How to Create a Split Workout for Strength Training

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Strength training is an important part of a complete exercise program no matter what your fitness goals are. For many people, a comprehensive total body strength training workout two to three times per week is enough to provide benefits like improved heart health and stronger bones.

But if you have specific strength training goals, like gaining muscle (hypertrophy) or increasing strength, a more specialized program may be warranted. Split training is one way to achieve these goals. In split training, you divide your weekly workouts to focus on different areas of the body on different days.

Split Workouts

Setting up a weekly routine to split your training may seem overwhelming at first, but it's easier than you think. The types of split workouts you can try include:

  • Full body split: Work all muscle groups each training session
  • Push-pull split: Work push and pull muscles on separate days
  • Three-day split: Work push and pull muscle groups on two days, legs on a third
  • Body part split: Work one muscle group on each training day

Split vs. Whole Body Workouts

Many people start with a total body program when they begin lifting weights. A total body strength-training session works all of the major muscles of the body during one workout.

For example, a total body workout might have two exercises each to target the quads, hamstrings, glutes, chest, back, shoulders, arms, and core. Total workout time might range from 45 minutes to an hour or more.

Split training works differently. For this type of training, each workout session has a different focus or goal. For instance, one day might be leg day, during which you do exercises that only target the muscles in your legs. You may still spend 45 minutes to an hour at the gym, but you'll only do exercises that work the hamstrings, quads, glutes, and lower legs.

Split training works best for people who plan to spend more time in the weight room. Since each workout only targets one or two areas of the body, you need to spend more total time in the gym to work all of your major muscle groups.

Benefits of Split Training

Total body workouts help you get used to lifting weights. They also prepare your body for more strenuous work. However, if you've been doing full body workouts for a while, you may have noticed that you've hit a plateau in the results you're seeing. This is normal when you keep doing the same workouts for too long.

When you're working all of your muscle groups at once, you don't have the time or energy to focus on each muscle group as closely as you would if you split your workouts. Split routines allow you to do more exercises and more sets using heavier weights, which may yield more results.

Higher Training Volume

Recent studies have suggested that total training volume (rather than frequency or training style) matters most when you're trying to build muscle. Training volume refers to the total number of reps, sets, and weight that you lift.

If you are doing two or three total body sessions per week, your total volume is likely to be less than someone who does split training daily. And in fact, some studies have shown that split training may be more beneficial for stimulating muscle growth.

Better Recovery

One reason that split training allows for greater training volume is that the narrow focus allows for more efficient recovery. Since you're only working one area of the body, you can work out every day—while your legs are recovering, you can do an upper-body workout, for example. Total body training requires a rest day in between sessions.

How to Split Your Workouts

There is no right or wrong way to split a weekly workout routine. Listen to your body and do what feels right for you. Devise your own variations on these common routines.

Upper and Lower Body

Divide your weekly workout into upper body days and lower body days, which will allow you to alternate the workouts and lift two, three, or four times each week.

Push-Pull Exercises

Split your weekly workout by making certain days push exercise days and others pull exercise days. Pushing exercises usually involve the quads, calves, chest, shoulders, and triceps (for example, squats, calf raises, bench presses, overhead presses, and dips).

Pulling exercises often involve the back, hamstrings, some types of shoulder exercises, biceps, and abs. These could include lat pulldowns, hamstring curls, upright rows, bicep curls, and crunches.

Three-Day Split

In a three-day split, you divide upper body work into a push/pull routine over two days and work your lower body on a separate day. A typical three-day split would include chest and triceps work (push exercises) on Day 1, back and biceps (pull exercises) on Day 2, and legson Day 3.

One Group Per Day

Lift weights for one muscle group per day by working chest, back, shoulders, arms, and legs each on a different day.

As you reduce the number of body parts you're working, increase the number of exercises (pick about three exercises per muscle group) and the number of sets (around three to four sets of each exercise type).

Sample Muscle Group Workout Schedule

To focus on one muscle group per day, consider this weekly schedule. For each muscle group, pick three exercises from the lists.

Monday: Chest Day

Tuesday: Back Day

Wednesday: Shoulder Day

Thursday: Arm Day

Friday: Leg Day

Integrate Cardio Exercise

Your workout routine should also include cardio exercise, which burns more calories than weight training and will get your heart rate up. It's best to try to keep your strength and cardio workouts separate, either on different days or at different times of the day. But if you're pressed for time, doing cardio and strength in the same workout is acceptable.

A Word From Verywell

Experiment with different schedules and exercise combinations to find what works for you, and don't be afraid to change things up. Your body and mind will welcome the challenge of taking on a new exercise routine.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best workout split?

    There is no right or wrong way to do split workouts. You should pick a split workout that works with your schedule, your lifestyle, and your goals. And remember, split training isn't the best method for everyone. Choose a workout schedule that you can stick to for the long term.

  • How often should I change my workout split?

    Regardless of the type of weight training workout you choose, you should re-evaluate and change your workout every four to eight weeks. When you notice your body hitting a plateau, that's often a sign that it is time for a change. The exercises you do, the intensity and frequency with which you do them, and how long you spend working out are all variables that you can adjust.

  • What is the best workout split for fat loss?

    Combining cardio and strength workouts often works best for fat loss. Also, more frequent workouts help you to burn more calories. So you may want to choose a split program that allows you to participate in some cardio when you're working out. For instance, if you participate in daily cardio workouts, you could do add strength training for one muscle group per day for a total workout time that is not too overwhelming.

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Suchomel TJ, Nimphius S, Bellon CR, Stone MH. The importance of muscular strength: Training considerations. Sports Med. 2018;48(4):765-785. doi:10.1007/s40279-018-0862-z

  2. Westcott WL. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2012;11(4):209-16. doi:10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8

  3. Moraes E, Fleck SJ, Ricardo Dias M, Simão R. Effects on strength, power, and flexibility in adolescents of nonperiodized vs. daily nonlinear periodized weight training. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27(12):3310-3321. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31828de8c3

  4. Krzysztofik M, Wilk M, Wojdała G, Gołaś A. Maximizing muscle hypertrophy: A systematic review of advanced resistance training techniques and methods. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(24):4897. doi:10.3390/ijerph16244897

  5. Kerksick CM, Wilborn CD, Campbell BI, et al. Early-phase adaptations to a split-body, linear periodization resistance training program in college-aged and middle-aged men. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(3):962-997. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181a00baf

  6. Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Krieger J. How many times per week should a muscle be trained to maximize muscle hypertrophy? A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies examining the effects of resistance training frequency. J Sports Sci. 2019;37(11):1286-1295. doi:10.1080/02640414.2018.1555906

  7. Bartolomei S, Nigro F, Malagoli Lanzoni I, Masina F, Di Michele R, Hoffman JR. A comparison between total body and split routine resistance training programs in trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2021;35(6):1520-1526. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000003573

  8. Bartolomei S, Hoffman JR, Stout JR, Merni F. Effect of lower-body resistance training on upper-body strength adaptation in trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2018;32(1):13-18. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001639

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."