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The Ultimate Upper Lower Split Guide: 2 Day, 3 Day, & 4 Day Workouts

40 Comments | Training

upper lower workout split

After almost 10 years of training, the upper lower workout split is still one of my favorite programs in the world.

It just works and can be a great transition for guys who have been doing full body or body-part splits for while.

In this post I’ll be going over pretty much everything you need to know about upper lower workouts and all its different variations.

WTF is an upper/lower body split?

On an upper/lower split, you switch between 2 workouts – an upper body and lower body workout.

Mind blowing, I know.

The great thing about upper/lower splits is that they allow for a shit ton of flexibility.

The most popular one is the 4-day upper/lower split.

Here are two examples:

4-day upper/lower example 1

  • Monday: Upper body
  • Tuesday: Lower body
  • Wednesday: Off
  • Thursday: Upper body
  • Friday: Lower body
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: Off

4-day upper/lower example 2

  • Monday: Upper body
  • Tuesday: Lower body
  • Wednesday: Off
  • Thursday: Upper body
  • Friday: Off
  • Saturday: Lower body
  • Sunday: Off

4-day upper/lower example 3

  • Monday: Upper body
  • Tuesday: Off
  • Wednesday: Lower body
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: Upper body
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: Lower body
    *Next upper body session will be on Tuesday.

You can schedule this to fit whatever schedule you have, but it’s best to wait 72 hours before you repeat an upper or lower session for the second time during the week.

Alternatively, we have the three-day upper/lower split, which involves rotating through 3 workouts per week.

You just continue the next week where you left off.

Here’s how it looks like…

3 day upper/lower week #1

  • Monday: Upper body
  • Tuesday: Off
  • Wednesday: Lower body
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: Upper body
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: Off

3 day upper/lower week #2

  • Monday: Lower body
  • Tuesday: Off
  • Wednesday: Upper body
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: Lower body
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: Off

As you can see, you’re just alternating between upper and lower days. So one week you’ll have 2 upper sessions but that will be balanced out with 2 lower sessions the following weeks.

Upper/lower muscle groups

During your upper body workouts, you would train the following muscle groups:

  • Chest
  • Back
  • Shoulders
  • Biceps
  • Triceps

And the following muscle groups during your lower body workouts:

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Lower back
  • Calves
  • Abs

Some people, however, like to train abs or calves on their upper body workouts.

Doesn’t matter too much.

Like I said, there’s a bunch of flexibility with upper-lower splits.

Is an upper/lower split right for you? The hell if I know.

First off, there is no perfect workout routine.

The right one for you depends on your age, recovery abilities, stress level, lifestyle, nutrition, and much more….

So I’m not going to say an upper/lower split is right for the 7 billion people on the planet.

That said, the upper/lower body split is best suited for intermediate lifters (at least 6 months lifting experience).

This setup allows you to hit each muscle group twice per week, which is optimal for building muscle.

In this large meta-analysis of 140 resistance training studies, these science guys concluded, “Untrained participants experience maximal gains by training each muscle group 3 times per week and trained individuals two days per week.

Personally I’ve experience the best results when I started training with more frequency.

Hitting a muscle group once per week can work, but if you feel like you’ve been plateauing, I highly recommend increasing your training frequency.

Three day or four day upper/lower split – which is better?

It comes down to this:

  • If you can stick with a 4-day split, recover well from a 4-day split, and it fits your schedule/lifestyle – do a 4-day split.
  • If you know you can’t stick with a 4-day split. If you feel like you never recover too well from a 4-day split. Or if you’re a busy motherfucker and can’t train 4 days per week – do a 3-day split.

Consistency beats everything, and being consistent on a 3-day split will destroy any half-assed attempt at a 4-day split.

Optimal training volume on an upper/lower split

There are a lot of training variables we can change to get the results we want.

Total training volume is one of them (in addition to masturbating before a workout).

The optimal training volume for intermediate and advanced lifters are:

  • Between 60-120 total reps per week for bigger muscle groups (e.g. chest, back, quadriceps, etc.)
  • Between 30-60 total reps per week for smaller muscle groups. (e.g. biceps, triceps, calves, etc.)

So if we train each muscle group twice per week, that would mean…

  • Between 30-60 total reps per session for bigger muscle groups.
  • Between 15-30 total reps for smaller muscle groups.

Why do small muscle groups require less volume than bigger muscle groups?

Because they already get a ton of indirect work from compound exercises.

For example, most back exercises also hit your biceps while most chest exercises also train your triceps (and shoulders to some extent.)

