Hevy – #1 Workout Tracker & Planner Gym Log App

The Upper / Lower Body Split – Complete Workout Program Guide

Written by

Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on reddit
Reddit
Share on pinterest
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on reddit

What Is The Upper/Lower Split?

The upper/lower split is among the most popular ways to organize your training. The idea behind it is very simple: You split your training into upper body exercise days and lower body exercise days. The most common way is to spread your weekly training volume across four workouts – two upper, and two lower. For example:

Weekly Schedule

Monday – Upper
Tuesday – Lower
Wednesday – Off
Thursday – Upper
Friday – Lower
Saturday & Sunday – Off

On Upper days, you will work out all the major muscle groups like back, chest, biceps, triceps, traps, and abs. On the Lower workout, you will train all of the lower body’s major muscles – glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own workout splits with Hevy, and track your progress.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own workout splits with Hevy, and track your progress – for free.

People tend to have multiple variations of an Upper or a Lower routine, so that they can perform different exercises and workout muscle groups in different intensities depending on the workout.

Contents hide

4 Day Upper/Lower Workout Overview

Let’s get more practical and take a more in-depth look at the gold standard of the Upper/Lower split – training four days per week.

Weekly Schedule

Monday – Upper
Tuesday – Lower
Wednesday – Off
Thursday – Upper
Friday – Lower
Saturday – Off
Sunday – Off

This is the classic upper/lower split most people know. It’s fantastic because you have a consistent schedule from week to week, you get to train each muscle group twice per week, and the frequency is not overwhelming (7).

Here are 4 Upper/Lower workouts you can alternate in a weekly schedule.

Upper 1

• Barbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 6 to 10 reps
• Barbell Bent Over Rows – 3 sets of 6 to 10 reps
• Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
• Lat Pulldowns – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
• Low Cable Chest Flyes – 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps
• Dumbbell Curl – 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps
• Overhead Dumbbell Tricep Extensions – 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps
• Rope Cable Face Pulls – 2 sets of 15 to 25 reps

Lower 1

• Back Squats – 3 sets of 6 to 10 reps
• Glute Ham Raises – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
• Alternating Forward Lunges – 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps
• Lying Hamstring Curls – 2-3 sets of 12 to 15 reps
• Standing Smith Machine Calf Raises – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

Upper 2

• Pull Ups – 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps
• Incline Dumbbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps
• Standing Barbell Push Press – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
• Cable Lat Pullovers – 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps
• Bodyweight Push-ups – 2 sets of 10 to 20 reps
• EZ-bar Bicep Curl – 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps
• Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks – 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps

Lower 2

• Leg Press – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
• Romanian Deadlift – 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps
• Unilateral Dumbbell Shrug – 3 sets of 8 to 15 reps
• Leg Extensions – 2-3 sets of 12 to 15 reps
• Seated Machine Calf Raises – 3-4 sets of 12 to 20 reps
• Hanging Leg Raises – 3-4 sets of 10 to 20 reps

This routine is fantastic for early to late intermediates, and you can use it to make great gains for many years. What’s more, your muscles have enough time to recover before you have to train them again, and there aren’t many consecutive training days.

This is a relatively strict upper/lower split, with a couple of exceptions: on your Lower 2 workout, you also do some direct ab and trap work, as adding them to your upper days will make these workouts even longer and more fatiguing.

As far as warming up goes, you should always prepare your entire body for both types of workouts. This will help maximize your performance and minimize the risk of injury. A bit of light cardio, followed by some dynamic exercises should be enough. Then, take your time to work up to your training weights on the first exercise.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own workout splits with Hevy, and track your progress.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own workout splits with Hevy, and track your progress – for free.

As far as rest between sets goes, you should rest for as long as you need so that you can do your prescribed repetitions on each set (8). For example, if you do ten reps on set one, you should get at least eight on the last. If you can’t, you’re either training too close to failure or not resting long enough.

