We all want to be fit and strong, but unless you absolutely love working out, you probably want to be as fit and strong as possible without making the gym your second home.
Translation: our exercise routine should be as efficient as possible while still being super effective. The good news is that even if you’re busy and can only manage working out four days a week, it’s possible to build muscle and get in great shape.
A 4 day workout routine is actually a perfect happy medium for many people—it’s enough to see the gains in strength and size you’re looking for without seeming like your exercise is a second full-time job.
In this guide, we have put together a complete 4 day a week workout program for strength gains and muscle building.
We will cover:
- Can a 4 Day Workout Plan Work?
- How Is the Complete 4 Day Workout Plan Structured?
- How Many Reps Should I Do?
- The Complete 4 Day Workout Routine
- Tips for the Complete 4 Day Workout Routine
Let’s get started!
Can a 4 Day Workout Plan Work?
There are different approaches to structuring a 4 day a week workout program.
Many people do true body part splits and break down the training week as follows:
- Day 1: Chest and Triceps
- Day 2: Back and Biceps
- Day 3: Rest
- Day 4: Legs (Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)
- Day 5: Rest
- Day 6: Shoulders, Traps, and Forearms
- Day 7: Rest
The order of the workouts and the weekly arrangement of workouts versus rest days may differ, but the basic splits remain the same.
While this type of 4-day-per-week workout routine can work for hypertrophy (muscle growth), it’s not often the best approach for people looking to build strength and see significant improvements in fitness.
Splitting into chest/triceps, back/biceps, legs, and shoulders/traps/forearms does qualify as a complete 4 day workout routine because you’re hitting all the major muscle groups in the four weekly workouts. However, an emphasis on targeted core work is lacking.
However, you’re only working each muscle group once per week.
Even with several sets of the appropriate rep range, this training stimulus is potentially not frequent enough for the more rapid and appreciable gains in strength and size that many people like to see from their workouts.
Depending on your current level of fitness, age, sex, genetics, and goals, you might do better targeting each muscle group twice per week.
This doubles the frequency of the training stimulus, leading to twice as many opportunities for strength adaptations and muscle protein synthesis.
Moreover, if you’re new to working out consistently, a 4-day a week workout program that hits each major muscle group twice per week rather than just once is a better way to support the neuromuscular adaptations that come with exercise training and not feel “rusty” in between workouts.
For example, if you’re only doing leg day once a week, it can feel hard to make progress on getting better at squatting or feeling confident enough to increase the weight on step-ups.
A complete 4 day workout routine that instead uses an upper body/lower body split allows you to hit each major muscle group two times per week, doubling the workload on each region of the body.
This can accelerate your results while still minimizing the risk of overuse injuries or overtraining.
We’ve also added specific ab exercises to further improve upon the core training component of the workout routine relative to typical body splits used in 4 day workout plans.
The workouts might take slightly longer, but most people who migrate to the upper body/lower body approach instead of the four day body part splits really like how their body responds to the frequency and structure of the workouts.
How Is the Complete 4 Day Workout Plan Structured?
With all that said, we have structured the complete 4 day workout routine as follows:
- Day 1: Upper Body and Back
- Day 2: Lower Body and Core
- Day 3: Rest
- Day 4: Upper Body and Back
- Day 5: Lower Body and Core
- Day 6: Rest
- Day 7: Rest
You can also sandwich a rest day in between the workouts if you prefer so that you only exercise back-to-back days once per week (Day 7 to the following Day 1):
- Day 1: Upper Body and Back
- Day 2: Rest
- Day 3: Lower Body and Core
- Day 4: Rest
- Day 5: Upper Body and Back
- Day 6: Rest
- Day 7: Lower Body and Core
Each workout will take 45-60 minutes or so, depending on how much rest you take between exercises.
How Many Reps Should I Do?
The 4 day workout routine gives a specific number of sets but a range of reps for each exercise.
You can do whatever number of reps within the target range feels good.
However, the general recommendations are to do fewer reps (closer to 6) with a higher weight if your primary goal is strength gains and a moderate number of reps if you’re looking to build muscle (hypertrophy, closer to 8-10 reps).
Beginners should aim for the higher number of reps in the given range, using a slightly lighter relative load. That way, you can focus on using good form and technique rather than totally maxing out on effort.
