While a lot of what we know about effective training is based on bonafide scientific research, just as much comes from what is commonly called bro-science.
Bro science isn’t usually the result of double-blind studies or time spent in university labs. Instead, it’s based on what tens of thousands of lifters do and have found to work. Bro science comes from decades of training and the knowledge that comes with it, and not a 12-week study performed on a cohort of 30 students who are often novice exercisers.
In short, just because bro science isn’t widely recognized by academia doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant or wrong. And, in many instances, studies go on to confirm the effectiveness of bro science, giving these widely used training methods the legitimacy they deserve.
The bro split is another aspect of training that often receives a lot of ridicule when, in actuality, it’s a very effective way to organize your workouts. Bodybuilders have been using the bro split for over 50 years, so it’s safe to say that it works.
Is the bro split perfect? Probably not. But that’s because lifters often respond to workouts differently. For some, the bro split is the ideal way to train. For others, a different approach may produce better results.
In this article, we look into the pros and cons of the bro split, provide you with a few examples, and reveal some viable alternatives.
What is the Bro Split?
The bro split is most commonly associated with bodybuilding, the aim of which is building bigger muscles – a process called hypertrophy. Competitive and recreational bodybuilders use the bro split, but it’s not so popular with powerlifters, weightlifters, or anyone who is training for increased athletic performance.
Also known as a body part split, the bro split involves training 4-5 days per week and devoting one session to 1-2 muscle groups. In general, muscle groups are trained once per week and with moderate to high volume. Several exercises are used per muscle group to train it from various angles.
There is no set bro split workout; it’s basically a flexible framework that you can adapt to meet your training goals.
Example bro split workouts include:
|Wednesday||Legs and abs|
|Friday||Shoulders and arms|
|Monday||Chest and back|
|Tuesday||Legs and abs|
|Saturday||Arms and abs|
|Monday||Chest and triceps|
|Tuesday||Back and biceps|
|Thursday||Legs and abs|
With such a flexible framework, you should have no problem creating a bro split that suits your needs. Organize your training week based on how many and on which days you want to train, and then what muscle groups you want to hit during each workout. Finally, slot your preferred exercises into each training session, and you’ve got yourself your very own bro split!
Bro Split Benefits
Bro splits have been popular since the 1960s. That’s because they work! Some of the most famous and successful bodybuilders have used the bro split, and if it worked for them, it could work for you too. The benefits of bro split include:
Lots of training volume per muscle group – training volume is the number of sets you do per workout. Bro splits are usually described as a moderate to high volume training method.
By training one or two muscle groups per gym session, you’ll be able to do a lot of sets, which is an essential factor of hypertrophy. A typical bro split can involve 12 or more sets per muscle group.
Plenty of workout variation – with an hour or more to train 1-2 muscle groups, you’ll be able to use lots of different exercises to train your muscles from a variety of angles.
For example, for chest, you could do:
- Bench press – 3 sets of 6 reps
- Incline dumbbell bench press – 3 sets of 8 reps
- Decline chest press machine – 3 sets of 10 reps
- Cable crossovers – 3 sets of 12 reps
- Push-ups – 3 sets of AMRAP (as many reps as possible)
Not only can you hit your muscles from lots of angles, but you can also use a variety of training methods (free weights, body weight, machines, etc.) and several different repetition ranges too. This holistic approach to training is one of the most effective ways to build muscle mass.
Lots of time for rest and recovery – even if you train five times per week, muscle groups get a lot of time to recover between workouts. For example, if you train your legs on Monday, it will be a whole week before you hit them again. This means you can really hammer the target muscle group, knowing it’s got a week to recover and grow.
Very simple – the bro split is relatively straightforward to use. It can be as simple as knowing what muscle groups you are going to train each day. Then, when you get to the gym, you hook up with your training partner and make up your workout on the fly. While this kind of instinctive training isn’t always the best way to train, it’s certainly enjoyable and flexible.
You’ll get a great pump – doing lots of exercises and sets for the same muscle group is invariably accompanied by a noticeable pump. The pump occurs when oxygenated blood is preferentially driven into your working muscles. This makes them look bigger and also force-feeds them with nutrients which may enhance muscle growth. You may not get such a good pump from a lower volume workout.
Mentally refreshing – while you’ll have to commit to hitting the gym 4-5 times a week for most bro splits, every workout is different. Even if you dislike training one particular body part, you should be able to raise your motivation for an hour or so and power on through. After all, it’ll be a week before you need to think about training that muscle group again.
Lots of arm training – bro splits invariably involve a lot of arm training. That’s because your triceps are involved in all pushing exercises (chest and shoulders), while your biceps are involved in all pulling exercises (back). Then, they usually get a workout of their own too. If you want bigger, more muscular arms, the bro split could be the way to get them.
