle group has an entire week to recover before the next workout. As recovery is crucial for muscle growth and avoiding overtraining, the bro split definitely has this going in its favour.
Cons of Bro Splits
Suboptimal Frequency for Natural and/or Smaller Lifters
For me, one of the biggest drawbacks of bro splits is the low training frequency for each muscle group. Research suggests that training a muscle group twice per week might be more effective for muscle growth, especially among natural lifters.
This is especially true for small muscles like biceps, calves, side and rear delts that can likely handle 2-4 training sessions per week and still recover. This means that these muscles may end up not growing optimally.
Imbalance in Training Volume (Upper Focus)
Bro splits tend to provide WAY more upper body training volume than lower body training volume. You get typically get 4 upper body days but only 1 lower body day per week.
I’ve found that for a lot of people, this leads to physiques with lagging quads, hamstrings and glutes.
As a coach, I can say with certainty that bro splits are less time-efficient compared to other training methods, such as full-body or upper/lower splits. Since you’re dedicating entire workouts to individual muscle groups, you often end up spending more time in the gym each week than you would with other training styles.
There’s also a point of diminishing returns when it comes to sets per session, for example, 3-6 sets for a muscle group will probably provide the overwhelming majority of the hypertrophy (muscle growth) stimulus, and then sets 7-12 provide only a tiny amount of extra growth, but come at the expense of quite a bit of extra time and fatigue.
Expert Opinions on Bro Splits
Since my own area of expertise is more based around strength and conditioning and weightlifting, I thought I’d also add in a few expert opinions from prominent hypertrophy experts.
Dr. Brad Schoenfeld on Bro Splits
Dr. Brad Schoenfeld, a renowned fitness expert and researcher with dozens of highly cited papers to his name, has stated that training frequency plays a crucial role in muscle growth, especially for natural lifters (Schoenfeld, 2016, Schoenfeld et al., 2016b). He suggests that training each muscle group two to three times per week may be more effective than the once-a-week frequency typical of bro splits.
Dr. Mike Israetel on Bro Splits
Dr. Mike Israetel, another respected expert in the fitness and bodybuilding world, echoes Dr. Schoenfeld’s sentiment. He recommends that most lifters train each muscle group more frequently for optimal results (Israetel, M., & Hoffmann, J. R. (2018). Dr. Israetel also emphasizes the importance of proper training volume and recovery, which can be challenging to balance with bro splits.
In fact, here’s a video from Dr Mike where he gives his thoughts in more detail:
Overall Verdict on Bro Splits
Alright, so I’ve got a two part answer for you on this. First, on balance, bro splits probably aren’t ‘optimal’ for hypertrophy (muscle building). Chances are that if you want maximal hypertrophy, you would do slightly better using a push pull legs type split that allowed you to train each muscle group twice per week.
Real talk though, with that said, every training split is going to have its pros and cons, and at the end of the day it mostly comes down to how you personally enjoy training. If you love the simplictiy and focus that comes with a classic bro split, then go for it.
When it comes to hypertrophy, consistent training that applies progressive overload for a long enough time (combined with solid sleep and nutrition habits) is going to be the most important factor.
Who is the bro split best for?
Interestingly, the bro split tends to best suit bigger, stronger lifters as these people create the most damage and fatigue to muscles during training sessions, meaning that they need longer times between sessions to recover.
Is bro split good for skinny guys?
The bro split probably isn’t that good for skinny guys. Generally speaking bro splits tend to be a poorer choice for smaller, weaker lifters, as they simply cannot creaste that much muscle damage or fatigue per session, meaning they often need far less time between sessions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are bro splits effective for beginners in bodybuilding?
Absolutely, bro splits can be effective for beginners, as they allow for a simple training structure, with focused and intense workouts on individual muscle groups. With that said, most beginners would likely do better by using full body workouts, and focusing on building technique with a small selection of compound exercises.
How do bro splits compare to full-body or upper/lower split routines?
Bro splits dedicate entire workouts to single muscle groups, whereas full-body and upper/lower split routines target multiple muscle groups per session. On balance, research suggests that upper/lower splits might be better for intermediate lifters as they allow you train muscle groups more frequently.
Can I modify a bro split to train each muscle group twice a week?
Sort of, you can modify a bro split to increase training frequency for each muscle group. One approach is to use a two-week rotation, allowing you to train each muscle group twice in a 10-day cycle. This modification can potentially enhance muscle growth and overall progress.
Another way to modify a bro split is simply to combine muscle groups, for example back and biceps, chest and triceps. Doing so essentially turns your bro split into a push pull legs routine.
Are bro splits suitable for women?
Whilst bro splits technically can be suitable for women interested in adding size, many women tend to benefit more from full-body, upper/lower split or push pull legs routines, which provide higher training frequency for each muscle group.
Can I incorporate cardio into my bro split routine?
You can absolutely incorporate cardio into your bro split routine. From expereince I’d say try to perform your cardio on your rest days, or at the very least try to seperate it from your resistance training sessions by a few hours. Lastly, make sure you’re mindful of your recovery, as adding in a bunch excessive cardio and getting too fatigued could interfere with muscle growth.
How can I prevent muscle imbalances while following a bro split routine?
Okay, so to prevent muscle imbalances while following a bro split, you might have to dedicate more time and effort muscle groups such as your quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves. From my own experience, I also highly recommend training side delts and biceps more frequently, ideally 2-4 times per week for maximal growth.
Alright, that’s enough reading for today, time for action…
1) Give a bro split a try, look at alternative splits, or consider having a look at custom programme options
2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.
3) And if you’re looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching, you can find more information about my services here.
‘Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc, BA
Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.
His experience includes 7+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.
References / Further Reading
- Israetel, M., & Hoffmann, J. R. (2018). How much should I train? An introduction to the Renaissance Periodization training frequency and volume landmarks. Renaissance Periodization. Retrieved from https://renaissanceperiodization.com/training-volume-landmarks-article/
- Schoenfeld, B. J. (2016). Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy. Human Kinetics. https://www.humankinetics.org/products/science-and-development-of-muscle-hypertrophy
- 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, 46(11), 1689-1697. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8
- Schoenfeld, B. J., & Grgic, J. (2020). Effects of range of motion on muscle development during resistance training interventions: A systematic review. SAGE Open Medicine, 8, 2050312120901559. https://doi.org/10.1177/2050312120901559