The American College of Sports Medicine recommends working out your total body at least two to three times per week for health maintenance. However, if your goal is strength gain, it is best to split your workouts into specific body parts to ultimately fatigue your muscles. A typical three-day split involves two upper-body days and a lower-body day. This allows you to focus all you energy on two major muscle groups per day to see optimal results.
If you are new to exercise, start with a lighter weight and do higher repetitions of 12 to 15 for one or two sets, building baseline strength and stability. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, after about four to six weeks, increase your lifting weight to fatigue your muscles by the third set of eight to 10 repetitions. Do three to four exercises per muscle group each day. Weight train on nonconsecutive days to allow your muscles to fully recover.
Back and Chest
Start with larger, multijoint exercises, and progress to single-joint exercises. For the chest, start with horizontal dumbbell chest presses as a warm-up, and then progress to barbell bench presses. Do dumbbell horizontal flyes followed by pushups, then incline or cable flyes. For the back, start with lat pulldowns or wide-grip pullups. Progress to narrow-grip seated rows and then dumbbell or cable reverse flyes. Finish with single-arm bent-over dumbbell rows.
Shoulders and Arms
To maximize shoulder or deltoid growth, start with overhead dumbbell shoulder presses as a warm-up. For muscle building, do shoulder presses on a fixed motion machine or Smith machine. For frontal deltoids, do dumbbell frontal raises, and for middle deltoids, do dumbbell lateral raises. For rear deltoids, use a pec-dec machine, which is available in most gyms. Progress to biceps by doing dumbbell curls and hammer curls, cable curls and single-arm concentration curls. For triceps, do overhead triceps extensions, cable-rope pulldowns and dumbbell kickbacks.
Legs and Calves
To warm up the lower body, start with body-weight squats or lunges. Progress to the leg press machine to help develop quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings. To target the glutes and hamstrings, do walking lunges with dumbbells in each hand, and stepups onto a 24-inch platform holding weights. Also try stiff-legged barbell deadlifts for the hamstrings. For quad growth, do barbell front squats and machine leg extensions. Finish off with standing calf raises and seated weighted calf raises.
To keep your routine from getting stale, vary the order of exercises each week. Still keep larger muscle groups first and finish with smaller muscle groups. Add supersets every three or four weeks to shock your body so you continue to see results. Supersets involve combining two exercises of the same body part and working them back to back. To do drop sets, do your three sets like normal, and on the last set immediately decrease the weight by about 10 percent and continue repetitions until muscular failure.
- The American College of Sports Medicine: Physical Activity and Public Health Guidelines
- Fitness: Burn, Baby, Burn: The Metabolism-Boosting Superset Workout
- ExRx.net: 3 Day Split Workout
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning; National Strength and Conditioning Association; Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle
- Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.