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The Ultimate Upper Lower Split Routine- Top to Bottom

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In my 20+ years of training people professionally, I’ve seen every training program under the sun. Despite this, I still favor the old classics. 

The programs that have been tried and tested, and have outlived every passing fitness fad.

The upper lower split routine is one of those. 

Endlessly adaptable, perfect for all-body muscle building and great for balancing intense training with recovery. It’s a program template I’ve used throughout my career, with great success for clients.

In this article, I’ll show you exactly how to program the ultimate upper lower split routine. You’ll learn how to tweak it, and how to maximize the results you get from it.

Upper Lower Split Routine: The Top-To-Bottom Workout Overview

Upper lower split general infographic

Workout 1 – Upper Volume

ExerciseSetsRepsStart Weight*End Weight*
Dumbbell Bench Press4835**70**
Chin Ups46BodyweightBodyweight
Military Press485080
Lateral Raises41210**25**
Cable Row41290110
Dumbbell Fly31225**45**

*Example starting weight (it could be more or less) with the weight you will lift when you finish the 90 days (in lbs)

**Weight of the dumbbell in each hand (lbs).

Workout time required

This is a 60 minute workout. 

Workout focus

In this workout we’re going for high volume, medium-heavy weights. This is a classic muscle building workout for the upper body.

Workout 2 – Lower Volume

ExerciseSetsRepsStart Weight*End Weight*
Back Squats410110170
Barbell Lunges4124590
Stiff Legged Deadlifts412110170
Calf Raises3Failure3050
Split Squats31220**45**
Barbell Ab Roll Out310BodyweightBodyweight

*Example starting weight (it could be more or less) with the weight you will lift when you finish the 90 days (in lbs)

**Weight of the dumbbell in each hand (lbs).

Workout time required

This is a 60 minute workout.

Workout focus

We’re going with another high volume workout here. We’re hitting the legs hard, trying to accumulate a lot of fatigue in them.

Workout 3 – Upper Strength

ExerciseSetsRepsStart Weight*End Weight*
Incline Barbell Bench Press4690150
Bent Over Row4880130
Dumbbell Shoulder Press483555
Hammer Curls3Failure2540
Weighted Push Ups382045
Hanging Leg Raises312BodyweightBodyweight

*Example starting weight (it could be more or less) with the weight you will lift when you finish the 90 days (in lbs)

**Weight of the dumbbell in each hand (lbs).

Workout time required

This is a 60 minute workout.

Workout focus

In this case we’re lifting heavy weights, trying to build strength. This will have some muscle building capacity, but our overarching focus is on building strength.

Workout 4 – Lower Strength

ExerciseSetsRepsStart Weight*End Weight*
Front Squats46110170
Barbell Jump Squats4665110
Romanian Deadlifts46110200
Side Plank345 Seconds (per side)BodyweightBodyweight
Pallof Press3103050

*Example starting weight (it could be more or less) with the weight you will lift when you finish the 90 days (in lbs)

**Weight of the dumbbell in each hand (lbs).

Workout time required

This is a 60 minute workout.

Workout focus

As with the second upper body workout, this is a strength workout for the lower body. It’s a workout using heavy weights and long ranges of movement.

A person working out using a barbell

Equipment needed for the Upper Lower Split Routine 

As with all of our programs, this one has been written to be home gym friendly. If you have the following equipment, you can do this workout without any adjustments…

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.

Example schedule 

I’ve always been a fan of a 2 on, 1 off, 2 on, 2 off pattern for a 4-day training program. The upper lower split routine fits this perfectly. It means you can get a couple of great workouts in early in the week – the upper and lower body high-volume ones.

You then take a day off. In this rest period, you’re recharging ahead of the two strength workouts. 

The upper and lower body strength workouts take place, and then you get a couple of days off to completely rest and recover. It means you’re only ever doing two workouts consecutively, and there’s a mid-week rest and a weekend rest, giving you some time back.

If your week is structured differently, work on whatever days you want to, but I’d urge you to stick with the 2 on, 1 off, 2 on, 2 off pattern.

