December 23, 2021
Unfortunately, society tends to have negative preconceptions regarding women and weight training. We wrote this post to dispel these misconceived notions while providing some guidance as to the best workout splits for (most) women.
Let's briefly address some of the common ideas surrounding women and weight lifting.
The truth is that there are differences between men and women and that training style and programs might slightly differ, but at the end of the day, resistance training is beneficial for EVERYONE. The principle of progressive overload doesn’t care if you’re male or female.
We hope that this post will encourage more women to find the best workout split that fits their end goals and individual circumstances.
Note: Please keep in mind that we realize variances between individuals even within the same sex.
Workout splits are defined as how and when you're training every week. The criteria that determine your workout split are:
Regardless of the workout split you choose, the answers to the questions below will narrow down your best options:
After answering these questions, you'll better understand the best workout split for you as a woman. If you're looking to progress in your fitness journey, it's best to organize and plan your training so that you can put yourself in a position to achieve your set goals.
Having a set workout split enables you to train more efficiently and effectively. The primary benefits of following a workout split are:
After you've narrowed in on a workout split that suits your goals and schedule, then you can break down your gym sessions into the exercises that relate to your chosen split. For example, if you decide to do a push-pull workout split, you might start Monday's workout with bench press, overhead press, and triceps pushdowns.
Not having a workout split is similar to walking into a supermarket without knowing what you need. You buy many things and get home only to realize you forgot that essential item. You have something to eat but not precisely what you needed or wanted.
Workout routines for both men and women are essential for any training program that expects results.
Here are the most popular workout splits, although there are others out there.
We will cover the best 3 of these 5 workout splits for women. As you may have guessed, the Bro split probably isn't an excellent choice for most women (and most men*). The other routine that we won't go into detail about is the push-pull leg split, as we think most women are suited better to the first 3 workout splits listed above.
The fact is that men and women will gain muscle and strength if following a workout split that adheres to the progressive overload principle. Although men have more muscle-building hormones such as testosterone, it appears that women can grow muscle at similar rates as men and with higher relative strength, according to this meta-analysis. On the other hand, there's another study that found untrained men and women gained muscle and strength at comparable rates.
Perhaps an oversimplification, one of the most significant differences between the genders regarding fitness is that women tend to favor more cardio and group training than men, as highlighted in this study.
Another general difference is surrounding men's and women's training goals. The majority of men have their mindset on building a solid chest, broad shoulders, wide back, and big arms, whereas women tend to favor training the core and lower body, especially the glutes and legs.
The guiding rule is the same, no matter which gender or what muscles you'd like to build, you must increase volume over time. This means lifting heavier weights and/or more reps.
With those generalizations out of the way, let's have a look at some research that might sway you in the direction of the best workout routine for women...
Women Recover Faster: We all know women as badass, but did you know they also seem to recover faster from intense training. Here's a study where men and women participants performed low rep high-intensity bench press of up to a 5-rep max. Then, they were tested again at resting intervals of 4-, 24-, and 48-hour time periods. Surprisingly, there were no differences in strength output from women while the men saw decreases at the 4- and 24-hour recovery sessions.
Women Can Handle Higher Frequency Lower Body Work: To understand how resistance training affects women with regards to frequency, intensity, muscle, and strength gain, researchers reviewed 24 studies. This meta-analysis concluded that women could tolerate a high frequency of lower-body resistance training with positive outcomes. Training the lower body 2-4 times per week showed promising results. On the other hand, this high frequency might have diminishing returns if men were to try it.
Women May Respond Better to Heavier Loads: We know that there's plenty of research that shows higher rep low-load training can lead to hypertrophy, including rep ranges over 20. This study that looks at how women respond to high load vs. low load training found that women who trained in the 6-10 rep max loads gained much more muscle than women who trained with lower loads of 20-30 reps. More research needs to be conducted here, but this could be another difference in genders and response to resistance training.
Women Can Handle More Training Volume: Most people probably don't know that women are in a better position than men when it comes to adapting to increased training volume. Men can lift heavier loads in short time frames, while women can execute more strength movements for more repetitions over a longer period than men. The critical reasons for this are that women have a faster glucose uptake than men due to more estrogen and more type 1 muscle fibers, which means they might have the advantage of completing more endurance lifting styles. In contrast, men have higher fasting blood glucose levels to lift heavier loads for fewer reps.
Women May Have Menstrual Cycles That Can Alter Training: For the women reading this that still have to contend with menstrual cycles, you may want to consider how you schedule your workout split. According to this study, women may take longer to recover muscle damage due to resistance training during the menstrual cycle's luteal phase (last half). Along with that, other studies like this have suggested that it's probably beneficial to schedule your more frequent and intense training during the follicular phase (1st half) of the menstrual cycle. To put this into practice, if you usually train 3 times per week, then you might be able to train 4 times in the follicular phase to take advantage of the quicker recovery times and more pronounced strength gains.
