What’s the Best Muscle Building Workout Split?


strong-gymnastThe best muscle-building workout split for most genetically average, drug free, busy guys is no split at all.

Full body workouts are the premier and logical choice for those seeking the fastest gains in size and strength.

This is how all the legends of the Iron Game trained a century ago and some very big, strong men were built on full body workouts.

Gymnasts do full body workouts and they have incredible levels of muscularity and strength. So do Olympic lifters.

The more muscle you can activate during a workout the greater growth stimulation you’ll receive.

It’s just that simple.

A day consisting of snatches, ring dips and squats will always dominate a day consisting of lateral raises, front raises and upright rows.

When you do a full body workout it forces you be very wise with your exercise choices.

Since your time is limited you need to make sure that every exercise has a purpose and every exercise is going to produce results. This usually leads to better exercise selection.

It’s harder to throw in some junk movements for assistance work when you need to work the entire body in one session.

You’ll get a greater anabolic stimulus and burn more calories during the session when your workout consists of squats, pulls and presses than when it consist of the pec dec and leg extension.

How to Design a Full Body Workout Properly

Pick an upper body push, an upper body pull and a compound lower body exercise.

Stick with an average of about 4-6 sets of 5-8 reps with a minute or so rest between sets.

To kick of the workout you could start with some jumps or medicine ball throws to fire up the CNS. Those should be done for 1-3 reps on average.

You could also conclude the workout with some sled pushing or loaded carries. Just get about ten minutes of hard work in and keep each set under twenty seconds in duration.

Upper/ Lower Splits

Eventually, when you have been training properly for more than two years and have made some serious progress you could start to break up your workouts into upper body and lower body days if you really wanted to. But there will always still be some overlap.

In an upper/lower split you’d put throws, chins, rows, presses and dips on the upper body focused days and jumps, squats, deadlifts, cleans, high pulls, ab work and sled work on the lower body focused days.

Snatches and loaded carries could really go on either day.

Sled work and kettlebell swings could on either day as well.

So even though you are technically focusing more on the upper body one day and more on the lower body another day, you’re still basically working the entire body in each session.

Whichever option you choose, be sure to focus on getting stronger. It’s the most important thing you can do to facilitate long term gains.

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65 Responses to What’s the Best Muscle Building Workout Split?

  1. Eric Schwab April 30, 2012 at 7:31 am #

    The full body workouts..how many times per week? 3? and should you do the same exercises each day?

    • Jason Ferruggia May 11, 2012 at 5:39 am #

      Eric- 3 or 4. If you want to master them, yes. If not you can mix it up.

      • rob213m September 27, 2012 at 10:26 am #

        Hey Jason! So if u only do 3 days per week and suppose to do 1 push, 1 pull and 1 lower body exercise for 5 sets 3-6 reps will be enough to gain max muscle?

      • jeri abelgas April 24, 2013 at 6:35 am #

        how the expansion of body you just beginner especially if skinny yet I now know how bad happen to me, how can I help you turn

  2. Michael Hodge April 30, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    Hey Jason, so are you saying that beginners should do full body workouts? And the more intermediate/advanced should do the 6 day upper and lower split? Ive been training for about 3 and a half years now. 2 and a half years being part of the classic “body building routine” and the other 6-10 months based off all your programs.

    Would you suggest the 6 day split or the full body routine for 4-6 days? Thanks for the awesome posts man!

    • Jason Ferruggia May 11, 2012 at 5:44 am #

      Michael- Beginners should always do full body 3-5 days per week. At your stage you could do four full body workouts or you could do six days of upper/lower. You could even do some combo of the two training 5-6x per week.

  3. Shane April 30, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    This is what I’m doing right now. One workout, 3 times a week 5-6 exercises, not training to failure and a working warmup. So far it’s been awesome. Good advice Jason, thanks alot

  4. Scott April 30, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    Great article!

  5. Mark April 30, 2012 at 8:35 am #

    My main template:

    Explosion movement – jumps,snatch,cleans variations
    Lower body – squat or deads variations, single leg movement
    Upper push – the list is so long but Overhead, incline, dips
    Upper pull – chins, rows, shrugs,
    Arms – A few sets the list so long
    Core – leg raise variation, ab wheel many variations

    This is my workouy template and I repeat 4-6 a week.

    Do I get the renegade approval stamp?

    • Jason Ferruggia May 11, 2012 at 5:45 am #

      Mark- Looks good. But going full body more than four days can get to be a bit much on connective tissue if you are not careful. I’d at least alternate this with phases of upper/lower splits.

  6. Scott April 30, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    How would one program post workout conditioning using prowler, complexes, etc using full body workouts 3 x a times on non consecutive days without compromising the next workout?

    • Jason Ferruggia May 11, 2012 at 5:46 am #

      Scott- The prowler has no eccentric component so it can be done in between training days, no problem.

