3 day workout split

The Ultimate 3 Day Workout Split Guide

June 26, 2021

There are a lot of people out there who are under the impression that the more time spent in the gym the better. This is certainly not true. One of the most important aspects of fitness is REST. This is why 3 day workout splits are so effective. With a 3 day workout split, you get the best bang for your buck. You can maximizes both the intensity of your workouts and recovery of your body, getting great results for both hypertrophy and strength without needing to spend so much time in the gym.

Now, just to be clear, we are not saying a 3 day split is better than a 4 day, 5 day or 6 day split, but for many individuals a 3 day workout program will be best.

In this guide, we are going to discuss who will do well with a 3 day workout routine and we are going to teach you exactly how to make a successful 3 day workout plan.

Note: We also have full 3 day workout split routines laid out for you if you just want a plan to follow and attack! These are great for both men and women alike.

3 day workout splits

WHAT IS A 3 DAY SPLIT? 

A 3 day split is a workout routine that involves three workout sessions per week done on different days.

So, 3 workouts, 3 different days, each week. 

Typically, a 3 day workout split will have a rest day between each workout session and one 2 day break during the week as well.

For example:

M, W, F
Tu, Th, Sa

While this kind of structure is best, as the rest days in-between allow you to optimize recovery and the intensity of your workouts, workout days can be arranged in any way you’d like.

For example:

M, Tu, W
F, Sa, Su
M, Tu, Th

...and so on.

Again, there really are no rules for which days of the week to place your workouts, as it depends on your schedule, but best practice suggest that you take rest days in-between sessions. This gives your nervous system and synergist muscles more time to recover, thus maximizing energy on workout days and better promoting muscle hypertrophy. 

3 DAY WORKOUT SPLIT OPTIONS: 

Now, let’s discuss the different kinds of 3 day workout splits, because you have some interesting options to choose from. 

There are various workout routines that can work for a 3 day split, but we’ve only chosen to show you the four that we think are most effective.

  1. Push Pull Leg 3 Day Split
  2. Classic Bodybuilder 3 Day Split
  3. Upper Lower 3 Day Split
  4. Full Body 3 Day Split

Let’s go over how each will look, then we will give you sample fully-designed programs for all of them. 

Push Pull Leg 3 Day Split

Session 1: Push
Session 2: Pull
Session 3: Legs 

These can be done on any day of the week, but ideally you want to have one rest day between push and pull days and two rest days after legs. i.e. Monday, Wednesday, Friday are your workout days.

Push days include your chest, shoulders, and triceps; Pull days include your back and biceps; Leg days include your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. 

Classic Bodybuilder 3 Day Split

Session 1: Chest, Triceps
Session 2: Back, Biceps
Session 3: Legs, Shoulders

This one places your three largest muscle groups on their own days, with the smaller muscle groups supplementing them. Generally speaking, the above is the best way to split up the muscle groups. However, if you have specific muscles that are lagging and need more attention (for example, your shoulders or legs), then you can structure the split in different ways.

For example: 

Session 1: Chest, Back, Biceps
Session 2: Shoulders, Triceps
Session 3: Legs

Like the Push Pull Leg Split, it’s best to have one rest day between the upper body workout days and two after the leg day, as usually leg workouts are the most taxing on the body.

Upper Lower 3 Day Split

An upper lower 3 day split will require a 2 week view to see how it works.

Week 1
Session 1: Upper
Session 2: Lower
Session 3: Upper

Week 2
Session 4: Lower
Session 5: Upper
Session 6: Lower 

And then it repeats. So you will have one week with two upper body days and one weeks with two lower body days. As such, your training cycle should end on a week that has two lower body days.

As for rest days, ideally you should have one rest day between two sessions and two rest days between one of the sessions each week. i.e. Tu, Th, Sa or M, W, F are workout days. 

This is 3 day split is cool because it ups the frequency of how often your muscle groups are being worked. 

Upper body days include your chest, back, shoulders, biceps, and Triceps; Lower body days include your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. 

Full Body 3 Day Split

As the name suggest, a full body workout split involves full body workouts for each of the three sessions.

Session 1: Full Body
Session 2: Full Body
Session 3: Full Body

Like the other splits, ideally, you have rest days between the workout sessions.

Now, each workout session will involve different exercises so that you can do all the most important compound exercises to hit all your muscle groups equally and from different angles (and also it will allow you to keep your workout session around 60 minutes, which is best). 

You will see what we mean, as we are going to give you a sample routine that you can follow below.

But first, let’s go over which 3 day splits are best for size, strength, and fat loss...