Once you’re confident in your technique, use a weight that’s heavy enough that you reach exhaustion by the end of the set.
In general, you should be using a load that feels challenging to get through the number of reps. As soon as you can complete all your reps with proper form, it’s time to increase the resistance.
The Complete 4 Day Workout Routine
Below, you will find the detailed workouts for each day in the 4 day workout plan.
If you are unfamiliar with any of the exercises, you can either look them up online, ask a personal trainer to show you the move or substitute the exercise for an exercise you’re comfortable with that targets the same muscle group.
Workout #1: Upper Body and Back
|Dumbbell Chest Press||3||6-12|
|Dumbbell Single-Arm Bent-Over Row||3||6-12|
|Seated Overhead Press||3||8-12|
|Dumbbell Chest Fly||2||10-12|
|Cable Crossover or Pec Deck||2||10-12|
|Alternating Forward and Lateral Raise With Dumbbells||2||10-15|
|Tricep Dips Either On Assisted Machine Or Bodyweight||3||8-12|
|Cable Reverse Fly||3||10-12|
Workout #2: Lower Body and Abs
|Hex Bar Deadlifts||3||8-10|
|Barbell Hip Thrusts||3||6-10|
|Calf Raises Off a Step||2||10-12|
|Russian Twist With Medicine Ball Or Dumbbell||2||30-60 seconds|
Workout #3: Upper Body and Back
|Incline Dumbbell Chest Press||3||6-12|
|Barbell Rows or Row Machine||3||6-12|
|Military Press or Shoulder Press Machine||3||8-12|
|Cable Chest Fly||2||10-12|
|Pull-Ups Either On Assisted Machine Or Bodyweight||2||10-12|
|Cable Tricep Push-Downs||3||8-12|
|Bird Dog||2||12-15 per side|
|Bent Over Reverse Fly||3||8-10|
Workout #4: Lower Body and Abs
|Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift||3||8-10|
|Bulgarian Split Squat (Rear Foot Elevated)||3||6-10|
|Calf Raises On Leg Press||2||8-10|
|Glute Ham Raise||2||6-10|
|Single-Arm Farmer’s Carry||3||12-15 steps per leg (24-30 strides)|
|Side Plank With Dumbbell Reach Underneath (Thoracic Rotation)||2||15-18|
|Medicine Ball Chops Diagonals||2||15|
Tips for the Complete 4 Day Workout Routine
#1: Work With a Trainer
If you’re not confident in your ability to perform the exercises properly, consider getting a couple of sessions with a personal trainer so that you can get tips on the proper execution and technique for each exercise.
Once you’re comfortable with your form, you can work out on your own.
#2: Focus On Your Nutrition
Particularly if your primary goal is building muscle, your diet will also have a significant impact on your results.
Muscle protein synthesis, the process of muscle building, requires ample protein and total caloric intake. Even if you follow the best workout plan, it’s only when the rate of muscle protein synthesis exceeds the rate of muscle breakdown that muscle growth occurs.
Your body needs energy in the form of calories as well as “building blocks” in the form of amino acids, which come from protein, to facilitate muscle protein synthesis.
Indeed, most evidence suggests you need to be in a caloric surplus to build muscle.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes consume at least 1.2–2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
Furthermore, evidence suggests that your daily protein needs are even higher if you’re trying to build muscle while being in a caloric deficit.
Studies suggest that in these cases, the most effective protein intake to strive for is 2.3-3.1 g/kg of lean body mass per day of protein, 15-30% of your total calories from fat, and the remainder from carbohydrates.
Additionally, you should break up these nutrients into 3-6 meals per day, with the meal prior to and right after resistance training containing 0.4-0.5 g/kg of body weight of protein.
#3: Focus On the Eccentric Phase
The lowering or lengthening portion of an exercise (such as descending into a squat or lowering the dumbbells back down after doing a bicep curl), or eccentric phase, is often where the most gains in strength occur.
Don’t allow gravity to do all the work. Move as slow and controlled as possible to really isolate the work to your muscle fibers.
Are you ready to try out our 4 day workout routine? For other compound exercise ideas to keep your workouts fresh, we have compiled a complete list of moves, here.