When I look at all the questions that people send me, one of the more common themes I notice is confusion around the topic of putting together your weekly training cycle. So for my first edition of The Staley Strategies, I thought I'd elaborate on one of my all-time favorite strategies (this one being a tactic, technically speaking): the A-B split.

Note: Attention Charlie Francis – I'm not saying I invented this idea. I'm sure you came up with it long before I did!

Before tackling this particular method however, I'd like to revisit and pay homage to my longstanding belief that there is not, nor will there ever be, a "best" way when it comes to training.

The physiologic principle of adaptation guarantees that even if you managed to discover a strategy with no downsides, sooner or later that strategy will lose its teeth as your body becomes more and more efficient at handling the challenge it provides. This phenomenon is absolutely inviolate – you'll never find a way around the law of gravity, and you'll never devise the perfect training method.

Having said that, I think the A-B split comes tantalizingly close to perfect. Everyone can use it, almost all of the time, with kick-ass results. That's because the A-B split is a template: it won't lock you out of your favorite exercises, workout frequency, training method, or loading parameters. Instead, it'll just make them better.

So if you're a Waterbury fan, an EDT fan, or a Dan John fan for example, you can take these already great concepts and make them (in my opinion) even more productive. This makes the A-B split parasitic by nature. You'll almost feel like you're cheating!

What also makes the A-B split so powerful is its simplicity. Here's an idea I've been working from for a long time now:

True story: I used to have a fitness column in a big men's lifestyle magazine. As I answered a question about avoiding shin splints, I wrote: "Shin splints are caused by a sudden increase in running or jumping volume." The editor sends it back asking me if I could put that "in plain English."

At that exact moment, my (then) 15-year old daughter happened to be downstairs in the kitchen. So I yelled over to her, "Hey Ash, if I say 'shin splints are caused by a sudden increase in running or jumping volume,' what do you think that means?" She yelled back, "I guess it means if you start doing a lot more running or jumping, it'll give you shin splints?"

It's intuitively obvious right? Okay.


How Do I Use The A-B Split?

Just follow these three steps:

Step One: Make a list of everything you need to do on a regular basis. You can think of this in terms of muscles, motor qualities, exercises, whatever. For the purposes of this article, I'll take a bodybuilding or general fitness approach and use muscles as an example. Here's my list, in no particular order:

Okay, I might have missed a few things. But if you're training all these muscles on a regular basis, you'll also probably be hitting the various small, ancillary muscles that support them. So sue me.

Step Two: This is where we split your pile into two piles: an "A" pile and a "B" pile:

"A" Pile "B" Pile
Pecs/Front Delts Lats/Rear Delts
Quads Glutes/Hams
Adductors Forearms
Rectus Abdominus Obliques
Biceps Triceps
Traps Calves

By the way, as I separate this list into two piles, I'm reminded why body part training is such a shitty idea: many muscle groups almost always act together, unless you manage to find some completely retarded, artificial way to bypass what your nervous system is naturally designed to do. For example, any time you're training chest, your front delts and triceps are being trained as well. And when you train glutes, you're also training your hamstrings and lumbar musculature.

Anyway, that's why I combined several muscle groups in my two piles above. (Again, you'll notice I took a few liberties to clean up the body part mess. For example, I just deleted direct adductor, forearms, and trap work, since those muscles are taken care of by front squats and deadlifts respectively.)

Another annoying aspect of using body part splits is that it requires you to take the additional step of assigning exercises to each muscle group. So let me dispense with that right here before we go any further:

"A" Pile "B" Pile
Barbell Bench Press Chins
Front Squat Deadlift
Rectus Abdominus Obliques
Standing Dumbbell Biceps Curls Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extensions
Standing Calf Raise Seated Calf Raise

Step Three: Assign loading parameters. In other words, what type of set/rep/rest interval arrangement do you want to use? This will depend on your training objectives, and for most of you, it'll come down to whether your goals relate mostly to strength/power/speed development, or hypertrophy/body composition.

In either case however, you can and should provide a good measure of variety with your loading parameters. Let's say you're an aspiring powerlifter and you want maximum strength without gaining body weight. The "ideal" (again, be cautious with that concept) loading scenario would be something like 6-8 sets of 2-3 reps per set, resting maybe 3-4 minutes between sets, give or take.

But this doesn't mean you should apply these parameters each and every workout – your nervous system will habituate (read: become bored with) monotonous, unchanging loading parameters, and your lifts will plateau about two to three weeks after your joints start hurting like nobody's business.

Unraveling this problem requires the application of contrasting loading parameters: volume/intensity distributions that don't specifically target your primary goal, but that provide support and recuperation for the more specific loading. So, using maximal strength (actually, relative strength) as an example, you might use the following two loading schemes:

"A" Session "B" Session
Sets 6 5
Reps 2 4
Rest 4 minutes 3 minutes

Another way to provide sufficient load variation is to change the parameters every cycle (in this case, we'll call a "cycle" three sessions). Here's an example of what that might look like:

Week One:

Week Two:

And so on and so forth...

Putting It All Together

You've now got two detailed training sessions ready to take for a test drive. You'll perform these two sessions in alternating fashion, using whatever frequency you happen to like. So if you prefer the tried-and-true Monday, Wednesday, Friday format, it'll look like this:

Week One:

Week Two:

And so on...

Now the beauty of this little plan is that you've got a lot of flexibility built right in. Let's say you have a hectic week where you can only train twice. Just stick with the plan, like this:

Week One:

Week Two:

Of course, it's never ideal to skip a workout, but the A-B approach minimizes the collateral damage.

Now, if you're one of those sick freaks who insists on training 5-6 days a week, the A-B split will help to minimize the downside of your obsessive-compulsive behavior, because the scheme provides maximum variability or what I call separation – a key factor in successful recovery. The overachiever's plan looks like this:

Week One:

Week Two:

And so on and so forth...

A Few Additional Thoughts & Applications

• Olympic weightlifters can have a snatch-oriented day ("A" session) and a clean & jerk oriented day ("B" session).

• Powerlifters can use a bench day ("A" Session) and a squat day ("B" Session). Louie Simmons says you don't need much deadlift specific work, so if you're down with that, the A-B split works perfectly.

• Try an upper body and a lower body days using the A-B format. If you're training three days a week, each body region gets trained three times every two weeks. For most "average" drug-free trainees, this is probably an ideal frequency.

• Strongmen competitors can alternate between event training and resistance training sessions, like this:

"A" Session "B" Session
Farmer's Walk Power Clean/Push Press
Tire Flip Bench Press
Stones Deadlift

It wouldn't be wise to habitually perform all of the events on each event day, so just choose three to four events for each session, maintaining a continuous rotation. Same with the weight training.

• Kettlebell enthusiasts can alternate between a "grinding" session and an "explosive" session. Here's an example:

"A" Session "B" Session
Snatch Get Ups
Long Cycle Clean & Jerk Military Press
Under-The-Leg Pass Windmill

Don't Stop There!

Please don't limit yourself to the specific applications I've listed here! Instead, use these examples as a starting point for your own creative applications of the A-B split. I know you'll find this method to be one of the most efficient and result-producing strategies you've ever encountered!