WHAT ABOUT CORE?

Your core will be worked well with the big compound lifts. However, you should do at least one core specific exercise each workout, hitting different planes of motion each session. For example, one session leg raises (sagittal plane), one session side planks (frontal plane), one session woodchoppers (transverse plane). 

WHAT ABOUT CARDIO?

Cardio is not required, but if you have cardiovascular health goals and/or you want to burn more calories, cardio like running, swimming, and cycling is great. If you are really proactive on this front, you can do 2-3 cardio sessions of 30-40 minutes each week, which can be done in the mornings, after your workouts, or on rest days. 

best 3 day workout split

What is the Best 3 Day Split For Building Muscle?

The best 3 day splits for building muscle are the Push Pull Leg and Classic Bodybuilder splits because they offer greater volume on your muscle groups per workout session. 

That said, as a true beginner, the Full Body and Upper/Lower split will be best for building muscle (albeit all of the 3 day splits will be good for a beginner), as you won’t need so much volume for each muscle group per workout and a higher frequency of hitting your muscle groups will be best for muscle growth. That's the beauty of newbie gains, it's a lot easier. 

Related: How to Build Muscle

What is the Best 3 Day Split for Strength?

All of the splits can be good for building strength, but the PPL, Classic Bodybuilder, and Upper/Lower splits would arguably be best.

All you have to do is focus your workouts around big compound lifts and focus on increasing the weight loads of these lifts over the course of your training cycle.

Strength comes from doing big compound lifts (and there will be a crossover of hypertrophy as well). So that's where the majority of your focus should be.

However, your strength training plan can also include supplemental exercises, like stiff-leg deadlifts for hamstring and glutes, and lunges for quads and glutes. There really won't be much focus on isolation exercises as they don’t help much with overall strength (although they can if certain smaller muscle groups are lagging).

Basically, for strength training, you emphasize big compound lifts and assistance lifts that help with those big compound lifts. 

Related: How to Get Stronger

What is the Best 3 Day Split for Fat Loss?

The best 3 day split for fat loss is the Upper/Lower and Full Body split because these kinds of workouts maximize calorie burn.

That said, fat loss really comes down to diet, as even if you burn a lot of calories with weights and cardio workouts, you can still eat that amount of calories in a single sitting.

For reference, a vigorous weight training session will only burn around 180-250 calories and 30 minutes of steady state running will burn around 250-300 calories...A traditional cob salad has 623 calories. 

To lose fat, you need to eat less calories than you burn per day.

As such, with a proper diet, you can lose fat with any of the splits. The same actually goes for building muscle. If you eat at a surplus with enough protein, then you can build muscle with any of the 3 day workout plans.

Best 3 Day Split for Building Muscle & Strength

Most people want to build muscle and strength while keeping fat off as much as possible. All of the plans can do this, if using the right intensity. Beginners can do any of the splits really and see great results. However, for intermediate and advanced trainees, we recommend the Push Pull Legs or Classic Bodybuilder for a good mix of hypertrophy and strength gains.

3 day workout routine

FULL 3 DAY SPLIT ROUTINES TO FOLLOW

Here are full routines for each of the four 3-day split options. Be sure to do a dynamic warm up before each workout and warm up sets to work up to your working weight. 

Push Pull Legs 3 Day Split

Mon: Push Tue: Rest Wed: Pull Thu: Rest Fri: Legs Sat & Sun: Rest
Bench Press:
3 sets x 6-10 reps
Pull Ups:
3-4 sets x 8-15 reps
Back Squats: 
4 sets x 5-8 reps
Overhead Press:
3 sets x 6-10 reps
Bent Over Rows:
3-4 sets x 6-10 reps
Deadlifts:
4 sets x 5-10 reps
Incline DB Bench Press:
3 sets x 8-12 reps
Kroc Rows:
3 sets x 8-12 reps each side
Split Squats:
3 sets x 8-12 reps each side

Lateral DB Raise:
3 sets x 10-15 reps

Shrugs:
3 sets x 12-20 reps
RDL:
3 sets x 8-12 reps
Tricep Extensions:
3 sets x 12-20 reps
Rear Delt Fly:
3 sets x 15-20 reps

Leg Curl x Leg Extensions:
3 sets x 10-15 reps each

Tricep Pressdowns:
3 sets x 12-20 reps
Bicep Curls:
3 sets x 12-20 reps
Calf Raises:
3-4 sets x 12-20 reps

Notes: 

  • Alternate the first two exercises for all three days each week...i.e. week 2, overhead press is first, bench press second; bent over rows first, pull ups second; deadlifts first, squats second.
  • Choose one core exercise to do after each workout session (do 3-4 challenging sets).

