August 12, 2021 10 min read

Hitting the gym doesn’t automatically guarantee you huge muscles. You have to do the right exercises with enough intensity to damage your muscles and give them enough time to recover and become stronger via hypertrophy. Creating the right workout schedule for your personal fitness goals is imperative for success.

Working out every single day can lead to overtraining and wreck your progress. But the right 5-day split will get you ripped and build tons of functional strength throughout your entire body. 

Crafting the right exercise program takes a bit of trial and error. The particular exercises will depend on your fitness goals and their effectiveness will depend on your body type and lifestyle. Read through this guide to the 5-day workout split to find out everything you need to know to design the perfect workout program for strength and muscle mass. 

What is a 5-Day Workout Split?

The word ‘split’ makes it sound like the workout plan will be split in two but it’s actually divided into five sections - one for each day you exercise. The other two days are rest days. 

Why workout 5 days a week? Is it absolutely necessary to work out that frequently if you want huge gains? Some studies show that increased frequency  doesn’t always correlate with increased gains.

A 5-day workout split allows you to focus on particular muscle groups each day. Because you can categorize your muscles by their general location and target them with certain exercises, using the 5-day split helps ensure you don’t fixate on one area of the body and continue to build strength evenly. 

For example, you might group your muscles and muscle groups into the following categories based on their location and function:

  • Arms & Shoulders
  • Chest
  • Back
  • Legs
  • Core

Although there are plenty of compound exercises that target muscles in all or some of these places simultaneously, focusing on one at a time helps your workout stay focused and helps you plan your rest periods more effectively as well.

You need to give your muscles a break so hypertrophy can kick in and they can recover.

When you use a 5-day split, you have ample time for rest. If you work your arms and shoulders one day, you can do legs or core the following day and then do chest workouts on the third day since they’re likely to require some effort from your arms as well. 

Don’t forget that the other two days of the week are reserved for rest from all exercise. Many people choose to have their rest days on the weekend while others find it much easier to make time for the gym on the weekends. Whatever the case may be, you’ll have many opportunities for resting your muscles with a 5-day split. 

Organizing a 5-Day Workout Split to Meet Fitness Goals

If you’re trying to lose weight, you’re going to need lots of cardio and fast exertion in your workout routine. But if you’re bulking up or trying to build strength, cardio can eat into your gains if you aren’t careful about it. 

As you can see, the 5-day split will look different depending on what you’re trying to do. For this guide, we’re going to focus on building muscle mass and functional strength. If you’re cutting or trying to shred fat, you’ll need to make some adjustments to the split.

People who want to look like bodybuilders all too frequently put their focus on the biceps, abs, and other sexy high-visibility muscles. But even if your overall goal is to build muscle, well-rounded functional strength and mass should be part of that aim.

A man working out.

3-Day Split vs. 5-Day Split

Not everybody has time to run through a full exercise routine five days out of the week. Muscle growth is still an attainable goal with a 3-day split as well, but you could find yourself feeling more rushed through your workouts. 

Granted, you get much more rest when you only do your intense workouts three days a week. A 3-day split routine means you have to focus on two areas of your body during a single session. But that can still work. For instance, you could have this kind of routine:

Day 1: Arms, shoulders, and chest day

Featuring push-ups, incline dumbbell press, bench press, shoulder press, barbell curl, barbell row, dumbbell bench press, lateral raise, tricep curls, hammer curls, military press, dumbbell flyes, cable row, skull crushers, etc.

Day 2: Core & back day

Featuring lat pulldowns, single-arm pull-aparts with planks, mountain climbers, renegade rows, dumbbell reverse flyes, bent over rows, good mornings, pull-ups, burpees, kettlebell swings, EZ bar curls, etc.

Day 3: Leg day

Featuring leg raises, lunges, deadlifts, calf raises, leg curls, leg press, hamstring curls, leg extensions, glute bridges, Bulgarian split squats, banded lateral walk, etc.

