Upper Lower Splits | The Ultimate Guide!


Upper lower split

Are you curious about upper lower splits?

Do you wonder how to use upper lower splits to build size and strength?

Then you’ve come to the right place.

In this comprehensive guide, I will show you how to use upper lower splits to take your training to the next level!

Introduction

  • Part 1: 4 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Splits
  • Part 2: 3 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Splits
  • Part 3: 2 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Splits

Upper lower splits are one of the most popular training splits in the world.

Many of the strongest athletes in the world including Brian Shaw, Eddie Hall and Hafthor Bjornsson use the upper / lower split to build size and strength.

So what is the upper lower split, and why does it work so well for getting bigger and stronger?

The upper / lower split is an advanced workout routine where you train your upper body and lower body on separate days. You have an upper body day where you train your chest, back, shoulders, and arms. Then you have a lower body day where you train your quads, hamstrings, and calves.

For example, here is what the 4-day upper lower split looks like:

  • Day 1: Upper Body
  • Day 2: Lower Body
  • Day 3: Upper Body
  • Day 4: Lower Body

The upper / lower split is so effective because it simplifies your training.

You work your entire upper body in one workout, and your entire lower body workout, so you know exactly what to train each workout.

This split is also very easy to recover from. This means you can spend more time growing bigger and stronger, and less time recovering from your workouts.

The upper / lower split is extremely popular with advanced athletes. For example, the World’s Strongest Man Hafthor Bjornsson used an upper / lower split to break the all-time deadlift world record of 1,105 pounds! Check it out:

Talk about an incredible lift!

So how many days per week should you train with this split?

The truth is, there are at least 3 good versions of this split that you can use. Check it out:

The 3 Different Upper / Lower Splits

Each of these splits have their own advantages and disadvantages.

The 4 day upper / lower split is a very popular choice with powerlifters and strongman competitors. It lets you train each body part at least twice per week. It is a great all-around choice for people with above-average recovery ability.

The Westside Barbell powerlifting team uses this split and their results speak for themselves!

Here is a typical Westside Barbell style upper body workout. Check it out:

Another great choice is the 3 day upper / lower split. Here is what it looks like:

The 3 Day Upper / Lower Split

Week #1

  • Monday: Upper Body
  • Wednesday: Lower Body
  • Friday: Upper Body

Week #2

  • Monday: Upper Body
  • Wednesday: Lower Body
  • Friday: Upper body

The 3 day upper / lower split is a very underrated way to train.

You are still training body parts once every 4-5 days so your training frequency is pretty high. However, you also get 1-2 rest days in between your workouts.

This extra rest makes it very easy to recover from your workouts and build size and strength.

I know some of you are thinking “no one trains that way.” Think again! Many of the world’s strongest powerlifters including Julius Maddox use this type of split to break world records year after year.

Here is the world’s strongest bench presser Julius Maddox walking you through his upper body workout:

Julius Maddox bench presses 655 pounds for 9 reps – WOW! What a monster! Now that is the power of the 3 day upper / lower split!

If you can’t recover from 3-4 heavy workouts per week then the 2-day upper lower splits are also a great choice. Check it out:

The 2 Day Upper Lower Split

  • Wednesday: Upper Body
  • Saturday: Lower Body

That’s it! Some of the world’s strongest powerlifters like Stan Efferding and Eric Lilliebridge actually got their best results training twice per week!

Here is Stan Efferding talking about his preferred powerlifting split:

“I trained twice a week when I hit my 2,303 pound raw total and set the all-time powerlifting world record. I would bench on Mondays and squat OR deadlift on Saturdays. That’s it!”

Here is Stan Efferding walking you through one of his powerlifting squat workouts. Check it out:

What an unbelievable squat by Stan “The White Rhino” Efferding!

Now let’s take a closer look at the 4-day, 3-day, and 2-day upper lower splits!

Part 1: 4 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Splits

The 4 day upper / lower split is one of the most popular training splits of all time.

The idea is simple: you train 4 days per week with 2 upper body workouts and 2 lower body workouts. For example:

The 4 Day Upper / Lower Split

  • Day 1: Upper Body
  • Day 2: Lower Body
  • Day 3: Upper Body
  • Day 4: Lower Body

The 4 day upper / lower split is especially popular with powerlifters and strongman competitors.

Many of the world’s strongest athletes like Eddie Hall, James Strickland and Chuck Vogelpohl trained this way.

