A 3-day workout split may be ideal for you if you’re a busy woman. It gives you plenty of time to enjoy other activities outside of the gym while still making progress towards your strength or aesthetic goals.
I’ve written about various 3-day workout splits before and the truth is, women can just as easily follow those same splits and see results. The most common 3-day splits are PPL (push, pull, legs), full-body, and upper/lower splits.
A PPL routine groups muscles together based on whether they are used to push or pull objects away from you. A full-body routine includes both upper and lower body movements within the same workout. An upper/lower split breaks your workouts into days for upper body movements and days for lower body movements.
In this article, I’ll discuss whether or not women should train differently than men and what that means when designing a workout program for women. I’ll also go into detail about the different types of 3-day splits, how to progress your workouts, how to tailor your workouts for different goals, and what results you can expect from training three days per week.
At the end, I’ll provide sample workouts for each of the different 3-day training splits.
Do Women Need To Train Differently Than Men?
Before I get into the details of the different 3-day splits and how to create a workout program for women, I think it’s important to note that women don’t need to train differently than men.
Women have the ability to lift weights and do the same exercises as males. There are no female- or male-specific movements. As such, the workout plan examples you’ll see at the end of this article don’t ask you to do endless amounts of crunches, squats with glute bands, or dozens of reps with very light weights.
Those types of exercises have their place, but if you want to build muscle and get stronger, you need to lift challenging weights and progress the weights, sets, and/or reps consistently.
With that said, there are a few differences between men and women when it comes to lifting weights and training at a high intensity.
For one, men’s muscles tend to fatigue more easily, and women generally can handle more volume. Part of this may be because women are typically weaker than men and don’t lift as much weight, so recovery times are shorter.
But researchers also believe it’s because women have more type I muscle fibers, which can handle longer bouts of physical activity.
Some researchers also believe that women can handle more training volume due to the presence of estrogen, which reduces the effects of post-exercise muscle damage.
If you’re a woman, it’s important to take this research into consideration when designing your own workout program so you can ensure you’re pushing your body to its fullest potential.
Need a workout program? Get 3 free workouts on Fitbod right now.
How To Program a 3-Day Workout Plan For Females
The programs below include some of the most common 3-day workout splits. Which one you decide to follow will depend on your goals, other activities you do outside of the gym, and how much time you can spend working out.
A PPL split is one of the most common 3-day splits. In a PPL split, upper body movements are divided into push and pull exercises while the legs have their own day.
Push exercises train the muscles that are used to push objects away from your body. This includes the chest, triceps, and shoulders. Pull exercises train the back and biceps, the muscles that are used to pull objects towards you.
Some lifters also choose to include squat movements on their push days and deadlifts on their pull days while saving their leg day for more isolated movements (exercises that work one muscle group at a time).
PPL routines are beneficial for advanced lifters who need more specialized training in order to continue seeing results.
They’re also good for people who don’t have a lot of time to spend working out. Since you’re training the same muscle groups, you don’t have to spend as much time warming up before each new exercise, which cuts down on the time you have to spend in the gym.
However, one drawback of doing a PPL split three days per week is that you’re typically only training each muscle group once per week.
You may also find that the last couple of exercises in your workout suffer since you’ve already accumulated a lot of fatigue earlier in your routine.
Full-body workouts are workouts in which you train both the upper and lower body each time you go to the gym. They’re ideal when you only have three days per week to work out because you can hit all of the major muscle groups multiple days per week.
Full-body workouts are also ideal for women with busy schedules because if you have to skip a day, you won’t have to worry about not hitting a specific muscle group that week.
Another benefit of full-body workouts is that they give you an opportunity to practice certain lifts more than once per week, which is good for beginners or any women who’s looking to improve strength or hypertrophy in a particular area.
A drawback of full-body routines is that they can be harder to recover from and don’t leave much flexibility for other sports or activities outside of the gym.
For example, let’s say you’re doing squats, bench presses, and upper and lower body accessory movements on Monday. Then you have deadlifts, overhead presses, and accessory exercises on Wednesday and squats and bench presses again on Friday.
It can be difficult to run, do CrossFit, or play a sport on your non-lifting days since you’re exhausting all of your large muscle groups on each of the three days you lift weights.
Related Article: Full-Body Workouts Every Day: Will You Get Better Results?
Upper/lower splits are workouts in which you do all upper body movements or all lower body movements within the same workout. They’re ideal for women who want to get stronger and gain muscle at the same time.
This is personally my favorite way to train because I can structure CrossFit WODs and other workouts around whatever body part I trained earlier that day or the day before.
