The Bro Split is surprisingly controversial. Most guys assume it’s for casual lifters who never took the time to learn how to program a proper workout split. That’s not the case. 2/3rds of competitive bodybuilders use Bro Splits (study).
Well-designed Bro Splits can be incredibly good for building muscle, especially in your arms and shoulders. In this article, we’ll teach you how to do it right. We’ll talk about why it works, how to build your own Bro Split, and then give you a sample routine you can follow (and customize).
What’s a Bro Split?
A Bro Split is a body-part split with an emphasis on muscle size and aesthetics. “Bros” are lifters who follow their hearts instead of their brains. As such, the Bro Split isn’t rooted in science or knowledge but rather in experience and wisdom. These workout routines are passed down from wide mentor to slender apprentice.
Bro Splits are pure bodybuilding routines. They use hypertrophy training principles to maximize your rate of muscle growth, especially in the muscles you’re most eager to grow. Most of them are 5-day workout splits that favour relatively high training volumes.
What separates the Bro Split from other workout splits is its focus on just one body part per workout. Here’s an example of a classic Bro Split:
- Monday: Chest Day
- Tuesday: Back Day
- Wednesday: Shoulder Day
- Thursday: Leg Day
- Friday: Arm Day
- Saturday: Rest
- Sunday: Rest
If you’re paying attention, you may notice something strange about that schedule. “Arms” isn’t a muscle group. Neither is “legs.” Our limbs contain several different muscle groups with entirely different functions. Bro Splits are more nuanced than they seem.
Debunking the Criticisms
The most common criticism levelled against the Bro Split is that the training frequency is too low. Muscles recover 2–4 days after a workout, so if you’re only training each muscle group once per week, you’re missing out on 3–5 days of muscle growth (study).
Furthermore, if you dedicate an entire workout to just one muscle group, it’s too much volume all at once. Instead of recovering in 2–4 days, it might take closer to a week before you feel ready to train that muscle again.
The problem with that argument is that Bro Splits train one body part per workout, and each of those body parts contains several different muscle groups.
- Monday may indeed be Chest Day, but most pressing movements do a pretty good job of training your shoulders and triceps, too.
- Tuesday may be Back Day, but it probably starts with deadlifts, which do a great job of training your hips. Moreover, most pulling exercises train the biceps and forearms.
- Wednesday is Leg Day, which might have lifts like front squats, which also train the back and serratus muscles. Plus, guys often do their ab exercises on leg day.
- Thursday is Shoulder Day, which probably includes pressing and pulling, working the chest, back, biceps, and triceps.
- Friday is Arm Day, which focuses on arm exercises but can also include lifts like the close-grip bench press and lateral raise, working your chest and shoulders.
A good Bro Split will have you training your arms and shoulders three times per week, your chest and back 2–3 per week, and your legs 1–2 times per week. That training frequency might not be enough to maximize quad growth, but that’s not what Bro splits are for. They’re designed for guys who are trying to build formidable upper bodies.
They’re designed to build the “classic” male physique most guys are intuitively drawn to, with broad shoulders, a thick chest, a wide back, and strong arms. If that’s the type of physique you want, a Bro Split will help you build it.
The Advantages of Bro Splits
Bro Splits have been popular for many generations, surviving because they work, and growing better over time. Here’s why they work so well:
- Focus: Bro Splits allow you to focus on one goal per workout. If your only goal is to train your arms, you have an abundance of time and energy to accomplish that goal. Instead of doing a good arm workout, you can do the perfect arm workout.
- Exercise Variety: If you’re doing full-body workouts, you’ll do the big compound lifts several times per week. Every workout will have some sort of squat, hinge, press, and pull. By the time you finish those big lifts, you won’t have much energy left for smaller ones. With a Bro Split, you’re only doing those big compound lifts once per week, then moving on to several smaller ones, radically increasing exercise variety and thus simulating a wider variety of muscle fibres.
- Recovery: Bro Splits train each muscle group several times per week but with varying intensity. Your arms can easily recover from the arm work you do on Chest Day and Back Day, and they have a full week to recover from the onslaught of Arm Day.
