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A 4 Day Workout Split For Muscle Hypertrophy

A 4 day hypertrophy split sees you dividing muscle focus across multiple gym sessions for maximum gains.
wide angle photo of a gym

A 4-day workout split, or upper lower split, sees you dividing muscle focus across multiple gym sessions. 

This allows you to more easily increase your training volume, which is vital for continued gains in intermediate and more advanced lifters. 

Splitting your training across multiple days also has the added benefit of enabling shorter but more intense sessions.

Training volume is the key to this program. So you’ll be hitting each major muscle group twice per week and for a total of 12-16 sets. 

This program is a great ‘off the shelf’ plan, or a template for you to tweak as your training focus dictates (more on this below).

Read on for the program itself and tips on how best to run it.

Please lift safely with good form and within your limits. Consult a professional coach or PT if you have any doubts about how to perform the exercises listed.

Remember, how you lift is more important than how much. Leave your ego at the door before every session.

4 day workout program - TLDR summary

Program name:

4 day upper/lower split

Program purpose:

A 4 day, or upper/lower, split sees you alternate workout focus between the muscles of the upper and lower body. This supports an increase in weekly training volume and more intense training sessions, which can support an increase in muscle hypertorphy.

Training frequency:

4 training sessions per week, alternating between the upper and lower workouts.

Day 1: Workout A
Day 2: Workout B
Day 3: REST
Day 4: Workout C
Day 5: Workout D
Day 6: REST
Day 7: REST

Target rep ranges:

6-8 reps for primary lifts, 10-20 for secondary lifts.

Target intensity and progression:

Your working weights should be dictated by the target rep range and the use of reps in reserve to gauge effort. Aim to take every working set 1-3 reps short of technical failure. When you can comfortably perform sets with 3 plus reps in reserve, increase intensity the following session by adding weight, reps or sets (sticking within the suggest rep/set ranges).

Workout Templates

Workout A

Exercise

Reps

Sets

Flat Barbell Press

6-8

4

Machine (or cable) Fly

12-15

2-4

Tricep rope ext

15-20

3-4

Pull Up

6-10

4

Barbell Row

10-12

2-4

Barbell Bicep Curl

12-15

3-4

Cable Ab Crunch

15-20

3

Workout B

Exercise

Reps

Sets

Back Squat

6-8

4

Leg Extension

12-15

2-4

Romanian Deadlift

10-12

4

Leg Curl

12-15

2-4

Calf Raise/Press

15-20

4

Seated DB press

8-12

4

DB Side Lateral

15-20

2-4

Hanging Leg Raise

12-15

3

Workout C

Exercise

Reps

Sets

Barbell Row

6-8

4

Pull UP

6-10

2-4

Cable Face Pull

15-20

3

Barbell Bicep Curl

12-15

3-4

Incline Bench Press

8-12

4

Machine (or Cable) Fly

12-15

2-4

DB Skull Crusher

15-20

3-4

Cable Ab Crunch

15-20

3

Workout D

Exercise

Reps

Sets

Military Press

6-8

4

DB Side Lateral

15-20

2-4

Romanian Deadlift

10-12

4

Leg Curl

12-15

2-4

Back Squat

8-10

4

Leg Extension

12-15

2-4

Calf Raise/Press

15-20

4

Hanging Leg Raise

12-15

3

4 Day workout program - In Depth

Who is this program for and why should I run it?

4-day workout splits are generally more ‘bodybuilding’ focused. 

The additional gym sessions support higher training frequency and volume, which lends itself to supporting muscle hypertrophy (an increase in muscle size) rather than out and out strength or powerlifting gains.

Generally, an effective 3-day workout plan sees you training your whole body every gym session. Often with just one big compound move per body part or major muscle group. 

4-day workout plans, however, see you focusing on different body parts on different days.

The most common 4-day split is an upper/lower split. And, as the name implies, each session is either focused on your upper body (your chest, back and shoulders etc.) or your lower body (you quads, glutes, hamstrings etc.).

If you’ve been following a 3-day full-body program and wish to increase your overall training volume, a 4-day split is a natural progression.

Ideal training frequency and volume will vary by individual, and by individual muscle groups. But, to maximise muscle growth, you should aim to train each muscle 2-3 times per week and for between 10-20 working sets.

