Are you looking for the best workout splits for building muscle? Confused by the infinite choices and don’t know where to start or which exercises to include?
I’ve got you covered. In this guide, I’ll give you five different workout splits that are backed by science that work out all of the different muscle groups whether you can train 2 days a week, all the way to 6-day weekly training splits.
I’ll also give you some advice on choosing the right workout split for you from the five I’ll recommend based on your schedule, lifestyle and fitness goals.
Let’s get to it.
NOTE: These splits are designed for the natural athlete i.e. one who doesn’t take steroids. While these routines will likely yield results for both natural and enhanced athletes, I’m not an expert on enhanced training and the context of this article is for the natural athlete.
What Makes The Best Workout Split for a Balanced, Aesthetic Physique?
The first thing you need to know before choosing a routine is that the phrase “best workout split” is a bit of a misnomer. There is no such thing as the “best” split.
What there is, however, is the best workout split for YOU and your lifestyle.
As long as the split you choose is scientifically sound and is something you enjoy and can STICK to, that’s going to be the one that delivers you the best results.
Here’s what to look for in an effective, scientifically sound workout split for a natural athlete:
- 10+ sets per body part, per week. A lower number of sets can still be effective, but 10+ sets per week has been found most optimal (1)
- Targets each muscle group at least twice a week (2)
- Similar muscular gains can be made in a variety of rep ranges (both <60% of 1 rep max and >60% of 1 rep max) (3). From a practical standpoint, we recommend 3-15 reps per set.
- While you can build a similar amount of muscle when training with loads <60% of 1 rep max, more muscular strength is gained when training with loads >60% of 1 rep max (15 reps and below)
- Rest intervals of 2 minutes between sets are sufficient for single joint exercises (e.g bicep curls) and 3–5 minutes for compound exercises (e.g bench press) (4)
Structuring your training program into a split is one of the best ways to build muscle in a progressive, measurable, consistent way and build a well-balanced physique.
Each split we recommend fits a different lifestyle and schedule and that’s good news for you, because there is generally a split for everyone, as long as you have at least 2 days a week to spare.
Read the description and the pros and cons of each workout split carefully to understand the types of movements and exercises you’ll be doing and how frequently you’ll have to attend the gym.
Pick the one that is most realistic for you.
Here are five splits that will give you great results:
1) Push/Pull/Legs Split [5-6 sessions a week]
The push/pull/legs split routine splits your body into three areas.
You’ll focus on one of these areas in your workouts per session.
The three workout days will be:
- an upper body push workout
- an upper body pull workout
- and lower body workouts (leg day & glutes).
You’ll typically go through around 5-7 exercises in each of your training sessions and take a rest day after every third training session.
This will allow you to train all of your muscle groups with a day of rest afterwards to recuperate and recover from muscle damage and fatigue.
For example, if you train push, pull and then legs from Monday to Wednesday, you should rest Thursday.
This allows your muscles to recuperate and grow, allowing you to go in fresh on your next workout day.
However, you do have the option to reduce your weekly workouts to 5 days, and still hit every muscle group twice every 7-9 days instead of a guaranteed twice a week.
When you get more advanced, you can tweak the workouts to your preference, but the crucial parts to include in your workouts, are generally:
- vertical and horizontal pull (multi-joint compound exercises)
- vertical and horizontal push (mult-joint compound exercises)
- multi-joint compound lower body exercises (squats/leg press/deadlift)
- Some accessory and assistance exercises (single-joint isolation exercises)
PPL Sample Weekly Workout Schedule
- More focus on specific muscle groups per workout
- Hits opposing muscle groups, causing less conflict with sore muscles and reduced performance for your next workout
- Provides variety (the two pull workouts a week, for example, can each be different)
- Easier to add more volume across two workouts per week without a significant increase in session time
- A 6 day PPL workout split with only one rest day may be taxing on the body for beginners
- Lots of exercises to master which may not be ideal for a beginner
- Opting for the 5 day ppl routine means you won’t have fixed workouts on set days during the week. Push days will not always be on a Monday, for example.
2) Upper/Lower Workout Split [3-4 sessions a week]
The upper-lower workout split divides workouts into upper-body days and lower-body days.
This means you’ll have somewhere between three to four workout sessions a week to keep within evidence-based frequency recommendations for muscle growth.
The upper body muscles include the chest, shoulders, back, triceps, and biceps.
