The Upper/Lower Split (3 Simple At Home & Gym Workouts For Busy People)

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In this post, you’re going to learn everything you need to know about the upper/lower split for working out.

Specifically, we will:

  • compare the upper/lower split to other types of training routines,
  • teach you how to create an ideal upper/lower routine, and
  • show you how to use this split at home or at the gym

Let’s get started.

upper-lower-workout-routine

What Is The Upper/Lower Split?

The upper/lower split is a training method in which you exercise your upper body on one day and your lower body on another.

Pretty simple right?

This is in contrast to:

  • the full-body split, where you train muscle groups from both your upper and lower body on the same day,
  • the push/pull/legs split where you divide your training by muscle action,
  • and the bro split, which divides training by distinct muscle groups

Let’s go over the major benefits of this style of training.

The 4 Main Benefits of Upper/Lower Workouts

So why would you want to use the upper/lower workout routine? Here are the 4 advantages.

#1 It Simplifies Your Training:

Some workout programs can get very complicated. Especially if you are doing several exercises, and mixing and matching upper and lower body exercises per day.

With the upper/lower split, each workout is specifically tailored to just a few key muscle groups.

In general, you will train 3-4 upper body exercises on one day, and 3-4 lower body exercises on another.

That’s it.

I’ll go into more detail later.

#2 It Maximizes Recovery:

By training your upper body on one day, then your lower body on another, you allow for a decent amount of recovery between sessions.

For example:

On a 4 day/week workout program – you will take one day off after training the upper body and the lower body. This will then give you a full 72 hours before you train the upper body again.

In general, you want at least 48 hours of rest before training the exact same muscle group.

Related Post: How To Maximize Recovery from Workouts.

#3 It Minimizes Exercise Overlap:

Some workout programs inadvertently train the same muscle groups too frequently.

For example:

Let’s say you bench press on Monday, and shoulder press on Tuesday.

The bench press uses a good deal of shoulder strength.

As a result, your shoulders may not be fully recovered to perform at their best on Tuesday.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the upper/lower split eliminates this issue.

upper-lower-split

#4 Easy to organize:

Lastly, it’s easy to write an upper/lower workout program.

As long as you select the right exercises, it’s difficult to mess up your workouts.

In fact, you can get away with doing just two unique workouts, twice a week.

I’ll show you how in just a few moments.

So, Is The Upper/Lower split the best?

I personally think the upper/lower split is the best training routine for most people.

I have used this type of program for at least 50% of my training career.

But…

If you are an absolute beginner, I think you might benefit from a different workout split.

Are upper/lower splits good for beginners?

If you are a beginner, you are probably better off using a full-body split.

Why?

Because full-body splits allow you to train each muscle group more frequently.

As a beginner, it is important that you learn how to perform compound exercises with good form. As such, practicing them more frequently will be beneficial to ingrain the proper technique.

With that said, beginners can still see a lot of benefits using the upper/lower split.

At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with either approach.

However, most beginners make the mistake of using the bro split when first starting out.

BEGINNERS SHOULD NOT USE THE BRO SPLIT.

What is the bro split?

The bro split is one of the most common training routines used in commercial gyms.

With bro splits, you generally train one or two muscle groups per day.

For example

  • Monday: Chest and shoulders
  • Tuesday: Biceps and Triceps
  • Wednesday: Back
  • Thursday: Legs
  • Friday: Abs and Calves

As you could imagine, this is a very inefficient way to train. There are two main problems with this workout split.

  1. It leads you to think that you need to use several exercises to train each muscle
  2. You only train each muscle group per week

If you get nothing else out of this article, let it be this:

You do not need to do 5 different types of bicep curls and 4 different variations of bench press to see results.

1-2 exercises per muscle group are sufficient for what we are after – which is strength and muscle development.

Which leads us to the next point.

What Is The Ideal Number Of Times To Train Each Muscle Group?

Studies have shown that training each muscle group twice per week is the most beneficial for strength and muscle development.

Three times per week may be better, but we don’t know for certain.

But as busy professionals, we usually don’t have that much time to devote to exercising.

So I recommend that you stick to twice per week.

So now let’s get to the actual workouts.

How do I make my upper/lower split?

Okay, so what is the best way to design your upper/lower workout plan?

It starts with

  • choosing 3-4 upper body exercises
  • choosing 3-4 lower body exercises

After you have your exercises selected, we will then make the training schedule. Below you will choose between 2,3, and 4-day templates.

designing-upper-lower-workout

But first, here are the exercises:

Upper Body Exercises

We can divide the upper body exercises into 4 main categories.

