Upper/lower workouts are thought to be the most optimal training style for those looking to build lean muscle naturally.
It takes full advantage of the three factors needed within workout routines to increase hypertrophy:
- Mechanical Tension
- Muscle Damage
- Metabolic Stress
By splitting your workouts between your upper body musculature and lower body musculature, you are able to optimize training frequency and volume distribution in a way that will also allow for maximum intensity in any given session.
In other words, the split allows you to stimulate each muscle group more frequently while also allowing you to distribute the volume to provide an ample amount of time to recover.
And if you are recovering better and training more frequently, you’ll grow.
What is an Upper/Lower Split?
An upper/lower workout split is a training style that breaks your workout sessions down into two categories: Upper body workout days and lower body workout days.
On upper body workout days, you will train the muscles of the upper body. This will include the chest, shoulders, back, biceps, triceps, traps, forearms, and possibly core.
On lower body workout days, you’ll focus on the muscles of the lower body. This will include the lower back, quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and possibly core.
In a traditional upper/lower split, there’s no crossover between days. However, some may utilize upper focused days paired with a single muscle group of the lower body that might be lagging and vice versa. With any split, it’s important to individualize to optimize for your specific goals and training needs.
Can Beginners Do Upper/Lower Splits?
Beginners are absolutely capable of performing upper lower workout splits.
Most training styles are universal among training experience. The only things that may differ is the weight used, possibly some volume, and the inclusion of more advanced training techniques if necessary.
If you are a beginner, however, upper/lower workouts can definitely be a good style of training to start out with. You may also want to consider experimenting with full body workouts and determine which you enjoy more and works best for your individual goals, capabilities, and lifestyle.
The workout listed below can be a good workout for beginner lifters. Some may want to consider evaluating the total volume and eliminating sets if needed to optimize recovery. They may also want to remove the emphasized negatives if needed.
Another strategy for making upper/lower workouts beginner-friendly is changing the training frequency from 4 days of training per week to 3 days of training.
An example week following this strategy may look like:
- Monday: Upper Workout
- Tuesday: Off
- Wednesday: Lower Workout
- Thursday: Off
- Friday: Upper Workout
- Saturday: Off
- Sunday: Off
To continue on like this, you would simply continue to cycle through the workouts listed below on your training days.
Upper/Lower Bodybuilding Workout Overview
This is a muscle building workout that I have been using lately now that I am training more often at commercial gyms. It works well both with, and without a training partner. If training with a partner, I recommend keeping rest periods brief. After your partner's set is finished, you should waste little time before hitting your next set.
Each training day is balanced. You start by challenging major muscle groups with 3 sets of compound or taxing machine exercises. Next, you follow up by finishing a muscle group with a more isolation-style movement that typically focuses on the use of 3 second negatives. Lastly, you work smaller muscle groups with 3 sets each, using 3 second negatives when it makes sense.
Here is the training schedule:
- Day 1 - Upper Body
- Day 2 - Lower Body
- Day 3 - Off
- Day 4 - Upper Body
- Day 5 - Lower Body
- Day 6 - Off
- Day 7 - Off
Upper Body Training Days
Upper body training days follow this scheme:
- Chest - 3 sets, compound
- Back - 3 sets, compound
- Shoulders - 3 sets, compound
- Chest - 2 sets, isolation or machine/moderate compound. Use 3 second negatives when it makes sense.
- Back - 2 sets, isolation or machine/moderate compound. Use 3 second negatives when it makes sense.
- Shoulders - 2 sets, isolation or machine/moderate compound. Use 3 second negatives when it makes sense.
- Triceps - 3 sets, isolation or machine/cable exercises. Use 3 second negatives when it makes sense.
- Biceps - 3 sets, isolation or machine/cable exercises. Use 3 second negatives when it makes sense.
Lower Body Training Days
Lower body training days follow this scheme:
- Quads - 3 sets, compound
- Hamstrings - 3 sets, compound
- Calves - 3 sets, taxing machine or isolation
- Quads - 2 sets, isolation or machine/moderate compound. Use 3 second negatives when it makes sense.
- Hamstrings - 2 sets, isolation or machine/moderate compound. Use 3 second negatives when it makes sense.
- Calves - 2 sets, isolation or machine/moderate compound. Use 3 second negatives when it makes sense.
- Abs - 3 sets, isolation or machine/cable exercises.
- Abs, Lower Back or Obliques - 3 sets, isolation or machine/cable exercises.