Here’s what it could look like in practice…


Each workout should take no more than 60 minutes. So you only need a total of 4 hours per week to perform this program.  

What weight should you lift?

To figure out what you should be lifting, perform your first set of an exercise with a weight you know will be very easy. Then build up the weight on subsequent sets until you’re lifting a suitable weight.

In practice, it looks like this…

Example: Your workout needs you to squat 3 sets of 5, but you’ve never done a squat before so don’t know what weight to lift.

  1. Perform a warm-up set with an empty barbell (44lbs is a men’s Olympic barbell).
  2. Add a little weight (around 5lbs) to the bar and complete 5 reps.
  3. Repeat this until you reach a point where you can’t manage a set of 5 reps with good form.
  4. Make a note of the last weight you could perform the full reps with good form.

This is your ‘working weight’ and will be the basis of your training going forward. Here’s an example of what a beginner client achieved in their session to work out their starting weight…

Repeat this process for each of the exercises you do in a workout. That will give you the information you need. 

Always start easy, lift with good form, and don’t over-exert yourself in the beginning.

Expected strength progression…

This is an example of how a 200lb male client progressed during a 12 week program, from a strength point of view. 

Use this as a guideline.

You might progress faster or slower, but this is what an ‘average’ untrained man managed to do, whilst maintaining great form…

ExerciseStart Weight*End Weight*
Incline Barbell Bench Press90150
Bent Over Row80130
Dumbbell Shoulder Press3555
Hammer Curls2540
Weighted Push Ups20**45**
Hanging Leg RaisesBodyweightBodyweight
ExerciseStart Weight*End Weight*
Front Squats110170
Barbell Jump Squats65110
Romanian Deadlifts110200
Side PlankBodyweightBodyweight
Pallof Press3050

Warm up

Upper lower split warm up

I like warm ups to start with a gentle cardio element, but it must be relevant to the body part being trained. For example, riding a bike for 5 minutes when you’re about to hit your upper body isn’t much use.

Ideally, go for full body cardio…

  • Rower
  • Air Bike
  • Treadmill
  • Shadow boxing
  • Skipping

From there I want you to run through the following exercises for 3×1 minute sets. This is the same regardless of the body part you’re training.

  • 3 Air Squats
  • 2 Push Ups
  • 1 Burpee

Repeat this sequence for 5 rounds. 

The benefits are that you’ll be warm, mobile and have used all of your body in a dynamic yet safe way. You’ll have done some resistance work, so you’ll have engaged your muscles without additional weight. 

Upper Lower Split Routine Workouts

Workout 1 – Upper Body, High Volume

Dumbbell Bench Press481 min
Chin Ups461 min
Military Press481 min
Lateral Raises4121 min
Cable Row4121 min
Dumbbell Fly3121 min

*Example starting weight (it could be more or less) with the weight you will lift when you finish the 90 days (in lbs)

**Weight of the dumbbell in each hand (lbs).

Upper lower split infographic 1

1. Dumbbell bench press

My favorite chest exercise. It’s unilateral. It allows for freedom of movement. It engages the pecs through a wide range of movement. It provides the stabilizing muscles with a lot of work to do. It’s also safer than the barbell bench press. Work hard and use a full range of movement.

Equipment needed for dumbbell bench press:

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

2. Chin ups

The chin up is a more achievable exercise than the pull up for most people. This is thanks to the extra activation of the biceps. I also like the extra lat stretch in the lower position – this helps with shoulder health. Use a full range of motion with each rep. Use a band if you need to for extra help.

Equipment needed for pull ups:

3. Military press

The big boy of the shoulder training world, this exercise builds strength across the entire shoulder girdle. It’s also a good way to encourage strong lifting posture. Keep the glutes squeezed, the core tight and press with good form overhead. As always, full range of motion is important. 

Equipment needed for the military press:

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plate
Read our best bumper plates guide here

Bumper plates are ideal for a home gym.

