Ask a dozen different personal trainers what kind of workout routine is best and you'll probably get a dozen different answers.
In general, there's no wrong way to exercise as long as you're doing it consistently, ensuring you get plenty of rest, and being cautious with your form as to avoid injury.
That said, it doesn't hurt to know a few different types of workouts and to experiment to figure out what you like best. Enjoying your workouts and having a bit of variety are important since they will help you maintain consistency!
Let's dive in and outline some of the core types of workouts you may come across online, clarifying what they are and who they are likely to benefit!
In this article:
One of the most common types of workout splits you'll read about online these days is a push-pull-legs routine, also just called "push-pull." The name of this type of workout comes from the motion of the individual exercises that you'll do from day to day.
In general, the way this split is set up, you'll do abductive movements (i.e. movements that push weights away from the body) across major muscles groups one day and then adductive movements (i.e. movements that pull weight toward your body) on other days. Then, you'll have a full day devoted to legs, and folks often tack on an additional day to do cardio.
Push-pull routines are great for engaging your entire body. In a standard push-pull routine, you'll engage all of your major muscle groups, hitting most groups a couple of times per week.
Because your workouts are spread out across several muscle groups each time you workout, you also (generally speaking) deal with less soreness and fatigue compared to isolated muscle group workouts. At the same time, activating your entire body and moving between multiple workouts and muscle groups means that you're also going to usually be burning a lot of calories.
Splitting up your workouts into pushing and pulling motions, and perhaps throwing in a day or two of cardio each week, makes this an ideal workout split for folks who can only commit to 3 days per week in the gym.
It can be a challenge to do a full push-pull routine with bodyweight alone. As such, you're going to be best off going to the gym for this type of routine and will likely have trouble doing a consistent push-pull from the comfort of your home.
Additionally, if you're trying to solve for a particular weak point, the spread of a push-pull routine may not have enough intentional focus on that weak point built into it.
Sample Push-PUll-Legs Routine
Day 1: Push (chest, triceps, and shoulders)
Incline Bench Press, 3 sets of 6-8 reps, 1 set of 8+ reps
- Arnold Press, 3 sets of 8-10 reps, 1 set of 10+ reps
- Triceps Dips, 4 sets of 6-10 reps (variation: Weighted Triceps Dips)
- Superset: Dumbbell Fly and Lying Triceps Extensions, 3 sets each, 12-14 reps each
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: Pull (Back, Biceps, and Forearms)
- Lat Pulldowns, 4 sets, 8-10 reps each
- Bent-Over Barbell Row, 3 sets of 6-8 reps, 1 set of 8+ reps
- Face Pulls, 4 sets of 12-14 reps each
- Superset: Barbell Curl and Dumbbell Shrugs, 3 sets each, 12-15 reps each.
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Legs & Core
- Barbell Squats, 3 sets 6-8 reps each, 1 set 8-10 reps
- Walking Lunges (variation: hold dumbbells overhead), 4 sets, 30-45 seconds of consistent movement per set.
- Cable Crunches, 4 sets, 15-20 reps per set
- Quad Extensions, 4 sets, 8-10 reps per set
- Calf Raises, 3 sets 8-10 reps, 1 set 15+ reps
An Upper-Lower split follows a similar principle to the Push-Pull split, but broadly groups your workouts into two groups: the top half of your body and the lower half of your body.
If you can only devote 2 days per week to lifting, an upper-lower split could be a good way for you to engage all of your major muscle groups.
This can be a good option if your time is limited and you're mainly looking for muscle and health maintenance as opposed to building muscle or doing physique work.
Because an upper-lower split only includes two cycles of lifting, you're going to have to repeat the split and vary it week to week in order to ensure that you're training all of your muscles equally.
Sample Upper-Lower Split Routine
Day 1: Upper Body (Back, Chest, arms, shoulders)
- Pull-Ups (variation: weighted pull-ups or assisted pull-ups), 4 sets, 5-10 reps per set
- Benchpress, 5 sets, 6-10 reps per set
- Military Press, 4 sets, 6-10 reps per set
- Superset: Cable Triceps Extensions and EZ-Bar Curls, 4 sets each, 10-15 reps each
Day 2: Rest or Cardio
Day 3: Lower Body (Legs, some Back, some Core)
- Deadlifts, 4 sets, 8-10 reps per set
- Leg Press, 4 sets, 10-12 reps per set
- Leg Curls, 4 sets, 10-12 reps per set
- Starfish Crunch, 4 sets, 15-20 reps per set
- Seated Calf Raise, 4 sets, 15-20 reps per set
Day 4: Rest or Cardio
The Classic SPlit
The Classic Split goes by a few different names. You may see it referred to as a gym bro split (a name I despise because of the connotation) or, more accurately, a complimentary muscle split.