The 4 day upper / lower split has many advantages over other training splits:

Advantages Of The 4-Day Upper / Lower Split

  • Advantage #1: You train each muscle group twice per week
  • Advantage #2: Overlap between different muscle groups is minimized
  • Advantage #3: You can specialize on the squat and deadlift

It’s no wonder many of the world’s strongest athletes train this way!

The only downside to the 4 day upper / lower split is that it can be difficult for some people to recover from.

Many people find they cannot recover from 2 heavy squat / deadlift workouts per week.

Don’t worry, there are plenty of ways around that issue.

The Westside Barbell powerlifting team has a very creative way around this problem: they have 2 heavy workouts and 2 speed workouts per week. Check it out:

The Westside Barbell Training Split

  • Day 1: Dynamic Effort Bench Press
  • Day 2: Max Effort Squat / Deadlift
  • Day 3: Max Effort Bench Press
  • Day 4: Dynamic Effort Squat / Deadlift

The Westside Barbell training program has 2 different types of workouts: max effort workouts and dynamic effort workouts.

During the max effort workouts, you train heavy and work up to a 1-rep max on a special exercise for the squat, bench press or deadlift.

During the dynamic effort workouts, you perform 6-12 speed sets with lighter weights for the squat, bench press or deadlift.

The Westside team alternates back and forth between these heavy / light workouts. This is a great way to increase your training frequency without totally burning out your central nervous system.

Here is what a typical Westside max effort lower body workout looks like:

Westside Barbell Max Effort Lower Body Workout

  • Exercise #1: Matt deadlift (2 inch mats), 3 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #2: Back attach machine with bands, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: Belt squat machine, 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

The Westside team works up to a 1-rep max on a squat or deadlift for their max effort lower body workouts.

It would be completely insane to do this twice per week, so they perform speed sets on their other lower body workout each week.

Here is what a Westside dynamic effort lower body workout looks like:

Westside Barbell Dynamic Effort Lower Body Workout

  • Exercise #1: Speed box squat with bands and chains, 8 sets of 2 reps
  • Exercise #2: Speed deadlift with bands, 5 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #3: Reveres hyperextension, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Glute ham raise, 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

For this workout, the Westside team performs lots of speed sets on the squat and deadlift.

These speed sets are helpful for building strength and improving their technique. However, this workout will be much easier for them to recover from than the heavy max effort squat / deadlift workout.

This is one way to structure your lower body workouts with the 4 day upper / lower split. However, it is not the only way.

The World’s Strongest Man Eddie Hall has a very interesting way of organizing his training. He trains the squat and the deadlift once per week on their own training days.

First let’s look at Eddie Hall’s full training split. Check it out:

The Eddie Hall Training Split

  • Day 1: Squat
  • Day 2: Bench Press
  • Day 3: Deadlift
  • Day 4: Overhead Press

Eddie Hall structures his 4 day upper / lower split differently from the Westside crew.

He trains the squat and the deadlift on their own separate day each week.

Eddie trains heavy on the squat every week. However, he only trains heavy on the deadlift every other week. Check it out:

The Eddie Hall Squat / Deadlift Program

Week #1

  • Squat Day: Heavy
  • Deadlift Day: Heavy

Week #2

  • Squat Day: Heavy
  • Deadlift Day: Light

This is a very creative way to use the 4 day upper / lower split!

Eddie Hall found through trial and error that he could get stronger training the squat heavy every single week. However, he realized that he could only go heavy on the deadlift every other week if he wanted to make long-term progress.

This is understandable when you are deadlifting over 1,000 pounds!

Here is what one of Eddie Hall’s heavy deadlift workouts looked like. Check it out:

Eddie Hall Heavy Back Workout

  • Exercise #1: Conventional deadlift, 1 set of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Hammer strength lat pulldown (narrow / supinated grip), 3 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Hammer strength row (neutral / narrow grip), 3 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Exercise #5: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3 sets of 10-15 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

Eddie Hall actually performs all of his upper back accessory work on his deadlift day. This is a little different from the traditional upper / lower split but it works like a charm for Eddie!

So far we’ve looked at strength programs where you use the 4 day upper / lower split but you don’t go heavy every single workout.

This is a great way to organize your workouts but it is possible to train heavy every workout if you know what you’re doing. This is something that the powerlifting coach Josh Bryant does with many of his clients.