They can last a lifetime and allow you to do additional lifts which require you to drop the bar.

Our team has compared over 100 types and the Rogue Fleck plates came out on top.

They are great value, use color allowing you to quickly see how much you’re lifting and the pattern will give your home gym a unique look.

4. Lateral raises

I like the lateral raise for the deltoids – it’s a way of isolating the shoulders that doesn’t stress the joint too much. It’s also a simple exercise, but the benefits are clear. It’s an easy exercise to learn, and can be tweaked slightly to adjust the target area.

Equipment needed for lateral raises:

5. Cable rows

An Arnold Schwarzenegger favorite, the cable row is a great back exercise. With a forward lean you can really stretch the lats, giving you a huge range of movement and a lot of time under tension. This is a great volume exercise for the back. 

Equipment needed for cable rows:

REP FT-5000

REP Fitness FT-5000 Cable Machine
Read our best cable machine guide here

This is the cable machine we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 100 cable machines against 10 criteria. This is our highest-ranked cable machine.

The main reason is this is commercial-like quality for a reasonable price.

It also boasts a 224lbs weight stack on both sides. Comparable models have sub 200lbs.

Some cable machines can feel a bit wobbly during certain exercises, but the FT-5000 provides exceptionally stable and smooth resistance throughout the entire range of motion.

6. Dumbbell fly

Another Arnold favorite, the chest fly is a great way to open up and stretch the chest. The benefit of this isn’t just the muscle building capability of the exercise, it’s also great for chest and shoulder health. This is because of the wide stretch at the midpoint of the movement. 

Equipment needed for cable fly:

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

Workout 2 – Lower Body, High Volume

Back Squats4101 min
Barbell Lunges4121 min
Stiff Legged Deadlifts4121 min
Calf Raises3Failure1 min
Split Squats3121 min
Barbell Ab Roll Out3101 min

*Example starting weight (it could be more or less) with the weight you will lift when you finish the 90 days (in lbs)

**Weight of the dumbbell in each hand (lbs).

Upper lower split infographic 2

1. Back squats

The obvious starting point for a leg day. A crazy effective exercise, and one that benefits you across so many areas. Athletically, muscle building, movement quality, injury resistance – squatting helps with them all. Use a squat wedge if you can’t get full depth. 

Equipment needed for back squats:

2. Barbell lunges

A heavy weight unilateral leg exercise, the barbell lunge is both functional and great for developing leg strength. I also like this exercise for the glute recruitment.

Just make sure that your back knee reaches a deep enough position – too many people barely bend the back leg during a lunge. 

Equipment needed for barbell lunges:

3. Stiff legged deadlifts

My personal go-to exercise for hamstrings, this is a perfect way to stretch and strengthen the muscles at the same time. The nature of this movement means the hamstrings are contracted eccentrically.

This is where they lengthen under load, so it maintains flexibility whilst building strength.

Equipment needed for stiff legged deadlifts:

4. Calf raises

The calf raise is a basic, but important exercise on a lower body day. It’s a way to strengthen and stretch the calf muscles. This not only builds muscle, but also makes the muscle more resistant to injury.

If you don’t have a step like the video, just stand on a couple of bumper plates to create the step.

Equipment needed for calf raises:

5. Split squats

The split squat is like a lunge, but the elevated rear foot allows you to stretch the hip flexor at the same time. The exercise really forces the quads and glutes to work through a full range of movement.

This builds great hip and knee stability, as well as control and balance through the legs. 

Equipment needed for split squats:

6. Barbell ab roll out

One of my preferred ways to train the abs is with anti-extension exercises. These are a way to force the abs to work in a way that keeps the spine elongated.

Too much spinal flexion (bending, as in with crunches) isn’t a good idea for most people. This is a way to prevent spinal flexion, and force the abs to engage.

