Reach your muscle building goals with this balanced 4 day training split that mixes heavy compound exercises, machines, cables and incorporates 3 second negatives.
Workout Summary

Workout Description

Upper/lower workouts are thought to be the most optimal training style for those looking to build lean muscle naturally.

It takes full advantage of the three factors needed within workout routines to increase hypertrophy:

  1. Mechanical tension
  2. Muscle damage
  3. Metabolic stress

By splitting your workouts between your upper body musculature and lower body musculature, you are able to optimize training frequency and volume distribution in a way that will also allow for maximum intensity in any given session.

In other words, the split allows you to stimulate each muscle group more frequently while also allowing you to distribute the volume to provide an ample amount of time to recover.

And if you are recovering better and training more frequently, you’ll grow.

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What is an Upper/Lower Split?

An upper/lower workout split is a training style that breaks your workout sessions down into two categories: Upper body workout days and lower body workout days.

On upper body workout days, you will train the muscles of the upper body. This will include the chest, shoulders, back, biceps, triceps, traps, forearms, and possibly core.

On lower body workout days, you’ll focus on the muscles of the lower body. This will include the lower back, quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and possibly core.

In a traditional upper/lower split, there’s no crossover between days. However, some may utilize upper focused days paired with a single muscle group of the lower body that might be lagging and vice versa. With any split, it’s important to individualize to optimize for your specific goals and training needs.

Can Beginners Do Upper/Lower Splits?

Beginners are absolutely capable of performing upper lower workout splits.

Most training styles are universal among training experience. The only things that may differ is the weight used, possibly some volume, and the inclusion of more advanced training techniques if necessary.

If you are a beginner, however, upper/lower workouts can definitely be a good style of training to start out with. You may also want to consider experimenting with full body workouts and determine which you enjoy more and works best for your individual goals, capabilities, and lifestyle.

The workout listed below can be a good workout for beginner lifters. Some may want to consider evaluating the total volume and eliminating sets if needed to optimize recovery. They may also want to remove the emphasized negatives if needed.

Another strategy for making upper/lower workouts beginner-friendly is changing the training frequency from 4 days of training per week to 3 days of training.

An example week following this strategy may look like:

  • Monday: Upper Workout
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Lower Workout
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Upper Workout
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

To continue on like this, you would simply continue to cycle through the workouts listed below on your training days.

Upper/Lower Bodybuilding Workout Overview

This is a muscle building workout that I have been using lately now that I am training more often at commercial gyms. It works well both with, and without a training partner. If training with a partner, I recommend keeping rest periods brief. After your partner's set is finished, you should waste little time before hitting your next set.

Upper/Lower Workout Schedule

Each training day is balanced. You start by challenging major muscle groups with 3 sets of compound or taxing machine exercises. Next, you follow up by finishing a muscle group with a more isolation-style movement that typically focuses on the use of 3 second negatives. Lastly, you work smaller muscle groups with 3 sets each, using 3 second negatives when it makes sense.

Here is the training schedule:

  • Monday - Upper Body
  • Tuesday - Lower Body
  • Wednesday - Rest
  • Thursday - Upper Body
  • Friday - Lower Body
  • Saturday - Rest
  • Sunday - Rest

Upper Lower Workout

Upper Body Training Days

Upper body training days follow this scheme:

  • Chest - 3 sets, compound
  • Back - 3 sets, compound
  • Shoulders - 3 sets, compound
  • Chest - 2 sets, isolation or machine/moderate compound. Use 3 second negatives when it makes sense.
  • Back - 2 sets, isolation or machine/moderate compound. Use 3 second negatives when it makes sense.
  • Shoulders - 2 sets, isolation or machine/moderate compound. Use 3 second negatives when it makes sense.
  • Triceps - 3 sets, isolation or machine/cable exercises. Use 3 second negatives when it makes sense.
  • Biceps - 3 sets, isolation or machine/cable exercises. Use 3 second negatives when it makes sense.

Lower Body Training Days

Lower body training days follow this scheme:

  • Quads - 3 sets, compound
  • Hamstrings - 3 sets, compound
  • Calves - 3 sets, taxing machine or isolation
  • Quads - 2 sets, isolation or machine/moderate compound. Use 3 second negatives when it makes sense.
  • Hamstrings - 2 sets, isolation or machine/moderate compound. Use 3 second negatives when it makes sense.
  • Calves - 2 sets, isolation or machine/moderate compound. Use 3 second negatives when it makes sense.
  • Abs - 3 sets, isolation or machine/cable exercises.
  • Abs, Lower Back or Obliques - 3 sets, isolation or machine/cable exercises.