Classic Bodybuilder 3 Day Split

Mon: Chest & Tricep Tue: Rest Wed: Back & Bicep Thu: Rest Fri: Legs & Shoulder Sat & Sun: Rest

Bench Press:
3-4 sets x 6-10 reps

Pull Ups or Chin Ups:
3 sets x max reps

Deadlift:
3 sets x 5-8 reps
Flat Bench Fly: 
3 sets x 8-12 reps
Bent Over Rows:
3 sets x 6-10 reps
Back Squat:
3 sets x 6-10 reps
Incline Bench:
3 sets x 8-12 reps
Seated Close Grip Row:
3 sets x 8-12 reps
DB Lunges x
DB RDLs:
3 sets x 10-12 reps each
Parallel Dips:
3 sets x 10-20 reps
Face Pulls:
3 sets x 10-15 reps
Seated Overhead Press:
3-4 sets x 8-15 reps
Tricep Overhead Extension:
3 sets x 10-15 reps
Shrugs:
3 sets x 12-20 reps
Lateral Raise:
3 sets x 12-20 reps
Skull Crushers:
3 sets x 10-15 reps

Bicep Curl x Hammer Curl:
3 sets x 10 reps each

Front Raise x Rear Delt Fly:
3 sets x 10-12 reps each

Notes:

  • Alternate Deadlifts and Back Squats position & reps each week. So, week 2 will have back squats first for 5-8 reps and deadlifts second for 6-10 reps. 
  • Choose one core exercise to do after each workout session for 3-4 sets.

Upper Lower 3 Day Split 

Upper A Lower A Upper B  Lower B
Bench Press:
3-4 sets x 8-12 reps
Deadlift:
3-4 sets x 5-8 reps
Pull Ups or Chin Ups:
3 sets x max reps

Back Squat:
3-4 sets x 5-8 reps

Seated Overhead Press:
3-4 sets x 8-12 reps
Leg Press:
3 sets x 10-15 reps
Military Press:
3-4 sets x 6-10 reps
RDL:
3 sets x 8-12 reps
Bent Over Rows:
3-4 sets x 8-12 reps
Good Mornings:
3 sets x 8-12 reps
Incline Bench:
3-4 sets x 8-12 reps
Split Squat:
3 sets x 8-12 reps
Shrugs:
3 sets x 12-20 reps
Bulgarian Split Squat:
3 sets x 8-12 reps each side
Kroc Rows:
3 sets x 8-12 reps each side
Hip Thrusts:
3 sets x 8-12 reps
Incline Bench Fly:
3 sets x 10-15 reps
Leg Extensions x Leg Curls:
3 sets x 10-15 reps each
Lateral Raises:
3 sets x 12-20 reps
Single Leg Press:
3 sets x 10-15 reps each side
Bicep Curl x Tricep Extension:
3 sets x 12-15 reps
Standing Calf Raise:
3 sets x 12-20 reps
Parallel Dips:
3 sets x max reps
Seated Calf Raise:
3 sets x 12-20 reps
Plank:
3 sets x 30-60 sec
Side Plank: 3 sets x 30-60 sec

Hanging Leg Raises:
3 sets x 8-15 reps

Woodchoppers:
3 sets x 10-15 reps each side

Week 1:
M - Upper A
Tu - Rest
W - Lower A
Th - Rest
F - Upper B
Sa & Su - Rest
Week 2:
M - Lower B
Tu - Rest
W - Upper A
Th - Rest
F - Lower A
Sa & Su - Rest
Week 3:
M - Upper B
Tu - Rest
W - Lower B
Th - Rest
F - Upper A
Sa & Su - Rest
Week 4:
M - Lower A
Tu - Rest
W - Upper B
Th - Rest
F - Lower B
Sa & Su - Rest
- Then repeat from the top

This means your training cycle for this plan should last 4, 8 or 12 weeks, as everything comes back full circle every 4 weeks.