Splitting your training across multiple sessions makes hitting these targets relatively easy, while also allowing you to manage fatigue.

Due to the higher volume/higher intensity of a 4-day workout split, it is best suited to intermediate lifters with a solid base of training experience under their lifting belts. I.e. 12+ months of consistent high quality training 2-3 times per week. 

Again, moving from a 3-day full-body program to a 4-day split is an easy/natural progression in your lifting journey. And a sensible way to increase training volume and intensity.

That said, beginners can run this workout too but should start with a lower volume. E.g. drop an exercise per muscle group and/or lower the overall number of sets. 

Training frequency

This program sees you hitting the gym 4 times per week alternating between the ‘upper’ (workouts A & C) and ‘lower’ sessions (workouts B & D).

We’ve scheduled the program as 2 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, 2 days off. You do not have to follow this schedule, however, and can work out on the days that suit you best.

Dec 2020 monthly calendar
This program sees you hirtting the gym 4 times per week. But you do have some flexibility with when you train.

While we wouldn’t recommend doing 3 or 4 sessions back to back the program does allow you some flexibility.

You can safely do 3 sessions back to back provided you are alternating between the upper and lower plans. 

At a push, you could do all 4 sessions on consecutive days as long as you then take a couple of days off to recover.

If you wanted to fit in more volume you could work 3 sessions on / 1 day off. If you do choose this route, however, it is suggested you lower the volume in each session.

Keep in mind that if you are working at an appropriate intensity you should not need to exceed 20 – 24, max, sets per muscle group per week.

That said, we all respond differently to training stimuli so use the suggested volume ranges as a starting point and experiment to find what works best for you.

You may find some muscles respond and grow with relatively low training volume, just 8-10 sets per week, whereas others require over 20 sets per week to see results.

Technique and lifting tempo

Measured controlled lifting is the order of the day. 

Your aim should be to maximise the tension you place upon your muscles, which has been shown to be the most dominant contributor to muscle growth. 

Work through a full range of motion every rep, utilising a 2-3 second count for the eccentric portion (the lowering phase of each exercise) and a 1-second pause at both the bottom and top of each lift to remove any momentum. 

Lifting with correct form and efficiency may mean you need to lower the weights for a few sessions/training cycles.

So, as the cliche goes, swallow your pride and check your ego at the door.

Besides, after a short time of lifting with correct form you’ll likely blow past your previous bests and enjoy a far more satisfying pump.

Target rep ranges

The aim of this program is muscle hypertrophy. This means we work in the mid to high rep ranges with the majority of exercises undertaken between 6-15 reps.

For some of the isolation/accessory moves we recommend going as high as 20 reps, but feel free to experiment.

Also, feel free to mix up your rep ranges across the week as we’ve suggested in the program template below.

For example, for the first lower session you may complete your squats in the 6-8 rep range, thus push a heavier weight. You then work in the 10-12 rep range and with a more moderate weight for your 2nd weekly squat session.

Varying you rep/set/weight ranges from session to session is what’s known as undulating periodisation. This can be an effective form of progressive overload for more advanced trainees (see below). 

Whatever the rep range, remember that intensity and effort are key.
You should be working in the 1-3 RIR range and/or working to failure on your last set of each exercise (with a spotter if needed).

Make use of progressive overload to maximise gains

Your body is amazingly adaptable and without a regular change in stimulus your gains will stall. 

This is where progressive overload comes in. 

As the name implies the idea is that you progressively increase the stimulus you apply to your muscles over time. 

This forces your body to adapt to ever-increasing demands by becoming stronger and growing more muscle. 

By increasing weight, reps or sets over time you increase the stimulus on your muscles,  continuously pushing them to adapt. 

Using a notebook or app, log every one of your gym sessions, noting down the weight lifted and the sets/reps completed for each exercise. 

Importantly, also note down the reps in reserve (RiR) you felt you had for the last set of each exercise.

Reps in Reserve is a measure of how many more reps you could do with the correct form after you’ve finished your prescribed number. 

If, for example, you were working to failure you’d have an RiR of 0, that is you couldn’t do another rep with the correct form if your life depended on it. 

