Best 4 Day Workout Split: Upper Lower & Strength (Lean Muscle Secret)

Workout Routines | Written by Nathan | Updated on 7 October 2022

A 4 day workout split collage has four different images where the top left is a man performing dumbbell curls with a towel draped over his neck, the top right is a man in blue shoes at the bottom of a squat, the bottom left has a couple doing plans while wearing a mask, and the bottom right a fit woman is doing bilateral waves with a rope.

The 4 day workout split the perfect middle ground between low and high-volume programs that either require long training sessions for enough stimulus or do not provide enough time to recover between training sessions.

In addition, the best 4 day workout split is the upper lowers split since it trains the lower body and upper body evenly, but it can also be programmed using an bodybuilding split, push-pull, and so many more. No matter which one is chosen, the lean muscle secret of using compound movements that is the cornerstone and will provide best results due to their raw stimulus magnitude.

Can You Build Muscle Working Out 4 Times a Week?

While 4 day workout split isn’t a program with an insane amount of volume, it’s far from being a low-volume workout program so yes, a lifter can build muscle training 4 times a week and it may even be superior to other methods.

A lifter can also gain muscle from any lifting split if it is well done, however, a 1-day training split is inferior for muscle growth to training splits that are 2 or more days.1 For most people, to get a power muscle burn, 5 days is more than enough.

In fact, 5-day split workout, 6-day split workout, or 7-day workout plan are not as efficient and may be more beneficial for lifters who enjoy being in the gym more and are able to recover quickly due to superior genetics.

A 4-day workout split routine allows for several training options, but it works exceptionally well for an upper-lower workout split, which some would cite as the best 4-day split. Additionally, 4-day split routine allows for better muscle specificity, or the ability to target a muscle, than 2-3 day a week workout splits. For some lifters, this is beneficial as they can focus on lagging body parts or avoid body parts that may be injured.

This program is highly beneficial for strength training and the frequency of the program can be ideal for high-intensity workouts using compound movements.

The upper lower split is not the only four-day workout routine accessible for any given lifter and the push-pull split, bodybuilding split, and push-pull legs are also very effective four-day splits as well.

A Caucasian man in a black shirt and blue shorts is sitting inside a gym with a cable row behind him and is performing dumbbell over head presses with 20 pounds in each hand.

What Makes an Effective 4 Day Workout Split Program?

A 4-day lifting routine is effective for many reasons, especially for its time dedicated to stimulus and rest, versatility, and how it compares to other weekly splits.

Stimulus and Rest

A 4-day workout split requires a lifter to work out 4 days a week allowing an accumulation of a significant amount of volume from compound lifts. They can really push their MRV, or maximal recoverable volume (MRV is the maximum amount of volume a lifter can perform in a week that they can recover from), for a movement plane and the 4-day mass workout schedule allows them to recover easily.

Since many 4-day workout splits are built around large compound moments, raw stimulus magnitude will be high and while that may adversely affect recovery, the 3 days of rest will allow for optimal recovery. And with the high frequency of large compound movements, a 4-day training plan makes for an ideal 4-day split workout routine for mass.

This split also works with a lifter as they age. As a lifter is getting stronger, normally, they need to do more. More weight or reps usually ends up requiring more rest and more recovery. A 4 day lifting split allows for the lifter to almost always have enough recovery time for their training.

Versatility and Adaptability

This split is adjustable to all levels of lifter and all kinds of goals.

Intermediate lifters and advanced lifters have been shown to have greater muscle growth benefits from a split training routine.2 A 4-day intermediate workout routine or advanced workout routine is perfect for more experienced lifters in this case because most lifters do not have time to hit the gym 5 or 6 times a week, but most can find 4 days to hit the gym for an hour to an hour and a half.

Some trainees may only have dumbbells available, but a 4-day dumbbell workout plan is still just as effective as a 4-day gym workout plan if programmed correctly.

