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The Ultimate Upper/Lower Split - Oxygen Magazine

The Ultimate Upper/Lower Split

This unique split routine gets you leaner and stronger from top to bottom.
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Fitness is trendy, and what’s trending at the moment is full-body training — working the entire body in every workout. But the classic upper/lower-body split where you train legs one day, then chest, back, shoulders and arms the next is still the routine of choice for many elite athletes and could be your best option to sculpt a lean, mean body.

“With an upper/lower split, you really get an opportunity to focus on specific body parts with higher volume, which is great for hypertrophy [building muscle],” says Meka Gibson, CSCS, personal training manager at Dave Barton Gym (Astor Place) in New York City. “Muscle is our fat-burning source. By building muscle you’re [creating] a hormonal state that will lead you to lose body fat.” You’ll also create shape and definition while boosting your metabolism and building stronger bones.

How To Do It

With this program you’ll take the upper/lower concept a step farther: Twice a week you’ll use a traditional strength and power-training protocol to build size and boost anaerobic capacity, and twice a week you’ll do a circuit to lean out and maximize aerobic endurance. This way, your body encounters markedly different training stimuli on a weekly basis, improving overall fitness and sparking even more fat-burning through muscle confusion. The moves are similar on both strength and circuit days, which means there aren’t a lot of steps to learn — making it easier than ever to get results.

Give this routine a try for the next four to eight weeks and look forward to a new body!

Strength/power (anaerobic + muscle building)

Mondays and Tuesdays are your traditional strength and power days, so go all out with plyometric moves and load up your weight so you’re lifting heavy enough to achieve failure around six to 10 reps.

Monday: Lower Body

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Tuck Jump

4

6

Barbell Squat

4

10

Overhead Walking Lunge w/Plate

4

10 each leg

Barbell Romainian Deadlift

4

10

Rest one to two minutes between all sets.

Tuesday: Upper Body

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Plyo Incline Push-Up

4

6

Barbell Bent-Over Row

4

10

Dumbbell Push Press

4

10

Ez-Bar Curl

4

10

Rest one to two minutes between all sets.

Circuit Training (aerobic + fat burning)

Thursday is your lower-body circuit. Do as many reps of each move with good form for a minute with no rest in between, and rest one to two minutes between circuits. Go through the circuit two to five times, depending on your level.

Friday is your upper-body circuit done in four rounds. For round one, do each exercise for 60 seconds and complete as many reps as you can using good form and a moderately heavy weight. Each subsequent round decreases by 15 seconds.

Note: The moves in the circuit are comparable to the moves on the strength and power days, and are paired together with their counterparts in the descriptions following.

Thursday: Lower Body

Exercise

Time Interval

Jump Rope

1 minute

Bodyweight Squat

1 minute

Walking Lunge

1 minute

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

1 minute

Jump Rope

1 minute

Friday: Upper Body

Exercise

Rounds

Time Interval Round 1/2/3/4

Plyo Incline Push-Up

4

60/45/30/15 seconds

Dumbbell Bent-Over Row

4

60/45/30/15 seconds

Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press

4

60/45/30/15 seconds

Alternating Dumbbell Curl

4

60/45/30/15 seconds

*Wednesday is an active recovery day. Do some moderately intense cardio and stretch thoroughly. Also, do your abdominal training on this day.

**Saturday is an optional HIIT cardio day for intermediate and advanced participants only. Beginners should stick to 30 to 40 minutes of steady state cardio, as was completed on Wednesday.

Lower Half

Monday: Tuck Jumps

Tuck-Jumps

Muscles worked: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves

Setup: Stand with your arms at your sides, feet hip-width apart.

Move: Dip down at the knees and reach your arms back, then swing your arms forward and upward and jump straight up as high as you can, tucking your knees into your chest. Land softly, settle, then repeat.

Thursday: Jump Rope (not shown)

This jumping exercise is steady and sustained, not explosive. Use small hops, just high enough to let the rope pass under your feet on each rep.

Training Tip: This is an intense, explosive move, so you’ll do fewer reps here. Make each one count — no holding back!

Note: Beginners and intermediates can substitute step-ups or box jumps to take the intensity down a level.

Monday: Barbell Squat

Barbell-Squat

Muscles worked: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, core

Setup: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed slightly outward. Balance a barbell across your upper back and shoulders with your chest lifted and your abs tight.

