Best Workout Split: How To Pick The Best Workout Split For You

best workout split

When choosing a workout split, it is important to choose one that fits your schedule, goal, and allows you to train the muscles enough to deliver the results you want.

So, what is the best workout split for you?  You first need to determine how many days a week you can train, and then try to find a workout split that trains muscles at least twice per week (if not more). Next, you need to find a split that will target the muscle groups and movement you want to train, and still allow for adequate recovery between sessions.

There are a few workout splits to choose from, based on some key individual factors, which we’ll explain in this article.  

But first…

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What Is A Workout Split?

what is a workout split

A workout split can be defined as the general layout of your overall workouts throughout the course of a week. This can vary based on many factors, such as how many days a week you train, what your goals are, and what areas you want to improve the most. 

Some of the most common workout splits are:

Why Are Workout Splits Important?

Workout splits are important because they ensure you are training muscle groups enough throughout the week to ensure adaptation. 

By having a weekly plan, you can program your training volume (sets and reps), intensity (weight used), and frequency (how often you train).  

Once these training variables are planned, you can then progressively overload each exercise/movement (do more volume or intensity over time), which will then improve your strength and fitness. 

Without a workout split that delivers those factors, you may be undertraining some muscles, overtraining others, or simply not doing enough of a structured program to produce significant results over time.


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Best Workout Splits: 4 Options

4 options best workout splits

Below are some of the best workout splits for anyone who is looking to gain muscle and strength. 

Use the below guide to determine which workout split may be best for you based on the main factors listed below.

The 4 best workout splits are: 

  • Full body workout split
  • Push-pull workout split
  • Upper-lower workout split
  • Arnold (aka “Bro) workout split

1. Full Body Workout Splits

Full body workout splits are when you train most or all major muscle groups in every workout. 

This usually includes a quad dominant movement, a hamstring dominant movement, an upper push, and upper pull. The workout may also include some arms or core work, or have you do an additional exercise for a muscle group already hit earlier to place more emphasis on. 

For example:

  • Back Squats (Quad and Glutes)
  • Romanian Deadlifts (Hamstrings and Glutes)
  • Incline Bench Press (Chest/Anterior Shoulder)
  • Pull Ups (Upper Pull)
  • Tricep Pushdowns (Triceps)
  • Bicep Curls (Biceps)

This is one day, however you could swap them out and do front squats, goodmornings, overhead presses, bent over rows, dips, and walking lunges on day two. 

Day three could be leg presses, hamstring curls, flat bench press, lat pull downs, one arm rows, and skullcrushers.

Below are four sample full body workout structures you could choose from based on how many days a week you train.

Example 2-Day Full Body Workout Structure

  • Monday: Total Body (Slightly More Lower Body Focused)
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Total Body (Slightly More Upper Body Focused)
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Total Body 
  • Saturday/Sunday: Rest

Example 3-Day Full Body Workout Structure

  • Monday: Total Body
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Total Body
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Total Body 
  • Saturday/Sunday: Rest

Example 4-Day Full Body Workout Structure

  • Monday: Total Body (Slightly More Lower Body Push Focused)
  • Tuesday: Total Body (Slightly More Upper Body Push Focused)
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Total Body (Slightly More Lower Body Pull Focused)
  • Friday: Total Body (Slightly More Upper Body Pull Focused)
  • Saturday/Sunday: Rest

Example 5-Day Full Body Workout Structure

  • Monday: Total Body (Slightly More Lower Body Quad Focused)
  • Tuesday: Total Body (Slightly More Upper Body Chest Focused)
  • Wednesday: Total Body (Slightly More Upper Body Back Focused)
  • Thursday: Total Body (Slightly More Lower Body Hamstring/Glute Focused)
  • Friday: Total Body (Slightly More Upper Body Shoulder Focused)
  • Saturday/Sunday: Rest

Pros of Full Body Workout Splits

Below are a few benefits of full body workout splits.

  • Train Muscles in High Volume: Because you are training muscles multiple times a week, you are able to rack up a ton of training volume for a given muscle group. This allows you to hit all muscle groups with 3-4 days of direct volume, and still allow for recovery between sessions.
  • Adds Variety to Training Sessions: Because you train muscles and movements a lot, you can actually get by with having more exercise variety in your training program. For example, you can do leg work a few times a week, and mix in squats, leg pressing, and lunges all on different days, and still leave room for other exercises to mix in if like.
  • Should Help Limit Soreness: Despite what some may think, proper programming of full body workouts should limit feeling absolutely destroyed every session. With this workout split, you could do 3-4 workouts per week, doing 5-6 total sets per day and and rack up similar overall weekly volumes as if you were to do 20 total sets of legs in one day.

