• Introduction
  • The basics of the upper body/lower body split
  • Pros and cons of the upper body/lower body split
  • Upper body/lower body split samples
  • Final thoughts
  • Sources
  • Hypertrophy: increase in muscle mass
  • Kinetic chain: body segments, connecting joints, and muscles working together to generate movement.
  • Tri-set: a combination of three different exercises performed consecutively, usually with little to no rest between exercises

Introduction

Workout splits describe the different ways of dividing your weekly training (microcycle). This is usually planned according to body region, movement, specific body part, or by lift.

The main function of workout splits is making sure your training is structured in a safe and effective way. In practice this means that each muscle group is trained 2-3 times a week with at least 48h of recovery before the next training session. Thus, allowing you to progressively overload the muscles while reducing the risk of injuries or overtraining.

The optimal number of exercises, repetitions and sets depend on the physical adaptations you are looking for. Here is a brief overview of what intensity and volume to use:

  • Hypertrophy: 70-85% of one-repetition maximum (1RM), 8-12 repetitions, 1-3 sets, ~2mins recovery.
  • Maximal strength: 85-100% 1RM, 1-3 repetitions, 5-6 sets, 2-4mins recovery.
  • Power: 30-60% 1RM, 3-6 repetitions (not to failure), 1-3 sets, ~2mins recovery.
  • Muscle endurance: <50% 1RM, 15-25 repetitions, 3-5 sets, 1-2mins recovery.

This post explains the basics of the upper body/lower body split, and what makes it such an effective way to structure your training.

The basics of the upper body/lower body split

The upper body/lower body split divides the muscles in your body into two regions; the upper body and the lower body. This allows you to focus on specific muscle groups on different days of the week. For example, having two upper body days (chest, back, shoulders, arms) and two lower body days (quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves) within a single week.

A common way to structure an upper body/lower body split is performing 3-4 sets of two exercises for a specific muscle group. The volume and intensity of these exercises determine what kind of neuromuscular adaptation they can offer. For more variability, you can also focus on muscular strength (higher resistance, lower volume) on the first training sessions of the week and hypertrophy (less resistance, higher volume) on the last two sessions.

Day

Example


Monday

Upper body strength (chest, back, shoulders, arms)


Tuesday

Lower body strength (quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, abs)


Wednesday

Rest


Thursday

Upper body hypertrophy (chest, back, shoulders, arms)


Friday

Lower body hypertrophy (quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, abs)


Saturday

Rest


Sunday

Rest


Separating your weekly training over several days also allows for a higher training stimulus on each training session (more exercises/volume/resistance per muscle group per session). Consistently exposing the body to the same stress promotes exercise-induced adaptations, such as  increased strength, muscle mass, or endurance. However, progressing too fast and the body might enter a phase of exhaustion, where it is no longer able to cope with the stress it is under. Progressing too slow and your progress might stagnate and you may even lose some of the performance improvements you worked so hard to achieve.

To prevent stagnation and lowered performance, training cycles should be long enough to provide positive performance adaptations, but short enough to avoid exhaustion. This is also why a new training regimes are introduced in each mesocycle. This switches the training objective, while continuing the overall seasonal training plan. 

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Upper body/lower body split


Divides the body into upper & lower body regionsEach region is trained twice per weekFirst two sessions often focus on strengthLast two sessions often focus on hypertrophy48h of recovery before training the same muscle groupProvides a strong training stimulus per session

Pros and cons of the upper body/lower body split

The biggest benefit of the upper body/lower body split is that it allows for a higher total volume of weekly training. There are a few reasons for this. First, focusing on a few muscle groups at a time can help provide a stronger training stimulus in a single session. Second, it allows you to train on consecutive days while also making sure you recover for 48h before training the same muscle group again.

Because of this higher training stimulus, the ”upper lower split” has proven to be more effective in increasing strength and muscle mass than a whole body split. Therefore, it is considered more suitable for advanced sports enthusiasts. 

However, the upper body/lower body split may not be the optimal training structure for everyone. Since weekly training is separated by body region and divided over four days, it makes the upper lower split both time-consuming and less flexible. It also does not utilize the body’s entire kinetic chain (multiple body segments working together), which is an essential part of athletic performance.

Pros


  • Higher total volume of training
  • Stronger training stimulus per session
  • Less likely to cause plateauing
  • Ability to train on consecutive days

Cons


  • Never utilizes on the entire kinetic chain
  • Less flexibility
  • More time-consuming
  • More suited for advanced sportspeople

Upper body/lower body split samples

The upper body/lower body split offers a relatively simple yet effective way to structure your weekly training. Below you can find a couple of examples to help you take your workouts to new heights. Take a look!

Monday (upper body strength)

  • Bench press: weight at 85% of 1RM, 4-6 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 2-3min rest between sets.
  • Barbell rows: weight at 85% of 1RM, 4-6 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 2-3min rest between sets.
  • Overhead press: weight at 85% of 1RM, 6-8 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 2-3min rest between sets.
  • Incline bench press: weight at 85% of 1RM, 10-12 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 2-3min rest between sets.
  • Pull-up/Lat pulldowns: weight at 85% of 1RM, 10-12 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 2-3min rest between sets.
  • Lateral raises: weight at 85% of 1RM, 10-12 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 2-3min rest between sets.