The training plan also is beneficial to more traditional athletes. An effective muscle-building workout program plans for 4 sessions in the weight room or gym that allows for plenty of time to hit large compound moments. The other 3 sessions can be used for speed, agility, and quickness work, SAQ. This routine also can be adjusted to be a power workout routine to build more explosiveness.

Premise of a Upper & Lower Body 4 Day Workout Split

A split linear progression routine has been shown to be beneficial for body composition in middle-aged men. On the same token, college age and middle aged men have been shown to respond better to a split routine as far as muscle growth is concerned.4

Upper Body Days vs Lower Body Days

The upper lower split routine workout program is self-explanatory. Two days are focused on upper body moments and two days are focused on lower body movements. The easiest way to organize the 4-day upper lower split is to organize it around compound lifts and add accessories complementing those compound lifts.

The upper body days of the upper lower body split workout routine are usually split into two main movement pattern groupings. The first will normally focus on the horizontal plane. Exercises included on this day include the bench press, dumbbell presses, chest flys, push-ups, bent-over rows, seated rows, seal rows, and many more.

The other focus of upper body days is based on vertical movements like the overhead press, pull-ups, lat pull-downs, and Y raises. Normally, accessory movements for upper body days directly benefit the plane of movement so a lifter can improve their main lifts and, hopefully, improve the stimulus from them.

Lower body days of the upper lower will be split in a similar way. Normally they are split between exercises that benefit the squat and those that benefit the deadlift. Splitting the days by hinging movements and extension movements is a bit messy when it comes to organization.

Exercises to include on either lower body day include any back squats, front squats, goblet squats, step-ups, deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts (RDL), good mornings, lunges, sled pushes, etc. Many lower body exercises work well in conjunction with one other so building two highly effective leg days is very easy.

Upper/Lower Options

A huge benefit of this upper lower workout split 4 day plan is that a lifter or coach has a huge range of options on how to organize each day. Some lifters may prefer an agonist-antagonist,6 which has been shown to be a very effective approach, where each day works opposing movement patterns. Some lifters may organize around a main compound movement and add exercises that directly benefit them. Others may split it up by their favorite upper or lower body exercises or by focusing on weak points in their upper or lower body.

The upper lower training split fits well with any goal. A powerlifter can easily work within an upper lower 4 day split for strength while having dedicated days for their bench press, deadlift, and squat with an additional day to train their overhead presses or upper back. For many powerlifters, they use a 8 week powerlifting program that uses a 4 day a week workout routine.

A bodybuilder can do the same and it can be especially effective for their massing phase. A 4 day works perfectly well for a hypertrophy mass routine. A 4 day workout split also works great for a cutting, or fat loss, phase.

For general fitness or recreational lifters, the upper lower split allows for easy organization and plenty of rest. Busy executives can benefit from upper lower splits that use exclusively compound lifts that maximize stimulus in a shorter training session.

Even if a lifter wishes to increase or decrease their training frequency from a 4 day split, upper lower splits scale well from a 2 day split to a 6 day split. A 4 day upper lower split provides a strong starting point to build a beginner hypertrophy program or beginner strength program that can evolve with the lifter as they train.

The Few Downsides of a 4 Day Split

While a 4 day workout split is in the mid grounds of volume, it might not work well for full body routines in terms of recovery. Some lifters prefer full body routines which scale better with lower frequency routines because each body part is hit on each of the days. A 3 day full body workout routine, like Texas method training, will work better since each training day can be separated by a day or two of recovery, while a 4 day full body routine will have two days back to back every week.

However, as long as volume is equated,5 a full body routine will be just as effective for muscle growth as a upper lower, bodybuilding, or PPL split no matter the split. This full body vs split concept applies to 3 day, 4 day, and 5 day a week programs as long as volume is equated for each muscle group.3

A muscular and tan woman in a black tank top is staring at her self in a mirror as she uncracks dumbbells in a dark room.

