The Most Effective Workout Splits, Created by Our Experts

Should you focus on strength or building muscle? It’s a predicament lifters — especially gym veterans who are lightyears past the newbie gains phase — find ourselves in at the start of a fresh programming phase. And for a good reason: It is easier to get results by solely focusing on increasing strength and forging chiseled muscle, but you absolutely can achieve both goals. It just takes smart programming.

And sure, we all want to train in ways we’re emotionally connected to. You might be incredibly motivated by the idea of pulling four plates, while I might be dedicated to building out those boulder shoulders at any given time. But what if you could have both? Bigger muscles can help you get stronger; and strength can help you build bigger muscles.

So, here’s the ultimate workout split for getting jacked and getting strong. Use these training split options and tips from trainers and pro lifters alike to help you increase your one-rep max and T-shirt size.

Recent Updates: On Mar. 14, 2024, BarBend’s Senior Editor Alex Polish updated this article to make the explanations for how to build your routine more user-friendly; added a summary of different kinds of workout splits to help you choose what’s best for you; and incorporated different options and modifications for our workouts. 

On Apr. 19, 2024, BarBend Senior Writer Jake Dickson further amended this article for better organizational flow and to verify the quality of the prescriptions. You can read more about that process here

Why Follow a Split Routine?

Back in the early days of bodybuilding, it was common for bodybuilders to engage in full-body workouts to prepare for a show. The 1940s bodybuilder Steve Reeves was famous for following a full-body split. Hitting every body part, every day might work for you — and that’s cool. But as bodybuilding started to grow, we realized the effectiveness of split routines.

A split routine has you train your entire body, but across a full week rather than just one day. You’ll “split” your routine by focusing on different body parts, muscle groups, or lifts in different workouts instead of the all-at-once approach. But rest assured — focusing on specific muscle groups each day has plenty of advantages. 

[Read More: Full-Body Vs. Split Workouts: Which Is Right For You?]

Focusing on a specific muscle or two per training session means you can work every area with more overall volume instead of splitting your energy across a full-body workout. And more overall volume for a specific muscle often means more overall growth.

Following a split routine also allows individual muscles more time to recover before training sessions. Whereas if you were to do a full-body workout, only the muscle group you were working at the beginning would be fresh for each lift. This means you’ll be able to lift heavier weights and perform more intense sets per muscle group, which can make your muscles grow and become much stronger than training them after they’re taxed. 

Best Workout Splits

Most workout splits are separated into three to five days, although very advanced athletes may participate in a six-day workout split. However, that’s not recommended for the general population since rest days are important for recovery. 

Here’s how the best workout splits break down:

3-Day Workout Split

This is a classic split for a reason. It’s efficient, powerful, and will help ensure maximum gains with sessions just a few days out of the week.

[Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Building Your Own Bodybuilding Workout Plan]

Day 1: Push (chest, shoulders, triceps)

Day 2: Rest OR active recovery

Day 3: Pull (back and biceps)

Day 4: Rest

Day 5: Legs and abs

Day 6: Active recovery

Pros & Cons

Pro: Three-day splits are an efficient way to stick to strength training without taking up too much time in your schedule. 

Con: Lower workout frequency may slow down your rate of progress, especially if you’re no longer a beginner. 

4-Day Workout Split

If you’re trying to majorly improve your upper body, you might want to scale up the volume there. In that way, you can split your push “day” into two. Here’s how it would scaffold out:

Day 1: Legs and abs

Day 2: Push (chest and triceps)

Day 3: Rest

Day 4: Pull (back and biceps)

Day 5: Push (shoulders and traps)

Day 6: Rest

Pros & Cons

Pro: Four-day workout splits are a great way for beginners to transition into more intensive training plans. 

Con: You may find it difficult to address weak points in your physique or performance with only four days in the gym. 

5-Day Workout Split

If you want to split your training by muscle group rather than movement pattern, you can go for that, too. Often called a “bro split workout,” rest assured — this one works for athletes of all genders. 

Here’s an example of how to split a workout into five days.

Day 1: Legs and abs

Day 2: Chest

Day 3: Rest

Day 4: Back

Day 5: Shoulders

Day 6: Arms

Pros & Cons

Pro: Five-day splits allow you ample time to train each muscle or muscle group individually.

Con: Some people find five days of strength training to be difficult to recover from long-term. 

Muscle-Group Splits

A “muscle group” split involves training one or more muscles that perform similar or related functions in the same day. Popular examples include your chest and shoulders, since both muscle groups involve “push” exercises. 

