What Is The Best Split For Fat Loss?

what is the best split for fat loss

A good fat-loss training split allows you to train the major muscle groups (legs, chest, back, and shoulders) at least twice weekly.

There are many training splits to choose from, but an upper/lower split is the best training split for the majority of people in a fat loss phase.

Below, I’ll share some individual differences you may want to consider and a sample training plan.

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Does Your Training Split Matter For Fat Loss?

When training for fat loss, it is essential to choose a training split that allows you to train each major muscle group at least twice per week, as this will help you retain muscle mass as you lose weight. 

Training each muscle once a week is better than nothing; however, it still won’t be as effective for muscle retention as training them twice per week.

If your muscles don’t receive enough training stimuli while in a fat loss phase, your body will use muscle tissue as a fuel source.

If your body ends up using muscle as a fuel source, your metabolism will slow down (meaning you burn fewer calories per day) and you won’t look as toned if you do lose weight.

To prevent muscle loss while dieting, we’ll dive into the five of the best training splits for fat loss that allow you to hit each major muscle group twice weekly.

Related Article: How to Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle (Science-Backed)

5 Training Splits For Fat Loss

training splits for fat loss

The most popular training splits for fat loss include:

1. Push/Pull

A push/pull split has you train pushing muscles (quads, chest, shoulders, triceps, calves) on one day, and pulling muscles (glutes, back, hamstrings, biceps, traps) on another day. This program can be run on a  4, 5, or 6-day-a-week split.

Pros

  • Trains muscle groups at least 2x per week which can help ensure muscle retention.
  • Easy to structure as you choose one movement per muscle group.

Cons

  • Some pushing exercises can fatigue muscles that are also used on pull days, such as the lower back being used during squats, deadlifts, and bent-over rows (no rest for the lower back). This can be combated with proper exercise selection

2. Upper/Lower

An upper/lower split has you train upper body muscles on one day (chest, back, shoulders, arms) and lower body muscles on another day (quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves). This can be done 4-6 days a week.

Pros

  • Allows for recovery of muscle groups that are used during both push/pull days between sessions.
  • Can be trained 4-6 days a week to increase training volume and ensure muscle retention. 

Cons

  • May need to prioritize 1-2 muscle groups per day and switch on other days. 

For example, on the first upper day, you may prioritize chest and back by doing 2 exercises per muscle group, and only 1 exercise for arms and shoulders. On the other upper day, you would do 2 exercises for shoulders and arms each, and only one exercise for chest and back.

3. Push/Pull/Legs

This program trains upper body pushing muscles on one day (chest, triceps, shoulders), upper body pulling muscles on a second day (back, biceps, traps), and legs on a third day (quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves). This program is a 6-day-a-week program.

Pros

  • Allows you to devote more time per muscle group per week, to ensure you are delivering enough volume to major and minor muscle groups.
  • Devote an entire day to training your lower body, which is helpful if you struggle with low energy when combining lower body training with upper on some days.
  • Allows you to choose more than one exercise per muscle group in a session, and often allows you to include more isolation exercises.

Cons

  • Requires you to train six days a week to ensure you train all muscle groups twice per week. 
  • Can be more difficult to program as you need to ensure you are not performing too many movements that will fatigue the body in a single session, as well as understand how to spread volume across the entire week.

4. Full Body

This program trains the entire body each session, with each workout consisting of 5-6 movements, one for each major muscle group (quads, hamstrings, back, chest, and shoulders). This program is best done when focusing on compound movements (free weight, machine, or both).

Pros

  • Great for lifters who can only commit to training three days a week, as you can train each muscle group each session with 3-4 sets and still hit 10+ weekly sets per muscle group.
  • Great to program around compound movements, especially when you have limited access to equipment (can repeat exercises every or most days without too much overuse injury risk).
  • If you train 4-5 days a week, you can deliver higher amounts of training volume to major muscle groups and maximize muscle retention.

Cons

  • If trained 4-6 days a week, it can quickly become difficult to recover from, especially when eating in a calorie deficit.
  • If trained three days a week, it can be difficult to deliver enough training volume or small muscle groups like arms, calves, and shoulders without making your workouts long (and often too fatiguing).