At the other end of the scale, if you push out 10 good reps and feel you had at least another 5 in the tank you’d have an RiR of 5.

For this program you want to be working to an RiR of 1-3 reps for each exercise (note suggestion on lifting to failure below)

When you can finish your last set of a given exercise with an RiR above 3 it’s a good indication that you are ready to increase intensity. 

Add 5-10% more weight or 1-2 reps until you are back working at the 1-3 rep range. Rinse and repeat.

Remember that form is paramount and you should only be increasing intensity where you can safely and effectively perform a given exercise at the new weight or rep/set range.

Should you train to technical failure?

While training to technical failure may create a greater training stimulus, it will also create a disproportionate amount of fatigue. 

This in turn can negatively affect recovery, subsequent workouts and thus your ability to consistently hit the sufficient volume and intensity levels required to maximise muscle growth.

Current research seems to agree and suggests that training to failure isn’t necessary or worth the injury risk. This seems especially clear if your focus is on training for hypertrophy.

work harder blue neon sign
While training to technical failure may create a greater training stimulus, it will also create a disproportionate amount of fatigue. 

That said, it may be worth incorporating training to failure in your routine every so often as both a means of benchmarking progress and keeping yourself honest regards your effort. 

For example, working to failure on the last set of a specific exercise at the end of a training cycle/period wouldn’t be without merit, if done safely.

Also, as a general rule, working to failure is less of an issue for smaller muscles and isolation moves (e.g. bicep curls, calf raises, side delt raises) as you won’t cause too much fatigue.

You should avoid working to failure with the big compound moves (e.g. squats, deadlifts, bench press) too often, however, as the amount of fatigue created and the injury risk is not worth the limited benefits (1RM strength PB chasing notwithstanding).

Finally a health warning – If you are training to failure please only do so in a safe manner. Have a competent spotter and/or safety bars in place, where needed. 

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Exercise selection

The principle methodology behind the exercise selection is thus, 1 big compound movement per major muscle group followed by 1-2 accessory lifts (which can be variations on the core compound lift).

For each muscle group it is recommended you always include the big compound lift and complete it first. But you can follow this with your preferred accessory moves. 

For example, for optimal chest training, we would always recommend starting with a flat or slight incline barbell press. This move allows you to shift the most weight thus places the most healthy stress on the target muscle. 

But for your accessory moves you can then go with what you enjoy or what feels the best. For example, low to high cable flys, a dumbbell press variation or the humble push up. 

Similarly with quad training. We would always recommend starting with a back squat then adding in your accessory move of choice, such as leg extensions, leg press or split squats. 

That said, feel free to switch up your exercise selection to keep things fresh and work your muscles through different planes. But we suggest sticking with the same ones for at least 6 weeks before making any changes. This way you will have sufficient training to get your technique down and to see progress. 

Note that you do not have to complete 3 different exercises as we have suggested below. You can just stick with 2 for convenience and complete more sets for each. 

Why am I working my shoulders on my ‘lower’ day?

It would be great to complete 30+ sets across our chest, back, arms and shoulders in one day but this isn’t feasible so we will split our shoulder exercises across both our ‘lower’ and ‘upper’ days.

This program sees you working your shoulders at a slightly lower volume than other muscle groups as the front deltoids will also be worked on chest day. 

You’ll work your rear deltoids with your back exercises through both the rows and cable face pulls.

Session timing

Taking 60-90 seconds rest (increase to 120 for the heavy compounds, if needed) between each set you should be able to work through each session in 75-90 minutes (including a 10-minute cardio based warm-up and warm-up sets). 

This timing assumes you are working at the higher volume end. If completing 2-3 sets then you will be done nearer an hour. 

Either way, these are long hard sessions and you will need to check your energy levels to ensure you are maximising your time. 

If you struggle to get through the workouts or are not feeling the target muscles in the latter sets, consider temporarily dropping your volume slightly and working back up over several weeks. 

Program progression

You should plan your training in 6-8 week blocks, with the aim of increasing intensity week to week.

An increase in intensity could be via increased reps, sets or weight, for one or more lifts, or the use of drop sets, myo reps etc. 

The goal is to peak in the final week of a cycle, e.g. setting new PRs and taking the last working set of an exercise to or very near to failure/an RIR of 0-1. 

