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Ultimate Upper/Lower Body Split Routine for Mass

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David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.

Upper/lower split routines build muscle fast.

Upper/lower split routines build muscle fast.

Use an Upper/Lower Split to Build Muscle

If you are past the beginner stage and looking for the ideal workout routine to build muscle size and strength, the upper/lower body split is it.

A routine of this sort will work for just about anyone—young or old, male or female, those looking to develop the maximum possible muscle size, and those who just want to get "toned." But if you want to get the best possible results from it, you will of course need to know how to set it up in the right way.

So in this article, I’ll explain why this sort of training is so effective, and I'll also give you what I believe to be about the best upper/lower body split routine there is.

Why an Upper/Lower Split?

An upper/lower body split routine is by far the best workout routine for the vast majority of people. The main exception to this is beginners, who would probably do better with a full body workout routine. But, once you've made some good gains on that, and are at the intermediate or advanced stage, this type of training beats anything else you can do for packing on muscle as fast as possible.

The main reason for this is that an upper/lower split allows you to train each muscle group with the optimal workout frequency. It’s different for beginners – they will be using lighter weights, and can therefore recover more quickly, so they tend to do best by training each body part more often, with three times per week being ideal.

But, when you've made some gains and are using heavier weights, you’ll start to find it becomes more difficult to recover. So you need to train each muscle group less often. However, training a body part just once per week, with a "bro-split", is far from optimal for natural trainees. In fact, all the research out there shows that training each muscle group approximately twice per week (or once every three to five days) is the most effective way for an intermediate or advanced person to train. And an upper/lower split allows you to do this in the most effective and efficient manner.

Also, as with full body workouts, the focus of upper/lower split workouts tends to be on compound exercises. And compound exercises are, by far, the most effective exercises to build muscle because you can use more weight with them, and this produces a stronger muscle-building stimulus, as well as eliciting a much higher degree of hormonal response than the smaller isolation or assistance exercises. However, in upper/lower body split training there is still room for some isolation exercises, and this will help to add more balance and symmetry to your physique.

The Ultimate Upper/Lower Body Split Routine

So how should you arrange your workouts to give you the best results? Well, you need to work each body part hard and with sufficient volume, but you also need to guard against overtraining. And there are other factors to take into account too, such as spinal loading and joint health. So with all this in mind, here is what I believe to be about the best upper/lower body split routine you are ever likely to find.

Day 1

  • Bench Press 3 X 6 – 8
  • Bent-Over Row 3 X 6 – 8
  • Lateral Raise 3 X 10 – 12
  • Lying Triceps Extension 3 X 8 – 10

Day 2

  • Squats 3 X 6 – 8
  • Leg Curl 3 X 8 – 10
  • Calf Raise 4 X 8 – 10
  • Barbell Curl 3 X 8 – 10

Day 3

  • Overhead Press 3 X 6 – 8
  • Pull-Ups 3 X 8 – 10
  • Incline Dumbbell Press 3 X 8 – 10
  • Triceps Pressdowns 3 X 10 – 12

Day 4

  • Deadlift 1 X 5
  • Leg Press 3 X 10 – 12
  • Seated Calf Raise 4 X 10 – 12
  • Dumbbell Hammer Curls 3 X 10 – 12

*(3 X 8 – 10 = 3 sets of 8 – 10 reps)

The sets listed are your work sets. But, you should always do at least two work-up sets with lighter weights first in order to properly prepare your body for the heavier work.

Schedule: You'll notice that this is a four-day-per-week plan, and the best way to train is day on, day off, day on, day off, two days on, day off. So that would normally be Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. But, arrange the days as you want as long as you never train more than two days in a row.

Chest is trained heavy on Monday and lighter on Friday, whereas shoulders are trained lighter on Monday and heavy on Friday. Back thickness is trained on Monday and back width on Friday, but deadlifts also work back thickness, as well as the entire posterior chain (lower back, glutes, and hamstrings). Only one top weight set of deadlifts is required. You will find that your strength will increase greatly with just this amount.