Here is one of Josh Bryant’s go-to training splits:

The Josh Bryant Powerlifting Split

  • Day 1: Bench Press Workout
  • Day 2: Squat Workout
  • Day 3: Bench Press Assistance Workout
  • Day 4: Deadlift Workout

Josh Bryant believes that many powerlifters can train heavy on all 4 workouts using a 4-day upper / lower split.

You just have to be smart about how you organize the workouts.

For example Josh Bryant’s client Rob Hall often performs 2 heavy lower body workouts per week.

Here is one of his weekly squat workouts:

The Rob Hall Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Back squat, 1 set of 4 reps
  • Exercise #2: Speed back squat, 3 sets of 3 reps
  • Exercise #3: Dead squat, 6 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #4: Lying leg curl, 3 sets of 6 reps
  • Exercise #5: Split stance Romanian deadlift, 3 sets of 3 reps
  • Exercise #6: Side planks, 3 sets x 60 seconds

Here is the training video for this workout:

So how does Rob train the squat and deadlift heavy each week?

The truth is most of his sets are submaximal. Rob works up to one heavy set on the squat and then performs a bunch of submaximal work to build the squat.

All of his speed sets and all of his dead squat sets were performed with relatively light weights. He really only had 1 hard set and even on that he had an extra 2-3 reps in the tank.

Now let’s look at one of Rob’s heavy deadlift workouts. Check it out:

The Rob Hall Deadlift Workout

  • Exercise #1: Deadlift, 1 set of 1 rep
  • Exercise #2: Speed deadlift with chains, 3 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #3: Deadlift static hold, 2 sets x 60 seconds
  • Exercise #4: Machine chest supported row, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #5: Rope cable hammer curls, 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

Once again, Rob Hall only has 1 really hard set in the entire workout. He works up to a relatively heavy single on the deadlift and then performs some submaximal assistance work.

This is how Josh Bryant gets his clients to perform 2 heavy lower body workouts in the same week!

Josh Bryant also uses other strategies like deloads on the squat and deadlift once every 3-6 weeks depending on the individual.

The bottom line is the 4 day upper / lower split is one of the best ways to train.

It works especially well for powerlifters and strongman competitors who want to get freaky strong on the squat and deadlift.

Part 2: 3 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Splits

The 3 day upper / lower split is one of the most underrated training splits in the world.

Everyone wants to train body parts as often as possible, so they forget that a simple 3 days per week routine can work AWESOME for building size and strength!

Here is what the split looks like:

The 3 Day Upper / Lower Split

Week #1

  • Monday: Upper Body
  • Wednesday: Lower Body
  • Friday: Upper Body

Week #2

  • Monday: Lower Body
  • Wednesday: Upper Body
  • Friday: Lower Body

As you can see the training split changes each week. Overall, you are training your upper body and your lower body 3 times in 2 weeks or about once every 4-5 days.

In my experience this is an AWESOME training frequency for a lot of trainees. The Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin was also a big fan of this training split.

DC Training is probably one of the most popular training programs that uses the 3 day upper / lower split.

DC Training is a high-intensity bodybuilding program invented by Dante Trudel. It uses techniques like rest-pause sets and extreme stretches to help you build size and strength as fast as possible.

Here is what a typical DC Training upper body workout looks like. Check it out:

DC Training Upper Body Workout

  • Exercise #1: Flat DB press, 1 x 11-20 RP**
  • Exercise #2: Seated military press, 1 x 11-20 RP**
  • Exercise #3: Close grip smith machine press, 1 x 11-20 RP**
  • Exercise #4: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 1 x 11-20 RP**
  • Exercise #5: Barbell bent over row, 2 x 8-12

Here is the training video for this workout:

A typical DC Training upper body workout features 5 different exercises: 1 for chest, shoulders, triceps, back width and back thickness.

For most exercises you are going to perform several warm up sets followed by 1 all-out rest-pause set.

A rest-pause set is a high-intensity technique where you train to failure 3 times in a row on an exercise with 20-30 seconds rest in between sets.

Here is the exact protocol:

The Rest-Pause Method

  • Step #1: Train to failure in the 7-10 rep range, then rest 20-30 seconds
  • Step #2: Train to failure again with the same weight, then rest 20-30 seconds
  • Step #3: Train to failure again with the same weight, done!

