If you’re in the middle of a busy season at work, prioritizing other kinds of training, or have family responsibilities that prevent you from getting to the gym frequently, a 2-day workout split is an excellent way to keep up with your fitness routine.
You can either do two full-body workouts per week or implement an upper/lower split.
A full-body workout allows you to train multiple muscle groups in a single workout. They’re often more time-efficient but are harder to recover from. With an upper/lower split, you train either the upper or lower body in one workout. The workouts take longer to do but allow you to accumulate more training volume.
In this article, I’ll explain the differences between full-body workouts and upper/lower splits and discuss which type of program is better for certain groups of people. I’ll also discuss the concept of periodization and provide examples of 2-day workout splits.
2-Day Workout Splits Explained
A 2-day workout split is a strength training program that you do two times per week. You can implement a 2-day split by following full-body workouts or doing an upper/lower split.
Full Body 2-Day Split
Full-body workouts are ones in which you train both the upper and lower body in the same workout.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that you train each individual muscle group every single time you hit the gym. It just means that you perform upper and lower body exercises within the same workout.
Upper Lower 2-Day Split
An upper/lower split program is one in which you train either the upper or lower body within the same workout.
As is the case with full-body workouts, you may not train each individual muscle group in your upper or lower body each time you work out. An upper/lower split just means that you do all upper body movements or all lower body movements in a single workout.
Upper/lower splits are commonly seen in programs that call for at least four workouts per week, but you can still do them if you only have two days per week to train.
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Periodization For 2-Day Workout Split
Periodization is a way for you to plan your long-term goals by structuring your workouts according to different training blocks. This allows you to continue challenging your body and improving your performance while properly managing recovery and reducing your risk of injury.
Periodization is especially important when you only have two days a week to train because you want to maximize your time in the gym while also giving yourself the opportunity to make as much progress as possible.
There are three common types of periodization:
- Linear periodization
- Undulating periodization
- Block periodization
1. Linear periodization
Linear periodization is a common approach for beginners.
With this approach, you’ll start a training block by focusing on high volume and low intensity and then ending it with low volume and high intensity.
Put simply, as your weights increase, the number of reps you perform decreases.
Let’s say you’re planning a 16-week training block in which you want to increase your squat. Linear periodization may look like this:
- Weeks 1-4: 3 x 10-12 at 150lbs
- Weeks 5-8: 3 x 8-10 at 175lbs
- Weeks 8-12: 3 x 6-8 at 200lbs
- Weeks 13-16: 3 x 4-6 at 225lbs
This type of program allows novices to build a solid foundation without trying to do too much too soon but still being able to take advantage of beginner gains.
2. Block periodization
Block periodization breaks your training blocks into shorter two- to six-week blocks based on three phases:
- Accumulation: higher volume performed at 50-70% of your 1RM
- Transmutation: moderate volume performed at 75-90% of your 1RM
- Realization: low volume and high intensity where you may try to find a new 1RM
This type of periodization is commonly used by powerlifters who are preparing for a competition, but you can incorporate it into a 2-day workout split and use it as a way to continue getting stronger once you’ve exhausted your newbie gains.
3. Undulating periodization
Undulating periodization is a more advanced approach to structuring your workouts.
It refers to your training intensity going up or down each day or each week rather than changing over the course of several weeks.
An example of undulating periodization in a 2-day workout split would be doing higher weights and lower reps on the first day and lower weights and higher reps on the second day.
Using squats as our exercise example again, undulating periodization could look like this:
- Workout day 1 – 3 sets of 4 reps at 200lbs
- Workout day 2 – 3 sets of 10 reps at 175lbs
- Workout day 1 – 3 sets of 4 reps at 215lbs
- Workout day 2 – 3 sets of 10 reps at 190lbs
Undulating periodization allows you to manage your workout intensity effectively so you can train for both hypertrophy and strength within the same workout block.
Exercises Selection For 2 Day Workout Plan
When you only have two days per week to dedicate to lifting, exercise selection is important.