The Benefits Of The Upper/Lower Split

While it may seem overly-simplistic, the upper/lower split offers numerous benefits related to volume allocation and muscle growth. Let’s take a look:

1. It Works With Multiple Training Frequencies

The issue with most splits is that you’re more or less boxed in with a particular training frequency. However, the upper/lower routine is great because you can use it for at least four distinct training frequencies, which we’ll look at below.

So, whether you can train twice or six times per week, you can make an upper/lower split work for you. Say that you’re a weekend warrior and can only train twice per week – on Saturday and Sunday. While not ideal, you can have an upper-body workout on Saturday, and a lower-body on Sunday (2).

Alternatively, you might be more interested in a high-frequency program, in which case you could do 6 workouts per week, three lower and three upper workouts. This brings us to benefit number two:

2. It Works Well With The Principles of Daily Undulated Programming (DUP)

The “Repeated Bout Effect” states that the more we expose the body to a given stimulus, the less it responds to it (3). The more we train, the more the body adapts, and we see progressively slower results. 

For example, the first time we do a bicep exercise, it causes significant disruption – muscle damage, and metabolic stress. Our biceps are sore, and weak for days. But then, as we do more of this training, it causes a smaller disruption until it no longer causes any significant growth. At some point, we can train our biceps so hard, and we won’t experience even half the adverse effects of training – soreness, weakness, and such.

On the one hand, that’s a good thing – after all, most people prefer not to feel soreness and weakness from training. But, according to most experts, finding ways to keep our training somewhat novel is important for creating a strong growth-response. In other words, we need to experience a fair amount of discomfort from our training to keep progressing over the months and years.

Daily undulated programming refers to the change in training variables (intensity/volume/rep ranges/exercise selection) with the aim of keeping the “Repeated Bout Effect” away (4). The goal is to prevent the body from fully adapting to the training stressors. That way, we can cause larger disruptions, and, hopefully, grow more over time.

So, instead of changing these variables every so often (say, weekly, monthly, or even less often), we change them for every workout. For example:

Variable Exercise Selection

Monday (Lower) – High bar back squats (3 sets of 8 reps) + calves
Tuesday (Upper)
Wednesday (Lower) – High bar speed squats (7 sets of 3 reps) + glutes
Thursday (Upper)
Friday (Lower) – Low bar back squats (5 sets of 5 reps) + hamstrings
Saturday (Upper)

For example, you can also incorporate block programming elements and prioritize one movement (the squat, in our above example) for four to six weeks. Then start emphasizing another – for example, the bench press while working to maintain your strength on the squat.

3. It Allows You to Better Focus On Individual Muscle Groups

Setting up an effective training split can be challenging precisely because of the overlap issue. Knowing how to sequence workouts can be challenging, and if we don’t do it right, we can unknowingly hinder our performance.

For example, if you train your chest on Monday and then go for a tricep or shoulder workout on Tuesday, you won’t perform as best as you usually could. The reason is, your shoulders and triceps are reasonably involved in chest training and also need time to recover (5, 6).

The great thing about the upper/lower split is that you train the overlapping muscles on the same day and then give them enough time to recover before training them again.

Alternative Scheduling options for Upper/Lower Workout Split

Everyone is going to have a different schedule and priority in their training. The great thing about the Upper Lower training plan is it allows you for plenty of flexibility in how you organize your training schedule. Below, we’ve added two other ways in which you can schedule your upper/lower workout split.

3 Day Upper/Lower Split

Week 1Week 2 
Monday – Upper
Tuesday – Of
Wednesday – Lower
Thursday – Off
Friday – Upper
Saturday – Off
Sunday – Off
Monday – Lower
Tuesday – Off
Wednesday – Upper
Thursday – Off
Friday – Lower
Saturday – Off
Sunday – Off

As you can see, this arrangement spans across two weeks. With it, you train your upper body twice in week one, and then your lower body twice in week two.

