The 4-day split workout is the most popular split among beginning and advanced lifters alike. A significant reason that it’s so popular is because it can be tailored to fit nearly any goal while still allowing you the ability to recover while working hard. It was once thought impossible to work your entire body in only four days a week, but this isn’t true. In this routine, you train each muscle group (chest, back, shoulders, arms) just once per week.
When splitting up your routine into four different days, it’s important that you have a lower and an upper day. If you start deviating from these two days, then one of your body parts will be overtrained before the next session has even begun. You can also use more than one of these splits, but things become difficult once again if you combine chest with shoulders or back with biceps because they are antagonistic muscles (work against each other).
There are several reasons why the 4-day split is the preferred way to train by many elite bodybuilders.
The first one, as mentioned before, is that it allows you to entirely focus on each muscle group without having to worry about any other muscle groups (like legs). This means if you choose to work chest and back together, then instead of doing deadlifts, you can do bent-over rows for your lower back because your chest will be fully rested after hitting it hard with bench presses. This way, you can stimulate more growth since each antagonistic pair (like biceps and triceps) are given enough time to recover, so they don’t grow weaker at the same rate.
The second reason is that this type of workout schedule has been proven to stimulate more growth hormone and testosterone production, which aids in muscle growth. These two hormones peak during the day as you sleep. This is why most people do morning workouts since they allow you to take advantage of this spike in anabolic hormones (which will be explained later).
Finally, a four-day split allows you to focus your supplements on the days that need them most (i.e., if your goal is fat loss, then don’t take creatine on leg day). This makes it easier for people who forget things like taking their fish oils or drinking protein shakes.
Also read: 5 dumbbell chest exercises without bench
Benefits of a 4-day workout split
A training split allows you to target specific muscles on specific days, which reduces the amount of sheer volume your body is under. This means that your muscles get more time to recover while you aren’t in the gym.
Improved nutritional intake
While a 4-day workout split might have one or two back-to-back days where you’re going straight from chest to back, for example, it also has a bunch of rest days sprinkled throughout. This gives you plenty of time to eat and recover so that when you come back into the gym, you have all cylinders firing and can attack those muscles with full intensity.
Most people love being in the gym every day because they feel as though they’re “earning their rest.” The truth of it is, having a lot of time off can be just as rewarding as being in the gym 5 days a week. Just because you aren’t active for 3 out of 7 days doesn’t mean that those 3 days are less important than your gym days.
When you have a 4-day workout split, most of your weeks won’t start until Monday and will end on Fridays or Saturdays, depending on how long you plan to spend in the gym. This gives you an entire weekend to rest up from your week and get ready for another one where Monday feels like Saturday.
Improved focus in the gym
One thing about many lifters is they typically care more about what they do outside the gym than inside it. This means that they are coming into the gym most of the time tired or unfocused because their minds are elsewhere. Having a 4-day split allows you to spend 3 days away from the gym focusing on life’s responsibilities and rejuvenating your mind so that when Monday rolls around, you’re ready to smash some PRs!
Easier to track your gains
When you have a weekly training schedule for an entire week versus being preoccupied with thoughts of “what am I going to work today?” Having a 4-day workout split makes it easier to track your gains over time since each day is dedicated to different muscle groups.
How to optimally program exercises sor a 4-day workout split
In today’s physical fitness industry, there is no perfect workout or training split. This is because our body adapts to stress very quickly, and thus the effectiveness of a given training program will decrease over time. A new stimulus must be introduced at least every 8 weeks for continued success in gaining strength, size, and/or endurance. This section will teach you how to optimally progress an exercise within a 4-day workout split while considering that some exercises need more recovery than others. It will also touch upon the role intensity plays in exercise progression and how to properly structure your sequence of exercises for maximal results with minimal fatigue. Additionally, we will provide several examples of proper exercise programming based on different goals (strength vs. hypertrophy vs. endurance).
The only and most important factor in determining exercise progression is: Intensity (i.e., weight on the bar).
