Workout

Best 3-Day Split Workout Plans, Train Better Not Just More

If you are serious about building muscle, you have to start scheduling your workouts. The 3-day split workout is a simple and effective training system.

Some self-proclaimed experts will try to convince you that the only way to make consistent gains is to slave away at the gym every day of the week. It seems logical; the more work you put in, the more benefit you should see, right? #thegrindneverstops, bro!

While that's a nice sentiment, it doesn't really hold up. While working out every day of the week can have its benefits and can even work very well for some people, it's not the only way. In fact, many people have found great success with training just 3 times a week.

If you want to maximize your time and efficiency, a 3 days a week workout program can be a great choice. Let's take a look at a few of the best options.

The Best 3-Day Split

Warmup

This is a general warmup that can (and should) be used before every workout listed. I recommend going through a warmup even on days that you don't train to help you loosen up and work on mobility. The first part of a warmup should generally be a quick cardio portion to help you warm your body and get some blood flowing. Burpees are a great option. You can also spend 1-2 minutes on the Assault bike or walking on a manual treadmill at an incline. This should be followed by some dynamic mobility movements. Here's the full list:

  • Light / Medium Intensity Cardio: 2-5 Minutes
  • Downward Dog Hold: 1 Minute
  • Cobra Hold: 1 Minute
  • Upward Dog Hold: 1 Minute
  • Kneeling Lunge with Thoracic Twist: 30 Seconds Each Side

You can go through this whole warmup once or twice for full-body mobility.

Do I Need to Deload?

A "deload" refers to taking one or two weeks to allow your body to recover after a full training cycle. Many professional athletes do this to help them fully recover. The best practice here is to listen to your body. If you are sleeping well and your nutrition is optimized but you still feel sluggish, it's probably time to take a break from heavy training and allow your body to recover. However, you can still work out on a deload-week. Focus on light, restorative cardio, bodyweight movements, and light resistance exercises. This is a great time to re-focus on using perfect form. If you don't want to or don't feel like de-loading, there is no need.

Program 1: Push, Pull, Legs 3-Day Split

This workout is a great option for beginners. It allows you to hit your entire body in a single week, with little chance of overdoing it.

The major downside to this workout is that it's very low in total volume, so intermediate or advanced trainees might not see great results. However, it's perfect for a new weightlifting initiate.

As with any exercise program, the main thing is to progress over time. Steadily increasing the weight for an exercise will yield consistent progress over time. Also, you can focus on increasing the number of reps you perform with a given weight.

One of the best ways to make gains is to increase your work density. Work density refers to the amount of work done in a given amount of time. If your first push day takes an hour and twenty minutes, and your next attempt takes only an hour, you've made progress!

Day 1: Push

  • Push Press: 4x6-8
  • Incline Bench Press: 4x6-8
  • Dumbbell Overhead Press: 3x12-15
  • Close Grip Bench Press: 3x12-15

Day 2: Pull

  • Trap Bar Deadlift: 2x5-8
  • Weighted or Bodyweight Pull-ups: 4x6-8
  • Chest-Supported Rows: 3x12-15
  • Bicep Curl: 3x12-15

Day 3: Legs

  • Barbell Back Squat: 4x6-8
  • Romanian Deadlifts: 3x10-12
  • Walking Lunges: 3x12-15
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 3x12-15

Schedule

  • Monday: Push
  • Tuesday: Active Recovery
  • Wednesday: Pull
  • Thursday: Active Recovery
  • Friday: Legs
  • Saturday: Active Recovery
  • Sunday: Rest

You can adjust the reps and weights to your level of fitness. If you are just starting out, it's important not to go too heavy. Your muscles and joints still need to get used to the load. You will surely get there, you just need to give your body enough time.

Remember; you can't make gains when you are injured.

And, you can change up the rest times in between the reps based on your goals. Generally, you want to take between 1.5 and 3 minutes of rest between sets.

Longer rest times will let you build more strength. Shorter rest times will give you more of a pump and let you build power endurance.

Program 2: Upper-Lower 3-Day Split

This is a great option for intermediate to advanced trainees. This workout allows you to train your entire upper or lower body once or twice a week. It allows for much more volume and frequency than a Push-Pull-Legs split.

This workout will require you to train either your upper body or lower body twice a week.

For those of us who hate leg day, it can be a bit of a bummer to train legs twice a week with only one upper body workout. Some people (like myself) find that my legs are just genetically bigger than my upper body.

If you want to train the upper body twice a week with only one leg day, I won't tell. I promise.

Upper Days

  • Weighted Dips/Incline Bench Press: 4x6-8
  • Weighted Pull-Ups/Barbell Rows: 4x6-8
  • Dumbbell Overhead Press/Push Press: 3x6-8 / 3x3-5
  • Barbell Curls: 4x12-15
  • Tricep Extensions: 4x12-15

Lower Days

  • Trap Bar Deadlifts: 3x3-5
  • Barbell Back Squat: 4x5-8
  • Walking Lunges/Weighted Squat Jumps: 3x10-12

Schedule:

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

Or,

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

Alternate this schedule every week and switch exercises every session.

One of the big advantages of the upper-lower split is its simplicity. You are always alternating between the upper body and the lower body. One week you end up with two lowers, the other with two uppers. It's a very easy rhythm to get into.

You might be wondering when to do your core workouts. Many people add the core workout to the lower days. That can seem counterintuitive since the majority of the core muscles are in the upper body. But, you will be able to do more core training on the lower days because your torso won't be as tired from the upper body exercises.

Program 3: Full-Body 3-Day Split

An old classic (and by far my favorite), this workout routine covers the whole body of each session. It's a great way to train for any skill level, provided you choose the right exercises and program volume accordingly.

The great thing about this workout routine is the variety it allows. You can train your whole body every session and switch the focus of the workout as needed.

Another reason this is a popular workout split is that all your muscles are trained several times a week.

Research has suggested that you can gain more strength and mass if any muscle group is trained more frequently. So instead of once a week, your muscles are worked out 3 times a week.

You will still need to be able to fully recover in between training days. If you notice that you are always sore before beginning your workout, you are probably over-training. And, it would be a good idea to take 1 - 2 weeks off.

This routine has varied rep schemes and exercises to help keep you interested and to give your body variety. One of the best ways to stick to an exercise program is to make sure that it stays fun consistently.

Workout A

  • Trap Bar Deadlift: 3x3-5
  • Push Press: 3x3-5
  • Weighted Chin-up: 3x6-8
  • Weighed Dip: 3x6-8
  • Tricep Extension: 50 total reps
  • Curl: 50 total reps

Workout B

  • Walking Lunge
  • Dumbell Overhead Press: 4x6-8
  • Chest-Supported Row: 4x6-8
  • Barbell Incline Bench Press: 4x6-8
  • Conditioning, 3 rounds:
  • Farmer's Carry: 50 yards at a moderate weight
  • Burpee: 20

Workout C

  • Front Squat: 3x12-15
  • Kroc Rows: 3x15-20
  • Weighted Pushup: 3x15-20
  • Shoulder Circuit:
  • Dumbbell Press: 3x15-20
  • Lateral Raises: 3x15-20
  • Rear Delt Raises: 3x15-20

Schedule

  • Monday: A
  • Tuesday: Active Recovery
  • Wednesday: B
  • Thursday: Active Recovery
  • Friday: C
  • Saturday: Active Recovery
  • Sunday: Rest

What is great about this routine is that every day you can do a different set of exercises but you still train all the muscle groups.

By incorporating compounded movements, such as deadlifts and bench presses, you target multiple muscle groups at once. This way, you can get a full-body workout in less time and also train your coordination.

The above exercises are just a starting point. You can always adapt this to suit your fitness, the equipment available, or the specific movements you want to train,

Muscle Groups

Full-body workouts target...your entire body. While that should be obvious, you can still alter your workouts to emphasize different muscle groups that may be lagging. For instance, if your chest is lagging behind your other body parts, you can include more chest exercises in your full-body routine. If your legs are still trashed from Monday's session, you can skip leg work and opt for light cardio or extra upper-back work. There's a ton of flexibility with full-body workouts.

The main muscle groups are chest, back, arms, shoulders, and legs. Whether you are training for a specific activity or trying to achieve a certain physique, you always want to balance your muscle groups.

Imbalances are the biggest cause of long-term injuries.

Now it doesn't mean that you can't focus more on a particular area. You just have to make sure to still exercise the other areas too.

If you training for a specific sport or activity, it's even more important to create a good balance in strength.

What are the Benefits of a 3 Day Split?

One thing that clearly separates professional athletes from most of us is that they allow work according to a plan.

They don't just go to the gym wondering what they will feel like doing.

And that is why you can greatly benefit from following a training regimen like the 3-day split. You know on which days to train and what to do. You have sufficient rest days planned in.

This system will make you strong and fit if you let it work for you. And you won't have to worry that you are missing any muscle groups because they are all included.

If you are advanced and have been training for years, the number of weekly workouts might not be enough. In that case, you should take a look at the 5-day split.

Still, getting sufficient rest is critical to increasing your 1-rep max. Sometimes it's easier to train too hard instead of sticking to a proven system.

Another advantage is that you train your whole body.

When you train your whole body, you are allowing it to work systemically. That means that you are allowing your body to work as a cohesive system rather than as a sum of parts or muscle groups. The body tends to respond well to this style of training; full-body training can elicit a more beneficial hormonal response that creates a better environment for muscle growth and fat loss.

What About Professional Athletes?

Most bodybuilders use muscle-group splits. This is because they can spend a lot of time and volume on certain muscle groups on a given day. Their livelihoods depend on their physique so they want to grow every muscle to exactly the right size.

However, many sports athletes and even actors use 3-day workouts quite successfully. It's much easier to integrate with a career, family, or sports training.

And because it's easier to integrate, it's also easier to stick to it. The best way to stagnate is to stop working out.

So, don't feel like the humble 3-day split is only for beginners. It's a solid system to get stronger and fitter that works really well for most people.

Cutting or Bulking?

3-Day split workouts will allow you to cut or bulk depending on the exercises you choose and the calories you eat.

How to Use The 3-Day Workout Split for Bulking?

If you are bulking, you want to create the perfect conditions for your muscles to grow. That requires 3 things:

  • Training input
  • Nutrition
  • Rest

You want to adjust your weights and reps for maximum growth.

How to Use The 3-Days Workout Split for Cutting?

When you are cutting, you want to make sure your body is in a calorie deficit. But you don't stop training. And you keep eating plenty of protein. So you are leaving your body no choice but to start burning fat.

When you are using the 3-day split workout to cut, you need to adjust the weights and reps. You can't go as heavy as when you are bulking. Instead, you want to do more reps with lighter weights.

Out of the variations, the full-body version is better for cutting.

Full-body workouts tend to burn more calories than body part splits, which can aid in fat loss and body composition.

How to integrate Cardio with a 3-day split training program?

Our suggested workout routines don't have any cardio. So how to combine your cardio training with the 3-day workout?

There are several ways you can go about this.

You can do cardio in your warmups and cooldowns. This way, you can still only workout three days a week. But, it will be more difficult to do extensive cardio training using this method. Remember, you want to always be performing exercises at your best. And that can be difficult after a long cardio session.

You can also dedicate one of the rest days to cardio. The nice thing about the 3 days split workout is that you have one extra rest day. This can be the perfect day to go on a cardio adventure outside of the normal gym environment. Some great options are:

  • trail running
  • Mountainbiking
  • Road biking
  • Hiking
  • Yoga or Pilatus (to stay flexible)

So, there are several ways to keep your cardiovascular system happy. Whatever you choose, you want to always be fully rested before your scheduled workouts.

If you are already tired, you won't be training effectively and increasing your risk of injuries.

How do 3-day splits stack up to other options?

The best workout routine is the one that you will do consistently. If you are only able to train 3 times a week, you can still get incredible results. Working out 3 days a week for a year consistently is better than working out 5 days a week for a month and then burning out and giving up.

A 3-day split (especially the full-body variety) is a great option for anyone. However, some other time-saving options include 4-day splits or even 5-day routines that focus on limited exercise selection. I currently workout 5-6 days a week because it works well for me. However, there have been times when I have trained only 3 days a week and have seen great progress. You can even train 2 days a week with full-body training and see great strength gains.

3-Day Split vs 5-Day Split

A 5-day split usually means training your muscle groups in the following order; chest, back, arms, shoulders, legs. Many bodybuilders use this so they perform different exercises to target a muscle group in multiple ways. It allows them to get every last bit of gain.

The 5-day split can also be a great training routine for you depending on your circumstances.

The first is fitness. You will have only 2 rest days on the 5-day split. And you will have to keep up the rhythm for 6 to 8 weeks to get solid results. If you are not used to training several days in a row, this can easily lead to over-training.

The second is the time commitment. Are you able to consistently go to the gym 5 times a week? If you can fit this into your weekly schedule, give it a try. If not, the 3-day split workout is a more manageable alternative.

One drawback of the 5-day split is that it only works if you can be consistent. If you miss one day, it will be another week until that same muscle group gets targeted. If this happens a few times, it can lead to imbalances in your workout and physique.

You can always give it a try to see if the 5-day split workout works for you. But, don't forget that a well-executed and consistent training routine is always more effective than a half-assed one.

The best part about limiting your workouts is that it allows you to stay focused. When I train less, I always look forward to my workouts. They seem like a fun break in the middle of the week that allows me to de-stress and re-focus.

Besides, having fewer workouts per week allows me to focus on progressing in the major exercises that are going to give me the most bang for my buck. After all, progress is what matters. Progressive overload can be achieved in a variety of different ways, including more time under tension, more reps, higher-quality reps, work density, or higher weight.

Consistently doing more over time will yield results no matter how you structure your workouts.

Conclusion

Make sure that you add variety and try different things throughout your fitness journey. After all, fitness isn't a one-stop-shop; it's not something you can focus on for a few months and then never think about again. It's a lifelong journey of taking care of yourself and making sure that you are in the best possible condition to live a good life. Don't be afraid to try things and fail; that's ultimately how you learn. Whichever program you choose, focus on making consistent progress, learning along the way, and listening to your body.

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