The Upper/Lower Split: 2, 3, 4 & 5-Day Routine Included

The upper/lower split is probably my favorite weight training split of them all.

It’s well balanced, can be adjusted for so many different schedules (2, 3, 4, or 5 workouts per week), and it works extremely well for building muscle, losing fat, gaining strength and more. It’s the type of workout routine I recommend most often.

Here’s everything you need to know about it…

What Is An Upper/Lower Split?

The upper/lower split is a type of workout schedule that divides the body up into just two groups: upper body and lower body.

Each group is then trained separately on its own day, like this…

The “Upper Body” Day

On this day, you’d train the entire upper body to some degree. Here’s what that means in terms of body parts being targeted, along with the amount of exercises I’ve found to be ideal for each.

  • Chest: 2 exercises
  • Back: 2 exercises
  • Shoulders: 1 exercise
  • Biceps: 1 exercise
  • Triceps: 1 exercise

The “Lower Body” Day

On this day, you’d train the entire lower body to some degree. Here’s what that means in terms of body parts being targeted, along with the amount of exercises I’ve found to be ideal for each.

  • Quads: 1-2 exercises
  • Hamstrings: 1-2 exercises
  • Glutes: 0-1 exercise
  • Calves: 1-2 exercises

Abs are typically trained along with the lower body. Also note that the lower back, which is technically a part of the upper body, is often considered part of the lower body workout simply because it’s involved in so many compound leg exercises (deadlifts, squats, etc.).

Why potentially 0 exercises for glutes? Because so many other lower body exercises already hit the glutes pretty well (deadlifts, squats, split squats, lunges, etc.), and for many people, that’s sufficient. For someone looking for more glute emphasis, I’ll typically include one specific glute-focused exercise on top of that.

What Are The Benefits Of Upper/Lower?

While there are plenty of benefits to this type of routine, I’ve found that there are three that stand out the most:

  1. It has a ton of different scheduling options.
    Regardless of how many days you can work out per week, or which specific days you can/can’t work out on, there is almost always a version of this split that will fit your schedule. I’ll be showing you all of these different versions in just a second, so you’ll see exactly what I mean.
  2. Most scheduling options allow for an optimal training frequency.
    Research (source) and real-world experience has shown us that, for most people with most goals, training every body part about twice per week works significantly better than training each body part just once per week. And most versions of upper/lower easily allow for this ideal frequency to be met.
  3. It prevents overlap better than most splits.
    Most of the routines people use involve “body part splits.” You know, something like chest on Monday, shoulders on Tuesday, arms on Wednesday, back on Thursday, and legs on Friday. Among the many problems with schedules like this is the potential for problems with overlap. For example, the shoulders are involved during most chest exercises. So by training chest one day and shoulders the next, you’re actually training shoulders on both days. Now that’s not automatically a problem, but the potential is there. However, with an upper/lower split, you’re training overlapping body parts together in the same workout, which greatly reduces the potential for problems involving recovery and/or overuse injuries.

The 5 Different Versions

Like I mentioned a minute ago, there are tons of different ways to schedule the upper and lower body workouts over the span of a week.

Let’s take a look at the most popular approaches, compare their pros and cons, and determine which version is best for you.

  1. The 2-Day Upper/Lower Split
  2. The 3-Day Upper/Lower Split
  3. The 4-Day Upper/Lower Split
  4. The 3-4 Day Upper/Lower Split
  5. The 4-5 Day Upper/Lower Split

Let’s start at the top.

The 2-Day Upper/Lower Split

  1. Monday: Upper Body
  2. Tuesday: off
  3. Wednesday: off
  4. Thursday: Lower Body
  5. Friday: off
  6. Saturday: off
  7. Sunday: off

As you can see, there are just two workouts involved in this version of the routine: one upper day and one lower day.

And keep in mind that you could place those workouts on ANY days of the week that you wanted to. I just picked Monday and Thursday in this example, but it could just as easily be Wednesday and Friday, or Saturday and Sunday, or whatever else you needed it to be.

Pros

It’s as convenient and easy to schedule as any workout split could possibly be. Plus, even if you were still so busy that you had to miss a day, there’s plenty of room in the week to easily make it up on a different day.