Intensity, not sets and reps or time under tension or anything else, makes ALL the difference when it comes to gaining strength, size and/or endurance. All of these factors are relevant, but they will play a minimal role compared to intensity if you want to gain as much muscle as possible. Why? Here’s your answer:
Our body adapts very quickly to stress of any kind. Guess what happens after you have been training for a few months? You stop progressing! The key to avoiding stagnation is following the aforementioned red line (i.e., intensity) and ensuring that your body is constantly exposed to the stress of increased magnitude to avoid accommodation.
Keep in mind that exercise selection also plays a relatively small role when you compare it with intensity because Your goal determines the choice of exercises. If your goal is strength, hypertrophy, or muscular endurance, specific exercises for these goals will be more effective than others. This means that you could do pretty much any movement on Day 1 and 3-4 for maximal results at one point or another, but not necessarily so if your aim was something else than strength/hypertrophy/endurance gains.
That’s not to say that the exercises you choose for a given workout should be random. If your goal is hypertrophy, you still want to do mostly compound movements because they offer significant benefits over isolation exercises. However, the exercise selection will be less important than its intensity and progression scheme (sequencing of exercises).
Let’s take an example of someone whose primary goal is strength, and thus he spends the majority of his time training in the 3-5 rep range:
This person does squats on Day 1 and 2 and bench press on Day 4. Each movement gets 3 sets of 5 reps (15 reps total) using near-maximal intensity (i.e., 90%+1 rep max, that is to say, doing at least 5 reps in the final set). This person lifted 225 lbs for 180 lbs x 5, 195 lbs for 165 lbs x5, 175 lbs for 155 lbs x5 respectively.
Why does this apply?
This example represents the most time-efficient and optimal progression scheme for strength training. When you do sets of 3 with maximal effort (or more than 5 reps on the last set), it activates your central nervous system (CNS) like nothing else, which means that you will be much stronger on your next workout. This also keeps the fatigue to a minimum which is very important for strength training because the lower it is, the less tired your muscles are. This allows you to use every bit of your muscle potential throughout the workout – doing more reps on later sets or multiple sets with sub-maximal weight.
RPE note: If you do not have a heart rate monitor, don’t worry. You can estimate intensity using perceived exertion. Just make sure that all weights are done with maximal effort and take 3 minutes of rest between sets. The scale goes from 1 to 10, where 1 is easy, and 10 is near-impossible to do . It’s simple – if you feel like you could have done another rep at the end of the set, it’s between 1-5. If you could not do another rep, it’s 6+. Between 3 and 5 is the sweet spot where every set should be done to get maximum benefit in minimal time.
Let’s take an example of someone whose primary goal is muscle gain or transitioning from a cutting phase to amassing phase:
This person does squats on days 1 and 3, bench press on day 2, and deadlift on day 4. Each movement gets 5 sets of 10 reps (50 reps total) using moderate intensity (i.e., 70%1RM). This person lifted 225 lbs for 160 lbs x 10, 200 lbs for 170lbs x10, 250 lbs for 180lbsx10 respectively.
Why does this apply?
This is a very simple example to show what can happen in a less experienced trainee who has not developed good technique or stabilizing muscles yet. When volume jumps from too low to too high, an injury will occur when going from squatting twice a week with lightweight to 3 times a week with heavier weight. The key is not the number of times you do something but the lifted volume. Volume (sets x reps) shows us how much work you are doing and thus how much stimulus your muscles are getting.
Let’s take an example of someone whose primary goal is hypertrophy or muscular endurance:
This person does squats on Day 1 and 2 and bench press on Day 4. Each movement gets 3 sets of 10 reps (30 reps total) using moderate intensity (i.e., 70%1RM). This person lifted 225 lbs for 160 lbs x 10, 170 lbs for 150 lbs x 10, 180 lbs for 160lbsx10 respectively.
Why does this apply?
