The standard four-day split weight training routine is evergreen – always fresh and useful. A four-day split lets you work out more often each week and concentrate on target muscles more thoroughly. A common and effective four-day split routine works your upper body on Days 1 and 3, and your lower body on Days 2 and 4, with rest days in-between.
Upper/Lower Split Routines
The four-day upper and lower body split routine offers several advantages to full-body routines. The four-day split routine is efficient as recovery time for muscles worked on Day 1 is spent working other muscles on Day 2. Also, the four-day split is ideal if you play a competitive sport, since you won’t run the risk of over-training any particular muscle group. To get the most out of split routines, use compound exercises that combine multiple muscle groups into each exercise, and increase the volume of sets and reps you do for each.
Upper Body: Days 1 and 3
Even though there are a lot of individual muscle groups in the upper body, the percentage of muscle mass is less than in your lower body. You have two choices when selecting exercises. You can repeat the same routine on Days 1 and 3, or you can target the same muscles on those days with different exercises. Upper body splits work well with presses and flyes, because these combine multiple muscles together. For example, if you do three sets of bench presses and three sets of close-grip bench presses, you’ve hit your pecs, your delts, your triceps and your traps without having to get off the bench. Pullups also work many upper-body muscles, including the lats, the delts, the traps and the biceps. Military presses or seated shoulder presses work the delts, the triceps and the upper pecs, while lat pulldowns work the lats and the biceps. Select five or six exercises for each day, and schedule a high number of sets/reps for each exercise.
Lower Body: Days 2 and 4
Although there are only a handful of lower body muscle groups, those groups make up a majority of the muscle mass in your entire body. Just like your upper body workouts, Days 2 and 4 should focus on compound exercises that target multiple muscles. For example, the back squat works the hamstrings, the calves, the quads and the glutes, making it the perfect centerpiece for your lower-body routines. Leg extensions work the quads, leg curls target the hamstrings, and dumbbell lunges hit most of your lower body. Work in sets of leg presses, or swap them for squats on alternating days, because they work the same muscles in slightly different ways. For example, start Day 2 with four sets of squats, but begin Day 4 with four sets of leg presses. Do several sets of calf raises, because the calves are tough to work even through compound exercises.
As with any weight training routine, your rest time is just as important as your gym time. Muscles need to recover to grow stronger, so choose your exercises wisely. Some compound exercises aren’t a good fit for strict upper/lower splits because they work muscles in both areas. Deadlifts are the prime example. While they mostly work the lower body, the deadlift brings in the back, the shoulders and the neck as stabilizers, which can hamper recovery. You can do cardio work, or engage in sports and other activities on your rest days, but don’t lift. Switch out the exercises every few weeks. Your body will quickly adjust to your routine, giving you less gain for your pain. Hit the same muscles with similar exercises. For example, swap out the military press for seated shoulder flyes.
- Bodybuilding.com: Create A New Four-Day Workout Split For Great Success
- Strength Training Anatomy; Frédéric Delavier
- Getting Stronger: Weight Training for Men and Women; Bill Pearl
Bobby R. Goldsmith is a writer and editor with over 12 years of experience in journalism, marketing and academics. His work has been published by the Santa Fe Writers Project, "DASH Literary Journal," the "Inland Valley Daily Bulletin" and WiseGEEK.