The Best Upper Lower Body Split Routine For Muscle Mass

muscle man statue - upper lower body split routine workout

Muscles “carved” with upper lower split routine – sarcasm anywhere?

I remember the days when I went to the gym without knowing anything about training. I would just take the weights in my hands for 2-3 hours and lift as much as I could for as long as I could.

For me, speaking with people inside the gym, was a routine because I wanted to learn more. I wanted to speak with people that looked better than me because I was interested how they were eating and training.

I miss those times because of all the good memories and nice people I’ve met through my journey to a six pack.

What I want to point out is that I was getting basic bodybuilding advice. Advice like train one muscle group everyday, then progress to a program similar to this:

  • Monday : Chest + Biceps
  • Tuesday: Back + Triceps
  • Friday: Legs

Looking at it now, many would laugh. Surprisingly enough, I packed some muscle mass with those routines just because I was eating enough and getting stronger.

After a while, when my gains stopped, I started searching for workout routines to follow, and I stumbled upon split routines like :

  • upper/lower 4 times per week
  • push/pull/legs
  • push/pull

Back to the subject, the best upper lower split routine that I’ve used with great success was s 4 times per week upper lower split.

The best upper lower split routine that gave me good results was the generic bulking routine “invented” by Lyle Mcdonald with a few modifications of my own after experimenting with it on me and my clients:

Upper Lower Split Routine Workout Characteristics

How Many Times

This routine is best done 4 times per week, training each muscle group 2 times/week.

You start by going to the gym for 2 consecutive days. After those two days of training, you take 1 day of rest. After that rest day, you continue with another 2 days of training.

Example:

  • Monday: Upper
  • Tuesday: Lower
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Upper
  • Friday: Lower
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

There is no problem if you can’t keep it like this. It was just an example. The 4 days/week protocol is 2 days on , 1 day off, 2 days on, 2  days off.

Before starting this routine I suggest the 3 times per week Upper Lower Split routine just to get accustomed with the volume

  • Monday: Upper
  • Wednesday: Lower
  • Friday: Upper
  • Repeat again the next week

Basically, start the 3 days/week training version and train like that for a few weeks. After 1-3 weeks, progress and train 4 times/week.

The Upper Lower Split Routine

Monday: Lower Body Training Day

  • Squat: 3-4 sets x 6–8 reps (1 repetition short of failure and with a 2-5 minutes rest)
  • SLDL OR Leg Curl: 3-4 sets x 6-8 reps (1 repetition short of failure and with a 2-5 minutes rest)
  • Leg Press: 2-3 sets x 10-15 reps (1 repetition short of failure and with a 2-3 minutes rest)
  • Leg Curl: 2-3 sets x 10-15 reps (1 repetition short of failure and with a 2-3 minutes rest)
  • Calf Raise: 2-5 sets x 5-10 reps (1 repetition short of failure and with a 2-3 minutes rest)
  • Seated Calf Raise: 2-5 sets x 5-10 reps (1 repetition short of failure and with a 2-3 minutes rest)
  • Abdominal Exercises are optional

Tuesday: Upper Body Training Day

  • Bench Press: 3-4 sets x 6-8 reps (1 repetition short of failure and with a 2-5 minutes rest)
  • Any Kind Of Row: 3-4 sets x 6-8 reps  (1 repetition short of failure and with a 2-5 minutes rest)
  • Shoulder Press OR Incline Bench Press: 2-3 x 10-15 reps (1 repetition short of failure and with a 2-3 minutes rest)
  • Chin Up OR Pulldown: 2-3 x 10-15 reps (1 repetition short of failure and with a 2-3 minutes rest)
  • Triceps:  1-2 “pump” sets of whatever exercise 10-25 reps
  • Biceps: 1-2 “pump” sets of whatever exercise for 10-25 reps

NOTE: For biceps and triceps, I call them pump sets because you’ve already got the necessary volume to promote muscle growth with the compound movements. 

Pumping your arms would just feel nice for you and your lifting ego. Everybody likes to pump their arms after a training session, so the best time to do it is at the end of the training session.

Who Can Use This Routine?

The Upper Lower Split routine can be used by everyone. In case you are just starting out, the 3 days per week variant would be enough for the first 1-2 months.

How To Progress On This Routine

Start by doing your sets and get into the repetition range prescribed.

