Bro Split Workout Routine

How to increase training volume without hurting recovery.

A workout split refers to which muscle groups you train each day over the course of a week. And it’s a variable that affects your muscle and strength gains.

The bro split workout is one of the most popular routines among bodybuilders and fitness athletes. But does it really work? Or is it just bro-science?

To answer these questions, I’ve analyzed the physiology behind the bro split workout. So you can see how it works and decide if it’s the best routine to help you reach your fitness goals.

Bro Split Workout

What Is The Bro Split Workout?

The bro split workout involves training 1 or 2 individual muscle groups each day at the gym. Most of the time, the goal of this split is to maximize gains in the form of muscle growth.

One reason it’s called the bro split is that it’s popular among guys in their 20s who spend a lot of time at the gym in order to attract ladies. But it’s also common among fitness enthusiasts of all ages and genders.

Usually, the bro split workout is 5 days per week. And each major muscle group is trained with a combination of compound and isolation exercises.

Typical Bro Split Workout Routine
  • Monday: Chest
  • Tuesday: Back
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Shoulders
  • Friday: Arms

Does The Bro Split Work?

To assess the effectiveness of the bro split, it’s first necessary to understand how your body recovers from weight lifting workouts. First, and most obvious is muscle recovery. But then there is also nervous system recovery.

Muscle Recovery

As you probably know, weight lifting inherently damages your muscles. This causes them to grow bigger and stronger. But training a muscle before it recovers limits growth1 and can lead to overtraining.

When muscles are recovering, you’ll notice a decrease in muscle strength as well as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)2. For experienced lifters, muscles take 48 to 72 hours to recover, depending on the type and intensity of exercise.

The benefit of the bro split workout is that individual muscle groups have adequate time to recover between training sessions. And you’re able to train different body parts while the others recover.

One experiment showed that training individual muscle groups resulted in less overall muscle damage compared to a total body workout split3. Even when training at a higher frequency (more days per week).

Bro Split Workout

Figure 1: Comparison of 5-day single muscle split and 3-day total body split in terms of cumulative muscle damage (predicted levels of creatine kinase). Notice that muscle damage is additive even when training different muscles, but levels off by day 4. Adapted from Giechaskiel3

In exercise recovery experiments, researchers often measure levels of an enzyme called creatine kinase (CK). Where higher levels indicate more muscle damage.

While there are no firm guidelines for weight lifting, a literature review suggests that performance starts to decrease when CK levels exceed 550 units per liter (U/L)4. And levels above 750 U/L may be a sign of overtraining.

In this example, the bro split peaks at around 550 U/L. While the total body workouts peak much closer to 750 U/L.

Nervous System Recovery

Another, lesser-known, response to weight lifting workouts involves the nervous system. Any form of mental or physical stress takes a toll on this system, and it takes time to recover just like your muscles.

Furthermore, the greater the stress, the longer it takes your nervous system to recover. Heavy compound movements like squats and deadlifts require 72 hours or more before returning to baseline.

Whereas isolation exercises put less stress on your nervous system. And, therefore, require less recovery time.

Bro Split Workout Nervous System Recovery

Figure 2: Comparison of compound exercise vs isolation exercise in terms of nervous system recovery (predicted heart rate variability [HRV] response). Adapted from Chen et al.5

Now, this is not to say that you shouldn’t do squats or deadlifts. Quite the contrary. These compound exercises are valuable for building muscle mass and strength. And they can even build up your nervous system (HRV) over time.

However, exceptionally taxing exercises should not be performed in subsequent workout sessions without at least 72 hours of rest. And a mix of compound and isolation exercises should be used to minimize nervous system fatigue.

Bottom Line

Keep in mind, the charts above are simplified models of recovery that don’t account for variables like genetics, physical conditioning, workout intensity, or exercise selection.

This means you could overtrain on a bro split (I’ve done it). Or you could have a total body split that’s not taxing enough. And there are other splits, such as the 4-day push-pull or 6-day push-pull-legs.

Still, this information is useful in understanding the effect of workout splits on overall recovery. And it shows that, when designed properly, a bro split routine is an efficient way to balance training volume and recovery.

Of course, there are pros and cons to any training program. So let’s look at what’s good and bad about the bro split.

