When it comes to building muscle, selecting the right training program can make a significant difference in your progress. The three most popular workout splits are the Bro Split, Push/Pull/Legs (PPL for short), and Upper/Lower. All three routines have their advantages and disadvantages.
However, choosing the right one for hypertrophy can be daunting, especially for those who are new to the gym.
In this article, we’ll compare the pros and cons of the Bro Split vs PPL vs Upper Lower splits, and help you determine which program will help you build muscle faster and maximize muscle growth potential.
What is The Bro Split?
The bro split is by far the most well known and used workout split out there, that has been around for decades.
So popular in fact, that one study surveying 127 competitive bodybuilders found that 68% of them used the bro split as their workout routine. (source)
You are probably using the split, without even knowing that it’s called that way.
By the way, it’s called a bro split due to its popularity among a specific group of gym-goers commonly referred to as “gym bros.”
You know who I’m talking about.
The split has also received a lot of negative attention over the past years. Usually, when you hear the phrase “bro split” it’s used mockingly.
This has lead many to question the effectiveness of the bro split for building muscle.
So, what does the bro split look like?
Weekly Bro Split Workout Plan
Typically, the bro split is performed on weekdays from Monday to Friday, while weekends are left for rest and recovery or to add some extra cardio to the routine.
Although there are many different variations of the bro split, the basic guidelines involve a 5-day split, with each session dedicated to training a specific body part.
Something like this:
- Monday: Chest
- Tuesday: Back
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday: Shoulders
- Friday: Arms
- Saturday: Rest
- Sunday: Rest
This is why Mondays are commonly referred to as “International chest day”.
I swear, ask any gym rat and they’ll immediatelly know what you’re talking about.
Pros of Bro Split
- Beginner friendly
- Focus on areas of weakness
- Excellent rest and recovery
- Less fatigue
- More intensity
- It’s entertaining
- Progressive overload
The bro split is usually the first introduction to any beginner to the gym.
Training one muscle group per day, usually means that you would have more exercises that you can alternate. This the perfect opportunity for you learn how to properly execute those movements and achieve proper form and muscle-mind connection.
It’s also easy to follow and visualize your week.
Focus on areas of weakness
You can stimulate as many muscle fibers as possible by hitting the muscle from different angles.
You have about 4-6 exercises that you can dedicate per muscle group. This means that you can add as much variety to your workouts as you wish.
People looking to address specific weaknesses in their physique can greatly benefit from this approach.
Excellent rest and recovery
I’m going to be honest with you, the bro split offers the best rest and recovery. Which is another reason why they’re perfect for beginners.
On average, you want to make sure that
Fewer muscles groups, means more energy to dedicate to a single muscle group.
For example, doing biceps exercises after working on your back will leave you with less energy to dedicate to your biceps training.
The reduced fatigue also gives you the opportunity to focus on your form.
It also serves as a nice mental boost, making your workouts more enjoyable.
The bro split really pushes you to train with more intensity.
Like I mentioned above, you’ll naturally feel less tired during your exercises.
This allows you to increase the intensity of your workout for the muscle group you’re targeting – drop sets, going to failure, negative sets, burn outs, more sets & reps.
Progressive overload is essential for muscle growth.
The more you can focus on a single muscle group, the more you can apply progressive overload to your workouts. It’s where you gradually increase the demand and stress of your muscles.
Let’s use barbell curls as an example:
You can add progressive overload to your workout by adding more reps using the same weight.
Adding an extra set using the same weight and reps.
Lastly, you add extra weight to your original rep range.
Instead of doing more exercises to target a single muscle, you can add more reps and sets.
Yes, you can technically have progressive overload with all workout splits on the list, but not the same degree as you would with the bro split.
Bro split is great for pushing new personal records (PRs) or trying out new exercises. Unlike PPLs and Upper/Lower routines, you can dedicate 45-60 minutes to a single muscle group.
With this extra time and energy, you can try new exercises, or add techniques such as drop sets, negative sets, or burnouts to your routine.
Whatever floats your boat.
Not to mention the crazy blood pumps you get. They will make you feel huge.