The lower body muscles are the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves.
You can also add a core or ab workout to either the upper body workout days or the lower body workout days.
The upper-lower workout split will still hit each major muscle group as all the other splits do.
The difference between this and the PPL split above is that it’s less spaced out.
It would be best if you stuck to a minimum or three days a week to keep within scientific guidelines for muscle buildings but a maximum of four days a week for this workout split because it may then get taxing on most muscle groups.
If you want to be in the gym more frequently, then the PPL split above is recommended.
If you still have time after doing your main exercises, you can consider doing accessory movement exercises.
These isolation (single-joint) exercises will provide some focus on any weaker body parts on your physique or add more required volume for body parts that didn’t get enough from the main workout.
Upper/Lower Sample Weekly Workout Schedule
- Perfect for someone who can only visit the gym three to four times a week
- Versatile: the happy medium between a full body split and a total body part split
- Usually contain many compound exercises. Great for a beginner or intermediate to master these important movement patterns
- Plenty of rest days per week to recover for your next session
- Generally means longer workout sessions than the PPL split
- May mean less volume for smaller muscle groups due to the duration of the workout
3) Full Body Split [2-3 sessions a week]
A full-body workout split, as the name implies, trains your entire body and all major muscle groups in each training session.
This training split focuses on mainly compound movements to achieve the necessary training volume for all primary and assistance muscle groups.
These multi-joint, compound movements are key to activating more than one muscle group at a time with one exercise, saving time while increasing efficiency and gains.
For example, a full-body workout routine can include squats, a bench press, an overhead press, and lat pulldowns. These use most of your body parts and activate many muscle groups at once, including your biceps and triceps.
Ideally, you should do these only three times a week maximum, as you’ll likely need a rest day between each full-body day on this training split.
TIP: If you find the same muscle group or exercise suffering on the full-body split, on the second workout day, you can change the order of those specific exercises to the beginning of your workout. This should help increase performance for that exercise as you’re fresh at the start of your routine. Full-body splits, as well as the other splits, are flexible (to a point).
Full Body Sample Weekly Workout Schedule
Monday: Full (Workout 1)
Thursday: Full (Workout 2)
Saturday: REST (Optional: Workout 3)
- Full body routine – major muscle groups get worked out each workout day
- Flexible: you can change the exercises in workout two, giving you some variety
- Missing a workout isn’t a huge deal because you have so many other spare days in the week to catch up
- Can be fatiguing intra-workout for intermediate/advanced lifters who want to perform higher volumes of intense, heavy compound movements in one session
- Workout sessions can become long in duration, especially if adding accessory movements to build more volume
- Limited exercise variety as you only perform two workouts
4) Power Hypertrophy Upper Lower (PHUL) [4 sessions a week]
See our ultimate guide to the PHUL Workout
(includes worouts, PDF’s and spreadsheets)
This training program aims to increase strength and maximize hypertrophy.
Hypertrophy refers to muscle growth, while strength increases muscle efficiency and more power generated in less time.
The split is an upper-lower workout split variation and offers practically the same workout routine, as the workouts are divided into upper or lower-body days.
The only difference is typically the sets and rep ranges on each workout day.
The focus is on having two strength training and two power training days that are a mix of lower and upper body exercises. This means you’ll have 4 training days a week.
PHUL aims to hit each muscle group twice a week to maximize the muscle protein synthesis or MPS that is crucial to building muscle mass.
In this 4-day split workout program, you’ll be doing exercises that powerlifters do, like weighted squats, the bench press, and deadlifts.
Therefore, these workouts are more catered towards intermediate and advanced bodybuilders and lifters, as you’ll be dealing with heavier weights.
PHUL Sample Weekly Workout Schedule
Monday: Upper Power
Wednesday: Lower Power
Thursday: Upper Hypertrophy
Saturday: Lower Hypertrophy
- Still divided into upper and lower body day
- Shorter workout length
- Focussed days for building muscle, power and strength
- Good variety, with compound lifts and isolation exercises
- Puts a lot of stress on your posterior chain and lumbar erector muscle group
- Not suitable for beginners as the power days call for heavy loads of complex compound movements you should master with lighter loads first
5) PHAT Training [5 sessions a week]
Finally, there’s PHAT training. The PHAT workout was coined by Dr Layne Norton.