Cons of Full Body Workout Splits

Below are a few limitations of a full body workout split.

  • Can Be Intense for Beginners If Trained 4+ Days a week: If you are a beginner and training 2-3 times a week, then you will be fine, however if you are training more than that you may find yourself very sore, which may keep you out of the gym (unless you love that soreness!). Keeping a beginner in the gym is key for long term success.
  • Can Impede Recovery in High Frequencies: When training a muscle 4+ days a week, it can be difficult to get enough recovery in between sessions, especially for larger muscle groups like hamstrings, quads, back, chest, and shoulders. If you find yourself very sore, and your performance is dropping (you are not able to add more weight every few weeks or do more reps with the same weight over the course of a few weeks, this could suggest you are not recovering).

2. Push/Pull Workout Split

The push/pull workout split is a popular choice for lifters who train 4 days a week, as it allows you to train both pushing and pulling movements, twice per week. Below, is a popular push/pull workout structure that trains the main barbell strength movements each once per week, but also allows you to train other exercises to build muscle as well.

Example 4-Day Push/Pull Workout Structure

  • Monday: Pull (Deadlift + Upper Pull Focused)
  • Tuesday: Push (Upper Push + Quads.. NOT Heavy Squats)
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Pull (Upper Pull + Hamstrings… NOT Heavy Deadlifts)
  • Friday: Push (Squats + Upper Push)
  • Saturday/Sunday: Rest

Pros of the Push/Pull Workout Split

Push/pull workout splits are popular because they work, and are great for building strength and muscle. Below, we will discuss more in detail the benefits of a push/pull workout split.

  • Ability to Train Major Muscle Groups 2x Per week, or More: This workout split is a great way to train all major muscle groups twice per week. By doing a structured workout plan like the push/pull workout split, you can ensure you are training the movements and muscles enough throughout the week to improve technique (if you are a sport specific lifter) and muscle growth.
  • Allows for Recovery Between Sessions: When training 4+ days a week, it is important to structure workouts that allow for recovery between sessions. One of the major limitations of a full body workout routine (when done 4+ days a week is the lack of recovery), which the solution could be a push/pull split.
  • Can Deliver Enough Training Volume Per Muscle Per Session: Unlike a full body workout split, the push/pull splits often focus on a few muscle groups a day, rather than all of them. By doing this, you are able to program more than one movement per muscle group, which allows you to train at a higher volume on a given day for a muscle group.

Cons of the Push/Pull Workout Split

There are not too many limitations of a push/pull split, other than a few key ones that have very important considerations for more serious lifters.

  • Push/Pull Exercises May Conflict with One Another: While the deadlift and squat train different muscle groups, they place a ton of stress and loading on the lower back. This could be an issue if you are someone who is training compound exercises on most days. Compound exercises are amazing because they hit a lot of muscle at once, but in a push/pull split you want to make sure you aren’t turning it into a full body workout split due to poor exercise selection.
  • Training More than 4x Per Week Can be Problematic: If you are training more than 4 days per week, you may find it more difficult to work around the above limitation and/or ensure recovery between sessions.
  • Not Ideal for Lifters who Train Less Than 3 Days a Week: If you plan on only lifting 1-2 days a week, a push/pull split will not deliver enough training volume to all major muscle groups. This is where you would want to opt for the full body split, or re-evaluate how serious you are about reaching your goals (and train more than 1-2 days a week).

3. Upper/Lower Workout Split

The upper/lower workout split is a great way to combat a lot of the limitations of the push/pull split, and still deliver a ton of training volume and exercise variety. For those who are training more than 3 days a week, this is one of my favorite workout splits because it accounts for recovery demands and still allows you to train a muscle directly in high volumes week after week.

