Everyone in the fitness industry loves to argue about their favorite training split. Push / pull / legs splits, full body splits and bodybuilding “bro-splits” are some of the most popular choices. However, in my experience the classic upper body / lower body splits is still one of the best ways to train for size and strength!
In this comprehensive guide I’m going to teach you everything you need to know in order to start designing your upper / lower split workouts.
The classic upper / lower split is a training split where you train your entire upper body on one training day and your entire lower body on another training day. Upper lower splits are so effective for building muscle mass and strength because they reduce overlap between muscle groups and emphasize the big, compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses, pull ups and rows.
However, one of the things that I like most about the classic upper-lower split is its versatility. There are three main ways to organize an upper body / lower body split:
Each of these options have their own advantages and disadvantages and are ideal for different types of trainees.
The 4 day upper / lower split is perfect for bodybuilders and powerlifters who like to train with higher-frequency programs. This split is especially effective for helping powerlifters boost their strength on lower body exercises like squats and deadlifts.
In fact, the 4 days per week upper / lower split is the most popular training split in the world amongst elite strength athletes. Many of the strongest athletes in the world including the 2017 World’s Strongest Man winner Eddie Hall train using this training split.
The 3 day upper / lower split is one of the most underrated training splits in the world. It lets you train each body part or exercise once every 5 days which is right in between the “high-frequency” and “low-frequency” schools of thought.
Many of the world’s top bodybuilders and powerlifters including IFBB pro David Henry and the world’s strongest bench presser Julius Maddox get their best results training muscle groups once every 5 days.
If you find yourself having a difficult time recovering from 4 heavy workouts per week then this is an awesome option for you. Many of the world’s best training programs for size and strength including Dante Trudel’s DC Training program use the 3 day upper / lower split to great effect.
The 2 day upper / lower split is the weapon of choice for many of the strongest powerlifters in the world including world record holders Stan Efferding and Eric Lilliebridge. This split gives elite powerlifters an enormous amount of time to recover between workouts which comes in handy when you are squatting and deadlifting over 800 pounds!
The 2 day upper / lower split also works well for hard gainers and trainees with below-average recovery ability. The extra days off between workouts means your central nervous system is always recovered so you can always count on having great workouts.
I hope you found this introduction to upper / lower splits helpful! Here is an outline for the rest of the article:
- Part 1: The Advantages Of Upper / Lower Splits
- Part 2: The Disadvantages Of Upper / Lower Splits
- Part 3: 4 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Splits
- Part 4: 3 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Splits
- Part 5: 2 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Splits
Note: if you have any trouble reading the workouts in this article then please consult this article. Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: The Advantages Of Upper / Lower Splits
I’m not under the impression that there is any single best training split. Different individuals have different goals and respond best to different training styles.
However, I know from experience that the upper-lower split works extremely well for a very large percentage of the training population.
There are at least six advantages to the upper-lower split over other common training splits:
- It’s incredibly versatile
- Reduces overlap between body parts
- Forces you to focus on the best exercises
- Allows for plenty of rest between workouts
- Allows you to train antagonistic body parts together
- Fantastic for boosting lower body strength
Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors.
Advantage #1: It’s Incredibly Versatile
The upper-lower split is easily one of the most versatile training splits that you can use. In fact it is hard to think of another split that offers as much built-in flexibility.
The only other split that even comes close is the classic push / pull / legs split.
You can choose to train 2, 3, or 4 days per week using this split. Some people have even experimented with a 6 days per week version of this split but I wouldn’t recommend it.
This type of flexibility is important because different individuals get their best results on wildly different training frequencies.
For example, the Westside Barbell powerlifting team gets tremendous results hitting body parts twice per week.
So who’s right? Is high frequency or low frequency training the way to go?
The answer is simple: they both work! The important thing is to find out what works for YOU and then hammer it home until you reach your goals!
Regardless of your goal or your current strength levels there is probably an upper-lower split that will work great for you!
Advantage #2: Reduces Overlap Between Body Parts
I want you to imagine Joe Average training with the following split:
- Monday: Chest
- Wednesday: Shoulders
- Friday: Triceps
We’re going to ignore the other major muscle groups such as the back and legs for this example.
