A lot of people think that the only way to do "better" is to do more. More reps, more sets, more time in the gym ... you name it.
Well, that's not always the case, especially in the gym. Rest is actually one of the most important factors in any workout program. In fact, you may be able to earn even better results by backing off on the volume and prioritizing rest!
This is why a 3-day workout split can be an extremely effective way to train. A 3-day workout split can help maximize your intensity and your rest at the same time.
This can save you time, free up your schedule, and may even help you build up more strength and muscle size over time!
I’m not saying that a 3-day split is better than a 4-day, 5-day, or 6-day routine ... but it can be extremely effective and convenient. Let's discuss the different types of 3-day workout splits and dive into the details of these routines.
That way, you'll know whether or not a 3-day workout split is right for you!
What Is a 3-Day Split?
A 3-day split is a weight training routine that involves 3 training sessions per week, on 3 separate days. In general, each workout day will accompany a rest day in between them too.
So, just to give you an example of what this looks like:
Training Days: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday
Rest Days: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday
Training Days: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday
Rest Days: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday
Training Days: Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday
Rest Days: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday
I'm sure you get the point. Anyways, separating each day with a rest day is a great way to avoid nervous system fatigue and overtraining. In many cases, it's also a great way to earn better results.
But, if your schedule doesn’t allow it, you can perform these sessions in any way that works for you.
Long story short: Figure out the schedule that fits your lifestyle best, and run with it!
How Effective is a 3-Day Workout Split?
So ... are 3-day workout splits effective? That depends.
Just like any resistance training routine, the results that you earn will be based on your effort. After that, comes the program design.
Factors such as load, intensity, volume, and rest need to be in a good spot. If they aren't, it doesn't matter what else you do ... optimal results won't come.
The biggest difference with 3-day workout splits over other splits is the amount of recovery time you get. On top of that though, training 3 times a week can help with program adherence. For a lot of people, it can also have a positive impact on the effort and intensity they put into each training session.
3-day workout splits can be very effective, yes. But the keyword is "can be." That's because it all comes down to the work you're willing to put in.
Why a 3-Day Split?
So, why would you do a 3-day workout split instead of any other workout split? The truth is, that's up to you and your fitness level and goals. 3-day workout splits are by no means better than any other workout split. They just happen to be very popular and effective.
A big reason for this is because 3-day workout splits prioritize more compound movements. These are awesome, foundational movements that can help a ton with building muscle and burning calories.
On top of that, a lot of people simply don't want to be in the gym every day. For that reason alone, 3-day workout splits can be very advantageous ... especially for beginners.
What Are the Benefits to 3-Day Workout Splits?
There are a number of benefits to simplifying your routine into a 3-day workout split. Here's what I would argue are the top 3 benefits to a 3-day split...
1. 3-Day Workout Splits Are More Flexible
A busy schedule can be one of the biggest barriers to entry when it comes to resistance training. When you have to train 5 or 6 days a week, missing even one day can throw off your entire week.
For those who have busy schedules with work, family, or other obligations ... it can be tough to find the time of day to train. It’s much easier to fit 3 training sessions into that on-the-go lifestyle than to find time nearly every day.
2. 3-Day Workout Splits Are Easier To Stick With
Even the most seasoned lifter can face burnout and lose motivation from time to time. Unless you're extremely disciplined, this can make it hard to stick with your program.
With a 3-day workout split though, it can be a lot easier to stick to it long-term. Training every other day may help you to be more primed to train, both physically and mentally.
Plus, putting in the work consistently is crucial for earning real results. In my own experience, I find myself itching to get in the gym when I utilize a 3-day split, as it feels less like a "have to" and more like a "get to" at that point.
3. 3-Day Workout Splits Can Increase Muscle Group Training Frequency
One of my favorite things about 3-day workout splits is that you can train the same muscle group more frequently.
This can be a massive plus if your goal is to gain strength and size. Studies suggest that training a muscle group 2-3 times in a week results in greater gains in strength and size (1, 2).
When on a 5 or 6-day body part split, you will generally hit each body part once every 7 days. With a 3-day split, you can hit each body part every 2-5 days.
This is especially true if you do a full body workout every time. But, we'll get into the different ways you can break up your 3-day workout splits soon...
How Do You Know If a 3-Day Workout Split is Right for You?
Let me start by saying, you can earn incredible results with any split. Remember, it all comes down to volume, intensity, and recovery.
Other than that, the best routine is the one that you enjoy and that you can be consistent with. However, there are a few situations where I would highly recommend a 3-day workout split.
3-Day Workout Splits Are Great For Beginners
3-day workout splits can be a great option for beginners! That's because you can minimize the volume and focus on new movement patterns.
Regardless of whether your goal is to build muscle and strength or lose body fat, the 3-day split can be very effective for most beginners.
Also for beginners, the National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends 2-3 days per week with 1-2 rest days in between (3).
3-Day Workout Splits Are Great For Busy People and Parents
If you travel often, have a busy schedule, or are constantly pulled in every direction by kids ... you may be the perfect candidate for a 3-day workout split.
