The 10 Best Bodybuilding Splits: a Complete Guide

Do you want to grow and train like a bodybuilder? Then you need a bodybuilding training split!

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about dividing your muscle groups up, scheduling your training sessions over the week, and finding which workout split is the right one for you.

We’ll cover ten different bodybuilding splits in this article, roughly divided into these five types:

  1. Full-Body Splits
  2. Upper/Lower Body Splits
  3. Push/Pull/Legs Splits
  4. The 3-1-3 Split
  5. Bodybuilding Splits (4–6 Days)

Let’s get into it!

What Is a Bodybuilding Split?

A bodybuilding workout split is a way to separate your muscle groups into training sessions on different days of the week or a rotating schedule. It is the blueprint of your training program that you follow for several weeks or months.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to training splits. Your goals, training experience, lifestyle, schedule, age, and recovery ability determine which workout split is the best for you. The best workout split for you might be a compromise between what you want to do and what you can do. Not everyone can live the life of a professional bodybuilder, but you still want the best gains for your efforts.

Why Do You Need a Bodybuilding Split?

While you don’t need a workout split, a focused plan makes it much easier to reach your training goal in clearly defined steps. Sure, you can go to the gym, train whatever you feel like, and still get results and build muscle, but following a detailed day-to-day program ensures streamlined and optimized progress.

Doing random stuff in the gym often results in random results.

Benefits of a workout split include:

  • You know what you’re doing today when you get to the gym. Which muscle groups to train, which exercises you’ll be doing, and the weights, sets, and reps for each exercise.
  • You can track your progress workout by workout, week by week. Without a workout split and a training plan, it is almost impossible to keep track of your progress, and without some kind of progression in your training, you won’t see the gains you want.
  • A good workout plan allows you to focus more or less on your strengths and weaknesses. Depending on your individual needs, you can tailor your split to allow for optimal recovery, intensity, and training volume.

How Do Bodybuilders Train?

The training practices and workout splits of bodybuilders have changed over the decades. Back in the day, meaning the 1960s and earlier, full-body workouts ruled the bodybuilding world. A few pioneers were experimenting with split routines as far back as the 40s.1 In general, though, even the champions of the time built their physiques using full-body training programs. 

During the late 1960s and even more so during the 1970s, body part splits became more and more popular. Eventually, almost all bodybuilders used some variant of the “bro split.” A bro split is a training routine where you devote a training day to one or two muscle groups.

That practice is still true today. A 2013 survey asked 127 male competitive bodybuilders about their training practices, and all of them used a 3-day split or a 5-day split.2 Almost 70 % used a bro split, training each muscle group once per week on a 5-day split.

While training a muscle group only once per week is still the dominant training split among bodybuilders, scientists and athletes started questioning the bro split during the 2000s. Why stimulate muscle protein synthesis only once per week when you could do it multiple times using a higher training frequency than the bro split allows?

Indeed, in 2016, after weighing the available evidence, a meta-analysis concluded that “the major muscle groups should be trained at least twice a week to maximize muscle growth.”3 However, the story doesn’t end there. Three years later, some of the same researchers again examined the scientific evidence and, with more studies available, concluded that “training frequency does not significantly or meaningfully impact muscle hypertrophy when volume is equated.”4

What does that mean? As long as you get enough sets and reps done in a week, how frequently you train a muscle is largely irrelevant to building muscle mass. If you do 20 sets of chest training, it doesn’t matter much if you do it using a bro split with one dedicated chest day or by doing five sets four times per week using full-body workouts. Total volume is the most important thing, not how many times you train to achieve it.

So what’s the optimal training volume?

More sets per week for a muscle group is better. Up to a point. After that, more work does not lead to more muscle growth, only to impaired recovery.

optimal training volume

Current research suggests that 12–20 weekly sets per muscle group might optimize muscle growth for reasonably trained young individuals.5 Almost no studies look at a higher training volume than that, so it’s entirely possible that you might benefit from even more sets as an advanced bodybuilder. Indeed, many high-level bodybuilders perform significantly more sets than 20 per muscle group and week.

That being said, not all training splits are created equal. 

