A training split is how you organize your training over a period of time, planning out training days, rest days and which muscle groups to train per day. The training split you use should be one that works for you and helps you to achieve your goals.

A 3-day split organizes your training into 3 workouts that together train the whole body. Requiring only 3 days makes this a great option for those who are pressed for time, or those looking to train more efficiently.

CHOOSING YOUR SPLIT

The most common approach to split training is the 5-day body part split where each major muscle group gets its own dedicated gym day: Legs, Chest, Back, Shoulders and Arms. This split allows you to thoroughly abuse each muscle group with a greater variety of exercises and overall workout volume.

As popular as it is, I don’t believe this is the best approach for all lifters, especially beginners. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Training 5 or more times a week can be challenging for beginners and anyone with a busy schedule. Missed workouts mean too much time goes by before you re-train each muscle group. Anyone who trains less than 5 times a week will not benefit as much from a 5-day split.
  • Body Part splits make it tempting to skip workouts you don’t like, especially if you get behind schedule (ahem… legs).
  • 5-day splits don’t allow much rest and recovery time between workouts.
  • With less rest and recovery time you will have less energy per workout and you will rely more on isolation exercises and less on strength building compound lifts.
  • Dedicating an entire workout to each muscle group separately is time-consuming and not always necessary to achieve impressive results.

With the right combination of exercises, a good 3-day split effectively trains the whole body, building muscle mass and allowing enough recovery time to build strength. If you’re new to lifting, struggling with the 5-day body part split, or just looking to change things up, I’d suggest giving a 3-day split a try.

3-DAY SPLIT – PUSH, PULL, LEGS

The 3-Day Push-Pull-Legs split groups muscles together based on function. The muscles of the upper body are separated by push and pull functions and the lower body (legs) is trained as a whole.

UPPER BODY / PUSH – The muscles of the upper body responsible for pushing are the chest, shoulders and triceps.

UPPER BODY / PULL – The muscles of the upper body that pull are the back, biceps and traps.

LOWER BODY / LEGS – The muscles of the lower body (legs) include the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves.

If you notice a lack of abs in the above muscle groups, fear not. Doing a lot of compound lifts using free weights, core muscles (including abs) are worked hard. If you really want to annihilate your abs, simply add abdominal exercises to the end of any workout. 

Train hard every other day or 2 days on, 1 day off. For those better suited to more frequent workout days, this split is not limited to only 3-4 training days per week. Cycle through the workouts as quickly as you want, training the whole body as often as twice a week. Just keep in mind that with less rest days your strength and energy levels might suffer.

EXERCISE SELECTION

With a 3-Day Split, you want to maximize the effectiveness of the exercises selected. This means relying mostly on compound lifts which are superior for building overall strength, engaging your core muscles and improving inter-muscular coordination.

Compound lifts naturally group muscles together based on function. Therefore, grouping workouts in this way makes sense for a training split.

When selecting exercises, choose 1-2 compound lifts +1 isolation exercise for each of the larger muscles groups (chest, back, shoulders, quads). For smaller muscle groups (biceps, triceps, hamstrings) 1-2 exercises each (compound and/or isolation).

Here is an example of a Push, Pull, Legs split:

PUSH DAY Chest Barbell Bench Press (compound)
  Barbell Incline Press (compound)
  Cable Crossovers (isolation)
  Shoulders Barbell Overhead Press (compound)
  Dumbbell Side Laterals (isolation)
  Triceps Dips (compound)
 
PULL DAY Back Deadlifts –or- Bent Over Rows (compound)
  Wide Grip Pull Downs (compound)
  Hyperextensions (compound)
  Traps Shrugs (isolation)
  Biceps Barbell Preacher Curls (isolation)
  Dumbbell Curls (isolation)
 
LEGS DAY Glutes/Quads Barbell Back Squats (compound)
  Lunges (compound)
  Leg Extensions (isolation)
  Hamstrings Lying Leg Curls (isolation)
  Calves Calf Raises (isolation)

 

MAKING THE 3-DAY SPLIT WORK FOR YOU

The workouts of this 3-day split do not need to be the same each time through. Though I’d stick with a few essential exercises and use barbells as much as possible (see exercises highlighted in the demo video), feel free to employ a variety of exercises for each muscle group. Add exercises to address any specific goals or weak points you want to build up. Use the flexibility of the 3-day split to give more attention to these areas.

There is nothing stopping you from adjusting the order of your training days and rest days. For example, you can do Push, Legs, Pull with 1 rest day in between. I like this because it puts Squats (Legs) before Deadlifts (Pull). Deadlifts fatigue the lower back which takes a few days to recover from. Squats done too soon after Deadlifts and a fatigued lower back will negatively affect Squat performance. Changing the order of the workouts in this way allows plenty of time between Deadlifts and Squats. I encourage anyone to find what works for them and make adjustments to suit their needs.

As you cycle through a 3-day split, you can also vary the intensity and focus of your workouts. For example, one time through you may want to focus on strength, lifting heavy loads for less reps. Other times through you can focus on volume, with higher reps per set and more exercises overall.

Figuring out what works for you may also involve combining exercises differently for each training day. Try these variations on the 3-day split:

  • Chest & Back / Shoulders & Arms / Legs
  • Chest & Tricep / Back & Biceps / Legs & Shoulders

In summary, if you are new, looking for a routine that covers all the bases, or just need a change, give a 3-day split a try. I believe it offers something for everyone and is a great alternative to the 5-day body part split.


If you really want your training split to work for you, I suggest you keep a fresh supply of metal pumping into your earholes. The song used in the embedded video is a good choice. Check out “King of Days” by High On Fire.

 

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