Balance: There are a couple more things you should note about the above workouts. Firstly, biceps are done on lower body days. This is to even it out to four exercises per workout, otherwise the upper body workouts would be much longer than the lower body workouts. Also, I think four exercises per workout is about optimum for most people, as it allows you to give full focus to them all, and you don’t leave the gym feeling too drained. In fact, you should feel good when you leave the gym. Apart from that, biceps tend to respond well to a more frequent stimulus, and as biceps are also worked when you train your back, it works well when done this way.

Also, there is no abdominal training here. I see direct abdominal work as being optional because your stomach will firm up just fine if you brace it during most of your other exercises (which is what you should be doing anyway). And, if you want to get a six pack, this is created mostly in the kitchen rather than the gym. But, if you really want to do some abdominal work, you could add in a couple of sets at the end of your lower body days. Good options for this are hanging leg raises, reverse crunches, ab wheel roll-outs, or any of the various types of plank.

But, what if you can’t get to the gym four days per week? Or you just prefer not to? In this case you have two options.

Alternative Routines

The 3-Day-per-Week Plan

If you’d rather train just three days per week, that’s fine. The program will still work almost as well. In fact for some people it will work better – it depends on what else is going on in your life and how well you recover.

Your first option for a three-day-per-week training plan is to simply use the above program, but alternate the workouts over three weekly visits to the gym. So, you’ll be working each body part every four or five days instead of every three or four days. But, as this is still within the optimum workout frequency range it still works very well.

Or, you could of course train alternate days if this fits into your schedule, and this is in fact a great way to do it.

Do Two Workouts Instead of Four

Alternatively, your second option is to do just two different workouts instead of four (one upper body and one lower body) and alternate these over your three weekly gym visits. In this case, I’d recommend the following program:

Workout 1

  • Bench Press 3 X 6 – 8
  • Bent-Over Row 3 X 6 – 8
  • Close Grip Bench Press 2 X 8 – 10
  • Pull-Ups 3 X 8 – 10
  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 X 8 – 10

Workout 2

  • Squats 3 X 6 – 8
  • Romanian Deadlifts 2 X 10 – 12
  • Leg Press 3 X 10 – 12
  • Calf Raise 4 X 8 – 10
  • Barbell Curl 3 X 8 – 10

Obviously, we've had to remove some of the exercises and focus on the most important ones; and we've now got five exercises per workout instead of four. Also we've replaced the deadlift with Romanian deadlifts because these work the hamstrings better and they are also less taxing than conventional deadlifts, which is important because you are doing them on the same day as squats. We've introduced the close grip bench press because it works both the chest and the triceps hard. And we've also introduced the dumbbell shoulder press, in order to reduce the number of big barbell lifts, whilst still keeping an overhead pressing movement in our routine.