You’ll want to make sure you’re hitting all of the main muscle groups, but you don’t want to necessarily spend more than 60-90 minutes in the gym. That’s why it’s beneficial to focus on compound exercises rather than isolation exercises.
Compound movements are those that work more than one muscle group at a time. Squats, for example, work the quads, glutes, hamstrings, adductors, and calves.
Other common compound movements include:
- Bench presses
- Overhead presses
- Bentover rows
Compound movements allow you to lift more weight and are often done with fewer sets and lower reps.
Isolation exercises, on the other hand, target one muscle group at a time. You can’t lift as much weight when you perform isolation exercises, so they’re often done with higher sets and reps.
Examples of isolation movements include:
- Bicep curls
- Tricep pushdowns
- Hamstring curls
- Calf raises
- Leg extensions
Whether you follow a full-body workout plan or an upper/lower split, it’s possible to include both compound and isolation exercises. However, you’ll still want to prioritize the compound movements. They offer more bang for your buck and are more effective at building strength than isolation exercises.
Because compound movements are more taxing on the body, you’ll also want to do them at the beginning of your workout so you don’t accumulate too much fatigue by doing other exercises first.
If you’re new to strength training and not sure how to perform the exercises listed above, check out the Fitbod app. It has video demos of over 600 movements so you can make sure you’re performing each one correctly.
Best 2-Day Workout Split For Beginners
Full Body Workout for Beginners
As you’ll see, these workouts feature more compound movements than isolation ones. This will allow you to hit multiple muscle groups within the same workout without having to spend a significant amount of time in the gym.
These workouts are best done with at least one day of rest in between. You can do them on Mondays and Wednesdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, Mondays and Thursdays, or whatever days work best for you as long as you have a full day of rest before your next workout.
Full Body – Day 1
- Squat – 3 x 6-8
- Bench press – 3 x 6-8
- Bent over row – 3 x 8-10
- Romanian deadlift – 3 x 8-10
- Seated dumbbell overhead press – 3 x 10-12
- Dips (if you don’t have access to a dip station or a squat rack with a matador, you can do dips off a sturdy chair, bench, or box) – 3 x 10-12
Full Body – Day 2
- Deadlift – 3 x 6-8
- Overhead press – 3 x 6-8
- Pull ups – 3 x 8-10 (if you’re not able to do a pullup yet, you can use an assisted pull up machine or try scap pull ups or negatives)
- Lunges – 3 x 10-12 each leg
- Bicep curls 3 x 10-12
- Planks – 3 x 60 seconds (if you can’t hold a plank for 60 seconds, hold it for as long as possible, rest for 5-10 seconds, then resume the plank until you’ve reached a total of 60 seconds)
Related Article: Best Workout Split: How To Pick The Best Workout Split For You
Upper/Lower Split for Beginners
The below upper/lower splits combine compound and isolation movements. The compound movements are performed with fewer reps while the isolation exercises are performed with higher reps in order to achieve an equal amount of strength and hypertrophy within the same workout.
If you find that these workouts take too much time, you can try doing supersets. This means you’ll do two different exercises back-to-back without any rest in between. For example, you’d do one set of bicep curls immediately followed by one set of tricep extensions before you rest.
When utilizing supersets, it’s best to superset exercises that target opposing muscle groups — so quads and hamstrings, biceps and triceps, or chest and back.
I’d also recommend avoiding supersets with compound movements. They’re more taxing on the body, and you need sufficient rest periods in between each set so you can perform your subsequent sets and exercises effectively.
Upper Body Day
- Bench press – 3 x 6-8
- Bent over row – 3 x 6-8
- Seated dumbbell overhead press – 3 x 8-10
- Incline dumbbell bench press – 3 x 8-10
- Pullups – 3 x 8-10
- Bicep curls – 3 x 10-12
- Overhead tricep extensions – 3 x 10-12
Lower Body Day
- Squats – 3 x 6-8
- Deadlifts – 3 x 6-8
- Glute bridges – 3 x 8-10
- Dumbbell lunges – 3 x 10-12 each leg
- Hamstring curls – 3 x 10-12
- Calf raises – 3 x 12-15
Should You Do Full-Body Workouts or an Upper/Lower Split?