Things to Consider When Choosing a Bodybuilding Split

Many different workout splits are viable for bodybuilding, but not all of them might be right for you. Here are some things to take into consideration.

Your Training Experience

A beginner can’t copy the training routine of professional bodybuilders and expect good results. It takes years to develop that kind of tolerance to high-volume training, and more often than not, performance-enhancing and recovery-boosting drugs might be involved.

A whole-body split routine will be the best option for most beginners, even if the ultimate goal is a bodybuilder’s physique.

On the other hand, if you have resistance training experience but haven’t explicitly trained for maximal muscle hypertrophy, you might be ready to jump into a high-level bodybuilding routine from the get-go.

How Much Time Can You Dedicate?

If you are like the average person, you don’t have unlimited time to dedicate to the gym. Work, school, family, and other commitments might limit you to working out two or three times per week, tops. In that case, a 5-day bro split makes no sense. A full-body split, an upper/lower split, or a 3-day split would be more effective to make progress and likely produce better results.

On the other hand, if you’re single, work from home, and your gym is across the street, your schedule would allow you to work out as often as you want. A 5-day bro split might just be the thing for you.

What Are Your Goals?

Not everyone has the same fitness goals. Someone might aspire to become a pro bodybuilder, while someone else just wants to put on some muscle and look good naked. Spending twelve hours a week in the gym is a waste of time and energy if three or four hour-long training sessions give you the desired results. But if you have a burning desire to build as much muscle as possible, hitting the gym five or six days per week might be the best way to train for maximum muscle gains.

Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Most people have a muscle group or two that is lagging behind the rest of the body. It’s easy to ignore or give up on a muscle that isn’t responding to your efforts in the gym.

That would be a mistake and only lead to greater imbalances over time. Indeed, a bodybuilder should aim for a symmetrical physique without apparent weaknesses, although most of us will never get there due to genetics.

When designing or choosing a bodybuilding split, it’s important to consider your physique’s weak and strong points.

Do you have a body part that is lagging behind the rest? Then it’s likely a good idea to prioritize it by training first after a rest day when you’re at your freshest.

Or maybe one of your muscle groups responds really easily. If your biceps grow just by looking at a curl bar, maybe training it three times per week is unnecessary.

10 Bodybuilding Splits: Which One Is Right for You?

Let’s go through ten popular bodybuilding splits, look at their pros and cons, and help you decide which is the best option for you.

These programs are available in our app StrengthLog; some of the programs are free, and some require a premium subscription. The app itself and the workout tracking, however, is 100% free.

Download it for free with the buttons below, or read more about the app here.

Now let’s get into the splits.

Full-Body Splits

While not technically a “split” since you are not splitting your muscle groups but training all areas of your body in a single workout session, full-body workouts have been a mainstay for building muscle for a century. Bodybuilders built their physiques primarily using full-body training routines during the first half of the twentieth century.

Training the entire body every workout is probably the best choice for beginners taking their first steps into the world of strength training and bodybuilding. However, by increasing training volume and intensity, even advanced lifters can gain mass and strength by following a full-body split.

Pros and Cons of Full-Body Splits

Pros

  • You can train each muscle group more frequently, stimulating growth more often.
  • It doesn’t matter much if you miss a workout because you’ve just trained every muscle group and will train them again next workout.
  • Full-body training is time-efficient since you don’t have to train as many days to hit all your muscle groups.
  • When you train a muscle group often, you don’t get as much muscle soreness as with more infrequent workouts.

Cons

  • It can be challenging to focus on individual muscle groups when you train them all every workout.
  • You’ll only be fresh and rested for the muscle groups you train first.
  • Because you train so many muscle groups each workout, your training sessions can take a long time.

What Are Some Effective Full-Body Splits?

Full-body splits can be utilized by anyone from a beginner to an advanced bodybuilder. They will look very different depending on training goals and experience.

Full-body Split for the Beginner

Training the entire body each workout two or three times per week is perfect for the beginner bodybuilder. You frequently work each muscle group to stimulate growth but still allow enough time between workouts to recover properly.

Beginners don’t need accessory work for the biceps and triceps since those muscles will get enough stimulation from back and chest training. That makes your workouts short and sweet.