Monday: Upper Body Workout

Exercise Sets Reps
Bench Press 3 6-12
Barbell Row 3 6-12
Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press 3 8-12
Pec Dec - 3 sec negative 2 10-12
V-Bar Lat Pull Down - 3 sec negative 2 10-12
Side Lateral Raise 2 10-15
Cable Tricep Extensions - 3 sec negative 3 8-12
Cable Curls - 3 sec negative 3 8-12

Tuesday: Lower Body Workout

Exercise Sets Reps
Squats 3 6-12
Stiff Leg Deadlifts 3 8-12
Standing Calf Raise 3 10-15
Leg Extensions - 3 sec negative 2 10-12
Leg Curl - 3 sec negative 2 10-12
Seated Calf Raise - 3 sec negative 2 10-12
Cable Crunch - 3 sec negative 3 10-12
Cable Pull Through w/Rope 3 10-12

Thursday: Upper Body Workout

Exercise Sets Reps
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 3 8-12
Rack Deadlifts - 3" to 5" off ground 3 5-8
Military Press 3 8-12
Machine Chest Press - 3 sec negative 2 8-12
Pull Ups or Machine Rows - 3 sec negative 2 8-12
Machine Shoulder Press - 3 sec negative 2 8-12
Dumbbell Curls - 3 sec negative 3 8-12
Machine Tricep Dip - 3 sec negative 3 8-12

Friday: Lower Body Workout

Exercise Sets Reps
Leg Press 3 10-20
Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlifts 3 8-12
Leg Press Calf Raise 3 10-15
Hack Squat 2 8-12
Seated Leg Curl - 3 sec negative 2 10-12
Seated Calf Raise - 3 sec negative 2 10-12
Planks 3 60 sec
Hyperextension 3 10-12

Upper/Lower Workout FAQs

Below is a compiled list of some of the most frequently asked questions about this particular upper/lower workout.

The questions were questions we noticed we received often in the comments section.

Read through them to see if your question is answered. If it is not, please be sure to leave us a comment and we will try to answer your question to the best of our ability.

1. What is a 3 Second Negative?

The negative portion of the lift is the lowering or eccentric portion. For instance, on a bench press, the negative would be lowering the bar to your chest.

A 3 second negative is making this portion of the lift take 3 seconds to perform.

2. What Makes This Routine a Beginner Workout?

The total amount of volume in this workout routine is appropriate for a beginner level trainee.

If you wanted to make it more advanced, you could simply continue to increase the weights used over time or by upping the volume by adding additional sets.

All workout routines can be used by all levels of experience. It’s more or less a matter of knowing how to make your training most effective based on your goals, capabilities, and lifestyle.

3. How Long Should I Rest In Between Sets?

Timed rest periods usually don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, at least in my experience.

Typically, they are used to help keep the workouts more focused.

They will also depend on the total effort exuded on any given set. As you get stronger, you may need more time to rest in between sets.

A good rule of thumb is 60-90 seconds depending on the exercise. For more compound movements in a hypertrophy focused workout routine, you’ll want to take a full 90 seconds or so to recovery before performing the next set.

For isolation lifts or accessory movements, you may want to keep rest periods shorter as you will likely need less time to recover.

So, to sum it up, rest as needed.

4. Why So Many Deadlift Variations?

The deadlift is a mass builder. And each variation will place emphasis on different body parts it is training.

Stiff leg deadlifts will allow you to maximize the total poundage you use for the exercise since it’s a barbell compound. If done properly, the majority of the tension should be placed on the hamstrings and glutes.

For rack pull deadlifts, the barbell is elevated and the focus is on the upper back and traps.

Dumbbell stiff leg deadlifts will again train the hamstrings and glutes. Your grip will provide a limiting factor on this variation as it is more difficult to grip dumbbells compared to barbells.

Lastly, the hyperextensions, if performed properly, will place the majority of its tension on the glutes.

At the end of the day, if you do not feel comfortable performing this many hip hinge variations, you’re more than welcome to alter the template in a way that better fits your needs.