Full Body 3 Day Split

Monday Tue: Rest Wednesday  Thu: Rest Friday Sat & Sun: Rest
Back Squat:
3 sets x 6-10 reps
Overhead Press:
3 sets x 8-12 reps
Deadlift:
3 sets x 5-8 reps
Bench Press:
3 sets x 8-12 reps
Bent Over Row:
3 sets x 6-10 reps
Incline DB Bench:
3 sets x 8-12 reps
Pull Ups:
3 sets x max reps
Leg Press:
3 sets x 12-15 reps
Arnold Press:
3 sets x 10-15 reps
Lateral Raises:
3 sets x 15-20 reps
Parellel Dips:
3 sets x max reps
RDL:
3 sets x 8-12 reps
Bicep Curl x Tricep Dips: 3 sets x 10-12 reps each Hammer Curl x Tricep Extension:
3 sets x 12-15 reps each
Diamond Push Ups x Inverted Rows:
3 sets x 10 reps each
Planks:
3 sets x 30-60 sec
Hanging Leg Raise:
3 sets x 8-12 reps
Single Arm Farmer's Walk:
3 sets x 20-50 meters each side


3 day split

ARE 3 DAY WORKOUT SPLITS EFFECTIVE?

A 3 day workout split can be effective for any training goal if the workouts are structured properly and you are using an appropriate intensity.

Like any workout split, a lot of the effectiveness is determined not just by what you do in the gym but also by what you do out of the gym. If you train hard and smart, and eat right and sleep right, you can see great results with just 3 days of working out per week. 

Can I build muscle with a 3 day split?

Yes. A 3 day split is good for building muscle because it allows you to maximize both the intensity of your workouts and your recovery.

Recovery is arguably the most important aspect of building muscle. No matter how hard you train in the gym, if you don’t let yourself recover properly, you won’t see good results. 

Generally speaking, 3 days of weight lifting per week is the minimum amount of days where results for building muscle are still great (opposite side of the spectrum with 6 days being the max).

Contrary to what some people may believe, less can be more when it comes to building muscle. You don’t need to spend every day in the gym to get big. In fact, for most people, they will see far better hypertrophy results by training 3 or 4 days per week because it ensures they can train hard and recovery fully. When you train 6-7 days per week, especially as a beginner or intermediate lifter, your progress with stagnate quickly because you aren't allowing enough time for recovery.

All in all, training 3 days per week enables you to crush every workout because you will be fully recovered with high energy. This makes those 3 days very productive for breaking the muscle down, and the 4 days off very productive for building the muscle up.

Note: Remember, for a 3 day workout split to be effective for muscle growth, you NEED to train with high intensity and kill those three sessions each week. You only have to workout 3 days, so give it your all during those sessions. 

Are 3 day splits best for building muscle, strength or losing fat & weight? Why? 

3 day workout splits are best for getting bigger and stronger, but a proper diet is a must for this to be true. You need to eat a high protein diet in tandem with good workouts that work towards progressive overload for gains in strength and size to occur. Moreover, you need to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night (if you were to train 4-6 days per week, bump that up to 8-9 hours per night).

Moreover, 3 day workout splits are great for progressive overload. You should be able to make improvements in reps and weight load each week. Again, this is because your muscles and nervous system will be recovering fully before the next session. It’s a lot harder to progressive overload when you are recovery to 100%. And if you don’t know, progressive overload is essential to building muscle and strength over time.

Are 3 day splits good for cutting and losing fat?

To cut weight and lose fat, you need to eat at a deficit. Technically, you could do this without even working out. However, working out is ideal because you can maintain muscle as you lose weight if you eat a high protein diet. The combination of losing fat and keeping muscle will ensure your metabolism stays high and you are a fat burning machine. Remember, the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn while resting. 

All that said, if your goal is to lose fat, your 3 day split should be supplemented with a good amount of cardio. While weight training burns calories, it doesn’t hold a candle to cardio (or HIIT) when it comes to burning calories. Even if you are doing workouts that involve low rest between sets. 

In our opinion, 3 days per week + cardio and HIIT would be good for most people who want to lose weight. You could do full body workouts or a PPL style routine and 30-40 minutes of cardio 3 days per week (i.e. after your workout or in the morning) and then have 2 days of HIIT training as well. So, technically, this is 5 days of workouts per week, just 2 won’t be weightlifting. This is by no means an easy training schedule, but it will help to ensure that you are burning more calories than you consume without needing to drastically change your diet. With HIIT, you will get some good muscle fiber recruitment for maintenance, and even more important, the afterburn affect (EPOC), which will have you burning a higher amount of calories long after your workouts are over.

Note: If you are doing HIIT, take your rest days after HIIT days as they are very taxing on the nervous system. 

