Have Bro’s been doing science the whole time?

flatwhite Hardgainer, Muscle Gain, Training, Uncategorized 0 Comments

Ah, the bros? You either are one or you hate them.
Not sure what I’m talking about then let’sclear it up with some background and definitions…

What is a Bro?

A bro is part of a subculture of “conventional guys’ guys”. They are often seen as obnoxious. A bro will socialise with his male peers and enjoys lively, unintellectual pursuits. For example, partying, hitting the gym and watching sports (all heavily intellectual pursuits as far as I’m concerned!).

Bros of course are the founders of Broscience. This is defined by urbandictionary.com as…

“the predominant brand of reasoning in bodybuilding circles where the anecdotal reports of jacked dudes are considered more credible than scientific research.”

Bros use it to sarcastically mock skinny, PubMed quoting, gym geeks.These same geeks use it sarcastically to mock the bros for their lack of science based methodology.

keyboard-warrior

Essentially, it’s a phrase that is often used by keyboard warriors in internet arguments over optimal training practices.

The bros and their broscience state that you should follow a body part split to get the best results (gainz, bro!). This is often referred to as a ‘bro split’.Come-at-me-Bro-

What Is a Bro Split?

Sean Nalewanyj summed it up succinctly when he said…

“Simply put, the typical “bro split” involves hitting each individual muscle group once per week over the course of 4-6 workouts.”

The classic “bro split” has been a hugely popular training approach for decades and is still widely used method for those trying to pack on muscle size and strength.

The typical bro split looks something like this 4-day split:

Monday – Chest

Tuesday –  Back

Wednesday – Rest

Thursday –  Legs & Abs

Friday – Arms & Shoulders

Saturday –  Rest

Sunday – Rest

Or this 5-day split:

Monday – Chest

Tuesday – Back

Wednesday – Legs & Abs

Thursday – Shoulders & Calves

Friday – Arms

Saturday – Rest

Sunday-  Rest

The benefits sited by the bros for this approach to training tend to be a slight variation on the following theme:

Splitting the body up like this gives you the chance to smash a body part, give it full recovery and then get after it again a week later. Training the muscle more frequently will lead to overtraining and you will lose all your gains(z).

Cool story Bro!

Cool story Bro!

This argument is flawed though. Assuming you follow a sensible nutrition plan and get decent sleep a muscle simply does not require a full week of rest to fully recover. In most cases, 2-4 days will be enough for full recovery and growth to take place.  You should, therefore, be training it again to provide another stimulus.

Given the recovery/growth cycle is complete in under a week then you are actually de-training ever so slightly when you wait a week to hit the muscle again. It is left dormant, fully recovered, and ready to go for up to 5 days before receiving another stimulus. This means you are leaving gainz on the table. Think of it this way…if you train a muscle once per week then it gets 52 “growth” signals a year. Train it twice a week and you get 104 of these signals. Who do you think is going to build bigger muscles?

As a result, bro splits have gotten a lot of criticism in the bodybuilding community in recent years. Many a keyboard warrior has claimed that bro splits are a waste of time for natural trainees. The current school of thought is that a bro split is only suitable for drug taking bodybuilders. Most experts would agree that a natural trainee will see faster and more efficient progress using a program that hits each individual muscle group at a higher frequency.

With the recent increase in scientific research into muscle building the common consensus is that training a muscle more frequently is superior for growth. Twice per week appears to be where most experts have settled based on the current weight of evidence. Brad Schoenfeld, in particular, has done great things in terms of allowing us to use science to guide our programming decisions. Schoenfeld himself states that…

…“training a (muscle group) minimum of 2 days a week is needed to maximise muscle growth.”

The bro trains each muscle once per week. According to the gym geek crowd this is an epic fail. They revel in telling us all about the latest double blind study which showed X, Y, & Z.

Do you even Lift

 

But, is the bro split really so bad?

Most impressive physiques have been built following bro splits after all. Body part splits DO  work. In fact, most natural bodybuilders and figure competitors train this way. Bro splits can’t be all bad. In fact, there must be plenty right with the bro split.

So, what’s the disconnect between the science and the bro?