[Read More: The Arnold Schwarzenegger Workout Split (and How to Modify It)]

Pros & Cons

Pro: Muscle-group splits allow you to train synergistically and use your body for a singular purpose. They’re also stellar for targeted muscle hypertrophy. 

Con: If your fitness goals are more broad than simply creating muscle mass, this type of split probably isn’t for you. 

Chest, Shoulders, Triceps Workout

[Read More: Push/Pull Workouts Can Take Your Training Up a Notch]

Barbell Incline Bench Press: 3 x 5 

Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 x 10 

Dumbbell Overhead Press: 3 x 8 

Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 2 x 12 

EZ-Bar Skull Crusher: 2 x 12

Back and Biceps Workout

Barbell Bent-Over Row: 3 x 5

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row: 3 x 10

Pull-Up: 3 x max reps

Barbell Curl: 2 x 12

Legs and Abs Workout

Barbell Squat: 3 x 5 

Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat: 3 x 8 

Machine Leg Extension: 2 x 12

Machine Leg Curl: 2 x 12

Hanging Leg Raise: 3 x max reps

Powerbuilding Split

While all the splits above represent some of the best workout splits to get you both strong and muscular, this powerbuilding split is going to push those gains over the edge. You’ll put the best upper body exercises and lower body exercises on separate days to make the most of each session.

Pros & Cons

Pro: Powerbuilding splits let you develop both muscular strength and size while running the same program.

Con: Dividing your efforts in service of two different goals simultaneously will dampen the progress you make in each. 

Day 1: (Upper, Push Emphasis)

[Read More: The 8 Best Online Personal Trainers]

Bench Press: 3 x 5

Dumbbell Flye: 3 x 10

Dumbbell Overhead Press: 3 x 8

Cable Flye: 3 x 10

Overhead Triceps Extension: 3 x 12

Dip: 2 x failure

Day 2: (Lower, Push Emphasis)

Squat: 3 x 5

Leg Press: 2 x 8

Split Squat: 2 x 10

Calf Raise: 4 x 12

Hanging Leg Raise: 4 x failure

Day 3: Rest

Complete rest OR low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio (easy bike ride, swimming, or walking)

Day 4: (Upper, Pull Emphasis)

Chin-Up: 4 x 2 reps before failure

Lateral Raise: 3 x 10

T-Bar Row: 3 x 10

Dumbbell Pullover: 3 x 10

Hammer Curl: 2 x failure

Machine Curl: 1 x failure

Day 5: (Lower, Pull Emphasis)

[Read More: The Ultimate 10-Week Powerbuilding Workout Routine for Mass and Strength]

Deadlift: 3 x 5

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 10

Seal Row: 3 x 10

Hamstring Curl: 3 x 12

Side Plank: 2 x 45 seconds per side


Make it Easier: Opt for lat pulldowns or assisted chin-ups instead of chin-ups. Swap out dumbbells for barbells in exercises that call for them. You can also perform many of these exercises from a seated position (like dumbbell overhead presses, hammer curls, overhead triceps extensions, and dumbbell lateral raises).

Make it Harder: Use tempo training in your accessory lifts, letting the weight lower under control for a full three to five seconds per rep.

Full-Body Split 

The idea of a “full-body split” may sound like an oxymoron, and it sort of is. However, that doesn’t mean that these workout structures have no value. Total-body workouts are simple, straightforward, and sustainable. 

Pros & Cons

Pro: Full-body splits burn heaps of calories and utilize mostly compound exercises, which are great for developing functional strength and bodily coordination.

Con: These workouts can be exhausting and may contain complex movements. 

3-Day Full-Body Workout Split

Day 1

Thruster: 3 x 5

Pendlay Row: 3 x 6

Overhead Carry: 3 rounds

Day 2

Bench Press: 3 x 8

Wide-Grip Pull-Up: 3 x 8-12 

Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 10

Cable Crunch: 2 x 15

Day 3 

Back Squat: 3 x 5 

Push Press: 5 x 3

Inverted Row: 3 x 15 

Biceps Curl: 3 x 8


Make It Easier: Switch out the more dynamic movements for beginner-friendly alternatives, such as performing goblet squats instead of thrusters. 

Make It Harder: Add some conditioning workouts at the end of each day to burn additional calories and improve your endurance. 

What Makes a Good Split Routine 

If you want to get bigger and stronger, you’re going to have to consider overall volume. If the training volume is too low, you’re leaving muscle and strength gains on the table. If the volume is too high, you risk overtraining and lackluster recovery. 