3 day workout plan

BENEFITS OF 3 DAY WORKOUT SPLIT ROUTINE:

Here are the benefits when looking at 3 day weightlifting splits: 

  1. Maximizes Recovery: The effect of recovery is much greater with a 3 day split than a 4 day, 5 day or 6 day split, which outweighs some of the benefits of the other high frequency splits. Remember, gains happen during recovery, not workout.
  2. Maximizes Intensity: The greater recovery effect translates to more intense workouts. If you are only lifting 3 days per week, you will feel like you are on beast mode for those 3 days. Training at a higher frequency often leads to feeling burnt out and you’ll get workouts here and there that feel like you are just going through the motions. With 3 days per week, you should get consistently great workouts in, week in and week out.
  3. Easily Manageable: Not everyone has time to go to the gym 5 or 6 days per week. That’s a serious commitment that doesn’t jive with most people’s work-life schedule. But really anyone can make time for just 3 days of training per week. If you can’t, then you really need to take a look at what’s making you “too busy”.
  4. Variety: This benefit is twofold. First of all, you have plenty of variety in how you can structure a 3 day split, as you’ve seen above. So, you can continue with a 3 day split year round while still changing your routine up. Secondly, 3 days per week is just enough days to still get a good variety of exercises done, allowing you to hit each muscle group from various angles and training variables.
  5. Other Activities: For some lifters, working out is their main (or even only) physical hobby, but this is not the case for all. You may play sports or have other activities that you like to do each week. With a 3 day split, you can manage all your activities and hobbies. You could lift three days a week, and still have the energy to play a sport once or twice a week, or run, swim, cycle or whatever you like on your non-lifting days.
Disadvantages of a 3 Day Split:

As with any split, there are some drawbacks.

For example... 

Training Muscle Groups Once Per Week: With a 3 day split, you are typically going to be hitting your muscle groups just once per week. A lot of studies are showing that training your muscle groups twice a week is best for hypertrophy. So, where you get a great effect of recovery and intensity, you sacrifice the effect of higher frequency. That said, you could do an upper lower 3 day split and have a frequency of hitting each muscle group about 1.5 times per week. You could also do a full body split and hit each muscle group three times per week, but you won’t have much volume each workout to really breakdown the muscle if you are a more advanced lifter. So, really, these two 3 day splits that allow for more frequency yet less volume would really only be ideal for beginners to early-intermediate lifters.

Not Great For Weight Management: If you lift three times per week and you don’t do any additional form of cardio or sport, your calorie expenditure may not be high enough to control your weight loss goals. This really depends on your diet and your goals, but it’s something to consider.

workout splits 3 day

SHOULD I DO A 3 DAY SPLIT?

Overall, a 3 day split can be great for anyone and everyone, men and women alike. However, we usually recommend it for beginners, older lifters (i.e. 35+ years old), and people with busy schedules who want to build muscle and strength. 

Beginners will see great results with just 3 days a week. Even intermediate lifters will. 

Older lifters usually need more time to recover and they need to make it an even greater priority. It’s just the nature of getting older and by old we don’t even mean like an old man. You may find when you hit your 30s or 40s that its a lot easier to overtrain than it was in your 20s. So, a 3 day split is great for those who find they need more time for recovery. 

People with busy schedules can maintain the split with high intensity while having plenty of time for other things going on in their life.

The only people we really don’t recommend a 3 day split for are advanced lifters and very serious lifters who need more volume. 3 days may simply not be enough to get the results an advance lifter needs. Plus, advance lifters are well experienced in structuring effective workouts and diets that allow them to recover enough between sessions. 

Note: Just because you are big doesn’t mean you need to train more often. In fact, bigger muscles take longer to recover. So, a lot of muscular people will actually see better results with a 3 or 4 day split if they can get enough volume in on the workout sessions.

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN DECIDING ON YOUR TRAINING SPLIT: 

If you are still unsure which split to do, just think about the following points.

  • Training experience
  • Goals
  • Your availability
  • Your rest and recovery needs
  • Your weaknesses
  • Your preference 

This should help you determine if a 3 day split is right for you.

WHAT IS THE "ULTIMATE" 3 DAY WORKOUT SPLIT?

It really depends on what your goals are but overall the best 3 day split is the Push Pull Leg split. It’s one of the most efficient and effective workout splits because all the related muscle groups are trained together in the same workout, which means there will be minimum overlap between workouts. This facilities recovery of your muscle groups much better than many other splits. 

If you have some experience in weightlifting, and you want to do a 3 day split, we recommend to start with the PPL split.

If you are a complete beginner, start with the full body split for 4-12 weeks.

3 day workout program

BEST EXERCISES FOR A 3 DAY SPLIT:

Because you have a limited amount of days and thus total weekly volume, you will need to choose the best possible exercises for your workout plan. 

Here are the must-have exercises no matter what 3 day split you choose...

