Many experienced lifters and physique athletes who want to build muscle train 5 days a week, and some even train 6 days a week. But for many people, these higher frequency training schedules are not realistic. As a result, they want workouts that are still effective but only require 4 days a week, or in some cases minimalist programs that take even less time. If you want to spend only 4 days a week in the gym, you may be wondering what are the best 4 day training schedules. In today’s Burn the Fat Blog post, I answer a reader question about what is the best 4-day workout split. Read on and you’ll see over a half a dozen 4-days a week options, including some unique splits you may have never thought of before.
Q: Hi Tom. It seems a lot of the workout schedules for experienced lifters on your site require 5 days a week and when I search the internet I even see a lot of programs that require 6 days a week of lifting. Plus, a lot of them take a lot more than an hour. That’s not realistic for me. Those programs seem geared more toward bodybuilders and people with unlimited time or who don’t mind schedules where you train different days of the week. A lot of us have limited time and want to train only on weekdays so we have free recreation and family time on the weekends.
I’m 42, I’ve been lifting for over 20 years, and at this point I’m just trying to maintain the muscle I have and stay healthy. I’ve always wanted to build more muscle, but today my life revolves around my family and work, and I fit in my workouts where I can. I used to do a 3 day split and hit the gym 5 days per week, but at the moment can’t commit to it. I tried lifting 6 days per week before but that burned me out.
I’d prefer to train 4 days a week, like your TNB upper body-lower body split, but I like 3 and 4 day splits better than 2 day splits. With body part splits, I feel as if my intensity is higher and my focus is better. I also like training only one or two major muscles per session instead of my whole upper body all at once.
So here’s my question. What are some of the best alternative options for 4 days per week training that are not upper-lower splits? I did your TNB upper-lower split with good results for a long time, but I ‘m looking for something different now.
There Many Great Options For 4-Days Per Week Workout Schedules
A: There are a lot of great options for 4 days per week lifting program, including 3-day and 4-day splits, maybe more than you realize if you think out of the box a little. But before I list some of the lesser known options, let’s backtrack to the popular 2-day split.
Actually, most of our blog readers and Inner Circle members aren’t competitive bodybuilders, they don’t have unlimited time, and most of our members with lifting experience do a 2-day split, which usually requires 4 sessions a week. (Each muscle is worked twice a week). All the TNB workouts in our members area as well as the 2-day split in the Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle book are 4 days a week workouts. In fact, 4 workouts a week is one of the most popular lifting schedules for all recreational lifters.
Usually it’s bodybuilders and serious advanced lifters who train 5 to 6 days a week, and not many people can handle lifting 6 days a week all the time, even bodybuilders. 4 days a week of lifting can be a very effective way to train, and depending on the split you choose and how much volume you use, it can be as effective as higher frequencies, but more practical. The upper – lower split is one of the most popular ways to set up a 4 day workout.
One alternative option is to keep the 4 days per week frequency, but change how you group the body parts together on the 2-day split. The upper-lower split is one of the most popular, but it has pros and cons. A possible downside of the upper-lower split is that when you have aesthetic physique goals, you usually train small muscle groups directly including biceps, triceps, forearms, rear deltoids, traps, and calves. You even do specific exercises to target both upper and lower pecs, front and side deltoid, and multiple back muscles. That can make training the entire upper body in one day time consuming.
This is why so many bodybuilders use 3, 4 and even occasionally, 5 day splits. To give more attention to all these small muscles and different sections of large muscles, they usually only want to train 2 or 3 body parts per workout, and sometimes only one major body part and one minor body part (using multiple exercises). But there are different ways you can set up a 2-day split than upper-lower split while still training only 4 days a week. Here are some examples:
Alternative 2-Day Split Routines (4 Days A Week Workout)
Classic 2-Day Split Push Pull
Day 1: Legs, back, biceps
Day 2: Chest, shoulders, triceps, abs
This is the classic way to do a 2-day push-pull split. Technically, it is not a pure push-pull split because quads are pushing muscles, but this doesn’t create any interference in recovery between the two days. If there’s a downside, it’s that legs and back are the two biggest muscle groups in the body and the most taxing to train, which makes this a tough workout if you do a lot of sets and exercises, especially compound exercises.