The reduced number of training days isn’t a huge obstacle, but it’s a game changer for sure. Just looking at the example exercises listed above, you get some idea how big a challenge it would be to fit in enough to maintain the proper training volume on the three days per week that you have a training session.

The good thing about the 3-day training split is that you can really make it work for you if you master the home workout. Learn the right bodyweight exercises and you can supplement your intense 3-day training program with maintenance moves whenever you find the time. 

Still, the five-day workout routine gives you more room to concentrate and branch out with exercise variations that can help you build more strength and hit your muscles from novel directions. Read on to find out what the 5-day workout routine might look like. 

The Best 5-Day Workout Split for Strength & Muscle Gains

Adjust this example 5-day routine and you’ll see bigger muscles and strength gains in no time. There are some weight training exercises and bodyweight alternatives to make sure you can get a workout in at the gym or elsewhere depending on circumstances.

Day 1: Arm & Shoulder Day

Everybody loves the feeling of pumped up biceps and triceps after a few sets of curls. The isolation exercises for your shoulders and arms are easy to do and they’ll get you pumped up at the start of the week. 

Start with warm-up exercises that prime your shoulder, elbow, and wrist. Failing to loosen these joints up could lead to serious injury and put you out of commission for long enough to wreck your strength gains. 

Such warm-up exercises might include push-ups, resistance band pull-aparts, across-the-chest stretches, arm circles, arm swings, overhead shoulder stretches, and wrist rotations. 

After the warm-up is complete, you can get into the upper body strength training exercises lifters love. Bicep and tricep curls, hammer curls, shoulder presses, tricep kickbacks, flyes, and lateral raises should all be included in your arm and shoulder day routine. 

Day 2: Leg Day

Give your upper body some recovery time so that your arms and shoulders can build more muscle mass. Your lower body needs some attention now.

Bodyweight warm-ups for your lower body are pretty much the same as the full-on leg day exercises will be. Just make sure you open up your hips, knees, ankles, and hamstrings with some light stretching before you begin the leg day workout routine. 

If you have access to a gym with weightlifting equipment, you can use the leg press machine and other such gear to fill out your leg day plan. But you can also invest in some resistance bands and free weights to get a great lower body workout from home or even the office. 

Fat loss might be a goal for some people, in which case leg day could double as your cardio day. But if you’re trying to put on muscle, don’t do too much of that long-term cardio. Try plyometric exercise variations and a  HIIT routine instead. 

Make sure you’re hitting your calves, glutes, quads, and hamstrings on leg day. Don’t neglect smaller muscle groups like your hip flexors. Lying leg raises with a resistance band wrapped around your legs are the perfect way to target those smaller muscles that move the hip joint - you can also flex your abs for a bit of core exercise at the same time.

Day 3: Chest Day

Since your arms and shoulder have had some recovery time, you can jump back in with some bench presses, flyes, cable rows, and any other exercise that focuses on a push-pull motion. Your pecs will love the attention, although they could come out a bit sorer for it.

Remember, you don’t want to repeat many exercises from arm & shoulder day. The 5-day workout routine is meant to give you the chance to have a laser focus on the body parts you want to exercise. The more you can spare your arms and shoulders, the better prepared you’ll be for back day when the time comes. 

Luckily, all the bench press and flye variations pretty much focus on the pecs exclusively. You should be able to get through chest day without putting too much strain on your arms and shoulders. Just make sure you don’t injure your shoulders or you could wreck the rest of your routine. 

Many lifters who use this kind of 5-day workout split treat chest day as a half-day since there are just a few exercises that exclusively hit the chest. You can use it as an opportunity to get some cardio in or you can just get some additional recovery time. It will help your muscles gain strength and give you the mental strength to keep working out. 

Day 4: Core Day

You can incorporate your core muscles in many of the exercises we mentioned for the other days. But you should also take care to have a dedicated day for your core. Just like with chest day, you don’t want to repeat exercises or rely too much on your arms and shoulders during your core exercises. 