Some Other Points to Note

  1. Exercise Performance: Your exercises should always be performed with good form (i.e., no bouncing or jerking) and through a full range of motion. For example, in the squat it's important to go down until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor (most people don’t – so have someone check you if you are unsure). In the bench press, the bar should touch your chest at nipple level or just below with elbows tucked (not flared). And all other pressing movements should be taken right down to shoulder/chest level so that you feel the stretch at the bottom. Don’t follow the common practice of stopping when your upper arms are parallel to the floor as this will not fully engage the target muscles.
  2. Rest Periods: You should rest only as long as you need to be ready for your next set. That should be no more than two minutes for the smaller exercises, but 90 seconds may be better, as this will create a higher level of metabolic stress. With the bigger exercises you'll want to rest longer, though. About three minutes is probably ideal but take more if you need to.
  3. Progression: Increase the weights you are using when you reach the top end of the suggested rep range for all the prescribed sets of a given exercise. So, if it says to do three sets of 8 – 10 reps, when you can do 10 reps on all three sets, increase the weight a little for your next workout.
  4. Nutrition: It’s important to eat a good muscle building diet with plenty of protein (about 0.8 – 1.0 grams per pound of bodyweight per day), complex carbohydrates, some healthy fats, and a good amount of fruit and vegetables. If you want to minimize fat gain, or even lose a little body fat, it may be useful to follow some sort of carb-cycling plan.
  5. Supplements: These are not essential, but they are helpful. Whey protein is great to use as a post-workout shake. Have an easily digestible source of carbs with it, such as a ripe banana. You can also use whey protein after or between meals to boost your daily protein intake, if required. Other worthwhile bodybuilding supplements include creatine monohydrate, essential amino acids, and omega-3 fish oil. A good whole-food multivitamin or greens supplement is also well worth using.
  6. Rest & Sleep: Growth occurs when you are resting, not when you are training. So, it’s important to get plenty of rest and sleep if you want to get the best results. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep per night – more if you can. And it might be worth taking a short nap in the afternoon as well. Keep the cardio to a minimum, as too much jogging will certainly hinder your muscle building efforts. And don’t do too much in the way of extra activities, such as playing sports, dancing, etc.

So that’s my ultimate upper/lower body split routine for mass fully explained. Stick with it and follow all the advice given here and you will be certain to make exceptional gains.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can biceps be overtrained by training them on lower body days?

Answer: It's very unlikely. Biceps usually respond well to more frequent training, as they tend to recover faster than most other body parts.


David (author) from Birmingham, UK on January 13, 2020:

Glad you are having good success with this routine Adriano. If you want to do shrugs twice per week, it would be best to use a different rep range in each. I'd recommend something like 3 x 8 for your first workout and 2 x 12 for your second.

Adriano Carvalho on January 11, 2020:

Hi David,

I'm 69 years old, but I have many years of weight trainning .This your workout routine is great. It has worked very well for me. I'd like to add a barbell shrugs to Day 1 and Day 3 (upper exercises). How many work sets and reps would you recommed for me?

Thank you


David (author) from Birmingham, UK on December 30, 2019:

Bodyweight exercises are a great addition to any workout routine, and you can certainly do them in the way you describe. Just watch your recovery, and if you run into any issues, you may need to cut them back a bit.

Michael Bialuk on December 27, 2019:

Hi David,

I'd like to add some bodyweight exercises to my routine. Currently I am doing a full body workout 3 times a week. I really like pushups, dips and inverted rows. Can I incorporate them after my strength work? I like to do them in 50-100 rep range. I feel this also helps with my conditioning.

Thank you.

Michael Bialuk

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on August 26, 2019:

Well you haven't separated the workouts, but I can see there are four of them there. And, yes that is an excellent program. I'd probably only do one or two work sets of deadlifts, and I'd go a little higher in the reps on leg press. I'd also rest a little longer between sets. But apart from that it's great.

Liam on August 26, 2019:

After taking inspiration from your above article. I just wanted to see if you thought this was a good way of doing the split. Where 3x6-8/2 is 3 sets of 6-8 reps, progressing weight when I hit 3 sets of 8 reps. And the/2 means rest for 2 minutes.

Bench Press 3x6-8/2

Row 3x6-8/2

DB Shoulder Press 3x6-8/2

Tricep Pushdown 2x8-10/1

Hammer curl 2x8-10/1

Squat 3x6-8/2

RDL 3x6-8/2

Calf raise 3x8-10/1.5

Ab exercise 3x10-12/1.5

Incline DB Press 3x6-8/2

Pull-up 3x6-8/2

Machine shoulder press 3x8-10/2

Skull crushers 2x8-10/2

Ez curl 2x8-10/2

Deadlift 3x6-8/2

Leg press 3x6-8/2

Calf raise 3x8-10/1.5

Ab exercise 3x10-12/1.5

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on July 27, 2019:

No; there's no problem at all with doing that.