The great thing about it is, you have excellent scheduling flexibility. The bad thing is, it might not be enough training volume to cause optimal muscle growth or strength gain.

5 Day Upper/Lower Split

Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4
Monday – Upper
Tuesday – Lower
Wednesday – Off
Thursday – Upper
Friday – Lower
Saturday – Off
Sunday – Upper
Monday – Lower
Tuesday – Off
Wednesday – Upper
Thursday – Lower
Friday – Off
Saturday – Upper
Sunday – Lower
Monday – Off
Tuesday – Upper
Wednesday – Lower
Thursday – Upper
Friday – Off
Saturday – Lower
Sunday – Upper
Monday – Lower
Tuesday – Off
Wednesday – Upper
Thursday – Lower
Friday – Off
Saturday – Upper
Sunday – Lower

Technically, a 5-day split can work. The problem is that scheduling it is difficult, and your workout days will fluctuate from week to week. Plus, you will also have some instances where you train three consecutive days in a row.

The Bottom Line On Training Frequency

As a whole, the 4 day Upper Lower split seems to work best, as it offers a consistent and (relatively) flexible schedule, and plenty of volume. Higher frequencies can work, but you shouldn’t worry about them unless you’re quite advanced, and have excellent scheduling flexibility.

Who Is The Upper/Lower Split For?

As you’ve probably gathered by now, the upper/lower split is incredibly flexible and can be quite beneficial for people with all sorts of schedules and fitness abilities.

While many people like to label different programs for beginners or advanced, with a bit of tweaking, the upper/lower can work for almost everyone. For example, take the 3 day upper/lower split: it offers a decent training frequency, and you can add a fair amount of training volume. Early intermediates can use it quite well for a long time.

If you’re just getting started with working out, the 2-day split can work fantastic. Have an upper workout on Monday and a lower workout on Thursday, and call it a week. It will be enough to cause growth, but it won’t be too much to feel overwhelmed or overtrained.

If you’re like most people and have the typical recoverability and scheduling flexibility, then the 4-day version will probably work best. You have a consistent schedule, you get to train your muscles twice per week, and there are plenty of opportunities to add training volume.

Rest Days During the Upper/Lower Split

The upper/lower split’s beauty is that it offers numerous scheduling options, and you can arrange your recovery days however you wish. For example, if you follow the typical 3 day upper lower split, you can schedule your recovery days in several ways. For example:

Week 1
Monday – Off
Tuesday – Upper
Wednesday – Off
Thursday – Off
Friday – Lower
Saturday – Off
Sunday – Upper
Week 2
Monday – Off
Tuesday – Off
Wednesday – Lower
Thursday – Upper
Friday – Off
Saturday – Lower
Sunday – Off

This is one example where you don’t train on Mondays if you don’t want to. You can also arrange your workouts to have two recovery days in a row if you need to. For example, if you have a hard day at work on Monday and you’ve trained the previous day, you can take two days off and hit the gym on Wednesday.

The 4-day split is also flexible, and you can make it fit you better. For example, if the workweek tends to be incredibly challenging, you can have two light workouts on, say, Tuesday and Thursday, and then go in on Saturday and Sunday for two high-volume workouts.

Weekly Workout Intensity & Rest

Monday – Off
Tuesday – Upper (light)
Wednesday – Off
Thursday – Lower (light)
Friday – Off
Saturday – (high volume)
Sunday – Lower (high volume)

Most importantly, you should look at your schedule, recognize potential stressors (e.g., Monday is your most challenging workday of the week), and design your training around it.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of The Upper/Lower?

