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August 06, 2023 43 Comments
Is a 4 day workout split the best for building muscle and strength?
While the concept of a "best" workout split remains elusive, as the ideal routine varies from person to person, the 4 day split emerges as a prevalent and notably effective option. It allows for adequate recovery and is flexible in that you can prioritize training frequency vs training volume, or find a happy-medium between the two (we'll explain more about this later).
In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the intricacies of the 4 day weight training split, equipping you with both knowledge and a plan to succeed.
Table of Contents:
Knowing how to maximize your time in the gym for these 4 days will mean the difference between your success and failure.
Absolutely! A 4-day split workout routine is actually ideal for most trainees, especially those who may have extra family and work pressure. Even still, many of the best weight lifters in the world choose to work out 4 days a week regardless of having the time to go more often. For example, some top-rated programs, such as PHAT, are specifically designed to be trained 4 days a week.
What you need to answer is, “Is a 4-day workout routine good for you?”
Well, answer these questions:
If your answer is yes and you've followed FITT principle guidelines to ensure a program like this will meet your fitness needs, then a 4-day workout plan is perfect for you.
Choosing a 4-day split for your workout program will offer a variety of benefits. Here are the top reasons you should train using a 4-day workout routine.
Perhaps the most significant benefit of this workout is that it gives trainees plenty of recovery time throughout the week. One of the greatest determinants of a program’s success is whether it provides a trainee with adequate rest between sessions. In fact, this is one of the main areas that trainees get wrong, especially beginners.
One area that trainees tend to like about a 4 day split gym routine is that it can keep you focused for your workout. 4 days is plenty of time to get an excellent workout in and hit all the lifts you need. At the same time, it requires you to go in with a purpose and train like every rep counts. There are no frivolous movements in a 4-day split, nor is there leftover time to do them anyways. With a 4-day workout routine, you go in and perform the best of the best movements and then get out
Connected to allowing you adequate rest, using a 4-day split is designed in such a manner so that you can come in and work out hard every session. Being that you know you have plenty of rest days, you’re more likely to leave it all out on the gym floor. That and you will just have more energy
Since there are 4 days to train, you have an ample amount of days to divide your body parts or movements. This means you can program a 4-day split program specific to strength, hypertrophy, or a combination such s PHAT or power-building plan.
Absolutely. In fact, for beginners and intermediate lifters, 4 workout days per week is actually the most ideal for building muscle and strength. It allows you to keep the intensity of your workouts high and get adequate recovery in-between sessions, which is the perfect recipe for building muscle and strength. People who train too frequently end up getting burned out and they don't even realize it. 4 days of workouts per week is typically the sweet spot when it comes to fitness.
As just mentioned, there are numerous ways that you can run a 4-day split depending on your specific needs and goals. Let’s first go over some of these variations of workout splits, and then we will suggest what we think is the best for the majority of people.
Performing full-body workouts 4 days a week can work, but it can be a little tricky. It It will require even more attention to recovery and monitoring load used. This type of workout is more likely to benefit the person who is more interested in maintaining overall fitness levels rather than pushing it hard during the session. If that’s you, then a full body split workout routine could be a great option. Some of the benefits are:
The upper lower split is arguably the most suitable option for a 4 day split workout, as it was specifically designed to be a 4 day routine (even though it can be organized otherwise) - 2 upper body days & 2 lower body days.
This split is great for someone looking to have a good balance between training frequency and training volume. Moreover, it is flexible, in that you can play around with it based on your goals (i.e. you can do two strength and two hypertrophy workouts each week, or in other words, heavy low rep days and lighter high rep days).
One of the best example of a strength and hypertrophy split is Dr. Layne Hortons PHAT program. This is actually great program for those who want to train for both strength and hypertrophy. A program like this has you training specifically for strength on two days and then running a routine more similar to bodybuilding for the other two days. Some of the benefits include:
A PPL split split stands for Push/Pull/Legs. It divides movements into three days:
The first thing to note is that a PPL split cycles through 3 workout sessions. However, that doesn’t constrain it to only being used 3 days a week. To work this into a 4-day workout program, you simply just cycle through the sessions. This will result in your sessions changing order every week.
Benefits of using a PPL split include:
Some may still prefer to use a bodybuilding program and hit every muscle hard once a week. To do this, bodybuilders will usually train maybe 5 days or even 6 days a week. However, you can get this done in 4 days if you don’t have the time to make it to the gym more. The easiest way to do this would be as follow:
The benefits of training like this are mainly geared towards the bodybuilder. Using a split like this allows to you to cause maximal damage to a muscle in the belief that it will grow more.
So, what’s the best 4 day workout split?
While all the options above will work if done correctly, for the majority of people, an upper/lower split works great.
It works so well for building muscle mass and strength because it creates an optimal balance between training frequency (how often you hit a muscle) and training volume (how much volume - sets and reps - you do for a muscle group).
It’s really hard to beat this split, especially when following some simple rules.
First, let’s go over why it’s your best choice...
There are still various ways that you could possibly run an upper/lower split. For example, you may only work your quads on a lower day or your back on an upper day. So to be clear, when running this program, you want to train every muscle group of the lower body during that session and every muscle group of the upper body for that particular session.
One common question that constantly plagues trainers and trainees is, is the deadlift an upper-body exercise of a lower-body exercise. That depends on who you ask (i.e., with a PPL, split your train deadlift with your back on pulling day and not on leg day), but for this program, you are going to train it during the lower body session.
Now for the critical part. One of the best ways to divide your exercises is into pushing movements and pulling movements of both lower and upper body workouts. For example:
This is important to understand the difference between these movements as it will help you plan your days. Basically, what you will do is divide each day into your primary movements done with heavier loads and accessory movements performed with lighter loads. These will be divided by using the categories above. Then the next training session, you will swap which movements are primary and which movements are accessory. This will look like this.