MAIN LIFTS:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bench Press
  • Overhead Press
  • Rows
  • Pull Ups/Chin Ups

Now, you may not have access to a barbell or you may not be ready to use a barbell for some of these exercises. However, you can still do the above exercises with dumbbells or kettlebells. You could even do them with resistance bands

Of course, barbells are the most ideal as they allow you to use the heaviest load, which is a very important aspect of building muscle and strength. Nevertheless, you can still get an effective workout in without a barbell and plates.

Assuming you will have access to a gym, then beginners should use dumbbells until ready for barbell lifts (i.e. goblet squats rather than barbell back squats). If you are comfortable with barbell exercises, then just start with barbells for the big compound lifts above.

So, just to reiterate, the main lifts for your training plan should or eventually be: 

Barbell Back Squat
Barbell Deadlifts
Barbell Bench Press
Standing Military Press
Barbell Bent Over Rows
Pull Ups & Chin Ups

Then, you will have accessory exercises that you will do after your main lifts. 

ACCESSORY COMPOUND EXERCISES:

  • Romanian Deadlifts
  • Barbell Hip Thrusts
  • Good Mornings
  • Lunges
  • Split Squats
  • Barbarian Split Squats
  • Leg Press
  • Parallel Dips
  • Close Grip Bench Press
  • Incline Bench Press
  • Variations of Rows
  • Upright Rows
  • Rack Pulls
  • Lat Pull Downs 

While these aren’t all to choose from and you don’t need to choose all of these for your workout plan, these are some of the best options for compound exercises that hone in on certain muscle groups...

Feel free to switch up the exercises in our 3 day workout plans with any of these exercises.

As for isolation exercises, here are some of the best ones...

ACCESSORY ISOLATION EXERCISES: 

  • Variations of Chest Flys
  • Lateral Raises
  • Rear Delt Flys
  • Hyperextensions
  • Leg Extensions
  • Leg Curls
  • Calf Raises
  • Variations of Curls
  • Variations of Tricep Extensions and Pressdowns

Your plan can include a few isolation exercises. But, remember, you will get far better results with a 3 day split if you focus more on compound movements. Compound movements just give you a better bang for your buck. 

The isolation exercises should be saved for the end of your workouts just to exhaust the smaller muscle groups that didn’t get enough work from the compound exercises.

For example, on leg day, you can end with calf raises if your calves are lagging because the calves definitely won’t have been worked sufficiently enough to grow from the compound leg exercises. The same applies to many muscles like the lateral delts, biceps, triceps, etc.

What about core exercises? 

Core exercises will be placed into the isolation category. You won’t need to place too much emphasis on core because your core is trained with all your big compound movements. 

Nevertheless, you should do one or two core focused exercise at the end of each workout. 

The best core exercises are:

The above will strength your core through all planes of motion.

3 day full body workout routine for mass

HIERARCHY OF EXERCISES:

Your workouts should be done in this order...

  1. Main Compound Lifts
  2. Smaller Compound Lift
  3. Isolation Exercises

You will need more energy for the compound lifts, so that’s why they come first.

You can see this by looking back to our sample routines in the beginning of this guide. 

Pay attention to how we structured our 3 day workout routine samples. You can see how each 3 day split had a different amount of main lifts and isolation exercises. This is because splits like the PPL and Classic Bodybuilder only have one or two main muscle groups per session, where splits like the upper lower and full body have multiple big muscle groups per session. This means those session will have fewer isolation exercises as the compound lifts will allow the entire body (or upper and lower body) to be worked without spending hours in the gym like it would take with smaller more targeted movements.

REP RANGES, WEIGHT LOAD, REST TIME:

If your main goal is to build muscle, it’s important that you work through a wide range of reps to build strength, size and endurance. Both strength and endurance will greatly help your muscle building goals.

Generally speaking, for a 3 day workout split, you should be working in the 6-20 rep range, depending on the exercise. 

You will get a good crossover of strength and hypertrophy gains in the 6-15 rep range and a good crossover of hypertrophy and endurance in the 12-20 rep range. So, you can really train for all three (size, strength, endurance) in a single workout. Moreover, it will allow you to target both slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibers. Fast twitch respond best to heavy loads with lower reps and slow twitch to higher reps. 

All in all, 6-20 reps is perfect if your main goal is hypertrophy, as you will be working towards size no matter what. Killing three birds with one stone kind of deal. 

Big Compound Lifts:

Your big lifts will come at the beginning of the workout. You will need the most energy and strength levels for these lifts.