Pure 2-Day Split Push Pull:
Day 1: Hams, back, biceps, abs
Day 2: Quads, chest, shoulders, triceps
This is a pure push-pull split because nothing but pulling exercises are done on day 1. At first, some people find it strange to split up the lower body and do quads and hams on different days, but it’s a popular approach. By the way, sometimes we write “hams” as the body part, but make a note that this may include glutes and the entire posterior chain, including exercises like hyperextensions, Romanian deadlifts, and hip thrusts. The body part groupings make sense because when you’re working your posterior chain, you are also working your back (upper and lower).
2-Day Split Push-Pull (Legs And Back Option)
Day 1: Legs, back
Day 2: Chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps, abs
This is simply a minor variation on the push-pull splits listed above. Legs and back only are done on day 1. Again, if there’s a downside, it’s that legs and back are the two body parts that take the most energy and effort to train, so it’s a fatiguing workout if you do a lot of sets and exercises. Plus if you do squats, Romanian deadlifts and bent over rows, that can be taxing on the lower back. However, the division of body parts is fairly even. The pull day includes quads, hams, glutes/posterior chain, calves, and back. That’s 5 muscle groups. The push day includes, chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps, and abs, which is also 5 muscle groups. That’s a perfectly even split for number of muscles trained.
2-Day Split (Legs, Arms)
Day 1: Legs, biceps, triceps
Day 2: Chest, back, shoulders, abs
Some people find it odd to do legs and then arms on the same day, but it makes a lot of sense from an energy allocation point of view. Everyone knows leg day is tough. So if you’re going to train something else after legs, why not train two of the smallest muscle groups that require the least energy? Plus there is zero interference because the leg training does not reduce performance of arm training in any way (except that you might be a little tired overall after finishing legs.
This is only a handful of many possibilities for a 2-day split where you train 4 days a week (each muscle is worked twice a week). You do not have to divide the body parts into upper body day and lower body days unless you want to. Be creative. Think out of the box and you can come up with many options for 4-days a week training schedules that work for you.
You can also customize the weekly schedule and choose the days of the week you want to train. If you want the weekends off, the standard schedule looks like this:
2-Day Split With Weekends Off (4 Day Workout Schedule)
If you don’t mind training one day on the weekend, here’s a popular 4-day workout routine:
Minimalist 2-Day Split Routines (4 Days A Week)
Minimalist 2-Day Split
Day 1: Quads, hamstrings/posterior chain, back (lower body / pull)
Day 2: Chest, shoulders, abs (upper body / abs)
As a bodybuilder, I wouldn’t think of doing any training program without working every muscle in my body, including the smaller muscles like biceps, triceps, forearms, calves, traps and rear delts. One reason is because I am always seeking balanced and aesthetic physique development. Another is because I enjoy training arms (and so do a lot of other people). A third is because I have plenty of time for longer training sessions.
However, people who are not physique athletes (they are training for general fitness and health), who have time limitations often complain that many of the classic muscle-building workout splits take too long to complete. One solution is to use minimalist routines that skip training the smaller body parts directly and focus only on big muscles compound exercises.
Even when you only train large muscle compound movements, the small muscles are not completely neglected. For example, when you do any pushing exercise (chest press or shoulder press), your triceps are also working. The stimulus is indirect but it’s enough to achieve some muscle growth. When you do pulling exercises like rows and especially chin ups, your biceps are also still getting some work.
This is why many coaches recommend minimalist split routines for their busy general population clients. The number of exercises may also be reduced. A minimalist workout might include as few as 3 to 4 exercises, which does not take much time to finish.
Minimalist 2-Day Split Routines (3 Days A Week)
Minimalist 2-Day Split
Day 1: Quads, hamstrings/posterior chain, back (lower body / pull)
Day 2: Chest, shoulders, abs (upper body / abs)
Minimalist training can be taken even further by reducing the frequency of the workouts to only 3 days per week. A schedule might look like this:
Minimalist 2-Day Split (3 Days A Week)
On this schedule, you can train the same 3 days a week, but every other week, the workouts will rotate. On Monday of the second week, you pick up with the day 2 workout and then continue this rotating cycle.