The hypertrophy range is 8-12 reps. Thus, you will be limited if your intensity is too high because the moment it becomes maximal or near-maximal, you hit a wall at around 6 reps (about 90%1RM), which means that there is no more motor unit activation left in this rep range for further growth. You could do 15+ reps with light weights, but this would not be optimal because fatigue would become too high by doing so. Keping fatigue low while getting volume has been shown to lead to more significant hypertrophy than just grinding out every set until failure. Furthermore, when using lighter weights at higher repetitions, you need more sets to get the same cumulative exposure to stress which increases time spent training without increasing the stimulus to your muscles.
How many Reps?
The optimal number of reps in a set is between 6-12. Anything outside this range will increase fatigue for no additional growth in muscle tissue. A trainee’s goal may not be hypertrophy but strength development. So, anything within that hypertrophy zone is fair game as long as they do things correctly and not overtrain systematically or locally. This means that if someone wants to lift heavy weights to gain strength, they should do low reps (1-5) instead of the same range outlined above when hypertrophy is the goal.
How many sets?
Per exercise, looking at only one day, only 3-5 sets is all that is needed to stimulate growth – not bore yourself out with more than this. There are several reasons as to why this occurs:
- To stimulate muscle gain, you need to exceed its current state, and thus doing more than what it’s used to will lead to increased fiber recruitment which leads to more significant growth over time.
- By using a moderate intensity (70%1RM), an average of about 8 repetitions per set can be achieved, and if we take a 1-2 minutes rest between sets, each set is taking 5 minutes or less.
This means that the entire exercise will take an average of 15 minutes. With this in mind, who can’t spare 15 minutes to stimulate growth? In fact, you could even make the case that if the person wanted maximal results over minimal time, they should do all their exercises for each body part at once and not spread things out over 4 different days because better stimulation has been shown to lead to bigger gains.
Doing an exercise 3 times a week is optimal. It allows a trainee enough frequency to recover and gives them more than enough cumulative volume on that movement per week, leading to maximal growth over time. This is only regarding one exercise per body part. Multiple exercises should be done in a workout when the goal is strength development.
When looking at all 4 exercise days together, you need around 1-2 minutes rest between sets to keep fatigue low and thus keep volume high. According to research, you shouldn’t have too many sets that take longer than 10 minutes, which is the maximum amount of time a trainee can spend in the gym daily. This would mean that an entire workout should last no more than 30 minutes. One benefit of splitting the body into four parts instead of two is that this short duration can be done even if each muscle group takes 20+ minutes to train. This is because only 60% of the total weekly volume will be done on any given day – leaving plenty of time for everything else (reading, eating, etc.) while stimulating growth and strength simultaneously.
The ultimate 4-day workout split for mass and strength
1. Monday – Chest/Tris
2. Tuesday – Back/Abs
3. Thursday – Shoulders/Legs
4. Friday – Chest/Tris (repeat)
Monday: Chest & Triceps
- Flat barbell bench press: 1×12 warmup, 4 sets of 8-10 reps
- Incline barbell bench press: 3 sets x 10 reps
- Flat dumbbell flyes: 3 sets x 10 reps
- Close grip bench press (on the floor): 5 sets of 6-8 reps. The last set is to be done to failure.
- Cable pushdowns (straight bar): 3 sets x 10 reps
- Tricep pressdown (rope handle): 5 sets of 6-8 reps. The last set is to be done to failure.
Tuesday: Back & Biceps
- Deadlift: 1×12 warmup, 4 sets of 8 reps (switch between a pronated grip and a supinated grip, resting 60 seconds in between sets)
- Seated cable rows: 4 sets x 10 reps
- Incline dumbbell flyes: 3 sets x 10 reps
- Bicep curls (reverse grip): 5 sets of 6-8 reps. The last set is to be done to failure.
- Concentration curl: 5 sets of 6-8 reps. The last set is to be done to failure.
