Upper Lower Split: What They Are and When They’re Useful

Upper Lower Split: What They Are and When They’re Useful

Whether you’re a coach or an athlete, before you select what exercises to do in any given training session, it’s best to determine how you’re going to allot each movement pattern in any given training session

In other words, consider the six movement patterns first–squat, bend, lunge, push, pull and core—and then decide how best to break them up each week depending on your client’s needs and training history. 

What's the best training split?

  • Beginners: Generally speaking, for beginner clients—meaning clients with less than two years of experience—full body resistance workouts are usually a good place to start. This means each day, these clients will be exposed to a variety of the six movement patterns, as the main goal for beginners—who are often only training twice or three days a week—is to develop motor control by spending time under tension in the various movement patterns.

  • Advanced: Advanced clients, on the other hand—clients with years of experience or who are training for a specific sport—generally need a much more specific training program. Sometimes this means devoting an entire training session, for example, to the bend movement pattern, which they have time to do as they’re often training six days a week. 

  • Intermediate: In the middle are the intermediate clients—those with more than two years of training experience, who are training at least four days a week and have perhaps hit a plateau from following a full body resistance training program. For these clients, often following an Upper Lower split is the way forward. Doing so allows them to spend more time, and make specific gains, in each movement pattern.

Upper Lower Split defined

An Upper Lower split training program involves spending one training session on the upper body, focusing predominantly on the push and pull patterns, and the following training session on the lower body, focusing predominantly on the lunge, bend and squat patterns. In this sense, these clients can spend two days a week on the upper body and two days a week on the lower body, giving them ample rest and recovery in between each upper and lower body training day.

Note: The core movement pattern can, and should, still be sprinkled into both upper and lower training sessions.

Sample Upper Lower Split

Oftentimes, clients doing an Upper Lower split will train four days per week. Here’s an example of how to organize a training week using this split.

Monday - Upper

Tuesday - Lower

Wednesday - Active Recovery

Thursday - Upper

Friday - Lower

Saturday - Active Recovery

Sunday - Rest

Benefits of an upper lower split

Upper Lower training is great for maximizing strength gains—as well as muscle mass gains (hypertrophy)—as splitting sessions into upper and lower body-focused ones allows both for more training and recovery, because your upper body rests as your lower body is working and vice versa. In this sense, it's an efficient way to train for the intermediate athlete looking to continue to see improvements. 

Further, the Upper Lower split also allows the client to devote more time to an area, or movement pattern, that might be weaker and requires more attention. 

Putting it together: Once you have decided to create an Upper Lower split training program, it’s now time to select the movements to include on each day, each week. 

sample Upper body training session

A1. Dumbbell Bench Press @3111, 5 reps x 3 sets; rest 90 seconds

A2. Pendlay Row @3111, 8 reps x 3 sets; rest 90 seconds

B1. Seated Dumbbell Press @3113, 5 reps x 3 sets; rest 90 seconds

B2. Pull Up @3113, 4-6 reps x 3 sets; rest 90 seconds

C1. Dumbbell Bicep Curl @2020, 10-15 reps x 3 sets; rest 60 seconds

C2. Banded Lat Pulldown @2021, 20-25 reps x 3 sets; rest 60 seconds

C3. Ring Plank Hold, 45-60 seconds x 3 sets; rest 60 seconds

Sample Lower body training session

A1. Back Squat @3111, 5 reps x 3 sets; rest 90 seconds

A2. Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift @3030, 8 reps x 3 sets; rest 90 seconds

B1. Front Rack Dumbbell Step Up @2010, 6/6 reps x 3 sets; rest 90 seconds

B2. Russian Kettlebell Swing, 20 reps x 3 sets; rest 90 seconds

C1. Superman Hold, 30 seconds x 3 sets, rest 60 seconds

C2. Banded Glute Bridges: 20 reps x 3 sets; rest 60 seconds

C3. Hollow Hold, 60 second hold x 3 sets; rest 60 seconds

LEARN HOW TO WRITE TRAINING PROGRAMS THAT GET RESULTS

Choosing the correct training split is only a small part of designing training programs.

In fact, while an Upper Lower split may be ideal for those with an intermediate training age, sometimes individual schedules and resources make this unrealistic.

The best training split is the one that the individual can stick to. 

That’s where the art of coaching comes into play.

Sign up for our Free Fitness Coaching Course, and start refining your assessment, program design, nutrition, and life coaching skills today.

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