In this article we’ll breakdown three (3) of the very most effective weight training splits for lifters and athletes looking to build muscle mass and strength. Within the below sections we will dissect each strength training split, discussing whom it may be best for, benefits, and potential limitations.

What is really a Weight training Split?

A weight training split is a workout outline (typically formatted every week) that provides coaches and athletes a guideline to program for strength and muscle tissue. Numerous factors may influence a coaches/athletes decision regarding the “best” workout split to choose, for example:

  • Training Availability (how frequently work, life, and other factors permit you to train)
  • Level from the Athlete (are you able to handle increased volume, do you need more rest days to account for higher intensities and loadings, etc)
  • Program Goals (increased leg strength vs upper body mass, demands on the body, etc)
  • Needs of the Athlete (poor recovery, insufficient work capacity, etc).

All of those factors influence coaches/athletes making decisions process. The key for most weight training splits would be to provide enough frequency, volume, and training stimulus to promote physiological adaptations.

3 Most Effective Weight training Splits

Below are three of the very most effective strength training splits you can use to build muscle hypertrophy, strength, and set a strong foundation for sports performance. All of the below splits can be used with powerlifting and general strength training workout programs (however there are some limitations when put on Olympic weightlifting programming).

Note these three strength training splits aren’t the sole options coaches and athletes have, however are three very effective strategies to at least consider when establishing a new training program.

3-Day Total Body Split

This is a 3-day exercise routine that’s best done alternating between training days and rest days. You can recycle training weeks every six days, or simply take two days off in consecutively. For instance, training Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and resting Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. You can also add some movement of conditioning on one from the non-lifting days in case your goal is body composition and strength, or simply to improve recovery and fitness.

Training the whole body every session allows for this program to deliver high levels of frequency and volume to many muscles in the body across the week. Here is a sample day with this kind of workout. It’s best to attempt to limit the exercises this day to 2-3 main strength lift and 4-5 accessory exercise, delivery a total set volume of 10-20 sets for main strength work and 5-10 for accessory lifts.

The below sample program has a strong focus on squat, back, and pressing strength. Day two could use an identical format, with the first focus being on a strong pressing motion (the bench press) plus some accessory lower lifts like lunges or step ups. Day 3 could then concentrate on pulling strength (deadlifts) and employ more accessory lifts with higher volume (higher reps) to induce muscle hypertrophy and recovery for an additional week.

Day 1 (Total Body, Squat Emphasis)

  • Power Clean: 4 teams of 3 reps at 70-75%
  • Back Squat: 6 teams of 4-6 reps at 70-80%
  • Pendlay Row: 4 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Incline Dumbbell Chest Press 4 teams of 5-8 reps
  • RDLs 3: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Hammer Curl and Triceps Pushdown Superset: 3 teams of 12-20 reps

Who Must do This?

This is a great choice for those who may not have a lot of training availability because of work, family, or life restrictions. Because of the decreased frequency of training (less days per week), training sessions are frequently a bit longer compared to those who train 5+ days each week. This doesn’t mean however, that it will be any less effective if training volume, intensity, and recovery are programmed correctly.

Benefits

  • Train most muscles 3 times per week
  • Offers flexibility
  • Allows for recovery from training (typically)

Limitations

  • Workouts may be slightly longer than normal (60-90 minute sessions), not including warm-ups and stretching
  • Diet is element in warding off body fat increases (due to loss of training frequency)
  • Limited quantity of training days may limit capability to address lots of exercises/goals per cycle
  • More on lifter to get other recovery strategies (active recovery, stretching, mobility, corrective exercises) done on “non-training” days.

4-Day Push/Pull Split

This is really a typical 4-day split that enables coaches and athletes to coach muscle groups twice per week, however with more volume per session. Work outs are generally split up into push (squat, pressing, and accessory) and pull (deadlift, pulling, and accessory) and could be done in a couple on, 1 off, 2 on, 2 off fashion OR spread out through the week. It is recommended that a lifter does not train 3 days consecutively about this program to match recovery from hard training sessions.

Below are a couple of sample workout times of this 4-day push/pull split. Note, that this program includes many of the fundamental exercises for building power, strength, and athleticism.