Tim on July 26, 2019:

Hi David. I really like the simplicity of the two workout routine. However, I like incline bench press. Any issues with alternating that in with bench press? For example, one upper body day do bench press, then on the next upper body day do incline, then back to doing bench on the next upper body day, etc. Thanks!

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on April 20, 2019:

Hi John; yes, that's a perfectly reasonable way of doing it. Or you could just add the ab work at the end of workouts 2 and 4, leaving the rest as it is. Whichever works best for you is fine.

John on April 20, 2019:

Hi David, I like including abs in my routine is this a good way to do that.

Day 1

Bench Press 3 X 5 – 7

Bent-Over Row 3 X 6 - 8

Lateral Raise 3 X 10 - 12

Lying Triceps Extension 3 X 8 – 10

Day 2

Squats 3 X 5 – 7

Leg Curl 3 X 8 – 10

Calf Raise 4 X 8 – 10

Hanging leg raise 3 X 8 – 10

Day 3

Overhead Press 3 X 5 – 7

Pull-Ups 3 X 8 – 10

Incline Dumbbell Press 3 X 8 – 10

Barbell curl 3 X 10 – 12

Day 4

Deadlift 1 X 5

Leg Press 3 X 10 – 12

Seated Calf Raise 4 X 10 – 12

Weighted crunch 3 X 10 – 12

Thanks for your help David!

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on April 11, 2019:

You can if you wish, but if you haven't been training very long I'd stick with conventional (or possibly sumo) deadlifts.

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on April 11, 2019:

Quite a number of people train first thing on a morning, either due to necessity or preference, and although it is not exactly ideal, it can work well. You just need to ensure you get some protein down you (possibly a whey protein shake) about half an hour beforehand, and then eat something more substantial (plenty of protein and some carbs) within an hour of finishing. You don't need a days worth of fuel, but you do need some amino acids, and ideally some glucose, in your system when you are training.

William on April 09, 2019:

Hi Dave can i do Romanian deadlifts instead of conventional on day 4 of upper lower?

Mark Winfield on April 09, 2019:

Hi, many thanks for this excellent routine. The simplicity really helps with keeping it up. Ive started doing it in the morning before work at 6am start, getting up 30 minutes before to get some light food down me. Is this a wise methodology to weight training? It helps keep me motivated but im concerned im training without a days worth of fuel, and an 'expert' at work suggested i could be catabolic and losing muscle?!

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on February 26, 2019:

You are welcome, KthM. Yes, training six days per week will quickly become too much for the vast majority of people, especially if you are pushing heavy weights. Glad you are making good gains now.

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on February 12, 2019:

Hi John.

Yes, I think that's an excellent routine and doesn't need any alterations. Though, if I were being really picky, I would swap the rows and the chin-ups around, and having done that I would also want to swap the EZ curls and the hammer curls around.

The only way you could shorten it would be to remove your curls and your hanging leg raises. You probably wouldn't want to do that, but there is really nothing esle you could do.

So you would have:

Monday: Dips, Chins, Military Press.

Wednesday: Squat, Deadlift, Calf Raise

Friday: Bench Press, BB Row, Face Pulls (or Lateral Raise).

Glad you have found my articles useful, and best of luck.

John on February 11, 2019:

Hello David,

I am an intermediate lifter strapped for time and have overdeveloped legs compared with my upper body, much like the person before. I also participate in a lot of sport. Therefore, I have created a 3 day split, with 2 upper and 1 lower. I have read all your articles on here and have come up with this.


Dips 3x5-8 2 min rest

BB Rows 3x5-8 2 min

Military Press 3x5-8 2 min

Ez Curls 3x8-12 1 min rest


Squat 3x5-8 2 min

Deadlift 1x5-8 2 min

Calf Raise 3x10-15 1 min

Hanging Leg raises 3x8-15 1 min


BB Bench Press 3x5-8 2 min

Chin ups 3x5-8 2 min

Face Pulls 3x12-15 2 min

Hammer curls 3x8-12 1 min

Progressing up in weight whenever I hit the upper end of the rep range for all sets. Please can you let me know if this is a good routine and if there any alterations you would make. Also if you have any advice on how to shorten the workouts even more, as I want maximum efficiency due to time commitments. Thanks for all your help, I think your articles are brilliant and have helped me a lot.