You can also customize what days of the week you train. If you prefer, you could make one of your weekend days a training day. It might look like this:
Minimalist 2-Day Split With Weekend Training (3 Days A Week)
If your life ever becomes extremely busy for a short time, you can get even more minimalist and train only 2 days a week. Make no mistake, you will not achieve maximum muscle gains with only 2 workouts per week, but you can easily maintain the muscle you have and even continue to make small gains. It is much better to keep training on minimalist workouts than to stop completely, using the excuse that you “have no time.” Remember, training is never an all or nothing proposition:
Learn more about minimalist training and see a half a dozen sample routines at the link below:
2 Days A Week “Minimalist” Training: Full-Body Muscle-Building Workouts For Busy People (Member’s-Area)
Training 4 Days a Week On a 3-Day Split
Probably the second most popular 4 days a week workout schedule is a 3-day split such as the 3-day classic muscle or Push-Pull-Legs split. This is the push-pull-legs split:
Day 1: Chest, shoulders, triceps
Day 2: Legs
Day 3: Back, biceps, abs
Most lifters who use this routine are physique athletes or advanced trainees who lift 5 days a week. Occasionally someone with lots of time and excellent recovery ability might run it 6 days a week. However, using a 3-day split while training only 4 days a week is an excellent option. Here’s an example:
3-Day Push-Pull-Legs Split (4 Days A Week)
This is a great 4-day workout schedule. You can train the same days every week, but not every Monday will be chest day. You will need to rotate what body parts are trained for a few weeks, then repeat the cycle. And once again, you can move the days around the week to suit your schedule (train on a weekend day if you prefer).
Training 4 Days a Week On a Hybrid Split
A hybrid split is yet another option, and it’s a great one if you’re open to something unconventional. Most people don’t consider this split because it’s not intuitive. The 3/1 hybrid split involves doing 3 body part workouts and one full body workout.
For the 3-day part of the schedule, you can use a Push-Pull-Legs or a Classic Muscle split. Below you can see the Classic Muscle version which allows you to antagonist superset, so it can be very time efficient:
3/1 Hybrid Split – Classic Muscle/Full Body (4 Days A Week)
With this unique split, you still hit each muscle twice a week and it’s not difficult to hit as many as 10 to 12 sets per major muscle per week while workouts stay around an hour or less. If you took a lower volume minimalist approach, or used all supersets, you could finish these workouts in 40 minutes or less.
If you preferred, you could do a 3/1 Hybrid schedule using the Push-Pull-Legs split for the 3-day part of the workout. Also, once again, the weekly schedule can be customized for either one of these 3/1 Hybrid splits. You can change the days of the week you train (train on a weekend if you like). You can even change the order of the body parts if you like. Make Monday the leg day for example. Or, make Monday the full body day, then do the 3 day split portion on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
Although I haven’t tried this variation yet, you could even could even do 1 lower body, 1 upper body, and 2 full body workouts. It might look like this:
2/2 Hybrid Split – Full Body/Upper-Lower/Full Body (4 Days A Week)
Specialization Training On A Hybrid Split (4 Days A Week)
The standard practice in resistance training is to aim for doing an even amount of work for all muscle groups (only slightly less for small muscles), but another option is to intentionally skew your workload toward body parts you want to give extra attention.
Below, you’ll see two examples, for upper and lower body, respectively.
3/1 Hybrid Split – Upper Body Specialization (4 Days A Week)
On this split, upper body is trained 3 days a week, while lower body is only trained 2 times per week. Not only does this skew the workload to upper body, the body parts trained each day can be customized for the areas you want to work on the most. For example if it’s only your deltoids that are lagging behind and you want to specialize on them, you could hit those shoulder muscles 3 times per week, while hitting the rest of the upper body only 2 times per week (one of the upper body days becomes a high volume shoulder workout).