Upper/lower workout split template

Like going on Tinder at a Starbucks while sitting next to a hot girl in hopes she’ll see you and ask you out, creating a workout program can be a scary.

There are a lot of variables you have to consider, which increase your chances of fucking up.

So if you’re unsure on how to create your own upper/lower body split, use the template below.

It’s easy.

Pick one exercise from each category and incorporate the described amounts of set and reps.

Also, the exercises selected are by no means your only options. Feel free to choose your own exercises, even if they are not on the list.

Just make sure the movement pattern remains the same, and try to use some common sense.

Day 1: Upper body

1. Upper body horizontal push

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 4 sets of 4-6 reps.

  • Bench press
  • Incline bench press
  • Parallel bar dips
  • Close grip bench press
  • Dumbbell flat bench press
  • Dumbbell incline bench press

2. Upper body horizontal pull

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 4 sets of 6-8 reps.

  • Barbell rows (underhand or overhand)
  • Pendlay row
  • 1-arm dmbbell row

3. Upper body vertical push

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps.

  • Barbell shoulder press
  • Dumbbell shoulder press
  • Arnold press

4. Upper body vertical pull

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps.

  • Weighted chin ups
  • Weighted pull ups
  • Lat pull downs

5. Triceps

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps

  • Lying triceps extensions (dumbbell or barbell)
  • Overhead extension (dumbbell, barbell, or cable)
  • Triceps push down (all variations)

6. Biceps

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps.

  • Barbell curls (straight or EZ-bar)
  • Dumbbell curls
  • Incline dumbbell curls
  • Hammer curls
  • Zottman curls

Day 2: Lower body

1. Squat variation

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 4 sets of 4-6 reps.

  • Back squat (regular bar, safety squat bar)
  • ;Front squat
  • Box squat (regular bar, safety squat bar)

2. Knee flexion dominant

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps.

  • Lunges (all variations)
  • Step-ups
  • Bulgarian split squat
  • Leg press

3. Hip extension dominant

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps

  • Romanian deadlifts
  • Straight leg deadlifts
  • 45-degree hyperextension
  • Reverse hyperextensions
  • Pull-troughs
  • Hip thrust (all variations)
  • Glute ham raises
  • Good mornings

4. Calves

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps

  • Standing calf raises
  • Seated calf raises

5. Abs

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps

  • Cable crunches
  • (Hanging) leg raises
  • Weighted Swiss ball crunches

Day 3: Upper body

1. Upper body vertical push

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 4 sets of 4-6 reps

  • Barbell shoulder press
  • Dumbbell shoulder press
  • Arnold press

2. Upper body vertical pull

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 4 sets of 4-6 reps

  • Weighted chin ups
  • Weighted pull ups
  • Lat pull downs (all variations)

3. Upper body horizontal push

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps

  • Bench press
  • Incline bench press
  • Parallel bar dips
  • Close grip bench press
  • Dumbbell flat bench press
  • Dumbbell incline bench press
  • Machine chest press

4. Upper body horizontal pull

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps

  • Barbell rows (underhand or overhand)
  • Pendlay row
  • 1-arm dumbbell row
  • Cable row
  • Machine row

5. Triceps

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps

  • Lying triceps extensions (dumbbell or barbell)
  • Overhead extension (dumbbell, barbell, or cable)
  • Triceps push down (all variations)

6. Biceps

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps

  • Barbell curls (straight or EZ-bar)
  • Dumbbell curls
  • Incline dumbbell curl
  • Hammer curls
  • Zottman curls

Day 4: Lower body

1. Squat variation

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 4 sets of 4-6 reps

  • Conventional deadlift
  • Sumo deadlift
  • Trap bar deadlift
  • Rack pulls
  • Deficit deadlift

2. Knee flexion dominant

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 3 sets of 8-10 reps

  • Lunges (all variations)
  • Step-ups
  • Bulgarian split squat
  • Leg press

3. Hip extension dominant

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 3 sets of 8-10 reps

  • Romanian deadlifts / straight leg deadlifts
  • 45-degree hyperextension
  • Reverse hyperextensions
  • Pull-throughs 
  • Hip thrust (all variations)
  • Glute ham raises
  • Good mornings

4. Calves

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 3 sets of 8-10 reps \

  • Standing calf raises
  • Seated calf raises

5. Abs

Choose one of the following exercises and perform 3 sets of 8-10 reps

  • Cable crunches
  • Hanging leg raises
  • Weighted Swiss ball crunches

4 day upper/lower split example

The following is how your routine can look like based on the template above.

