3 Day Workout Split For Beginners (For Muscle Gain & Fat Loss)

3 day workout split for beginners

Three-day workout splits are ideal for beginners because they offer an adequate amount of training to help you build muscle and get stronger while giving you plenty of time to recover and avoid burnout early in your lifting journey.

Some of the most common 3-day workout splits are push/pull/legs (PPL) routine, full-body, and upper/lower splits.

A PPL routine is one in which you train specific muscle groups based on whether those muscles are used to push or pull objects away from your body. A full-body routine works the muscles in the upper and lower body within the same workout. An upper/lower split only works the upper or lower body within a single workout.

In this article, I’ll provide more detail about PPL, full-body, and upper/lower splits to help you decide which one is best for you. I’ll also discuss ways you can progress with each type of workout split and show you how you can adjust your 3-day routine for various goals. At the end, I’ll provide you with sample routines for each type of split.


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How To Split Up Your 3 Day Split? (3 Examples)

3 day workout split for beginners

Each of the 3-day splits listed below is suitable for beginners, but which one you choose will depend on several factors such as your goals, your schedule, and whether or not you do other physical activities on your non-lifting days.

Push/Pull/Legs (PPL)

A push/pull/legs (or PPL) split is a workout split in which you train certain muscle groups based on the role each muscle plays in your body’s movements.

For example, the shoulders, triceps, and chest are all muscle groups that you use to push objects away from you. Therefore, your push day would include exercises that target those muscle groups. Squats may also fall on your push days because the quads, the primary muscles used in the squat, are also responsible for pushing things away from your body.

Your pull day would emphasize the back and bicep muscles as well as the rear delts, which are used to pull objects towards you. A pull day may also include deadlifts because you use some of those same muscle groups to pull the weight off the ground.

The third day in a PPL routine, leg day, is reserved for additional exercises that target the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. You can also add some direct core work to your leg day.

PPL routines are a good option for people who don’t have a lot of time to spend in the gym. Because you’re training similar muscle groups all at once, you don’t have to spend as much time warming up at the beginning of your workout. You also won’t have to do as many warm up sets before each new movement.

However, when you’re training the same muscle groups in one workout, the movements you do later in your workout may suffer.

For example, if you do barbell overhead presses after barbell bench presses, you may find that you can’t lift as much weight or complete as many reps on the overhead press because your shoulders and triceps are already fatigued.

Full-Body Workouts

Full-body workouts are designed to train upper and lower muscle groups within the same workout. You won’t necessarily hit every single muscle group each time you train, but you’ll do both upper and lower body movements during each workout.

One of the benefits of full-body workouts is that you have the option of doing the same movements multiple times per week. This makes them a good choice if you’re a beginner because it gives you more opportunities to practice your lifts.

Full-body workouts are also ideal for people with inconsistent schedules since they’re more forgiving if you have to skip a day. Because you’re hitting both the upper and lower body in each workout, you don’t have to worry about one area of your body falling behind if you miss a workout.

I also recommend full-body workouts for people who don’t do other kinds of high-intensity workouts in addition to lifting. Doing three full-body workouts per week doesn’t leave much room for other physical activities since they can be difficult to recover from.

For this reason, full-body workouts also shouldn’t be done on back-to-back days. You need adequate rest so you don’t become burned out or more prone to injuries, and you can’t recover properly by training the same muscle groups on consecutive days.

Related Article: Full-Body Workouts Every Day: Will You Get Better Results?

Upper/Lower Split

An upper/lower split is a routine in which you do all upper body movements or all lower body movements within the same workout. 

Upper/lower splits are often better-suited for experienced lifters who need more recovery time in between workouts or need to accumulate more total volume in order to see results.

However, there’s no reason why a beginner can’t do an upper/lower split. But when you’re trying to fit an upper/lower split into a 3-day workout schedule, you don’t get as many opportunities to practice your lifts. Furthermore, there will always be a week in which your upper or lower body is only trained once.

For example, a 3-day upper/lower split would look like this:

Week One

  • Monday – Upper Body Workout One
  • Tuesday – Rest
  • Wednesday – Lower Body Workout One
  • Thursday – Rest
  • Friday – Upper Body Workout Two
  • Saturday – Rest
  • Sunday – Rest

Week Two

  • Monday – Lower Body Workout Two
  • Tuesday – Rest
  • Wednesday – Upper Body Workout One
  • Thursday – Rest
  • Friday – Lower Body Workout One
  • Saturday – Rest
  • Sunday – Rest

As you can see, you’re training each body part once every 3-5 days. For that reason, you’ll need to do your best to not skip any workouts.