Cons

Let’s be honest here. Two workouts per week is not going to be ideal for most goals.

Don’t get me wrong, a 2-day upper/lower split can still work to some degree. It’s just not going to work nearly as well as the versions we’ll be covering next.

This is largely due to its once-per-week workout frequency – with each body part being trained just once every 7 days – which, as I mentioned earlier, has been shown to be the least effective training frequency for most people.

It’s Best For…

I don’t recommend this version of the split very often, but when I do, it’s primarily to people who can only train twice per week and are only trying to maintain muscle and strength at the time rather than increase it.

For example, if you’re going on vacation for a few weeks, or if you have a lot going on in your life at the moment, or some sort of scenario is taking place that’s going to A) make it tough for you to get the gym more than twice per week, and B) make it tough for you to focus on doing anything more than just maintaining.

For this purpose, the 2-day upper/lower split will be sufficient.

However, if you can only train twice per week AND you still want to make good progress, the 2-day full body split would be a much better option to go with.

The 3-Day Upper/Lower Split

Week 1

  1. Monday: Upper Body
  2. Tuesday: off
  3. Wednesday: Lower Body
  4. Thursday: off
  5. Friday: Upper Body
  6. Saturday: off
  7. Sunday: off

Week 2

  1. Monday: Lower Body
  2. Tuesday: off
  3. Wednesday: Upper Body
  4. Thursday: off
  5. Friday: Lower Body
  6. Saturday: off
  7. Sunday: off

This 3-day version alternates between upper body and lower body every other workout so that you’re doing Upper/Lower/Upper one week, and then Lower/Upper/Lower the next.

You then continue alternating like this from week to week.

As you can also see, the structure of this split involves having 1 day off between each workout, and then two days off at the end (so… 1 on/1 off/1 on/1 off/1 on/2 off).

The version shown above is probably the most common way of scheduling it, because it gives you the weekends off (and many people prefer it that way). Of course, the actual days you choose doesn’t matter at all as long as that same structure is kept intact.

Pros

With just 3 workouts per week, it’s still going to be pretty damn convenient and easy for most people to fit into their lives.

In addition, the training frequency per body part is right within the ideal range we want it to be in, as everything gets trained once every 4th or 5th day (compared to every 7th day in the previous version), which is pretty close to twice per week.

And it’s also rare that 3 workouts per week is ever “too much” for a person from a recovery standpoint, so this version will be usable for the majority of people.

Cons

There really isn’t anything too significant to mention here in terms of negatives.

The only real potential “con” to this version of the split is that some people would simply rather work out more often than 3 times per week, be it because they want the additional frequency, or perhaps it’s just a personal preference, or they find they do better training more often, or whatever else.

It’s Best For…

The 3-day version of the upper/lower split will be a great option for anyone looking to build muscle, gain strength, or improve the way their body looks or performs in any capacity.

To get even more specific, I’d say it’s best for:

  • People who can only manage to train 3 days per week.
    So regardless of anything else, if you can only get to the gym 3 times each week, this is the ideal option for you.
  • People who would be inconvenienced by anything more than 3 workouts.
    So maybe you could adjust your schedule and really go out of your way to train 4-5 days per week. But, doing so would be too inconvenient and you’d eventually end up missing workouts. In that case, stick with this 3-day version.
  • People with a lower capacity to recover.
    This could be due to below-average genetics (some people just can’t handle 4-5 workouts per week, and they burn out pretty quickly when they attempt it), or age (recovery gets worse as we get older), or having a highly stressful life (stress worsens recovery), or having a very physical job (a lot of additional activity will cut into recovery), or being in a caloric deficit for the purpose of losing fat without losing muscle (recovery is worse in an energy deficit state).
  • People who just like it better.
    Some people just feel better/stronger/fresher when they train 3 days per week vs 4-5 days per week. Simple as that.

The 4-Day Upper/Lower Split

There are actually a few different 4-day versions of upper/lower. Here are all of them…

Version A

  1. Monday: Upper Body
  2. Tuesday: Lower Body
  3. Wednesday: off
  4. Thursday: Upper Body
  5. Friday: Lower Body
  6. Saturday: off
  7. Sunday: off

This is the “classic” version of this split. It involves doing 4 workouts per week: 2 for the upper body, and 2 for the lower body.