Joe Average does things like incline bench presses on Monday, seated DB overhead presses on Wednesday, and close grip bench presses on Friday.
Joe is actually training his shoulders and triceps directly or indirectly three times per week! For most trainees it is simply impossible to make optimal training progress with this much “overlap” between body parts.
One of the advantages of the upper-lower split is that it practically eliminates overlap between muscle groups! This makes the training split more effective and simpler to use.
There are still exceptions to this rule.
However, overall the upper-lower split is fantastic for minimizing unwanted overlap between muscle groups.
Advantage #3: Forces You To Focus On The Best Exercises
Many training splits give you the opportunity to waste time on useless exercises. For example, just think about the stereotypical “bro-split”:
- Monday: Chest
- Tuesday: Back
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday: Shoulders
- Friday: Arms
With this type of split you have ample time to throw in a bunch of useless isolation exercises for good measure. I mean why not throw in exercises such as tricep kickbacks, hip thrusts, and front delt raises if you have the time?
The problem with this is these exercises are going to do little to help you reach your strength and physique goals.
On the other hand they will absolutely eat into your recovery stores and slow down your progress.
When you are using an upper-lower split you only have time to use the big “money” exercises such as squats, deadlifts, presses, pull ups, and rows.
However, the upper-lower split does a great job of forcing you to focus on the big compound exercises that actually drive your progress.
Advantage #4: Allows For Plenty Of Rest Between Workouts
There are a few different ways to look at training frequency. The most common way is to talk about how frequently you are training individual body parts or specific lifts such as bench presses or squats.
However, there is another way of looking at training frequency: the total number of workouts performed in a 7-day week.
Most trainees have a very difficult time making optimal progress on more than 4 total strength training workouts per week.
Of course I am using the term “freak” as a compliment and in the best possible way!
However, for us mortals this is a sure-fire way to regress in strength and muscular size.
One of the great things about the upper-lower splits is that they maximize the number of rest days per week. You are guaranteed to have anywhere from 3-5 full days of rest on these routines!
This is important not only for your muscles to recover but your central nervous system as well.
If you are used to training 5+ days a week then I think you will be shocked at how much better you recover from a 2-4 days per week upper-lower split.
Advantage #5: Allows You To Train Antagonistic Body Parts Together
This is easily one of the most underrated benefits of the classic upper-lower split.
Charles Poliquin popularized the idea of performing antagonistic supersets as a way to get superior results for his professional- and Olympic-caliber athletes.
The idea is simple: you alternate between sets for antagonistic body parts with normal rest periods in between exercises.
For example, you could perform a set of bench presses, rest 90 seconds, perform a set of chin ups, rest 90 seconds, and repeat the process several more times.
Antagonistic bodypart training has many benefits:
- Increased motor unit recruitment on all exercises
- Decreased rate of fatigue accumulation throughout the workout
- Dramatically increased training density
There are of course many other reasons but covering all of them would fall outside the scope of this article.
The nice thing about upper-lower splits is that all exercises can be performed in this antagonistic fashion. Some of my sample routines covered below will show you how to do organize routines in this fashion.
Advantage #6: Fantastic For Boosting Lower Body Strength
Many strength sports such as powerlifting and strongman are largely decided by overall lower body strength.
For example, it is no secret that big squats and deadlifts are what decide “raw” powerlifting meets.
On the other hand, strength in events such as the deadlift, super yolk, and farmer’s walk, and atlas stones typically determine the winners of most strongman competitions.
If you compete in one of these sports then you want to make sure that your training revolves around boosting your lower body strength.
A great way to do this is to organize your training into upper body and lower body days. Some people will perform as many as 2-4 upper body workouts per lower body workout over the course of a training week.
This is a viable way to train but may not be optimal if your primary goal is improving your lower body strength.
It is often times wiser to focus on the one thing that you need in your chosen sport (a big squat and deadlift etc.) than to worry about thoroughly working every little body part in the upper body. Food for thought!
Part 2: The Disadvantages Of Upper / Lower Splits
No training split is perfect and the classic upper-lower splits are no exception to this rule.
In my experience the upper-lower split has one major drawback: it is difficult for an advanced bodybuilder to specialize on their upper body.
