Whether you know it or not, you follow some sort of training split — that is, how you organize which body parts to train when. There are full-body splits, push-pull splits, body part splits. However, when it comes to increasing strength, the best training split may not be the one you’re following.
Below, we breakdown three of the most effective workout splits for lifters and athletes looking to gain muscle mass and strength. We’ll dissect each strength training split, explain who it’s best for, the benefits, and potential limitations, as well as offer a sample training day or two to help coaches and athletes better understand how to use each split.
What is a Training Split?
A workout split is a workout outline (typically formatted weekly) that offers coaches and athletes a guideline to program for strength and muscle mass. The best workout split for strength is the one that allows for an athlete to train hard, train consistently, recover from, and progress month to month and year after year.
To determine what is the best workout split for any individual athlete, you first need to look at a few factors. From there, you can determine if a three, four, or five-day workout split is best; as all have produced results for many high-level lifters. Here’s what to consider when choosing a workout split for strength training:
- Training availability
- Training of the athlete
- Program goals
- The athletes specific needs
All of these factors influence a lifter’s decision making processes. The key for most strength training splits is to provide enough frequency, volume, and training stimulus to promote physiological adaptations.
The Best Workout Splits for Strength
All of the below splits can be used with powerlifting and general strength training workout programs (however, there are some limitations when applied to Olympic weightlifting programming).
Note that these three strength training splits are not the only options lifters have. However, they are three very effective strategies to consider when setting up a new training program.
It is also important to understand that the sample programs below address a wide array of goals, such as athletic development, weightlifting technique, general strength, and muscle building. If you are a powerlifting coach or athletes looking to maximize performance, some movements (such as weightlifting movements) may not be necessary or beneficial. The same goes for some sport or weightlifting coaches. For best results, use the below workout splits as a template to insert movements and exercise you see fit for your athletic population and goals.
3-Day Full-Body Workout Split for Strength
This is a three-day workout routine that is best done alternating between training days and rest days. You can recycle training weeks every six days or take two days off in a row. For example, training Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and resting Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. You can also add some conditioning workouts on one of the non-lifting days if your goal is body composition and strength, or to increase recovery and fitness.
Training the entire body every session allows for the program to deliver high amounts of frequency and volume to most muscles in the body across the week. Below is a sample day for this type of workout. It’s best to limit the exercises this day to two to three main strength lifts and four to five accessory exercises, deliver a total set volume of 10-20 sets for main strength work and 5-10 for accessory lifts.
How to Program a Full-Body Split
The below sample program has a strong emphasis on the squat, back muscles, and pressing strength. Day two could follow the same format, but with the first focus being on a strong pressing motion (bench press) and some accessory lower-body lifts like lunges or step-ups. Day three could then focus on pulling strength (deadlifts) and use more accessory lifts with higher volume (higher reps) to induce muscle hypertrophy and recovery for the following week.
Full-Body Sample (Total Body, Squat Emphasis)
- Power Clean: 4 sets of 3 reps at 70-75% of your one-rep max
- Back Squat: 6 sets of 4-6 reps at 70-80%
- Pendlay Row: 4 sets of 4-6 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Chest Press: 4 sets of 5-8 reps
- Romanian Deadlift: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Hammer Curl + Triceps Pushdown: 3 sets of 12-20 reps
Who Should Do a Full-Body Split?
This is a good option for individuals who may not have a large amount of training availability due to work, family, or life restrictions. Due to the decreased frequency of training (fewer days per week), training sessions will often be a bit longer than those who train 5 or more days per week. However, this doesn’t mean, that it will be any less effective if training volume, intensity, and recovery are all programmed correctly.
Why Follow a 3-Day Full-Body Split?
You’re able to train most muscle groups three times per week while still allowing for flexibility in your training schedule and recovery from hard sessions. A potential drawback is that training sessions are longer (60-90 minutes). Additionally, training only three times per week may limit your ability to add more variety into a program.
4-Day Push/Pull Workout Split for Strength
This is a typical four-day split that allows lifters to train muscle groups twice per week, but with more volume per session. Workouts are generally split into push (squat, pressing, and accessory) and pull (deadlift, pulling, and accessory) and can be done in a two days on, one day off, two days on on, two days off fashion OR spread out throughout the week.
How to Program a Push/Pull Split
It is recommended that a lifter does not train three days in a row on this program to allow for recovery from hard training sessions. Below are two sample workout days of this four-day push/pull split. Note that this program includes many of the fundamental exercises for building power, strength, and athleticism. Do each workout below twice per week.
