3 most effective workout splits: Full schedules and tips | Fitness tips of the day

Workout splits could be the key to hitting your fitness goals. As big supporters of smart training, Women’s Health know that structuring your exercise is essential to seeing and feeling results, and a workout split is a no-brainer. What exactly is a “workout split”, you ask?

If you’re not familiar, a “workout split” is a term used to describe splitting your workouts up each week. We’ll get into why doing this can be majorly beneficial later, but for now, know that a workout split is something both beginners and exercise-regulars can get involved with. (We’ve even got example 3-day, 4-day and 5-day strength training workout splits for you to try, too!)

So, read on to discover the best workout splits for you and why thinking a tiny bit more carefully about the gym workouts and home workouts you do each week can reap major rewards. Go on, then.

What is a ‘workout split’?

‘A workout split is breaking up your overall training program into different days for different muscles,’ explains Elliott Upton, personal trainer at Ultimate Performance and Head of LiveUP Online Training.

You may not have heard of it explicitly called a ‘workout split’, but you’re probably likely to have heard people structuring their workouts in a way like the below, which is, essentially a workout split:

‘However, using a workout split isn’t an optimal way of training for 90% of people,’ says Upton. ‘Most people would be better doing a full-body split where you train your full body in each of your weekly sessions. Or you do a push-pull split where you alternate between sessions with either all pushing movements (e.g. a bench press) or all pulling movements (e.g. bent over rows).’

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Does a workout split apply to just resistance training or other types of workouts, too?

Seeing as a workout split refers to how you divide your training each week, it’s not outlandish to think it could mean cardio workouts and other forms of fitness, too.

However, in general use, the term workout split tends to apply specifically to resistance training and strength training – outlining how to balance your training to allow for adequate effort and recovery.

What are the benefits of using a workout split?

  • Able to target body parts more effectively for muscle growth/strength gains through progressive overload
  • Allows for muscle groups to rest and recover properly between workouts
  • Opens up a wider range of exercises and training styles
  • Can lower the chances of injury, overtraining and fatigue

‘There are many benefits to using a workout split,’ says Maira Miranda, personal trainer at national gym chain, Fitness First. ‘One key benefit is that specific areas can be trained more accurately, which can lead to an increase of training intensity for that area. As a result, the person is likely to see greater improvements depending on what they are training for.’

‘A person training to build muscle will be able to train each different area, on different days, which will give the ideal stimulus to promote hypertrophy (break down of muscle tissue) whilst still allowing for recovery and adaptation (the new muscle tissue grown from the hypertrophy process). In addition, using a workout split can help to prevent overtraining issues such as muscular injury, stress and feelings of being over fatigued.’

You know how sometimes you’ll attempt to do a workout, but your muscles feel so tired that it feels near-on impossible to do a single rep? That’s where workout splits could come in useful, since the idea is that you give your muscle groups a complete rest before training them again.

How to design your own workout split

When it comes to designing your own workout split, the key is to keep a good balance of different muscle focuses throughout the week.

For example, four workouts a week that only focus on your glutes and abs isn’t going to do anything for your core and upper body strength. Similarly, skipping leg day every week won’t build new muscle or improve the strength in your quads, hamstrings and calves.

Take the workout split examples below as a guide on how to structure a workout split smartly. You don’t have to adhere to them exactly but they’re a good, expert-designed model to follow to make sure you’re training in a sensible way.

What’s the best workout split for beginners?

Trying to figure out the best way to exercise for beginners can be a quagmire of information, we know, and adding in the idea of workout splits can seem overwhelming. If you’re new to them, it’s about setting a realistic plan – if you can’t dedicate a single day to a single muscle group, don’t strive for it – it’s A-OK to double up on muscle groups, or to do the odd full-body workout. Here’s the ideal workout split for beginners…

‘Aim for a 3-day workout split. This will give enough stimulus to your body to achieve your fitness goals whilst still allowing for rest days in between to promote recovery,’ says PT Miranda.

‘Most beginners who start training will have lots of motivation and want to train frequently. It is important to gradually increase the training volume (how much you’re training) so to prevent injury or overtraining. Alongside the three training days in a 3-day workout split, the person could look to incorporate active recovery days too, where they do gentle exercises such as walking or yoga which will also contribute to muscle recovery.’