Related Article: The Arnold Split: Pros, Cons, and How to Do It the Right Way

5. Arnold Split

This is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous workout split, in which he trained chest and back on day one, shoulder and arms on day two, and legs and lower back (quads, hamstrings, glues, and calves) on day three. 

He would rest on the fourth day, and then repeat this in a 3 days on, 1 day off fashion, training all muscle groups twice throughout a 7-day period.

Pros

  • Allows you to train each muscle group twice weekly, with each session delivering more volume (total sets).
  • Allows you to train 2-3 movements per muscle group, vs. only 1 in most programs, making workouts more detail-specific if you want to maximize aesthetics during a fat loss phase.
  • Allows for 48 hours of muscle recovery before training a muscle group again.

Cons

  • Requires you to train six days a week.
  • Requires that your diet is on point because you will spend most of your training time lifting weights rather than doing cardio.

Related Article: How to Lose Fat Without Doing Cardio


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Factors To Consider For Choosing A Fat Loss Training Split

best training split for fat loss

There are many great fat loss training splits to choose from but before you can find the best one for you, you have to evaluate how frequently you can train.

Time Commitment

The amount of time you have during the week to devote to weight training workouts should dictate the split you choose. 

You should aim to lift at least three days a week, as this is the bare minimum to avoid muscle breakdown. The best split to implement if you can only train 3 days a week is the full body split.

If you have more time, you can choose one of the other splits (listed above) which range from 4-6 days a week.

If you’re someone who has limited time to spend at the gym, it may be better to train more often because you could have much shorter sessions and still get enough volume in.

If there are certain days of the week where you can spend more time in the gym (60+ minutes) and you’d rather go less frequently, then training 3 or 4 days may work better for your schedule.

Choosing the wrong training frequency to match your time commitment will lead to inconsistency and increase the risk of muscle loss, so be realistic about the amount of time you can devote to training before choosing a training split.

Experience Level

Depending on your overall experience level, you can choose a training split that fits your abilities as a lifter in the gym and your recovery. 

Many beginners and intermediate lifters can achieve great results lifting 3-4 days a week, as they can retain their muscles with less volume than more muscular and advanced lifters.

If you are an advanced lifter, you may need to train 4-6 days a week to train all the muscle groups so you do not lose your hard-earned lean muscle during a fat-loss diet.

Aesthetic Goals

If you are looking to maintain as much muscle during a fat loss phase for aesthetic purposes (i.e. competitive bodybuilding), a 4-6 day a week program may be best (depending on your training level) as this will allow you to spend extra time on muscle groups that you struggle to build/maintain.

If you are looking to maintain muscle in general and are more of a beginner-to-intermediate lifter, then a 3-4 day training split that focuses on compound movements would be enough to achieve your goals.

Performance Goals

For those lifters who have specific performance goals (i.e. competitive sports), you need to ensure you can perform at a high level and recover between sessions. 

If you compete in strength sports, you can train 4-6 days a week with hard intensity and still recover (all while losing weight on a calorie deficit diet). 

If you are a non-lifting athlete, strength training for 3 days a week may be all you can do while still having enough energy to practice your sport.

Recovery

Recovery is a significant factor in training hard, maintaining muscle, and doing it while being in a calorie deficit (losing fat). 

If your goal is to lose fat and maintain muscle, and you do not need to be at peak performance (strength, endurance, etc.), then you can get away with a bit less recovery. Your goal should be training hard, feeling the muscle being worked, and having some slight soreness. This is where a program 4-6 days a week can be helpful.

If, however, you are someone who needs to perform at a high level and still lose weight (like cutting weight for a powerlifting meet or weightlifting event), you should focus on training 3-4 days a week, performing well, and recovering the rest of the time.

If you notice you are starting to feel run down, not able to push hard in sessions, and are losing progress, then you need to reassess your training frequency  (and split) to ensure you are recovering properly.

What Is The Best Training Split For Fat Loss?

I have used many training splits for fat loss as a coach and athlete. While there are a few good options, an upper/lower training split is the best for fat loss as it can fit most training schedules, target muscles multiple times a week, and still offer good recovery between sessions.