If you need help coming up with a 3-day workout split, check out the Fitbod app. You can customize your workouts based on your schedule, your goals, and which body parts you’d like to focus on.

How To Progress A 3 Day Workout Split?

When you first start lifting, it’s important to establish a routine and get into the habit of training consistently before you start subbing exercises or playing around with different set and rep schemes.

But as you settle into your routine and get stronger, you can challenge yourself by analyzing three key areas of your workout split: exercise selection, volume, and intensity.

Exercise Selection

Exercise selection for 3-day workout splits is important because when you’re only lifting three days a week, you want to make sure you’re hitting as many muscle groups as possible. You also want to ensure you’re doing an equal amount of work for both your upper and lower body so you can build a well-rounded physique.

When you’re just starting out, I recommend focusing mostly on compound movements, which will help you develop more overall strength because they target more than one muscle group at a time. I also advise new lifters to focus on the basic variations of each movement so you don’t get frustrated by trying to do an exercise that’s too advanced for your current fitness level.

With that said, it’s still a good idea to include isolation movements in your routine as well. Isolation exercises only target one muscle group at a time, but they help increase the size of that specific muscle, which is important if you’re trying to improve your physique.

Isolation movements can also help prevent injuries by strengthening the muscles that act as stabilizers during the compound lifts.

And even though it may feel boring at times, I also recommend sticking with the same exercises for about 4-6 weeks before you try to switch things up. This gives you enough time to determine whether or not a particular movement is helping you reach your goals.

Volume

Training volume is defined as the total amount of reps and sets you perform.

For beginners, I recommend doing no more than five or six exercises per workout with two to three sets per movement. I also recommend keeping your reps between 6-8 for most compound movements and 8-12 for isolation exercises. If you’ve never lifted weights before, this will be enough volume to help you get stronger and see visible changes in your physique. 

After you’ve been training for at least six months and you’re ready for more of a challenge, you can begin to add more sets and/or reps. You may also want to consider following a more periodized approach where certain days are dedicated to higher volume at lower weights and other days are dedicated to lower volume at heavier weights.

Intensity

Intensity refers to the amount of weight you’re lifting and how difficult it feels to you. For an experienced lifter, intensity is often calculated on a percentage of your 1 rep max (1RM). But if you’ve never lifted weights before, you don’t have a 1RM to start from.

The easiest way to figure out what weight you should start with is to grab an empty barbell or a light pair of dumbbells and aim to do 10-12 reps of a particular movement.

If the weight feels too easy, you can increase it until it feels more challenging but you’re still able to complete all of your reps with good form. If you feel like you could only do another 2-3 reps at the weight you selected, use that weight as your starting point. If the weight was too heavy, you’ll need to lower it until you find a weight you can easily lift for 10-12 reps.

It’s always good to err on the side of caution at first and start with a weight that’s too light rather than too heavy. You’ll be able to increase your weights quickly, and starting light will give you more room to progress from week to week.

Once you’ve been lifting for several months and you can no longer add weight to your lifts on a weekly basis, you can start to incorporate more advanced training methodologies such as RPE training.

RPE stands for rate of perceived exertion. It’s calculated on a scale of 1-10 where 1 is very easy and 10 is an all-out attempt. While you can utilize RPE training as a beginner, it takes some time to fully and accurately gauge how your body feels during a workout, so it’s better suited for intermediate and advanced lifters.

How To Tailor A 3-Day Workout Split Based On Your Goals?

how to tailor a 3-day workout split based on your goals

While all of the 3-day workout splits I mentioned above are effective for beginners, they’re each suitable for different types of goals.

If you don’t have fat loss or muscle-building goals and you just want to stay healthy, you can choose whichever 3-day workout split you enjoy the most that works best with your schedule.

But if you’re trying to lose fat or build more muscle, you’ll need to adjust your training accordingly to help you be as successful as possible in reaching your goals.

For Muscle Gain

When you’re trying to build muscle as a beginner, any lifting routine will be effective because your body responds better to different training stimuli. However, an upper/lower split routine is more preferable because it allows you to focus on training individual muscle groups with each workout.

