Although most people are well aware of the many benefits of regularly performing strength training workouts, unless you’ve had the opportunity to work with a personal trainer or coach or have a background in athletics, actually knowing how to best structure your workouts and what exercises to perform during your workouts can be a bit of a mystery.
Ultimately, we all want our strength training workouts to yield measurable increases in muscle strength, but there are lots of different approaches for how to structure your workout routine, and frankly, not all strength training plans are all that effective.
One of the more common approaches to resistance training workouts is to do an upper lower body split workout routine, in which you perform several workouts over the course of the week, some of which target the muscles in the upper body while the remaining workouts focus on lower-body exercises.
In this article, we will discuss what upper lower split workouts entail, the benefits of upper lower split workouts, how to do them, and the best upper lower splits to maximize your muscle gains.
We will cover:
- What Is An Upper Lower Split Workout Routine?
- Benefits of Upper Lower Split Workout Routines
- Best Upper Lower Split Workout Plan
- Can Beginners Do Upper Lower Body Splits?
Let’s get started!
What Is An Upper Lower Split Workout Routine?
An upper lower split workout, also often called a lower/upper split routine, is a strength training approach that structures your workout week into distinct sessions that target the upper-body muscles in one workout (shoulders, chest, biceps, triceps, and back) and the lower-body muscles (glutes, hamstrings, calves, quads, and usually core) in another.
Benefits of Upper Lower Split Workout Routines
There are quite a few benefits to the upper body lower body split workout routine, including the following:
Upper Lower Splits Help Ensure Equal Attention To All Muscles
Doing upper/lower body split workouts helps ensure that you are dedicating an equal amount of time, energy, and training volume to all of the muscles in your body.
Even with the best of intentions and trying to follow a carefully-created total-body strength training workout routine, it’s not uncommon that the total-body workout approach ends up not being particularly well balanced.
For example, if you tend to gravitate towards chest and shoulder exercises, your total-body workouts might include just one or two exercises that work each of the other major muscles in the body but an abundance of exercises that target either the chest or shoulder muscles or both.
Over time, the more biased your strength training routine is towards certain muscle groups, the more likely it will be that you will develop significant muscle imbalances. This will ultimately compromise your functional strength and physique and can increase the risk of injuries.
For this reason, the lower/upper split routine is a great approach for athletes who are not particularly inclined to do exercises for either upper-body muscles or lower-body muscles because it essentially forces an equal distribution of training volume on both regions of the body.
Upper Lower Splits Allows You to Train Each Muscle Group At Least Twice a Week
Another benefit of upper/lower body split strength training routines is that it enables you to train each muscle group at least twice per week with adequate rest in between each workout.
A more frequent training stimulus has been shown to augment hypertrophy, or muscle growth.
Most people who follow an upper/lower split program train four days a week. This might look something like the following:
- Monday: Upper body
- Tuesday: Lower body
- Wednesday: Rest
- Thursday: Upper body
- Friday: Lower body
- Saturday: Rest
- Sunday: Rest
More advanced athletes may even train 6 days per week, hitting each split three times and resting just once per week.
Upper Lower Splits Allows You to Optimize Workout Intensity
Compared to body part split routines in which just one or two muscle groups are targeted per workout, lower/upper body split workouts can be more effective and allow you to work at a higher intensity without completely fatiguing the one or two muscle groups you are targeting.
For example, if you are following more of a traditional body part split training plan and have one workout per week that focuses solely on the chest muscles, by the end of this workout, your pectoral muscles will probably be fully fatigued, and you might not be able to get as much volume into your routine.
Furthermore, the more segmented you divide up the body with a body part split strength training program, the less frequently you will be working each muscle group per week because you have to squeeze in all the different workouts for each body part over a seven-day cycle.
Therefore, your ability to maximize your strength and hypertrophy gains can be compromised.
Hypertrophy, or muscle building, is best supported with high-volume, high-intensity training. Most strength training experts suggest using loads that are 65 to 85% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM) for 8 to 12 repetitions per exercise. Each workout should include at least three sets per exercise.
However, if you are focusing on just one or two muscle groups per workout, by the second half of each workout, your ability to lift heavy enough and perform enough reps to maximize your stimulus for muscle hypertrophy can be compromised.