Equipment needed for barbell ab rollouts:

Workout 3 – Upper Body, Strength Session

Incline Barbell Bench Press461-3 min
Bent Over Row481-3 min
Dumbbell Shoulder Press481-3 min
Hammer Curls3Failure1 min
Weighted Push Ups381 min
Hanging Leg Raises3121 min

*Example starting weight (it could be more or less) with the weight you will lift when you finish the 90 days (in lbs)

**Weight of the dumbbell in each hand (lbs).

Upper lower split infographic 3

1. Incline barbell bench press

The incline nature of this exercise means that you recruit the upper pecs and shoulders as well as the triceps. It’s a good way to spread the load across the entire chest and shoulder girdle, and it provides a nice challenge for the chest. It’ll build a lot of pressing strength!

Equipment needed for incline barbell bench press:

2. Bent over row

The barbell bent over row is a great way to train all of the body. We put this early in the workout so you’re not doing it when fatigued.

This reduces the risk to the lower back, and it increases the rep quality. It’ll also help you to lift more weight, because you’ll be less fatigued by doing it early. 

Equipment needed for bent over row:

3. Dumbbell shoulder press

I like this version of the exercise because it removes the possibility of using the legs to help. If you’re sitting down, all of the work is done by the upper body. Keep your back flat against the bench and drive through a full range of movement every time. 

Equipment needed for dumbbell shoulder press:

4. Hammer curls

A staple bicep exercise for me, the hammer curl belongs here. The neutral grip activates the forearms well, and it provides a different type of stimulation relative to the neutral grip version. I also find it more elbow-friendly when you are lifting heavier weights. 

Equipment needed for hammer curls:

5. Weighted push ups

The weighted push up takes an exercise you may haven’t given any credit to and makes it an absolute game-changer. With a heavy enough plate on your back, the weighted push up is a seriously tough movement. It really challenges your chest, shoulders and core. 

Equipment needed for weighted push ups: 

6. Hanging leg raises

When you get the control right in this exercise, it’s a great way to target the abs. Focus on controlling your body so you’re not swinging backwards and forwards. Keep the movement slow and deliberate. It also helps to train the forearms and stretch the chest.

Equipment needed for hanging leg raises:

Workout 4 – Lower Body, Strength Session

Front Squats461-3 min
Deadlifts451-3 min
Barbell Jump Squats461-3 min
Romanian Deadlifts461 min
Side Plank345 Seconds (per side)1 min
Pallof Press3101 min

*Example starting weight (it could be more or less) with the weight you will lift when you finish the 90 days (in lbs)

**Weight of the dumbbell in each hand (lbs).

Upper lower split infographic 4

1. Front squats

The front squat is a more technically challenging squat. You need more flexibility in the lats to allow you to hold the bar in a good rack position. Once you have that, you’re able to stiffen through the core and sit into a deep squat. Keep your chest up and lift through a full range. 

Equipment needed for front squats:

2. Deadlifts

The deadlift is the exercise that most people can lift the heaviest weight on. It’s a true full-body movement, and it’s the exercise that will see your strength jump. A good deadlift helps you athletically, helps you build muscle, and helps your strength go nuts! Work hard to lift more here. 

Equipment needed for deadlifts:

3. Barbell jump squats

The barbell jump squat is a perfect way to build explosive power and strength, in the legs. You don’t need huge weight here – around 30-50% of what you’d normally lift would work.

Focus on the explosive leg drive, and landing safely. This is another exercise that will transform you athletically. 

Equipment needed for barbell jump squats:

4. Romanian deadlifts

The Romanian deadlift is an exercise that’s very similar to the stiff leg deadlift. In fact, the only real difference is that you ‘set’ the hips back. This means you hinge through them more than the stiff leg deadlift.

There’s mostly hamstring activation with the RDL, so it’s a good exercise to balance the workload between the front and back of the legs. 

Equipment needed for Romanian deadlifts:

5. Side plank

The abdominal exercises most people perform only really involve flexion. They also only usually target the rectus abdominis (the 6 pack muscles).

Whilst this sounds like a good idea, it misses out on a lot of the other important abdominal and core muscles. The side plank addresses this well. 

Equipment needed for side planks:

  • None!