While choosing between full-body workouts and an upper/lower split can often come down to personal preference, there are certain groups of people that are better suited for each type of workout.
Do full-body workouts if:
1. You’re a beginner
Full-body workouts are better when you’re a beginner because they help you establish a routine while keeping things simple. They also allow you to train the same muscles and drill the same movements patterns multiple days per week.
The effects of this are slightly lost when you can only train two days per week since you may alternate certain movements. So for example, you may do squats one day and deadlifts another day instead of doing both movements on both days. But you’re still training your lower body twice a week, which will still allow you to make progress.
When you’re a beginner, you also respond to resistance training differently than an advanced lifter. You can build muscle and increase strength more quickly and recover faster in between workout sessions. This makes full-body workouts ideal for anyone with less than 6-12 months of lifting experience.
2. You train for overall health rather than aesthetics
As I’ve mentioned, full-body workouts tend to include more compound movements, which work multiple muscle groups at the same time and contribute to a higher overall calorie burn in a single workout.
Compound movements also help build more functional strength. Because they mimic actions such as picking up something heavy from the floor or pushing open a heavy door, they have more carry over to your everyday life.
3. You don’t have a lot of time to spend in the gym
One of the benefits of full-body workouts is that you can get your workout done in a shorter amount of time. Because they tend to focus more on compound movements, you can hit more muscle groups in a single workout without having to spend a long time isolating each body part.
Do an upper/lower split if:
1. You’re an intermediate or advanced lifter
Full-body workouts get more difficult to recover from once you start lifting heavier weights. More warm-up sets and longer rest periods in between exercises also become necessary as you get stronger, which adds a lot of time and makes the workouts more fatiguing.
Furthermore, as your training age increases, it becomes more difficult to continue adding muscle mass. To overcome this, you’ll need to increase your training volume in order to see results. An effective way to do this is to add more isolation exercises, which are easier to do more often when you utilize an upper/lower split.
As such, switching to an upper/lower split once you’ve been lifting weights consistently for 6-12 months will allow you to manage fatigue more efficiently, hit each muscle group more intensely every time you work out, and continue seeing changes in both strength and body composition.
2. You also participate in other sports
Many people suggest that full-body workouts are better for people who participate in other sports, but I disagree, especially when you’re only lifting weights two days per week. Following an upper/lower split gives both your upper and lower body plenty of time to recover so you can fit other activities into your schedule.
For example, if you enjoy running, you can implement the following training schedule:
- Monday – Lower body workout
- Tuesday – Rest
- Wednesday – Run
- Thursday – Upper body workout
- Friday – Run
- Saturday – Run
- Sunday – Rest
This allows you to train the upper and lower body once a week while running three days a week and still having two full rest days. It would be more difficult to schedule three days of running per week if you do two full-body workouts because you’d be training your legs on both days, which could have a negative effect on your running performance.
3. You’re interested in improving your body composition
Upper/lower splits are commonly done by bodybuilders and anyone who’s interested in adding muscle mass to a specific area of the body. While you may not see the same results by only training the upper and lower body once a week, you can still see some improvements in muscle size by incorporating isolation movements in an upper/lower split.
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What Kind of Results Can You Expect?
Lifting weights three, four, or five days per week will give you more results in a shorter amount of time, but that doesn’t mean training two days a week is a waste of time. By incorporating a 2-day workout split, you can expect the following results:
- Improved muscular strength
- Improved balance and coordination
- Increase or maintenance of muscle mass
- Better moods
- Reduced risk of disease
For even better results, you can combine two days of strength training with other activities. The Fitbod app can design a robust program for you based on your preferences, training history, available equipment, and workout frequency.
Full-body workouts and upper/lower splits are both effective strength training methods when you only have two days a week to work out. Anyone can follow either type of plan, but full-body workouts are more ideal for beginners while upper/lower splits are better for advanced lifters.
The sample workouts in this article can help get you started, but if you’re looking for more training ideas, download the Fitbod app. It will give you personalized recommendations on workouts that best fit your experience level, current lifestyle, and the equipment you have available.
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.