Example 4-Day Upper/Lower Workout Structure

  • Monday: Lower (Push, Squat)
  • Tuesday: Upper (Push, Bench)
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Lower (Pull, Deadlift)
  • Friday: Upper (Pull, Row)
  • Saturday/Sunday: Rest

Example 5-Day Upper/Lower Workout Structure

  • Monday: Lower (Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes)
  • Tuesday: Upper (Chest, Back, Triceps)
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Lower (Hamstrings, Glutes, Quads)
  • Friday: Upper (Shoulders,Back, Biceps)
  • Saturday: Upper (Chest, Arm)
  • Sunday: Rest

Example 6-Day Upper/Lower Workout Structure

  • Monday: Lower (Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes)
  • Tuesday: Upper (Chest, Back, Triceps)
  • Wednesday: Upper (Shoulders, Biceps)
  • Monday: Lower (Hamstrings, Glutes, Quads)
  • Tuesday: Upper (Back, Chest, Triceps)
  • Wednesday: Upper (Shoulders, Biceps)
  • Sunday: Rest

Pros of the Upper/Lower Workout Split

The upper/lower workout split addresses many of the limitations of other splits, along with having some unique benefits to offer all lifters.

  • Helps Regulate Fatigue More than a Push/Pull Split: As discussed above, the push/pull split may have some overlap with training muscle groups on back to back days and can quickly turn into a full body workout split. The upper/lower split does a better job of combating this, and allows you to train lower body one day, and upper body the next, with minimal competition between those muscle groups. For example, on a day following a harsh leg day, you can do all upper body exercises and still train hard even though your legs are sore.
  • Can Train Muscles in High Volumes: Like the other workout splits above, the upper/lower workout split also allows you to program a ton of volume into a workout program, which will help drive muscle growth.

Cons of the Upper/Lower Workout Split

The upper/lower workout split is a great split for most lifters, however it does have its limitations, primarily for those who do not train frequently.

  • Lacks Training Volume When Done Less than 4 Days a Week: If you are not training 4 or more days a week, then this workout split will struggle to deliver enough training volume to all major muscle groups on a weekly basis. Ideally, you want to train muscles twice per week, or more, making four training days a minimum. 

4. Arnold Workout Split

The Arnold split was made famous by the infamous Bodybuilding icon, Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is the workout split he did throughout most of his career. It was highly effective because it trained muscles twice per week, in high volumes, and allowed for a full 2 days of recovery between sessions.

Example 6-Day Arnold Workout Structure

  • Monday: Chest, Back
  • Tuesday: Shoulders, Arms
  • Wednesday: Legs (Quads and Hamstrings), Lower Back
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Chest, Back
  • Saturday: Shoulders, Arms
  • Sunday: Legs (Quads and Hamstrings), Lower Back

Pros of the Arnold Workout Split

This split has become widely popular and effective for bodybuilders who train 6 days a week, and rightfully so. Below are some of the main benefits of the Arnold Split.

  • Delivers High Amounts of Volume: This workout split includes six days of training, with muscle groups being trained twice per week. Each session trains a muscle group with 2-3 movements for many sets, making it one of the highest training volume programs out three.
  • Trains Muscles Twice Per Week: Training a muscle directly twice per week is often seen as the bare minimum if you are after muscle growth.
  • Allows for High Amounts of Recovery Between Sessions: Because workouts are spread across six days, this Arnold split allows a lifter to have two full days between training the same muscle group again. This is hugely beneficial for recovery and muscle growth.

Cons of the Arnold Workout Split

The Arnold split is not for the faint of heart, or the lifter who is not fully committed to doing everything in their control to get results (eat, sleep, train, repeat). Below are two of the main limitations of the Arnold Split.

  • Need to Train Almost Every Day of the Week: The need to train six days a week may be difficult for some lifters to stomach, or schedule. If you cannot commit to doing this split every week, you are better off choosing a workout program that you won’t miss workouts with based on your schedule. 
  • Not for the Average Lifter of Gym-Goer: This workout split is intense, and it requires motivation and will power to get to the gym six days a week. Most people just don’t have the ability to do that (or rather, the desire to). The reason this program works is because those who do it are dedicated to the process and the goal. If you can do the Arnold Split, recover well, eat properly, and stay with it for months in a row, you will see results… it’s just not easy.

How To Decide On The Best Workout Split

how to decide on the best workout split

Now that we have covered some of the best workout splits, let’s dive into the process of choosing one based on individual factors. 

Choosing the right workout split is important, mostly because when you do this you ensure you are training enough to get the results you want (not training enough is a key limiting factor for most people). 

If you are someone who trains 5+ days a week, then making sure you are doing the best workout split is key to your overall recovery and ability to withstand months of training, injury and pain free. 