As you can see, the structure of this split involves having 2 consecutive workouts, followed by 1 day off, followed by 2 consecutive workouts, followed by 2 days off (so… 2 on/1 off/2 on/2 off).

Just like with the previous versions, the actual days you choose doesn’t matter at all as long as that same structure is kept intact.

Version B

  1. Monday: Upper Body
  2. Tuesday: Lower Body
  3. Wednesday: off
  4. Thursday: Upper Body
  5. Friday: off
  6. Saturday: Lower Body
  7. Sunday: off

Version C

  1. Monday: Upper Body
  2. Tuesday: off
  3. Wednesday: Lower Body
  4. Thursday: off
  5. Friday: Upper Body
  6. Saturday: Lower Body
  7. Sunday: off

Version D

  1. Monday: Upper Body
  2. Tuesday: off
  3. Wednesday: Lower Body
  4. Thursday: Upper Body
  5. Friday: off
  6. Saturday: Lower Body
  7. Sunday: off

These are all nearly identical to Version A, with just one small change: there is only one set of consecutive workouts.

What I mean is, Version A involved training 2 days in a row, having a day off, and then training 2 days in a row again. But all of these versions schedule the workouts in a way that adds a day in between one of the consecutive sets, so that you’re only training on back-to-back days one time per week instead of twice.

Everything else is exactly the same.

What are the benefits of this, you ask?

  • Slightly improved recovery.
    Training on consecutive days is a bit more taxing on the body, so having a day off in between one of those consecutive sets of workouts may be beneficial to some people.
  • Slightly improved performance in the second workout.
    Generally speaking, you’re usually a little better/fresher for a workout when you didn’t train on the previous day.
  • It may be better for your schedule.
    One of these versions may just happen to suit your needs better than Version A does in terms of which days you do/do not train on.

What about downsides to these versions of the split?

It would really only be that they require you to train on at least part of the weekend, which might be fine for some people (hell, it may even be a benefit), but not so much for others who need the weekends off.

But putting that aside, I consider all of the 4-day versions of upper/lower to be equally effective and really just slightly different variations of the exact same thing.

Also note that, yet again, the actual days you choose doesn’t matter at all as long as the same overall structure is kept intact.

Pros

The training frequency per body part is perfect. All of the 4-day versions of the upper/lower split allows for each body part to be is trained once every 3rd or 4th day, which is exactly twice per week.

While not quite as widely usable as a 3-day routine, 4 workouts per week will still be perfectly fine for a very large number of people from a recovery standpoint.

And with so many different 4-day versions, there’s an option that should suit most people’s scheduling needs.

Cons

While there are plenty of different scheduling options to choose from, they all still require 4 workouts per week… and that will be less convenient for some people than the 3-day version.

Similarly, 4 workouts per week will be more recovery intensive than 3 workouts, and that can sometimes be an issue for those with a lower capacity to recovery (i.e. those who are older, those with worse genetics, those with very physical jobs or a lot of other exercise activity, etc.).

It’s Best For…

If your goal is to build muscle, gain strength, or improve the way you body looks or performs in any capacity, AND you have no problems with training 4 times per week in terms of recovery and convenience… then I highly recommend the 4-day upper/lower split.

If recovery or convenience are an issue, I’d recommend using the 3-day version instead.

The 3-4 Day Upper/Lower Split

Week 1

  1. Monday: Upper Body
  2. Tuesday: off
  3. Wednesday: Lower Body
  4. Thursday: off
  5. Friday: Upper Body
  6. Saturday: off
  7. Sunday: Lower Body

Week 2

  1. Monday: off
  2. Tuesday: Upper Body
  3. Wednesday: off
  4. Thursday: Lower Body
  5. Friday: off
  6. Saturday: Upper Body
  7. Sunday: off

Here’s a version of this split that’s a cross between the 3-day and 4-day versions we just covered.

As you can see, it uses an every-other-day format, where you’re always alternating between upper and lower body workouts with one day off in between. With this type of setup, it means you end up having 4 workouts one week, and then 3 workouts the next.