  7. Kevin April 30, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    Holmes—-nice article.You know my deal. I have the eating part down now but after reading this post, should I do MGS again? I haven’t done it in about 3 years.

    KV

  8. Ken Okada April 30, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Another great article, but I have always been confused on what the real cut off point is to determine what a beginner from a non beginner is and when to switch to more of an upper/lower scheme to mix things up a bit. What would be some guidelines in strength to determine this? i.e. squat strength, bench strength, etc.
    Thanks for everything that you do.

    • Jason Ferruggia May 11, 2012 at 5:47 am #

      Ken- After your first 2 years of training or when you can no longer make progress.

  9. Umberto April 30, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Jason, doing only bodyweight exercises, say pistol squats properly done, ring dips, not weighed dips, pull ups on rings, rope climbing, etc, could you do them everyday 5 or 6 times per week?

    • Till April 30, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

      I’ll chime in here and say yes. The big calisthenics guys (BarBarians, Calisthenics Kings etc.) train every day. It’s pretty hard to overtrain unweighted dips, you know ^^

    • Jason Ferruggia May 11, 2012 at 5:48 am #

      Umberto- You can, just be careful for connective tissue stress. If that starts creeping in cut back on frequency.

  10. Vleit April 30, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    I currently do an upper lower split but will also do periods of full body just for a blast for size. Pick the right movements and you will hit everything anyway.

  11. Matt April 30, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    Charles Poliquin trains some of the best athletes in the world and he recommends splits so to each there own :)

  12. Mike April 30, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    What about high frequency training? I read from Chad Waterbury and he said he got great results doing 100 pushups and pullups every day. Your thoughts on this? Thanks boss.

  13. DiscoStew April 30, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    Jason, do you think its ok/safe to have 1 or 2 sprint days a week when doing full-body workouts (eg 3 full-body workouts a week)?

    DS

  14. john April 30, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    Awesome post. I assume that this may apply to bodyweight exercises: pistol squat variation(up to 20 reps per set), one arm push up and sternum chin up finishing with some high tuck jump. Add some 10 40 yard sprints 2-3 times a week and all ready to go. Jason can this be a sample template?

  15. Max May 3, 2012 at 7:24 am #

    I do a Deadlift variation for a clean smooth single followed by Barbell Hip Thrusts 3×6-10, ring rollouts and Grip work with the ironmind blue egg on Monday

    Ring one arm pushups, Ring Dips for a top end set of 5 reps, Thick bar ring pullups and ring rollouts on Wednesday.

    Jump Rope 10-15 min, 3 sets of Barbell Hip Thrusts in the range of 3×12-15, Ring Rollouts and Thick Barbell Holds for 2-3 sets on friday.

    How would you rate this program jason? To be fair i’ll tell you i probably wouldn’t change it even if you hated it just because it’s been working so well. But i’d still like to know what you would do to it to enhance it if you’d be so kind.

  16. Max May 3, 2012 at 7:25 am #

    Also, who is that gymnast in the picture? And when do you know if you’re over doing it with the frequency?

    • Marcello Teofilatto May 6, 2012 at 3:02 am #

      Hi, the gymnast is Brandon Wynn.

  17. Fitzy May 3, 2012 at 11:26 am #

    I do pulls and dips daily. been great additions

  18. Mike T Nelson May 3, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    Awesome and wise words man! I love the Joe Kenn quote.

    Most people can do a whole body, compound exercise at every training session as long as they don’t try to kill themselves with it each time.

    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

    • Jason Ferruggia May 11, 2012 at 5:50 am #

      Mike- That’s the key point and most people miss it.

  19. Steven May 4, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    I’ve been lifting for five years now and use proper nutrition. I’ve been doing split routines since the beginning and I’ve gotten fantastic results. Not trying to say this article is wrong, but as long as you diet well, lift hard, and get proper rest you’ll be just fine.

  20. Joseph Sinagoga May 4, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    Easily the best article I’ve read in a while. I’m doing 3 full body sessions a week with strongman events and have made great gains.
    I also do some sled work and jump rope on my non lifting days.
    Thanks Adam!
    Joe

  21. Matt B May 6, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    Great post Jason! Haha “Do coaches break up practices into upper and lower body days?” – great quote! I just hope that commercial gym leaders better understand the importance of compound exercises, old school lifting and total body workouts. I feel like a “fitness angel” loses its wings every time a gym opens and only carries isolated movement machines and no squat/power lifting rack.

  22. Scott May 7, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    Does Jason ever respond on here?

  23. Fernando May 8, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    what do You think about this?:

    1st day:full body
    2nd day : cardio
    3rd day:full body
    4rd day :cardio
    5rd day: uper body
    6rd day: lower body
    7rd day rest

    • Dave May 9, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

      1st day:full body
      2nd day : cardio
      3rd day:full body
      4rd day :cardio
      5rd day: uper body
      6rd day: lower body
      7rd day rest

      This seems like a cool idea! I’ve read about this stuff for 15 years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen this type of split.

