5-day split workout
Workouts

A Fresh Take on the Best 5-Day Split Workouts

If there’s one workout program that people think of when they picture a successful bodybuilder physique, it’s the 5-day split workout. Few fitness maxims are as well-known as ‘international chest day’ or ‘don’t skip leg day’.

The 5 day split workout routine is a type of training that became popular during the golden age of bodybuilding, when athletes wanted to dedicate entire workouts to sculpting that one muscle that would bring their physique into god-like proportions.

The 5 day workout split is a typical progression in the fitness journey of any gym-goer. Beginners will typically start training with a full-body training program, two to three times per week. Then they might advance to intermediate two or three day split training schedules, to fit a few more exercises in and start to add intensity and higher volume training.

Finally, when the passion for lifting weights is ignited, every lifter gets introduced to the ‘bro split’. Spending an hour honing in on one or two muscles, working at them from every angle, stimulating them set after set – until there isn’t an ounce of energy left.

The feeling of leaving the gym after a split workout is unbeatable (except maybe on leg day), with your muscles pumped, feeling tight and looking good.

If you haven’t tried a 5 day workout split yet, this article will be the perfect entry point. We’ll lay out two options for a great 5 day workout routine, hitting every muscle group over the week.

This article will explain both the traditional 5 day workout split done ‘back in the day’, with all the classic workouts you’d expect. But we’ve also provided an alternate split workout that aims to remedy some of the typical hurdles lifters face when undertaking a 5 day split for the first time.

Classic Bodybuilder 5-day Split Workout (a.k.a. the ‘Bro Split’)

This is the workout we were all introduced to at some point early on in our fitness journey. Stepping into the gym with a little full body workout card, tip-toeing between machines, and watching the muscle-bound beasts pump out set after set – all on seemingly the same muscles!

Affectionately known as the ‘bro split’, this classic workout plan spreads the major muscle groups across five workout days. 

The bro split starts with the famous ‘international chest day’ – a.k.a. monday. It then progresses through back, legs, shoulders and arms, with abs tacked on to the end of a couple of sessions.

Here is an example of the classic 5 day workout routine:

MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFriday
ChestBackLegs + AbsShouldersArms + Abs
Bench PressBent RowsSquatsMilitary PressEZ Bar Curls
dB Incline BenchPull UpsStraight-Leg DLLateral RaiseSkull Crushers
Weighted DipsCable RowsLeg ExtensionFront RaisesHammer Curls
Cable Chest FlyOne-Arm RowsCalf RaisesReverse FlysTri Pushdowns
Push UpsPulloversWeighted CrunchUpright RowsRussian Twists

Each workout in this monday-friday workout routine consists of 3 sets of 8-15 repetitions of each exercise, after an initial couple of warm-up sets. Because each exercise targets the same muscle group, you only need to perform warm-up sets for the first exercise in the session.

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Another note is that the last set should have you reaching absolute muscle failure, meaning you shouldn’t be able to complete your last rep with good form. If you reach the final reps on the last set, just keep going! And be sure to up the weights next time for maximal muscle gain.

This workout should take 45 minutes to an hour, including a proper general warm-up and post-workout stretching. Any cardio session you wish to include will need to be factored in addition to this time.

The main mistake lifters make when building muscle on  bro split workout plans is that they tend to skip the leg session, instead performing the shoulder and arm workouts a day early. This has two major consequences that disrupt the effectiveness of the program.

First, our legs contain several of the largest muscles in our bodies. Neglecting their training not only creates an imbalanced, top-heavy physique that is dysfunctional and not aesthetic, it also deprives the individual of the huge boosts to testosterone and growth hormone levels stimulated by training the large muscles in the legs.

Secondly, skipping leg day in favor of another upper body weight training session creates undue fatigue on the upper limbs. This deprives the muscles and joints of the shoulders and arms of the recovery they need after chest and back day. In the end, this will lead to overtraining, decreased performance, and probably overuse injuries in the joints and soft tissues.

While the sports science research has come out in favor of an optimal training frequency of twice weekly training per muscle group, this classic workout plan will have a place in many gym-goers hearts for its effectiveness and the incredible muscle pump it delivers!

Alternative Optimized 5-day Split Workout

Next, we have a newer version of 5 day split weight training routines that aims to combat the struggles mentioned above. It does this with two main methods.

The first is to get leg day out of the way as soon as possible. This method takes advantage of the monday motivation most of us have to get to the gym, and helps put a good effort into training the legs.

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The second key is to insert strategic rest days in during the week, rather than having five weekly workouts in a row with no rest days. This training program provides a little respite to the central nervous system, and also gives added recovery to the joints and upper limb muscles to allow them to perform at their best.

