How I Set Up My Workouts

For the past year and a half I've pretty much been doing an upper/lower split, rather than the typical bodypart split that you see in most fitness blogs. I did the bodybuilding style workouts for years, but after experimenting with CrossFit for a while back in 2010-11, now they just no longer appeal to me.

I don't enjoy having a day where I do all back exercises or a day of just chest exercises. There is nothing wrong with this way of training, I just find that now it bores me! I think that you can get just as good, if not better, results from training your muscle groups more frequently rather than just once per week.

I thought I would share how I set up my workouts for anyone who might be interested in trying out an upper/lower split.

Upper body days always include two push movements and two pull movements. For the push movements, I pick one exercise that works the shoulders and another that works the chest. For the two pull movements, one of them is always a pullup, varying the grip each workout. The second pull movement is some type of horizontal row or something to hit the rear delts and traps.

I normally start with a power movement on at least one of my upper body days, usually a barbell hang power snatch or a dumbbell snatch, for 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps with about a minute rest. The next move would normally be a what I would call my "main" lift of the workout, which is usually a compound barbell movement, either bench press or a barbell push press. For this exercise I will go for 3-6 sets of 3-6 reps if I'm going for strength, and 6-10 reps if I'm focusing more on hypertrophy. For the rest of the workout I like to pair two non-opposing muscle groups together in superset fashion, for 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps, resting 45-60 seconds between exercises. I'll finish with an ab exercise and/or a few isolation exercises for bis and tris once a week.

"Push" exercises for shoulders:
Military barbell press
Barbell push press
Barbell push jerk
1 arm DB overhead press
DB push press
Single arm DB push press
Handstand pushups

"Push"exercises for chest:
Bench press
DB chest press
Incline DB chest press
1 arm DB chest press

"Pulling" exercises:
Pullups/chinups(or pulldowns)
1 arm DB rows
T bar rows
Cable seated row
Chest supported DB row
Bentover BB row
Inverted rows/TRX rows
Cable face pulls

Isolation exercises:
DB lateral raises or rear delt raises
Tricep pushdowns or extensions
Bicep curls

I like to start my lower body days with a power exercise(power cleans) or some type of jump(box jump, squat jump, bounds), for 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps. The next exercise is usually a squat variation(either back squat or front squat), for 3-6 sets of 5-8 reps. After that, I will do a posterier chain exercise for 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps, followed by a single leg exercise for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. I usually finish up my leg workouts with calf raises, abs, and maybe some back extensions. If you're doing two leg days a week you don't have to worry about doing a kazillion exercises on your leg day.

Quad focused lift:
Front squat
Back squat
Goblet squat
Box squat

Posterier chain exercises:
Barbell sumo or trapbar deadlift
Romanian deadlift
1 leg romanian deadlift
Barbell hip thrust
Barbell glute bridge

Single leg exercises:
Reverse lunge
Front loaded reverse lunge
Step up
Walking lunge
Single leg squat to bench
Bulgarian split squat

And we can't forget the abs, of course! I will admit, I really do not enjoy training abs, and I think that doing hundreds of crunches after your workout is really just a waste of time. I train abs twice a week, picking one exercise from the list below for 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps.

Ab exercises:
L-sit hold
Modified front lever hold
Ab wheel rollouts
Hanging leg raises
Ball pikes
Trx pikes
Reverse bench crunches

This is pretty much how I always set up my workouts, but every now and then it's good to change things up! There are many ways to do that, one of which is to change up the order of exercises within your workout. Changing up the rep ranges every now and then is a good idea as well. As far as cardio goes, I don't do any "traditional" cardio, but I do add in short finishers at the end of my workouts 2-3 times a week and have one day of heavy sled pushes. The best way to get results is to focus on the basic, compound exercises I listed above and getting stronger on them over time! You really can't go wrong with that!

If you'd like to see example workouts, just click on my "training log" tab!
Do any of you do an upper/lower split or do you enjoy bodybuilding style routines?


  1. This is a great post - I need to send some of my readers this way!

    I avoided an upper/lower split for so long because I dreaded doing two leg days. Back when I was doing a bodypart split, I did 8-9 exercises on leg days and my workouts would take 90 minutes. I hated the workouts, and hated the fact that it would take me a full week to recover. I felt like my legs were always sore.

    Lo and behold, switching to an upper/lower split reduced my muscle soreness and workout duration, and improved my muscle definition! Now my leg workouts are 30-45 minutes of only 4-5 exercises and soreness never lasts more than 2 days.

    I structure my workouts very similarly to yours, which is reassuring :) I need to do more ab exercises as I probably only hit them once every 2 weeks (so boring!). I wish my gym had a sled but at the moment I'm doing two days of finishers per week.

    1. I remember how much I used to absolutely dread leg day because of how much I had to do! Now I love leg day, even though it's still tough. I really don't even do much on my second lower day-just sled pushes and swings and just recently glute ham raises. I think I may need to add squats in for a second day so these legs will grow!!

  2. I don't know why, but i feel the same way about bodypart training... a few years ago i used to break everything up and do a ton of exercises for each body part. But now that ive tried Crossfit style workouts and Metabolic Resistance training, etc... going back to regular bodybuilding is not only boring but seems so unnecessary- like it's a waste of time. Because now i see that you can have the same results with less exercises but using more compound/full body movements. Thanks for sharing! I may share this on my Gym FB page ;) -Chanin

    1. I did it for so long because I thought it was the only way! I'm so glad that CrossFit opened my eyes to a whole new world of fitness outside of my bodybuilding bubble!


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