For example, if I do lower body lifts on a Monday morning and then do a CrossFit WOD later in the afternoon, I’ll choose a WOD that’s more lower-body focused. I may not be able to push the intensity in the WOD as much, but my upper body will still be fresh for upper body lifts the next day.
Upper-lower splits are often done four days per week, but you can do them three days per week as well. You’ll just have to be okay with not training each body part twice per week since you’ll have to rotate your workouts as such:
- Monday – Upper Body
- Tuesday – Rest
- Wednesday – Lower Body
- Thursday – Rest
- Friday – Upper Body
- Saturday and Sunday – Rest
- Monday – Lower Body
- Tuesday – Rest
- Wednesday – Upper Body
- Thursday – Rest
- Friday – Lower Body
- Saturday and Sunday – Rest
The biggest drawback of doing an upper/lower split three days per week is that you’ll have to do your best not to skip any workouts each week. Since you’ll only be training each body part every 3-5 days, staying consistent with your training will be important to ensure certain muscle groups don’t lag behind the others.
If you’re still not sure where to start, the Fitbod app can help you come up with a 3-day workout split that works best for you. Try it out for free and get workout recommendations based on your goals, experience level, available equipment, and which body parts you’d like to focus on.
How To Progress A 3 Day Workout Split?
Aside from the obvious fact of trying to add weight to your lifts as often as you can, there are various ways to progress a 3-day workout split whether it’s through switching up your exercises, varying your training volume, or training at different intensities each day you’re at the gym.
Exercise selection for a 3-day workout plan depends on your goals, but it’s also important to make sure you’re training the upper and lower body as equally as possible so you can build a well-rounded physique. This will also help you avoid overtraining a particular area and help prevent injuries.
However, you can still prioritize certain areas of the body that are of particular concern to you. For example, if you want to grow your glutes, you can focus more of your volume on exercises that target the glutes instead of those that target the quads or hamstrings.
But you’ll still want to make sure you’re doing plenty of other lower and upper body movements so your lower half doesn’t look too disproportionate.
I also recommend doing a combination of both compound movements (those that work multiple muscle groups at a time) and isolation exercises (those that target one muscle group at a time).
Compound movements give you a lot of bang for your buck because you can hit multiple muscle groups at the same time, which can save you time in the gym. For example, squats work the quads, glutes, lower back, core, and hamstrings. You’ll be able to grow and strengthen more muscle groups with squats than if you just did multiple sets of leg extensions each week.
Isolation movements are also important because they help you target the smaller muscles of the body that aren’t directly worked with compound movements. They also help strengthen the muscles that act as stabilizers for compound lifts.
When it comes to both compound and isolation movements, it’s best to choose a set of exercises and stick with them for at least 4-6 weeks. It may feel boring, but doing this will allow you to determine whether or not certain movements are helping you reach your goals.
If you like the progress you’re seeing, you can keep those exercises in your routine for a longer period of time. But if you’re not seeing the changes you want, you can try swapping out certain exercises — for example, by doing lunges instead of front squats to strengthen your leg muscles.
Training volume refers to how many sets and reps you perform during each workout or each week.
A good rule of thumb is to aim for 15-25 sets per workout. Reps can vary from 1-5 if you’re training for strength, 8-12 if you’re trying to build muscle, and 15+ if you’re trying to improve your muscular endurance.
How you choose to split up your sets depends on your goals as well as your fitness levels. If you’re still relatively new to lifting and/or you’re just training for overall health, you may wish to do straight sets of 3-5 per exercise during each workout.
If you’re more advanced and need to vary your training stimulus in order to see improvements in your strength or physique, you may want to follow a more periodized schedule where you do higher volume with lower weights during some workouts and lower volume with higher weights during other workouts.
Related Article: Hypertrophy vs Strength Training: What Are The Differences?
Intensity is defined as how difficult your workout feels to you and is largely individual. What can feel easy to you may feel difficult to someone else and vice versa.
When you’re working out 3 days per week, you have the opportunity to have plenty of rest in between each workout. But properly managing your training intensity is still important so you can continue to make consistent progress in the gym.
If you have a hectic schedule outside the gym, it also allows you to ensure you’re training optimally based on your stress levels, how well you’ve been eating and sleeping, and your overall mood.
A common way to manage training intensity is to do RPE training. RPE stands for rate of perceived exertion and is based on a scale of 1-10 where 1 requires little to no effort and 10 is a max-out attempt.
When it comes to lifting weights, you’ll typically train at an RPE of 7-8. This means you should be selecting a weight with which you can complete all of your sets feeling like you have 2-3 reps left in the tank. You shouldn’t attempt to max out your lifts during every single workout because it can lead to overtraining and throw your hormones out of whack.
