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June 13, 2022 6 min read

In order to build muscle, you need to have the proper balance of exercise and  recovery.

Training every muscle group six days per week can be counterproductive as it may lead to overtraining or injury.

A workout split can help you schedule your workouts and recoveries, as well as maintain a balanced body. 

There's a lot of talk about which workout split is the best. A push/pull/legs can be beneficial for powerlifting, the bro split can be better for bodybuilders, but the upper/lower body split can be good for maximizing strength and hypertrophy.  

What is an Upper/Lower Split?

The upper lower split is designed to target your upper body on different days of the week than your lower body.

Upper body days will train your chest, back, shoulders, and arms, whereas the lower body days will train your hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves.

This split workout is most effective when done four days a week with two rest days in the mix. The way you split up your week is up to you and your training schedule, but you'll never have two upper or lower body days back to back. 

Muscles need approximately 48-72 hours to recover between training sessions to be able to repair and grow, and this type of split allows for that.

With ample recovery in between, your training volume can be higher, which can aid in muscle growth. 

Benefits of an Upper/Lower Split 

Your upper and lower body are each important for different reasons and both need an equal amount of love in the gym. That's just one of the reasons this split can be beneficial.  

Boosts Muscle Growth 

Muscle building doesn't happen in the gym. It happens after with the proper nutrition and recovery. Focusing on the upper and lower body separately can be most effective as a 4-day split, which can be more beneficial for building muscle mass. Unlike the body part split which trains a muscle group one day per week, the upper/lower split trains a muscle group two days per week and can  better help elicit hypertrophy.  

Improves Muscle Imbalances 

All too often you may see lifters constantly focusing on the same muscle groups. Although it's arm day, you just can't help yourself from another leg day like yesterday. It may seem harmless, but neglecting other muscle groups can lead to an imbalanced, weaker body.

Muscle imbalances can lead to injury and training the body properly and evenly can help reduce this risk. An upper/lower split can help ensure each area of the body gets trained equally. 

Builds Strength

Training a muscle group multiple times per week can be  more effective for building strength.

The upper/lower split routine allows you to dedicate more time to a specific area or movement, compared to a full-body workout. If you experience weakness in your legs, you have two days out of the week to perform a lower body workout while still having enough time to recover.    

Better Recovery Time 

Although the bro split offers more rest time in between sessions, your muscles don't necessarily need seven days to recover. If you take too much time in between sessions, you could limit your muscle growth since it takes typically between 24-72 hours to recover, depending on the workout intensity.  

Weight Loss 

Maintaining a consistent workout schedule and outside lifestyle is key to losing weight. More advanced lifters may find that their training frequency is less because of the heavier loads and higher volume, but by beginner to intermediate lifters  increasing the frequency of their routine, such as in a 4 day upper/lower split, it can help better contribute to weight loss.

Is the Upper/Lower Split the Best?

There are plenty of great reasons to use an upper/lower split for your workout routine, but does that make it better than all the other training splits? To answer this question, we should look at the other splits.  

Compared to a push/pull/legs split, this workout program focuses on dividing muscle groups versus movement patterns.

A training program like PPL is typically split into three days of work and four days of rest. This can be a good approach for more advanced lifters or powerlifters who utilize the movement patterns in powerlifting competition lifts, the bench press, deadlift, and back squat. 

For bodybuilders, building muscle is the primary goal, so the training volume should be higher. A bro split can be beneficial in this case since you're only focusing on one body part per day, you have the time to bust out more reps. However, this can also lead to greater delayed-onset muscle soreness or limit muscle growth due to too much recovery time.

The upper/lower split can be less particular and demanding of a lifter, which can make it better for more intermediate lifters. 

Full-body training is often the most beneficial for beginner lifters because they can help build strength and muscle in all the muscle groups, helping to create a foundation for better form and heavier weights.

For more advanced lifters, training the full-body may not be of the most beneficial for building muscle or strength, so using the upper/lower split can be a better choice. 

Determining if the upper/lower split is the best will depend on your fitness level, your goals, and your schedule. This training program does seem to be more effective than the bro split and can be better for building muscle than push/pull/legs.

If your schedule allows for a four day workout routine, then the upper/lower split could be the best choice. It allows you to hit all the major muscle groups using isolation and compound exercises and helps keep the body balanced, so you're not only working on building a huge upper body, like you may in a bro split.

The upper/lower split can definitely be beneficial and effective with a consistent routine and lifestyle, but the best workout split for you is based upon your preferences and goals. 

Upper/Lower Split Workout Example 

There are different ways to structure an upper/lower split depending on when you want your rest days to be.

A typical upper/lower split may look like: 

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

Some lifters may structure two rest days back to back in the middle of the week, so they can get a weekend workout in. It really is mostly dependent upon your schedule outside of the gym. 

As there are different ways to structure a week, there are also different exercises you can do through the week to make sure you're working each muscle group enough and training your pushing and pulling movements equally.

Incorporating dumbbells, barbells, and bodyweight exercises can help build strength. To help build muscle, the rep range will be closer to 6-12 reps per exercise.

An example workout week may look like: 

  • Monday: Upper body workout #1 

Dumbbell bicep curl 3 x 12 reps 

Overhead tricep extensions 3 x 12 reps 

Pull-up 3 x 6-8 reps 

Barbell Overhead press 4 x 8 reps 

Bench press 3 x 8 reps 

  • Tuesday: Lower body workout # 1

Leg curl 3x 12 reps 

Leg extension 3 x 12 reps 

Leg press 4 x 8 reps 

Romanian deadlift 3 x 10 reps 

Hip thrust 4 x 8 reps 

  • Thursday: Upper body workout #2

Dumbbell reverse fly 3 x 12 reps 

Lat pulldown 3 x 10 reps 

Shoulder press 3 x 12 reps 

Dumbbell row 4 x 8 reps 

Push-ups 3 x 12 reps 

  • Friday: Lower body workout #2

Standing calf raise 3 x 12 reps

Goblet squat 3 x 12 reps

Reverse lunges 3 x 12 reps 

Split squat 3 x 10 reps 

​Back squat 4 x 8 reps 

Final Thoughts 

Strength training looks different for each individual, and you likely aren't doing the same workout or workout split as the lifter next to you. It's important to keep your own personal goals in mind and not just what seems to be the most popular at the time.

An upper/lower split may be the best routine for you if you have the time to put four days in at the gym consistently.

A higher workout frequency may contribute to greater DOMS or more muscle fatigue during your workout. 

BCAA/EAAS can be essential because it can reduce DOMS and support muscle recovery, all the while helping you train with more intensity. 

So, is the upper/lower split truly superior to the rest? Since it can target the major muscle groups while allowing for just enough recovery in between, it could be. It can help elicit muscle growth and weight loss , which are two of the most popular goals in the gym.

A balanced routine of upper and lower body workouts can keep you on track and contribute to your overall strength.

If you're lacking a routine right now or looking to change it up, this training split can be effective with the right dedication and lifestyle.