When I say advanced bodybuilder I am talking about someone who very clearly looks like a bodybuilder in regular clothes and has a very good foundation of strength.
I’m talking bench pressing at least 250 pounds for at least a few reps and squatting / deadlifting at least 400 pounds for at least a few reps.
If you are nowhere near these strength numbers then an upper-lower split is probably still a viable choice for you while you build up your foundation of strength.
Most bodybuilders at the advanced level are using upwards of 2-3 exercises per body part.
Of course there are some advanced bodybuilders who continue to make great progress using an upper-lower split. However, they are the exception to the rule.
This does not mean that an advanced bodybuilder has to graduate to a “bro-split” hitting body parts once every 7 days.
For example, a 4 days per week push / pull / legs split or a Poliquin-style split would be two excellent ways to specialize on the upper body a little more while still hitting body parts with a reasonable amount of frequency.
Part 3: 4 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Split
This is easily the most commonly used upper body / lower body split variation!
In fact, this training split is probably used more often by world-class powerlifters and strongmen competitors than any other split in the entire world!
Of course it isn’t just strength athletes that are getting great gains with this type of split. Many bodybuilding coaches such as Greg Doucette use it with many of their clients.
Here is one example of how the split might be organized:
- Sunday: Upper
- Monday: Lower
- Wednesday: Upper
- Friday: Lower
Of course Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday would be rest days. This is the exact weekly schedule used by Louie Simmons and his world-famous Westside Barbell powerlifting team.
You are free to train on different days of the week as long as you do not train more than two days in a row.
This training split works awesome when training for both strength and for hypertrophy. Let’s take a closer look at each of these training goals and how to organize your workouts for each of them using this split.
4 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Split For Strength
This is the classic training split used by the Westside barbell training club and many other highly accomplished powerlifting teams.
This split offers many advantages to the dedicated strength athlete. The training frequency is relatively high as every body part is being hit twice per week.
This increased training frequency is great for strength athletes as productive workouts add up very quickly.
It also gives you multiple opportunities during the course of a week to practice the main lifts. This means your technique on all the major competition lifts will be very dialed in.
Probably the major disadvantage of this split for a strength athlete is that you have to be very careful with not overtraining your lower back.
Most trainees have a hard time recovering from two all-out squat and/or deadlift workouts in a 7-day period. Fortunately there are a few potential solutions to this problem.
One solution is to have a “heavier” lower body day and a “lighter” lower body day.
- Sunday: Upper (light)
- Monday: Lower (heavy)
- Wednesday: Upper (heavy)
- Friday: Lower (light)
This is precisely what Westside Barbell does.
Louie figured out very quickly that his athletes could not handle 2 max effort squat / deadlift workouts within the same week, so he substituted one of these days for a dynamic-effort, or “speed” day.
Of course there are other ways to organize your “heavier” and lighter days.
Lexen Xtreme’s 4 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Split
The powerlifting team “Lexen Xtreme” simply has one day of the week where they perform all of their heavy squats and deadlifts.
Typically the Lexen Xtreme team will squat heavy every Saturday, and deadlift heavy every other Saturday following the squat workout.
The other day is a lighter day reserved for accessory work only for the squat and deadlift.
On this day his athletes may do things like higher-rep good mornings, back extensions, hamstrings curls, reverse hyperextensions, and conditioning work.
Basically they would do anything that would develop the posterior chain without excessively taxing the lumbar spine.