6. Cable Pallof press

The Pallof press is an anti-rotation exercise for the core. It is designed to engage the core and keep it in a neutral position, whilst the weight pulls it into a rotation. It’s a perfect way to engage the serratus muscles, and it doesn’t stress the spine. Overall, it’s a fantastic core exercise. 

Equipment needed for cable Pallof press:

5 Upper Lower Split Routine Tips

Here’s a little bonus section to help you get the most from the Top to Bottom workout plan. It’ll help ensure you stay on track and do all you can to benefit from your hard work…

Upper lower split bonus tips

1. Don’t combine the workouts

You may look at these workouts and think a warm up and 6 exercises isn’t enough. You may even be tempted to add a couple of workouts into one. Please don’t. 

The way to get the most from this workout is to work hard on the exercises you’re doing. By doing your warm up properly, pushing your limits on the exercises (hitting failure on the sets) and keeping your rest periods appropriate, these workouts are more than enough.

The goal is to stimulate the muscle, not annihilate it. Remember that.

2. Do your cardio on different days

You can still add cardio into the program if you want to. A request is that you do it on different days to your lifting days. The reason is simple – if you do it before, you’ll compromise your energy levels for your resistance training sessions.

If you do it after, you’ll risk injury more, as discovered by Jones et al in their 2017 meta analysis titled ‘Training Load and Fatigue Marker Associations with Injury and Illness: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Studies’.

One of their takeaways was that…

Athletes are at an increased risk of injury/illness at key stages in their training and competition, including periods of training load intensification and periods of accumulated training loads.

If you increase the volume on a given day or week, the risk goes up. I’d prefer you to spread the volume across different days, and reduce the risk of injury. Additionally, try to keep the intensity down too. Think gentle bike rides rather than HIIT and hill sprints!

A person doing pull ups

3. Make progress each week

Depending on where you are in your lifting journey, you’ll make progress as you train. If you’re new to training, or you’ve have a period of time off, you’ll increase in strength. The rate of strength improvement varies from person to person, and is situation dependent. 

A rate of strength improvement of around 2-5% each week is normal. If you’re progressing faster, great! If your progression isn’t as fast, don’t worry. As long as you’re truly giving your all in your sessions, you’ll get there.

Even if you’re not able to lift more weight each week, you might manage more reps. That’s still progress. Treat it as such.

4. Eat for the goals you have

This upper lower split routine is best for muscle building, but if it’s combined with the right diet, you can use it for fat loss as well. 

Regardless of your goal, you have to eat for it. Whether that’s in a calorie surplus or deficit will be determined by your goals. Don’t try to build muscle by keeping your calories low and hitting these workouts hard.

Likewise, if you’re trying to lose fat don’t eat like a starving elephant and wonder why the scales aren’t budging.

If you want more dietary advice, I can’t recommend a better resource than our very own dietary guideline articles – Strong Home Gym Nutrition Guides.

5. Prioritize recovery

Done properly, these workouts are tough. The demands on your body are even tougher if you’re throwing cardio into the mix as well.

To prevent the upper lower split kicking your ass, you need to make sure that you prioritize adequate recovery. You can tick the first box here by ensuring you’re eating well. Follow the guidelines in the nutrition posts to do that properly. 

The next thing you should do is get 7+ hours of sleep per night. Make sure you’re not drinking alcohol or caffeine in the lead up to bed time, and keep screen time before sleep at a minimum.

If you recover well, you can train well. If you train well, you’ll get results.

Upper Lower Split Routine Top to Bottom Workout: The Bottom Line

This is a classic program that has stood the test of time. The reason? Because it works. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel here. Just stick to the upper lower split routine as it’s written here, and you won’t go wrong.

Read the article again, look at the workouts, study the form videos and get busy.

Your new body is waiting for you!

Once you complete this check out our advanced weight lifting workout.

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Steve Hoyles is a certified personal trainer and gym owner. Since graduating with his Sports Science degree in 2004 he's worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. His writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries as he inspires to help as many people as possible live a healthy lifestyle.

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