KEY TAKEAWAYS FOR WOMEN TO PROGRAM THE BEST WORKOUT SPLIT:
Below are two general rules that can help you create a workout split that will yield results.
Your end goals will determine how many reps and intensity level you do per exercise:
Total weekly volume: 10-20 total sets per week per muscle group (*working sets, not including any warmups).
Now that we covered some of the differences between men and women in response to resistance training, we will go over the three best workout splits for women.
A full-body workout "split", isn't exactly a split, as you aren't splitting anything, you are training your full body. The routine will involve you training muscles in both your upper and lower body during the same session.
With full-body workouts, you'll use mostly compound exercises that cover all the muscles in the body instead of working each body part separately. The goal here is to work the entire body in a regular workout session that doesn't take excessive time.
Your schedule will dictate how many days a week you create your full body workout routine around. 3-day full-body workout plans are probably the most common. However, it's manageable to do a 2 day or even 4-day full body plan. You'll need at least 24 hours between workout sessions so that your muscles can recover and repair. Rest days between workout sessions can also help you conserve energy so that the next time you hit the gym, the intensity level doesn't drop.
BENEFITS OF A FULL-BODY WORKOUT ROUTINE FOR WOMEN:
Great for newcomers to resistance training. If you're a woman and you're just getting into weight training, full-body workout plans can provide enough volume to stimulate muscle growth quickly.
Perfect for people with busy schedules as you don't need to dedicate 5 days and endless hours in the gym. You can get a few 45-minute workouts in during the week and still see results as this is efficient training where you're not targeting and isolating smaller specific muscles.
Excellent choice as you can alter how many days you lift per week from week to week without jeopardizing your progress. This aspect is essential if you schedule training around menstrual cycles. For example, suppose you usually follow a 3-day full-body workout routine. In that case, you could add another day during the first half of your menstrual cycles where you can get the most benefits. Then you can remain at 3 sessions or drop down to 2 sessions per week during the second half, where recovery might take longer, and energy levels might drop a bit.
CONS OF A FULL-BODY WORKOUT ROUTINE FOR WOMEN:
For women who are bodybuilding or looking to put on serious muscle while adding strength, the full-body workout plan might not give you enough variety to hit all muscles with proper volume.
Trained women who are more advanced in their resistance training might not be satisfied with the lack of room to customize workouts and hit smaller muscles with isolation exercises.
Here's a look at what a weekly full-body workout split might look like:
2 DAY FULL BODY WORKOUT ROUTINE:
SAMPLE 2 DAY FULL BODY WORKOUT PLAN FOR WOMEN:
By only working out twice a week, your workout session might have to be a bit longer to fit enough volume in to hit all the major muscle groups. Overall, you'll focus on a few core exercises and have less variety than a 3 or 4-day workout split.
SAMPLE 3 DAY FULL BODY WORKOUT PLAN FOR WOMEN:
The major difference with the 3-day full body split is adding more variety.
SAMPLE 4 DAY FULL BODY WORKOUT PLAN FOR WOMEN:
This 4-day full-body workout split enables you to get a more well-rounded selection of exercises at a higher volume.
The upper-lower body workout split consists of breaking your training sessions into either upper body or lower body days.
Upper Body Muscles: Chest, Shoulders, Back, Triceps, Biceps
Lower Body Muscles: Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, Calves
The Upper/lower body split is similar to the full body split in that you'll be focusing most of your effort on the larger compound movements.
Note: You can throw in some core exercises on either your upper or lower body days. Most people will do core on lower body days even though it's technically part of the upper body. This is mainly due to having less lower-body muscles, so you might have extra time to hit the core. However, if you're feeling adventurous, you can also do core on both!
BENEFITS OF AN UPPER/LOWER WORKOUT SPLIT FOR WOMEN:
The upper/lower split is an excellent choice for women who want to take their weight lifting pursuits a tad more seriously, as the upper/lower split is the middle ground between a full-body split and a body part split.
Great for women who want to build and tone muscle throughout the body. The upper/lower split allows for maximum intensity with ample recovery times. Using a 4-day upper/lower split, you'll be able to get the optimal training volume in to achieve hypertrophy.
As mentioned above, women seem to recover faster than men and can tolerate lower bodywork.
With the upper/lower split, you will get two full days of legs and glutes; this is attractive to many women we've had the pleasure of working with. Some even go harder and throw in an extra lower body day every week.
The high degree of flexibility is also great for women who live busy lives and may have a family duty to attend to at a moment's notice. In addition, the upper/lower split has enough wiggle room so that you can reschedule a workout if need be.
And for those who contend with menstrual cycles, the upper/lower is a good fit if you want to overload your training during the first half, then scale back a little during the last half.