You then de-load and recover before commencing another 6-8 week cycle. Hopefully at an increased starting intensity. E.g. an increase in volume via more reps/sets and/or increased weights. 

As a more novice or intermediate lifter, you may find you can increase intensity across your entire workout/whole body throughout a cycle. 

As you progress, however, it is more sensible to have a specific focus for each 6-8 week cycle where you emphasize a specific muscle or muscle group.

You still hit your minimum effective volume for your other muscles each week, but go the extra mile with increased volume or intensity for 1 or maybe 2 muscles to maximise your training and/or address any weaknesses.

Ease in to any new program

As with any new workout plan, you should start at a moderate intensity for the first 1-2 weeks and build up slowly over time.

7 out of 10 on the RPE scale is a sensible ballpark for your first week.

It’s all too easy to start too hard, usually with too high a weight on your key lifts, and after just 3-4 weeks hit a wall.

You feel totally beat up, your lifts have plateaued or gone backwards and/or you have numerous joint pains and niggles.

You have to work hard in the gym to see results, so don’t sell yourself short. But remember that you want headroom to increase your workload over time.

Building Intensity

In the workout templates below we’ve suggested adopting an undulating periodisation approach for your big compound lifts (squats, bench, rows, presses etc.).

This is just a fancy way of saying that the amount you lift changes from session to session. Or, week to week if hitting a particular exercise just once per week.

For example, in the first lower session you’ll squat in the 6-8 rep range and the 2nd in the 10-12 rep range, thus with a lower weight.

Your goal is to work harder week on week, whether that be via an extra rep or extra weight.

Simply record what you did in session and, if you can, do a bit more the following week.

A simple approach is to keep the reps the same but increase the weight.

Using the squat as an example your progress may look like this:

Week 1  – 3 sets of 8 reps @100kg

Week 2 – 3 sets of 8 reps @102.5kg

Week 3  – 3 seat of 8 reps @105kg

Week 4 – 3 sets of 8 reps @ 107.5kg

…..and so on until the end of your cycle.

Your second squat session of the week would follow a similar pattern but at 10-12 reps and thus a more moderate weight.

If you can progress your lifts in this fashion, great, keep increasing the weight throughout your cycle where you can.

If this process doesn’t work or stalls, however, you can employ a double linear progression. This sees you change up your reps between sessions and alter the weight accordingly.

This is likely a better approach for more advanced lifters.

Again, taking the squat as an example your week to week progression may look like this:

Week 1 – 3 sets of 8 reps @100kg

Week 2 – 3 sets of 9-10 reps @100kg

Week 3 – 3 sets of 8 reps @105kg

Week 4 – 3 sets of 9-10 reps @105kg

…..and so on as your training cycle progresses.

Rather than just increasing the weight week to week, we are instead alternating between increases in weight and increases in reps.

We are still increasing intensity but in smaller, more manageable steps.

This may help you progress as you approach the margins of what you can lift.

The process for your isolation lifts is more straightforward.

Just work 1-2 reps short of failure (or 8/9 RPE) and increase reps or weight where you can, staying around the rep ranges suggested.

De-load between training cycles

After each 6-8 week cycle, or sooner depending on your accumulated fatigue, it is sensible to take a de-load week. 

Cut your volume by 50%, take sets back to an RIR of 3-4, and/or take additional rest days out of the gym. 

This down-time will allow your body to fully recover and prepare you for your next training cycle at a hopefully increased starting intensity. E.g. with higher starting volume and/or weights for one or more exercises. 

As long as you are seeing gains in the weight you can lift and/or improvements in your physique you can repeat cycles for at least 6-12 months, if not longer. 

If, however, you feel you are hitting a plateau, that is you can’t add more weight/intensity and feel your muscle growth has stalled, switch up your exercises, increase the volume (remembering the upper limits) or change up your whole programme, e.g. move to a 6 day push pull legs routine, or try a 5-day full body split.

You may find that certain body parts lag others in growth and strength gains.

This is normal and can be addressed through the specific focus on the lagging muscle/s for one or more cycles.

Nutrition and fuelling your muscle growth

As important as the hard graft you put in to the gym is, it will all be for nothing if you don’t work equally as hard on your nutrition. 