Pros & Cons

It’s really a combination of the pros and cons from the 3-day and 4-day versions.

So, for example:

  • The frequency is still right within the range we want – every body part gets trained every 4th day – which is slightly more than the 3-day version and slightly less than the 4-day versions.
  • It will be slightly more convenient than the 4-day versions, but slightly less than the 3-day version.
  • It will be slightly less recovery intensive than the 4-day version, but slightly more than the 3-day version.
  • It may be better for some people’s schedules, but worse for others.

It’s Best For…

If you were reading this article and thought “I wish there was some other version of the upper/lower split that was kinda right in the middle of the 3-day and 4-day versions,” then this is exactly what you were looking for. So if it suits you better, I definitely recommend it.

The 4-5 Day Upper/Lower Split

Week 1

  1. Monday: Upper Body
  2. Tuesday: Lower Body
  3. Wednesday: off
  4. Thursday: Upper Body
  5. Friday: Lower Body
  6. Saturday: off
  7. Sunday: Upper Body

Week 2

  1. Monday: Lower Body
  2. Tuesday: off
  3. Wednesday: Upper Body
  4. Thursday: Lower Body
  5. Friday: off
  6. Saturday: Upper Body
  7. Sunday: Lower Body

Week 3

  1. Monday: off
  2. Tuesday: Upper Body
  3. Wednesday: Lower Body
  4. Thursday: off
  5. Friday: Upper Body
  6. Saturday: Lower Body
  7. Sunday: off

This version of the split uses a 2 on/1 off format, which means you’re always doing upper/lower/off and then it repeating it again. With this setup, you end up training 5 times on some weeks, and 4 times on other weeks.

Pros

For those that are able to train more days per week (4-5 to be exact) and with more frequency (everything gets trained every 3rd day) and actually do well with it, this is a version of the split that allows that to happen.

Cons

This will be the most recovery intensive version of upper/lower (due to having more workouts per week + fewer rest days between them) and the hardest to schedule (both in terms of the number of workouts per week + the fact that the days you train on will vary from week to week)… which means it’s not going to be ideal for most people.

It’s Best For…

Honestly, I don’t think this version is truly “best” for anyone, and I never recommend it.

This is partly because it doesn’t fit most people’s schedules, and partly because it’s often problematic for many people from a recovery standpoint.

Plus, if a person was legitimately better off using a 5-day routine, I much prefer the upper/lower/push/pull/legs split for that purpose instead (full guide to that split coming soon).

So, if you’re considering using this 4-5 day version, I’d recommend using 4-day version instead.

Two Upper/Lower Workout Routines

Now that you’ve chosen the version of the split that’s most ideal for you, the next thing you’ll need is a workout routine to go along with it.

And for that purpose, here’s an example routine that you can either use exactly as is, or adjust slightly to better suit your needs, goals and preferences.

The Sample Routine

Upper Body

  1. Bench Press: 3×6-8
  2. Rows: 3×6-8
  3. Shoulder Press: 3×8-10
  4. Pull-Ups: 3×8-10
  5. Incline Dumbbell Flyes: 2×10-15
  6. Dumbbell Curls: 2×12-15
  7. Triceps Extensions: 2×12-15

Lower Body

  1. Squats: 3×6-8
  2. Romanian Deadlifts: 3×6-8
  3. Leg Press: 3×8-10
  4. Leg Curls: 3×8-10
  5. Standing Calf Raises: 4×6-8
  6. Abs: 10 minutes of whatever you want.

The Muscle Building Workout Routine

What you see above is just one of the many ways these workouts can be set up.

If you’d like to see another example in the form of a complete upper/lower program that puts every component together for you, check out The Muscle Building Workout Routine.

It’s 100% free, and it’s the workout routine I recommend the most.

What’s Next?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jay is the science-based writer and researcher behind everything you've seen here. He has 15+ years of experience helping thousands of men and women lose fat, gain muscle, and build their "goal body." His work has been featured by the likes of Time, The Huffington Post, CNET, Business Week and more, referenced in studies, used in textbooks, quoted in publications, and adapted by coaches, trainers and diet professionals at every level.