The Best Upper & Lower Body 4 Day Workout Split (For Mass & Strength) 

This 4 day workout split program uses an agonist-antagonist format. This means exercises are typically paired with an exercise that works for the opposing muscle groups. Agonist-antagonist upper lower training splits have been shown to possibly provide an advantage over traditional training (7). Upper days have an additional exercise to include one rear delt exercise for longevity and shoulder health.

Lower body days can be more taxing on the body, causing more systemic fatigue (fatigue that affects the whole body instead of one or two muscle groups). To help with this, lower body days have one less exercise than upper body days but the final exercise is unilateral, or one said at a time, so it should be roughly a similar time investment to the upper body days.

  • Day 1: Upper (Bench Press Focus)
    • (3 x 5-10) Bench Press or Smith machine bench press
    • (3 x 5-10) Bent Over Rows or Seated Cable Rows
    • (3 x 8-15) Easy Curl Bar/Dumbbell Skullcrushers or Cable Skullcrushers
    • (3 x 8-15) Dumbbell Face Pulls or Cable Face Pulls
  • Day 2: Lower
    • (3 x 5-10) Back Squat or Leg Press
    • (3 x 5-10) RDLs or Cable Pull Throughs
    • (3 x 8-15) Bulgarian Split Squat or Single Leg Quad Extensions
  • Day 3: Upper
    • (3 x 5-10) Overhead Press Smith Machine Overhead Press
    • (3 x 5-10) Pull Ups or Lat Pull Downs
    • (3 x 8-15) Dumbbell Y Raises or Cable Y Raises
    • (3 x 8-15) Dumbbell Pull Over or Cable Pull Over
  • Day 4: Lower
    • (3 x 5-10) Deadlift or Smith Machine Deadlifts
    • (3 x 5-10) Barbell/Dumbbell/Smith Machine High Pulls
    • (3 x 8-15) Lateral Lunges or Cable Step Outs

This is not the only good workout schedule out there, but it is free and highly effective for many goals. It is quite a bit more taxing than some other free 4-day training splits, but this is a workout routine worth trying. It is balanced to give every muscle group a chance for stimulus and to reach the MAV, maximum adaptive volume, or the range of volume that optimal muscle growth occurs.

Again, no program will fit every lifter. Some lifters may not be able to vibe with this program, but the upper-lower training split offers enough variability for any lifter to tweak around and make it work for them.

Other 4 Day Workout Splits To Get Ripped

Here are several 4 day workout splits that are all effective. Each training split has its pros and cons, but depending on the lifter, can be the perfect split for them.

Push / Pull 4 Day Workout Program

A simple program that uses the simplest movement patterns as its defining factors. By splitting training days into push or pull days, similar movement patterns can all be trained at once.

Pros of a Push / Pull Split: The pros of push/pull splits are that they are simple. All the pulling movements are grouped together, and all the pushing movements are put together. Creative lifters will add leg movements to each of the days to keep it to 4 days a week. Push/pull is an effective 4-day workout split for mass, especially for a lagging chest or back.

Cons of a Push / Pull Split: The push/pull split may not be as effective for a strength goal. Pull exercises all overlap and can build up fatigue that may affect later exercises negatively. In addition, leg training is suboptimal because of previous fatigue as well.

Program Sample: 

  • Day 1: Push
    • (3 x 5-10) Bench Press or Smith machine bench press
    • (3 x 5-10) Incline DB Press or Incline Cable Press
    • (3 x 8-15) Back Squat or Smith Machine Back Squat
    • (3 x 8-15) Easy Curl Bar or Dumbbell Skullcrushers
  • Day 2: Pull
    • (3 x 5-10) Bent Over Rows or Smith Machine Bent Over Rows
    • (3 x 5-10) Chest Supported Dumbbell Row or Chest Supported Row Machine
    • (3 x 8-15) RDLs Barbell or Smith Machine
    • (3 x 8-15) Curl Machine or Easy bar Curl
  • Day 3: Push
    • (3 x 5-10) Overhead Press Smith Machine Overhead Press
    • (3 x 5-10) Weighted Dips or Dip Machine
    • (3 x 8-15) Bulgarian Split Squat or Split Squat Machine/Smith Machine
    • (3 x 8-15) Dumbbell Y Raises or Cable Y Raises
  • Day 4: Pull
    • (3 x 5-10) Pull ups or Assisted Pull Up Machine
    • (3 x 5-10) Lat Pulldown Machine
    • (3 x 5-10) Deadlifts or Smith Machine Deadlifts
    • (3 x 8-15) Dumbbell Shrug or Smith Machine Shrugs