Research shows that 6-20 reps per set are ideal for increasing muscle size. However, most lifters prefer to train in the middle of that range and do 8-12 reps per set, especially since other studies show that there are no significant differences in strength or muscle size when you do more than that.

Some research also suggests that there is no difference between doing 2-3 sets or 4-6 sets per movement in order to see hypertrophy increases. As such, because you don’t need a high amount of volume in order to see results when you’re new to lifting weights, doing 2-3 sets per exercise will still be plenty for you to gain muscle as a beginner.

Related Article: How To Bulk Up Fast: 10 Tips For Maximizing Muscle Growth

For Fat Loss

Managing your training routine when you’re in a fat loss phase requires some careful consideration. Since you’ll be in a calorie deficit, you may find that you have to reduce your training volume and intensity because your energy levels are lower. But you don’t want to cut back on your strength training too much because it can lead to a loss in muscle mass.

For beginners who are in a fat loss phase, I recommend sticking to full-body workouts. They produce a higher calorie burn, which can aid in weight loss. They also allow you to train the upper and lower body at once, which ensures you’re hitting most major muscle groups evenly to prevent a disproportionate amount of muscle loss in one area of the body.

To help you maintain your lean muscle mass during a fat loss phase, you should also aim to do 2-4 sets of 9-12 reps each at moderate weights to preserve your strength and lean muscle mass.

Since your energy levels will be lower due to eating fewer calories, you may also find that doing a lot of compound movements is too taxing, especially for higher reps. In that case, you’ll want to either emphasize more isolation movements or do fewer sets and reps at higher weights.

Related Article: How To Plan Your Strength Training While Cutting (Ultimate Guide)

What Results Can You Expect Training 3 Days Per Week?

As a beginner, you’ll be able to add more weight to your lifts more consistently and see visible changes in your physique more quickly than someone who’s been training for years.

However, it’s unreasonable to expect to gain 30 pounds of muscle mass or add 100lbs to your squat in a relatively short amount of time. The results you get from training 3 days per week will depend on several factors, including:

  • Your gender
  • How heavy you’re lifting
  • How much and how well you’re eating
  • Your sleep quality
  • How well you manage your stress
  • Other workouts you do in addition to lifting weights

Furthermore, you won’t see immediate changes, but once you’ve been following a solid lifting routine and nutrition plan for several weeks, you’ll begin to notice a difference in how you look and feel.

After 4 Weeks of Lifting Weights 3 Days Per Week

During your first four weeks of lifting weights 3 days per week, you may not see a lot of visible changes in your physique. 

Instead, after your first month, you can gauge your progress based on how you feel. You’ll likely find that you’re sleeping better, and everyday activities may start to become easier. You should have better energy levels throughout the day, especially if you’re also eating more nutritious foods.

At the end of your first four weeks, you should also notice a decrease in the amount of soreness you feel after each workout. And because you’re able to get stronger each week, your motivation levels will probably be high.

After 8 Weeks of Lifting Weights 3 Days Per Week

After eight weeks, you should start feeling more comfortable in the gym. You should be getting more proficient with each exercise, and you should still be able to keep adding weight to your lifts each week. 

At this point, you’ll start to notice some changes in your physique, but they may still be minor. However, you may also notice benefits from strength training that have nothing to do with your appearance, such as better posture, fewer aches and pains in your joints, and better moods.

After 12 Weeks of Lifting Weights 3 Days Per Week

The 12-week mark is when visible changes from your lifting routine start becoming more noticeable. Not only will you see a difference in your physique when you look in the mirror but your friends and family may take note of your physical changes as well.

If you’ve been consistently eating in a calorie surplus, your clothes may feel tighter or your muscles may look fuller. Your weight on the scale has likely gone up a few pounds.

If you’ve been eating in a calorie deficit, your clothes may feel looser, you may have dropped a few pounds on the scale, and your arms, legs, and/or midsection may appear leaner — though where you lose most of your fat depends largely on your genetics.

Your newbie gains likely haven’t been exhausted yet, so you should still be able to keep adding weight to your lifts each week. You may be tempted to switch from a beginner’s training routine to an intermediate one, but you should stick with your current routine until you can no longer keep adding weight from week to week.