3/1 Hybrid Split – Lower Body Specialization (4 Days A Week)
On this split, lower body is trained 3 days a week, while upper body is only trained 2 times per week, with only 4 workouts per week. This type of program is popular with female physique athletes and bikini athletes who want to spend extra time working on the lower body, sometimes even using one of the lower body workouts entirely for glutes and hip dominant lower body exercises. (Though most competitive physique athletes train 5 or even 6 days a week).
This type of workout schedule will work well for any man or woman who wants to give extra time and effort to the lower body. The best part is, due to the unique schedule where a full body workout is part of the program, it doesn’t take an extra day or two per week of training to do it. Using this schedule, lower body specialization is achieved with 4 workouts per week.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to list all the possibilities for specialization training. We’ll cover that in upcoming Burn the Fat Inner Circle members-only training features, one workout program at a time, complete with specific exercise suggestions and every training variable in detail. But for now, this should at least get the wheels turning in your head for split routine schedule options including hybrid and specialization programs.
Training 4 Days a Week On A “Bro Split” (Each Muscle Trained Once Per week)
There’s one 4 day workout program that’s very effective but might not be quite as popular as a 2-day split or 3-day split as it used to be. That is, a 4-day split with only 4 training days per week. By definition, that means each muscle is only trained once per week. The reason this is not as common anymore is because over the last decade, studies have suggested that training each muscle twice a week is more effective for hypertrophy than training each muscle only once a week.
This may or may not be true, depending on certain variables. But before we discuss that controversy in more detail below, let’s see what this kind of weekly schedule might look like. There are at least a dozen different ways you can split up your body parts. There are also many ways you can organize this schedule across the calendar week (which days you train). For the sake of brevity, we’ll look at one popular example which uses an upper push, upper pull, shoulders, legs body part grouping):
4 Days A Week 4-day split – Push-Pull-Shoulders-Legs
Many advocates of the twice weekly training frequency argue that bodybuilders who still do body part split routines that only work each muscle once a week are “bros” who don’t follow the science. (Which is why body part split routines that only work each muscle once a week are humorously known as “bro splits.”) Some insist you must train each muscle at least twice a week or you leave gains on the table.
It’s probably true that an optimal frequency is more than once a week for each muscle group if you want to pursue 100% of the possible maximum gains. However, while anecdotal, it’s also true that a large number of top bodybuilders train each muscle only once a week and thrive on it. Research supports this as well.
In a 2013 study (Hackett et al) a research group followed 127 competitive bodybuilders and found that twice a week (on a 3-day split) frequencies as well as once a week (5 day split) frequencies were both used by successful athletes. In fact, they noted that 7 out of 10 elite bodybuilders in their sample reported working each muscle once per week. It may be anecdotal evidence, but it’s also convincing.
If there’s some scientific evidence saying that working each muscle twice a week is better, but champion bodybuilders succeed on lower frequencies, how do we explain this apparent contradiction? Newer research revealed that training each muscle group more times per week makes it easier to do more total volume (sets) per week. More volume is associated with more muscle growth.
A meta analysis published in 2018 in the Journal of Sports Science (Schoenfeld et al) found that as long as the weekly volume is matched, the training frequency doesn’t seem to matter that much. Twice a week, once a week, or any point in between, the muscle growth is about the same.
Here’s an example:
Schedule A: 2 day split, train 4 days a week, do 6 sets per body part on major muscles each workout = 12 sets per week
Schedule B: 4 day split, train 4 days a week, do 6 sets per body part on major muscles each workout = 6 sets per week
Who gains more muscle, lifters following schedule A or schedule B? This is easy. Naturally, the group that did more total work per week – the 12 sets per week group, which was the twice a week schedule. They did twice as many sets for the week! It’s not even fair to compare these schedules for the effect on growth because weekly volume was not equalized.
Now consider this second example:
Schedule A: 2 day split, train 4 days a week, do 6 sets per body part on big muscles each workout = 12 sets per week
Schedule B: 4 day split, train 4 days a week, do 12 sets per body part on big muscles each workout = 12 sets per week
In this case, we should expect the results will be approximately the same. And based on anecdotal evidence and personal experience, there are countless examples of bodybuilders who got jacked hitting each muscle only once a week.