It combines elements from training programs for both bodybuilding and powerlifting, giving you the best of both worlds.
Bodybuilders have notoriously been thought to utilize lower weights, higher reps, and shorter rest time in an attempt to develop muscle (though this is not necessarily scientifically true).
Meanwhile, powerlifters use heavier weights, lower reps, and longer rest times to develop strength.
PHAT splits aim to combine both into one program but on separate workout days, so that they don’t get in the way of each other during the same training session.
It includes strength and power days, where you’ll be doing upper-body workouts and lower-body training with exercises that focus on building strength for two days a week.
After a rest day, you’ll then have three days of focussed “hypertrophy” training, that almost look like a bro split (two body parts trained), that focus on building up muscle mass.
PHAT Sample Weekly Workout Schedule
This is what your schedule would look like on the PHAT program:
- Day 1: Upper Power Training
- Day 2: Lower Power Training
- Day 3: Rest
- Day 4: Back and Shoulders Hypertrophy
- Day 5: Lower Body Hypertrophy
- Day 6: Chest and Arms Hypertrophy
- Day 7: Rest
- Great program for those who want to build both strength and muscle mass
- Huge amount of variety in workouts. Elements of a “bro” split for those who enjoy training only 2-3 muscle groups per workout
- 3 x upper body training days which allows for training volume to be spread nicely across the week. Appealing for trainees with weaker upper body development.
- Volume and number of exercises can get high which makes it unsuitable for beginners
Personal Factors to Consider When Choosing the Best Workout Splits for You
Now you know more about effective workout splits like full body workout splits, PHAT, PHUL, Push/Pull Split, and the Upper/Lower body split, it’s time to choose the best one for you.
Here are the factors you should consider:
#1 Training Frequency/Availability
The most important factor to consider is how much time you can allocate to training at the gym.
If you can only commit to 3 days a week, the PPL or PHAT split will obviously not be suitable for you, even if you love the idea of it, because it requires you to have 5 days locked in.
If you only have a few hours a day and a few days a week free, then full-body workouts or the Upper/Lower workout split will be better for you, as they only need 2-4 days a week of commitment.
The Push/Pull split will require the most time commitment, with 5-6 days needed. It’s a great choice for those who want to train more frequently throughout the week.
#2 Training Experience
Some workout splits here involve heavier weights and have more complicated movement patterns that beginners may find difficult.
If you don’t perform these exercises properly, it may cause some beginners injuries. Stay away from PHAT and PHUL splits if you’re just starting out.
Full body workouts and upper/lower splits would be a good place to start for a beginner as there are fewer exercises to learn.
You should also stick to a minimum of 10-15 reps until you have learned the movement patterns and are confident of performing them correctly.
Stay away from training to failure during this learning period too.
#3 Recovery Needs
Some people have other activities they do outside of lifting that they’ll need to consider.
For example, it’s probably not a good idea to play football and then do legs the next morning (or vice versa).
All your muscle groups will require adequate rest and recovery for maximum performance.
If you don’t have any other heavy cardio activities during the week that don’t need much recovery, then you can go balls to the wall with a 5 or 6 day PPL or PHAT split.
#4 Personal Weaknesses/Areas of Improvement
Finally, you should look at the areas you want or need to improve in.
Admittedly, this is more of a luxury for people who can spend more time per week in the gym but you can even tweak full body or upper lower routines to prioritize weaknesses (but that’s a whole different article).
Are you looking to increase your muscle strength? Try the PHAT or PHUL workout split, which include specific power and strength days.
If you want to prioritise and focus on fewer muscle groups or target underdeveloped muscles, try push-pull-legs.
Ultimately, though, each of these splits can be modified to fit your personal goals, which is why this is the last thing you should look at.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
After learning more about workout splits and how they affect each body part, you might still have a few questions about them. I’ve answered the most commonly asked questions below.
What Is the Best and Most Effective Workout Split?
There is no “best” workout split because, if performed correctly, they’ll all provide structure to achieve a scientifically effective training volume for your different body parts to help achieve your goal of muscle building.
The best one for you will be one that fits your lifestyle, recovery needs, fitness goals, and personal experience.
What Is a 7-Day Split Workout?
A 7-day workout split can refer to two things.
1) A 7-day split workout is a training program with no rest days.
While this may sound dangerous or fatiguing, it may have benefits for people who can spend less time at the gym, but can go more often, especially when planned correctly.