- Volume: As you build more muscle, those muscles grow tougher, making it harder to stimulate more muscle growth. The Bro Split offers a good solution to that problem. By devoting an entire workout to stimulating just one body part, it’s easy to get enough good volume to stimulate muscle growth.
- Every Tool is On the Table: Because you have more than enough time to recover, nothing is held back. You can do drop sets, supersets, or giant sets. You can do reverse pyramid training, rest-pause, or train past failure.
Other training splits have different ways of offering these same advantages, and some come along with advantages of their own. The Bro Split isn’t necessarily the best training split, but it’s up there among the best. If you want to know more, I wrote an article on training splits on Bony to Beastly.
Bro Splits Aren’t for Beginners
Bro splits are great for intermediate lifters, and they’re especially popular among the most advanced. The best bodybuilders in the world tend to use them. However, they aren’t nearly as good for beginners.
Beginners are weaker, with smaller muscles. Even when they push themselves hard, they aren’t working as much muscle mass. It isn’t nearly as fatiguing. As a result, it’s much easier for them to train all of their muscles in a single workout. This makes full-body workouts especially effective for beginners.
The other advantage of full-body workouts is that they give us more practice. Instead of bench pressing just once per week, you’d be doing it three times per week, improving your lifting technique much faster.
Overall, full-body workouts are much better for beginners. Once they start to become cumbersome, though, workout splits start to make more sense. If you’re looking for a good workout split, Bro Splits are a great choice.
The Bro Split Workout Routine
The Bro Split has good bones we can build upon. We can keep the classic split, training just one body part each workout, but we want to lean into how those body parts overlap with one another. We want to intentionally bring our triceps and shoulders into Chest Day, our biceps and spinal erectors into Back Day, and our chests and backs into Arm Day. That way, we get the ideal training frequency, at least for our upper-body muscles.
I’ve reordered the workouts to put the Shoulder Day before the Leg Day. This gives your spinal erectors an extra day to recover before hammering them again leg day. It also gives an extra day for your shoulders to recover before training them again on Arm Day. Finally, it lets us sneak in some extra chest work into Arm Day under the guise of being a front delt exercise.
Day 1: Chest Day
The main goal of Chest Day is to stimulate the mid, lower, and upper pecs through a deep range of motion, allowing you to build a thick, wide chest. We can do this with the bench press, dips, and incline press. That’s a complete chest routine.
The secondary goal is to stimulate your shoulders and triceps. The bench press, dips, and incline press already work your shoulders and triceps. All we need are some overhead extensions to work the long head of your triceps.
|As Many As Possible (AMRAP)
|Overhead Tricep Extensions
Day 2: Back Day
The main goal of Back Day is to stimulate the myriad muscles of your back: your lats, traps, rear delts, rotator cuff, rhomboids, and spinal erectors. Deadlift variations train all those muscles quite well. We’ll use Romanian deadlifts because they’re a bit less tiring, saving more energy for the other exercises. Pull-ups (and pulldowns) work your lats under a deeper stretch and do a great job of stimulating your lower lats. Rows add even more volume.
With the back fully trained, we still have time for bicep curls. You can do them as straight sets or drop sets.
|Pull-Ups (or Pulldowns)
|Overhand Cable Rows
Day 3: Shoulder Day
Shoulder Day is designed to bulk up your front, side, and rear delts. The overhead press is ideal for your front delts but also works your upper chest, upper back, and triceps. Lateral raises are ideal for your side delts but also work your rear delts and upper traps. Rear delt flyes work your rear delts and upper back. Feel free to do them as drop sets.
After training your shoulders, we still have room for push-ups, adding even more volume for your front delts and giving your chest, triceps, and serratus muscles extra stimulation. Even better if you can do deficit push-ups, getting a deeper stretch on your chest and shoulders at the bottom of the range of motion.
|Rear Delt Flyes
Day 4: Leg Day
Leg Day is simple yet brutal. It begins with high-bar or front squats, which emphasize your quads. Then we move to the leg press, giving your quads even more work. From there, we go to Lying leg curls for your hamstrings and calf raises for your calves.