There are some downsides to working each muscle only once a week with more sets in one workout (like 12 sets or more). One is that muscle damage may be greater, and this can cause more muscle soreness. It’s also true that most of the muscle gains are triggered by the initial sets in the workout, and continuing to add more sets increases gains at a diminishing rate of return.
But based on recent science, training each muscle only once a week is still a good option, as long as you do enough total weekly sets to optimize gains. In addition, an upside to working each muscle only once a week is that some people enjoy it more. When you use a program you like, you’re likely to have better adherence and that alone can lead to better gains.
Should You Train Each Muscle Once Or Twice A Week?
Additional Time Saving Techniques For Busy People
One of the reasons people choose to train only 4 days a week is they are limited on time. Using a 4-days per week workout schedule is a good idea for experienced lifters who are busy. Programs that require 5 or 6 days a week can start to feel difficult to sustain for busy people.
In addition, you can use time efficiency techniques including the following:
2. Drop Sets
3. Rest pause sets
4. Shorter rest intervals
5. Minimalist warm ups (specific warm up only)
To learn everything there is to know about time efficient training tactics, visit our efficiency training guide here:
The Complete Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle Time Efficient Training Guide
Conclusion And What Next?
There are so many variations on 4-day training schedules that you should only consider this an introduction. If I included every possible 4 days a week training schedule variation, this article would scroll on for pages and pages.
In addition, this article was written only to show you the split routines, body part grouping options, and weekly training schedules. This has given you the chance to choose a 4-days per week training schedule framework, but for a complete workout plan, you have to fill in a lot more details.
In upcoming features through the rest of this year and into early next year, I will be posting complete workouts including guidelines for exercises, sets, reps, periodization plans, progression plans, additional weekly schedule options, and every other training variable.
I’ll post these first as brief featured articles and blog posts, and based on member feedback, I’ll make the most popular complete workout plans available for download in the Inner Circle members only area (and available for non-members to purchase in the Inner Circle store). At the moment the first new training programs we expect to release are the 3/1 hybrid program (4 days a week), the 3-day split (4 days a week), and the 4 day split program (4 days a week). Please send us your feedback if there’s another type of training program you’d like to see next.
I hope this was helpful, and I hope you stay tuned for all the new training instruction and workout programs we have coming soon. If you’re a Burn the Fat Inner Circle member and you have questions about how to customize any of these 4-day programs or you want ideas for exercises and training variables, contact me or post in the members-only forum at the link below and I’ll be here to help you get started asap.
Train hard and expect success!
-Tom Venuto, Author of, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle (BFFM)
Author, The BFFM Guide To Flexible Meal Planning For Fat Loss
Founder, Burn the Fat Inner Circle
PS. Are you serious about training and building muscle, but limited on time? Do you want a muscle building training program that only requires 4 short workouts per week? If so, by far the most time-efficient, scientifically-proven training program we’ve ever released is The New Body (TNB) TURBO Visit this link to learn more about TNB TURBO
About Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is a natural bodybuilding and fat loss coach. He is also a recipe creator specializing in fat-burning, muscle-building cooking. Tom is a former competitive bodybuilder and is today a full-time fitness writer, blogger, and author. His book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle is an international bestseller, first as an ebook and now as a hardcover and audiobook. The Body Fat Solution, Tom’s book about emotional eating and long-term weight maintenance, was an Oprah Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine pick. Tom is also the founder of Burn The Fat Inner Circle – a fitness support community with over 52,000 members worldwide since 2006. Click here for membership details
Great article Tom. I’m always constantly worrying about if I’m doing the right split etc….Need to just focus on the basics, and I’m going to stick with a 4 day split Chest + Tri, Back + Bi, Shoulders +Traps & Legs. I love this split, I’m always pumped to do it, shouldn’t care if it’s “Optimal”, just enjoy it and give it my all each and every workout.
Thats a GREAT split!