Bro Split Workout Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Allows you to train more frequently

  • Increases the amount of volume (total sets) you can do

  • Gives more attention to individual muscle groups

  • Provides adequate rest between training the same muscle group

  • Great for maximizing hypertrophy (muscle growth)

  • Can be used during both bulking and cutting phases

Cons
  • Lower body often doesn’t receive a proportionate amount of work

  • Not ideal for maximizing power/strength (although you will get stronger)

  • Can lead to muscle imbalances if not designed properly

  • Not ideal for optimizing athletic performance

  • Might be too much volume for beginners

Bro Split Workout Routine Examples

If you’d like to give the bro split a try, I have provided my own 5-day and 6-day workout routines below. These are a little different than the typical bro split for reasons I’ll explain.

5-Day Bro Split Workout Example

With this split, I purposely put the leg workout on Day 1 (usually Monday). So you will be fully recovered after 2 days off and you can give it your full energy.

With this change, you’ll have better legs than the average bro. Also, if you can make it through a grueling leg day on Monday, the rest of your week seems easy!

Bro Split Workout 5 Day

In addition, I’ve separated chest day and shoulder day by 48 hours since they both stress the anterior deltoid. And arm day is 48 hours after back day since biceps are also used heavily on that day.

This 5-day split is excellent for intermediate to advanced lifters looking to build or maintain lean muscle while still having weekends off.

But for those looking to optimize muscle gains, my 6-day split is even better.

6-Day Bro Split Workout Example

For the 6-day split, each workout trains 2 muscle groups instead of just one. By doing this, we can break up muscle groups that actually contain more than one muscle.

For example, legs are separated into quads and hamstrings. This enables you to give more attention to often overlooked muscles.

More importantly, a 6-day split allows you to train most muscle groups twice in a given week. And studies show that training muscles twice a week promotes superior growth compared to once a week6.

The key is to split muscles up in a way that allows them to recover between training sessions.

Bro Split Workout 6 Day

For larger muscle groups, the second workout emphasizes a different part of that muscle. And it is often paired with a complementary muscle group.

For example, the first chest day focuses on the lower pec and is paired with triceps. While the second chest day focuses on the upper pec and shoulders.

Likewise, there is a pull-down focused back day paired with biceps. And a row focused back day combined with hamstrings.

With this split, you would do squats on Monday and deadlifts on Friday. Giving you at least 72 hours to recover between those two high-stress movements.

While these examples are definitely not the only way to do bro split workouts, they are designed to maximize volume and intensity without doubling up on muscle damage.

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Bro Split Workout Reps, Sets, & Rest Periods

It’s important to realize, the bro split is usually just a prescribed training frequency. But that’s only one of the variables that affect the results you get from your workouts.

Along with training split, you also need to adjust reps, sets, and rest periods according to your fitness goals.

Reps Per Set

Reps are simply the number of consecutive repetitions you perform before reaching exhaustion or muscular failure. And the reps per set is typically a target range at which you should fail.

The lower the rep range, the higher the weight you can lift. For muscle hypertrophy, the ideal range is generally considered 8-12 reps. But I recommend targeting 5-10 reps to balance muscle and strength gains.

For fat loss, I recommend 10-15 reps. This increases your calories burned per minute, especially when combined with shorter rest periods.

Rests Between Sets

A rest period is the amount of time you allow yourself to recover between successive sets on a given exercise.

Generally, longer rests allow your strength to recover more. Therefore, I recommend resting for 90 seconds to 2 minutes when your goal is muscle gain.

When your goal is fat loss or body recomposition, I recommend shorter rest periods of 45 to 90 seconds. This keeps your average heart rate higher throughout the workout so you burn more calories.

Sets Per Workout

Lastly is the total number of sets you do per workout. This is also sometimes referred to as workout volume.

The more sets you do per workout, the more muscle damage you inflict and the longer it takes to recover. But too few sets and you won’t stimulate muscle adaptation.

As a happy medium, I recommend targeting between 25 and 35 sets per workout. Those sets should be divided between several exercises per muscle group. And each exercise should include 3-5 sets.

Key Takeaways

  • The bro split involves training one or two muscle groups per workout
  • You workout 5 to 6 days per week with a combination of compound and isolation exercises
  • This increases training volume without increasing muscle or nervous system fatigue
  • It’s ideal for optimizing training for muscle hypertrophy (growth)

Conclusion

Compared to full-body routines, the bro split workout definitely has some advantages. And it’s a viable option for intermediate to advanced lifters looking to build more muscle.

The bro split is also an easy way to train more often and burn more calories over the course of the week. So it’s good for fat loss too.

At the end of the day, your training split is one of many variables that you should consider changing over time. To learn more about variables that affect muscle gain and fat loss, check out my related articles below.

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