5. Can I Use The Workout If I Follow A Keto Diet?

Yes, you can use this program with any sort of diet.

That being said, keto diets aren’t necessarily an ideal approach for maximizing muscle growth and fueling performance during your workouts.

Everyone is different though. Continue to diet and exercise in whatever ways work best for you.

6. Can I Add Cardio?

Yes, you can add cardio to this program. The type and duration of the style of cardio will highly depend on your goals and time restraints.

If you are someone low on time, you can add HIIT cardio sessions to the end of your workouts on your training days.

Depending on your goals, you can also add in steady state cardio on your rest days as a form of active recovery.

7. Should I Increase The Weight Each Set?

You can increase the weight after each set if you enjoy performing your workouts in a pyramiding set fashion. Or you can keep them as straight sets. Whichever you prefer will do the trick.

The one caveat is, to build muscle you have to accomplish progressive overload. This can be accomplished in a number of different ways. However, the easiest to track is by increasing the weight used session to session over time.

Everyone progresses differently. So long as you are improving upon the weight you are using whenever you are capable of doing so, you will see results.

8. Can I Add Core Exercises?

You may add additional core exercises to this program if you like. However, depending on your goals, it may not be necessary.

If your goal is to develop your midsection, you’ll be better off focusing on creating a calorie deficit and improving your strength levels throughout the duration of the program.

If your goal is increasing your core strength, you can include some additional stability exercises as you see fit based on your working capacity, experience level, and ultimate goal.

9. Can Women Perform This Workout?

Absolutely!

Women can utilize this workout for whatever goals they may have. They may want to consider altering the exercise selection depending on their individual goals (a lot of women want to focus on glute growth) – however, it’s already pretty glute and hamstring emphasized via the deadlift variations and may not warrant additional alterations.

10. How Should I Warm Up?

Everyone’s warm ups will look different based on their individual mobility levels.

For an article on how to build out an appropriate warm up routine, check out this article.

Post your post-workout swolfies in M&S gear on IG and tag @muscleandstrength, #muscleandstrength, or DM them to us to get a shoutout on Muscle & Strength stories!

542 Comments
Gabriel Koskinas
Posted on: Thu, 05/30/2024 - 10:55

Where is the exercise that targets the lower chest ?

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Roger
Posted on: Thu, 05/30/2024 - 19:27

A machine chest press can target the lower pec area, but you can also add in dips if you prefer. Just follow similar sets and reps.

Dina
Posted on: Wed, 05/29/2024 - 17:19

Been doing crossfit five days a week for a while now but with no real result. Just wondering if I will have more success with a weightlifting program and adding HIIT in when needed.

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Roger
Posted on: Wed, 05/29/2024 - 18:54

Hi Dina, I am not sure what your goals are. A program like this with HIIT occasionally can certainly improve fitness, but what are you specifically looking to do? That can help me answer this with more substance.

Chris
Posted on: Thu, 03/14/2024 - 17:26

Is there a problem if I do the workouts 2days and then only 1 day off? It means that on Sunday I will start again with upper body so I will have 2 days rest per week and not 3. Can I do this? Can I add some HIIT workouts after workouts? How many times per week? Can I do some 5to10min fat burn workouts after workouts?

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Roger
Posted on: Sun, 03/24/2024 - 16:06

Hello, Chris. Thank you for reading M&S!

If you've been training for a while, then you could do the 2 on, 1 off split. You could also add short HIIT workouts afterwards. Do one each session if you like, as long as they are short and sweet.

Need some ideas on what to do?

Brad
Posted on: Sun, 06/09/2024 - 17:49

Sure you can as long as your muscles have recovered from the previous workout.

Cardio can certainly be done after workouts but be aware that cardio after lifting can reduce your hypertrophy vs lifting alone.

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Roger
Posted on: Wed, 07/24/2024 - 14:35

Definitely upper body days.

Andre
Posted on: Wed, 07/17/2024 - 11:26

So for HIIT (running or cycling workouts) would you recommend them on upper body days if building legs or lower body days if toning legs?