Here is an example of an alternative 5 day split strength training routine to try:

MondayTuesdayThursdayFridaySunday
LegsChest + AbsBackShouldersArms + Abs
Leg PressdB Bench PressDeadliftSeat OH PressBarbell Curl
LungesDecline BenchInverted RowShrugsOH Extension
BridgesPec DeckArcher RowLateral RaiseConc. Curls
Goblet SquatPlate SqueezePull-UpsBent Reverse FlyTri Kickbacks
Farmer’s CarryBicycle CrunchBack ExtensionFace PullsHang Leg Raise

The exercises included in these workout sessions are simply to offer some variety; alternatively you could take the daily sessions from the bro split example and perform them on the different days mentioned above.

While the sessions in this split do largely isolate singular areas of the body, there is some degree of overlap. This will help get a little extra stimulus to the muscles multiple times a week through indirect use.

For example, the farmer’s carries from leg day, the deadlifts from back day, and the shrugs from the shoulder session all recruit the muscles from the upper back, core, forearms, and many other stabilizing muscles.

One thing to note about this alternate setup is that we can see the program starts on monday and ends on sunday. The ideal program would have an extra rest day after the Sunday before starting again. 

This results in an eight day microcycle, with five training days per week to cover the entire body, and the following week would begin on tuesday. If it doesn’t suit your schedule to be changing your gym days and rest days, you can stick to the program as written above and just encorporate lighter recovery sessions if you’re feeling fatigued.

Just keep in mind that with this high intensity form of training, adequate recovery time between sessions is one of the key factors in muscle growth. Consistent recovery times also help avoid overtraining.

Either of these programs will be effective at increasing muscle growth and fitness, especially if you are a newer trainee just transitioning to a split workout after your first year or two of working out.

Conclusion

We hope you’ve enjoyed our take on the 5 day workout routines of strength training! Definitely consider one of these programs as your next training cycle, especially if you’re transitioning from being a beginner on a full-body program.

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These programs can be customized to suit your preferred training techniques, preferred exercise for a particular muscle group, and the exercise schedule your like to stick to.

If you want to compare a 5 day split to a different kind of program to see what might be the better fit, check out our article on the best 3 day split workout programs in 2021.

Frequently Asked Questions

What muscles should I train together for a 5-day split?

While the main idea of a 5 day split workout program is to isolate individual muscle groups each session, there are synergistic muscles that are sometimes easier to train in concert than to try to separate. 

Examples include chest and triceps, back and biceps, and the large muscle groups of the lower body.
Other synergistic muscle group pairings include working the posterior chain, such as the hamstrings and back working together in a deadlift, or by movement plane, such as walking dumbbell lunges.

The key to programming which weight training exercises to include in a single workout is mainly reliant on how much time and energy you have. Even if you have three hours for a workout, your nervous system, musculoskeletal system, and even cardiovascular system have trouble performing well for that long.

Try one of the splits in this article, take note of your soreness, energy levels, and performance, and you’ll start to discover what mix of exercises and muscles work together best for you.

Is a 5-day split good for mass?

The 5 day split was once the pinnacle of training for mass. Spending one whole workout punishing one single muscle group was seen as the best way to provide the highest volume and intensity stimuli, forcing the muscle to adapt and grow out of sheer necessity.

In recent years, however, one flaw of a 5 day split has been revealed – the frequency. The optimal amount of training for a muscle turns out to be twice a week, which isn’t something that is achieved in a traditional 5 day split.

That being said, no other workout allows you to perform every possible exercise for a muscle, working it from every angle and position. For this reason, the 5 day workout split is still widely used by bodybuilders and those looking to gain muscle mass, being able to specifically sculpt each muscle with its own dedicated session.

Who would benefit the most from a 5-day split?

5 day splits are a result of the golden age of bodybuilding. As mentioned, they are a great program to try for those a couple of years into their fitness journey, who don’t mind being sore.

If you like the feeling of one muscle group being super pumped after a workout, and not feeling exhausted from training your whole body every session, a 5 day split is a great option.

5 day splits are also ideal for people who want to have a large variety of exercises. The overall amount of different movements you’ll perform is by far the largest and most engaging in a 5 day split routine.

There aren’t many downsides to giving a 5 day split a try for a few months. Choose exercises you like, ease into the program, manage your energy and recovery, eat and sleep well, and you will definitely see considerable gains in the size and definition of your muscles with these programs.

Jesse Hyson

Jesse Hyson is an Accredited Exercise and Sports Scientist with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. Jesse is currently completing a Master of Clinical Exercise Physiology at Charles Sturt University, Australia.

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