  1. the Horizontal Push,
  2. the Pull,
  3. the Vertical Push,
  4. and Isolation Exercises

And guess what.

Those are all the exercises you need.

Read those again.

….

Done?

Okay good.

For your upper body days, you only need to train these 4 movement patterns.

The first three categories involve compound exercises. That’s just a fancy way of saying that they train multiple muscle groups at once.

That’s in contrast to isolation exercises, which generally focus on one muscle group.

Choose 1-2 exercises from each category for your training program.

That is all.

You don’t need to do 3 or 4 different kinds of bench press. You don’t need to do tricep pushdowns, followed by tricep kickbacks, followed by EZ bar tricep extensions.

Now,

let’s go over the exercises in more detail.

Horizontal Push Exercises:

The horizontal push focuses on the pressing muscles on the anterior side of your body, as well as your triceps.

Here is a list of some of the most high-yield horizontal pushing exercises.

Gym Variations:

Home Variations:


Decline Push-Ups:

band-bench-press

Upper Body Pull Exercises:

Next up is the pull.

The pull exercises focus on the muscles on the posterior side of your body such as your rhomboids, traps, posterior shoulders, and lats.

Gym Variations:

Home Variations:


Vertical Push Exercises:

Third is the vertical push.

The vertical push trains your ability to press things overhead. These exercises focus on your shoulders, triceps, rotator cuff, and core stabilization.

Gym Variations:

Home Variations:

Isolation Exercises:

Lastly, you can incorporate some isolation exercises into your upper body days. These are optional, and will not make or break your training.

If you are going to do them, I would say to stick with “pull focus” isolation exercises like the face pull.

Gym Variations:

Home Variations:

Face Pulls:


And that is all my friend.

Choose 1-2 exercises from each of those categories and move on. Next up are the lower body exercises.

Lower Body Exercises:

Similarly, the lower body exercises can also be divided into 4 categories. They are

  • The Knee Flexion exercises,
  • The Hip Extension exercises,
  • The Core Stabilization exercises,
  • and Isolation exercises.

Can you guess what I’m going to say?

Yup.

This is all you need to do.

The first three categories are compound exercises, while the last category focuses on your calves.

Choose 1-2 exercises from each category for your training program.

Let’s go over them now.

Knee Flexion Exercises:

Knee flexion exercises focus on training your ability to squat up and down. As such, they strengthen your quadriceps, abductors, and glute muscles.

Gym Variations:

Home Variations:


Band Squats:

band-front-squats

Hip Extension Exercises:

Next up is hip extension. These exercise primarily focus on your hamstrings, glutes, and low back muscles.

Gym Variations:

Home Variations:

resistance-band-leg-exercises


Core Exercises:

We cant forget the abs.

The core exercises will strengthen and develop your rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and your oblique muscles.

The gym and home variations are the same.

Isolation Exercises: (Calves)

Lastly, you can choose to add some calf work to your lower body days. This is totally optional.

(I’ll admit, I never train my calves- and it shows)

  • Standing calf raises
  • Single leg calf raises

This Isn’t A Comprehensive List Of The Exercises You Can Choose From -For More Exercises:

This is not a comprehensive list of exercises you can do. For more exercises in each category, be sure to check out:

The first one is for more gym exercises.

The second one is for more home/bodyweight exercises.

The third one is for more resistance band exercises.

Enjoy.

How Many Sets and Reps Should I Use With This Split?

Alright, now you should have your exercises selected.

The next question is, how many sets and reps should you do to maximize your training?

The short answer is:

  • Do 3-4 sets of each exercise for 7-12 repetitions if you are doing a gym workout.
  • Do 3-4 sets of each exercise for 10-15 repetitions if you are doing a home workout.

But you should never use the same rep scheme all the time.

After a few weeks, you want to change it up. You can read more on why you should use these rep ranges in our article: How many sets and reps should you do?

How long should I rest between sets?

Okay, now let’s talk about rest periods. How long should you rest between sets?

The short answer is:

  • Rest 3 minutes per set if you are doing a gym workout.
  • Rest 2-3 minutes per set if you are doing a home workout.

To get more details, read our full post on rest periods.

How Much Weight Should I Lift?

Last but not least, how much weight should you lift if you are training at the gym?

The short answer is:

  • Use a weight that is heavy enough where completing the prescribed rep range is a challenge, but not so heavy that you cannot maintain good form
  • Also, err on the side of starting light, so that you have room to increase the weight as you get stronger.