Our recommended full-body workout for the beginner is called the Barbell Training Program for the Beginner and looks like this:

beginner training split

You can find this program in your StrengthLog app and read more about it here:

>> Barbell Training Program for the Beginner

You alternate workouts each week, meaning you train workouts A, B, and A on week one, workouts B, A, and B on week two, and then rotate between the two every week.

StrengthLog’s Full-Body Hypertrophy Workout Program

A workout split like our full-body hypertrophy program is ideal for the intermediate to advanced lifter. The workouts take a lot more time and effort than the beginner’s program, but as you gain training experience, you need more training volume to keep making gains.

StrengthLog’s Full-Body Hypertrophy is designed to cover all the bases with three completely different workouts each week.

Workout 1

Workout 2

Workout 3

You go heavy using compound exercises the first week and use a mix of compound movements and isolation exercises the second. The third session involves getting a great muscle pump, mainly using isolation exercises. In other words, you attack your muscles from all angles and stimulate optimal hypertrophy.

StrengthLog’s Full-Body Hypertrophy program is available in the StrengthLog app, and it’s 100% free!

Read more about it here:

>> StrengthLog’s Full-Body Hypertrophy

Four- and Five Day Per Week Full-Body Training Splits

Training your entire body three times per week is ideal for most people. However, the advanced lifter can increase training frequency to four or five days per week.

A four-day-per-week full-body split can be helpful once you’re strong enough to handle heavy weights, requiring you to take a long rest between sets. Instead of three very long workouts per week, you can add a fourth workout, allowing you to increase your training intensity and volume without your sessions getting longer and longer.

In a recent study, young men trained a full-body split five days per week and made significant gains in strength and muscle mass. Their workout routine looked like this:

full body bodybuilding split

If you follow such a high-frequency full-body split, you have to ensure you don’t do too many sets per workout, or you might not be able to recover in time for your next training session.

Upper/Lower Body Split

The next step up from a full-body workout routine is splitting your body into an upper body workout and a lower body workout.

Upper lower bodybuilding split
This would be one way to split your training. You might, however, choose to work your abs on your lower body workouts, and perhaps also your lower back.

The upper/lower split is very popular and allows you to spend more time on each muscle group while keeping your training frequency reasonably high.

The standard and likely most efficient way to structure an upper/lower split is to train four days per week, working all muscle groups twice. However, a two-day-per-week upper/lower split would also be viable, although, at that point, two full-body workouts might be the better option.

Pros of an Upper/Lower Body Split

Pros

  • It’s a versatile way to split your body. You can train anywhere from two to six times per week using an upper/body split.
  • By alternating workouts for the upper and lower body, you get plenty of time for rest and recovery between training sessions.
  • If you prioritize leg development, the upper/lower body split is excellent. The lower body day is essentially a leg day, allowing you to focus on legs and legs alone several times per week.

Cons

There aren’t many true cons to an upper/lower split. The only one is if you have no more than two or three days per week to dedicate to training. The training sessions, especially the upper body workouts, can get overwhelmingly long and exhausting. If that’s the case, you might want to consider a full-body split instead.

Our upper/lower body split is one of the most popular free programs in our workout app.

The infographic below shows the outline of the program, but you can also access it 100% free by downloading StrengthLog with the buttons below.

By tracking your workouts in the app, you can make sure that you’re progressing in reps and weights, which is the fundamental principle for growing bigger and stronger.

upper/lower program

>> StrengthLog’s Upper/Lower Body Split Program, 4x/Week

Three-Day Workout Splits

Now we’re splitting the muscle groups up even further, training the entire body over three days. That allows you to do more volume for each muscle while keeping your training frequency reasonably high.

The Push/Pull/Legs Split

Push pull legs bodybuilding split

The most popular way to combine your muscle groups into a three-day split is probably the Push/Pull/Legs (PPL) split. That entails training your pushing muscles (chest, shoulders, and triceps) on day one, pulling muscles (back and biceps) on day two, and legs on day three.

You can use the PPL split to train your entire body once or twice per week. The first option means working out three times per week, usually on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with the weekend off.  If you go with the second option, you either train six days in a row with day seven off or train three days in a row followed by a day rest before starting over on day one.