Let’s examine the bro split a little further.

Obviously, each muscle group gets its own training session each week. So, on the surface you might assume that all the muscles are getting trained once per week. This is wrong and in fact, is one of the biggest misnomers about bro splits.

Why?

Because many of the secondary assistance muscle groups get worked on an additional day. On International Chest day (aka Monday), for example, the triceps and anterior delts will also get a lot of work on any pressing movement. Likewise, the biceps and posterior delts will get plenty of stimulation on back day. Assuming deadlifts are also included on back day (they often are) then even the legs get some work. Now on shoulders and arm day it is almost certain that dips and/or close grip bench will be used for the triceps. Guess what? Dips and close grip benches hit the pecs hard so they get a second stimulus each week too. In fact, most major muscle groups do. Check out these handy tables below to see what I mean.

4 day split

Chest Back Legs & Abs Arms & Shoulders Total Per Week
Chest X X 2
Back X 1
Legs X (If Deadlifts included X 2
Biceps X X 2
Triceps X X 2
Anterior Deltoids X X 2
Lateral Deltoids X 1
Posterior Deltoids X X 2
Abs X 1
Calves X 1

 

5 day split

Chest Back Legs & Abs Shoulders & Calves Arms Total Per Week
Chest X X 2
Back X 1
Legs X (If Deadlifts included X 2
Biceps X X 2
Triceps X X X 3
Anterior Deltoids X X X 3
Lateral Deltoids X 1
Posterior Deltoids X X 2
Abs X 1
Calves X X 2

 

On the 4-day split everything other than back, lateral delts, calves and abs gets trained twice per week.

The abs actually get a lot of stimulation from chin up variations, bent over rows and military presses. If these exercises are included on back and shoulder day, then the abs get activated to a good degree up to three times a week. So it is just the back, lateral delts and calves that might be missing out. The 5 day split has basically the same issue although the calves are hit twice. Again the back and lateral delts will be left undertrained. Any wonder then that most bro’s lack size in these muscle groups?

So perhaps rather than going against the prevailing science the Bro’s have been onto something all along. They have been doing science all along by accident! Is it optimal? Not quite but, is it close? Hell yeah!

Improving on the bro split

bro code

There are any number of ways to change the bro split to try and optimise training frequency. One glaring omission from the above split is the training frequency for back and lateral delts (I would also argue that legs are being neglected even if deadlifts are done on back day). Great alternatives include switching to a push, pull, legs or an upper/lower plan. If, however, you enjoy a body part split and want to channel your inner bro then the below is a good alternative.

Day 1 Chest & Shoulders

Day 2 Back (Heavy) & Lateral Delts

Day 3 Legs & Abs

Day 4 Arms & Shoulders (Heavy), Back (Light)

Doing this will get you hitting everything except legs with a good amount of volume twice per week . An improvement on the basic bro split and a great way to grow the beach muscles. Wanna bring your legs up to par as well? Then I would suggest switching your split after 4-6 weeks of the above to train legs twice per week.

Day 1 Legs & Arms

Day 2 Back & Lateral Delts

Day 3 Legs & Abs

Day 4 Chest & Back (Tag on some lateral delt work)

Then in the next block of training you could switch focus again. Perhaps to shoulders.

Another way to use this info:

Assuming you aren’t married to body part splits you can use the above info to build a plan which has you training every muscle twice per week. This can be set up to suit your schedule and training preferences.

Want to maximise efficiency?

Then you can add some isolation work for smaller muscles to days when you train bigger muscles with compound movements. Chest day, for example, can very easily become a ‘push’ day, which targets your shoulder and triceps well too. Add in some lateral raise, reverse flyes and rope pressdowns and you effectively kill 3 birds with one stone.

Alternatively, if you have a lagging muscle group you can ‘tag’ some extra work on for these to another session or two. Biceps a weak point? Put them in with chest day and shoulder day and they will get 3 training days per week when you include the stimulation from back day.

Stuck in a bro split rut and want some help setting up your training programme? Drop me a message at tom@flatwhitesfreeweights and i’d be happy to help or check out my online coaching package here.

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