Both the amount you eat and what you eat matters.

This means tracking what you eat and knowing your target daily calorie count to ensure you are fuelling enough to workout and grow (just 300-400 extra calories per day above your TDEE is sufficient) or, conversely, not overeating and putting on excess fat.

fruit and veg
When building muscle, the amount you eat and what you eat matters

Stick to natural whole foods and meals you prepare yourself and ensure you are consuming adequate protein to facilitate muscle growth. 

Aim for approximately 1.6g-2.0g of protein for every kg of bodyweight. It’s also a good idea to aim to consume a decent portion of your protein (30-40g) post-exercise, within an hour or two, as studies show this helps with recovery. 

But don’t get too hung up on meal timings. The main goal is ensuring adequate calorie and protein intake over a 24 hour period. 

Remember to drink water when you are thirsty, and during your workouts, and aim to down at least 6-8 glasses (1.2 -1.5 litres) per day.

For more in-depth nutritional information take a look at our nutrition for muscle growth primer.

Rest and recovery between sessions

For your body to do the actual “growing bigger and stronger” part, it needs to be allowed sufficient rest and nutrition for the recovery to take place. 

A significant part of muscle recovery and growth occurs while you are sleeping. So, make sure you are getting that magic 7-9 hours sleep per night and find a sleep routine that works best for you.

Feel free to add in some light/moderate cardio on your rest days if you aren’t feeling too beat up from the gym and are getting sufficient sleep and fuelling your body properly.

Don’t neglect mobility work

Book into a regular class at your gym or get online and find a whole-body stretch and flexibility routine you can do at home.

Dedicating just 15-20 minutes a day to improving your mobility and flexibility will pay huge dividends now and in the future. This becomes even more essential as you become more trained and hit your later years.

For maximum gains, health and longevity you should look at mobility and flexibility as an essential part of your training.

Note that your mobility work is best done separately from your workout  and you should not static stretch before lifting. Instead, use cardio and dynamic movements / warm-up sets.

The program templates

Day 1 - Workout A

Exercise

Sets

Reps

A

Flat Barbell Press

4

6-8

Keep your shoulders blades retracted and down. Tuck your elbows at 45 degrees

B

Machine (or Cable) Chest flys

2-4

12-15

Your elbows and wrists should be level with your shoulders, pause and squeeze your pecs for a 1 count at the ‘closed’ position of each rep

C

Tricep Rope Push Down

3-4

15-20

Lean forward slightly, keep your elbows fixed at your side, only your lower arm should move

D

Pull Up

4

6-10

Take a shoulder width grip and think about pulling your chest up to the bar. Use an assisted machine or add weight as needed

E

Barbell Row

2-4

10-12

Bend at the hips with your torso just above parallel, pull the bar to your lower abdomen by driving your elbows backwards. Pinch your shoulder blades together at the top of each rep

F

Barbell Bicep Curl

3-4

12-15

Keep your elbows by your side and ensure each rep is initiated with the bicep. Think about driving the bar upwards with your pinky (as if trying to turn your wrists upwards) and squeeze at the top of each rep. Pause at the bottom of each rep to remove all momentum

G

Cable Abdominal Crunch

3

15-20

Keep your hips high and hold the cable in front of your forehead. Initiate the movement with your abs, don’t pull with your arms, and ensure a full curl every rep

Day 2 - Workout B

Exercise

Sets

Reps

A

Back Squat

4

6-8

Take as wide a stance as you need to squat to proper depth (thighs to parallel or slightly lower). Point your toes out 30-40 degrees and sit back and down with your knees moving out laterally

B

Leg Extension

2-4

12-15

Ensurer a full range of motion and make sure to actively resist the negative/downward portion of each rep

C

Romanian Dead Lift

4

10-12

Initiate the movement by pushing your hips backwards. Keep your chest up with a neutral neck and maintain a slight bend at your knees

D

Leg Curl

2-4

12-15

Flex your toes up towards your shins. This helps to limit calf involvement and forces the hamstrings to work harder.