Related Article: How Often Should You Max Out Lifting Weights?
How To Tailor A 3-Day Workout Split Based On Your Goals?
While many females train for the purposes of staying healthy and making everyday activities easier, many women also train for muscle gain or fat loss. There are different ways you can customize your 3-day workout plan to help you reach either of those goals.
For Muscle Gain
There are various reasons why muscle building is good for women. Not only is it better for changing your body composition than doing endless amounts of cardio but it also helps boost your metabolism and increases your bone mineral density.
Any split can result in increased hypertrophy (muscle size) if you choose your rep ranges properly.
Some research suggests that 6-20 reps per set are optimal for increasing muscle size. However, I recommend doing most of your training in the 6-12 range since other studies have shown that there are no significant differences in muscle size changes when you do more than 12 reps per set.
I also recommend doing at least 3-4 sets per exercise. If you’re a beginner, you may choose to start with 2 sets until your body gets used to lifting weights. You can then progress to 3-4 sets per movement after you’ve been training for a couple of months.
Additionally, it’s best to limit cardio when you’re trying to build muscle. While it can help with recovery, doing too much cardio can result in excessive muscle soreness, lower energy levels, poor sleep, and lower motivation to work out.
Related Article: Female Bulking Workout Plan (Complete Guide)
For Fat Loss
Full-body workouts may be better during a fat loss phase because they tend to burn more calories since they train multiple large muscle groups in the same workout.
When you only have three days per week to train, full-body splits also ensure that you’re training the lower and upper body evenly, which can prevent a disproportionate amount of muscle loss in one area of the body.
However, the most important thing is that you continue to strength train in some capacity during a fat loss phase to prevent the loss of lean muscle mass. Any 3-day split works as long as you remain consistent with it.
Anywhere from 2-4 sets per exercise is enough to maintain your strength and muscle mass during a cut. You’ll also want to train in a variety of rep ranges depending on which exercises you do. I recommend doing lower rep ranges for compound movements and higher rep ranges for isolation movements for your best chances at preserving strength and lean muscle mass.
You’ll also have to monitor your recovery and energy levels when you’re eating in a calorie deficit and adjust your training accordingly. You may find that you can only handle half of the volume that you used to do previously. If that’s the case, you can temporarily cut back on the number of sets and/or reps you do per exercise until your fat loss period ends.
Related Article: 3 Day Workout Split For Beginners (For Muscle Gain & Fat Loss)
What Results Can Women Expect Training 3 Days Per Week?
The results you get from lifting three days per week will vary based on how much weight you lift, your recovery, the activities you do outside of the gym, and how well you’re able to manage your stress levels. Your daily calorie intake will also play a large role in how successful you are.
Results Females Can Expect After 4 Weeks of Lifting Weights 3 Days Per Week
You may not see many visible changes to your physique within four weeks of lifting weights, especially if you already have experience with resistance training. But you’ll likely notice improved energy levels and better sleep, especially if you’ve been cleaning up your diet.
If you’re a beginner, you’ll likely be able to continue adding weight to your lifts each week or each workout. As a result, your motivation to continue working out will be high.
If you’re an experienced lifter, you may not be able to add weight to each exercise every time you work out, but you’ll likely welcome the extra recovery you get if you’re transitioning from a high-frequency program.
Results Females Can Expect After 8 Weeks of Lifting Weights 3 Days Per Week
Whether your goal is to lose fat or gain muscle, you should start to notice minor changes in your physique around the 8-week mark. Your clothes may be tighter or loser and your muscles may appear fuller or more defined.
If you’re new to lifting weights, you may also notice that everyday activities feel easier. You may also experience less joint pain and notice that your posture has improved.
After 12 Weeks of Lifting Weights 3 Days Per Week
Physical changes to your body will start to become more noticeable after 12 weeks of lifting weights. Your friends and family members may notice that your physique is different whether you’ve been trying to bulk or cut.
Your weight on the scale has likely gone either up or down a few pounds, and your body fat percentage may have increased or decreased as well.
Whether you’ve been following a fat loss or bulking plan, this may also be the point where you transition to a maintenance phase for several weeks even if you haven’t reached all of your goals. It’s important to give your body and mind a diet break every once in a while. Even eating in a calorie surplus is a stress on the body.
The 12-week mark is a good time to reassess the progress you’ve already made and what else you need to improve so you can determine your best course of action for moving forward.
