5 day split – I was wrong

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I admit it when I am wrong and in recommending the 5-day split as optimal for muscle gain in advanced lifters I was wrong. Am I sorry, no. I do the best I can and that is all I can do. I read all I can, I try lots of different things myself, I talk to lots of other people, and then I mentally compile all the conflicting information to decide what is most likely true. If I make mistakes in my recommendations they are always honest mistakes and not intentional deception for commercial gain. As much as people like to throw around the term “science based” training, there is really no such thing at this point and bodybuilding is still more art than science. Trial and error is how bodybuilders stay so far ahead of the researchers. The last decade has proven to my satisfaction that the 5-day split is NOT optimal for muscle gains.

When I put together my website in 2005 with all its home workout plans, I listed the 5 day split as the “Advanced Workout Plan” because at the time I perceived it to be optimal for muscle gain in the advanced lifter.  A decade of experience has proven to my satisfaction that I was wrong.  I have not recommended the 5 day split as an advanced workout plan for several years but I finally made the change in my website today. Before I cover the changes lets cover why I have demoted the 5-day split. First, for those who dont know the 5 day split workout its what was pushed in virtually every muscle magazine in the pre-internet age (when I started lifting):

Monday Chest
Tuesday Lats
Wednesday Legs
Thursday Shoulders
Friday Arms
Saturday 50 min cardio
Sunday 50 min cardio

Since virtually everyone who wanted to look like Arnold did the 5 day split, at gyms, Monday really was “chest day”.

Problem with the 5 day split workout

Its pretty simple.  To get maximum muscle gain you need the following:

  1. High workout intensity
  2. Proper workout frequency
  3. Proper nutrition
  4. Sufficient rest

There are no special workouts for hardgainers, certain blood types, nor for certain body types (ectomorph, endomorph, etc) – everyone needs these four things to optimize muscle gain.  Number 2 (proper workout frequency) is the problem with the 5 day split and why it is not optimal for muscle gain.  To optimize muscle gain you cant work out too often nor too seldom.  Look at the pecs of any natural lifter who does pushups every day and you will see what I mean – flat chested.  The 5 day split is on the other extreme, its simply not often enough so you are leaving gains on the table.  Optimal is somewhere between the daily and weekly extremes and it depends on a lot of factors including age.  For most young healthy natural lifters my guess would be that every 4 days is optimal. Note the “natural”.  The best workout plan for a steroid user bears little relation to the best workout plan for a natural lifter because steroids drastically shorten recovery time so that overtraining is virtually impossible.

Making the 5-day split optimal for muscle gain

The main flaw with the 5 day split is that each muscle only gets worked out every seven days.  We can correct this by completing all 5 workouts in 4 days as shown in the below chart and then the cycle is repeated so that the entire body gets worked out twice in 8 days.   Again, this workout is just asking for injury and I strongly suggest that if you want this kind of volume you use my advanced extreme home workout instead.

Morning Evening
Day 1 Chest Back
Day 2 Legs 50 min cardio
Day 3 Shoulders Arms
Day 4 50 min cardio

Well, this is an improvement over the 5-day split repeated weekly BUT it adds some other severe problems if used long term:

  1. Unacceptable risk of overuse injuries.
  2. Way too many gym hours required.

The 5 day split or this optimized 5 day split still has its uses but they are limited.  Doing it two or three weeks a year is a great way to mix up your workout routine.  Also, if you are paranoid about losing your gains on a long vacation, doing this workout for the two weeks before you depart is a great way to pulverize your muscles so that simple bodyweight exercises on your trip provide a great change of pace in workouts.

Best Advanced Workout Plans

Before I explain what I view to be the current best advanced workout plans, let me once again emphasize that these only provide optimal gains for advanced lifters.  If you have not yet done your first pullup, these workouts will not only provide inferior results to a simple full body workout but they are likely to injure you as well.

Gym Workout Plans

Home Workout Plans

Many people don’t want to do supersetting workouts because its rude in a crowded gym or because they like playing with their phones between sets.  Some people are not capable of doing supersetting workouts because they are in poor cardiovascular shape and need to rest between sets.  You can stick to non-supersetting style workout but to get the same training volume you would need six hours of gym time every 5 days to get the same results – thats why supersetting workouts are the future and why you need to be in top cardiovascular shape.

Why do experts disagree?

First of all, I am NOT an expert but rather just someone with 35 years of lifting experience.


The reason people argue about every little detail is that as much as people love to throw around the term “science-based training” its complete BS. What it really comes down to is experience based training. If you want to win the lifting competition in the olympics you would be a complete fool to hire a team of PhDs who had never lifted to be your coaches. To win, you hire a coach with a high school diploma who has lifted himself and coached hundreds of successful powerlifters – THAT is how you win the olympics.

There are a lot of high testosterone “professional” trainers whose income depends on their puffing their chests out, bragging, and posturing about THEIR ideas being right and everyone elses being wrong. This is the dishonest side of the problem.

The honest part of the problem is that different techniques work for different people and there is no one “best” workout for everyone. There is only a best workout for you at this particular time in your lifting career and I can guarantee you it will be different than the workout that was best for you a year ago or a year from now.  This is exactly why I made the AI workout wizard at LeanMuscleSystems.Com to help people find which workout program might be best for them at any given time in their life.

The BEST workout plan is the one that you are most excited about because you will do it consistency and you will give it your top effort. That workout might be P90X today, a FBW  3x weekly next month,  and 5×5 the month after that.