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Trainers Say These Are The Most Effective Weekly Workout Schedules

Planning your workouts for the week or month can be overwhelming. You could do a lower-body or upper-body strength, full-body HIIT, a low impact class, yoga, and many more, so where do you even begin? Luckily, there’s an easy solution to eliminate the guesswork and help crush your goals: workout splits.

As the name suggests, workout splits divide your workout sessions for the week. Exercises can be by body part, body region, or movement type, says Rebecca Stewart, CPT, a certified personal trainer, mobility coach, and pain-free performance specialist. “Workout splits are a way of organizing your workouts that’s most effective for your goals and lifestyle,” she explains. For example, someone focused on strength gains can plan their workouts around the big three lifts like squats, bench press, and deadlifts, while someone focused more on aesthetics, such as bodybuilders, can split their workouts by body part, she adds.

Meet the expert: Rebecca Stewart, CPT, is a certified personal trainer, mobility coach, and pain-free performance specialist.

That's only the beginning. Workout splits are great if you want to progress specific lifts, body parts, or regions more intensely than you’d be able to with full-body training, explains Stewart. What's more, divvying up your workouts into splits can also help prevent overtraining issues like fatigue and muscle breakdown since each body part is allowed adequate time to recover (at least 48 hours), she adds.

Ready to get at it? Read on for three workout splits recommended by a trainer to hit a variety of goals and how to pick the right plan for you.


3 Best Workout Split Schedules

1. Push/Pull/Legs Split

The push/pull/legs split is a great workout plan that builds strength and muscle while still allowing generous recovery time, says Stewart. “It separates your upper body into pushing versus pulling mechanics, versus muscle groups, which generally feels good on the body,” she explains. “If you really want, you can also roll this into a six-day plan doing each day twice, but I’d only recommend that for those that want to put on serious muscle and dedicate six days a week to training, which can be a lot on your body.”

Monday: Push day (chest, shoulders, and triceps)
Tuesday:
Cardio
Wednesday:
Legs and core
Thursday:
Rest
Friday:
Pull day (back and biceps)
Saturday:
Cardio or recovery (yoga, stretching, etc.)
Sunday:
Rest

Benefits:

  • Allows for ample recovery

  • Builds strength and muscle mass

  • No overlap in muscle groups

  • Focuses on weaker muscles with more intensity

Downsides:

  • Typically requires more equipment

  • May take longer in the gym

  • Less flexibility


2. Upper/Lower Split

The upper/lower split is a step up from a full-body training split, says Stewart. “This training frequency is perfect for those who have four days a week to train and want to focus on a moderate balance between strength and muscle gain,” she explains.

Monday: Lower body (hinge focus)
Tuesday:
Upper body (push focus)
Wednesday:
Cardio or recovery (yoga, stretching, etc.)
Thursday:
Lower body (squat focus)
Friday:
Upper body (pull focus)
Saturday:
Rest
Sunday:
Rest

Benefits:

  • Builds strength and muscle mass

  • Weekends are free

  • Hits each muscle group twice a week

  • Allows for adequate recovery between muscle groups

Downsides:

  • More muscle groups to train in upper body, so lower body can progress faster

  • Lack of flexibility

  • Skipping a workout can create gaps in your progress

  • May take longer in the gym


3. Body Part Split

The body part split is often referred to as a “bodybuilder split” due to the emphasis on training each part of the body individually, says Stewart. “This split promotes muscle growth because you’re able to train each portion of the body with more intensity and more reps and sets than you could in a full-body workout,” she explains. That said, this split is lengthier and if you miss a workout, it can throw off your entire plan, she adds. “I’d generally only recommend this plan for advanced lifters that want to dedicate more time to the gym.”

Monday: Back
Tuesday:
Chest and abs
Wednesday:
Lower body
Thursday:
Rest
Friday:
Shoulders
Saturday:
Arms and abs
Sunday:
Rest

Benefits:

  • Allows for adequate recovery

  • Focuses on training muscle groups individually

  • Builds strength and muscle mass

  • Helps identify and fix muscle imbalances and weaknesses

Downsides:

  • Lengthier workout may require more time in the gym

  • Lack of flexibility

  • Skipping a workout can throw off the plan

  • Less suitable for beginners


How To Find The Best Workout Split For You

While a lot comes down to personal preference and your goals, here are a few tips to match up to the optimal training split for you.

Goals: Whether you're aiming for muscle growth, weight loss, or overall fitness, select a plan that best suits your specific goals right now, says Stewart. Push/pull/legs splits are excellent for muscle growth while upper/lower splits are typically best for weight loss, she adds.

Schedule: Decide how much time you can realistically dedicate to exercise each week and choose a plan accordingly, says Stewart. “A training schedule is going to be very different for someone who can train two to three days for 30 minutes, versus someone who wants to spend an hour in the gym five to six days a week,” she adds.

Weaknesses or injuries: If you have a shoulder injury, a whole day dedicated to shoulders isn’t going to be in your best interest, says Stewart. On the flip side, if you want to address growing your biceps, for example, having a dedicated arm day might be better for your goals, she adds. Listen to your body and find a plan that feels best.

Recovery needs: Depending on the demands of your job and lifestyle, you may need more or less recovery time, says Stewart. “Rest days away from the gym are important not only physically but also mentally so you don’t get burnt out on your training schedule.”


Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the most effective workout split?

Here’s a secret: The most effective workout split is the one that best fits your goals and schedule, says Stewart. “For the majority of the general population, I’m a big fan of two to three full-body training days. If you have more time to dedicate to the gym, any form of a push/pull/legs split is a great all-around program to build strength and muscle.”

2. What are the best gym splits to build muscle?

If muscle hypertrophy is your goal (AKA an increase in muscle size), Stewart recommends either a push/pull/legs split or body part split since you’ll spend more dedicated time on individual muscle groups. “These plans will give you great results if you’re able to consistently apply yourself in the gym because you’re doing more volume on each body part and able to use progressive overload to build muscle more quickly.”

3. What are the best gym splits to lose weight?

If you’re looking to lose weight, choose a split that allows you to train each major muscle group twice a week, says Stewart. “This is important so you maintain muscle while losing fat, and because of this, I’d recommend an upper/lower split or full body training plan for most people looking to lose weight,” she explains. This way you can create a balanced schedule and dedicate three to four days in the gym, she adds.

4. What is the 4-2-1 workout split?

The 4-2-1 workout split recently grew to TikTok fame as a simple formula for programming your workouts throughout the week, says Stewart. It's broken down to four strength workouts, two cardio workouts, and one mobility session per week, she explains. "Following a method like this can be helpful because it gives you a structured way to plan your exercise schedule. This is an effective approach because it provides a clear way to incorporate different types of workouts for a holistic approach to fitness."

And, this combo is solid too: Strength training helps build and maintain muscle mass; Pilates and mobility promotes flexibility and mind-body connection; and conditioning increases your cardiovascular endurance, says Stewart. An upper/lower workout split easily fits in the 4-2-1 method, she explains.

The 4-2-1 workout can also refer to a specific tempo for lifts. In this case, it means 4 seconds for the eccentric contraction, 2 seconds for the isometric hold, and 1 second for the concentric contraction. If you're doing a biceps curl with this tempo: Curl up for 1 second, hold for 2 seconds, and lower down for 4 seconds.

Bottom line: Workout splits are an effective way to organize your exercise schedule each week to ensure you hit your goals, no matter what results you want or how experienced you are.

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