4 day upper/lower split example

Day 1: Upper body

  1. Bench press 4 x 4-6
  2. 1-arm dumbbell row 4 x 6-8 per arm
  3.  Seated dumbbell overhead press 3 x 6-8
  4. Overhand grip lat pull down 3 x 6-8
  5. Lying dumbbell triceps extension 3 x 8-10
  6. Barbell curl 3 x 8-10

Day 2: Lower body

  1. Back squat 4 x 4-6
  2. Leg press 3 x 6-8
  3. Stiff leg deadlift 3 x 6-8
  4. Standing calf raises 3 x 8-10
  5. Cable crunches 3 x 8-10

Day 3: Upper body

  1. Barbell overhead press 4 x 4-6
  2. Weighted chin up 4 x 4-6
  3. Dumbbell incline bench press 3 x 6-8
  4. Cable row 3 x 6-8
  5. Triceps push down 3 x 8-10
  6. Dumbbell incline curl 3 x 8-10

Day 4: Lower body

  1. Conventional deadlift 4 x 4-6
  2. Dumbbell lunges 3 x 6-8
  3. Barbell hip thrust 3 x 8-10
  4. Seated calf raises 3 x 8-10
  5. Hanging leg raises 3 x 8-10

Note: “4 x 4-6” means 4 sets of 4-6 reps. 

In the template, you’ll find the reps described as “4-6 reps.” This means you pick a weight that allows you to do a minimum four reps, but no more than six.

If you can do more than six reps, increase the weight for your next set.

If you cannot do at least 4 reps, drop the weight for your next set (or workout) so that you can do 4-6 reps.

During the rest periods, take 2-3 minutes between sets done in the 4-6 and 6-8 rep range and 1.5-2 minutes between sets done in the 8-10 rep range.

3-day upper/lower split variations

I get it…

Not everybody can workout four days a week.

Maybe you don’t have enough time because you have shit like kids, or you’re the CEO of a Fortune 100 company being blackmailed by a stripper.

Or maybe 4 days is simply too much from a recovery standpoint.

Or maybe you’re just a lazy fuck, which is totally fine.

Whatever the reason, let’s me show you how to adapt your workout so it fits your life.

Three-day upper/lower variation

Here’s the  easiest way to change a 4-day upper/lower split to a 3 day variation.

Use the same template as the 4-day split – two upper and two lower body workouts.

During week 1, do the first 3 workouts.

The next week, you just continue where you left off.

Basically just switching between the four workouts.

We’ve already covered this variation a bit at the beginning of this article. But here’s how it looks like:

Week 1

  • Monday: Upper body 1
  • Tuesday: Off
  • Wednesday: Lower body 1
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: Upper body 2
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: Off

Week 2

  • Monday: Lower body 2
  • Tuesday: Off
  • Wednesday: Upper body 1
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: Lower body 1
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: Off

And continue…

Here’s an example three-day workout routine based on the template above.

3 day upper/lower split example

Week 1 – Monday: Upper body

  1. Incline bench press 4 x 4-6
  2. Barbell row 4 x 6-8
  3. Arnold press 3 x 6-8
  4. Weighted chin up 3 x 6-8
  5. Overhead triceps extension (dumbbell) 3 x 8-10
  6. Barbell curl 3 x 8-10

Week 1 – Wednesday: Lower body

  1. Front squat 4 x 4
  2. Dumbbell lunges 3 x 6
  3. 45-degree hyperextension 3 x 6-8
  4. Seated calf raises 3 x 8-10
  5. Hanging leg raises 3 x 8-10

Week 1 – Friday: Upper body

  1. Barbell overhead press 4 x 4-6
  2. Weighted pull up 4 x 4-6
  3. Dumbbell bench press 3 x 6-8
  4. 1-arm dumbbell row 3 x 6-8 per arm
  5. Lying triceps extension (dumbbell) 3 x 8-10
  6. Hammer curl 3 x 8-10

Week 2 – Monday: Lower body

  1. Conventional deadlift 4 x 4-6
  2. Dumbbell step up 3 x 6-8
  3. Glute ham raise (or leg curl) 3 x 8-10
  4. Standing calf raise 3 x 8-10
  5. Cable crunch 3 x 8-10

Etc…

Another three-day variation is the upper/lower/upper split.

You do two upper body workouts each week and only one lower body workout.

