Designing a New Main Lift/Accessory Split Program

~ 1200 words, ~ 6 minutes reading time

So, I’ve been working with this program (or something near it) for a while now. I like it. It balances a lot of my needs. Reasonable time for workouts, no leg day. However, I’ve run into an issue.

I’m not training frequently enough to optimize this program.

The program was designed for 4+ days a week (so, each muscle group is trained 2 times a week) with it being “okay” to drop to 2 days occasionally. But, recently, 2 days per week has been normal, which means this routine isn’t ideal. So, time to revise the program!


For a day or so, I thought I’d be using Jeff Nippard’s Minimalist Routine. I tried it for one day, and decided against it. Not because I don’t like it, but because it doesn’t actually fit one of my goals. So, let’s set out what I want from a program:

Desire #1: Optimized for 2-3 days a week.

Desire #2: ~45 minute workouts (less is fine, much more isn’t).

Desire #3: Each major body part trained at least 2x a week. (Ideally for 10+ sets, but that’s not a huge deal.)

Desire #4: Capable of expanding to 7 days a week, but with the decision about the number of days backward-looking rather than forward-looking. (Note: this is what is leading me against Nippard’s Minimalist Routine. You *can* turn his 2 day routine into a 5 day routine without much problem, but you have to be able to plan ahead, because it’s all based on SPLITTING a routine between days. This only works if you know that you’ll have two days to do the routine on the first day you do it. Similarly, 5 day full-body routines generally have very low daily volume, making them pretty sub optimal if you just happen to end up with a 2 day workout week.)

Requirement: doesn’t require equipment I don’t have. Desire: doesn’t require certain equipment that I have, but don’t really want to drag out (dip bar, my make-shift incline “bench” – a board that leans against a chair while I sit on the floor).

Design Challenges

Naturally, some of these will conflict or require some compromise. Where I was stuck was #4, but I’ve realized that this is actually essential for me. I LIKE the idea of working out 7 days a week, and sometimes I even do it (or 6 days), but recently my schedule (and/or energy level) hasn’t really allowed for it. 2 days has been my reality for a bit now. It’s pretty easy to design a 2-day split routine that you can alternate so you workout every day of the week (Upper/Lower, Push + Squat/Pull + Deadlift are two examples of such splits). The problem is that if I only do each workout once a week (total: 2 days) progress tends to slow way down (or even not maintain), especially on certain exercises that seem very sensitive to frequency for me (delt-heavy exercises, for example). Now, if I’m planning ahead, I can always say “I’m not going to work out tomorrow, so I’ll just do all my major lifts tonight, and skip the isolation movements.” But, my schedule isn’t predictable enough to know that ahead of time, at least not consistently. What I really need is something that lets me go “Yesterday I did X, so today I should do Y.”

So, to allow for up to a 7 day routine, I need a 2-day split. However, I also need for it to be okay for me to only do 2 days a week.

Enter the “Main Lift/Accessory” split!

The rules are simple:

If I didn’t do a “Main Lift” day yesterday, I do that today. If I did a “Main Lift” day yesterday, then I do an Accessory Day today.

So, if I lift on Monday and Thursday, I’ll do 2 Main Lift days.

If I lift on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I’ll do Main/Accessory/Main.

The accessory lifts will all be “fun”, but not particularly important. So, if they don’t happen on any particular week, meh. The Main lifts are how I measure progress, and will (at least usually) get done 2x a week or more. So, here’s the breakdown!

Main Lift Day

The main lift day is composed of 5 movements: a leg movement, a vertical pull, a vertical push, a horizontal pull, and a horizontal push.

Pullups (I’m doing a “50 pullup” program – it’s allegedly supposed to get you up to where you can do 50 pullups. I’m nowhere close, but can do a single set of 8-9 on a good day, which isn’t bad, seeing as I had some frozen shoulder for a good chunk of this year.) – 5 sets, reps by program

Leg Exercise (alternate Dumbbell Squat/Romanian Deadlift each time): X x 10 (last set to failure or 20, max 3 sets because I hate legs)

Dumbbell floor press: X x 10 (last set to failure or 20)

One-arm Dumbbell Row: X x 10 per side (last set to failure or 20)

Dumbbell Shoulder Press: X x 10 (last set to failure or 20)

2 minute rest between sets

“X” will have to be adjusted by experimentation to get into (or near) my 45 minute goal. I’m thinking around 4-5 will be about right (except for legs where I will do no more than 3).

Progression is based on the last set. If I get 15+ in that last set, I’ll increase weight by “two steps” (for most that’s 5 lb/side), if I get 12-13 in that last set, I’ll increase weight by “one step” (for most, that’s 2.5 lb/side)

Accessory Day

This is going to take some experimentation, but I tried to pick muscle groups that tend to recover quickly (at least for me) so that having an accessory day between 2 Main Lift days won’t interfere with the main lift days. If I find that’s not the case, I’ll have to adjust this accordingly. The routine:

Calf Raise: X x 12 (last set to failure or 20)

Shrugs: X x 12 (last set to failure or 20)

Bicep Curls: X x 12 (last set to failure or 20)

Overhead Tricep Extensions: X x 12 (last set to failure or 20)

Wrist Curls: X x 12 (last set to failure or 20)

Reverse Wrist Curls: X x 12 (last set to failure or 20)

Leg Raise Variation (use list from Start Bodyweight): X x 12 (last set to failure or 20)

2 minute rest between sets

Again, I’ll adjust X based on my time goal (I’m guessing about 2-3 for this one), and use the same progression rules, but with cutoffs of 17 and 14.

I think I’m going to give this a shot for a while and see how it goes.