Tuesday 12 June 2012

The King of Split Routines

Recently, I did 2 posts (part 1 and part 2) on why body part splits are not ideal for athletes. However, there is one split I really do like for advanced athletes trying to pack on some functional muscle. I like to call it the King Split.

The split has this name because it is named after famous Australian Strength Coach Ian King. Back in the 90's, the popular trend was extreme body part splits. While split routines go back to at least the 60's, the 90's progressed (or regressed) to devoting entire training sessions to one body part. While this gave the opportunity to really blast that part, it came with the drawbacks I've previously written about.

King wisely took the good parts of this concept and transformed it into a movement split. Instead of dividing things up based on body parts (e.g. chest, shoulders, arms, etc), he divided them up based on movements. He used the following six movements:
  1. Knee (squat and lunge variations)
  2. Vertical pushing (overhead and high incline pressing)
  3. Vertical pulling (pull-ups and pulldowns)
  4. Hip (deadlift and hip extension variations)
  5. Horizontal pushing (bench pressing variations)
  6. Horizontal pulling (row variations)
Then, he put them into a 4-day routine. Here is how I like to lay out these 4 days:

Day 1
Vertical pushing and pulling

Day 2
Knee dominant movements

Day 3
Horizontal pushing and pulling

Day 4 
Hip dominant movements

You can switch the days around as you like. If I'm training 2 days in a row, I like to do the upper body stuff the first day as it results in less systemic fatigue than doing legs first (i.e. upper body has less impact on the next day's leg training than the opposite set-up). However, if you are too lazy to do that final deadlift day at the end of the week, then switch the upper and lower days. Also, do the movements that you are the worst at earlier in the week.

Advantages of the King Split
Here are the particular advantages to this routine over traditional body part splits:
  • It focuses on movements, not muscles, which is more functional and athletic (that is not to say that there is never a time to isolate muscles - there is - more on that to come)
  • Each movement is given equal attention (which often doesn't happen as well in body part splits)
  • It allows room for accessory exercises if needed at the end of each day (e.g. arms, calves, abs, loaded carries, grip, etc.) 
  • Each movement is trained in a relatively fresh state and not fatigued from other exercises that session. This is especially helpful for squats and deadlifts. When you do both in the same session, one suffers.
  • It allows for sufficient volume that is often necessary to stimulate muscle hypertrophy without an excessively long training session
  • There is enough rest for muscle groups that you can hammer them hard
  • There is enough overlap to prevent de-training (e.g. there is a lot of muscle overlap between the 2 pushing and pulling days, squats hit some hamstrings, deadlifts hit some quads)
What about arms?
Here are 4 options:
  1. Don't worry about direct arm work. You will get a lot of arm work with all the upper body pushing and pulling exercises. For some, this will be enough to get the arms growing. For other people (particularly those with long arms), you may need some direction arm exercises.
  2. Do one biceps and one triceps exercise at the end of each upper body pushing/pulling day.
  3. Do 1-2 triceps exercise at the end of one of the upper body days and 1-2 biceps exercises at the end of the other upper body push/pull day.
  4. Add arm day on a 5th day if you have the time and can recover (note: this can be challenging when you have to do heavy pushing a pulling 2 days later so you may want to start your week with squats or deadlifts if you choose this option for arm work.

If you are advanced and your goal is functional hypertrophy, this may be the split for you!


  1. what about the core? What day in this program would one focus on ab work?

    1. Great question! I would add a small amount to the end of the knee dominant day and/or the hinge day.