Primary Movements (Strength)
Accessory Movements (Hypertrophy)
Session 1 - Upper Body
Session 2 - Lower Body
Session 3 - Upper Body
Session 4 - Lower Body
Note: This does include any type of isolation movements which is always done at the end of the session.
One problem that many trainees will have working an upper/lower split is trying to hit heavy numbers for all of their main movements. This is especially true when performing squats and deadlifts on the same day. Some advanced lifters will do this, but it can often be too much for your general trainees. What happens is they aren’t able to hit the numbers they want and end up having a crappy workout.
This fixes that.
This four day workout split will allow you to focus on only a couple main lifts for one movement group with a heavy load. Then, you can move onto the other muscle groups and perform your smaller accessory movements that focus more on volume rather than working with heavier loads.
Your strength training movements will consist of your big compound movements working in a rep range of 3-6 with 3-5 sets and using loads of about 85-90% of your 1RM.
These are going to consist of your “smaller” compound movements as well as some isolation work. These will work in a rep range of 8-12+ with 2-3 sets using loads of about 70-80% of your 1RM.
Now that you have a good idea of why you’re doing what you’ll be doing (Upper Lower Split), let’s go over the actual workouts in this 4 day weight lifting routine for gaining muscle mass and strength.
This is going to be your basic layout for the session. While it looks like a lot, realize that after your main lifts, you will want to move pretty quickly through the rest of the movements. It may take 30-40 minutes for the strength movements and just 25-30 minutes for the remainder.
Now, there are a few different ways that you can plan them during the week.
Day 1: Upper Body A
Day 2: Lower Body A
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Upper Body B
Day 5: Rest
Day 6: Lower Body B
Day 7: Rest
Day 1: Upper Body A
Day 2: Lower Body A
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Upper Body B
Day 6: Lower Body B
Day 7: Rest
The obvious difference is that you can either have 3 single rest days OR 1 two-day rest period and then a single day rest period. In terms of effectiveness, it shouldn’t really make a big deal what one you choose. However, some people enjoy having 2 days of rest for travel or just to relax while others feel keeping rest to 1 day helps them stay in the zone. You can also change dependent on what is going on in your life. BUT DO NOT train 3 days in a row or have 3 days of rest.
You are also able to start with the lower body session instead. This would have you cycle through the sessions as:
You can run this using the different weekly layouts as above.
One way you can use this to your advantage is by setting up a plan so that you have at least one rest day before a session with lifts that you really want to improve on. For example, if your squats are weak and you want to improve them, you can set up your 4-day workout routine so that you have 2 days of rest and then perform your Lower Body A session (squats)
Just like any effective program, you are going to use progressive overload to increase your performance. However, there are a few caveats to go over.
The most common way of implementing progressive overload is by increasing weight every week. This is what you will do for your strength lifts as these are the most “important” lifts. Further, when it comes to building strength, lifting more weight seems to be the optimal method. The very basic suggestion is to add 10lbs to your lower body moments and 5lbs or less to your upper body movements every week. However, you will need to judge by yourself. But a word of advice; the less amount of weight you add will allow you to progress more smoothly for a longer period of time.
You will probably find some lifts where you are unable to add weight on every set. That’s fine. If you can only add weight to the first set and then drop back down to the remaining sets, that’s fine. Just write that down and then next week, try to add weight to at least two sets and then dropdown.
While adding weight for the accessory lifts is still a concern, you will be going off what you feel you are able to do. Basically, this means that if you can increase the weight, then great. If you are too fatigued from the bigger lifts, just use the same weight. If you can increase the weight on 1 set, do that. And so on and so on. These are important and have a purpose, but they are to support your bigger lifts. Even if your bigger lifts are increasing and your accessory weights are staying the same, you will still progress and get bigger and stronger.
Also, feel free to have some freedom (and a little “fun”) with these sets. If you want to increase the reps on your last set, then cool. If you want to add a drop set, then do it. Just don’t overdo it!
Many trainees confuse “Rest Days” to mean “Do Nothing”. This is a horrible idea that will significantly hinder your progress. What you do outside of the gym can greatly influence your performance inside the gym. Here are the 4 practices that you can do to use this time wisely.
1) Engage in some light aerobic activity OR active recovery: This is one of the best things you can do. Failing to move the body will result in more tightness in the muscles and even increase DOMS chance. The main mechanism is thought to be that the activity will increase the heart rate slightly and pump fresh blood with more oxygen and nutrients to the body. It will also keep the muscles and joints loose. Active recovery is one of the best things you can do.
2) Engage in some mobility exercises: Everybody needs to improve mobility. Everybody. Rest days are a great time to do this because you don’t need any special equipment and can find anything you may need around the house. Here are three movements you can do:
3) Perform your core work: As you probably noticed, this plan doesn’t have a lot of specific core work. You can do this on your rest days with your mobility work or after some aerobic activity. Specific core work is very important, but sometimes it can overshadow other areas. Further, many people completely overdo it.
4) Get some sleep!: This is easily the most effective and simple thing you can do to improve your performance. Don’t buy into the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” mentality. Getting adequate sleep is not an option; at least if you want to perform at your best. Aim for at least 6 hours of quality sleep but if you need more, sleep more.
Your nutrition will play a big role in determining if you succeed with this program; however, you don’t need to overcomplicate it. Here are the basic numbers for your macros.
Related: Bulking vs Cutting
There are a ton of supplements on the market, but most of them are worthless. Here the best ones to use that will almost definitely improve your progress:
If you are like us, shopping on Amazon is usually easiest. So, here's our top recommendations for a perfect 4 day workout routine supplement stack:
That's all you need….Now It’s Time To Train!
More Workout Splits:
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