Cons of Bro Split
- Workout frequency
- Time consuming
- Choice overload
- Increased risk of injury
Muscle protein synthesis, the driving force of muscle growth, remains elevated no longer than 48 hours after a workout (source). With some sources claiming that it returns to baseline after 36 hours (source).
This is referred to as “the window of opportunity”.
The core benefit of the bro split is also its biggest drawback. When you exercise a muscle group only once per week, you’re essentially cutting your muscle growth potential by half.
You also have little wiggle room to customize the routine. While you could combine certain muscle groups, such as chest and back, doing so would mean missing out on the core benefits of the bro split, such as reduced fatigue..
It is also important to consider the amount of time you allow your muscles to rest between workouts, as overtraining can become a risk.
So adding a second workout is difficult.
While the bro split sounds like it should be less time consuming, it’s quite the opposite.
Technically, you can spend less time at the gym. But you need to be at the gym more often during the week – 5 days a week.
It is also quite easy to get carried away when you’re training one muscle group at the gym. Increasing the rest time between sets so that you can reach new PRs. Or adding too many exercises.
Having such a wide choise of exercises you can add to your workouts can lead to choise overload. Which exercise do I add? Which ones work the muscle better?
It can be a daunting task, especially for beginner lifters.
Increased risk of injury
The more you train a muscle to failure, the more you’re increasing the risk of injury.
Yes those pumps are fun, but the amount of sets and reps you’re doing per exercise can easily lead to an injury.
What is Push, Pull, Legs (PPL)?
Push/Pull/Legs, or PPL for short, divides your workout session by grouping muscles based on their functionality.
On push day you target your chest, triceps, and shoulders.
On pull day you target your back and biceps.
And on leg day, you train…legs – quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
Unlike the bro split, the PPL routine doesn’t have a fun origin story for its name. Definitely a drawback.
The PPL split was widely popularized by Jeff Nippard and has gained a lot of attention in recent years.
Many regard PPL as the most effective split.
But is it?
Let’s first have a look at what the PPL split looks like:
Weekly Push, Pull, Legs Workout Plan
PPL is a 3-6 day split workout plan. The amount of days you train is totally up to your personal preference.
- Monday: Push – Chest, Triceps, and Shoulder
- Tuesday: Pull – Back and Biceps
- Wednesday: Legs – Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves, and Abs
- Thursday: Rest
- Friday: Push – Chest, Triceps, and Shoulder
- Saturday: Pull – Back and Biceps
- Sunday: Legs – Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves, and Abs
Pros of Push/Pull/Legs
- Workout frequency
- Less time consuming
- Beginner friendly
Unlike the bro split, the ppl split allows you to targe the same muscle group twice per week. This is the biggest benefit of PPL.
This means that you benefit from muscle protein synthesis twice per week and will automatically increase the amount of muscle you can gain.
Less time consuming
Wait, how is the PPL routine less time-consuming when you have to go to the gym six days instead of five?
Yes, technically, you will need to make more frequent visits to the gym throughout the week.
But when we compare it to the bro split, in order to hit each muscle group once per week, you only have to visit the gym 3 days out of the week.
You get to configure your workout program to fit your goals and personal preferences.
If you wish to dedicate more attention towards a specific muscle group you can add, switch or remove workout days.
I think an example would help me explain this a little better.
Let’s say you wish to improve your lower body, more than your upper body.
Well then your workout program might look something like this.
- Monday: Push
- Tuesday: Pull
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday: Rest
- Friday: Rest
- Saturday: Legs
- Sunday: Rest
You can apply that same logic if you wish to focus more on your upper body and less on your lower body.
Or, like in the example described above, you can just visit the gym three days out of the week.
I’ve seen some people claim that PPL is not for beginners, I disagree.
Like we discussed above, you can customize the split in any way you want.
You can start simple, 3 training days, and slowly introduce more workout days into the mix.
As silly as it may sound, there is an additional benefit to referring to your workouts as “push” and “pull” days. It makes it easier to understand whether you need to push weight away from your body or pull it towards your body.
Cons of Push/Pull/Legs
- Greater fatigue
- Less focus on weaker areas
- Can be repetitive
Because you’re grouping more muscle groups into one training session, you will end up feeling more tired throughout your workout.