Focus on 4-5 sets of 6-10 reps using loads of 80-90% of your 1RM.

Keep rest time to around 90-120 seconds.

Every workout will include at least 1 or 2 of these exercises (as you can see from our sample routines at the beginning of this guide).

Accessory Compound Movements:

Your “smaller” assistance compound lifts will come after the big lifts.

For these exercises, perform 2-4 sets of 8-15 reps using 65-80% of your 1RM. 

Keep rest time to around 60-90 seconds.

Accessory Isolation Exercises:

For your isolation exercises, you can work in a 8-20 rep range. Ideally, you want to use a weight load that brings you to near failure on each set. 2-3 sets for isolation exercises should suffice.

Keep rest time to around 60 seconds.

By following the above advice, you should have enough weekly volume to see good improvements in strength, size and endurance.

PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD: 

If you want to see real results, you need to use progressive overload.

Progressive overload ensures that you are adequately stressing your muscle enough each week for them to be forced to continue adapting (grow and get stronger). 

There are many ways to progressive overload:

  • Increase weight load
  • Increasing reps
  • Increasing sets
  • Decreasing rest
  • Increasing Intensity (i.e. slower tempo or greater range of motion)
  • Progression exercises

For a single weight training cycle (i.e. 4-12 weeks), it is best to focus on increasing reps, increasing the weight load, and increasing sets (aka volume). 

Note: If your range of motion is not optimal, that should be first. 

But assuming your range of motion is good, first increase reps, then increase weight load, then increase volume.

i.e. if the program calls for 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps, then you can work up to 10 reps using the same weight load, and once you reach 10 reps for all sets, increase the weight load a little. From there, you can also add another set when you are feeling ready.

After a training cycle, you will take a week break or a deload period. Once you start the next training plan, you can employ other forms of progressive overload depending on your goals. You may want to increase the volume, decrease rest, and try newer, harder exercises. 

Related: Guide to Progressive Overload

3 day full body workout

HOW LONG SHOULD I FOLLOW A 3 DAY SPLIT TO SEE RESULTS?

Ideally, you should stick with the plan for 8-12 weeks. After that, take a deload week. Normally, we’d recommend taking a week off to catch up on recovery, but with 3 day splits promoting recovery so well, you may not need a complete week off.

During your deload week, you can do full body workouts or your current routine at considerably less intensity (longer rest, decreased speed, lower weight loads). You may also want to just do a bodyweight workouts. 

This deload period is important for avoiding plateaus. You can’t constantly train on an upward trajectory. Progression will never be perfectly linear, even if you didn’t take a deload period. So, we highly recommend that you employ this tactic between each training cycle.

After your deload period, start a new training cycle. Your next plan can be the same (i.e. if you are doing a PPL now, you can do a PPL again), but maybe you switch up some variables like the order of your exercises, switching up your accessory movements, decreasing rest time, increasing volume, etc. It depends on your goals. But once you make a plan that works, stick with it for the duration of the training cycle for best results.

For beginners, you will see great results after just one training cycle. However, you will need to stick with this periodization of training, deloading, training, deloading for quite some time to achieve the dream body you want. It could take 6 months for some or years for others. But, even if you were to always do a 3 day workout split, you can achieve your goals.

HOW LONG SHOULD MY WORKOUTS BE IN A 3 DAY SPLIT? 

Workouts for a 3 day split may be a little longer than they would be for 4 day, 5 day, or 6 day splits because you need to stuff a little more volume into your workouts. That said, this doesn’t mean you should be in the gym for 2 hours. 

On average, you workouts should take you about 60 minutes, plus whatever time it takes to warm up and cool down. This doesn’t include cardio.

3 day a week workout for lean muscle

SLEEP, NUTRITION, HYDRATION:

It’s vital that you put as much emphasis on your recovery as you do your workouts.

Sleep - Get plenty of sleep. Ideally 8 hours per night. If you are having troubles getting 8 hours of sleep, you need to take this seriously. Sleep will help keep your immune system strong and it’s the time when your muscle rebuild. Follow the best practices for getting good sleep, such as avoiding blue light before bed, making your room dark, calming your mind, avoiding caffeine late in the day, etc.

Nutrition - You will need a healthy balanced diet. You can see our guide to bulking vs cutting as that goes more into the macros based on the goal, but generally speaking, you want to eat about .75-1 gram of protein per lb of your bodyweight, 2-3.5 grams of carbs per lb of bodyweight, and .3-.5 grams of healthy fat per lb of bodyweight. Note: If you are cutting, then you will need to alter the macros, by lowering the carbs and upping the protein. 