In contrast, with an upper/lower split training plan, there is typically enough variety in the exercises you are performing per workout to hit each of the major muscle groups in the upper body and lower body, respectively, enabling you to maintain the ideal load and training volume for effective muscle growth.
On the upper body split workout days, you are targeting the chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps, and back. If you do 2-3 exercises per muscle group in a cycle so that they are separated by the exercises that target the other muscle groups in the upper body, you will have enough recovery between sets to push yourself during each exercise.
There is not always adequate recovery in isolated body part split routines to keep the intensity you need for hypertrophy for the entire workout.
Best Upper Lower Split Workout Plan
The best upper body/lower body split workout plan will depend on your experience level and training goals.
Typically, if you are doing a four-day upper/lower training plan and hitting each body part split twice per week, it is ideal to perform different exercises on each of the days that you address the same half of the body.
For example, when considering chest exercises, you might do bench press and chest fly during your first upper split workout of the week and push-ups and incline chest press during the second workout.
The more variety you can add to your training plan, the more well-rounded and balanced your strength and hypertrophy gains will be, and the less likely you will be to experience strength training plateaus. Varying the stimulus will support consistent adaptations and gains.
Here is a sample 4-day upper/lower split training plan. Perform the designated number of sets and reps per exercise, using a load that is 65-85% of your 1RM, or the load you can lift for a maximum of 8-12 reps per exercise.
Weekly Workout 1: Upper Body
|Barbell Rows or Row Machine||3||6-12|
|Seated Overhead Press||3||8-12|
|Dumbbell Chest Fly||2||10-12|
|Pull-Ups Either On Assisted Machine Or Bodyweight||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|
|Bird Dog||2||12-15 per side|
|Dumbbell Bent Over Reverse Fly||3||8-10|
Weekly Workout 2: Lower Body
|Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift||3||8-10|
|Bulgarian Split Squat (Rear Foot Elevated)||3||6-10|
|Hamstring Curls With a Stability Ball||3||15|
|Glute Ham Raise||2||6-10|
|Side Plank With Dumbbell Reach Underneath (Thoracic Rotation)||2||15-18|
|Medicine Ball Chops Diagonals||2||15|
Weekly Workout 3: Upper Workout
|Incline Dumbbell Chest Press||3||6-12|
|Dumbbell Single-Arm Bent-Over Row||3||6-12|
|Military Press or Shoulder Press Machine||3||8-12|
|Cable Chest Fly||2||10-12|
|Cable Tricep Push-Downs||3||8-12|
|Cable Reverse Fly||3||10-12|
Weekly Workout 4: Lower Body
|Barbell Back Squats||3||8-10|
|Hex Bar Deadlifts||3||8-10|
|Barbell Hip Thrusts||3||6-10|
|Single-Arm Farmer’s Carry||3||12-15 steps per leg (24-30 strides)|
|Calf Raises Off a Step||2||10-12|
|Russian Twist With Medicine Ball Or Dumbbell||2||30-60 seconds|
Can Beginners Do Upper/Lower Body Splits?
Although upper/lower split workout programs can be safe, beneficial, and tenable for beginners, it is often advisable to start with strength training just three days a week to give your neuromuscular system time to rest, recover, and adapt between workouts.
For this reason, you might separate each workout by at least one day, even if you are targeting different muscle groups. Therefore, your training routine will not be uniform from week to week because there are seven days in a week, and your cycle would be four days to hit both your lower/upper body workouts.
In practical terms, this might involve performing your upper-body workout on Monday of the first week, resting on Tuesday, performing your lower-body workout on Wednesday, resting on Thursday, hitting your upper body again on Friday, and possibly resting both Saturday and Sunday.
Then, for the subsequent week, you could start Monday with the lower-body split, rest on Tuesday, hit upper-body exercises on Wednesday, rest on Thursday, and get your second lower-body workout on Friday, resting on both Saturday and Sunday.
After a couple of weeks with this approach, you could move to a 4-day upper/lower split plan where you can perform the opposite splits on back-to-back days.
Looking for even more exercises to add to your strength training program? Check out our Complete List of Compound Exercises to spice things up at the gym.