      Not sure what the experts will say, but it’s creative. =)

    • Jason Ferruggia May 11, 2012 at 5:51 am #

      Fernando- Flip it so that the upper and lower body days on are on Mon and Tues.

  24. Zach man May 9, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    Great article; I can tell all you guys this, what Jason says is true. I have been lifting weights consistently for over 10 years and have tried TONS!! of workout regimes. I went back to a full-body dominated routine 6 months ago after further scrutiny and must say I feel the best and look fantastic. I still continue to mix up the routines, even sometimes focusing on a primary body part for 85% of the workout. Stick to the compound exercises and all the other ones that everyone avoids, those usually are the best!! First time viewing, I like it!

  25. Resty May 10, 2012 at 10:50 am #

    So say i choose to do 5 sets of 5, thats 5 sets (not including warmup sets) for each of the 3 compound movements i choose, correct? Should i keep the weight the same for each of the 5 worksets or increase it each time, and if so by how much should i increase the weight each workset? Thanks

    • Fernando May 10, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

      1st set. – 12 rep. 50% 1max.rep

      2 nd set. – 10 rep.60% ” ”

      3 rd. Set. -8 Rep 70% ” ”

      4 th Set. – 75% -80% to failure

      5 th set. – 15 rep. (with the weight you can)

      • Fernando May 10, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

        I prefer to do no more than two sets of compound exercises, with the maximum weight I can handle.
        squat. – 6-8 rep.
        dead weight. 4-6 rep.
        bench press .-6-8 rep.
        military press, .-6-8
        barbell row. – 8-10

    • Jason Ferruggia May 11, 2012 at 5:52 am #

      Resty- If you’re a beginner use the same weight. If you’re more advanced work up.

  26. Daniel May 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    Jay, can you do a full body regime with a focus on specific areas (and get good gains)? For instance, bench press, pushups and dips. It is both compound and isolated, in a sense. You could do the same for legs, back, etc…

  27. David May 15, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    Jason,
    Does your muscle gaining secrets come with a conditioning program as well?

  28. John May 15, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    Being 45yrs. old i feel I can’t recover enough when going heavy 3 days a week. I need about 4 or 5 days in between workouts of heavy presses, pulls and squat or deadlift to progress in weight. Is that right for my age. Also when using stimulants does it take longer to recover.

  29. Beth May 19, 2012 at 7:53 am #

    Jason, i’m a girl…i don’t want big traps or back. do you have any reccomendations for a girl of 55 yrs who has been training for quite awhile.. i usually get in 3-4 days.

  30. Maximus May 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    Isolation exercises should not be ignored, as they do have a place in weight training. The core exercises need to be compound movements and isolation exercises added in to compliment the routine.

    A beginner should start out with a full body routine performed 2-3 times per week. With their main focus on learning how to perform each exercise with strict form. This allows two things, connective tissues to strengthen before applying heavy weight and allowing time for neural responses to adapt to weight training. This will aid in preventing unnecessary injury. Once the form is perfected with moderate weight then the beginner should progress in poundage. Only using a weight that allows strict form throughout the exercise.

    A beginner could do a full body routine for quite some time, more than a year, before needing to consider a upper/lower body split. Taking a de-load week every 12 weeks or so to prevent overtraining and plateaus. Progressive overload needs to be followed to ensure gains are continual. That means adding only 5-10% on the bar each and every week. That may be 5-10 pound on the big lifts and 1-2 pounds on the smaller ancillary exercises.

    With full body routines no isolation exercises are needed. To bulk up stick with the squat, the deadlift, the overhead press, the pull-up, and the dip.

    When advancing to the upper/lower body split. Stick with the same compound exercises I stated above and add in the bent-over row, shrug, barbell curl, stiff-leg deadlift, calf raises and abdominal exercise. Variant exercises can be performed.

    After several months to a year, one could then advance to a push/pull/legs split routine after the upper/lower split. Then follow that with a four day split. After cycling through that go back to the full body routine and start the cycle over. Remembering to take a de-load week every 12 weeks or so.

  31. Kees May 21, 2012 at 2:28 am #

    Sounds great. I discovered this site searching for a top training program. Is Muscle Gaining Secrets a program that deals with the risk of adaptation? Could I do all exercises at home Jason? (I have barbell, dumbbell, weight plates and a power cage) And do you have replacement exercises for chin ups etc? I am way to overweight right to now to do pull ups and stuff.