Here’s how…

  • Monday: Upper body
  • Tuesday: Off
  • Wednesday: Lower body
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: Upper body
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: Off

This setup is good for lifters who want/need to train their legs less often. Like when they already have well-developed, or even over-developed legs, and just want to maintain their leg size.

The upper/lower/upper split is also a good option for athletes who use their legs intensively in their sport.

For them, training their lower body twice per week, or even more often, can be too much. Especially during competition season.

If you decide to train legs only once per week using the template above, switch between lower body workout 1 and 2.

So one week you start off with a squat variation (lower body workout 1). The other week with a deadlift variation (lower body workout 2).

A 2-day upper/lower split?

Whatever your reason for working out only twice per week, you will not progress optimally.

In fact, you probably won’t build any muscle and not gain much strength, especially if you’re beyond the beginner stage.

Training volume is just too low.

But as a last resort, a 2-day split can work well to maintain strength or a general level of fitness.

Here’s how to set it up:

Week 1

  • Monday: Upper body 1
  • Tuesday: Off
  • Wednesday: Off
  • Thursday: Lower body 1
  • Friday: Off
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: Off

Week 2

  • Monday: Upper body 2
  • Tuesday: Off
  • Wednesday: Off
  • Thursday: Lower body 2
  • Friday: Off
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: Off

And repeat…

2 day upper/lower split example

Week 1 – Monday: Upper body

  1. Incline bench press 4 x 4-6
  2. Barbell row 4 x 6-8
  3. Arnold press 3 x 6-8
  4. Weighted chin up 3 x 6-8
  5. Overhead triceps extension (dumbbell) 3 x 8-10
  6. Barbell curl 3 x 8-10

Week 1 – Thursday: Lower body

  1. Front squat 4 x 4
  2. Dumbbell lunges 3 x 6
  3. 45-degree hyperextension 3 x 6-8
  4. Seated calf raises 3 x 8-10
  5. Hanging leg raises 3 x 8-10

What’s the final word on upper/lower splits?

The fitness industry can be confusing at times.

There are so many different training splits to choose from that it often leads to program hopping, or worse, mentally masturbating all day about the perfect training split and not doing anything at all.

If you’re looking for a proven but simple training split to take your fitness to the next level, the upper/lower body split is a great option.

With the template outlined above, creating your own workout routine is simpler than ever.

Combine that with a non-crappy diet, and you’ll be well on your way to landing a male fitness model contract (maybe…prob not).

If you need help with setting up your diet, check out my step-by-step course Superhero Shredding 2.0.

It takes away all your guesswork and teach you how to build a lean, head-turning physique while eating your favorite foods every day.

Have questions about  upper/lower splits? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll get back to you within 24 hours. 

Jj - June 30, 2017

Hi,
Are only 4 sets for chest and 3-4 sets for quads or hamstrings enough per workout although those will be trained twice per week? And is it okay to add side laterals, another chest exercise, and another back exercise to upper body workouts, or is it too much? (3 sets of each)

Reply
    Keith - July 4, 2017

    yes definitely enough. Just stick with the plan and I’m sure you’ll see great results.

    Reply
Cara - June 26, 2017

Hi, is this appropriate for a woman? I’m already in pretty good shape (I’ve worked out regularly for most of my adult life, lifting as well as cardio).
Last year I went from being a teacher to starting my own business cleaning vacation rentals. My job is very physically demanding and I’m now struggling with finding just the right amount of “exercise” to do after work. I’m wanting to build & maintain moderate strength and hypertrophy. I’ve read that rep ranges of 8-12 are best for hypertrophy and lower ranges are best for pure strength. Should I get good results if I use your program, increasing the rep ranges and lowering weights slightly? Thanks for the great info!

Reply
    Keith - June 26, 2017

    It can def work for women.

    I think the whole rep range argument has been blown way out of proportion over the last few years.

    The best rep range depends on what you’re doing right now.

    If you’re a beginner, then yeah, 6-12 reps is prob the sweet spot.

    But if you’ve been lifting for years in the 8-12 rep range, then it’s prob better to switch it up to something lower.

    Give this workout a shot for 6-8 weeks and lemme know how it goes.

    Reply
Ronald - June 5, 2017

Is it too much to do the conventional deadlift the day after Rows and Lat Pulls/Pullups? I can’t seem to find an answer anywhere on the internet. I have been following this routine religiously and I feel fine physcially but I just want to make sure this is not over training.

Reply
    Keith - June 6, 2017

    no as long as you feel fine and are progressing, it’s fine.

    Reply

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