How Your Workouts Will Benefit from Split Routines

A Marine recruit executes a push press.
U.S. Marine Corps recruit Darien L. Shields, a recruit with Kilo Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, executes a push press during a physical training session at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Nov. 8, 2021. (Lance Cpl. Julian Elliott-Drouin/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

There are a multitude of ways to work out in the gym. Some go to the gym and only do cardio machines, some mix a full-body circuit in the weight room with cardio machines, and many do split routines on consecutive days where they split the body into upper/lower or push/pull muscles. Some will just work a muscle group a day.

Here are some sample split routines that we like to do. These are the upper body on Day 1 and lower body on a Day 2 split routine. Depending on your goals, you can make Day 3 a cardio-only day as a recovery day from lifting hard, or you can go back to an upper-body day on Day 3.

Split routines are basically used so you can get to the gym on back-to-back days without having to work the same muscle groups.

Moderate level of fitness:

Day 1: Gym (upper)

Warm up with a short five- to 10-minute walk, jog, bike or elliptical

Repeat five times.

  • Jumping jacks 10
  • Push-ups 5-10
  • Crunches 20

Repeat three times.

  • Bench press 10
  • Pull-ups max
  • Pulldowns 10, 10 (wide, regular grip)
  • Plank pose one minute
  • Bench dips 10
  • Dumbbell rows 10/arm

Lightweight Shoulders:

100-calorie burnout (fast) on bike or elliptical: Maximize resistance/speed and see how quickly you can burn 100 calories.

Cardio option:

Walk, jog/walk, run, swim, bike, elliptical, row, stair stepper: Pick one for a total of 10-15 minutes of cardio (or longer if you prefer).

Day 2: Legs

Warm up with a squat/run pyramid: Run 25 meters, one squat; run 25 meters, two squats; run 25 meters, three squats -- do up to 10. Use dynamic stretches during the 25-meter distances, too.

Cardio mix:

Run/walk mix 20 minutes

(every five minutes -- stop and do 20 squats)


Elliptical or bike

20-minute pyramid: Make each minute harder than the previous minute by one level of resistance. (Every five minutes, stop and do 20 squats.)


Walk 20 minutes. Make each minute harder than previous minutes by increasing the speed or incline (treadmill) -- build up to a jog? (Every five minutes, stop and do 20 squats.)

More advanced split routine

Day 3

Reverse pyramid: Run 25 meters between each set of three exercises for 20-11.

20, 19, 18, 17, 16:

  • Push-ups, sit-ups, arm haulers
  • Max dips/pull-ups

15, 14, 13, 12, 11:

  • Pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups
  • 100 flutter kicks (nonstop)

10, 9, 8, 7, 6:

  • Pull-ups, bench press, push press (50%/up to body weight)
  • Run one mile or bike 10 minutes.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1:

Cardio cooldown for 10-15 minutes

Day 4

Run one-mile warmup/stretch

Run hills, steps, bleachers, sand, etc., for 30 minutes.

Run one mile cooldown

Swim 500 meters without fins

Swim 1,000 meters any way you wish: 10 x 100 or 5 x 200, etc.

So when you hear the term split routine, now you have an idea of what it means and one of the many ways to "split" the body into multiple groups for training several days a week in a row.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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