CONS OF AN UPPER/LOWER WORKOUT SPLIT FOR WOMEN:
Upper day workouts run a little longer than lower body days for the most part due to the higher number of muscles to work. However, most women aren't overly concerned about getting the extra volume in to exhaust upper body muscles as their main goals aren't usually aligned with men who want big arms or broad shoulders.
2-6 DAY PER WEEK
You can run an upper-lower split from 2-6 days a week, which gives you some flexibility in arranging your training.
The most common upper/lower split would be 4 days a week so that you have two upper days and two lower days.
Let's have a look at a sample 4 day upper/lower split
4 Day U/L Split:
Note: You have the freedom to arrange your workouts as you like regarding sets/reps, training methods like drop sets/reverse pyramid/ supersets. Remember that your workouts' foundation should include the main compound lifts followed by any accessory or isolation lifts.
Here are some of the main compound lifts that can be included in your upper/lower split:
For Upper-Body Days: Bench Press and Overhead Press, Bent Over Rows, Pull-Ups, Lat Pulldowns, DB Bench Press, Dips
For Lower-Body Days: Squats, Deadlifts, Hip Thrusts, Lunges, Stiff Leg Deadlifts, Leg press
Note: You will include both pushing and pulling exercises on your workout days.
Sample Upper Body Workout #1
Sample Lower Body Workout #1
Sample Upper Body Workout #2
Sample Lower Body Workout #2
The push-pull split is like a stepchild of the full-body split and upper/lower split. With the push-pull split, you will have both upper and lower body exercises within the same workout session, but the body mechanics will be the same, either pushing or pulling.
Let's take a look at what this looks like below:
Push Day Exercises:
Note: Core exercises can be added to either the push/pull days or both. Some compound exercises will work your core like squats and deadlifts but feel free to throw in some extra core work, maybe a few that work you through the transverse plane.
2, 4, OR 6 DAYS PER WEEK
The typical push-pull split is based on 4 days, so you would have two pulling days and 2 pushing days weekly. However, you could also do the push-pull split from 2-6 days per week; just make sure to stay balanced from week to week.
We'll just provide a sample 4 day push-pull split as this is the most popular option that allows for proper training volume and rests.
BENEFITS OF A PUSH-PULL SPLIT FOR WOMEN:
Provides similar pros that the upper/lower and full body split gives in terms of training volume, frequency, and flexibility.
Excellent for burning calories and getting toned, as you'll be doing multiple big compound movements within the same session.
Flexible schedule where you can turn up limit the training volume as your schedule sees fit.
CONS OF A PUSH-PULL SPLIT FOR WOMEN:
Workouts can be a bit long because you're working both upper and lower body muscles within the same workout session.
High intensity as you will have more than one of the big four compound lifts within a session. For example, you might have a bench press, shoulder press, and squats on push days. The push-pull split requires maximum output, so make sure you feel up to the task.
SAMPLE 4 DAY PUSH-PULL SPLIT:
Note: You could also set up a 4 day push-pull split with a rest day between each workout day.
Instead of doing two different workouts per week, we created 4 sample workouts to follow so that you can have a more well-rounded program.
Here's a quick breakdown of what your 4-day push-pull split will look like:
Sample Push A Workout:
You can change the sequence weekly
Sample Pull A Workout:
You can change the sequence weekly
Sample Push B Workout:
You can change the sequence weekly
Sample Pull B Workout:
You can change the sequence weekly
If you can only fit 2 workout sessions into your weekly schedule, the best bet would be the full body split. You can hit the major muscle groups with decent volume to stay in shape and make a little progress by doing a full body routine twice a week.
The best 3 day split for women would probably be the full-body split once again. If you're able to hit a full-body workout three times a week, you can burn some serious calories while toning and shaping your muscle.
The best 4 day split for women is the upper lower or push-pull split. Using either of these splits enables you to get adequate training volume to achieve your goals at a faster rate.
The best 5 day split for women is the upper-lower split. We think this might be great for women who want to get an extra lower body workout weekly to build and shape the more popular feminine body parts.
The best 6 day workout plan for women is the upper lower or the push-pull split. If you have the energy, schedule, and motivation that allows you to get to the gym 6 days a week, then you can't go wrong with either of these splits. You will have at least 24 hours of rest between sessions that target the same muscles. Quality sleep and proper diet become even more important if you're working out this much.
Often, we tend to overcomplicate the process of staying in shape. However, there are a few basic tenets to follow if you want to stay lean and avoid falling into the trap of becoming part of the discouraging statistics.
Here are a few steps you should take if you want to stay or become healthy.
To all the women out there, whichever workout routine you choose, it all comes down to your effort, technique, diet, and sleep for you to see actual progress. Nothing worth it in life comes easy, so if you're a newcomer to fitness or you've been working out for a while without seeing results try out one of the 3 best workout splits for women above and let us know how it goes.
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