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3 Day Workout Split For Beginners

3 day workout split

PPL Sample Workouts

PPL workouts are good for people who don’t have a lot of time to work out. Because you’re targeting muscles based on the functions of those muscles, it can also help you become more familiar with why you’re doing certain movements.

Push Day

  • Back squats – 3 x 6
  • Barbell bench press – 3 x 6
  • Seated dumbbell press – 3 x 8-10
  • Incline dumbbell bench press – 2 x 12-15
  • Overhead tricep extension – 2 x 12-15

Pull Day

  • Deadlifts – 3 x 6
  • Pull-ups (if you can’t do pull-ups, you can do assisted pull-ups, ring rows, negatives, scapular pull-ups, or a bentover row variation) – 3 x 8
  • Lat pulldowns – 3 x 10
  • Single-arm dumbbell rows – 2 x 12-15
  • EZ curl bars – 2 x 12-15

Leg/Core Day

  • Leg press – 3 x 8
  • Lunges – 3 x 10 per leg
  • Hamstring curls – 3 x 12-15
  • Calf raises – 2 x 12-15
  • Cable crunches – 2 x 12-15

Full-Body Sample Workout

This routine is ideal for someone who’s new to lifting weights and doesn’t plan on doing any other training in addition to lifting. It’s also a good routine for anyone who’s in a fat loss phase since it will help you maintain your lean muscle mass.

Full-Body Day One

  • Squats – 3 x 6
  • Incline dumbbell bench press – 3 x 8
  • Single-arm dumbbell row – 3 x 10 per arm
  • Romanian deadlifts – 3 x 10
  • Bicep curls – 3 x 12-15
  • Hanging leg raises – 3 x 12-15

Full-Body Day Two

  • Bench presses – 3 x 6
  • Glute bridges – 3 x 8
  • Standing dumbbell shoulder press – 3 x 10
  • Lat pulldowns – 3 x 10
  • Skull crushers – 3 x 12-15
  • Calf raises – 3 x 12-15

Full-Body Day Three

  • Deadlifts – 3 x 6
  • Overhead press – 3 x 8
  • Leg press – 3 x 10
  • Dumbbell flys – 3 x 10
  • Face pulls – 3 x 12-15
  • Planks – 3 x 60 seconds

Upper/Lower Split

Upper/lower splits are best for someone I’d call an advanced beginner. By only training your upper or lower body in the same workout, you can recover better in between each training session, so you can push the intensity a bit more.

Upper Day One

  • Bench press – 3 x 6
  • Barbell bentover row – 3 x 8
  • Standing dumbbell shoulder press – 3 x 10
  • Pull-ups or lat pulldowns – 3 x 10
  • Bicep curls – 3 x 12-15

Lower Body/Core Day One

  • Squats – 3 x 6
  • Walking lunges – 3 x 8 per leg
  • Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts – 3 x 10
  • Leg extensions – 3 x 12-15
  • Weighted situps – 3 x 15-20

Upper Body Day Two

  • Overhead press – 3 x 6
  • Incline dumbbell bench press – 3 x 8
  • Single-arm dumbbell rows – 3 x 10 per arm
  • Rear delt flies – 3 x 12-15
  • Tricep pushdowns – 3 x 12-15

Lower Body/Core Day Two

If you recall from the upper/lower split section above, I talked about moving the second lower body day to the following week. You’ll do this workout on day one of week two of your training schedule, and then start over with Upper Body Day One for your next workout.

  • Deadlifts – 3 x 6
  • Glute bridges – 3 x 8
  • Goblet squats – 3 x 10
  • Hamstring curls – 3 x 12-15
  • Russian twists – 3 x 20
  • Calf raises – 3 x 12-15

Looking for more ideas on how to tailor your 3-day workout program? Download the Fitbod app and get access to customized routines and more than 600 instructional videos so you can ensure you’re doing each movement correctly. Get your first 3 workouts for free on Fitbod.

Final Thoughts

For beginners, 3-day workout splits can help you lose fat, build muscle, and get stronger. Depending on the type of workout split you choose, you’ll also have ample time for recovery so you can fit other workouts into your week.

When you’re just getting started with strength training, you’ll be able to add weights to your lifts each week. As you become more advanced, you can begin to experiment with training at varying intensities and volumes with each workout.


About The Author

Amanda Dvorak

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.