Charlie
Posted on: Sun, 02/18/2024 - 06:35

What arm some forearm workouts I could add in the workout + Abs

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Roger
Posted on: Thu, 02/22/2024 - 10:19
Katie
Posted on: Mon, 01/15/2024 - 12:25

I’m a fairly advanced lifter (10+ years) however, I am due for a hip replacement but because I’m too young they won’t do it for me yet. Due to this, I’m extremely limited in my mobility/ROM/flexibility. As always I work on all I can for healthy hips, knees, quads, hams, ankles etc but until surgery. My hip is what it is and cannot be fixed. Because of this I cannot perform squats with good form no matter what I do. I can fully do the movement but not with good form or depth. I want to follow this workout plan but what would you suggest for substitute options for the squats, leg press, etc.

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Roger
Posted on: Mon, 01/22/2024 - 17:29

Hi Katie, thanks for reading M&S. Are you capable of going at least halfway down? If so, box squats may be an alternative to consider. The box would be underneath you and you can set it at the desired height so you can still train and do the best you can with what you got. I would throw out leg press completely.

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Roger
Posted on: Sun, 01/28/2024 - 21:28

Exactly. Do the best you can with what you got. If at some point you try something that you find works better, don't be afraid to make the switch. Good luck!

Katie
Posted on: Mon, 01/22/2024 - 18:24

Thank you for the reply! I’m unable to go to parallel. I can only go a few inches before I start to have a rounded upper back, and butt wink. I’ve tried holding a weight out in front of me which helps a tiny bit but not much. I also find my dorm is better if I elevate my heels but that still doesn’t do very much for my dorm. It’s very frustrating. The box squats are definitely the best for me though. I suppose I should just go to whatever depth I can even if it is just a few inches for now?

Gavin
Posted on: Mon, 01/01/2024 - 13:44

Does the order of the exercises matter, or can I change those? Is it better to work the same muscle group back to back (ie: in the first upper body workout, do all shoulder exercises first, then back, etc)?

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Roger
Posted on: Tue, 01/02/2024 - 20:15

The first exercise should always be first, but outside of that, you can make a few switches if you like to keep the workouts interesting and challenging.

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Roger
Posted on: Wed, 04/03/2024 - 06:57

If shoulders are the priority, then do shoulders before chest. Just keep in mind that your chest training numbers will likely decrease because the shoulders are pre-exhausted. Hope this helps!

Yasin
Posted on: Mon, 04/01/2024 - 10:36

After the chest, I don't have enough strength for the shoulder and I think my shoulder is lagging behind, what should I do?

Vishu
Posted on: Tue, 11/21/2023 - 05:37

Can this Programme be edited to include a scenario where we donot have Machines and Just weights ? Can you provide a version please ?

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Roger
Posted on: Tue, 11/28/2023 - 19:26

I will pass that suggestion on to my editor. In the meantime, go to our Exercises section and you can find alternatives to swap in based on the equipment you do have. Just follow similar sets and reps.

Charlie
Posted on: Mon, 11/20/2023 - 05:21

Can i add high to low chest cable fly instead of some chest exercise? My lower chest is pretty weak

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Roger
Posted on: Tue, 11/28/2023 - 19:25

Sure, Charlie. Go for it!

Tom
Posted on: Fri, 11/03/2023 - 12:50

Why is there rack deadlifts in Thursday upper body? That exercise is supposed to be the compound exercise for the back, but it trains hamstrings.

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Roger
Posted on: Wed, 11/15/2023 - 18:25

The rack deadlift also targets the back, especially the lower back and traps. Can't speak for Steve, but that is my guess why they are where they are.

Nick
Posted on: Tue, 01/16/2024 - 02:20

Rack pulls target more of the back and less hamstrings than a conventional deadlift from the floor.

Khaled
Posted on: Fri, 11/03/2023 - 10:43

Am I supposed to stick to the reps mentioned or should I train to muscle failure?
Which is more convenient

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Roger
Posted on: Wed, 11/15/2023 - 18:22

The reps are the priority. If the weight you're using is no longer providing a challenge in that rep range, add more weight.

Khaled
Posted on: Fri, 11/03/2023 - 10:40

Is it ok to keep applying this program cause it suits my life and time, or am I supposed to change it every now and then?, and if so what's the next step?.

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Roger
Posted on: Wed, 11/15/2023 - 18:22

As long as you're seeing results, keep going with it. Once progress stalls, it will be time to make a change.

Abhinav Saraf
Posted on: Fri, 09/22/2023 - 22:32

What is *3" to 5" off ground* in rack deadlifts? Is it 3-5 secs off ground? And my gym doesn't have rack, so what is the alternative for it bro, Mr. Roger?