For example, if today you bench pressed 225 for 8 reps, the next week you should add 2.5-5 lbs to your bench press and work it back up until you reach 8 reps.

It should look like this:

Week 1: Bench press 225 lbs x 8 reps

Week 2: Bench press 230 lbs x 6 reps (next week you should try to do 8 res)

Week 3: Bench Press 230 lbs x 8 reps (you got back to 8 repetitions so you can increase the weight next week)

Week 4: Bench Press 235 lbs x 5 reps

In the week 5, you should try to do 8 reps. Don’t progress until you it 8 reps. Simple, isn’t it?

Do I Keep The Same Weight For 3-4 Sets ?

If you are one of those guys/girls that can handle the same weight across multiple sets by staying in the required rep range, by all means keep the weight static and work on your repetitions.

If you can’t handle the same weight, subtract 5-10% from the top set and work it downwards.

For example:

The first working set for bench press is 200 lbs x 5 reps.

The second working set should be 200 lbs x some reps. If you can’t lift 200 lbs for reps again, just get some weight off the bar and try it again.

The second set in this case should be 190-195 lbs x some repetitions. And so on.

How To Warm Up On This Split Routine ?

Warmup is simple. Just take a nice jog on the treadmill or do some dynamic stretching until you break a sweat. I believe 1-5 minutes should be enough.

An example would be:

  • 1st warmup set is 50% of the working weight for 5 reps
  • 2nd warmup set is 65% of the working weight for 3 reps
  • 3rd warmup set is 75% of the working weight for 1-2 reps
  • 4th set is the first working set (you are required to do 3-4 working sets after the warmup sets)

Working weight x the required rep range x the required times

Do I Need To Deload ?

A deload is required on almost any training routine that puts some stress on your body for a long time.

This program can be effectively used 6-12 weeks before you even think about deloading. You can consider a deload when you observe constant fatigue and plateau for a few weeks.

I won’t go in detail here because there are many deloading techniques. A deload simply means taking it easier for a couple of workouts (I talked more about how to deload here).

A quick example on how I would deload on this routine would be to cycle back my best weights to 80-90%, and work them up in 1-2 weeks to 100% of what they were before the deload took place. I would strive to improve whenever I could.

If my squat is 400 lbs x 5 reps, 85% of this weight is approximately 340 lbs. I would use 340 lbs as a deload. I would work it up to 400 across 2 weeks

  • 1st week: 80-85% of previous maxes
  • 2nd week: 90-95% of previous maxes
  • 3rd week push it over 100% (I would try to squat over 400 lbs in the 3rd week)

After this deload, you can continue trying to lift bigger weights for more repetitions in the next weeks until you hit another plateau. Restart the deload.

How Much Time Can I Stay On This Routine ?

As long as you are comfortable, make gains, you see weights/muscle mass progress, and you are not bored.

Basically, this routine can be used indefinitely with slight adjustments.

I Don’t Recover Well Enough On This Routine

Some of the things you can adjust on this routine so you can use it if your recovery capacity is not appropriate, would be to cut down the volume and/or frequency.

This means you should do less sets or use a less frequent training approach.

I want you to do something now…

Well, if you have any friend that might benefit from knowing about this amazing upper lower body split routine workout, you can share it with him and he will probably thank you for doing that.

Also, if you have any questions regarding this routine, comment bellow!

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Comments

  1. beginnerbb says:

    I’ve heard about this routine on some forums and I thought of learning more about it. is it good for a beginner?

    • If you are a beginner, I would recommend you to start with a strength orientated routine like “starting strength” just to learn the big 3’s fast by practicing them every workout and than you can move to upper/lower split routine.

      But if you really want to try it, there is nothing wrong even if you are a beginner.

  2. hi looks like a great program cant wait to start it, question i have iam planning on doing cardio 4 days a week, how could i incorporate this into this routine,

    • It all depends on what are your goals. Using the upper/lower routine would imply that you shouldn’t stress your body further and let it recuperate so you can put some muscle mass.

      If you really want to do cardio, you can try 20-40 minutes of slow pace, steady state cardio or even taking a walk in the park daily.

      Doing excessive cardio is a NO – NO when you want to put muscle mass so make sure you don’t overdue it.