Fits Most Training Schedules

The upper/lower training split allows you to fit it into any 4-6 day training schedule. For those lifters who can only do four days in the gym, they do each twice weekly. If they want to devote one extra session to specific muscle groups (upper or lower), they can add a 5th day. 

Advanced lifters who want to train six days a week can do each workout three times a week, delivering the most volume (work) to the muscles to prioritize muscle retention.

Allows You to Train Muscles 2x a Week (or More)

To minimize muscle loss during a fat loss phase (calorie deficit), you must ensure you are training enough to minimize muscle loss. Research suggests that ten or more work sets are needed weekly to show significant muscle retention during a fat loss diet. 

Trying to fit in 10 sets per muscle group can be challenging when you only train a muscle once a week. Longer workouts with 20-30+ sets can not only result in low-quality training stimulus (you are tired and stop before the muscle is done).

Training a muscle twice weekly means you can do 5-8 total sets per workout for the target muscle and train with hard intensity to maximize muscle retention (and still allow for recovery).

Enables Recovery Between Sessions 

When training during a fat loss phase, recovery requires more attention to detail because when calories are limited it will be more challenging to recover properly. Choosing the right training split that allows you to train hard and recover from challenging training sessions is critical. 

An upper/lower split will give your body enough rest between sessions (often 2-3 days or between workouts targeting the same muscle group) to perform optimally.


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Sample 4, 5, & 6 Day Training Split For Fat Loss

sample day training split for fat loss

Below is a four-day upper/lower training split for fat loss. You can also turn this into a five or 6-day training split by repeating Day 1 and Day 2 training sessions and making all movements 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps (to hit higher rep ranges).

Day 1 – Upper A

  • Incline Barbell Bench Press: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Smith Machine Bench Press: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Lat Pulldown: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Barbell Bent Over Row: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Dumbbell Front Raise: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
    • Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
    • Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps

Day 2 – Lower A

  • Lying Hamstring Curl: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Hack Squat / Leg Press: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Back Squat: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Barbell Romanian Deadlift: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Seated Calf Raise: 4 sets of 8-10 reps

Day 3 – Upper B

  • Barbell Bent Over Row: 4 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Machine Assisted Pull Up: 4 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 4 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Smith Machine Incline Bench Press: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Barbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Machine Rear Delt: 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Day 4 – Lower B

  • Seated Hamstring Curl: 4 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Barbell Good Morning: 4 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Hack Squat / Leg Press: 4 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Walking Lunge: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Standing Calf Raise: 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Other Potential Training Schedules

4-Day Split

This workout split is for beginner and intermediate lifters who aim to maintain muscle and can only train four days a week. This is a minimum number of training days for prioritizing muscle retention and fat loss. 

  • Monday – Upper A
  • Tuesday – Lower A
  • Wednesday – Rest
  • Thursday – Upper B
  • Friday – Lower B
  • Saturday – Rest 
  • Sunday – Rest

5-Day Split (Upper Emphasis)

This workout has you add a fifth session on Saturday, to add a third day of training the upper body to maintain the size of the upper body during the fat loss phase (for lifters who struggle to gain or hold onto upper body muscle).

  • Monday – Upper A
  • Tuesday – Lower A
  • Wednesday – Upper B
  • Thursday – Rest
  • Friday – Lower B
  • Saturday – Upper C
  • Sunday – Rest

5-Day Split (Lower Emphasis)

This workout has you add a fifth session on Saturday to add a third day of training the lower body to maintain the size of the legs during the fat loss phase (for lifters who struggle to gain or hold onto lower body muscle).

  • Monday – Lower A
  • Tuesday – Upper A
  • Wednesday – Lower B
  • Thursday – Rest
  • Friday – Upper B
  • Saturday – Lower C
  • Sunday – Rest

6-Day Split 

This workout split is for advanced lifters who want to maintain as much muscle as possible and devote six days to training.

  • Monday – Upper A
  • Tuesday – Lower A
  • Wednesday – Upper B
  • Thursday – Lower B
  • Friday – Upper C
  • Saturday – Lower C
  • Sunday – Rest

About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.