Like in our previous example, doing biceps curls feels a lot harder after you’ve just finished training back than when doing them alone.
This increased level of fatigue will unfortunatelly make your workouts harder to finish. And will probably have an impact on your mental.
And as a result, this may lower the intensity for your workouts.
Less focus on weaker areas
With PPL, you have less time and energy to incorporate isolated exercises which can target your weaker areas.
You can organize your workouts by splitting them, with one day dedicated to compound exercises and the other day focused on isolated exercises.
But then you’re sacrificing some of our core exercises.
Can be repetitive
There is not as much variability that you can add to your workouts, especially when compared to the bro split.
This can make your workouts feel a little bit more repetitive over time.
What is Upper/Lower
The upper/lower split breaks up your workouts into two groups – upper body and lower body.
Each workout will be dedicated to either upper body muscles (chest, back, arms and shoulders) and lower body muscles (quads, glutes, hamstrings, cavles and abs).
Weekly Upper/Lower Workout Plan
Upper/lower is a 4 day split and looks something like this:
- Monday: Upper Body (Chest, Back, Arms, Shoulders)
- Tuesday: Lower Body (Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves, Abs)
- Wednesday: Rest
- Thursday: Upper Body (Chest, Back, Arms, Shoulders)
- Friday: Lower Body (Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves, Abs)
- Saturday: Rest
- Sunday: Rest
Pros of Upper/Lower
- Workout frequency
- Time efficiency
Like the PPL, Upper/Lower targets each muscle group twice per week.
This will allows you to maximize muscle growth potential as you benefit from your window of opportunity twice per week, rather than once.
Compared to the bro split, upper/lower can target each muscle group once per week in 2 days instead of 5.
And compare to the PPL split, it can target each muscle group twice per week in 4 sessions, rather than 6.
This makes the Upper/Lower the most time efficient split.
Cons of Upper/Lower
- Greater fatigue
- Minimal progressive overload
- Cannot target weaker areas
- Sacrifice muscle development
- Lower training volume
If you thought it was difficult training biceps after back, imagine training shoulders after finishing exercises for your chest, back, triceps, and biceps.
This may potentially impact your mental and lead to situations where you don’t push yourself as hard, or skip certain muscle groups altogether.
This will also lower your workout intensity.
Minimal progressive overload
Due to the lower overall intensity of upper-lower, it can be challenging to effectively utilize progressive overload, especially for muscle groups that are worked later in the routine. It can be difficult to push yourself to do an extra set or rep when you’ve already exhausted your energy on several major muscle groups earlier in the workout.
Upper/lower probably has the least amount of variability compared to the bro split and PPL.
You don’t have that many working sets and you have to make them count.
Cannot target weaker areas
It’s not impossible, just very difficult. You have exhausted a lot more energy performing your core exercises and hitting two large muscle groups in a single session. This leaves you with very limited time and energy to dedicate to isolated exercises.
You can, they will just lack intensity.
Sacrifice muscle development
Commonly, those who exercise using a upper/lower split tend to target smaller muscles by grouping them with larger muscle groups.
For example, your workout might look something like this:
Monday – Upper Body:
- Incline bench press – 4 sets of 8-10 reps
- Dumbbell Fly – 4 sets of 10-12 reps
- Let pulldowns – 4 sets of 8-10 reps
- Pullovers – 4 sets of 10-12 reps
- V-Grip Seated Cable Rows – 4 sets of 10
- Barbell Shrugs – 4 sets of 12-15 reps
Do you see any mention of barbell curls or triceps pushdowns?
That’s because what you’re doing is you are exercising your biceps, triceps and shoulders with the exercises that target your chest and back.
This is bad. Through and trhough.
These compound movements do not elicit high enough activation level to maximize muscle development for smaller muscle groups.
And if you were to shift their involvement, what you’re doing is you’re limiting the involvement of your chest and back.
Lower training volume
You can only dedicate 1-2 exercises per muscle group.
Unless you’re planning on staying for 2 hours at the gym and run the risk of overtraining.