Here are 2 upper body and 2 lower body workouts taken directly from Team Lexen Xtreme’s training log. Check it out:
Monday: Upper Body (Speed Workout)
- A1: Dynamic effort bench press, 9 x 3, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B1: 4-board press w/ band tension, 3 x 5, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Wide grip lat pull down, 4 x 8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Chest-supported row, 3 x 12, 1/0/X/1, 90 seconds rest seconds rest
Tuesday: Lower Body (Light Workout)
- A1: Chain suspended good mornings, 3 x 8**, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Reverse hyperextensions, 3 x 10-15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: 45 degree hyperextensions w/ bands, 3 x 10-15, 1/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Sled drags forwards, 5 x 100 ft, 120 seconds rest
**Perform 3 moderately difficult sets of 8 NOT TO FAILURE
Thursday: Upper Body (Heavy Workout)
- A1: Close grip bench press w/ chains, 3 x 1**, 1/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Flat rolling DB extensions, 5 x 8, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Ez-bar skull crushers to forehead, 3 x 12, 1/01/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Barbell bent-over rows, 4 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- E1: Seated face pulls w/ maximum external rotation, 3 x 15, 1/0/1/2, 120 seconds rest
**Perform 3 heavy singles, the last one should be an all-out effort
Saturday: Lower Body (Heavy Workout)
- A1: Parallel wide-stance box squat w/ bands, 3 x 1**, 1/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Conventional rack deadlift weights elevated 4 inches, 3 x 2****, 1/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- C1: Glute-ham raises holding DB at chest, 3 x 12, 1/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
**Perform 3 heavy singles, the last one should be an all-out effort
****Perform 3 heavy doubles, the last one should be an all-out effort
Please note that Lexen Xtreme changes their lower body exercises on a weekly basis. These exercises were taken directly from one of their training logs but they are constantly rotated to prevent stagnation.
Eddie Hall’s 4 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Split
Former World’s Strongest Man Eddie Hall has a slightly different take on the 4 days per week upper / lower split.
He has one lower body day dedicated to the deadlift and one to the squat. However, he only goes “heavy” every other week on the deadlift.
- Monday: Heavy squat workout
- Thursday: Heavy deadlift workout
- Monday: Heavy squat workout
- Thursday: Speed deadlift workout
In this manner Eddie is performing a heavy squat or deadlift session once every 2 weeks.
Actually this is a very common way for elite powerlifters to organize their deadlifting training. Most powerlifters deadlifting over 800 pounds find that they make optimal progress deadlifting heavy once every 2 weeks.
Eddie Hall’s Heavy Squat day
- A1: Back squat (feet wide / flat), 1-3 x 4-8, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed
- B1: Leg Press, 1-3 x 6-10, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
- C1: Super Yolk, 2 x 100 ft, X/0/X/0, rest as needed
Eddie Hall’s Heavy Deadlift day
- A1: Conventional deadlift**, 8 x 2, X/1/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Lat pulldowns (wide / overhand grip), 1-3 x 10-12, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
- C1: Seated machine rows (narrow / neutral grip), 1-3 x 10-12, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
**Performed as speed deadlifts. Every other week Eddie would go heavier, working up to 1-3 top sets of 1-10 reps.
These workouts may look simple but with the weights Eddie was throwing around he frequently took 3-4 hours to complete a single workout!
OK, 4 days per week upper / lower splits work great for strength athletes. But what about bodybuilders?
The 4 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Split For Hypertrophy
This training split certainly can be used by bodybuilders, and I have used this split with some of my bodybuilding clients with good results.
One big disadvantage for advanced bodybuilders is it can be more difficult to specialize on weak shoulders or arms if they are a lagging body part.
I don’t have any hard data to back this up. However, it always seems like when a highly accomplished powerlifter makes the switch to competitive bodybuilding, it is their shoulders and arms that need to “catch up” to the rest of their body the most.
Matt Kroczaleski certainly comes to mind in this regard. When Matt first made the switch from competitive powerlifting to competitive bodybuilding his chest and especially his back absolutely dwarfed his shoulders and arms.
Of course if you are creative enough there are still ways to bring up your upper body using the 4 days per week upper / lower split.
For example, here is a fantastic upper-lower split routine that an intermediate-level bodybuilder could use to specialize on the upper body for a while. It features supersets and antagonistic body part training to jack up your training density to sky-high levels. Check it out:
Upper Body Supersets Hypertrophy Routine
- A1: Close grip bench press, 4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- A2: Sternum chin ups, 4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B1: 30 degree incline DB press, 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: 30 degree incline DB flys, 4 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- B3: T-bar row, 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- B4: Seated cable face pull w/ external rotation, 4 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Decline ez-bar extensions (close grip / to forehead), 4 x 10-12, 2/2/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- C2: Incline cable curls, 4 x 10-12, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest
Lower body Supersets Hypertrophy Routine
- A1: Front squat (heels medium / elevated), 4 x 6, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Leg Press, 4 x 15-20, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Bilateral seated hamstring curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing in) 4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: Snatch grip Romanian deadlift, 4 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
I recommend you perform the upper body and lower body workouts twice per week for a total of 4 workouts per week.