Day 1 (Push)

  • Power Clean + Push Press: 3 sets of 3 reps at 60-70%
  • Front Squat: 4 sets of 4-6 reps at 70%
  • Barbell Bench Press: 4 teams of 6-8 reps
  • Dumbbell Step-up: 4 sets of 8 reps/leg
  • Shoulder Accessory (side raises, scap work, pull aparts, etc): 3-4 sets

Day 2 (Pull)

  • Hang Snatch: 3 sets of 3 reps at 60-70%
  • Heavy Farmers Carry: 4 teams of 20m
  • Romanian Deadlift: 4 teams of 8-10 reps
  • Weighted Pull-up: 4 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Bicep/Forearm Curl: 3-4 sets

Who Should Do This?

This is a good split for many fitness and strength enthusiasts looking to increase training frequency and volume. Due to the added training day, coaches and athletes have more choices to include variety into a training program, add unilateral and corrective work, and try to develop more skill-based movements (weightlifting, strongman, sport-specific, etc).

Benefits

  • Train most muscles directly Twice per week
  • Offers variety in exercise selection
  • Allows for inclusion of more skill-based movements necessary for weightlifting, strongman, powerlifting,and sports-performance training
  • Ability to start volume over course of week much better than 3-day split, which will help lifters attack high intensities with more aggression throughout the entire session (much less fatigue per session if programmed correctly).

Limitations

  • Can be a challenge not to be redundant with exercises, as movements like the squat can still leave soreness and fatigue on pulling days.
  • Need for recovery is highlighted more than 3-day programs
  • Can be difficult for additional advanced lifters to recovery from hard pulling or pressing sessions twice each week. This will make it very important to have fatigue management strategies in place and program volume and intensities accordingly.

5-Day Torso Push/Pull minimizing Split

The 5-day upper body push/push and lower split may be used by most lifters who’re seeking to increase training volume evenly across a training week to allow for highly focused sessions on specific needs and goals from the athlete. Lifters who’ve a strong foundation of training can often handle this style of split, as it demands great recovery and mental abilities. Additionally, this program can be done for 6-days on, to match each muscle group to become trained twice each week.

Below are three sample workout days (torso push/pull and legs). It is recommended that a lifter doesn’t lift a lot more than three days consecutively about this program to match proper recovery. As you can tell, the below days also have a focus (see notes). The other three workouts (not included) would focus primarily on another muscles groups (Day 4 focuses on chest and triceps, Day 5 focuses on weighted pull-ups and single arm rows, and Day 6 concentrates on hip strength via deadlifts and more hamstring based movements).

Day 1 (Upper Body Push, Shoulders and Triceps Emphasis)

  • Push Press: 5 teams of 3-5 reps
  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 4 teams of 8-10 reps
  • Dips: 4 sets of 6-10 reps
  • Upright Row: 4 teams of 8-10 reps
  • Shoulder Accessory: 3 sets
  • Triceps Accessory: 3 sets

Day 2 (Torso Pull, Back, Biceps, Grip Emphasis)

  • Pendlay Row: 5 sets of 6-8 ?reps
  • Lat Pulldown: 4 teams of 8-10 reps
  • Dumbbell Farmers Carry: 4 teams of 20m
  • Barbell Curl: 4 of 8-10 reps
  • Forearms/Biceps/Grip Accessory: 3 sets

Day 3 (Lower Body, Quadriceps, Back, and Abs Emphasis)

  • Back Squat: 5 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Leg Press: 3-4 sets of 20 steps
  • Barbell Hip Raise: 4 teams of 12 reps
  • Hyperextension/Back Raise: 3 teams of 8 reps
  • Abs Accessory: 3-5 sets

Who Should Do This?

This is a more advanced training split for lifters and athletes who have been familiar with training at higher volumes and are able to meet working out demands. The program is much less forgiving than a 3 or 4-day routine, making sleep, nutrition, and daily life stress management critical to success.

Benefits

  • Great amount of programming freedom open to a coach/athlete to input exercise to deal with most training needs/goals
  • Can deliver high amounts of training volume to maximize muscle growth
  • Allows for lifters to invest less time in the club training

Limitations

  • Very easy to overtrain if recovery needs not met
  • Little flexibility
  • Makes sleep, nutrition, and work/life/family stress management key to recovery

Final Thoughts

This is really a comprehensive introduction to some of the most effective weight training splits out there, filled with sample workout days to help you obtain a deeper knowledge of each. As coaches and athletes, we should be capable of adapt to training goals, life stresses, and recovery needs, with the knowning that training splits are an overview, although not set in stone. In the even you find you are able to handle more volume Or even the opposite occurs simply talk to your coach and adjust things as needed. Happy Training (and programming)!