When doing a 7-day workout split, make sure that each workout day is NOT super high volume as this is when it can become fatiguing and compromise recover, potentially sacrificing performance and exercise quality.
Also, try to divide the workout days so that exercising the same body part or muscle group won’t fall on consecutive days.
You’ll want to allow those muscles to recover from high volumes at some point, because if you don’t, you’re risking injury to them at some point.
Note: you should never do a whole-body workout split if you’re training every day. This will fatigue you quickly, and not allow for individual muscle groups to recover.
2) A 7-day workout split may just refer to a “microcycle” of your priodization phase which includes rest days (like we’ve displayed in our weekly workout schedule examples).
What Is a Good 5-Day Workout Split?
A good 5-day workout split would be two examples we’ve shown in this article; PPL or PHAT.
These combine intelligently structured 5 workout days with 2 rest days.
Rest days don’t have to mean that you don’t do anything at all. You can still do active recovery exercises like core exercises or low intensity cardio, like jogging, walking, or swimming.
These can complement the resistance training you’re already doing within your training splits.
It can also contribute to more calorie burn and fat loss if you want to lose weight or if you want to bulk without gaining too much fat.
WARNING: Remember, a rest day still means you shouldn’t do exercise that’s too intense. Stick to light cardio work in order not to compromise your weight training.
Why Are Workout Splits Important?
A workout split is important because it:
- Provides structure to your muscle building and fat loss efforts
- Makes it easy to measure progress from workout to workout, week to week and month to month
- Optimally divides training volume for the muscles of each body part, aiming for optimal performance, ample recovery time and rest.
For example, there’s the division of the upper and lower body. If you work out your chest, arms, and shoulders one day, you can work out your legs and core the next day.
This reduces the chance of muscle fatigue and injury and generally helps you recover better. Part of muscle growth is having ample recovery time, which these splits provide.
Split Routine Vs Full Body Workout For Muscle Building
While some may not consider a full body workout a “split”, you are still splitting your overall training volume over the period of a week.
Therefore, it should be considered a split, even if you’re not dividing multiple muscle groups across individual workouts.
But, is it as effective for increasing muscle mass and strength?
A recent study found no difference between a full body split and a typical body part split where you work multiple muscle groups divided up over the week, as long as weekly set volume was equal (5).
While a workout split may sound confusing to plan and set up initially, it really is just taking the scientific evidence for what makes an effective training program and organizing it in a way that splits your workload across different days of the week.
The most important consideration is the time you have available to do these splits. What good is a great training session if you end up regularly missing it or can’t be consistent?
Different splits may slightly prioritize different goals and involve different exercises, and these goals will also be worth considering when choosing the right one for you.
One final piece of essential advice I can give is to always monitor your progress and log your workouts, whether that’s via an app, a spreadsheet or good ol’ pen and paper.
If you don’t remember what you did last week, month, year, how will you know what to do today to progress? Do it. It’s a great tool for inspiration to see how far you’ve come too.
Your goals may change over time, or the workout volume your body needs may change, as may your lifestyle.
The important thing now is that you know what makes up an effective split, so you can make the necessary changes if and when that time comes.
(1) Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sports Sci. 2017 Jun;35(11):1073-1082. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2016.1210197. Epub 2016 Jul 19. PMID: 27433992.
(2) 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.
(3) Schoenfeld, Brad J.1; Grgic, Jozo2; Ogborn, Dan3; Krieger, James W.4. Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 31(12):p 3508-3523, December 2017. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002200
(4) Senna, Gilmar W.; Willardson, Jeffrey M.; Scudese, Estevão; Simão, Roberto; Queiroz, Cristiano; Avelar, Raoni; Martin Dantas, Estélio H.. Effect of Different Interset Rest Intervals on Performance of Single and Multijoint Exercises With Near-Maximal Loads. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 30(3):p 710-716, March 2016. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001142
(5) Evangelista AL, Braz TV, La Scala Teixeira CV, Rica RL, Alonso AC, Barbosa WA, Reis VM, Baker JS, Schoenfeld BJ, Bocalini DS, Greve JMD. Split or full-body workout routine: which is best to increase muscle strength and hypertrophy? Einstein (Sao Paulo). 2021 Aug 30;19:eAO5781. doi: 10.31744/einstein_journal/2021AO5781. PMID: 34468591; PMCID: PMC8372753.