A workout routine of this sort will work for pretty much anyone – men and women, young and old, people looking to build a large amount of muscle and get “big”, or those who only want to build a small amount of muscle and get “toned”.
However if you want to get the very best results from it you will of course need to know how to set it up in the most effective way.
So in this article I’ll explain why upper/lower splits are so effective, and I’ll also give you what I believe to be about the best upper/lower body split routine you are ever likely to find.
What Is An Upper/Lower Body Split Routine?
An upper/lower split routine is one in which you train your upper body (chest, back, shoulders, biceps and triceps) in one workout and your lower body (quads, hams, calves, lower back and abdominals) in another workout. Normally you would have two of each type of workout and perform each one once per week – so you would be training 4 times per week (alternating upper/lower/upper/lower). However if you can only get to the gym 3 times per week you can simply alternate the four workouts over these three weekly sessions. It will still work just fine.
There is room for some variation however and some people like to do chest, back and shoulders in one workout and legs and arms in the other. Or perhaps chest, back, shoulders and triceps in one and legs and biceps in the other. Personally I find this latter method suits me very well and it’s the one I most often recommend.
Why Use An Upper/Lower Split?
An upper/lower body split routine is by far the most effective method of training for the vast majority of people. The main exception to this is beginners who do better with full body workouts. But once you are past that stage, this type of training will beat anything else you can do for packing on muscle as quickly as possible.
The main reason for this is that it allows each muscle group to be trained at the ideal frequency range of between once every 3 to 5 days. This workout frequency has been scientifically proven to work best for anyone past the beginner stage.
If you train 4 times per week you will be working each body part once every 3 or 4 days. Whereas if you train 3 times per week you will be working each body part every 4 or 5 days. And whilst training 4 times per week will probably work slightly better for most people, it won’t make that much difference, so just choose whichever suits you best.
You can train Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; or Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. Or choose whatever days you want – it doesn’t matter as long as you never train more than two days in a row.
Another reason this type of workout regimen works so well is that, like the full body workout, it tends to have a big focus on compound exercises. And as I’ve said previously compound exercises are by far the best muscle builders due to the fact that they work more total muscle when you perform them and they promote the highest levels of hormonal release.
However with upper/lower splits you can also incorporate some assistance/isolation work which will help to balance out your physique and bring up any weak points you may have.
Upper/lower splits also allow for the ideal amount of volume to be used, both per workout and per week. So if you plan it right this type of training will bring together all of the factors and components that work best for building muscle, so allowing you to get the best possible results from your efforts.
The Ultimate Upper/Lower Body Split Routine
So here is what I believe to be the ideal upper/lower body split routine for building muscle mass…
Upper Body Workout A
Bench Press 3 X 5 – 7
Bent-over Row 3 X 6 – 8
Close Grip Bench Press 2 X 8 – 10
Close Grip Pulldowns 2 X 8 – 10
Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 X 8 – 10
Lower Body Workout A
Squats 3 X 6 – 8
Back Extensions 2 X 10 – 12
Split Squat (Rear Foot Elevated) 2 X 10 – 12
Calf Raise 4 X 8 – 10
Barbell Curl 3 X 8 – 10
Upper Body Workout B
Overhead Barbell Press 3 X 5 – 7
Pull-Ups 3 X 6 – 8
Incline Dumbbell Press 3 X 8 – 10
Seated Cable Row 2 X 8 – 10
Parallel Bar Dips 2 X 10 – 12
Lower Body Workout B
Deadlift 2 X 5
Leg Press 3 X 8 – 10
Leg Curl 3 X 8 – 10
Seated Calf Raise 4 X 10 – 12
Dumbbell Hammer Curl 3 X 8 – 10
(3 X 5 – 7 = 3 sets of 5 – 7 reps)
The sets listed above are your work sets; do warm-up sets as required to properly prepare your body for the heavier work.
You’ll notice I’ve put biceps on lower body days in this program in order to even it out to five exercises per workout, as this seems to be about optimum for most people. And also, as I said above, that’s the method I most often recommend as biceps tend to respond better to more frequent training than most other body parts.
Also there is no abdominal work specified here. I personally see direct abdominal work as being optional as your stomach will firm up just fine if you simply brace it tight during most of your other exercises (which is what you should be doing anyway). But if you do want to do some, simply add in a couple of sets at the end of your lower body days. Some good options for this include hanging leg raises, weighted crunches, ab wheel roll-outs or any of the various types of plank.
You’ll also notice that chest is trained heavy in Upper Workout A and lighter in Upper Workout B; whereas shoulders are trained lighter in Upper Workout A and heavy in Upper Workout B. There is a heavy row and a lighter vertical pull in Upper Workout A, and a lighter row and heavier vertical pull in Upper Workout B. The close grip bench press and parallel bar dips are mostly for the triceps, but they also serve as a secondary chest exercise as well. Quads are trained with a higher volume in Lower Workout A and a lower volume in Lower Workout B, and lower back is trained lighter in Lower Workout A and heavy in Lower Workout B.
Other Factors To Consider
Some other factors that should be considered in order to get the best out of your training include the following…
Exercise Performance – Always perform your exercises with good form and through an appropriately full range of motion in order to fully engage the target muscles.
Rest Periods – Rest only as long as you need to be ready for your next set. With the smaller exercises this should normally be around 90 – 120 seconds, but with the bigger exercises you’ll want a little longer, perhaps 2 – 3 minutes, but take more if you need to.
Progression – You should increase the weights you are using when you reach the top end of the suggested rep range for all the prescribed sets. So if it says to do 3 sets of 6 – 8 reps, when you can do 8 reps on all 3 sets increase the weight a little for your next workout.
Ideally when you do your first set you should have a rep (or maybe two) left in you at the end of the set. Your second set should be more difficult; and your last set should be pushing close to your limit.
De-Loading – At some point you will reach a plateau; it’s inevitable. A plateau can be defined as three workouts in a row with no improvement in a particular exercise. When this happens there’s no point trying to “push through” the plateau. Instead you need to de-load; that is reduce the weight you are using on the exercise(s) you have stalled on by 10 – 15% and then build back up again. This will allow you to recover more fully and you’ll usually find you’ll then be able to make further progress.
Nutrition – Your training is only one half of the equation; it’s equally important to eat the right diet if you want to make real progress. You need a calorie surplus with sufficient protein, complex carbs and healthy fats, as well as a good amount of fruits and vegetables.
Rest & Sleep – You grow when you are resting, not when you are training, so it’s important to get plenty of rest and sleep. Try to get 8 – 9 hours sleep per night. And keep the cardio and other activities (such as dancing, playing sports etc.) down to a minimum.
So that’s it; the upper/lower body split routine described here will give you exceptional gains in muscle mass if you stick with it. But if you’d like a complete fully periodized 12 week program that’s been specifically designed to pack muscle on even the skinniest of hardgainers, the one I’d most recommend is Muscle Gaining Secrets 2.0 by Jason Ferruggia. Check out my review of it here.