Bodybuilding Split or Bro Split 4 Day Workout Routine

A program that focuses on individual body parts or pairing two or more body parts together. There will usually be a chest day workout, back day workout, arm day workout, hamstring day workout, etc.

Pros of a Bodybuilding Split: The bodybuilding 4-day workout routine for mass is highly effective for high-level bodybuilders. The bodybuilding split allows for such a high volume and full recovery. 

Cons of a Bodybuilding Split: Any lifter that is not a high-level bodybuilder, whether professional or recreational, will find this split to be suboptimal. Many other lifters will be able to train body parts multiple times a week and receive better and faster results.

Program Sample: 

  • Day 1: Chest and Tris
    • (3 x 5-10) Bench Press or Smith machine bench press
    • (3 x 5-10) Incline DB Press or Incline Cable Press
    • (3 x 8-15) Close Hand Placement Push Ups or Tricep Pushdowns
    • (3 x 8-15) Easy Curl Bar or Dumbbell Skullcrushers
  • Day 2: Legs
    • (3 x 5-10) Barbell or Smith Machine Back Squat
    • (3 x 5-10) Dumbbell Goblet Squat
    • (3 x 8-15) RDLs Barbell or Cable Pull Throughs
    • (3 x 8-15) Hamstring Curls
  • Day 3: Back and Bis
    • (3 x 5-10) Barbell or Smith Machine Deadlifts
    • (3 x 5-10) Pull Ups or Lat Pulldowns
    • (3 x 8-15) Chest Supported Rows or Seated Rows
    • (3 x 8-15) Preacher Curls or Curl Machine
  • Day 4: Arms and Core
    • (3 x 5-10) Overhead Press or Smith Machine Overhead Press
    • (3 x 5-10) Shrug Machine or Heavy Dumbbell Shrugs
    • (3 x 30-60 Seconds) Planks
    • (3 x 8-15) V Ups or Crunch Machine

4 Day Push Pull Legs (PPL) Split

Similar to the Push/Pull split but a push pull legs routine, PPL, includes a dedicated leg day.

Pros of a 4-Day Push Pull Split: The benefit of this training split allows for a strong emphasis on legs, unlike a strict push-pull 4-day training split.

Cons of a 4-day Push Pull Split: It does not scale well with a 4-day workout routine. To make the PPL training split work, the program will have to work on a 3-week cycle. A 3-week cycle means that it will take 3 weeks for each workout session to have an equal frequency. For example, the first week will be a push, pull, legs, push, then the second week will be pulled, legs, push, pull, and finally legs, push, pull, legs. 

Program Sample: 

  • Day 1: Push
    • (3 x 5-10) Bench Press or Smith machine bench press
    • (3 x 5-10) Incline DB Press or Incline Cable Press
    • (3 x 8-15) Back Squat or Smith Machine Back Squat
    • (3 x 8-15) Easy Curl Bar or Dumbbell Skullcrushers
  • Day 2: Legs
    • (3 x 5-10) Barbell or Smith Machine Back Squat
    • (3 x 5-10) Dumbbell Goblet Squat
    • (3 x 8-15) RDLs Barbell or Cable Pull Throughs
    • (3 x 8-15) Hamstring Curls
  • Day 3: Pull
    • (3 x 5-10) Bent Over Rows or Smith Machine Bent Over Rows
    • (3 x 5-10) Chest Supported Dumbbell Row or Chest Supported Row Machine
    • (3 x 8-15) RDLs Barbell or Smith Machine
    • (3 x 8-15) Curl Machine or Easy bar Curl
  • Day 4: Legs
    • (3 x 5-10) Barbell or Smith Machine Deadlift
    • (3 x 5-10) Bulgarian Split Squat or Single Leg Leg Press
    • (3 x 8-15) Kettlebell Swings or Cable Pull Throughs
    • (3 x 8-15) Goblet Squat or Leg Extensions