One of the weird things about the DC Training split is you actually train biceps and forearms on the lower body day. Check it out:

DC Training Lower Body Workout

  • Exercise #1: Standing alternating DB curl, 1 x 11-20 RP
  • Exercise #2: Standing pinwheel curl, 1 x 8-12
  • Exercise #3: Seated calf raise, 1 x 7-10
  • Exercise #4: Machine hack squat, 2 x (6-8, 20****)
  • Exercise #5: Romanian deadlift, 2 x 6-12

Here is the training video for this workout:

Dante found that training biceps on the lower body day was the only way he could fit in all of the upper body exercises. If you are looking for a great way to build size and strength with a 3 day upper / lower split then DC Training is for you!

One of the cool things about the 3-day upper / lower split is it can be used with almost any training program where you normally use a 4-day upper / lower split. You just insert extra rest days and keep going with the rotation.

A lot of people have been successful performing Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program with just 3 workouts per week instead of the normal 4 workouts per week.

The original 5/3/1 program has you training 4 days per week. You have a bench press day, a squat day, an overhead press day and a deadlift day. For example:

Jim Wendler’s Original 5/3/1 Program

  • Day 1: Bench Press
  • Day 2: Squat
  • Day 3: Overhead press
  • Day 4: Deadlift

Some trainees find that they cannot recover from 4 heavy workouts per week.

If that is the case, then you can just insert extra rest days and turn it into a 3-day upper / lower split program. Check it out:

Jim Wendler’s 3-Day 5/3/1 Program

Week #1

  • Day 1: Bench Press
  • Day 2: Squat
  • Day 3: Overhead Press

Week #2

  • Day 1: Deadlift
  • Day 2: Bench Press
  • Day 3: Squat

Week #3

  • Day 1: Overhead Press
  • Day 2: Deadlift
  • Day 3: Bench Press

And so on. You just keep rotating through the 4 different workouts.

Now let’s look at some of Jim Wendler’s typical workouts while using the 5/3/1 program.

Here is a typical 5/3/1 bench press workout. Check it out:

Jim Wendler’s Bench Press Routine

  • Exercise #1: Bench press, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Pull ups, 5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Dips, 5 sets of 5-15 reps

Here is the training video:

Jim Wendler likes to keep things simple and focus on just 2 accessory exercises for his upper body.

If you like to train with more volume then you can always add in extra accessory exercises to attack your weak points.

Now let’s look at one of Jim Wendler’s lower body workouts. Check it out:

Jim Wendler’s Deadlift Workout

  • Exercise #1: Deadlift, 3 sets of 1-5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Leg press, 3 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Glute ham raise, 3 sets of 10-15 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

Once again Jim likes to stick with 2 core accessory exercises for his lower body workouts.

He calls this the “Triumverate Template” in his 5/3/1 program.

If you want to learn more about Jim’s program then check out the following article:

It is a great way to train for anyone looking to get bigger and stronger.

Part 3: 2 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Splits

The 2 days per week upper body / lower body split is a great way to train.

No – I am not joking! Some of the strongest athletes in the world like Stan Efferding and Eric Lilliebridge train twice per week while preparing for their powerlifting competitions.

Here is what this training split looks like:

The 2 Day Upper / Lower Split

  • Day 1: Upper Body
  • Day 2: Lower Body

That’s it! You don’t have to perform your workouts on Wednesday and Saturday – you can perform them on whatever days you want. The important thing is to keep 2-3 days rest in between each workout.

Here is Stan Efferding talking about his favorite powerlifting training split:

“I trained twice a week when I hit my 2,303 pound raw total and set the all-time powerlifting world record.

I would bench on Mondays and squat OR deadlift on Saturdays. That’s it!”

Stan Efferding and Eric Lilliebridge are so strong and explosive that they only need 2 workouts per week to make progress.

The rest of the week is spent resting so they can go all-out on their actual training days.

Eric Lilliebridge alternates between 2 types of training weeks when he is getting ready for his powerlifting competitions. Check it out:

The Lilliebridge Method

Week #1

  • Day 1: Heavy Bench Press Workout
  • Day 2: Heavy Squat Workout

Week #2

  • Day 3: Light Bench Press Workout
  • Day 4: Heavy Deadlift Workout

As you can see Eric Lilliebridge likes to alternate between heavy squat workouts and heavy deadlift workouts each week. This means he only trains the squat or the deadlift once every 2 weeks!

Most people need to train the squat and deadlift more often than this but for some gifted powerlifters it works like magic.