Pros and Cons of a PPL split

Pros

  • You ensure you get enough rest and recovery between workouts even when you train each muscle twice weekly, as there is minimal overlap of muscle activation from workout to workout.
  • You can tailor a push/pull/legs split to your schedule. A PPL split has you covered whether you have three, four, or six days per week at your disposal. And P could stand for both Push and Pull, so you can start with either day depending on what you prioritize.
  • You don’t have to worry about muscle overlap. For example, your biceps won’t be sore when it’s time for a back workout.

Cons 

  • You only train each muscle group once per week if you do a three-day-per-week PPL split. That is fine, but to get enough training volume for maximal muscle growth, you’d have to do a lot of sets per workout. It can be hard to fit compound exercises and isolation work into your workouts without them becoming overly long.
  • With a three-day PPL split, you might have to do several big lifts in the same workout to fit them all in one week, which can be challenging.
  • The six-day-per-week PPL split can take a lot out of you. You need an excellent ability to recover to make it work.

In the StrengthLog app, you have three different premium PPL splits to choose from: the Beginner three days/week program, the Intermediate six days/week program, and the Advanced six days/week program.

The first two are tailored for general muscle-building purposes and for gaining strength, while the advanced split is intended for bodybuilders. Every other training day is a “light” training day, and every other is heavy, allowing you to hit all muscle fibers types.

Read more about the advanced PPL split here:

>> Push / Pull / Legs Advanced, 6 Days/Week

The 3-1-3 Split

The 3-1-3 split is another way to break your body parts into three workouts. Instead of pairing muscles with similar functions, you combine the antagonists, meaning chest and back in one workout, biceps and triceps in another, and so on.

This split was a favorite of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who used to do a variant of it, training six days in a row and throwing in a rest day on Sunday, like this:

  • Monday: Chest and back
  • Tuesday: Shoulders, biceps, and triceps
  • Wednesday: Quads, hamstrings, and lower back
  • Thursday: Chest and back
  • Friday: Shoulders, biceps, and triceps
  • Saturday: Quads, hamstrings, and lower back
  • Sunday: Rest

You can do as Arnold, train for six consecutive days followed by a day of rest, or train for three days, rest one, train three, rest one, and so on. If you go for the latter option, separating your upper body workouts by inserting a leg workout is the best option. It allows your shoulders and triceps to recover better between workouts.

Pros and Cons of a 3-1-3 Split

Pros

  • The main benefit of an antagonist-based 3-1-3 split is your muscles don’t overlap during a workout. Training your chest doesn’t involve your back significantly, so your back muscles will still be fresh when it’s time to train them.
  • You get to train some muscles, like your biceps and triceps, more often. First indirectly on chest and back day, then indirectly on day three. Great if you want to focus more on those muscle groups.

Cons

  • Training chest and back together is grueling. Those are two big muscle groups, and training both in one workout can take a lot out of you. You might want to consider alternating between starting with chest one workout, then back the next, and so on. 

In the StrengthLog app, you’ll find the Bodybuilding 313 training program. It’s a premium program based on an antagonist-based 3-1-3 split, intended for the intermediate to the advanced bodybuilder. You can read more about it here:

>> Bodybuilding 313 – a Training Program for Bodybuilders

Four-Day Training Split

Dividing your body up into four workouts means you can increase your training volume even further without your training sessions becoming overly long.

You can spread those four training days over the week, training each muscle group once during that time and resting on three days of your choice. Another option is training four days straight, followed by a day or two of rest, then starting over with another four days of training. You could also follow a two-on/one-off routine.

As you can see, the four-day training split allows you many different ways to tailor the routine to your schedule.

You can also combine different muscle groups in various ways. For example:

Another way to organize a four-day split looks like this:

These examples are variations of the push/pull/legs system or the antagonist-based split, only extended to four training days.

If you pair back with biceps and chest with triceps, it is important to train the large muscle group, meaning your chest and back first in the workout. Otherwise, the smaller muscle will be pre-fatigued with its time for your heavy pushing and pulling movements, limiting your performance and growth potential.