Like most things, the upper/lower split has its fair share of positives and negatives. Let’s take a look at the most apparent ones:

Pros

  • It offers a superior training frequency for most lifters. An ever-growing body of literature suggests that training our muscles twice per week might be more beneficial for long-term improvements (7). With the typical 4-day upper lower split, you can do that quite well, and you don’t have to maintain an incredibly high training frequency.
  • It allows us to improve and maintain movement proficiency much better because we get to perform the different exercises more often throughout the week. For some people, training a lift once per week is not enough, and their strength barely improves because they can’t solidify proper lifting form.
  • It’s great for accumulating weekly training volume without having to overexert ourselves in any given workout. For example, if you have to do 16 weekly sets for chest, doing that in two upper body workouts will be much easier and more sustainable.
  • It can work great for lifters of all levels, so long as you tweak the training variables correctly. If you’re a complete beginner, you can start with a twice-weekly frequency. Eventually, as you become advanced, you can go as high as six workouts per week.
  • It’s fantastic for preventing volume overlap as you have two distinct workouts – an upper and a lower one. Meaning, the risk of training fatigued muscles too soon is much smaller than other training splits.

Cons

It wouldn’t be fair to discuss the benefits and completely disregard the upper/lower split’s potential downsides. 

With that said, it’s worth noting that the upper/lower split is reasonably balanced and works great for most people. So long as you program intelligently, you won’t run into many drawbacks. 

  • Your upper body workouts can become quite long and tedious because there are many muscle groups to account for – your back, chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps, traps, abs, and obliques. If you do just three sets for your back, chest, shoulders, triceps, and biceps, you’ll still have to do a total of 15 working sets.
  • On the other hand, you might find that your lower body workouts tend to finish much quicker, as there are fewer muscle groups to train. Because of that, you might find a hybrid approach to be better. In other words, if you’re adamant about doing direct work for your traps, abs, obliques, and forearms, you might want to consider adding them to your lower body days.
  • You will have to make some tradeoffs in terms of priority. For example, the bro split offers us the chance to give each muscle priority within the training week. On an upper/lower split, you have to pick one muscle group to start with, and put the remaining ones on the backburner. For example, you can start with the bench press, but you won’t do your rows in a fully recovered state.
  • Typically, our workouts have a single warm-up that consists of a bit of cardio to get the blood flowing, dynamic work to loosen us up, and warm-up sets to work up to our training weights. For the most part, the upper/lower split follows the same directive. But, if you do, say, heavy rows after bench press, it’s good to include a few warm-up sets for that second exercise, which can lengthen your workouts.

Progression With Upper/Lower Workouts

The upper/lower split can work with sophisticated progression schemes. But, for the average lifter, a basic linear progression model will be more than enough (9). In one of the previous points, we shared a few sample workouts and prescribed various repetition ranges on each exercise.

Dumbbell Gym Rack

The goal is to set rough guidelines for each exercise and start working toward the upper range. Once you cover your repetition goals for every set, increase the weight for the following workout.

Say, for example, that you’ve prescribed 6 to 10 reps on the bent-over row, and you start with 115 pounds. Here is how to go about it:

Upper Workout #1 (115 pounds):
Set 1 – 10 reps
Set 2 – 9 reps
Set 3 – 7 reps
Set 4 – 6 reps
Upper Workout #2 (115 pounds):
Set 1 – 10 reps
Set 2 – 10 reps
Set 3 – 8 reps
Set 4 – 6 reps
Upper Workout #3 (115 pounds):
Set 1 – 10 reps
Set 2 – 10 reps
Set 3 – 10 reps
Set 4 – 8 reps
Upper Workout #4 (115 pounds):
Set 1 – 10 reps
Set 2 – 10 reps
Set 3 – 10 reps
Set 4 – 10 reps
Upper Workout #5 (125 pounds):
Set 1 – 8 reps
Set 2 – 7 reps
Set 3 – 6 reps
Set 4 – 6 reps

As you can see, at #4 once we could do 10 reps of the exercise, we add more weight and repeat the cycle. This linear model can work for every exercise you do, and, so long as you’re consistent, it will produce impressive results in the long run.

Of course, it’s also essential to stay as objective as possible and ensure that your technique remains solid week after week. If you start compromising technique for the sake of lifting more weight, you will eventually find yourself ego lifting and thinking that you’ve gotten stronger.