To get the long answer- check out our post on how much weight should you lift.

What Variation Should I Choose For The Home Exercises?

Similarly, you should choose a bodyweight variation that is

  • Challenging enough where completing the prescribed rep range is tough, but not so tough that you cannot maintain good form
  • If using a resistance band, choose a band strong enough to challenge you to complete the prescribed rep range. In general, bands come in about 3-4 different strengths.

Alright, that should just about answer all of your questions.

The Upper/Lower Split Templates

Okay, now let’s get to the actual workouts.

Below, I have provided 2, 3, or 4-day week upper/lower templates for both the gym and at-home workouts.

These workouts should only take 30 minutes max.

2 Days A Week Upper/Lower Workout At The Gym

The 2 day/week template should be done only by the busiest of people.

Working out twice per week won’t yield the best results, but something is always better than nothing.

If you use the 2 day/week program, spread the workouts out as evenly as possible. For example, you can do the first workout on Monday, and the second one on Thursday.

Upper Body Workout

Here is the template

  • Horizontal Push Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Pull Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Vertical Push Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Isolation Exercise (pull focus), 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps

Here is what I recommend:

ExerciseSetsReps/Set
Barbell Bench Press3-47-12
Barbell Row3-47-12
Overhead Press3-47-12
Face Pulls37-12

Lower Body Workout

Here is the template

  • Knee Flexion Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Hip Extension Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Core Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps (or 20-30 second holds)
  • Isolation Exercise (Optional), 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
ExerciseSetsReps
Barbell Back Squat3-47-12
Romanian Deadlifts3-47-12
Side Planks3-420 sec/each
Weighted Calf Raises (Optional)37-12

2 Days A Week Upper/Lower Workout At Home

Upper Body Workout

Here is the template

  • Horizontal Push Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Pull Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Vertical Push Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Isolation Exercise (pull focus), 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps

Here is what I recommend:

ExerciseSetsReps
Push-up variation3-47-12
Inverted Row or Pull-up3-47-12
Pike Push-ups3-47-12
Band Face Pulls37-12

Lower Body Workout

Here is the template

  • Knee Flexion Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Hip Extension Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Core Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps (or 20-30 second holds)
  • Isolation Exercise (Optional), 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
ExerciseSetsReps
Squat variation3-47-12
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts3-47-12/each
Side Planks3-420 sec/each
Calf Raises (Optional)37-12

3 Days A Week Upper/Lower Workout At The Gym

3 days a week is better than 2 days a week, as you can practice the movements more frequently.

Using the 3 day a week template, one full training cycle will take two weeks.

For example:

Week 1:

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

Week 2:

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

In this scenario, I recommend that you only use two unique workouts.

For example, the workout you do on Monday and Friday of week 1 is the same, as is the workout on Wednesday of week 2.

Here are the workouts.

Upper Body Workout

Here is the template

  • Horizontal Push Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Pull Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Vertical Push Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Isolation Exercise (pull focus), 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps

Here is what I recommend:

ExerciseSetsReps
Barbell Bench Press3-47-12
Barbell Row3-47-12
Overhead Press3-47-12
Face Pulls37-12

Lower Body Workout

Here is the template

  • Knee Flexion Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Hip Extension Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Core Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps (or 20-30 second holds)
  • Isolation Exercise (Optional), 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
ExerciseSetsReps
Barbell Back Squat3-47-12
Romanian Deadlifts3-47-12
Side Planks3-420 sec/each
Weighted Calf Raises (Optional)37-12

3 Days A Week Upper/Lower Workout At Home

Upper Body Workout

Here is the template

  • Horizontal Push Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Pull Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Vertical Push Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Isolation Exercise (pull focus), 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps

Here is what I recommend:

ExerciseSetsReps
Push-up variation3-47-12
Inverted Row or Pull-up3-47-12
Pike Push-ups3-47-12
Band Face Pulls 37-12

Lower Body Workout

Here is the template

  • Knee Flexion Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Hip Extension Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Core Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps (or 20-30 second holds)
  • Isolation Exercise (Optional), 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
ExerciseSetsReps
Squat variation3-47-12
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts3-47-12/each
Side Planks3-420 sec/each
Calf Raises (Optional)37-12

4 Days A Week Upper/Lower Workout At The Gym

The last routine is the 4 day a week template. This is my favorite template and the one I have used for the majority of my training career.

With the 4 week template you have two options.