  32. Resty May 21, 2012 at 5:49 am #

    Jason, thanks for the response! One last follow up question to that…If I’m going to increase the weight with each workset how much should I increase by? Can you give percentages in terms of the final workset weight? Thanks.

  33. Tristan May 21, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    Hey Jason!
    I’m 16 years old and my weight is 65 kg and I’m working out since about 2 months. I’m not a total newbie, I’ve been working out at a gym a year before, but I had to take a break because of a basketball injury…So my question is, what would be a perfect workout for me? Now I’m doing 3 full body workouts a week, including exercises like chin ups bench presses dead lifts… I’m asking you for your advice because I’m so confused of all these muscle magazines and my friends, so I’d would be very grateful if you could design a little workout for me with the most important exercises :)
    (Excuse my English, I’m Swiss)

    Thank you buddy

  34. Sam June 1, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    Stumbled on this site when one of your articles went viral on FB, one about 39 ways not to be like everone else. I was a serious weightlifter once upon a time, from 16 to 22 i was pretty hardcore, now 31 I’ve been on again off again, mostly off again, did I read that right?

    1 upper body push, 1 upper body pull, one compound movement?

    so I could do say 5×5 of bench press, 5×5 of pull ups, and 5×5 of squats 4 times a week in one session and I’m done?

    Please say yes and I will start the journey. That sounds simple, and I just can’t go back to the old way I trained when I was 19.

  35. Poly June 17, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    i was just wondering if i dont own a sled at the moment… could i use a car and push that for a distance from the trunk… thanks in advance for the answer =)

  36. Nick July 15, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    I like the post, I train for soccer on Tuesday and Thursday for 2+ hours. How could I set up a workout around this to build muscle? How many exercises?

  37. Joseph August 9, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    How should your weightlifting split look if i do crossfit?

  38. alex December 17, 2012 at 2:03 am #

    Hey jason im 15 years old and have been training for about 2 years now i used to lift weights but in the last six months i started doing calisthenics only and am trying to build size and strength using only that my correct split is monday chest x triceps wednesday back x biceps and friday abs x legs. What do you think about this? Also how long should i rest between sets?

  39. danny January 2, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    hey i am a beginner and was just wondering how many compound exercises can i do in one training session. Is the following ok to do in one session;

    Bench press, military press, deadlift, barbell rows, squat.

  40. GJ13 January 7, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    I am a 32 year old male. Working out for 20 years various ways/methods, and studied nutrition the whole time. I train full body 1 hour everyday, never a problem with connective tissue. As J said, if you feel hurt, STOP! Do not hurt yourself, make sure your nutrition is where it should be. Especially the teens, you dont want to be like us old guys, and have any sort of ailments. I have seen too many teens try to go too far, and pay for it in their 20s and 30s. Dont be focused on the size of someone else, focus on yourself, and have fun with it! Your strength will follow as J said! Some works better for different size people. Use your head and do your best! Article is right on the money! Took me 20 years of careful training to get to be able to handle the stress of these exercises everyday combined with running 40 minutes a day, plus walking over 2 hours. It takes a lifetime, dont rush it, it hurts your health!

  41. Nick January 10, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    Hey Jason, great site. I am 16 and I follow your training becaus I believe it works. I train almost exclusively with bodyweight (dips, pullups, chin-ups, handstand puhups, etc). How can I schedule an upper body lower body split to gain muscle mass? I play soccer in place of one leg workout a week. How many days a week etc?

  42. nb May 4, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    hey jason,is my template ok?
    -3×5 squat
    -3xback extensions/RDL
    -3xrow/pullups
    -3xpushup/overhead press
    -3xab/oblique work
    -2-3x farmer walks/shrugs supersetted with battling ropes
    -2-3 sets arm work
    on my 2nd of three workout days,I dont do lower body lifting,and substitute sprint or jump training.thank you if you can help!

  43. John Bollands May 30, 2013 at 4:19 am #

    Hi All,

    What would be a good sprint session for a beginner?

    Cheers
    John

  44. Martyn June 17, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    Hi Jason

    How much cardio should I be doing a week to gain lean muscle and lose fat? I run outside like 3 miles after my weights session on a Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Should I just do short sprints instead?? In the morning or evening etc?

    Sorry – just confused and need some guidance my friend : )

    Many thanks

    Martyn

  45. Mikey G October 11, 2013 at 2:38 am #

    Great article Jason.
    What about us poor suckers that can only train on 3 consecutive days?
    week1 ; upper body/ lower/ Upper
    week2 ; lower / upper/ lower?

    or full body/ lower/ upper split?

  46. Richie Keenan March 25, 2014 at 10:34 am #

    Is this workout Routine too much? I am 15 years old. Thanks for the feedback

    Monday:Upper Body
    Tuesday:Lower Body
    Wednesday:Upper body
    Thursday:Lower body
    Friday:Upper body
    Weekends:Rest