Training Availability

One of the biggest factors that you need to weigh in when choosing the best workout split is how many days a week you can dedicate to training. 

Ideally, you will train most major muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, back, chest, shoulders) twice per week. If you only workout 2-3 per week, then you will want to do full body splits to deliver some direct volume to each, which may be best done through the use of both compound exercises and isolation movements. 

If however you train more than 3 times per week, then you have many more options as you could experiment with push/pull, upper/lower, full body, or even Arnold splits as they each can be more adaptive and flexible to your needs and goals, simply because you are training more frequently.

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Goals

If you train 3 or more times per week, then you will have more flexibility to choose a workout split that matches your goals. If you are only training twice per week, and have very specific workout goals, you may find it difficulty to do everything.

For example, if you only train twice per week, but want bigger legs, you are not left with a ton of options. To build bigger legs, you want to train them directly 2-3 times per week, to make sure you can get enough training volume throughout the week, yet not do too much in one session (this is counterproductive as well. 

If you trained your lower body both sessions of the week, you would see leg growth, but would also dedicate little to no training volume and intensity to the upper body. If you trained full body both days, you would still train lower and upper body, but may not get the best results since you are limited by only training twice per week.

Moral of the story is sometimes, your goals may need to dictate your availability as well. If you want to achieve a goal, and it is important to you, carve out more time for training and provide yourself with more flexibility.

Level of Training Experience

The level of training experience has less of an impact on which split to choose than other factors on this list, but does still warrant a brief discussion on choosing the best workout split for a beginner vs more advanced individual. 

With beginners, the biggest thing is to get them training, and to get them on a routine they can stick to for the long term. This comes down to training availability. 

From there, choosing a program that delivers good training volume and also keeps them motivated is key. Sometimes this may be a 4 day a week push/pull workout, while others it may be three days of full body workouts. 

Bottom line is that for beginners, the other factors are more important than their training levels, and in fact you could actually be LESS concerned about overtraining with beginners.

More advanced lifters, however, who train more than three days a week, may find it very difficult to train full body splits as the recovery demands between sessions is higher since they are more advanced and are lifting heavier loads. 

If they are more advanced, and training 3+ days a week, you may want to design a program that allows for some recovery mid week via training various muscle groups on some days, and others on the next.

Areas of Weaknesses/Need

When looking to address areas of need or weakness, you will need to make sure you prioritize these areas in training. Similar to the discussion above regarding goals, a twice a week routine will severely limit your ability to do a significant amount of dedicated work to address a glaring area of need. 

While two days a week is better than no days a week, doing one more session (or more) a week will allow you to choose a workout split that allows you to train with high volumes, not overwork an area too much in one day, and get adequate recovery between sessions.

Sport Specificity

Similar to addressing goals and areas of weakness, making sure to train the movements you do in sport (whether it is powerlifting, weightlifting, or other lifting sports) is key. The more you train the movements, the better your technique becomes. 

For example, if you train three days a week and want to get better at snatches and clean and jerks, guess what, you should train both each day. If you are training six days a week, you could get by training them less frequently, but still 2-3 times a week.

Increasing your training frequency allows for more flexibility and gives you options when deciding which is the best workout split for you.

What Equipment You Have Access Too

In some cases, you may be limited by the equipment you have access to. If you do not have access to free weights or machines, you may need to rethink which program is best based on your goals. 

For example, if you only have dumbbells and bodyweight movements, your workout splits may be slightly different than if you had a full gym, simply because you have less movement options than if you were in a full gym. 

This may not be an issue for someone who lifts 2-3 days a week, but if you are trying to do an Arnold split with light dumbbells and bodyweight, it will be much more challenging (and more beneficial to find a gym).


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Final Thoughts

Choosing the best workout split for your goals is highly individual and based on factors that you have control over. 

When looking at the various workout splits, just know that all of them are effective, and can be effective for anyone who trains consistently, follows a program that has structure, and progressively overload movements for weeks and months on end. 

One of the biggest fails you can do is to not stick with a program for long enough (called programming hopping), or thinking you need to do new workouts every week, or even every few weeks. 

Progressive overload is key, and excessive variation can steal progress and training energy that could be otherwise spent on putting in more effort and good reps in the same program.

Do yourself a favor and take the guesswork out of your workouts, and try the Fitbod app out today.


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.