Tuesday (lower body strength)

  • Squat: weight at 85% of 1RM, 4-6 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 2-3min rest between sets.
  • Deadlift: weight at 85% of 1RM, 6-8 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 2-3min rest between sets.
  • Lunge: weight at 85% of 1RM, 10-12 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 2-3min rest between sets.
  • Hip thrust: weight at 85% of 1RM, 8-10 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 2-3min rest between sets.
  • Leg extension: weight at 85% of 1RM, 10-12 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 2-3min rest between sets.
  • Glute ham raise: weight at 85% of 1RM, 10-12 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 2-3min rest between sets.

Wednesday

  • Rest

Thursday (upper body hypertrophy)

  • Dumbbell bench press: weight at 75% of 1RM, 10-12 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 1-2min rest between sets.
  • Pull-up/lat pulldown: weight at 75% of 1RM, 10-12 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 1-2min rest between sets.
  • Seated dumbbell press: weight at 75% of 1RM, 10-12 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 1-2min rest between sets.
  • Chest fly: weight at 70% of 1RM, 12-15 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 1-2min rest between sets.
  • Seated row: weight at 75% of 1RM, 10-12 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 1-2min rest between sets.
  • Lateral raise: weight at 70% of 1RM, 15-20 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 1-2min rest between sets.

Friday (lower body hypertrophy)

  • Front squats: weight at 80% of 1RM, 8-10 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 1-2min rest between sets.
  • Romanian deadlift: weight at 75% of 1RM, 10-12 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 1-2min rest between sets.
  • Bulgarian split squat: weight at 70% of 1RM, 12-15 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 1-2min rest between sets.
  • Leg press: weight at 75% of 1RM, 10-12 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 1-2min rest between sets.
  • Leg extension: weight at 70% of 1RM, 15-20 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 1-2min rest between sets.
  • Hamstring curl: weight at 70% of 1RM, 15-20 repetitions, 3-4 sets, 1-2min rest between sets.

Saturday

  • Rest

Sunday

  • Rest

Monday (upper body strength)

  • Bench press: 70% of one-repetition maximum (1RM), 10 repetitions, 3 sets, 90s recovery
  • Pull-up/lat pulldown: 70% 1RM, 10 repetitions, 3 sets, 90s recovery
  • Incline dumbbell press: 70% 1RM, 10 repetitions, 3 sets, 90s recovery
  • Barbell row: 70% 1RM, 10 repetitions, 3 sets, 90s recovery

Tuesday (lower body strength)

  • Squat: 70% 1RM, 10 repetitions, 3 sets, 90s recovery
  • Romanian deadlift: 70% 1RM, 10 repetitions, 3 sets, 90s recovery
  • Hanging leg raise: 70% 1RM, 10 repetitions, 3 sets, 90s recovery

Wednesday

  • Rest

Thursday (upper body hypertrophy)

  • Overhead press: 70% 1RM, 10 repetitions, 3 sets, 90s recovery
  • Pull-up/lat pulldown 70% 1RM, 10 repetitions, 3 sets, 90s recovery
  • Bench press: 70% 1RM, 10 repetitions, 3 sets, 90s recovery
  • Dumbbell row: 70% 1RM, 10 repetitions, 3 sets, 90s recovery

Friday (lower body hypertrophy)

  • Deadlift: 70% 1RM, 10 repetitions, 3 sets, 90s recovery
  • Front squat: 70% 1RM, 10 repetitions, 3 sets, 90s recovery
  • Bulgarian split squat: 70% 1RM, 10 repetitions, 3 sets, 90s recovery

Saturday

  • Rest

Sunday

  • Rest

Note that we are not responsible for any injuries that may occur during these drills or practices. Always remember to train within your own limits and at the guidance of a professional instructor.

The upper lower split is an advanced workout split that provides a strong training stimulus

Final thoughts

Workout splits are an essential part of training as they form the smaller mesocycles of your yearly training. These mesocycles are also used to determine the training target for a specific period (e.g. strength, power, endurance, etc.). A seasonal macrocycle consists of several mesocycles, and grows in intensity (more resistance and less repetitions) as the season progresses. 

As with any other type of workout split, the ”upper lower split” focuses on consistently overloading the muscles while allowing for adequate recovery. This makes sure you get the training adaptations that you are looking for.

Did you learn anything new about the upper body/lower body split? Let us know in the comments.

Sources

  • Peterson MD, Rhea MR, Alvar BA. Maximizing strength development in athletes: a meta-analysis to determine the dose-response relationship. J Strength Cond Res. 2004 May;18(2):377-82. doi: 10.1519/R-12842.1. PMID: 15142003.
  • Ralston GW, Kilgore L, Wyatt FB, Baker JS. The Effect of Weekly Set Volume on Strength Gain: A Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2017 Dec;47(12):2585-2601. doi: 10.1007/s40279-017-0762-7. PMID: 28755103; PMCID: PMC5684266.
  • Schoenfeld BJ, Contreras B, Krieger J, Grgic J, Delcastillo K, Belliard R, Alto A. Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019 Jan;51(1):94-103. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001764. PMID: 30153194; PMCID: PMC6303131.
  • Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2016 Nov;46(11):1689-1697. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8. PMID: 27102172.
  • Wernbom M, Augustsson J, Thomeé R. The influence of frequency, intensity, volume and mode of strength training on whole muscle cross-sectional area in humans. Sports Med. 2007;37(3):225-64. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200737030-00004. PMID: 17326698.

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