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on January 03, 2019:

I would do one, although I may alter it a little. Do it for 3 or 4 months and then change it to another.

Liam on January 03, 2019:

Hello David, thank you for your response. How would you program the lower body day? Week 1 lower body workout 1, Week 2 lower body workout 2 and just alternate these week by week? Or choose one lower body workout and perform that every week?

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on January 03, 2019:

Yes, absolutely. It's the way I am currently doing it.

Liam on January 03, 2019:

Hello David,

I have just come off a full body split, and my legs have got out of proportion with the rest of my body. Therefore, I want to bring up my upper body in comparison. I was thinking I could work out three times a week, and do the upper body workouts Monday and Friday, and do one of the lower body workouts on Wednesday. Giving a total of 2 upper body workouts per week and 1 lower body workout per week. I still want to progress my leg strength and size, just at a slower pace than my upper body. Is this a good strategy?

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on October 27, 2018:

The program I outlined in my Stronglifts review article is a beginners routine. The one here is more for intermediates. As you have been training for a year, but not very disciplined, and as the routine you have been doing is not ideal for beginners, I would probably follow the routine on the Stronglifts article for a few months and then transition to this one after that.

Kartikay on October 27, 2018:

Hi David,

Among the many articles I have read about strength training, this article seems to be the most balanced.

I am 38 year old male, 170 cm, 65 kilos. I have been working out for the past 1 year, but with not so much discipline. I have been loosely following a chest/tri; back/bi; shoulders/abs program. If I manage a workout more than 3 times a week, I just repeat.

Why no legs? I cycle to work (~ 120 - 150 kms per week) and naively used that as an excuse to not train my legs. I cycle at high-resistance chain setting, at an average of 25-30 km/h.

My goals are to not necessarily gain tons of strength, or to become huge. I am more interested in staying fit while building a good looking physique.

The 4 day plan you mentioned above looks easy to follow. Would you recommend to follow this, or the program you outlined in your very nice review of the Stronglifts 5x5 .

Many thanks,


David (author) from Birmingham, UK on October 10, 2018:

Just continue to progress in weights for as long as you can, including deloads when appropriate, and switching some of the exercises occasionally. You will likely need to add more volume (and volume cycling) when you are more advanced, but for most intermediate lifters this should be enough.

Emanuel on October 10, 2018:

Thanks for your reply .

I've just started this program .

It's seems to be little short , should i had more exercises or just continue to progress ( Sets , weight)?

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on October 09, 2018:

Yes; just replace the triceps pressdowns with dips.

Emanuel on October 09, 2018:

Hi david

I been working out for 3 years , fbw routine .

It's been hard to recover over time so i will try this program .

I wonder what about dips on upper day? How can i add dips to the first routine ?

Thanks alot

KthM on September 18, 2018:

After reading the simple logical information your site has provided, I felt compelled to share my experience. I worked a push/pull/legs routine containing many single muscle exercises, 2X per week (six day/wk workout schedule), for 5months, which totally toned me and stripped off 20lbs. Trying to gain additional mass I then pushed for heavier weights on each exercise, and soon my muscles began aching all the time, rotator cuffs sore, and eventually a tennis elbow problem shut me down. Apparently, after becoming more advanced, more of the same is not better. So I switched to a split routine comprised of two upper body days & two legs days (4day workout week) using mostly compound exercises, and the problems went away and the muscle mass gains started increasing. Thanks for your info.

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on August 30, 2018:

Glad you like the routine Kris. Yes, you can keep it as it was before. I changed it in order to balance out the amount of work for the chest and upper back, and to reduce the number of big pushing movements. But the original version does still have its advantages.

Also, if 90 seconds is not enough rest, just use two minutes instead. What's optimal for one person is not always optimal for someone else.