Move: Kick your hips back, then bend your knees and squat down as if sitting in a chair, keeping your back flat throughout. When your thighs reach parallel with the floor, press through your heels to return to standing without locking your knees at the top.

Thursday: Bodyweight Squat (not shown)

Perform the same squatting motion continuously without the barbell. Start with your arms at your sides and lift them up in front of your chest to counterbalance as you squat down.

Training Tip: For greater glute recruitment, drop below parallel as far as you comfortably can.

Monday: Barbell Romanian Deadlift

Barbell-Romanian-Deadlift

Muscles worked: Hamstrings, glutes, lower back

Setup: Hold a barbell in front of your thighs with an overhand grip, feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.

Move: Keeping your chest up, back flat and arms extended, fold forward at the hips, pushing them rearward and lowering the weight until your torso is parallel with the floor. Slowly reverse the motion and return to standing.

Thursday: Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift (not shown)

Perform the exact same motion, only with dumbbells instead of a barbell.

Training Tip: If you are doing this move correctly, the bar should slide up and down vertically along your legs and shins.

Monday: Overhead Walking Lunge With Plate

Overhead-Walking-Lunge-With-Plate

Muscles worked: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, shoulders, trapezius

Setup: Stand with your feet together, knees slightly bent and hold a moderately heavy weight plate (about 10 to 25 pounds) in both hands directly overhead, arms fully extended.

Move: Take a large step forward with one leg, then bend both knees to lower yourself toward the floor. When your back knee is just shy of touching down, step forward with that leg and extend both knees to bring your feet together again. Repeat, alternating legs.

Tip: Keep your chest lifted and shoulders back so the plate remains directly overhead.

Thursday: Walking Lunge (not shown)

Perform the same movement, only with no weight plate and your arms moving forward and back in concert with your legs.

Training Tip: Keep your elbows in close to your sides throughout; don’t let them flare out.

Upper Half

Tuesday: Plyo Incline Push-Up

Plyo-Incline-Push-Up

Muscles worked: Pectorals, triceps, shoulders, core

Setup: Set the bar in a Smith machine at about waist height and place both hands on the bar, shoulder-width apart. Step your feet back so you are in a push-up position on an incline, abs tight, head neutral.

Move: Bend your elbows to lower yourself until your upper chest is just shy of touching the bar. Then explosively extend your arms with enough force so your hands leave the bar. Catch yourself with slightly bent elbows and go immediately into the next rep.

Friday: Incline Military Push-Up (not shown)

Perform reps in the same position as above at a steady tempo.

Training Tip: The lower the bar, the more difficult the move, and vice versa.

Tuesday: Barbell Bent-Over Row

Barbell-Bent-Over-Row

Muscles worked: Lats, rhomboids, trapezius, core, lower back, rear delts

Setup: Hold a barbell with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Fold forward at the waist so your torso is about 45 degrees to the floor with your back flat. Extend your arms straight toward the floor.

Move: Drive your elbows up and back with force, squeezing your shoulder blades together and pulling the bar into your abdomen. Pause a moment at the top, then slowly lower to the start.

Friday: Dumbbell Bent-Over Row (not shown)

Perform the same motion holding a pair of dumbbells instead of a bar. For variety, switch the angle of the dumbbells: Do them with palms inward, neutral and rearward to target different areas of the back.

Training Tip: Don’t use momentum to lift the weight, as it could injure your back.

Tuesday: Dumbbell Push Press

Dumbbell-Push-Press

Muscles worked: Deltoids, core, trapezius

Setup: Stand holding a pair of dumbbells at shoulder level with your palms facing forward.

Move: Bend your knees slightly, then explosively extend them while straightening your arms and pressing the dumbbells straight overhead. Pause briefly and steady the weights before returning to the start.

Friday: Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press (not shown)

Press the dumbbells overhead using strict movements rather than explosive ones.

Training Tip: Because your legs are creating momentum, you should be able to go slightly heavier.

Tuesday: Ez-Bar Curl

Ez-Bar-Curl

Muscles worked: Biceps

Setup: Hold an EZ-curl bar with a shoulder-width grip, arms extended toward the floor and knees slightly bent.

Move: Keeping your torso erect, bend your elbows to curl the weight up as high as possible, then slowly lower to the start.

Friday: Alternating Dumbbell Curl (not shown)

Perform the same type of biceps curl with dumbbells, but alternate arms with each repetition.

Training Tip: Keep your elbows in close to your sides throughout; don’t let them flare out.

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