      Good luck

  3. I stopped weight lifting for awhile (2 years) due to a couple of injuries from TKD. I had a separated shoulder and severe tendonitis in the right arm. My right arm healed fully about three months ago and I have been doing some exercises to strengthen it gradually.

    I just started working out with heavy weights over the past 3 weeks. I am already gaining muscle mass, losing some fat, and gaining strength rapidly.

    I use a 5 day U/L routine.

    Example:
    Week 1 = Upper M, R, Sa and Lower T, F.
    Week 2 = Lower M, R. Sa and Upper T, F.

    There are two days off per week in this routine; those being Wednesday and Sunday.

    My body type is Mesomorph. I recover quickly and the 5 day listed above seems to work pretty well. When I was younger three day whole body and 5 day split routines also worked well. So long as I do any physical labor I get bigger and stronger fast.

    Do you think the U/L 4 day would work equally well?

    • I would definitely restrict the upper/lower routines to 4 times/week depending on your recovery. If you feel you can take the 5 times/week training volume, then by all means do it. Remember this: progressive overload is the key!

  4. I recover very slowly, especially my chest and triceps which take 5 days, do you have any advice or training tips that could help? I am currently on a upper/lower split in wich i do one week of U,L,U and one L,U,L.

    • Ryan, if you recover slowly, I recommend you to cut down the volume (sets for each exercise to a bare minimum 2-3 sets for the compound movements and 1 set for isolation) and work your way up for there.

      Some creatine will probably help you to recover faster and don’t go to failure on each exercise. (I would only go to failure on 1-2 main exercises TOP).

      Good luck and tell us if that did it for you.

  5. Does it matter if you do lower day before upper?

  6. Garret Shopen says:

    Aw, this was an exceptionally nice post. Spending some time and actual effort to create a really good article… but what can I say… I put things off a lot and never manage to get anything done.

  7. Dn’t have weights only pull up bar,so my exercises are these:

    pull up 3 sets
    military press push up 3 sets
    chin up 3 sets
    deep pushups 3 sets
    and triceps dips 3 sets

    what do you think?

  8. Thank you for the great upper/lower routine… I am 50 years old and am looking to also loose some weight. I read what you said about not to much cardio…but I am overweight..5’11 226 lbs. Want to get to around 200.. Any help with diet and cardio with your routine would be appreciated.

    Thanks… Scott

  9. I’d like to try the upper/lower 3 day split. How would I go about that on VOLUME? I know you said, for example, bench press you would slowly progress each WEEK.

    If I do the ABA BAB, then some weeks I do it only once per week and some days I hit the bench press twice per week. So I’m not sure how I would try to progress on that.

    • Just keep it simple Michelle. Don’t “try to progress”. Progress happens when your body gets enough calories and adaptation so it will be automatic. Just follow the routine and try to lift bigger weights week after week. That’s all

      Florin

  10. Hi,

    This looks like a pretty sweet routine but I have one question. I’m only able to go to the gym Tuesday, Thurday, Saturday and Sunday. Will it be okay if I do Upper on Tue, Lower or Thurs, Upper on Sat and Lower on Sun?

    Thanks man

  11. Mie Hellerup says:

    Hello.

    Just started on this routine, but wanted to know if I still gain the same mass although there’s no isolation exercises on this program?

    Thanks

    • Doing the compound exercises will be enough because you will get enough volume for the small muscle groups. Yes. you will gain the same muscle mass compared to an more isolation-focused routine.

  12. Christian Davies says:

    Hiya, this looks like a great routine which I’m going to be starting soon. Just wanted to confirm, do you not increase the wait until you hit 8 reps on every set ie you would only add an addition 1.25 pound once you can complete 4 sets on the bench press at 8 reps of the working weight? Thanks

    • In my experience, there are very few people that can get to 8 reps for 4 sets once their strength peak. This is why there are plenty of progress suggestions. What I like to do is to try and progress the top set to 8 reps. When I reach 8 reps, I’ll get the weight up. In the meantime, try to also progress on the lower sets.

      Good luck

  13. Hi.
    On upper body days I switch between doing Incline Bench and Shoulder Press. I was wondering if it would be okay if I added 1-2 sets of laterial raises on days I do Incline Bench and 1-2 sets dumbbell flyes on the days I do Shoulder Press? Or would you say that this is not necessary?

    Thanks

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