Kris on August 30, 2018:

This is my favorite routine I've found on the internet! I see that it has been updated from the previous version. For instance it used to have 2 sets of close grip bench presses, but now it has 3 sets of triceps extensions instead. Minor changes I know, but I'm obsessed with details. Is there any important reason why you changed it? Can I just keep it like it was before?

Also I find it very difficult to progress with only 90 seconds rest between isolation exercises. Wonder why would that be considered optimal? I always need long rest periods.

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on August 21, 2018:

Upper/lower splits are probably the best method for a combination of size and strength, and you can train upper body twice per week and lower twice per week, giving you 4 training days.

Push/pull/legs may be slightly better for hypertrophy. Possibly. But you can't train each body part twice per week unless you train 6 days per week, and that would be too much. You can do the rotating 5 day cycle though. Or you could do push/pull, rather than push/pull/legs. In this case you would train quads on your push day and hamstrings on your pull day. So again you can train each body part twice per week with 4 weekly sessions.

All of these are very good methods, and the best way may be to simply do a few months on one and then a few months on the other.

Sam on August 19, 2018:


I exercise 4 times a week and at the moment I do upper / lower body program. However, I’ve tried push/ pull/leg program one month ago, which I liked a lot. As you have both upper and lower body in the same program it makes it more diverse.

Is there any difference between the upper/lower ans push/pull leg? Better/Worse?

My goal is muscle hypertrophy and that each muscle group is trained at least twice a week. (And a minimum of 4 training days).

Thanks for your help!

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on August 18, 2018:

Most people would actually grow better if they reduced their volume, because you can only recover adequately from so much. However, I have erred on the side of caution with these workouts in order to make them suitable for hard gainers or the genetically average. If you are a relatively easy gainer you could probably benefit from a bit more volume for chest, back, quads and hamstrings. The other body parts should still have sufficient though.

Jprok50 on August 17, 2018:

Hi David, Been working out for a long time with 2 body parts a day over 4/5 days and I do a lot of exercises each day. I’m pretty close to my potential. I’ve been thinking of changing to upper/lower split to grow. This and other workouts I’ve read don’t seem like enough work. Am I just being stubborn and resistant to change? What am I missing? Thanks, Jeff

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on June 15, 2018:

You are welcome Conner; glad you liked it.

Conner on June 13, 2018:

This stuff is golden. Thank you!

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on January 02, 2017:

Thanks for your comment Martino, but biceps in particular do respond favorably to more frequent training and this program works well for them.

Martino on January 01, 2017:

I dont think its a good idea to put bicepts with lowerbody becaus the day before you already trained back. If you follow a 4 day split this means you train bicepts 4 times per week.

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on November 07, 2014:

You are classed as a beginner for at least your first 6 months of regular consistent training. Some would say a year. I would stick with a full body workout for at least a year and perhaps as much as two years. It really depends on how you feel you are responding to it, but if you are making good strength gains you are on the right track.

If you are not making the size gains you want however, there could be a variety of reasons for that. It could be you are not eating enough, or not getting enough rest and sleep. Or you might need a bit more training volume and higher rep training for a while. 5x5 training will build size when you first start, but later on you will need higher rep training (at least some of the time) to keep the gains coming. Hope that helps. Best of luck.

Matt on November 06, 2014:

My question is, when am I no longer considered a beginner?

Matt on November 06, 2014:

And when I say I'm not getting the size gains I really expect, I doubt it's my diet. I have a very disciplined diet with plenty of protein carbs and good fats.

Matt on November 06, 2014:

Hi! Thanks for the article. I have been doing full body workouts for 4-5 months. While my strength in the majority of exercises have been increasing, I'm not getting the size gains I really expect. This wasn't the case at the beginning, as I was getting bigger, but I feel I have stopped making size gains even though my strength is still for the most part increasing. Is this the time to transition to upper/lower split? If so, should I finish my current cycle first?