After 2-3 weeks on this routine I recommend you switch to another routine. Ideally it would be more of an intensification phase routine featuring somewhat lower rep ranges.
Something like 5/4/3 wave loading would be perfect!
Of course there are many other ways to design a hypertrophy focused training program using a 4 days per week upper-lower split.
My article on the 11 greatest bodybuilding training methods of all time should give you some ideas!
Part 4: 3 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Split
This is by far the most under-rated training split in the strength training world. Seriously, this is an AWESOME training split.
If I had to guess, I would say there is a higher likelihood of this training split working for you than any other training split in the world.
As a general rule of thumb I like to use the 3 days per week upper / lower split split with intermediate to advanced strength athletes (powerlifters, strongmen etc.) and intermediate level bodybuilders.
For example, here is what a weekly training calendar might look like:
- Monday: Upper
- Wednesday: Lower
- Friday: Upper
- Monday: Lower
- Wednesday: Upper
- Friday: Lower
Week 3 would be a repeat of week 1. Of course Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday would be off days every week.
You can choose whichever days of the week you want to train as long as you take at least 1 day off between workouts.
Advantages Of The 3 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Split
The most obvious difference about this training split vs the 4 days per week version is the reduced training frequency.
Body parts are trained about once every 5 days which I consider to be a more moderate training frequency.
In my experience most trainees perform extremely well training bodyparts every 5 days. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First of all the once every five days training frequency is very friendly to the lumbar spine. Most trainees can perform a heavy squat and/or deadlift workout every five days without overtraining their lower back.
Unlike the 4 days per week upper-lower split variation there really isn’t much of a need to go “lighter” on every other lower body session.
For example, the Modified Hepburn Method works great using this training split. Check it out:
Modified Hepburn Method Upper Body Workout:
- A1: Standing military press, 8 x 1, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Supinated shoulder-width chin ups, 8 x 1, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Standing military press (grip slightly wider), 5 x 3-5, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: Supinated chin ups (hands slightly closer), 5 x 3-5, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
Modified Hepburn Method Lower Body Workout:
- A1: Safety squat bar back squat (feet wide / flat), 8 x 1, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Standing unilateral hamstring curls (feet pointed out / dorsiflexed), 8 x 1, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Safety squat bar back squat (feet wide / slightly elevated), 5 x 3-5, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: Standing unilateral hamstring curls (feet neutral / dorsiflexed), 5 x 3-5, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
Performing 13 sets of squats twice per week is too much for most trainees but when this is done once every 5 days it becomes much more realistic.
I recommend you repeat both the upper and lower body workouts for a total of 3-6 workouts each before switching to a higher-rep accumulation type workout.
The other thing I really like about the once-every-five-days training frequency is that you can use more high-intensity bodybuilding techniques.
Of course a discussion of the 3 days per week upper / lower split would not be complete without mentioning Dante Trudel’s DC Training system.
DC Upper Body Day:
- Back Width
- Back Thickness
DC Lower Body Day:
Basically it is an upper body lower body split where biceps and forearms are trained first on the lower body day. This is a slightly unusual way to split body parts up but it works unbelievably well for many trainees.
IFBB professional bodybuilder David Henry made some of the best gains of his life on this exact split.
Of course you don’t absolutely have to use these high-intensity training techniques all the time. Sometimes a higher-volume training program such as German Volume Training is appropriate. For example:
German Volume Training Upper Body Day
- A1: 45 degree incline DB press, 10 x 10, 4/0/2/0, 90 seconds rest
- A2: Wide grip neutral pulldowns, 10 x 10, 4/0/2/0, 90 seconds rest
- B1: Dips, 3 x 12-15, 3/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Smith machine dead stop rows, 3 x 12-15, 3/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
German Volume Training Lower Body Day
- A1: Back squat (heels flat / narrow), 10 x 10, 4/0/2/0, 90 seconds rest
- A2: Lying hamstring curls (bilateral, feet neutral / plantarflexed), 10 x 6, 4/0/2/0, 90 seconds rest
- B1: Leg press, 3 x 12-15, 3/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: 90 degree back extension, 3 x 12-15, 3/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
I recommend you repeat both the upper and lower body German Volume Training workouts a total of 3-6 times before switching to a lower rep intensification-style workout.