Related Article: What To Do If You’re Gaining Muscle and Not Losing Fat
3 Day Workout Split For Females
PPL Sample Workouts For Females
This PPL split is ideal for females who already have 6-12 months of strength training experience and need more specialized training because they’ve stalled out on another program. This is also a good routine for women who don’t have a lot of time to spend in the gym since you don’t have to spend a lot of time warming up before each new movement.
- Barbell bench press – 4 x 6 @ RPE 7
- Inclince dumbbell bench press – 4 x 10
- Overhead press – 4 x 8
- Arnold press – 4 x 10
- Skull crushers – 3 x 12
- Tricep pushdowns – 3 x 12
- Pendlay row – 4 x 6 @ RPE 7
- Single-arm dumbbell row – 4 x 8 per arm
- Weighted pull-ups – 4 x 8-10
- Lat pulldown – 4 x 10
- EZ bar curls – 3 x 12
- Hammer curls – 3 x 12
- Squats – 4 x 6 @ RPE 7
- Deadlifts – 4 x 3 @ RPE 7
- Leg extensions – 4 x 10
- Hamstring curls – 4 x 10
- Calf raises – 2 x 12
- Weighted planks – 3 x 60 esconds
Full-Body Sample Workout
This full-body workout is ideal for females who have a bit more time to spend in the gym because it will take a bit longer to hit both the upper and lower body in one workout.
It’s also suitable for any female who’s in a fat loss phase. Because it includes many compound movements, it has the potential to burn more calories, which can help with fat loss. It also allows you to train the same muscle groups multiple days per week so you can preserve your existing lean muscle mass.
Full-Body Day One
- Squats – 3 x 5 @ RPE 7.5-8
- Flat dumbbell bench presses – 3 x 6
- Bent over rows – 3 x 8
- Good mornings – 3 x 10-12
- EZ bar curls – 4 x 12
- Calf raises – 4 x 12
Full-Body Day Two
- Barbell bench presses – 3 x 5 @ RPE 7.5-8
- Chest-supported row – 3 x 8
- Heels-elevated goblet squat – 3 x 10
- Lying hamstring curls – 4 x 10
- Face pulls – 4 x 10
- Skull crushers – 4 x 12
Full-Body Day Three
- Deadlifts – 3 x 5 @ RPE 7.5-8
- Overhead press – 3 x 6
- Pull-ups – 3 x 8-10
- Reverse lunges – 4 x 8-10 per leg
- Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts – 4 x 10
- Side planks – 3 x 45-60 seconds per side
Related Article: Best Workout Split: How To Pick The Best Workout Split For You
Upper/lower splits may be best for you if you know you can definitely make it to the gym three times per week. Since you won’t always be able to train each body part twice per week, not skipping any workouts is key so you can continue making progress each week.
Upper Day One (Chest and back)
- Bench press – 4 x 6 @ RPE 7
- Pendlay row – 3 x 6-8
- Incline dumbbell bench press – 3 x 8
- Cable flyes – 4 x 8-10
- Pull-ups – 4 x 8-10
Lower Body Day One (Quads, calves, and glutes)
- Squat – 4 x 6 @ RPE 7
- Leg press – 4 x 8
- Hip thrusts – 4 x 10
- Leg extensions – 4 x 10-12
- Seated calf raise – 4 x 12
Upper Body Day Two (Shoulders and arms)
- Overhead press – 4 x 6 @ RPE 7
- Arnold press – 3 x 6-8
- Lateral raises – 4 x 10
- Bicep curls – 4 x 12
- Tricep pushdowns – 4 x 12
Lower Body Day Two (Hamstrings and lower back/core)
As I mentioned earlier, when you’re doing an upper/lower split but only working out three days per week, the second lower body will spill over to the second week. So you’ll do this workout on the first day of your second week, and the workout following this one will be the first upper body workout provided above.
- Deadlifts – 4 x 6 @ RPE 7
- Good mornings – 3 x 8
- Glute ham raises – 4 x 10
- Hanging knee raises – 4 x 10-12
- Weighted planks – 2 x 45 seconds
Looking for more 3-day workout plans? Download the Fitbod app and get access to routines that are tailored to your goals. The app has more than 600 instructional videos so you can always be sure you’re doing each movement correctly. Try the Fitbod app today and get your first 3 workouts for free!
Related Article: Best Fat Loss Workout Plan For Females (COMPLETE GUIDE)
If you’re a woman, you can follow any of the most common 3-day workout splits — PPL, full-body, or upper/lower. However, which one you choose will depend on your goals and schedule.
Regardless of which plan you choose, you should incorporate a combination of compound and isolation movements and train with challenging weights so you can continue to get stronger and build muscle.
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.