3-day workout split

workout splits

Try a 3-day workout split if you’re new to training

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Try this workout split if you’re new to training and want a little more structure to your week. Upton devised this workout split to make sure beginners (or those who are time-poor) can maximise their workouts without compromising potential recovery time.

Whilst the workouts in the following workout split are numbered from day one to day three, it doesn’t mean you should be performing the workouts on three consecutive days. It just means that you have three days of workouts in your seven day week. With a 3-day workout split, try to have every other day for rest and active recovery. You’ll end up with two rest days in a row on Saturday and Sunday if you work out Monday, Wednesday, Friday using this guide, which means you’ll be amped up and ready to go again by Monday.

Remember, the days you’re not explicitly “exercising” in your workout split should ideally be spent doing active recovery (i.e walking, doing foam roller exercises or gentle yoga) or taking proper rest. Your next workout is only as good as your recovery – trust us on this.

Day 1: Full body

For this workout of your 3-day workout split, aim for 2-3 sets of each superset, performing 8-10 reps of each exercise before taking a rest. (Quick refresh: a superset is when two exercises are paired together and performed back to back to form one set.)

  • Exercise A1: Squat
  • Exercise A2: Pull up (using a long looped resistance band will massively help)
  • Exercise B1: Reverse lunge
  • Exercise B2: Overhead press
  • Exercise C1: Face pull using rope attachment on a cable machine
  • Exercise C2: Lateral raise
  • Exercise D1: Decline triceps skull crusher
  • Exercise D2: Barbell biceps curl
  • Exercise E: Hanging knee raise

Day 2: Full body

Perform 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps per exercise. Take a rest when you’ve done both exercises before repeating once or twice more.

  • Exercise A1: Hip thrust
  • Exercise A2: Incline dumbbell press
  • Exercise B1: Rear foot elevated split squat
  • Exercise B2: Bent over dumbbell row
  • Exercise C1: Cable pec fly
  • Exercise C2: Rear delt fly
  • Exercise D1: Dips
  • Exercise D2: Incline dumbbell fly
  • Exercise E: Plank

Day 3: Full body

Work through 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps. This workout follows the same structure as the other two in your 3-day workout split, so remember to perform each superset 2-3 times before moving on to the next set of exercises.

  • Exercise A1: Deadlift
  • Exercise A2: Bench press
  • Exercise B1: Walking lunge
  • Exercise B2: Overhead press
  • Exercise C1: Wide row
  • Exercise C2: Lateral raise
  • Exercise D1: Tricep pushdown
  • Exercise D2: Hammer curl
  • Exercise E: Reverse crunch

4-day workout split

workout splits

Experts say a 4-day workout split could be best for balancing exertion and recovery

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According to Upton, a 4-day workout split is the best balance of exertion and recovery. This one is ideal if you’re familiar with resistance training.

‘A four-day workout split means you will likely be able to lift more over the week, a greater load, increased scope for progression, while still not quite compromising recovery,’ he explains, breaking down his ideal 4-day workout split.

Again, even though the workouts are laid out from day one to day four in this particular workout split, you don’t need to work through them back to back. Instead, it simply means you have four days of workouts to complete (really whenever you want) in a seven day week, so there are four workouts split across each one week.

Our best advice is to schedule a rest day in between three of the four workouts and have two workouts that end up being on consecutive days. This could look like Monday and Tuesday on, Wednesday off, Thursday on, Friday off, Saturday on and Sunday off.

Recovery between sessions in your 4-day workout split is important, especially when you’re training hard. Keep your NEAT exercise up (it helps with blood flow and muscle recovery) and think about investing in a cheap foam roller to help work those knots out.

Day 1: Push workout

Aim for 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps for each exercise. For the E and F exercises, perform them as a superset and tri-set respectively. This means you complete one set of 8-10 reps of each exercise, straight after the other. Once you’ve done all exercises, rest before repeating the set again twice or three times more.

  • Exercise A: Squat
  • Exercise B: Bench press
  • Exercise C: Walking lunge
  • Exercise D: Overhead press
  • Exercise E1: Quad extension
  • Exercise E2: Incline dumbbell fly
  • Exercise F1: Decline tricep skull crusher
  • Exercise F2: Tricep pushdown
  • Exercise F3: Cable lateral raise

Day 2: Pull workout

In this workout of your workout split, aim for 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps for each exercise. Remember, the E-exercises should be performed as a superset and the F-exercises as a tri-set.