Tips for Building Lean Muscle on a 4 Day Workout Split

A lean Chinese man is performing an EZ bar curl with a serious look on his face and with s smith machine in the background.

Building lean muscle with a four day training routine is more than exercise selection. Understanding other metrics is important to maximize the effectiveness of the program split. 

Fatigue Management and Recovery

For the session-to-session training, finding a method to autoregulate is helpful. Firstly, the lifter should do their best to work within their MAV for each muscle or at least the muscles they desire to grow. Once that is established, there are many autoregulation tools within that, but for this, RIR is sufficient.  RIR, or reps in reserve, is the subjective measure of how many reps a lifter can do before failure. To maximize training effectiveness, every set should be taken to RIR 4 or lower.

Exercises should also be rotated in and out every mesocycle. A mesocycle is a period of 4 to 8 weeks of training. Within a mesocycle, a lifter uses one exercise, and then at the end, they can switch to a different one that works the same muscle in case they do not find it effective or they are just bored of it. Trainees should enjoy training and being able to switch out exercises for variety’s sake is a good way to avoid boredom with this or that exercise.

No matter what split a lifter uses, they should have enough time for their recovery. A 3-day split workout plan, such as the starting strength routine, or a 4-day lifting split offers multiple rest days as opposed to high-frequency splits but means nothing if a lifter is not getting 6-8 hours of sleep every night. The best way to accomplish 6-8 hours of sleep every night is to have a sleeping routine that is done every night. A routine is a powerful tool for recovery.

A 4-day weight lifting routine usually works around compound movements, as mentioned earlier, and that will usually have a poorer stimulus to fatigue ratio. To mitigate fatigue negatively affecting performance, it is a good idea to use one of the three rest days built into the 4 days split workout routine in between the training days. Two days of training, then a rest day, then do the other days of training, before the next two rest days. This keeps the trainee fresh and fatigue relatively low.

Training Optimization and Progression

A lifter should select exercises that they can feel, meaning the target muscle should feel a burn, contraction, and/or stretching during the movement. There is no reason for a lifter to use a bench press for their chest if they cannot feel their chest. Of course, there are thousands of guides on how to feel a muscle during a certain exercise.

The final tip is to ensure progressive overload, the gradual increase in stress on the body during training.8 Any lifter worth their salt will say that using the same weight, same reps, and same overall volume will stagnate progress and lead to a plateau, or a complete stop in progression. To keep strength or mass gains going, a program must slowly become harder. 

There are dozens of progression methods. From linear to step loading to wave progression, all of which are effective for eliciting progressive overload and thus, growth. The basics of progressive overall are increasing weight or reps over time.

A linear progression increases weight every week consistently until the lifter cannot perform the sets anymore. A step loading progression increases reps each week until the lifter can perform a certain amount of reps, then they reset the reps with a higher weight. A wave progression increases the percent 1 rep max each week for 3 to 4 weeks before recalculating the 1 rep max and repeating.

After a period of progression, a deload is advisable. A deload basically is a break when a plateau is hit or a lifter is having difficulty recovering in a reasonable amount of time. Some lifters will drop to 1 sets per exercise at 50 to 60% of their 1RM for a mesocycle while others may not go to the gym at all for a week or two. 

Nutrition

Maybe an athlete is looking to gain weight for the next season. To maximize their muscle-gaining potential, they need to be in a caloric surplus. It is typically recommended to be in a 200 to 300-calorie surplus for this. Some lifters may need a slightly higher surplus, but to minimize fat gain, having a smaller caloric surplus is vital.