With your legs fully trained, you might still have enough vigour to train your abs. If you can muster the energy, now’s a great time for cable crunches or hanging leg raises.
|Lying Leg Curls
Day 5: Arm Day
The Bro Split is one of the few splits that sets aside an entire workout for your arms. I think this is one of its greatest strengths. We don’t want to squander this opportunity by beginning with compound exercises. Instead, we’ll dive right into bicep curls. I recommend starting with a heavy set of barbell curls.
Next comes a triceps-dominant pressing variation, such as a close-grip bench press (or triceps dip). The goal here is to warm up your elbow joint while getting in some good tricep, chest, and shoulder work. Once your elbows are warmed up, you can dive into skull crushers to finish off your triceps.
The hammer curls train your brachialis and brachioradialis along with your biceps, finishing off your forearm flexors. And then come the lateral raises. That’s because we’re counting shoulders as part of the arms. This lets us train our side delts twice per week, helping you build broader shoulders.
|Close-Grip Bench Press
How to Do This Bro Split
This is a classic 5-day Bro Split workout routine. If you’re familiar with the evidence-based fitness community, it may seem to break some rules. It doesn’t. Not really. It just flexes them.
You’ll be training hard, breathing heavily, and resting relatively little. That’s how these workouts are designed. The volume is on the higher side to account for the shorter rest times. The frequency is on the lower side to allow for harder training.
- Exercise selection: Choose exercises that suit your body and your goals. If you prefer weighted dips to bench presses, choose weighted dips. If you prefer front squats to high-bar squats, choose front squats. If you prefer chin-ups to pull-ups, choose chin-ups.
- Volume: We have 4–5 exercises in each workout. In our experience, this tends to be the best default. If you want short workouts, trim off the last exercise. If you want volume, add another exercise for a muscle that still has some juice left.
- Progression: The goal is to get gradually stronger over time. If you hit your rep target last workout, add a little weight. If you’re still trying to add more reps, try to get more total reps than last time. For example, if you got 13, 11, 10, and 9 reps (43 reps) last workout, try to get 44+ reps this time.
- Rest times: These are dense workouts with short rest times, as is common with classic bodybuilding routines. Rest for 2 minutes between sets of compound exercises. Rest for 1 minute between sets on isolation exercises. You can take longer rest times, but your workouts may start to drag.
- Reps in Reserve: Classic bodybuilding routines require vigorous effort. Push yourself hard on each exercise, trying to lift more weight or eke out more reps than last time. Leave 0–1 rep in reserve. Feel free to take your isolation lifts all the way to failure.
- Schedule: The rest days can be anywhere. Feel free to move them around.
- Muscle-Building Diet: You need enough food to fuel muscle growth. If you’re skinny-fat or overweight, you can get extra energy from your body fat. If you’re thin or lean, you’ll need to get that energy from food—you’ll need to gain weight.
The Bro Split may not be smart, but it’s wise. It’s a great workout split for intermediate lifters who want to bulk up their upper bodies. If you haven’t tried it yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a fun and effective way to train.
As with any workout routine, remember to eat enough food to support muscle growth. If you aren’t skinny-fat or overweight, that probably means eating a bulking diet. You’ll know you need to eat more food if you’re struggling with progressive overload—if you aren’t able to add any weight or reps to your lifts each week.
If you want more muscle-building information, we have a free muscle-building newsletter. If you want a customizable training plan, check out our Outlift Intermediate Program. You can pick how many days you want to train and how much volume you can handle, then choose your exercises from carefully curated dropdown menus. These workouts are periodized, let you track your weight and reps, and recommend how much weight to lift next time. Plus, it comes with a hefty lifting guide.
If you haven’t gained your first 15–30 pounds of muscle yet, check out our Bony to Beastly Program. We’ll get you there in the next six months, guaranteed.