Upper/lower split training is a type of training designed to maximize results in terms of rapid muscle growth. Many people swear by this routine, implying that it has something to offer.
It works as follows: You switch back and forth between two different workouts. That’s all there is to it; it’s as simple as that. On the first day, you focus solely on your upper body. The following day, you focus solely on your lower body. Repeat this cycle until you reach the desired level of euphoria (minus rest days, of course). Of course, there are ways to make it a little more complex and precise, which we will discuss later.
Why Is Upper/Lower Split Training Beneficial?
The upper/lower split method has the advantage of increasing the number of days per week that you can train. By concentrating on one area of the body at a time, you can allow for more recovery time between sessions. Assume you’ve just completed your upper-body workout. It will be about 48 hours before those muscles are used again after this.
What makes this a good thing? Because studies have shown that muscles respond significantly better to a more frequent regimen. In the above-mentioned study, two groups of people were tested: one did the upper/lower split, while the other used a two-day-per-week total-body workout. Finally, the upper/lower group demonstrated significantly greater muscle growth.
Here’s a much more detailed study that came to the same conclusion. Three groups were used in this test. The first group worked out once a week, the second twice a week, and the third three times a week.
Those who worked out with maximum weight and minimal reps (group one) lost slightly more weight, but groups 2 and 3 increased their muscle size and strength significantly more. We could cite several more studies demonstrating the importance of frequent training, but you’ve probably gotten the idea by now.
Another advantage of this workout is that it is suitable for the modern world’s hectic schedules. Because you have so much freedom in how you design this workout, it is much easier to incorporate into your daily routine.
The upper/lower split workout has five distinct variations. You could make your own variant, but you’d be better off starting with these tried-and-true methods:
The Three-Day Workout
The Three-Four-Day Workout
Workout for 4-5 Days
The first three methods are self-evident: You exercise two, three, or four times per week, alternating on a regular basis. The last two require a bit more explanation. Methods four and five employ a two-week rather than a weekly schedule. For example, if you use method four, you would exercise three days the first week and then four days the following week. Method number five is the same as method number one, but with a different number.
It is still necessary to discuss the spacing of your rest days. There are many points of view on this subject, but we believe the answer is self-evident. As previously stated, the main advantage of this workout is that it allows for longer rest periods between workouts without reducing the frequency of your workouts. We recommend that you train every other day to get the most out of this benefit. As a result, your recovery time ranges from 48 to 72 hours.
DO BODYBUILDERS USE UPPER LOWER SPLIT?
The classic upper / lower split is a training split in which you train your entire upper body one day and your entire lower body the next. Upper lower splits are extremely effective for increasing muscle mass and strength because they reduce muscle group overlap and emphasize large, compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, presses, pull ups, and rows.
However, one of the aspects of the classic upper-lower split that I appreciate the most is its adaptability. An upper body / lower body split can be organized in three ways:
4 weeks of workouts
Three workouts per week
2 times per week
Each of these options has advantages and disadvantages and is best suited to different types of trainees.
The 4 day upper/lower split is very healthy for bodybuilders and weightlifters who prefer to train with high-frequency programs. This split is particularly effective for assisting powerlifters in increasing their strength on lower-body exercises such as squats and deadlifts.
In fact, upper / lower split is the most popular training split in the world among athletes. This training split is used by many of the world’s strongest athletes, including World’s Strongest Man winner Eddie Hall in 2017.
The three-day upper/lower split is one of the world’s most underappreciated training splits. It allows you to train or exercise each body part once every 5 days, which falls somewhere between the “high-frequency” and “low-frequency” schools of thought.
Many of the world’s top bodybuilders and powerlifters, such as IFBB pro David Henry and the world’s strongest bench presser Julius Maddox, achieve their best results by training muscle groups once every 5 days.
If you’re having trouble recovering from four heavy workouts per week, this is a fantastic option for you. The 3 day upper / lower split is used to great effect in many of the world’s best training programs for size and strength, including Dante Trudel’s DC Training program.
Many of the world’s strongest powerlifters, including world record holders Stan Efferding and Eric Lilliebridge, prefer the two-day upper / lower split. This split allows elite powerlifters to recover significantly more time between workouts, which comes in handy when squatting and deadlifting over 800 pounds!
The two-day upper / lower split is also beneficial for hard gainers and trainees with poor recovery ability. The extra days off between workouts ensures that your central nervous system is always fully recovered, allowing you to have consistently excellent workouts.
I hope you found this upper / lower splits primer useful! Let’s take a closer look at the three different types of upper / lower splits to see which one is best for you.
IS UPPER LOWER SPLIT BETTER THAN BRO SPLIT?
There is no definitive answer as to whether bodypart splits or full-body workouts result in more muscle growth. According to 5 months of my own personal data, bro splits maximize workout intensity and duration, while full-body workouts maximize workout frequency. Both workout programs resulted in muscle growth for me. My advice is to mix up your workouts (for example, if you’re doing splits now, try full-body) and keep a close eye on how frequent, intense, and long your workouts are.
There are two schools of thought in workout programming if you want to build muscle:
Split, bro. On different days, you target different muscle groups. Chest and triceps on the first day, and then back and biceps the following day.
A full-body workout. Every muscle group is worked out in a single workout three times per week.
