Professionals can debate & argue on different training plans and fundamentals for many hours, yet may not reach common ground. Everyone has one’s own perception & experience. But based on research, we can show that some methods of training are better than others.

When we talk of strength training, any workout is better than doing nothing. But if you aspire for maximum gains, effectively, you must consider upper/lower splits – that is use a plan, which splits training sessions into upper body & lower body workouts.

By performing these split sessions more than once a week, you can increase your strength and hypertrophy (growth in muscle size) gains remarkably more than as compared to hitting each muscle group just once in a week.

So, you will need to visit gym at least 4 times a week and workout 2 upper body & 2 lower body sessions to reap your goals efficiently.

If not convinced, read on here below for the details, facts & evidences: 

One Muscle, One Day – Not Worshipped Any More!

The old dictum – training one muscle or muscle group one day per week is no longer considered an effective way to train. This method is also known as body part splits. This kind of plan does not allow to work hard enough & achieve high training volume on muscle groups over a week. Because each muscle group is allowed too much recovery time. And 7 days of recovery time is more than required and can in fact cut back on the gains.

No doubt, it’s a fact that working on one muscle group once per week is better than no training. But this isn’t an efficient way to make real progress. Research studies have established that muscles normally require just 3 days to recover, which translates to hitting each muscle at least two times in a week.

As per “Journal of Strength and Conditioning” a research study was conducted for comparing the effects of multiple sessions per week vis-a-vis with just one per week. Two groups participated. While one worked on each muscle group twice a week, the other trained each muscle just once a week. Those who trained just once per week achieved 3.7% growth in hypertrophy after several weeks. And those who did twice per week experienced impressive 6.8% gain, nearly two times the hypertrophy growth by simply adding one additional training session for each muscle group per week. [Source]

What is an Upper/Lower Split Workout?

The concept of the upper/lower split is fairly simple. It involves dividing the training sessions into working on the upper body and the lower body separately, but NOT doing both at the same time – that is performing upper body exercises one day and lower body exercises on the next day.

Upper Body Muscle Groups

Typically the upper body split incorporates exercises that hit your chest, upper & middle back, shoulders, biceps & triceps.

You can vary this group depending upon your own needs.

Lower Body Muscle Groups

In general, the lower body muscle groups target your abdominals; lower back, hamstrings, quads, glutes and calves.

You can vary this group depending upon your own needs.

Note: Some trainers like to incorporate the lower back & abs muscles on upper body days.

Upper/Lower Split Maximizes Muscles Growth

Many research studies support the concept of training muscle groups more than once a week for maximizing hypertrophy (muscles growth in size). One reason for this is that by splitting upper and lower body workouts, you can work on greater volume of training for each muscle group.

With 2 sessions per muscle per week, you can perform more reps, sets and weight/volume for each muscle every week. And enhanced volume is always better for growth of the muscles as compared to lower training volume. Another reason for the increased hypertrophy may be due to the improved metabolic stress.

There are 3 important factors that result into upsurge in hypertrophy (higher muscle size growth):

(i) Mechanical tension: This means, you use heavy weights.

(ii) Muscle damage: Damage to muscle tissues provide opportunity for them to regrow stronger and bigger, and you can ensure this by doing strength training, particularly eccentric movements.

(iii) Metabolic stress: This is the accumulation of the chemical byproducts due to anaerobic metabolism, which results into higher muscle growth.

Unfortunately, metabolic stress is generally not given much importance by the trainers in building muscle. However, it is critical and probably responsible for up to about 25 percent of muscle growth (hypertrophy). And here is the clue: Go for increased training volume to achieve higher metabolic stress.

Athletes vs. Non Athletes

Upper/lower split workout strategies are not one-size-fits-all. Splits required to be adjusted a little bit differently for beginner & advanced trainers, athletes & lifters.

3-Day Split Training For Beginners / Non-Athletes

The research recommends, training on each body part or muscle group 3 times in a week as the MOST effective strategy for hypertrophy (muscle size growth) for both beginners and non-athletes.

Many earlier studies have shown that a 3-day in a week training strategy is efficient, but the subjects in these studies were all non-athletes, that is people who were NOT preparing for competitions. The conclusion was that non-athletes benefit most from:

(i) 4 sets per muscle or muscle group,

(ii) At 60 percent of 1RM,

(iii) 3 times a week.

Obviously, there can be some variations according to individual needs & differences.

2-Day Upper/Lower Split for Athletes

On the other hand, for athletes, advanced lifters, and competitors, the ideal strategy may be to work on each muscle group two times per week, and to hit the weights harder. The higher volume of training will ensure better results. The suggested plan for athletes & competitors includes:

(i) 8 sets per muscle group,

(ii) At about 85 percent of 1 RM,

(iii) 2 times a week.

Again, the suggested plan may be adjusted keeping in view individual needs & differences.

Suggested Strength Training Split Sessions Plan

A typical, classic 4-day upper/lower split can be:

  1. Monday – upper body
  2. Tuesday – lower body
  3. Wednesday – rest day
  4. Thursday – upper body
  5. Friday – lower body
  6. Saturday – rest day
  7. Sunday – rest day

Rest days mean taking break from strength training. These are active recovery days & are ideal for light cardio workout such as slow jog, walk, or another low-intensity activity. Obviously this is an indicative schedule; you can vary the exact days for each split.

And if you can train in gym only on three days, here is a variation of the classic, 4-day lower/upper body split schedule.  

Week One:

  1. Monday – upper body
  2. Tuesday – rest day
  3. Wednesday – lower body
  4. Thursday – rest day
  5. Friday – upper body
  6. Saturday – rest day
  7. Sunday – rest day

Week Two:

  1. Monday – lower body
  2. Tuesday – rest day
  3. Wednesday – upper body
  4. Thursday – rest day
  5. Friday – lower body
  6. Saturday – rest day
  7. Sunday – rest day

This split plan is same as the classic (4-day split), but with a little bit lower frequency for each muscle group.

Don’t Overlook Cardio

In general, splitting strength-training schedule is a good strategy, but cardio training too has an important role. When & where you do cardio in an upper/lower split routine is a matter of individual needs & preference.

If you have time constraint, one option is to do twenty minutes of cardio at the end of every strength training session. You can use high-intensity intervals to optimize your time utilization. Options are many and you can do cardio as & when you get time. It’s a matter of personal preference – whether you do the elliptical at the gym or go for a jog at home. Do whatever and wherever you feel best for you, but if you can then do lower intensity workouts on rest days.

So, remember there is no one plan that works best for all. Always do what works best for you. But, the research has made one thing clear, the most efficient and effective method to plan strength-training schedule is to split exercises into upper & lower body workouts. Details of the exercises, reps and sets depend on individual needs & circumstances. Just make sure that you do strength-training for each muscle group at least a 2 times every week for optimum fitness & health

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