How to Optimize Strength Training with Schedules and Splits

Fitness Tips

How to Optimize Strength Training with Schedules and Splits

When you first begin strength training, nearly any effort will be rewarded with results. After those initial gains, you'll need to think a little more strategically and begin introducing training schedules and splits.

Although it's called a routine, don't get stuck in a rut. Change your schedule approximately every eight weeks to maximize results. You may discover that you need to make minor modifications or completely overhaul your routine if you hit a wall. Keeping records of your routines, sets and loads will help you get the most out of your time in the gym.

Keep reading for more suggestions that will help you create the most effective strength training regimen.

Full Body

A full body routine involves working each body part in one session. People who use this routine usually hit the gym two or three times each week. Full body is a great routine for someone who exercises less frequently but can spend a long time in the gym during a session. Its simplicity can be ideal, although beginners may not have the stamina to do this workout justice.


The upper/lower training routine involves working out the upper body one day and the lower body another. Two days of strength training each week may be enough for beginners still building stamina. Turn some of those rest days into active rest. Yoga, cardio, Pilates, walking and jogging are great options to optimize strength gains. You can also work your abs with the upper or lower routine, or even create an ab day with your cardio workout.

If you only have time to make it to the gym on weekends, do upper body one day and lower body the next. You'll be free to focus on work during the week and can even add some light cardio in the morning or at lunch.

More advanced exercisers often exhaust themselves without tapping their muscles' full potential or run out of time on a two- or three-day full body routine. Try two days on (lower/upper) with one day of rest, then two days back on, followed by two days of rest.


Many people divide training sessions for the upper body by movements that push (chest, triceps, shoulders) and those that pull (back and biceps). This can be a great way to address functional weaknesses that could be slowing your progress. Push/pull is good for advanced lifters who have at least four days to spend in the gym. Legs can also be split according to the push/pull principle, whether they are included in one or more of the upper body days, or just trained alone.

The push/pull focus is a good way to retrain the brain and body and concentrate on a specific movement. Like the upper/lower split, it can be performed on a full body day. Below is a sample push/pull schedule with one full body day.

Day 1: Full body

Day 2: Rest

Day 3: Push

Day 4: Pull

Day 5: Rest

Day 6: Legs and abs

Day 7: Rest

As you can see, you can mix and match these basics in endless variations to achieve the desired result. Factoring in three variables will help you hit your sweet spot: time, fitness capacity and goals.

Fitness Capacity

You'll need to do some experimentation to determine your fitness capacity. After two hours in the gym on a full day routine, do you run out of steam and cut your workout short, skimping on the rest of the body? Maybe you can do a lighter full day and a heavier upper/lower body split on the other two days. Dialing the intensity up or down can help, so plan heavier and lighter days.

Tweaking the structure of the workout will impact the effectiveness of your routine. Don't forget to adjust your sets or the exercises you perform.

Give your muscles adequate time to rest if you want to add lean muscle. Some people train hard and like to hit each muscle just once a week, while others respond better to less intense but more frequent training. Keeping good records will help you get results faster. Trial and error is a necessary part of the process. If something isn't working, change it.


What are your goals? If you're a lifelong runner with developed legs and a weaker upper body, you'll want to focus on upper body early in the week. A push/pull routine may help you accelerate growth and really concentrate on your upper body.

When you assess whether your routine is working, ask yourself three questions: Am I getting stronger and adding lean muscle? Do I have time to recover? Do I have energy and motivation?

If the answer to any of those questions is no, make some adjustments. A good routine should add energy and vitality to your life and not leave you feeling sapped. Although a little muscle soreness is normal, debilitating pain is a sign you've gone too far.

Looking for some workouts to get you started? Check out our Precor Coaching Center for a wide variety of workouts that will help you to optimize strength training and reach your goals.