How Long Should I Train to See Results?

This is one of the most common questions beginners ask, and it’s a bit difficult to answer. How quickly you can see results depends on multiple factors, including your training. Your genetics, consistency, effort level, nutritional quality, sleep habits, and life stressors all play roles in the equation. 

How well (or poorly) you manage to track your progress also matters. You might be making good progress, but may not realize it and think that you’re stuck if you track it well. Hevy can help you track your workouts, you can log each set and get in-depth analytics on your progress. On the other hand, some folks believe that they are progressing well when they aren’t. For example, some people overeat, gain a lot of fat, and think that it’s mostly muscle – this is the well-known dirty bulk.

To say that you should expect results in a given amount of time would disservice you. The truth is, no person can predict that. What we can do, however, is give you rough guidelines.

According to a scale Lyle McDonald made a while back, a beginner can expect to build as much as 20 to 22 pounds of muscle mass within the first year of training. In year two, that growth rate is cut in half – around 10-11 pounds in twelve months. After that, muscle growth slows down even more, and we can typically expect to build no more than five pounds of muscle in a year of training.

So, to answer the question of, “How long should I train to see results?” it’s difficult to say. If you’re a beginner and dedicate yourself to a solid split and nutritional plan, you should see progress within weeks (10). If you’re more advanced, then it will take you longer to see positive results. We’ve actually done an analysis on Hevy users who track their workouts, turns out, they’ve gotten stronger!

Upper Lower – Training Plan Comparisons

Upper/Lower vs. 3-Day Full Body Split

The 3-day split (also known as a full-body split) is excellent for beginners and early intermediates because it allows them to train each muscle three times per week. What’s more, the 3-day split allows new lifters to learn proper training form quicker because it exposes them to the different exercises more often.

Virtually all good beginner training programs revolve around full-body training concepts because it offers incredible versatility, works great with linear progression models, and the individual workouts aren’t that high in volume.

The upper/lower split, on the other hand, is typically used for a 4-day program and is better suited for intermediate lifters. Advanced lifters can also use the upper/lower split, and they can train five or six times per week for the sake of adding more volume.

Both splits offer their unique advantages and disadvantages. Which one you choose to go with will mostly depend on your current situation, future goals, and preferences.If you’re a beginner who is just getting started, then a 3-day full body split or a 3 day classic bodybuilder split will probably be better. But, if you’re past that stage and you’ve mostly exhausted your newbie gains, then the upper/lower split will be a better choice.

Upper/Lower vs. Push/Pull/Legs

The push/pull/legs is another popular split used by many, and it’s more similar to the upper/lower than people imagine.

In essence, the push/pull/legs and upper/lower splits are identical. The primary difference is the fact that you combine your push and pull workouts into one upper session. This allows you to train all of your upper body muscles in a single workout instead of two.

Both splits offer their unique advantages and disadvantages. For example, the upper/lower split allows you to schedule your weekly training with a 4-day frequency easily. You have a fair amount of flexibility, you can easily establish a consistent schedule, and you get to train all of your muscles twice per week. 

The primary downside of the upper/lower split is the programming of your workouts. Most people find that their upper workouts have to be longer than their lower training because there are more muscle groups to account for.

On the other hand, the push/pull/legs split allows for easier programming of the individual workouts because you have fewer muscles to account for in each workout. In essence, you’re splitting your upper training into two workouts. The push/pull/legs’ primary downside is that scheduling your weekly training can be a bit more tricky.

Both splits are reliable, and you might want to try them out to see which one you prefer.

Upper/Lower vs. Bro Split

The bro split has been around for a long time, and many people deem it the most optimal way to organize our weekly training. 

bro split gym workout man protein

To a degree, the bro split can be incredibly fun and productive. For example, with a bro split, you focus on individual muscle groups and attack them with plenty of exercises and volume. Programming your workouts and weekly schedule is easy because the goal is simple: Have dedicated workouts for the major muscle groups in your body.

