The Best Workout Split for Busy People

by in Training September 25, 2019

Has your schedule ever gotten so busy that you ended up lifting weights fewer times per week than you usually do? If you typically lift 4 or 5 days per week when things are normal, that may drop to 1 to 3 times per week when things get really busy.

In this article, I’m going to compare different training splits to see which are most practical and flexible for lifters with very busy schedules.

A common mistake many busy lifters make is trying to follow a training split that requires them to be in the gym a minimum of 4 to 5 days per week.

This is fine when they have time to do so, but when super busy times come crashing down (i.e. exams, project deadlines, family events etc.) and they can only lift 1-3 times those weeks, entire muscle groups get neglected.

Incline Dumbbell Rows – Part of a Full Body Weight Training Program

A “training split” refers to how a weight training program groups muscle groups in various workouts throughout the week. Here’s a list of common training splits. Technically, a full-body routine isn’t a training split since muscle groups are designated to specific workouts, but I’ll add it here for to make the list comprehensive.

5 Day Split
Day 1: Chest
Day 2: Back
Day 3: Legs
Day 4: Shoulders
Day 5: Arms & Core

4 Day Split
Day 1: Chest and Triceps
Day 2: Back and Biceps
Day 3: Legs
Day 4: Shoulders and Arms

3 Day Split
(Push Pull Legs)
Day 1: Chest, Shoulders and Triceps
Day 2: Back and Biceps
Day 3: Legs

2 Day Split
(Upper/Lower)
Day 1: Upper Body 
Day 2: Lower Body

Full Body
Different variations of full body weight training.

The Main Question

Before designing or selecting a weight training program to follow, the first question to ask yourself is this.

“How many days per week can I realistically and consistently train, even when things get really busy?”

The answer to this question will help you choose a training routine that will work for you in a variety of situations.

The Goal is to train every muscle group in the body, directly or indirectly, at least once per week, even when things are busy.

Answers & Selections

Here are two different answers to this question and an example of a good and bad program selection for them.

Answer 1: “I can train twice a week when things are busy and four times when things are normal.”

If someone can train twice per week during busy times, my suggestion would be to use a full-body weight training routine or an upper/lower split. This way every muscle group will get trained in a week even when things get very busy.

When things are not as busy, we can simply double their workouts. Here’s what I mean using an upper/lower split.

Upper/Lower Split Example

Busy Times (2x per week)
Monday: Upper Body
Thursday: Lower Body

Relaxed Times (4x per week)
Monday: Upper Body
Tuesday: Lower Body
Thursday: Upper Body
Friday: Lower Body

With this setup, muscle groups aren’t being neglected whether times are busy or normal.

A lifter can progress or at least maintain with the lower amount of training days per week and continue to progress by increasing the number of workouts per week during normal times.

Answer 2: “I can train once a week when things are busy and three times when things are normal.”

Here’s another example with when a lifter can train once during a busy week and three times during a normal week.

In this situation, a full-body weight training routine would be the best choice.

Full Body

Busy Times (1x per week)
Day 1: Full Body Training

Relaxed Times (3x per week)
Monday: Full Body 1
Wednesday: Full Body 2
Friday: Full Body 3

Here’s an example of what a 3-day full body weight training routine would look like.

In all three of these full body workouts, the majority of muscle groups are being trained in each session. This is happening with a variety of different exercises. Here’s a break down of how shoulders are being trained on each day.

Shoulder Exercises
Day 1: Reverse Fly
Day 2: Shoulder Press and Lateral Raises
Day 3: Butterfly Lateral Raises

Chest Exercises
Day 1: Bench Press
Day 2: Push-ups
Day 3: Incline Bench Press

Not So Good Program Selections

The majority of bodybuilders follow some sort of 4 or 5-day body part split routine. If someone can be consistent with this, this certainly works.

The issue with 4 or 5-day body part splits for busy lifters, is you have to be in the gym at least that many days per week to train every muscle group.

So if you’re on a 4-day split (i.e. chest/triceps, back/biceps, legs, shoulders) and you can only lift 2 times that week, entire muscle groups get neglected.

Alternative Solutions

So let’s say you really enjoy a 4 or 5 day training split. You get to focus on certain muscle groups and really get a good pump. You also don’t have to warm-up as many muscles each sessions.

One way to accommodate busy times to follow you regular training split most times, but have back up full-body routines if there are weeks you can only train 1 or 2 times per week.

Regular Week:
4 Day Split: Chest/Triceps, Back/Biceps, Legs, Shoulders

Busy Week:
Full Body Workouts 1 or 2 times per week.

Conclusion

There are two main things to keep in mind when designing or selecting a weight training program to follow. One, is can you realistically and consistently stick to it, and two, is it flexible enough to work around your busy schedule.

From my experience as a busy lifter and a fitness coach, training programs that target many muscle groups in a single session (i.e. full body routines and 2-day splits) are the most versitile which make them the best choices for busy lifters.

YouTube Video

Here’s a video I posted on the channel that summaries what was discussed in this article. Click below to check it out.

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