Eric Lilliebridge also alternates between a “heavy” bench press day and a “light” bench press day. Here is one of Eric’s heavy bench press workouts. Check it out:

The Eric Lilliebridge Bench Press Workout

  • A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 set of 4 reps
  • B1: Slingshot bench press (competition grip), 2 sets of 1-2 reps
  • C1: Bench press (close grip), 2 sets of 7, 15 reps

Here is the training video:

Eric works up to a heavy set of 4 reps on the bench press and then performs a couple of bench press supplementary exercises.

After that, he moves onto accessory exercises for his chest, triceps and upper back.

Now let’s look at one of Stan Efferding’s squat workouts using the 2 day upper / lower split. Check it out:

The Stan Efferding’s Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Back squat, 1 set of 6 reps
  • Exercise #2: Leg press, 3-4 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Leg extensions, 3-4 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

Stan Efferding organizes his workouts in a very similar way to Eric Lilliebridge.

First, hew orks up to a heavy set on the competition squat. Stan puts everything he has into this set!

After the top set of squats, Stan moves onto a variety of assistance exercises like leg extensions and leg presses.

The Lilliebridge Method is one of the best ways to train using the 2 day upper / lower split. However, it is not the only way!

In my experience a lot of trainees can make excellent progress on a 2 days per week Westside Barbell routine.

Here is what your training split could look like:

The 2 Day Westside Barbell Split

  • Tuesday: Max Effort Bench Press
  • Friday: Max Effort Squat / Deadlift

That’s it!

A lot of people who are new to powerlifting style routines can make screaming fast progress with this simple 2-day upper / lower split. You have several rest days in between workouts so your central nervous system is always “on” for your workouts.

I first learned about this type of routine from Wesley Sylveira, the founder of IronAddicts.com.

Here is what he has to say about it:

“I use this template a lot. I know most guys will automatically dismiss it as not enough work, and days in the gym.

However, it is EXTREMELY effective and probably the best bet for guys just starting out with a real strength oriented routine.”

Wesley Sylveira was the real deal. Many world-class coaches like Dante Trudel held him in the highest regard.

Here are some sample 2-day Westside Barbell workouts that you may want to try. These were written by Wesley. Check it out:

Iron Addict’s Westside Style Bench Press Workout

  • Exercise #1: Cable pull-down abs, 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Exercise #2: Two-board bench press, 1 set of 1 reps
  • Exercise #3: Skull crushers, 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Exercise #4: Flat DB press, 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Exercise #5: Seated DB lateral raise, 4 sets of 8 reps

Iron Addict’s Westside Style Squat / Deadlift Workout

  • Exercise #1: Weighted abs, 2 sets of 10 reps
  • Exercise #2: Box squat, 1 set of 1 rep
  • Exercise #3: Stiff legged deadlift, 1 set of 8 reps
  • Exercise #4: Band pull through, 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Exercise #5: Barbell bent over row, 4 sets of 8 reps

These workouts are just a starting point. If you know anything about the Westside Barbell training program then you know that the workouts change every single week.

For example, you should change the max effort exercise every week for optimal results.

I have seen many powerlifters AND bodybuilders make excellent progress on a simple routine like this. If you are a “hardgainer” then this may be your one-way ticket to an impressive physique.

The bottom line is the 2 day upper / lower split is a great way to train for certain individuals.

It works for everyone from world-class powerlifters to “hardgainers” with below-average recovery ability.

If you are not satisfied with your current rate of progress then you have to give a 2-day upper / lower split routine a shot!

Conclusion | Upper Lower Splits!

The upper body / lower body split is one of the best ways to train. What could be simpler than training your entire upper body on one workout and your entire lower body on another workout?

The upper / lower split is probably the most popular training split in the world among world-class powerlifters and strongman competitors. It is also very popular with bodybuilders.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of the upper / lower split is its versatility.

There are three main versions of this training split:

The 4 day upper / lower split is definitely the most popular version. Many of the strongest athletes in the world train this way.

However, the 3-day and 2-day versions of this split are also great ways to train. If guys like Stan Efferding and Eric Lilliebridge can make progress training twice per week then maybe it’s worth a shot!

Regardless of your goals I hope this article inspires you to put some thought into which training split you use. Remember, there is no “best” training split. All that matters is what works for YOU!

Here is the original gangster Bruce Lee to pump you up even more:

“If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life.

There are no limits, there are only plateaus. And you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

 

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

What's going on! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen, I'm the creator of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to take your training to the next level, then you've come to the right place... My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world!

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