Bro splits also tend to be more engaging for some people because they fatigue their muscles a lot, and that can give them a sense of progression; of more effective training if you will.

The primary downside of the bro split is the low training frequency. According to many people today, training our muscles only once per week is not enough to cause optimal muscle growth (11). Because of that, the same folks typically recommend an upper/lower or PPL split because it allows for a higher training frequency.

The bro split also requires a higher training frequency – ideally, training five to six days per week, which might not be sustainable for many people.

The upper/lower split is not entirely different, but you get to bundle your shoulder, arm, chest, and back training into one, instead of having to dedicate separate workouts for each.

Conclusion

So, what’s the bottom line on the upper/lower split?

Well, as a tried-and-true method of organizing our weekly training, the upper/lower split is a fantastic option for intermediate lifters who want to optimize their muscle growth and strength gains. Splitting your training into upper and lower body is a perfectly viable way to accumulate volume and progress well.

The one drawback to upper/lower training, as discussed above, is the fact that your upper sessions tend to be longer because you have more muscle groups to train. On the other hand, lower body sessions are typically shorter. Of course, with a bit of thought, you can make it work incredibly well. For example, you can take the hybrid approach and include your direct ab, trap, and forearm training into your lower body workouts.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own workout splits with Hevy, and track your progress.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own workout splits with Hevy, and track your progress – for free.

If you’re busier and can’t make it to the gym more than four times per week, the upper/lower split might be your best bet. It allows you to train no more than four times per week, do enough volume, and still train all of your muscles twice per week. 

Combined with a solid nutritional plan, plenty of sleep, consistency, and effort, the upper/lower split can help you achieve fantastic results in mere months (10, 12, 13).

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the seven most frequently asked questions about the upper/lower split:

1) What is an upper/lower split?

The upper/lower split is a way of organizing your weekly training by splitting your workouts into distinct upper and lower sessions. For example, you train all of the major muscle groups in the upper body on an upper day – back, chest, biceps, triceps, traps, and abs. On a lower day, you train all of the lower body’s major muscles – glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves.

The most common weekly schedule is the 4-day program – two upper and two lower workouts.

2) When should I do cardio when doing an upper/lower split?

If your schedule allows, you should do cardio on your rest days. If that’s not possible, you can do cardio at least six hours before or after training. This helps minimize the interference effect (14). 

Another alternative is to do cardio after doing your resistance training.

3) How many exercises per muscle group in an upper/lower split?

This largely depends on your volume goals for each workout and your weekly training schedule. For example, if you follow the typical 4-day split, you can do two exercises for the chest, back, quads, hamstrings, and shoulders, and one for your biceps, triceps, abs, glutes, and calves.

As a whole, doing two to three exercises for your larger muscle groups and one to two for the smaller ones every week is a good rule.

4) Why is the upper/lower split superior?

The upper/lower split is superior to other ways of organizing our training mostly because:

– It’s relatively simple to set up
– It offers a consistent training schedule
– You get to train your muscle groups twice per week
– Accumulating weekly volume is easy

5) How long should my workouts be?

As long as you need to do all of your exercises, sets, reps, and warm-up. For the average intermediate lifter, this should be somewhere between 50 and 75 minutes.

6) Is an upper/lower split a good routine for beginners?

It can work. But, beginners will most likely benefit more from full-body training two to three days per week. This is because the full-body split allows them to learn different movements more quickly, and it’s an excellent way to accumulate enough volume for optimal hypertrophy and strength.

7) Which workout should I do first in the week, upper or lower?

It doesn’t matter much, and you can go either way. It should mostly be based on your schedule, as your upper workouts will tend to be a bit longer than your lower ones. For example, if you typically have less free time to train on Monday, you can do your lower workout and hit your upper body on Tuesday.

Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on reddit
Reddit
Share on pinterest
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on reddit

1 thought on “The Upper / Lower Body Split – Complete Workout Program Guide

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *