When first entering the world of strength training, most people start by training the whole body in every workout. This is a great way to start building a foundation of strength and endurance, coordination, and to start seeing the coveted ‘newbie gains’ in muscle size.
There comes a time, however, when you need to progress to the next stage. Assuming you don’t have three hours every session to fit enough volume for every muscle group into one workout, you’ll need to begin splitting up your routine into multiple day splits.
An optimal training plan maximizes the fitness outcomes while minimizing soreness, fatigue and injury risk.
Split routine training programs have been shown in sports science research to produce superior strength and hypertrophy gains in intermediate to advanced athletes, while also allowing proper muscle recovery.
3-day split workouts are one of the best ways to begin dividing your training across your week. It can provide the space to add more exercises and sets to each muscle group, while providing ample recovery time.
3-day splits can also be performed twice per week, so there’s a great amount of flexibility between progressive overload and sufficient recovery.
If you’re looking for the best ways to portion your training out between three sessions, this article will provide some of the best 3 day split workouts you can try next time you head in to the gym.
3-Day Workout Split 1: Push / Pull / Legs
The first 3 day split workout routine is the most commonly used. This plan is split into upper body pushing movements, upper body pulling movements, and a lower body session.
The push / pull / legs routine can be done once per week, e.g. push monday / pull wednesday / legs friday, or twice per week for more advanced lifters, e.g. push monday + thursday / pull tuesday + friday / legs wednesday + saturday.
Here is an example of a push / pull / legs schedule:
|Bench Press 3 x 6-8||Bent Row 3 x 6-8||Squat 3 x 6-8|
|Incline dB Press 3 x 8-10||Cable Row 3 x 8-10||Lunges 3 x 8-10 E/S|
|Military Press 3 x 8-10||Chin Ups 3 x MAX||Leg Curls 3 x 8-10|
|Dips 3 x MAX||One-Arm Row 3 x 8-10 E/S||Standing Calf Raise 3 x 20|
This 3 day split focuses on large, compound movements, so it’s great for athletes who need to develop strength and hypertrophy around their sports-specific training sessions.
For a regular gym-goer who has the time to allocate to training, performing this split twice a week allows a higher training volume for each muscle group while still allowing at least three days of recovery between sessions.
3-Day Workout Split 2: Upper / Lower / Iso
The next split seperates the body into the upper half, lower half, with a third day for specialist exercises and to focus on isolating any lagging areas with a second stimulus for the week.
This 3 day workout split is best done once per week, spread throughout the week at the individual’s convenience. It is advisable not to perform three consecutive days in a row, instead distributing the training further throughout the week, e.g. monday / tuesday / friday.
Here is an example of the upper / lower / iso plan:
|Upper Body||Lower Body||Isolation / Specialist|
|dB Bench Press 3 x 6-8||Leg Press 3 x 15-20||Bosu Sit-Ups 3 x MAX|
|Lat Pulldown 3 x 8-10||Bridges 3 x 10-12||Tricep Pushdown 3 x 10-12|
|Seat Shoulder Press 3 x 8-10||Reverse Lunges 3 x 8-10 E/S||dB Bicep Curls 3 x 10-12 E/S|
|Inverted Row 3 x MAX||Side Step-Ups 3 x 8-10 E/S||Seated Calf Raise 3 x 20|
Note that in this split workout, the first two sessions are still aimed at compound movements for the largest, primary muscle groups, getting the most bang for your buck.
The isolation exercises on the third day can consist of anything that needs special attention or improvement. This makes the upper / lower / iso split ideal for athletes or time-poor bodybuilders alike.
For example, if you’re having trouble locking out your bench press, add some tricep work to your specialist day.
Alternatively, if lunges are tough on your knees, take some time in your third session to isolate your quads to strengthen and align your knee more optimally.
3-Day Workout Split 3: Deadlift / Bench / Squat
This 3 day split routine is not for the faint of heart. The foundation of this program lies in the three powerlifting movements – the deadlift, bench press, and squat.
This means that every session will begin with several sets of high-intensity heavy lifting, with the accessory movements for each big lift programmed for the rest of the session.
Here is an example of the powerlifting 3 day split routine:
|Deadlift 5 x 5||Bench 5 x 5||Squat 5 x 5|
|Bridges 3 x 10-12||Overhead Press 3 x 8-10||Single Leg Press 3 x 20 E/S|
|Shrugs 3 x 10-12||Skull Crushers 3 x 8-10||Leg Extension 3 x 10-12|
|Supermans 3 x MAX||Dips 3 x MAX||Leg Curls 3 x 10-12|
This program can be performed once or twice per week, but make sure to have at least one day of rest after the third session.
The purpose of this program is to increase strength in the fundamental powerlifts. If your primary aim is to get stronger, this might be the 3 day split for you.
The secondary exercises in each session target the typical weak spots for people in the powerlifts, so you’ll be able to safely lift more weight with less risk of injury.
The next two programs are not technically 3 day splits, as they cover the complete range of muscle groups in one to two workouts. However, they are both performed three days per week, so for those looking to train on three days, these routines might offer a useful alternative.
3-Day Workout Split 4: ABA / BAB
This method of programming splits sessions up into upper and lower body (workout A and B, respectively). One full cycle of this workout is performed over two weeks, with workout A being done twice in the first week, and workout B used twice during the second week.
Here is an example of such a split:
|Overhead Press 3 x 10-12||Deadlift 3 x 6-8||Overhead Press 3 x 10-12|
|Barbell Row 3 x 8-10||Goblet Squat 3 x 10-12||Barbell Row 3 x 8-10|
|dB Bench Press 3 x 8-10||Walking Lunge 3 x 10 E/S||dB Bench Press 3 x 8-10|
|Chin-Ups 3 x MAX||Box Jumps 3 x 10-12||Chin-Ups 3 x MAX|
This would be the first week, with an ABA split. The following week would be the opposite, training lower body, then upper, then lower again.
This program is great for those who only have three days a week to train, because it provides more overall training volume than just once per week. This will help stimulate more training response from the muscles, whether it be increased size or strength.
Another alternative for this type of split is to mix up the exercises for upper body and lower body on that weeks’ second session. In the example above, you could replace the upper body exercises with different variations rather than repeating the same workout twice.
3-Day Workout Split 5: Non-Linear Periodization
Finally, we have a 3 day workout that trains the full body in each session, but stimulates the muscles differently with each workout.
This program allows you to get a high training volume of three times per week for each muscle group, without overtraining.
The sessions focus on strength, muscle growth, and muscle endurance, respectively.
Here is an example of a non-linear periodized program:
|Deadlift 4 x 5||Cable Row 3 x 10-12||Inverted Row 3 x MAX|
|Push Press 4 x 5||Cable Chest Fly 3 x 10-12||Push Ups 3 x MAX|
|Leg Press 4 x 6-8||Leg Extension 3 x 10-12||Air Squats 3 x MAX|
|Weighted Dips 3 x 6-8||Curl + Press 3 x 10-12||Plank 3 x MAX|
These different full-body workouts allow you to train each muscle group three times per week, but the different program variables (reps and sets) target different muscle fibers and neural pathways, allowing sufficient recovery and a more well-rounded athlete performance.
Studies have shown this style of entire body training to provide greater strength gains and increase in muscle mass than programs that simply progress the overload in a linear fashion, e.g. adding more weight every week.
For those with only three days per week to train, this style of muscle building split training is definitely worth a try.
There you have it! Five different ways to split your workouts up over three training days, with a lot of room for customization to suit your particular fitness goals – whether it be building muscle or strength.
As mentioned, the push / pull / legs is the most commonly used 3 day workout split, and intermediate to advanced lifters will perform it twice per week, for six total days of training.
The examples of each type of split program use four exercises for each major muscle group, for a total amount of 12-15 sets per workout. While this is about the optimal amount of volume per muscle group, there is plenty of room to add more exercises should you wish.
With this in mind, however, also consider that any cardio, flexibility and mobility work, or rehabilitation and injury prevention exercises are not included in the examples. Make sure to add these in a way that suits your goals, along with a sufficient general warm up and warm up sets before each exercise.
While this method of training is sure to increase size and strength effectively, it is important to ensure optimal nutrition, recovery, and suppementation where appropriate. Because there are less rest days, optimal sleep becomes paramount to avoid fatigue, overtraining and injury.
We hope this article has given you some useful ideas on how to add a 3 day split into your fitness routine.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a 3-Day split workout enough?
This depends on your goals. For beginners, three days a week is plenty to perform resistance training, however a full body program may be more beneficial than a split.
For bodybuilders, 5 day or even 6 day split workout routines may be preferable to a 3 day split, as they perform a wider range of isolation exercises to sculpt individual muscles. The push / pull / legs split may work in a bodybuilding context if performed twice per week to provide enough stimulus to the muscles.
For intermediate trainers, or even advanced trainers like athletes, powerlifters, or general fitness enthusiasts, the 3 day split workout can provide massive gains to your strength and size when advancing from a beginner full-body program.
In terms of where to progress after a 3 day split routine, check out our article on the best 5 day split workouts. While these are more specialized programs suited to advanced lifters and bodybuilders, they can be a fun way to focus on one area and leave plenty of recovery time.
How do I know if I’m overtraining?
Overtraining syndrome is a diagnosable condition, with symptoms such as unusual muscle soreness, fatigue, and decreased performance at levels which would normally be achievable.
Overtraining occurs when training frequency is too high, and insufficient time is given to recover to the body, whether it be the muscles themselves, the nervous system, or the cardiorespiratory system. Even the bones and joints need time to recover after being subjected to tough training stimuli.
To avoid overtraining, 3 day splits are a good way to get a workout in for one area of the body while allowing the previously trained body parts to recover. That being said, those other systems of the body need to recover too.
This requires the aforementioned combination of nutrition and sleep in order to avoid overreaching, and eventually, overtraining.
If you feel any of the symptoms mentioned, or are just having an off day, don’t hesitate to take an extra rest day or substitute your heavy lifting for a lighter session of recovery exercises and stretches.
Don’t let any kind of partial body workout splits compromise your form. Form and fatigue are two of the biggest influencers on injury rates for an athlete.
It is also important to include a ‘deload’ week every 4-8 weeks in your program. This means that while usually you will be increasing the overload, with heavier weights, more reps, or less rest time between sets, every few weeks you’ll need to drop the intensity and volume back.
Don’t worry – rather than slowing down your progress, a deload week every now and then will ensure your body recharges and keeps reaching new goals, while avoiding lethargy and soreness.
Can I work out on 3 consecutive days?
There is no problem with a training schedule of three days in a row, however it must be done in a smart way.
For example, doing a full body session of heavy compound exercises three days in a row will pretty quickly over-exert the nervous system, possibly leading to a mishap if your body stops listening halfway through a lift.
The optimal time for a muscle to recover and gain strength is 48-72 hours, so by splitting up your exercises in the ways mentioned in this article, you can train on consecutive days by focusing on different areas each session.
If you have more time, also consider increasing the rest periods between sets when training heavy.
Again, if you are feeling sore, tired, or just not 100%, don’t hesitate to take a day of rest and recovery. It will only allow you to perform even better in your next workout.