Thursday: Shoulders & Legs
- Military press (standing with barbell): 1×12 warmup, 4 sets of 8 reps (switch between a pronated grip and an underhand grip resting 60 seconds in between sets)
- Lateral dumbbell raises: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Upright rows (barbell): 4 sets x 10 reps
- Seated calf raise: 3 x 20, last set is to be done to failure.
Friday: Repeat Monday workout
Saturday and Sunday are off days. This workout is designed for mass and strength so that growth may come slowly at first, but within 6 weeks of starting this program, you should notice some significant results in size and strength. Most gyms will not have the equipment required for this workout plan.
4 day split workout for muscle and weight loss
Each muscle group is worked every 5-7 days to allow for proper healing and growth of the muscle. For example, chest and triceps may be trained on Monday, while back and biceps are trained on Wednesday. 3 days later (Friday), legs are trained, followed by shoulders and traps on Sunday. This allows for maximum recuperation time between workouts by staggering these major muscle groups so that each one has at least 2-3 days of rest before being hit again. Resting this long also prevents overtraining by not allowing your muscles to be constantly worn down from resistance exercises.
Combining several muscle groups into one workout is less effective at stimulating growth. Usually, only the larger muscle groups are combined to save time, such as back and chest or quads and hamstrings. The smaller muscle groups that assist in these exercises (biceps, triceps for chest/back; lateral/medial deltoids, rotator cuff muscles for shoulders) are trained separately with their workouts. This keeps things simple to avoid confusion when trying to hit each muscle group once every 5-7 days.
4 day split workout for strength
The workout plan consists of 2 full-body workouts and 2 assistance “arm” days. It’s probably not the best split for bulking up, but it has been found that this is the best routine for me in terms of strength and endurance. By splitting the workouts into 4 days instead of 3 (or 5 like some people usually do), you can train more often and therefore progress faster since you will be hitting each muscle more frequently.
The first workout will be the one that directly hits the legs, back, and shoulders. This is usually what people would term as a “leg day”. It consists of squats, deadlifts, stiff-legged deadlifts, barbell rows, seated cable rows, and standing military press.
The second assistance workout is designed to hit the biceps, triceps, and forearms. This workout consists of exercises like barbell curls (both close-grip and wide-grip), cable pushdowns, skull crushers (lying on a bench with your arms extended and a weight in your hand, lift the weight up while keeping your upper arms fixed and lower the weight down to touch your forehead), dumbbell hammer curls and reverse cable pushdowns.
The third workout will be designed to directly hit the chest, shoulders, and back. It consists of exercises like bench press (both close-grip and wide-grip), dumbbell shoulder press, cable crossovers (lying on a bench with your arms extended and a weight in each hand; while keeping your upper arms fixed, move the weights down while squeezing your chest together then slowly extend your arms to get back to the starting position) and bent over barbell rows.
The last workout will be designed to hit the legs, biceps, and forearms. It consists of exercises like barbell squats, one-arm dumbbell rows, seated preacher curls (using a preacher bench with a dumbbell in each hand; start with your arms extended then slowly curl one arm up at a time while keeping your upper arms fixed), standing alternate dumbbell curls and reverse wrist curl on a bench.
As for the sets and reps, it is advised you stick with 3 sets of 5 reps on all exercises unless you’re using a really heavyweight where you will do 1-2 warm-up sets then 3 x 4 followed by 2 x 2 at the heaviest weight. On isolation exercises, use 3 sets of 12 reps.
All of us have a different life and a unique lifestyle. This often determines the daily activities we engage in. Since most people work, this is an important factor to consider for their fitness goals. That being said, it is not always feasible to go to the gym every day due to time constraints or other reasons. A 4 Day Split Workout can be a great way to maintain fitness in such situations.
One common issue with working out every day is the risk of overtraining or injuring oneself through high-intensity exercises, especially if one is not used to regular exercise. Thus, it would often be more efficient to work out four times a week instead of trying to push one’s body to the limit every day. This can be done through a 4 day split workout.
Also read: The best 3 day split workouts