As both a busy professional and father of 2, it can feel impossible to schedule out a week of training. I work, travel, and am a chauffeur for 2 busy kids!
I love 3-day splits because it makes it much easier for me to stay on track.
3-Day Workout Splits Are Great For Lifters Who Prefer Higher Frequency
Like I said earlier, research shows that training a muscle group more frequently can be great for muscle growth and strength (1, 2).
Many strength athletes choose to use a 3-day split in their training for this reason. It can help them train certain movements more often to master them and improve performance.
So really, 3-day workout splits can be great for beginners and advanced lifters. Who would have known?
How Long Will it Take to See Results?
A lot of people wonder how long it takes to see results with a 3-day workout program.
Well, with any resistance training program, you can notice improvements in strength and muscle size in 8-12 weeks. Most sources agree that with proper nutrition and training, you can gain around 1-2 lbs per month.
For fat loss, most resources agree that 1-2 lbs per week is a healthy rate of fat loss. Strength gains may come a bit faster because there are multiple factors that influence strength. Technique, coordination, neural drive, and muscle growth all have a major influence on strength gains.
There are a number of different ways to plan out a 3-day workout split which can benefit a number of different goals too. Let's take a look at 4 tried-and-true variations of the 3-day split.
The Best 3-Day Workout Splits
When it comes to choosing your 3-day workout split, there are plenty of different approaches you can take.
Below, I've outlined 4 of the best 3-day workout splits to help you find the one that suits your fitness level and goals. So whether you're trying to build muscle, burn fat, or be healthier ... you'll have the right plan for you!
3-Day Full Body Split
The 3-Day full body split is an extremely effective way to train for any experience level and any goal! As the name suggests, a 3-day full body split involves 3 full body training sessions per week. This can be organized by spreading out total weekly volume across 3 separate days.
You can also take a more advanced approach by training strength, power, and endurance/hypertrophy on separate days. Of all of the 3-day splits, the 3-day full body split is the most versatile.
Here's an example of what a full body 3-day workout split would look like:
Day 1: Full Body
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: Full Body
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Full Body
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest
3-Day Upper Lower Split
The upper/lower split is a great choice for any lifter. The idea is that you alternate between upper and lower body workout sessions.
This is a great workout routine for virtually any goal. It's especially good for experienced lifters with the goal of strength and size.
The one part that may be confusing to people is that the days will alternate from week to week. I'll show you an example, so you see what I mean:
Day 1: Upper
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: Lower
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Upper
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest
Day 1: Lower
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: Upper
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Lower
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest
3-Day Classic Bodybuilder Split
If your main goal is to build muscle, this may be your new go-to workout split. The 3-day bodybuilder split lets you target specific muscles more than both of the splits we've mentioned so far.
While this split may not be great for beginners, it is still very popular. There are a number of ways you can lay out a 3-day bodybuilding split too.
Here's the most classic example:
Day 1: Chest & Triceps
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: Shoulders, Back and Biceps
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Legs
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest
The push-pull-leg split is arguably the most popular split there is when it comes to weight training. It is great for managing volume and can also be good for isolating individual muscles more often.
This is definitely a split I recommend for experienced lifters. It can also be great for lifters in a maintenance phase while they work on other goals.
Typically, you want a rest day between each upper body day and two rest days after leg day. Here's a basic rundown:
Day 1: “Push” Chest, Shoulders, and triceps
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: “Pull” Back and Biceps
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Legs & Core
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest
How to Create Your Own 3-Day Split
If you really want the best 3-day workout split for you and your goals ... why not create your own 3-day workout split? We're all a little different when it comes to what we're looking to accomplish. So, why not build your routine around your goals and the areas you're looking to improve in.
My first recommendation is that you start with compound exercises and finish with isolation exercises when you do build your workouts.
These compound exercises are the backbone of an effective 3-day split and typically include exercises like squats, bench presses, deadlifts and many others. These compound movements engage multiple muscle groups which can help a ton with strength, muscle development, and even burning calories.
From there, you can add exercises based on your overall goals. If your goal is to grow bigger and stronger arms ... You may consider adding some bicep and tricep isolation exercises.
If your goal is to lose body fat ... you may consider adding in some cardio at the end of your session and sticking to mostly compound exercises to burn more calories.
On top of picking out the exercises and structure that will benefit you most ... It's also a good idea to plan out which muscle groups you'll be focusing on which days. That way, you can make sure you aren't overdoing or under-doing any specific muscle groups.
By crafting a split that aligns with your unique needs, you can optimize your training and work toward the results you desire.
When implementing any of these 3-day workout splits, there are some tips that I always recommend.
1) Start With Compound Movements
Compound movements are exercises that use multiple muscle groups at the same time. Because of this, they are super demanding, but also offer the biggest bang for your buck.
Squats, deadlifts, bench press, rows, and overhead presses are just a few examples of compound lifts. Since they require a lot of energy, it's always best to do them first.