Bro Split Drawbacks
Bro splits are largely beneficial, but there are a few drawbacks too. Consider the following before embarking on your next bro split:
A missed workout will unbalance your entire training week – except for your arms, most bro splits train each body part once per week. If you miss a workout, you miss your one opportunity to target and build that muscle group.
This will unbalance your entire training week, and if you miss the same workout more than a couple of times, it could affect your physique too. Missed workouts are hard to catch up on with the bro split.
Too much rest between muscle groups – most muscles take around 72 hours to recover from an intense workout. Using a bro split means that you only train each body part once per seven days. More frequent workouts could produce better hypertrophy (1).
Severe post-exercise muscle soreness – bro split workouts can leave you feeling very sore. The high volume of work they allow, combined with infrequent workouts, means that delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is part and parcel of the bro split. You’ll experience less post-exercise discomfort if you train your muscles more often but with less volume.
A big commitment – when time is short, workouts are often skipped. Training consistently 4-5 days per week is a big commitment. If you know you that you will regularly miss workouts, less frequent full-body workouts may be preferable.
Some workouts are harder/longer than others – while this could be a benefit, it’s also a bit of a drawback. Invariably, some body parts are easier and quicker to train than others. Your leg workout will probably be a killer, but your arm workout will be a walk in the park by comparison.
Depending on what muscles you train on each day, some workouts will be longer than others too. This could be a drawback if you prefer to work out for the same duration each day.
Not ideal for developing maximal strength – the bro split could make you stronger, but that’s not what it’s designed for. If you want to focus on building strength, a workout based on the powerlifts is arguably the best approach. The bro split is best suited to increasing muscle size.
Your performance will drop off as you move through the workout – doing lots of sets and exercises for the same muscle group means you’ll get more and more tired as your workout progresses. Because of this, you’ll need to reduce your weights, do fewer reps per set, or use easier exercises towards the end of your workout, negating some of the training benefits.
You may get better results by spreading the exercise volume across several workouts so that you can maintain higher training intensity (2).
Alternatives to the Bro Split
The best way to see if the bro split works for you is to try it for 8-12 weeks and judge your progress. Even if it DOES work, sticking with the same bro split for too long could lead to a workout plateau, and what used to deliver outstanding results eventually stops working.
Because of this, it’s always useful to know a few alternatives to the bro split. That way, whatever your needs and goals, you’ll be able to organize your workouts and get the best possible results from your training.
Upper-lower body split
One of the main disadvantages of the bro split is that you only train each muscle group once per week. While this can work, it’s not always ideal. The upper-lower split involves four workouts per week, but each muscle group gets trained twice, i.e.:
|Upper body-lower body split|
A lot of lifters think that full-body workouts are only suitable for beginners. That’s not necessarily true. In fact, bodybuilding legends Arnold Schwarzenegger and Reg Park both used full-body workouts throughout their careers, especially when bulking.
While full-body workouts can be grueling, they mean you train each muscle group three times a week, which can stimulate a lot of muscle growth.
Instead of dividing your body into muscle groups, the functional split breaks your body down into anatomical movement patterns. This ensures that you train all body parts equally.
The functional split is an excellent way to organize your workouts if you want to train for muscle size, strength, and performance.
|Monday||Vertical push and pull, e.g., overhead presses and pull-ups|
|Tuesday||Hip-dominant lower body, e.g., deadlifts and hip thrusts|
|Thursday||Horizontal push and pull, e.g., bench press and rows|
|Saturday||Knee-dominant lower body, e.g., squats and leg extensions|
Like the functional split, this routine groups body parts based on their function. One day you train your chest, shoulders, and arms, the next, you work your back, biceps, and abs, and finally your quads, hamstrings, and calves. You can do three or six workouts per week, depending on your level of experience and how much time you have available for training.
Bro Split – Wrapping Up
If you are a bodybuilder, the bro split is an effective way to organize your workouts. You can adapt this training system to match your needs and goals, usually training 4-5 times per week. With lots of time to dedicate to each muscle group, you should have no problem accumulating the volume necessary for building bigger muscles.
Does that mean you HAVE to use the bro split? Not at all! It’s just one of the many training tools at your disposal. There is no one-size-fits-all workout solution; that works for one person may not work for another.
To see if the bro split is right for you, give it a try and record your results. Not for a week or a month, but for 2-3 months. Self-experimentation is the only way to determine what works best for you.
A lot of trainers and lifters sneer at the bro split, but plenty of bigger, stronger guys have used it to great effect. Remember, bro science is developed in the trenches and is the result of millions of workouts. Don’t dismiss the bro approach simply because some scientist has yet to study it. Invariably, success leaves clues, and training like a bro could give you the results you want.