E

Weighted Standing Calf Raise

4

15-20

Pause at the bottom of each rep to remove achilles assistance and to stretch your calves. Push all the way up on your toes and don’t bounce. Hold a DB or plate to add more resistance, as needed

F

Seated DB Arnold Press

4

8-12

Keep your lower back firmly against the bench. Work through full range of motion with the DB moving from the tops of your shoulders to full lockout. As you perform each rep rotate your palms from a supinated grip (palms facing you) at the bottom of the move to a pronated grip (palms facing away) and vice verse on the downward part of the rep

G

DB Side Lateral Raises

2-4

15-20

Focus on squeezing your side deltoids to initiate the movement, keep the dumbbells flat throughout each rep with a slight bend at your elbow

H

Hanging Leg Raise

3

12-15

Focus on flexing your spine and don’t swing between reps

Day 3 - REST

Day 4 - Workout C

Exercise

Sets

Reps

A

Barbell Row

4

6-8

Use an overhand shoulder width grip. Think about driving your elbows backwards to move the bar. Squeeze your shoulder blades together for a 1 count at the top of each and every rep.

B

Pull up

2-4

6-10

Take a shoulder width grip with shoulder blades down and retracted. Think about pulling your chest up to the bar. Use an assisted machine or add weight as needed

C

Kneeling Face Pull

3

15-20

Use a pulley machine with a neutral, overhand grip (your thumbs should point back behind you)

D

Barbell Bicep Curl

3-4

12-15

Keep your elbows by your side and ensure each rep is initiated with the bicep. Think about driving the bar upwards with your pinky (as if trying to turn your wrists upwards) and squeeze at the top of each rep. Pause at the bottom of each rep to remove all momentum

E

Incline Barbell Bench Press (15 – 30 degree angle)

4

8-12

Keep your shoulders blades retracted and down. Imagine trying to bend the bar towards your body as you perform each rep

F

Machine (or Cable) Chest Flys

2-4

12-15

Your elbows and wrists should be level with your shoulders, pause and squeeze your pecs for a 1 count at the ‘closed’ position of each rep

G

Dumbbell Skull Crushers

3-4

15-20

Lay flat on a bench and grip the dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms facing each other). Lower the DB to the tops of your shoulders or down behind your head

H

Cable Abdominal Crunch

3

15-20

Keep your hips high and hold the cable in front of your forehead. Initiate the movement with your abs, don’t pull with your arms, and ensure a full curl each every rep.

Day 5 - Workout D

Exercise

Sets

Reps

A

Standing Military Press

4

6-8

Use a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip with the wrists stacked over the elbows. Brace your core and glutes to prevent your hips tilting forwards and thus arching your lower back

B

DB Side Lateral Raises

2-4

15-20

Focus on squeezing your side deltoids to initiate the movement, keep the dumbbells flat throughout each rep with a slight bend at your elbow

C

Romanian Dead Lift

4

10-12

Initiate the movement by pushing your hips backwards. Keep your chest up, a neutral neck position and maintain a slight bend at your knees

D

Leg Curl (or Swiss Ball Hamstring) Curl

2-4

12-15

Flex your toes up towards your shins. This helps to limit calf involvement and forces the hamstrings to work harder

E

Back Squat

4

10-12

Take as wide a stance as you need to squat to proper depth (thighs to parallel or slightly lower). Point your toes out 30-40 degrees and sit back and down with your knees moving out laterally

F

Leg Extension

2-4

12-15

Ensure a full range of motion and make sure to actively resist the negative/downward portion of each rep

G

Standing Calf Raise

4

15-20

Pause at the bottom of each rep to remove achilles assistance and to stretch your calves. Push all the way up on your toes and don’t bounce. Hold a DB or plate to add more resistance, as needed

H

Hanging Leg Raise

3

12-15

Focus on flexing your spine and don’t swing between reps

Day 6 - REST

Day 7 - REST

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Size Guide

Measure around the fullest part of your chest – keep the tape measure close under the arms

Size

Chest – Inches

Chest – CM

Small

31 – 34

78.7 – 86.4

Medium

35 – 38

88.9 – 96.5

Large

39 – 41

99.1 – 104.1

X-Large

42 – 45

106.7 – 114.3

2X-Large

46-48

116.8 – 121.9

Size

Chest – Inches

Small

31 – 34

Medium

35 – 38

Large

39 – 41

X-Large

42 – 45

2X-Large

46-48

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