Try “Prime Focus” Splits – Better Than PPL?

By on January 6, 2020

One of the biggest debates among fitness and strength coaches, is the benefit of training full body, versus bro splits, versus push-pull-leg (PPL) splits.

Full body means that you work out your entire body every single workout. This allows you to train each muscle group as frequently as possible, thereby leading to potentially greater gains. It also keeps workouts nice and simple, and means you don’t need to worry about things like where you pick up if you miss a session. They also allow for more functional, whole-body movements.

Full body workout

This could be especially useful for experienced lifters. As Jeff Nippard explains in an excellent recent video, training a muscle will trigger a period of increased muscle protein synthesis (where the muscle is more sensitive to amino acids). This lasts for two days in new lifters, but it returns to normal in as little as 12 hours in more experienced lifters. So in theory: more training frequency = more spikes = more hypertrophy.

More training frequency = more spikes = more hypertrophy

On the downside, full body workouts tend to get rather long, and it’s hard to go past failure or to lift huge amounts of weight for each body part without fatiguing/running out of time.

The “bro split” is the opposite. Here, you train one or two muscle groups each on a separate day, leaving an entire week for that muscle to recover before going hard again. This allows you to train with more intensity each session, to thereby potentially create more muscle damage and signal more growth. Overtraining is prevented because each muscle group has a whole week to recover, and each workout is kept nice and short. On the downside, most studies now suggest that increasing training volume to at least twice a week is optimal for hypertrophy and strength gains. Once a week per muscle group may simply not be enough. Likewise, focussing purely on one muscle group often favours the use of isolation exercises like curls or tricep kickbacks – which have less benefit for fighters or athletes.

Spider-Man Crawls
Spider-man Crawls – a good example of a “full body” type move

PPL is a compromise. Some workouts focus on pushing movements, which means they’ll train the pecs, triceps, and shoulders. Others focus on pulling movements, and hit the biceps, the lats, and the traps. Seeing as these muscle groups are naturally trained together in many cases (a bench press will naturally train pecs, shoulders, triceps etc.), this is easy to program. It allows for a fairly intense workout for each muscle group, while also allowing you to use intermuscular coordination. The problem is that in order to hit each muscle group twice a week, you will need to train six time per week (or have a rolling program). And where does core training fit in?

Why pick from just three options?

This is an argument that has raged for a long time, and that is unlikely to reach a consensus any time soon.

But why pick from just these three options?

Train Without Limits: Prime Focus Program

There are many other programs you can run apart from these three, but these aren’t what I’m going to be recommending here.

Rather, I’m going to suggest that the best way might in fact be no way. To take a leaf out of Bruce Lee’s book, I’m advocating for training outside the confines of a few pre-approved methodologies.

What if you were to train full body but with the emphasis on one particular muscle group? Every workout, you hit every single muscle group. But you then pay extra attention to whichever muscle group it is that you most want to train in that moment. You might perform one exercise for every body part, or perhaps a few compound full-body movements, and then end with four or five different movements targeting pecs, or shoulders, or triceps. I call this the “Prime Focus Program.” I partly call it that, because I love Optimus Prime…

Rope climbs

Alternative, you might create a primary “challenge” for that workout. For instance, I recently decided to climb some rope and challenged myself to go up and back down my rope a total of 15 times (it was rough). That made the workout very much a challenge for my lats, grip, and biceps. These were the “prime focuses” of the workout. But I then did a bunch of additional stuff like squat jumps, crawls, and some mobility drills to round off the workout.

You can program this, or you can simply base the decision on whichever muscle group you feel you’ve been neglecting lately. If you want to get really fancy, you can design the routines so that the following day leaves out the muscle group(s) that were the focus the previous day. Or you could incorporate a “feeder” routine, using light weights and high reps to flood the most-recently trained muscle group with blood and nutrients to enhance recovery and growth.

You could incorporate a “feeder” routine.

OR you can just stick to light reps for each body part, with lots of volume and intensity for the area you want to focus on most. This way, you can train with a lot of intensity, AND you can make sure to maximize your training volume.

Best of all, it lends itself perfectly to a highly varied, highly exciting, and very functional type of training!

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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