2) Measure Your Volume On a Weekly Basis
I know I've mentioned the word "volume" quite a few times. If you're not sure what volume is, let me explain.
Volume is basically a measure of how much total work you do. I like to track volume by muscle group. To keep things simple, I recommend 10-25 sets per muscle group each week.
If you'd like to get more advanced, the official way to calculate volume would be: Weight x Reps x Sets = Volume.
3) Start Slow and Progressively Overload
You may feel that you need to obliterate yourself every single session, but you don't! The legendary bodybuilder, Lee Haney, likes to say: "Stimulate, don't annihilate." Your goal should be to apply the right amount of stimulus and emphasize recovery.
The way you're going to see progress over time is through progressive overload. This is done by simply increasing your volume over time. For example, if your chest is capable of doing 10 sets a week, try increasing to 11 sets the next week.
If you are conscious of increasing your weight, reps, or sets over time, that's a simple way you can achieve progressive overload.
If you keep all these tips in mind, I'm confident you'll be able to see even better results!
Proper Recovery Is Important
Speaking of recovery, this is something you surely don't want to take for granted. It's the cornerstone of earning real and long-term results. This involves everything you eat, how much you sleep, and how well you hydrate ... among other things.
Believe it or not, results actually take place outside of the gym. Your body needs nutrition and rest to thrive, so don't cut yourself short!
One of the best ways to start recovering better right away is by using a rapidly digesting protein and carbohydrate after your weight training sessions. This is where supplementation can be extremely beneficial like our Post-Workout Stack.
3-Day Split: Frequently Asked Questions
When Should You Do Cardio In a 3-Day Workout Split?
When it comes to workout splits and workout programs in general, the main focus is on resistance training. However, this doesn't mean you can't do cardio! Depending on your goals, oftentimes cardio is strongly encouraged.
The type of cardio you choose to do and when you choose to do it will depend mostly on your goals and personal preferences.
Let's say your main goal is to build muscle and strength. In this case, It would probably make most sense to do cardio on your off-days or after your resistance workout. I say this because intense cardio warm-ups or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) before you resistance train could impact your workout performance.
Basically, if you burn a lot of your energy doing cardio before you weight train ... You'll have less energy to make progress with your strength and muscle building goals.
If you like doing a low or moderate-intensity cardio session before you workout, this may not be an issue. In fact, a light jog or some cycling could help prepare your body for an intense workout. Just be conscious of what your main goal is!
As long as you're seeing results, it really is up to you when you'd like to add cardio.
Is 3 Days Enough to Work Out Each Week?
Yes, working out 3 days a week can be enough to see great results. Now, this also depends on several different factors. The number of days you need to work out each week will vary based on your workout intensity, fitness goals, and most importantly: your nutrition.
Generally speaking, 3 days of resistance training a week is awesome. However, those with more ambitious goals may need to train more often.
Again, it all depends on your goals and nutrition. If you're not sure whether a 3-day workout split is enough for you, you can always reach out to our team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and NASM Certified Nutrition Coaches for FREE! They'll be more than happy to help you put together a plan so you can earn the best results possible.
Are 3-Day Splits Good for Bulking, Cutting, or Maintaining?
The effectiveness of a 3-day split for bulking, cutting, or maintaining largely depends on your nutrition. To bulk effectively with a 3-day split, you need to be in a caloric surplus with enough protein. For cutting, you need to be in a calorie deficit while still maintaining a high protein intake to preserve muscle mass. For maintaining, you need to consume the same amount of calories you burn while still getting enough protein.
So, yes, 3-day splits can be good for achieving any one of these goals. The same can actually be said about most workout programs too. But, if your nutrition isn't where it needs to be, you can pretty much guarantee that no workout program is going to be effective for you.
How Else Can We Help?
Are you caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life?
Are you busy with kids or have a super demanding schedule?
Are you just getting into resistance training and don't know where to start?
Or ... are you just looking to switch things up with your current workout split?
If you can say yes to any of these questions ... a 3-day workout split may be the perfect plan for you. That said, regardless of what you choose to use for your workout routine or program, we're happy to help you earn the best results possible.
The 1st Phorm App is an amazing tool that can help you reach any and all of your health and fitness goals. Inside the app, you get access to a library of workout programs, nutrition tracking, messaging with your own advisor, and so much more.
We also have a team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Nutrition Coaches who can point you in the right direction. Just give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 or send us an email at CustomerService@1stphorm.com anytime!
(1) Grgic J, Schoenfeld BJ, Davies TB, Lazinica B, Krieger JW, Pedisic Z. Effect of Resistance Training Frequency on Gains in Muscular Strength: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2018 May;48(5):1207-1220. doi: 10.1007/s40279-018-0872-x. PMID: 29470825.
(2) Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2016 Nov;46(11):1689-1697. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8. PMID: 27102172.
(3) National Strength and Conditioning Association. "Determination of Resistance Training Frequency." https://www.nsca.com, May 2017, https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/kinetic-select/determination-of-resistance-training-frequency/ABOUT THE AUTHOR