Pros and Cons of a Four-Day Split

Pros

  • It’s a very versatile way to train. You can tailor it to suit almost any schedule. You can work out four days straight followed by a day of rest or insert a rest day at any point in the split.

There are no true cons of a four-day split. It’s flexible enough that you can adapt it to suit your needs, whatever they may be. The only downside is when you don’t have at least four days per week to work out. Then you’d be better off with a full-body split or a three-day split where you train each muscle group once per week.

The Bodybuilding Split

The bodybuilding split called a “bro-split” allocates an entire training day to a specific muscle group. This is the training split of most competitive bodybuilders. It’s not a split for beginners. Rather, you need a bit of training experience to take advantage of it.

Pros and Cons of a Bodybuilding Split

Pros

  • By only training one or two muscle groups per workout, you can focus entirely on them and hit them with maximum volume and training intensity. 
  • You don’t have to worry about holding back because you need to save energy for other muscle groups later in the workout.
  • Even when doing high-volume training, your workouts can be reasonably short.
  • You get a great pump in the muscle you’ve trained.
  • Your workouts are time-efficient because you usually only have to warm up before the first exercise.

Cons

  • When planning a bodybuilding split, you need to be careful or risk inadequate recovery. There is a risk of too much overlap between muscles. Don’t schedule chest on Monday, arms on Tuesday, and shoulders on Wednesday, for example, or you will overwork your triceps muscles.
  • It can be hard to keep your training intensity high throughout the workout. Towards the end, the quality of your sets might start to suffer.
  • You need to be prepared to spend a lot of time in the gym, time not everyone has.
  • If you have to skip a week of training or get sick, it’ll be a long time between workouts for a specific muscle.
  • Training almost every day of the week can lead to burnout, mental exhaustion, and central nervous system fatigue.

Our most popular training program for bodybuilding is called Bodybuilding Ballet and is designed as a classic “bro-split.” It’s a premium program for intermediate and advanced bodybuilders, available in the StrengthLog app. It looks like this:

There are also versions of Bodybuilding Ballet adapted to a four- or six-day training schedule available in the StrengthLog app.

Read more about Bodybuilding Ballet here, or download StrengthLog via the buttons below and treat yourself to a premium subscription if you want to give it a go.

Frequently Asked Questions

Find it hard to choose between all these bodybuilding splits? Which one is the best one for you?

Don’t worry; most likely, you’ll find the answer to your questions in this FAQ.

What About Calves and Abs?

You might have noticed that calves and abs aren’t anywhere to be found in most of the above splits. They are fairly small muscle groups that don’t require much energy to train. You can add them to any workout you want, maybe alternating between them at the end of your training sessions. If you want to, that is.

Some people have naturally big calves without training them, while others find it extremely hard and a waste of time to train calves because they simply don’t respond. You see this phenomenon even amongst professional bodybuilders. And don’t think they haven’t tried getting their calf size up.

As for abs, it can be a good idea to add a couple of exercises at the end of one, two, or three workouts per week. The abs recover fast, meaning you can train them more often than your legs, for example, if you want to. You have to treat them like any other muscle group: they respond to heavy weights and relatively high reps, like all other muscles. Doing hundreds of sit-ups is a waste of time.

What’s the Best Bodybuilding Split for Beginners?

If you’re brand new to strength training, I suggest a full-body split, training each muscle group twice or three times per week on nonconsecutive days. Our beginner barbell program or beginner machine program are two good examples.

Training all areas of your body in one workout gives your muscles frequent stimulus to grow while allowing at least one day of rest between sessions that stress the same muscle groups.

What’s the Best Bodybuilding Split for Intermediates?

I suggest working out three or four days per week at this level. 

A three-day-per-week full-body routine is still perfectly viable, albeit with a higher training volume. Another excellent option is the upper/lower split, in which you train each muscle group twice weekly. 

What’s the Best Bodybuilding Split for Advanced Lifters?

Depending on your goals, you might need to increase your training frequency and intensity even further as you gain more experience. Five or six training days using a split routine is helpful for the advanced bodybuilder going for an increase in training stimulus without compromising recovery.

A “three days on, one day off” is undoubtedly a viable approach, perhaps following a push/pull/legs split.

