One of the challenges people face when they start training seriously is how to fit five-six training days into their already-busy weeks.
It can seem daunting to dedicate so many days to working out, and you may be left wondering how athletes and gym-enthusiasts seem to effortlessly cram in sessions day in, day out without fail.
The secret is to split your workouts into two simple categories – upper and lower. The majority of gym-goers will train one body part once a week, averaging five to six days slaving away pumping iron. Not only is this philosophy time-consuming, but it’s also ineffective.
The science behind hypertrophy has always stated that the key to long-term, sustained muscle growth is training frequency. Doing only one lower body workout a week is definitely better than doing none, but it still not nearly enough volume for optimized muscle growth.
A muscle group needs to be overloaded around 3-4 times a week to create an ideal climate for growth. That is not possible with the traditional split, but it is certainly possible with an upper lower body split.
What Is the Upper/Lower Split? Is it The Best Workout Plan?
The upper/lower split does exactly what it says on the tin.
Training days are split into upper-body days and lower body days. For example, an upper-body day will be comprised of bench-presses and rows, and a lower-body day will contain squats and lunges. Not only does this save you time, but it also increases volume, which is vital for strength and muscle growth.
It’s far more effective than having dedicated ‘chest days’ once a week, which greatly limits volume and may even be holding you back from your fullest potential. One week is far too much recovery time between sessions, and it is not conducive to hypertrophy at all.
Therefore, training only upper or lower sessions are ideal for those who don’t have the time or simply aren’t interested in going to the gym five or six times a week. With a good workout plan, you really only need a maximum of four days to dedicate to training.
What Makes a Good Upper/Lower Split?
We know that an upper lower split is more effective at building muscle, but the split program still has to be structured properly. To put it simply, adding this split into your training will not guarantee gains. The most important thing in any training program is progression, regardless of how frequent the workouts are.
It’s still vital to keep a workout log so you can progress from one session to the next, and it’s still essential that you keep your diet in check and your sleep patterns healthy.
The training frequency alone will not cause the strength and muscle gains – your effort levels will.
What is a Good Example of an Upper/Lower Split For Beginners?
One of the major benefits that this training philosophy has is its simplicity. It’s not difficult or stressful to compile the best upper body exercises and great lower body workouts and create days around them.
However, if you’re still short on inspiration, here’s a quick exemplar of a basic upper/lower split:
- Monday – Chest/Back/Shoulders
- Tuesday – Legs ; Core
- Wednesday – Rest
- Thursday – Chest/Back/Shoulders
- Friday – Legs ; Core
- Saturday – Rest
- Sunday – Rest
Feel free to add some arm work at the end of the best upper body workout days if you fancy giving them some extra volume. By the same token, you can add more isolation exercises to your legs if you feel that they’re lagging behind.
Although this example may seem primitive, keep in mind that it is only a basic template and you can add your own twists to it as you see fit.
Which Exercises Should I Include?
That depends on your goals. However, there basic upper lower split workout principles that apply between those seeking hypertrophy (enlarged muscles) and those seeking strength gains.
For example, incorporating heavy compound lifts into your workouts, and progressing them accordingly, should be the cornerstone of your training. These include deadlifts (which can be done on either an upper or lower day), squats, bench-presses, pull-ups, rows, and overhead presses. Isolation exercises such as curls and leg extensions are important, but not essential. Feel free to add those on at the end. Essential are core workouts that will up your general strength!
It’s also important to understand how muscles grow and which stimuli cause it. According to the latest science, three things are required for muscle cells to grow – overload, muscle damage, and metabolic stress.
Overload enters the picture whenever a person lifts increasingly heavy weight over time. In the case of your upper/lower split, this means adding weight to your main lifts each week. Muscle damage, on the other hand, is caused by the eccentric (lowering) portion of the exercise and is also relevant to heavy/moderate lifting.
Metabolic stress, on the other hand, is simply the build-up of lactic acid during rigorous exercise. This means during high reps of an exercise at a lower weight and full intensity, known in fitness circles as ‘feeling the burn.’ Isometric exercises also have a metabolic factor.
How Can I Add These Stimuli Into My Upper/Lower Split?
That’s a great question and one definitely worth considering. Our tip would be to make sure each stimulus is present in your upper and lower body workout. That could look like this:
- First Exercise – Heavy Lifting For Overload (e.g, 3-6 reps of heavy squats)
- Second Exercise – Moderate Lifting for Muscle Damage (e.g. 8-12 reps of split squats)
- Third Exercise – High-Rep Burnout For Metabolic Overdrive (e.g. 20-25 reps of leg extensions)
Each section of the workout has its muscle-building qualities and the muscle group (in this case the legs) is being attacked from all angles. You’ll get stronger from the heavy lifts and more muscular from the high-volume finisher sets.
Add this training template into your workouts and you’ll soon be reaping the rewards. By combining the overload factor with the metabolic stress, your muscles will receive plenty of volume during the week to drive productive, long-term muscle growth.
See for yourself, you won’t be disappointed!