If an athlete is looking to cut weight, they need to be in a caloric deficit. Similar to gaining weight, they do not want to change their calories too much. Lifters typically want to maintain as much muscle as they can through their cut so only cutting 200 to 300 calories out is recommended.

Macros for either goal can change dramatically, however, for this recommendation, protein should not change significantly between the two. Anything above 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight has no additional benefits.7 From there, carbohydrates should be manipulated to create a surplus or deficit. Obviously, this means that fats should also remain the same.

In conclusion, a 4 day workout split with an upper lower mix alongside the lean muscle secret stacks on mass by having time to rest while having the high raw stimulus magnitude through compound lifts and frequent enough to build muscle for anyone. 

FAQ

Which Is Better (3 Day or 4 Day Split)?

Neither is better. A 3-day split may require a lifter to perform squat and deadlift same day, but a 4-day split is a bigger weekly time investment. Both splits have their pros and cons and are generally more efficient than other splits. 

Is 12 Sets per Week Enough for Each Muscle?

12 sets per week is more than enough to stimulate every muscle. 12 sets per week are at the lower end of the MAV, for every muscle. MAV is the upper end of the total weekly volume for maximal growth.

What Should I Do on Rest Days?

On rest days, it is important to relax. The best recovery occurs when a lifter can relax and eat well. It is also helpful to be active with low-intensity activities such as walking. Sleep, relaxation, nutrition, and light activity will make the most out of rest days.

Is It Better To Do a Full Body Workout Every Day?

Ultimately, as long as the volume is equated, a full body workout every day can be just as effective as any split.9 On the other hand, unless those workouts are short, the lifter may not be able to properly recover, it is not recommended to do full-body workouts every day.


References

1Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2016). Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 46(11), 1689–1697. <https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8>

2Bartolomei, S., Nigro, F., Malagoli Lanzoni, I., Masina, F., Di Michele, R., & Hoffman, J. R. (2021). A Comparison Between Total Body and Split Routine Resistance Training Programs in Trained Men. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 35(6), 1520–1526. <https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000003573>

3Gomes, G. K., Franco, C. M., Nunes, P. R. P., & Orsatti, F. L. (2019). High-Frequency Resistance Training Is Not More Effective Than Low-Frequency Resistance Training in Increasing Muscle Mass and Strength in Well-Trained Men. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 33(Suppl 1), S130–S139. <https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000002559>

4Kerksick, C. M., Wilborn, C. D., Campbell, B. I., Roberts, M. D., Rasmussen, C. J., Greenwood, M., & Kreider, R. B. (209). Early-phase adaptations to a split-body, linear periodization resistance training program in college-aged and middle-aged men. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(3), 962-971. <https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181a00baf>

5Ralston, G. W., Kilgore, L., Wyatt, F. B., Buchan, D., & Baker, J. S. (2018). Weekly Training Frequency Effects on Strength Gain: A Meta-Analysis. Sports Med – Open, 4(1), 1-24. <https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s40798-018-0149-9>

6Krzysztofik, M., Wilk, M., Wojdała, G., & Golas, A. (2019). Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(24), 4897. <https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16244897>

7Morton, R. W., Murphy, K. T., McKellar, S. R., Schoenfeld, B. J., Henselmans, M., Helms, E., Aragon, A. A., Devries, M. C., Banfield, L., Kreiger, J. W., & Philips, S. M. (2018). A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. British journal of sports medicine, 52(6), 376–384. <https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2017-097608>

8Wikipedia. (2021). Progressive overload. Wikipedia. Retrieved August 24, 2022, from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_overload>

9Ralston, G. W., Kilgore, L., Wyatt, F. B., Buchan, D., & Baker, J. S. (2018). Weekly Training Frequency Effects on Strength Gain: A Meta-Analysis. Sports Med – Open, 4(1), 1-24. <https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-018-0149-9>

About the Author

Nathan

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.