Hydration - Drink plenty of water. You will need more than if you were not working out. You need to be drinking about half your bodyweight in ounces of water at a minimum. So, if you weight 150lbs, you’d need 75 ounces (2.2 liters). This is, again, a bare minimum.

SHOULD I TAKE ANY SUPPLEMENTS?

There are really on a few supplements we recommend. These are supplements that are proven to work.

**You will find affiliate links below where we receive a small commission on any purchases at no additional cost to you**

Protein Powder: Protein powder is simple. It’s an easy way to supplement your daily protein requirements. If you aren’t getting enough by actual food, you can have a quick protein shake to ensure you meet the daily level.

Creatine: Creatine is one of the most researched and proven supplements. Studies show that it is one of the only supplements (besides protein) that actually supports sports performance. Creatine will help you improve strength, recovery, and lean mass.

Caffeine: Everyone knows caffeine works. If you need a little boost before your workout, you can drink coffee or have a pre-workout mix. It’s perfectly fine.

Melatonin: If you are having trouble falling asleep at night, get some melatonin. It should help you get on a good sleeping schedule. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking melatonin. It won’t affect your natural production in any way once you stop taking it and it’s not addicting. Feel free to research it. It’s not a complete game changer by any means, but it does help many people to get their eyes to shut!

Related: Do Non-Stimulant Pre-workouts Actually Work?

CAN I DO A BODYWEIGHT 3 DAY SPLIT? 

So far, we’ve only discussed weight training. As most readers come to this guide with weight training in mind, but let’s say you want to do only bodyweight training or you simple want to do a training cycle of bodyweight training every year (i.e. you do 6 months weight training, 3 months athletics, and 3 months bodyweight), then this question applies. 

You can absolutely do a 3 day bodyweight split. You can use all of the same splits we mentioned, you will just be doing bodyweight exercises and your progressive overload will focus on decreasing rest, increasing volume, and increasing intensity (harder exercises, slower tempo, explosiveness, range of motion etc.)

Just because you are doing bodyweight exercises doesn’t mean you will be doing more total exercises per workout, but you may need to do more volume (reps and sets). Keep your workouts to 5-8 exercises and up the reps so that you are reaching near failure during sets. Format the workouts in the same way you would a 3 day split.

You can also use interesting protocols like circuit workouts and AMRAPs.

The main thing is, you need to do the best bodyweight exercises, which are:

Chest:

  • Standard Push Ups
  • Wide Grip Push Ups
  • Close Grip Push Ups
  • Diamond Push Ups
  • Incline Push Ups
  • Decline Push Ups
  • Dips
  • Resistance Band Flys (if you have resistance bands - which can also be used to increase resistance of your push ups and dips) 

Related: 21 Bodyweight Chest Exercises

Back:

  • Pull Ups
  • Chin Ups
  • Neutral Grip Pull Ups
  • Inverse Rows (overhand and underhand)
  • Supermans 

Related: 7 Bodyweight Back Exercises

Shoulders:

  • Pike Push Ups
  • Elevated Pike Push Ups
  • Wall Walks
  • Hand Stand Holds

Related: 9 Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises

Arms

Biceps:

  • You’ll be training your biceps well as you will be doing more pull ups and pull variations.
  • Close Grip Push Ups (arms tucked to the sides)
  • Get yourself some bands to help overload your biceps as you become stronger.

Triceps:

  • Diamond Push Ups
  • Tricep Dips
  • Tricep Extensions

Legs:

  • Air Squats
  • Jump Squats
  • Jumping Lunges
  • Tuck Jumps
  • Sprints
  • Hip Bridges/Glute Bridges
  • Hamstring Walkouts
  • Curtsy Lunges
  • Lateral Lunges
  • Single Leg Calf Raises
  • Calf Jumps 

Related: 26 Bodyweight Leg Exercises

Core:

  • Leg Raises (hanging if you can, lying as well)
  • Plank (high and low)
  • Side Plank
  • All the plank variations (up-down planks, shoulder taps, mountain climbers, knee to elbows, etc.)

Related: 30 Bodyweight Core Exercises 

PRO TIPS:

  • Who says you need equipment to add weight load? A backpack full of books, a rock from outside, water jugs, etc., can all be used to take your exercises up a notch.
  • Get yourself some home equipment to enhance your bodyweight workouts. Resistance bands and kettlebells are the most effective and economical options.

Have questions about 3 day splits? Feel free to reach out to us anytime. We love to hear from our readers! 

Other Training Splits:

3 day split workout for cutting



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