With this type of routine, you're pairing targeted muscles based upon the types of movements that you're completing. For example, most pressing movements that originate in the chest also engage the triceps, so you'd pair chest and triceps together; many pulling movements that originate in the lats and other back muscles also engage your biceps and forearms, so you train back and biceps together.
Personally, this is my go-to gym routine. When I hit the gym, this is how I train.
This split engages your entire body and allows you to really focus in on each muscle group day to day. If you're working on building strength and muscle mass, or training to accommodate a specific weakness, this is a great way to have brilliantly targeted workouts.
The Classic Split only works two muscle groups at a time, so you're going to need to go to the gym 4-5 times per week. Additionally, sequencing your workouts and rest days is a tricky skill to acquire since your body may hold onto latent soreness. With this split, it is easy to over-train some muscles, meaning that you'll need to be extra intentional about carving out rest days.
Sample Classic Split Routine
Day 1: Back and Biceps
- Bent-Over Barbell Rows, 4 sets, 8-10 reps per set
- T-Bar Rows, 4 sets, 8-10 reps per set
- Barbell Curls, 4 sets, 12-14 reps per set
- Lat Pulldowns, 3 sets, 8-10 reps per set
- Hammer Curls, 3 sets, 12-15 reps per set
Day 2: Legs And Core
- Barbell Squats, 3 sets, 8-10 reps per set
- Hack Squats, 4 sets, 6-10 reps per set
- Hip Thrusts, 4 sets, 10-12 reps per set
- Calf Raises, 4 sets, 10-15 reps per set
- Cable Crunches, 4 sets, 15-20 reps per set
- Planks, 3 sets, 30 seconds to 1 minute per set
Day 3: rest
Day 4: Chest and Triceps
- Incline Dumbbell Press, 4 sets, 6-10 reps per set
- Bench Press, 4 sets, 6-10 reps per set
- Triceps Dips, 4 sets, 5-10 reps per set
- Cable Flys, 4 sets, 8-10 reps per set
- Diamond Push-Ups, 3 sets, 10 reps per set
Day 5: Shoulders
- Seated Dumbbell Press, 4 sets, 6-10 reps per set
- Lateral Dumbbell Raise, 4 sets, 8-10 reps per set
- Standing Dumbbell Shrugs, 3 sets, 12-18 reps per set
- Cable Face Pulls, 3 sets, 12-16 reps per set
- Rear Delt Flys, 4 sets, 6-10 reps per set
Day 6 & Day 7: Rest/Cardio
HIIT– high-intensity interval training– is a training type in which you exercise at full force for set intervals and then repeat. With HIIT training, you often go directly from one exercise to the next without a break in between until your set has been completed.
HIIT Training can be done with a weightlifting focus or can be done with bodyweight exercises, making it a great option for folks who cannot make it into a gym or who need to workout at home.
Additionally, because HIIT is focused on elevating your heart rate quickly, your workouts form a pattern of sharp spikes in heart rate followed by short periods of rest. This lends itself well to burning calories and building cardiorespiratory endurance.
Doing a weightlifting-focused form of HIIT (such as CrossFit) can expose you to an increased risk of injury. Any time you're lifting weights, your form is imperative for preventing harm. If you're intentionally moving quickly and only engaging in fast, explosive movements, there is a risk that your form will get sloppy. Because of this, I prefer bodyweight-centric HIIT routines.
Sample HIIT Routine
For these sample routines, each interval will consist of three exercises. Collectively, these exercises form a set. They're structured to perform a set, rest briefly, repeat, rest briefly, repeat, longer rest (3-5 minutes), and then repeat with the next interval.
Bodyweight and Low-Equipment Focus (Performed 2-4 Times per Week)
- First Interval, Repeat 3 times with 45 seconds to 1.5 minutes of rest between sets.
- Squat jumps, 25 reps
- Push-Ups, 15 reps
- Mountain Climbers, 30 seconds
- Second Interval, Repeat 3 times with 45 seconds to 1.5 minutes of rest between sets.
- Kettlebell Swings, 30 seconds
- Russian Twists, 30 seconds
- Resistance Band Curls, 25 reps
- Third Interval, Repeat 3 times with 45 seconds to 1.5 minutes of rest between sets
- Pull-Ups, 3-8 reps
- Lunges, 30-45 seconds
- Resistance Band Upright Rows, 15-20 reps