Remember, a routine is only as good as the time it takes to adapt to it!
Disadvantages Of The 3 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Split
In my experience there aren’t any glaring drawbacks to the 3 days per week upper / lower split.
One of the challenges with it is that you are training different body parts on different days of the week.
If you are running a powerlifting club then it probably makes a lot more sense to stick with a routine where you are training the same lifts on the same days every week.
The other major drawback is that, once again, it can be difficult for advanced bodybuilders to give their upper bodies sufficient attention using this split.
This does not mean that this split is never appropriate for an advanced bodybuilder.
For example, Dante Trudel has trained literally hundreds of amateur and professional bodybuilders using a 3 days per week upper body / lower body split.
Still I tend to use other training splits when working with advanced bodybuilders.
Part 5: 2 Days Per Week Upper / Lower Split
The 2 days per week upper body / lower body split has gotten a bad rap over the years. Of course this is changing thanks to the success of elite-level powerlifters such as Stan Efferding and Eric Lilliebridge.
However, there are a lot of trainees who would benefit tremendously from this type of routine who would never even consider training this way.
By the end of this section I hope to convince you of the merits of this “minimalist” training split and enlighten you on who specifically may benefit from it.
The 2 days per week upper body / lower body split is usually set up like this:
- Wednesday: Upper
- Saturday: Lower
All other days would be rest days. Of course you can choose which days of the week you want to train on.
The key is to make sure that there is at least one day of rest between each workout. You do not want to train on back-to-back days using this type of split.
Who Should Consider The 2 Days Per Week Upper-Lower Split?
Is 2 days per week training right for me?
In my experience, only a small minority of trainees should train on a 2 days per week upper / lower split. They usually fall into one of 2 categories:
- Extremely advanced strength athletes. Emphasis on EXTREMELY!
Seriously, everyone else should stay far away. But if you fall into one of these categories, twice per week training can work like magic.
Category #1: Hardgainers
There are some people who think that hardgainers don’t exist, or that everyone can make rapid progress if they just try hard enough. They are partly correct!
Yes, strength training DOES work for everyone if it is performed correctly. However, in working with literally hundreds of trainees, I can tell you for a fact that there are in fact some trainees who were dealt a bad genetic hand in terms of being able to build muscle and strength.
In particular, these “hardgainers” tend to have very limited tolerance for strength training. Even on lower volume 3 days per week routines they overtrain very very quickly.
So what is the solution for these guys? Should they just give up and accept their fate as being small and weak?
Where there is a will, there is a way.
If you truly are a hard gainer (and you’re not just telling yourself that because you took Cell-tech for a month and didn’t put on 30 pounds of muscle), then you may find you grow like a weed on a properly designed 2 days per week upper lower split program.
For example, here is a routine any hard gainers reading this article may want to try. Of course you are going to perform one upper body workout and one lower body workout per week. Check it out:
Hard Gainer Upper Body Workout
- A1: 30 degree incline bench press, 2 x 5/1/1*, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Close pronated grip pull ups, 2 x 5/1/1*, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Seated DB overhead press, 2 x 8-10**, 4/0/1/0, 100 seconds rest
- B2: Barbell dead stop rows, 2 x 8-10**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- C1: V-bar dips, 2 x 8-10**, 3/2/1/0, 100 seconds rest
- C2: Preacher reverse ez-bar curls (wide grip), 2 x 8-10**, 3/0/1/0, 100 seconds rest
* = performed as rest-pause sets: perform 5 reps just shy of failure, rest 15 seconds, perform 1 rep, rest 15 seconds, perform 1 rep, DONE
** = both sets taken to failure (you attempt the rep you cannot get)
Hard Gainer Lower Body Workout
- A1: Back Squat (medium stance / heels flat), 2 x 8-10**, 4/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Deficit conventional deadlift, 2 x 8-10**, 3/0/X/0
- C1: Front foot elevated split squat, 2 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- C2: 45 degree back extension (bands), 2 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
** = stop 1 rep shy of failure on both sets
If this doesn’t look like “enough volume,” then you are DEAD WRONG!