  1. You can use the same two workouts, doing each workout twice in 1 week
  2. You can use four unique workouts, doing each workout once per week

For example:

  • Monday: Upper Body Day
  • Tuesday: Lower Body Day
  • Wednesday: Off
  • Thursday: Upper Body Day
  • Friday: Lower Body Day

In the example below, I will show you four unique workouts.

By the way, you can download a sample 4 day template using the upper lower split right here, FREE.

The WCT Calisthenics Workout Tempates

Included you will recieve two different templates
A 4 Day/Week Upper Lower Workout Template
A 3 Day/Week Push Pull Legs Template
DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE TEMPLATES TODAY

Here are the workouts.

Upper Body Workout

Here is the template

  • Horizontal Push Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Pull Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Vertical Push Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Isolation Exercise (pull focus), 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps

Here is what I recommend:

ExerciseSetsReps
Barbell Bench Press3-47-12
Barbell Row3-47-12
Overhead Press3-47-12
Face Pulls37-12

Lower Body Workout

Here is the template

  • Knee Flexion Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Hip Extension Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Core Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps (or 20-30 second holds)
  • Isolation Exercise (Optional), 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
ExerciseSetsReps
Barbell Back Squat3-47-12
Romanian Deadlifts3-47-12
Side Planks3-420 sec/each
Weighted Calf Raises (Optional)37-12

Upper Body Workout #2

Here is the template

  • Vertical Push Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Pull Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Horizontal Push Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Isolation Exercise (pull focus), 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
ExerciseSetsReps
Dumbbell Shoulder Press3-47-12
Seated Cable Row3-47-12
Incline Bench Press3-47-12
Biceps (optional)37-12

Lower Body Workout #2

Here is the template

  • Hip Extension Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Knee Flexion Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Core Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps (or 20-30 second holds)
  • Isolation Exercise (Optional), 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
ExerciseSetsReps
Sumo Deadlifts3-47-12
Reverse Lunges3-47-12
Hanging Leg Raises3-47-12
Weighted Calf Raises (Optional)37-12

4 Days A Week Upper/Lower Workout At Home

Upper Body Workout

Here is the template

  • Horizontal Push Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Pull Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Vertical Push Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Isolation Exercise (pull focus), 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps

Here is what I recommend:

ExerciseSetsReps
Push-up variation3-47-12
Inverted Row3-47-12
Pike Push-ups3-47-12
Band Face Pulls 37-12

Lower Body Workout

Here is the template

  • Knee Flexion Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Hip Extension Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Core Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps (or 20-30 second holds)
  • Isolation Exercise (Optional), 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
ExerciseSetsReps
Squat variation3-47-12
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts3-47-12/each
Side Planks3-420 sec/each
Calf Raises (Optional)37-12

Upper Body Workout #2

Here is the template

  • Vertical Push Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Pull Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Horizontal Push Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Isolation Exercise (pull focus), 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
ExerciseSetsReps
Handstand Work or Dips3-47-12
Pull-ups3-47-12
Push-up Variation #23-47-12
Band Face Pulls37-12

Lower Body Workout #2

Here is the template

  • Hip Extension Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Knee Flexion Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
  • Core Exercise, 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps (or 20-30 second holds)
  • Isolation Exercise (Optional), 3-4 sets, 7-12 reps
ExerciseSetsReps
Glute Bridge variation3-47-12
Step-Ups3-47-12
Planks3-430 sec
Calf Raises (optional)37-12

What About Cardio?

So what about cardio? Do you need to include aerobic work into your routine?

There’s no harm in doing so, and it can be very beneficial.

Experts recommend that you should get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week.

I personally do not enjoy steady-state cardio, nor do I think it is necessary.

Unless you specifically enjoy cardio or are training to run a marathon, I don’t think you need to dedicated a lot of Tim “running” on a treadmill.

I personally get my moderate aerobic activity through brisk walking on a daily basis and keeping my HR high while working out.

This won’t qualify you for CrossFit games, but it should be good for the general population.

You can read more in my article: Is Cardio Actually Necessary?

Final Thoughts On The Upper/Lower Split

Okay, so that wraps it up.

In my opinion, the upper/lower split is one of the if not the best workout routine you can do.

In fact, that’s the split we use in our signature course The WCT Home Workout Program.

Take the guess-work out of your programming and check out our training template. It will give you months of workouts you can do from the comfort of your own home.

Okay, so now it’s time for you to get to work.

So which of these templates are you going to use first?

Comment below and let me know.

Related Posts On Split Workout Training

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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM CPTs, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader's Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

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