[Read More: The Most Effective Workout Splits For Strength Training]

You’ll also need to be strategic about what muscles you work on which days during the week. You’ll want to split up your workout routine over the week so you can target all your muscle groups evenly and at least once but sometimes more, depending on the split. 

Here are some other items to consider when following a split routine. 


Here’s how you might want to divide your weekly volume to ensure max muscle growth and strength gains.

For larger muscle groups (back, chest, legs) — 3-4 sets per exercise; 10-12 sets each week for each muscle group

For smaller muscle groups (biceps, triceps, traps, shoulders) — 2-3 sets per exercise; 6-8 weekly sets for each muscle group


A common setup for rep schemes goes like this:

For compound exercises (ex., bench press) — 5-8 reps per set

For accessory exercises (ex., seated cable row) — 8-10 reps per set

For single-joint exercises (ex., hammer curl) — 10-12 reps per set

With compound exercises, you’re working to increase your strength. Accessory exercises are meant to bolster your hypertrophy goals by adding volume to your muscle group. Finally, single-joint moves are going to increase the overall time under tension for your smaller muscle groups, which is also a prime strategy for muscle growth. 


Even when you’re on the strongest pre-workout, you’ve still got to rest. There are two things to keep in mind here: your rest between each set and your rest between splits. 

Rest Between Each Set

For strength and hypertrophy — medium-length rests, between 90 seconds and 3 minutes

For higher weight, lower rep compound exercises — take a longer rest

For lower weight, higher rep isolation exercises — take a shorter rest

This is because when you’re using heavier weights and engaging large muscle groups, you’ll need more rest before your muscles are fully recovered between sets than when you’re working small muscle groups with lighter weights. 

Rest Between Splits

Four-day workout split: one day of rest after two consecutive workouts

Five-day workout split: one day of rest after two consecutive workouts; then, one day of active recovery after two consecutive workouts

Here, you’re aiming to make sure that you’re resting enough to fully recharge your body and mind. This includes plenty of sleep and food to fuel your workouts.

Exercise Selection 

You must choose the correct exercises for your split routine. You don’t want to just stick to barbells, either. 

[Read More: Most Effective Bodyweight-Only Strength Training Splits]

In general, you’ll want to perform a mix of exercises with the following equipment:

Free weights (barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells)

Cable machines

Other exercise machines

Resistance bands

Bodyweight exercises

The key here is which exercise you choose to do on which day and the order in which you do them.

For example, if you are following a split routine that has you start your week off with push movements — chest, shoulders, and triceps — you’ll want to include exercises that target those muscle groups, including dips and barbell overhead press, not a barbell bent-over row. 

Also, you’ll want to start with your workout with the most taxing exercises. Dong biceps curls before a barbell row mean your arms will be fatigued come rowing time, affecting the amount of weight you can lift and your form. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a workout split?

It’s simple — a workout split is how you divide your training plan across a week. You might do a full-body split, where you work your whole body with each session. Or instead, you might split up your training plan according to body parts or muscle groups. Powerlifters will likely split their training according to the big three lifts, and others will prefer a push-pull-legs workout split.

The main goal of a workout split is to make sure you’re training every area of your body — and every lift — that you want to include in your program. It’ll help you be balanced in your training approach so that you develop your whole body while chasing your specific goals.

How do you split workout days?

Depending on your goals, time availability, and preferences, you can use any of the following splits: full body; push-pull-legs; muscle group; upper-lower split workout; lift-based (for example, a squat day, a deadlift day, and a bench press day).

What’s the best workout split?

This depends on your fitness goals, preferences, and timing needs. You might need to divide your workout split across three days, four days, or even five or six days. Based on those needs, you might want to program a push-pull-legs (which lends itself well to a three- or six-day split).

Muscle group splits are good options for five-day splits. Whichever you can do consistently — managing your volume and intensity properly — is likely the best split for you.

Is it better to do full-body workouts or splits?

That depends on what your goals and time availability are. If you can only work out a couple times a week, a full-body workout will give you the most bang for your buck. But if you’re aiming to build maximum strength and muscle mass, a split approach will likely allow you to balance a higher training volume with a higher training frequency — while allowing plenty of time for recovery in between.

What is the “bro” workout split?

The “bro” workout split refers to dividing your workouts by muscle group, aiming for a high level of muscle hypertrophy. You can also get quite strong with this approach, as long as your set and rep scheme and your load is scaffolded appropriately and you’re getting adequate recovery.

Featured Image: Pressmaster / Shutterstock

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