  • Exercise A: Deadlift
  • Exercise B: Chest supported dumbbell row
  • Exercise C: Horizontal glute extension
  • Exercise D: Face pull
  • Exercise E1: Hamstring curl
  • Exercise E2: Rear delt fly
  • Exercise F1: Incline dumbbell curl
  • Exercise F2: EZ bar curl
  • Exercise F3: Hanging knee raise

Day 3: Push workout

Your second push workout of this 4-day workout involves you aiming for 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps. Each exercise is superset with another exercise, so perform 15-20 reps of each before resting.

  • Exercise A1: Squat
  • Exercise A2: Incline dumbbell press

  • Exercise B1: Leg press
  • Exercise B2: Dips

  • Exercise C1: Arnold press
  • Exercise C2: Dumbbell lateral raise

  • Exercise D1: Tricep pushdown
  • Exercise D2: Tricep overhead extension

Day 4: Pull workout

Similarly, with your fourth workout of your 4-day workout split and second pull workout of the week, aim for 2-3 sets of each superset, performing 15-20 reps of each one, each time.

  • Exercise A1: Rack pull
  • Exercise A2: Pull up AMRAP
  • Exercise B1: Romanian deadlift
  • Exercise B2: Wide lateral pull down
  • Exercise C1: Single arm row
  • Exercise C2: Rear delt row
  • Exercise D1: Barbell bicep curl
  • Exercise D2: Bicep rope curl
  • Exercise E1: Reverse crunch
  • Exercise E2: Super plank

Is a 5-day workout split beneficial, too?

Upton is quick to explain that working out more than 4 days a week in, for example, a 5-day workout split, won’t necessarily provide better or faster results. In fact, doing a 5-day workout split could hinder your recovery and impact your overall weekly output if you fatigue your muscles past the point of recovery between each workout.

‘There are fewer benefits to a 5-day workout split but it does mean you can specialise more on certain muscles which can be beneficial for people who are more advanced or have much better recovery capabilities,’ Upton says. ‘Generally, 3-4 days is optimal for most people for training output and recovery.’

If you consider yourself able to work to a 5-day workout split whilst still prioritising sleep, active recovery and proper rest, read on for a full 5-day resistance training workout split.

Remember, though – even though you may have increased capacity for recovery (and we hope this is true if you’re attempting a 5-day split), how much your body is able to recover will have a serious impact on your sessions. Rather than bookend the week with two rest days, think about working out Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, take Thursday as a rest day and smash out the last two workouts to leave Sunday as a rest day. Downtime is very important and it can help to mitigate fatigue and boredom, which is a huge benefit of workout spits.

5-day workout split

Day 1: Push workout

Aim for 4-5 sets of 6-8 reps for each exercise.

  • Exercise A: Bench press
  • Exercise B: Incline press
  • Exercise C: Tricep dips
  • Exercise D: Tricep overhead extension
  • Exercise E: Lateral raise
  • Exercise F: Reverse crunch

Day 2: Pull workout

In this workout of your 5-day workout split, aim for 4-5 sets of 6-8 reps for each exercise.

  • Exercise A: Deadlift
  • Exercise B: Pull up
  • Exercise C: Barbell bicep curl
  • Exercise D: Incline curl
  • Exercise E: Rear delt fly with pause

Day 3: Legs

Work through 4-5 sets of 8-12 reps per exercise.

  • Exercise A: Squat
  • Exercise B: Hip thrust
  • Exercise C: Walking lunge
  • Exercise D: Hamstring curl
  • Exercise E: Calf raise with pause
  • Exercise F: Swiss ball plank

Day 4: Push workout

Today, do 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps for each of the following exercises.

  • Exercise A: Overhead press
  • Exercise B: Decline dumbbell press
  • Exercise C: Tricep skull crusher
  • Exercise D: Tricep twin rope pushdown
  • Exercise E: Cable lateral raise

Day 5: Pull workout

For this workout – your final of your 5-day workout split, do 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps per exercise.

  • Exercise A: Bent over row
  • Exercise B: Wide pull down
  • Exercise C: Dumbbell pullover
  • Exercise D: Barbell bicep curl
  • Exercise E: Cable crunch

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