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Roger
Posted on: Sun, 09/24/2023 - 19:38

This means that the plates on the bar can be three to five inches off the floor, Abhinav. You can set the weights up on blocks, wood, or steps if possible to raise the bar. If that is not an option, then simply do deadlifts. Hope this helps!

Junior
Posted on: Thu, 09/14/2023 - 03:01

Can I use Monday upper / Tuesday lower for 3 day split like upper Monday/ Wednesday lower / Friday full body?

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Roger
Posted on: Sun, 09/24/2023 - 19:37

That should be okay.

Martin
Posted on: Fri, 09/08/2023 - 09:16

Hi, is it ok to only do squat for my legs? And not hamstring or deadlift? Will i get hamstring or knee injury if i only do squat for legs

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Roger
Posted on: Sun, 09/24/2023 - 19:37

Before I answer this, I need a little more info, Martin. Why can you not deadlift?

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Roger
Posted on: Sat, 09/30/2023 - 21:24

Ultimately you can do what you feel you need to do, but being completely honest here, if your lower back is weak, deadlifting will help, and it would be wise to do them.

Martin
Posted on: Mon, 09/25/2023 - 10:05

Because my lower back is weak

Carlos
Posted on: Fri, 08/18/2023 - 18:49

Hi, I am new to the gym, and have been doing this for about 3 months and I still see notable gains, my friends says that I need to change workout routines every 3 months, is this true as I still feel like I can stick with this for like let's say a year?

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Roger
Posted on: Sat, 08/26/2023 - 21:50

I don't think you need to do this for a year, Carlos. However, if you wanted to run it for six total months, you could. As long as you're seeing progress, keep it up. When you see that progress stall, make a change. Thanks for reading M&S!

Aaron
Posted on: Tue, 08/15/2023 - 15:31

Hi, is this program good for building strength as well as muscle?

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Roger
Posted on: Sat, 08/26/2023 - 21:49

Sure is, Aaron.

Imas
Posted on: Sat, 08/05/2023 - 08:52

I am a beginner planning to follow this workout for the next 10 weeks. However, I have a question: What should I do after the 10-week period? Should I simply increase the number of reps or the intensity of the exercises?

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Roger
Posted on: Tue, 08/15/2023 - 09:45

Hi, Imas. I would suggest focusing on the 10 weeks for now and evaulating where you are at when you finish. You may need to change to a whole new program based on your results.

Praz
Posted on: Sun, 07/30/2023 - 05:08

Hi,
Firstly, thanks for such a great article. I would like to know does this workout schedule also helps in burning fat and also hit the abs. Or should I follow additional exercises for abs and fat burning in addition to the above ones.

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Roger
Posted on: Tue, 08/15/2023 - 09:44

Hi, Praz! It can help you with burning fat, and abs aren't included, but here are several options for you to consider. Work any of these workouts in whenever you like. https://www.muscleandstrength.com/workouts/abs

Drew
Posted on: Sun, 07/09/2023 - 14:17

I really like this routine!

A couple questions...

My work schedule is busy right now because it's summer. I can go to the gym on Sun, Wed, Fri and Sat. In the fall, I'll also be able to go on Monday. Does this work for the split? Or should I just do 3 days until fall when I have more time?

I stay at a hotel on Tuesday and Thursday equipped with dumbbells up to 50 pounds and bench, so technically I could try doing something there too.

Also, can I do dumbbell bench presses instead of barbell? I like how the dumbbells feel.

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Roger
Posted on: Mon, 07/10/2023 - 08:08

Hey Drew, I love how you're finding ways to get the training in. The split you suggested works just fine.

Feel free to go with the dumbbells as well. As long as you're feeling challenged, you're good to go! Thanks for reading M&S!

James Downie
Posted on: Tue, 07/04/2023 - 12:43

I see a lot of articles online saying that doing squats and deadlifts on the same day is not safe. What are your thoughts?

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Roger
Posted on: Mon, 07/10/2023 - 08:07

I'm in my 40's and I've done them both off and on for years. Never had an issue. As long as you're not maxing out on both, I think you'll be fine. I do suggest alternating which one you start with and going lighter on the second. For example.

1st time - Squat heavy, deadlifts light.
2nd time (1 week later) - Deadlift heavy, squat light.

Hope this helps, James!