Day One (Push)
- Power Clean + Push Press: 3 sets of 3 reps at 60-70% of your one-rep max
- Front Squat: 4 sets of 4-6 reps at 70%
- Barbell Bench Press: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
- Dumbbell Step Up: 4 sets of 8 reps each leg
- Lateral + Rear Delt Raise: 4 sets of 10 reps each
Day Two (Pull)
- Hang Snatch: 3 sets of 3 reps at 60-70% of your one-rep max
- Heavy Farmer’s Carry: 4 sets of 20m
- Romanian Deadlift: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
- Weighted Pull-Up: 4 sets of 4-6 reps
- Barbell Curl: 3-4 sets
Who Should Do a Push/Pull Split?
This is a good split for most fitness and strength enthusiasts looking to increase training frequency and volume. Due to the added training day, coaches and athletes have more options to include variety into a training program, add unilateral and corrective work, and aim to develop more skill-based movements (weightlifting, strongman, sport-specific, etc.).
Why Follow a 4-Day Push/Pull Split Strength Program?
Training four days per week offers you the ability to train most muscle groups twice per week and the opportunity to dedicate more time to skill work and technique progressions. This also allows you to spread out training volume over the course of more days, potentially decreasing muscle soreness and improving recovery between sessions.
Training four days per week however, can be challenging for some individuals who have limited availability. It can also pose an issue for individuals who train hard and heavy yet are not great at adhering to proper nutrition and recovery protocols.
5-Day Upper Body Push/Pull/Lower Workout Split for Strength
The 5-day upper body push/push and lower split can be used by most lifters looking to increase training volume evenly across a training week to allow for highly focused sessions on the athlete’s specific needs and goals. Lifters who have a strong foundation of training can often handle this style of workout split, as it demands great recovery and mental abilities. Additionally, this program can be done for six-days on to allow each muscle group to be trained twice per week.
How to Program a Push/Pull/Lower Split
Below are three sample workout days (upper body push/pull and legs). It is recommended that a lifter does not train more than three days consecutively on this program to allow for proper recovery. As you can see, the below days also have an emphasis (see notes).
The other three workouts (not included) would focus primarily on the other muscle groups (Day four focuses on chest and triceps, day 5 focuses on weighted pull-ups and single-arm rows, and Day six focuses on hip strength deadlifts and more hamstring based movements).
Day One (Upper Body Push, Shoulders, and Triceps Emphasis)
- Push Press: 5 sets of 3-5 reps
- Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
- Dips: 4 sets of 6-10 reps
- Upright Row: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
- Shoulder Accessory: 3 sets of 15 reps
- Triceps Accessory: 3 sets of 15 reps
Day Two (Upper Body Pull, Back, Biceps, Grip Emphasis)
- Pendlay Row: 5 sets of 6-8 reps
- Lat Pulldown: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
- Dumbbell Farmer’s Carry: 4 sets of 20m
- Barbell Curl: 4 of 8-10 reps
- Forearms/Biceps/Grip Accessory: 3 sets of 15 reps each
Day Three (Lower Body, Quadriceps, Lower Back, and Abs Emphasis)
- Back Squat: 5 sets of 6-8 reps
- Leg Press: 3-4 sets of 20 steps
- Barbell Hip Raise: 4 sets of 12 reps
- Hyperextension/Back Raise: 3 sets of 8 reps
- Abs Accessory: 3-5 sets of 15 reps
Who Should Do a Push/Pull/Lower Program?
This is a more advanced training split for lifters and athletes who have been accustomed to training at higher volumes and can meet the training demands. This program is much less forgiving than a 3 or 4-day routine, making sleep, nutrition, and daily life stress management critical to success.
Why Follow a 5-Day Push/Pull/Lower Workout Split?
Training five days a week offers the greatest amount of exercise variety and can deliver a high amount of work directed towards addressing individual’s technique and/or strength limitations.
Due to the increased training frequency, coaches can also spread out weekly training volumes across all sessions to help reduce muscle soreness and improve the quality of each session. Coaches can also add in high amounts of supplementary work within strength and powerlifting programs and not steal time and energy away from main strength movements.
Of course, training five days a week makes recovery paramount. This means that an athlete must be committed to training consistently, getting enough sleep, eating properly, and monitoring their recovery regularly.
More Strength-Building Content
Here are some other in-depth articles on strength training, how to do it, and its benefits from BarBend.
- The 8 Best Home Exercises for More Muscle and Strength
- The Ultimate 10-Week Powerbuilding Workout Routine for Mass and Strength
- 6 Unique Trap Bar Exercises for Muscle, Strength, and Conditioning
- What to Know About Strength Training for Bodybuilders
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