So is the so-called bro split, in which you dedicate an entire training session to only one or at the most two muscle groups. You can focus all your energy on specific muscle groups and optimize your recovery between workouts.

Three good routines for the advanced bodybuilder are:

What’s the Best 1 Day Bodybuilding Split?

If you can only dedicate one day per week to training, a full-body split is the only viable option. Even then, beginners are likely the only ones able to make consistent gains on a one-day-per-week schedule.

What’s the Best 2 Day Bodybuilding Split?

Training two days per week, you could either do a full-body routine twice weekly or go with the upper/body split. This is an excellent choice for beginners.

Two days per week is still probably too little for intermediates and advanced, as getting enough training volume for maximum gains might be challenging. If we’re talking bodybuilding, that is, not general fitness. If two days is what you can do, go with full-body workouts.

What’s the Best 3 Day Bodybuilding Split?

For beginners, easily the full-body split.

For intermediates to advanced bodybuilders, three full-body workouts per week are still viable, but the best split might be a three-day split, either a push/pull/leg variant or the 3-1-3 split.

What’s the Best 4 Day Bodybuilding Split?

Training four days per week, I suggest either the upper/lower body split, working all muscle groups twice weekly, or a four-day training split. Both options allow for a good balance between volume, intensity, and recovery.

What’s the Best 5 Day Bodybuilding Split?

This is intermediate to advanced territory. No beginner needs to hit the weights five times per week. I recommend a five-day bodybuilding split like Bodybuilding Ballet here. Another option is combining a push/pull/leg split and an upper/lower split into a five-day-per-week training split if you want to work each muscle group more often.

What’s the Best 6 Day Bodybuilding Split?

Most bodybuilders don’t need to train six times per week, but if you’re set on such a split, I suggest a bro split focusing on only one major muscle group per workout, or two back-to-back push/pull/leg splits.

Two examples are our advanced push/pull/legs program or the 6-day version of Bodybuilding Ballet.

What’s the Best 7 Day Bodybuilding Split?

I can’t think of one good reason any bodybuilder needs to engage in strength training seven days per week. Your body needs rest to recover and grow from your hard training.

Further Reading:

>> Top 20 Bodybuilding Exercises for Every Muscle Group

>> Bodybuilding vs. Strength Training: Top 10 Differences

The Key to Fast and Consistent Gains

There you have it! An overview of some of the most popular and effective bodybuilding splits available. Hopefully, it helps you decide which split is right for you.

If you want to grow bigger and stronger, the key to fast and consistent gains in strength and muscle is to increase the weight you use in your training or to do more reps. 

It’s almost impossible to keep track of your progress without a workout log. Our app StrengthLog is 100% free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app. All the basic functionality is free – forever.

You’ll also find a bunch of training programs and workouts in the app. Many are free, but our more advanced programs (such as several splits mentioned in this article) are for premium users only.

For a limited time, we’re giving you the chance to sign up for our weekly newsletter and get a free 30-day-trial of StrengthLog premium. You can freely check out our programs and bodybuilding splits during this time. After 30 days, your account will revert to a free account. No strings attached.

Note: only applicable to new app accounts, and you must use the same email address for both the app and the newsletter. Read more about the free trial here.

If you want to download StrengthLog for free and give it a spin, use the buttons below.

References

  1. Louis Abele’s Back Program c. 1948
  2. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: June 2013 – Volume 27 – Issue 6 – p 1609-1617. Training Practices and Ergogenic Aids Used by Male Bodybuilders.
  3. Sports Medicine Volume 46, Pages 1689–1697 (2016). Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.
  4. J Sports Sci. 2019 Jun;37(11):1286-1295. How many times per week should a muscle be trained to maximize muscle hypertrophy? A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies examining the effects of resistance training frequency.
  5. J Hum Kinet. 2022 Jan; 81: 199–210. A Systematic Review of The Effects of Different Resistance Training Volumes on Muscle Hypertrophy.
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Andreas Abelsson

Andreas has over 30 years of training experience and is a highly appreciated writer and educator on exercise, fitness, and nutrition. Few people stay more up to date and have a better grasp of the field of exercise science than Andreas.