Day 1: Upper Body Workout
|Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press||3||8-12|
|Pec Dec - 3 sec negative||2||10-12|
|V-Bar Lat Pull Down - 3 sec negative||2||10-12|
|Side Lateral Raise||2||10-15|
|Cable Tricep Extensions - 3 sec negative||3||8-12|
|Cable Curls - 3 sec negative||3||8-12|
Day 2: Lower Body Workout
|Stiff Leg Deadlifts||3||8-12|
|Standing Calf Raise||3||10-15|
|Leg Extensions - 3 sec negative||2||10-12|
|Leg Curl - 3 sec negative||2||10-12|
|Seated Calf Raise - 3 sec negative||2||10-12|
|Cable Crunch - 3 sec negative||3||10-12|
|Cable Pull Through w/Rope||3||10-12|
Day 4: Upper Body Workout
|Incline Dumbbell Bench Press||3||8-12|
|Rack Deadlifts - 3" to 5" off ground||3||5-8|
|Machine Chest Press - 3 sec negative||2||8-12|
|Pull Ups or Machine Rows - 3 sec negative||2||8-12|
|Machine Shoulder Press - 3 sec negative||2||8-12|
|Dumbbell Curls - 3 sec negative||3||8-12|
|Machine Tricep Dip - 3 sec negative||3||8-12|
Day 5: Lower Body Workout
|Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlifts||3||8-12|
|Leg Press Calf Raise||3||10-15|
|Seated Leg Curl - 3 sec negative||2||10-12|
|Seated Calf Raise - 3 sec negative||2||10-12|
FAQs about The Upper/Lower Workout
Below is a compiled list of some of the most frequently asked questions about this particular upper/lower workout.
The questions were questions we noticed we received often in the comments section.
Read through them to see if your question is answered. If it is not, please be sure to leave us a comment and we will try to answer your question to the best of our ability.
1. What is a 3 Second Negative?
The negative portion of the lift is the lowering or eccentric portion. For instance, on a bench press, the negative would be lowering the bar to your chest.
A 3 second negative is making this portion of the lift take 3 seconds to perform.
2. What Makes This Routine a Beginner Workout?
The total amount of volume in this workout routine is appropriate for a beginner level trainee.
If you wanted to make it more advanced, you could simply continue to increase the weights used over time or by upping the volume by adding additional sets.
All workout routines can be used by all levels of experience. It’s more or less a matter of knowing how to make your training most effective based on your goals, capabilities, and lifestyle.
3. How Long Should I Rest In Between Sets?
Timed rest periods usually don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, at least in my experience.
Typically, they are used to help keep the workouts more focused.
They will also depend on the total effort exuded on any given set. As you get stronger, you may need more time to rest in between sets.
A good rule of thumb is 60-90 seconds depending on the exercise. For more compound movements in a hypertrophy focused workout routine, you’ll want to take a full 90 seconds or so to recovery before performing the next set.
For isolation lifts or accessory movements, you may want to keep rest periods shorter as you will likely need less time to recover.
So, to sum it up, rest as needed.
4. Why So Many Deadlift Variations?
The deadlift is a mass builder. And each variation will place emphasis on different body parts it is training.
Stiff leg deadlifts will allow you to maximize the total poundage you use for the exercise since it’s a barbell compound. If done properly, the majority of the tension should be placed on the hamstrings and glutes.
For rack pull deadlifts, the barbell is elevated and the focus is on the upper back and traps.
Dumbbell stiff leg deadlifts will again train the hamstrings and glutes. Your grip will provide a limiting factor on this variation as it is more difficult to grip dumbbells compared to barbells.
Lastly, the hyperextensions, if performed properly, will place the majority of its tension on the glutes.
At the end of the day, if you do not feel comfortable performing this many hip hinge variations, you’re more than welcome to alter the template in a way that better fits your needs.
5. Can I Use The Workout If I Follow A Keto Diet?
Yes, you can use this program with any sort of diet.
That being said, keto diets aren’t necessarily an ideal approach for maximizing muscle growth and fueling performance during your workouts.
Everyone is different though. Continue to diet and exercise in whatever ways work best for you.
6. Can I Add Cardio?
Yes, you can add cardio to this program. The type and duration of the style of cardio will highly depend on your goals and time restraints.
If you are someone low on time, you can add HIIT cardio sessions to the end of your workouts on your training days.
Depending on your goals, you can also add in steady state cardio on your rest days as a form of active recovery.
7. Should I Increase The Weight Each Set?
You can increase the weight after each set if you enjoy performing your workouts in a pyramiding set fashion. Or you can keep them as straight sets. Whichever you prefer will do the trick.
The one caveat is, to build muscle you have to accomplish progressive overload. This can be accomplished in a number of different ways. However, the easiest to track is by increasing the weight used session to session over time.
Everyone progresses differently. So long as you are improving upon the weight you are using whenever you are capable of doing so, you will see results.
8. Can I Add Core Exercises?
You may add additional core exercises to this program if you like. However, depending on your goals, it may not be necessary.
If your goal is to develop your midsection, you’ll be better off focusing on creating a calorie deficit and improving your strength levels throughout the duration of the program.
If your goal is increasing your core strength, you can include some additional stability exercises as you see fit based on your working capacity, experience level, and ultimate goal.
9. Can Women Perform This Workout?
Women can utilize this workout for whatever goals they may have. They may want to consider altering the exercise selection depending on their individual goals (a lot of women want to focus on glute growth) – however, it’s already pretty glute and hamstring emphasized via the deadlift variations and may not warrant additional alterations.
10. How Should I Warm Up?
Everyone’s warm ups will look different based on their individual mobility levels.
For an article on how to build out an appropriate warm up routine, check out this article.