Bro Split vs PPL vs Upper Lower: Which is Better for Building Muscle Faster?
The main difference between a Bro Split, PPL, and Upper/Lower workout split lies in the way they divide muscle groups. Bro splits typically focuse on training one muscle group per workout, utilizing a high volume of sets and reps. For example, you would have a “chest day” or “arms day“. The PPL (Push, Pull, Legs) split alternate between push, pull, and leg workouts, working multiple muscle groups each session. The muscles trained are groupd based on their function. For example, pull day is back and biceps. And Upper/lower splits divide workouts into upper body and lower body training sessions, allowing for more overall frequency and a balanced approach to training.
With all that we have covered in this article I assume you can guess that picking a winner from Bro Split vs PPL vs Upper Lower is not as simple. It ultimately comes down to personal preference.
When it comes to which split is the most effective for hypertrophy and will help you build muscle the fastest we have a clear winner:
Push, Pull, Legs.
The PPL split is fantastic for beginner and intermediate trainees who want to build as much muscle mass as possible. It’s the most flexible split, exercises each muscle group twice a week, and is great for building strength.
While Upper-Lower target muscle groups twice per week as well, the split is far too limiting. You can only do 1 (maximum 2) exercise per muscle group per session, there’se greater fatigue, decreased intensity and minimal progressive overload.
However, at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference. If you enjoy doing the bro split or upper-lower split more, then stick with those splits. You have to do what you love, and the key to muscle growth is consistency.
It doesn’t matter that the PPL split can help you build muscle the fastest if you hate doing it.
Do a Bro Split if
- You wish to target weaker areas with more isolated exercises
- You enjoy pushing PRs and adding variety to your workouts
- You can dedicate more of your time to going to the gym
- You enjoy working out with greater intensity
Do a PPL Split if
- Build muscle as quickly as possible
- Build more strength
- Want a flexible workout schedule
- Enjoy the customizability
Do a Upper/Lower split if
- You want a time efficient workout
- You want to add some size and strength
Can I Combine These Workout Splits?
While each of the bro split, PPL, and Upper-Lower splits have their own unique properties, it’s also possible to combine elements of these workouts to create a hybrid routine that suits your individual needs and goals
Mixing and matching can help prevent boredom and plateaus, allow you target specific groups more effectively, target weaker areas, boost muscle growth, and provide more flexibility in your schedule.
A really good combination is 4 weeks PPL 1 week bro split.
10 Week Workout Schedule
- Week 1 – Push/Pull/Legs
- Week 2 – Push/Pull/Legs
- Week 3 – Push/Pull/Legs
- Week 4 – Push/Pull/Legs
- Week 5 – Bro Split
- Week 6 – Push/Pull/Legs
- Week 7 – Push/Pull/Legs
- Week 8 – Push/Pull/Legs
- Week 9 – Push/Pull/Legs
- Week 10 – Bro Split
This is a fantastic way to challenge the muscles and provide a new stimulus for growth. The bro split can be especially helpful in targeting weaker or lagging muscle groups and adding progressive overload to a whole new level.
Let’s use the chest muscle group as an example.
On your week 1 to 4, you’ve been training your chest something like this:
DB Chest Flys
And on week 5, your chest workout would look somethig like this:
DB Chest Flys
Incline Dumbbell Press
In conclusion, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to building muscle, and the choice of workout split ultimately comes down to personal preference, fitness level, training goals, and schedule. The bro split, PPL, and Upper-Lower splits each have their own advantages and disadvantages, and the best approach is often to experiment with different splits to find what works best for you.
While research suggests that the PPL split may be more effective than the bro split and upper-lower for building muscle, it’s important to keep in mind that the most important factor for success is consistency. Whether you choose a bro split, PPL, or Upper-Lower split, the key is to stick with it over the long term, utilize muscle protein synthesis, progressively overload your muscles, and give your body time to recover.
By mixing and matching the different splits, it’s possible maximize muscle growth potential and utilze the benefits of each split while minimizing their drawbacks.
Remember, building muscle is a journey, not a destination. It takes time, effort, and patience, but with the right workout split and mindset, you can achieve your goals and enjoy the benefits of a stronger, healthier body.