Think more about bodyweight exercises like crunches, sit-ups, and planks. There’s certainly no shortage of plank variations for you to include on the core day of your split exercise routine. Plus, that means you likely won’t have to hit the gym for this day, making it more likely you’ll keep up with this 5-day plan even if you have a pretty full schedule most of the time.

Invest in some weights and resistance bands to make your core day even more effective. It might not seem like you need them, but you do. You can put weight on your body to make planks more challenging and use the resistance from an elastic band for a bit of isometric benefit. 

You might also think about getting an exercise ball so you can do push-away exercises. Then again, you can use floor sliders or towels to mimic climbing as well. Wall sits are another favorite exercise that you can do on core day without interrupting any of the other days in this routine. 

Day 5: Back Day

Since you didn’t exhaust your arms or shoulders with the core exercises during your last workout, you can do all the best back exercises. Lat pulldowns, dumbbell rows, single-arm pull-aparts, good mornings, and even a barbell deadlift should be possible with the state you’re in, especially if you manage to balance your rest days evenly. 

Back day is also a good way to finish because the exercises you go through on this day of your split workout routine will give you an adrenaline rush and make you excited to restart the whole plan the following week. 

Pull-ups, deadlifts, and a few other full-body compound exercises are best saved for this last day, particularly if you have a rest day immediately following back day.

The logic here is that full-body workouts will exhaust muscles that you would otherwise need the next day. Even if chest day isn’t your fifth day, make sure you’re doing full-body compound exercises the day before a planned rest. Better still if you can follow that with core day or leg day and give those body parts used in pull-ups and deadlifts some additional recovery time. 

A man drinking water and resting after a workout.

When to Schedule Rest Days in a Workout

It’s undeniable that rest plays a huge role in the creation of muscle mass. Hypertrophy won’t kick in if your muscles are taking on new damage. You might be fired up with all the activity at the gym, but you’re only going to harm your overall fitness if you don’t rest enough. 

But when is the best time for rest days in a 5-day split workout?

It depends on how you feel throughout the week and how your other obligations stack up. Many people have little choice but to take their rest days on the weekend because they have too much to do during the week. Others with more open schedules might decide to place a rest day strategically after a hard workout and then place the other on a Sunday just to relax.

Some bodybuilders we know prefer to leave their rest days flexible. That way, if they get winded or just don’t feel like hitting the gym one day, they can take a break without feeling guilty. You could also schedule one definite rest day after your hardest workout and then leave the second rest day unplanned. If you wind up not needing a rest, you can just have a free day at the end of the week to unwind and collect your energy to hit the gym even harder when the new week begins.

Overtraining is the enemy of every lifter.

You might not even realize when you’re going down that road, but when the immense drag and sense of defeat hits you, you’ll regret not taking enough rest time. On the other hand, it’s not something that will go on and on without you realizing it - when your body is completely exhausted, it will tell you.

Rest days are one of the more strategic elements of a 5-day split workout routine. They don’t have to remain the same and you can always leave them open and take them when the mood hits you.

Making Changes to Your Workout Routine

For that matter, you don’t have to keep the same split each week. As long as you’re giving your muscles enough time to recover and remembering to target all the muscle groups in your body, you can switch the days around. 

Keep in mind that your goal is to build muscle mass but you have to do so safely. Don’t overdo it or you could experience injuries that will keep you out of the gym for weeks at a time. That being said, plan your 5-day split routine wisely and you’ll see strength gains for sure.

Conclusion:

Dividing your workout routine over five days allows you to focus on specific parts of your body each day. You get more opportunities for recovery and you can branch out into more obscure exercise variations to build functional strength in new ways. 

Follow the advice in this guide and use some of the exercises we mentioned to build the perfect 5-day split workout routine to meet and even exceed your strength gain goals.


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