So, which is superior? You’d think science would have figured this out by now, right? No, it does not. Only one credible study that compared bro splits to full-body workouts was found.
Brad Schoenfeld, the self-styled “Hypertrophy Specialist,” attempted to answer this question by conducting a split test with 19 well-trained men. His findings: When comparing the full-body group to the bro split group, there was a significant (1.1mm) increase in forearm flexor muscle thickness in the full-body group.
Is the issue resolved? No, not quite. Here’s why, based on Brad’s analysis of his own research.
The volume was controlled in the study.
It’s important to remember that the volume between conditions was equated in the study. This was done in order to isolate the effects of frequency on muscular adaptations, which is an important strategy for determining causality. However, one of the primary advantages of a split routine is the ability to increase per-workout volume while still allowing for adequate recovery between sessions. Because there is a clear dose-response relationship between volume and hypertrophy, total weekly volume must be considered. Doing a split routine with a higher volume weekly could have performed well, if not better than, the total body routine.
The novelty factor
The vast majority of study participants reported using a split routine as the foundation of their regular workout programs, with muscles worked only once per week. This however is of the opinion that the novelty factor of the total body routine influenced the results. There is some evidence that when program variables are changed outside of traditional norms, muscular adaptations improve. As a result, it’s possible that participants in the total body group benefited from the unusual stimulus of training more frequently.
Because the verdict is still out, I decided to try three different workout programs to see how my body reacted to each.
The Three Workout Plans
Bro Divided into four days per week.
1x per week for chest, shoulders, and triceps
1x per week, back and biceps
Legs once a week
1x per week abs
Three days per week, full-body workout.
Chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps, and lower back Legs and Abs 3 times per week
4 days per week, upper/lower split.
2x per week, chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps, and upper back
Legs, Abs, and Lower Back twice a week
4 Crucial Metrics
During the workouts, I measured four variables:
Workout Intensity: The number of reps performed per week
Workout Duration: The total amount of time spent on weekly workouts.
Workout Frequency: Workouts per week, divided by body part
Muscle Mass is calculated as Muscle Mass Percentage x Weight.
What made me choose these metrics? The three main levers for progressing workouts are intensity, duration, and frequency. Lifting more weight (intensity), for longer periods of time (duration), and more frequently (frequency) is the recipe for muscle mass.
What were the outcomes?
Bro splits increased intensity and duration while decreasing frequency.
At the expense of duration and intensity,full body frequency was maximized.
On frequency, duration, and intensity, upper/lower fell between the two others.
Full-body increases frequency, while bro split increases intensity and duration.
Intensity of the bro split is higher than that of the full-body split and roughly equal to that of the upper/lower split. Weekly reps of 1,075
Duration is greater than that of both full-body and upper/lower. Every week, I spend 208 minutes.
Lower frequency than both full-body and upper/lower. 0.96 workouts per week per body part
Intensity: This split is less intense than both the bro split and the upper/lower split. 950 repetitions per week
Duration: Less time than both the bro split and the upper/lower split. Every week, I spend 164 minutes.
Frequency: Greater than the bro split and the upper/lower split. 2.81 workouts per week, per body part
Intensity: Greater than full body, roughly equal to bro split. Weekly reps of 1,065
Duration: longer than full body but shorter than bro split. Every week, I spend 197 minutes.
Frequency: Less frequent than full body, more frequent than bro split. 1.60 workouts per week for each body part
So, how about Muscle Mass? Muscle mass was difficult to measure over the last 5 months because I did a mini-cut during full-body workouts in March. I believe the drop in muscle mass in March was due to calorie restriction rather than workout programming. But, when my calorie intake is more consistent, I hope to try out a full-body routine again. Overall, it appears that all three programming structures enabled me to gain muscle mass.
HOW DO UPPER LOWER SPLIT DUMBBELL WORKOUT?
The following workout is designed for those who only have a set of dumbbells at their disposal.
It can be done by those who exercise at home, those who travel frequently and want to get a good workout in with limited equipment at a hotel gym, or as a progression from my three-day dumbbell only routine.
This workout can be done as a full-body workout for up to 12 weeks.
You may want to consider changing the volume, weight you use after 12 weeks. For instance,you might want to buy a new pair of dumbbells, or perhaps join a local gym that will have a wider range of equipment for you to use.
The program requires you to exercise four days per week. It is entirely up to you which days you choose to exercise. That being said, it’s best to rest 48-72 hours between your two upper body workouts and 48-72 hours between your two lower body workouts.
As an example, perform the workouts in the order listed and take your rest days on Wednesdays and weekends. Rest days are ideal for incorporating cardio training, flexibility training, foam rolling, or a combination of the three.
This workout is designed to help you gain muscle. However, depending on your calorie intake, it can also help you achieve your fat loss goals.
Rest periods should be limited to 30-60 seconds for this workout program.
If you have any additional questions about this upper/lower dumbbell workout program, please leave them in the comments section below!
ARE UPPER LOWER SPLIT GOOD FOR ATHLETES?
Athletes with specific weaknesses in a muscle group may benefit from upper/lower body splits. Upper/lower body splits benefit certain types of athletes, such as bodybuilders whose goal is size rather than performance, because it allows them to lift the heaviest weights possible during a session.