I have had MANY trainees where nothing else worked for them in the past do absolutely AWESOME on a relatively lower-volume, higher intensity routine such as this with only 2 days in the gym total.
Don’t get me wrong – I think most trainees will make much better progress training 3-4, or perhaps even 5 days per week with weights. However, if you have found that even three days per week in the gym is too much for you, then please, give the above routine a shot.
Category #2: Advanced Strength Athletes
The other group of people who tend to do well on a 2 days per week upper lower split workout are advanced powerlifters. By advanced, I’m talking AT LEAST a 2.5 x bodyweight squat or deadlift.
A lot of times once people find that once they get to the 800 pound squat or deadlift mark they need dramatically more recovery between workouts to make progress.
Eric Lilliebridge and the Lilliebridge method have popularized “The Lilliebridge Method,” which is their own unique take on 2 days per week training for powerlifting.
As I write this they are the most successful family in the world of competitive powerlifting, and thousands of lifters have adopted their training program with great results.
Stan Efferding is another individual who has received AWESOME results training this way to prep for his powerlifting competitions.
The idea of the Lilliebridge method is rather simple: you squat and deadlift heavy on alternate weeks. You also bench press heavy one week, and lighter the next week.
Basically it looks something like this:
- Upper: Heavy bench press session
- Lower: Heavy squat session
- Upper: Light bench press session
- Lower: Heavy deadlift session
Here are some sample upper body workouts that Stan Efferding used when he trained for his powerlifting competitions:
The Stan Efferding Bench Press Workout
- A1: Bench press competition grip, 3 x 3, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Incline dumbbell press, 2 x 6-10, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
- C1: Dips, 2 x 14-20, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
This was a typical “heavy” bench press workout for Stan.
He would start out performing triples on the bench press 2-3 months out from his competition and work his way up to doing near-maximal singles as the meet approached.
Every other week Stan avoided the bench press and stuck to various assistance exercises. Of course if you know anything about Stan then you probably know he didn’t exactly go “light” on his assistance day!
He was repping 500 pounds on the incline bench press, repping 300 pounds on the behind-the-neck press, and throwing around 200+ pound dumbbells all over the place on flat and incline DB presses.
The important point is the avoided the flat bench press on his “light” weeks to give his shoulders and central nervous system a break from the constant stress of heavy bench presses.
Here are some sample lower body workouts that Eric Lilliebridge used to set his powerlifting world records. Check it out:
The Eric Lilliebridge Squat Workout:
- A1: Competition-style squat, 3 x 1, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Lat pulldown (wide pronated grip), 3 x 12-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Lying leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointed straight), 3 x 8-10, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
The Eric Lilliebridge Deadlift Workout:
- A1: Conventional deadlift, 3 x 1, X/0/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Barbell bent-over row, 3 x 12-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Leg press, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Decline sit ups 3 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
When Eric Lilliebridge first started using his twice-per-week training program he would perform both squats and deadlifts on Saturdays every week.
If he squatted heavy then he would perform some light speed deadlifts at about 50% of his 1-rep max just to work on his technique.
The same was true if he deadlifted heavy that day: he would perform some slight squats afterwards just to reinforce his technique and “grease the groove” of the lift.
Over time he found that this wasn’t really necessary and he eliminated these “speed” sets altogether.
This should give you a good idea of how to start using the Lilliebridge method in your own training. Of course if you want more information then you can always check out Eric’s e-book: The Lilliebridge Method.
The e-book is rather short but it lays out the exact percentages that he uses to break powerlifting world records year-after-year.
If you are a serious powerlifter and thrive on low-frequency training programs then it may be worth the purchase to you.
I continue to use upper / lower splits with my clients for one simple reason: They work!
They are also extremely versatile. They can be adapted for training anywhere from 2-4 days per week and for a variety of different training goals.
If you are unsure about what training split to use then I highly recommend you give one of the upper / lower splits covered in this article a shot!
“If you always put limit 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!
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