Best 4 Day Workout Split - Build Athletic Muscle
You don’t need to lift heavy every single day to see results in the gym! A 4 day workout split is more than enough to see progress in your physique, strength, and reach your fitness goals. As much as you want to hit the ground running every single day and do some form of Bulgarian style training, it’s just not realistic to workout aggressively every single day of the week.
There are a lot of factors that go into how much someone can train throughout a week. Unless you are a fully funded professional athlete, there is a small chance that you even have the time to workout every single day. Even as a beginner or casual gym-goer, your body needs time to get adequate rest and recover throughout the week so you can make the most of every training session.
Using a 4 day workout split will help you target the major muscle groups at least once a week while still allowing you to do accessory or specialization work. In this guide, you will get a good layout for a 4 day workout split and an athletic exercise selection to incorporate into your weekly workouts.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What is Athletic Muscle
Before we hop right into our 4 day workout split and the exercises you will be using, we need to take a look at what the goal of this training structure is. The goal of this workout program is to build athletic muscle mass and improve the performance of your body for a specific set of actions. We want to focus on specific adaptations that will make you more fit and also become a beast in your sport.
Athletic muscle is going to be a term we use throughout this guide to encompass the combination of absolute strength, mobility, overall power production, and improved neurological output.
We can take two examples: that of a powerlifter and an Olympic level discus thrower. A powerlifter is going to be training for mainly absolute strength. Although they are athletes in their own respect, they aren’t training to build athletic muscle. They are training to improve static strength and just move as much weight as possible in three movements: squat, bench press, and deadlift. But if we take our focus to a more elastic athlete, like Olympian Sam Mattis, this is going to be our example of athletic muscle. A discus thrower is going to need to produce a lot of power in a short period of time while being highly coordinated in technical movements.
The realm of sports performance ties in greatly with general fitness as well. Being able to improve dynamic trunk control and other levels of coordination is going to develop functional strength that will be used outside of the gym. Elasticity in our muscle groups is going to be the key for longevity and overall fitness of our body.
Different Types of Workout Splits
Now that we’ve covered WHY building muscle for athleticism is important we need to understand different ways you can train throughout a week that fit into your lifestyle. A 4 day workout split is not going to the do-all end-all to live by for training. If you have a busier schedule and focus on general fitness, a 3 day split might be better for you. Although if you are more focused on a specific fitness goal, you may want to invest more time into training and workout more than 4 days a week.
3 Day Split
A 3 day split is going to be mainly for two types of people. The first group of people is going to be beginners to the gym that may not be as invested or unclear of their fitness goals. The second group of people is going to be older individuals that need more time to let their body recover throughout the week between training days.
3 Day training splits are going to consist of mainly full body workouts. You will be focusing on hitting each one of the major muscle groups every time you step in the gym, but maybe with a different focus for each day. Training only three times a week is not ideal for individuals that are pursuing serious athletic goals in a competitive setting. Although if you are a casual lifter or someone just looking to stay in shape with minimal commitment, this might be the best option for you.
4 Day Split
A 4 day training split is going to be the goldilocks zone for casual fitness enthusiasts and athletes alike. This is perfect for students that might have busy schedules, but still want to prioritize their fitness and invest in their overall health.
As an athlete, you will be able to focus on training each muscle group at least once a week while still incorporating sport-specific training into your weekly programming. Even for athletes and individuals with full-time jobs and commitments outside of the gym, the 4 day workout split will give you a great level of consistent intensity while still allowing your body to recover between training sessions.
5 Day Split
The next step up is going to obviously be the 5 day training split. This is going to be for more advanced individuals that need a lot of specialization, but still need a couple days a week to recover from workouts. This will commonly be used by collegiate athletes, bodybuilders, and amateur athletes that train to compete.
As a casual gym-goer, a 5 day split is good for if you have been training for over 3 years and need more workouts to continue developing certain adaptations. With this split, you will be able to hit muscle groups multiple times a week and have more time for accessory work after finishing your compound lifts during each day.
6 Day Split
Finally, the last commonly used workout split is the 6 day training cycle. Training 6 days a week is going to be for advanced athletes that prioritize training as a main facet of their life. This training split is for individuals that compete on a regular basis and train toward long term goals.
The usual training age that someone should start lifting 6 times a week is around 5 years. The training age is just how long an athlete has been consistently doing resistance-based training. The 6 day workout split can include training for their sport. For this constant level of stress an individual is putting on their body, they need to be serious about their nutrition and recovery outside of the gym. This way they can maintain a high training volume as they go through the different blocks of their programming.
Best 4 Day Workout Split
Time for the meat of this article. This is where we will cover the best way to plan out a 4 day workout split as an athlete or casual gym-goer. Like I stated in the previous section, this is going to allow you to hit each major muscle group at least once a week while still focusing on your sport-specific training. This workout program can easily be incorporated as a supplement to your current training as an athlete.
Day 1 - Lower Body
The first day of our 4 day workout split is going to be a focus on the lower body; your big and heavy leg day to start the week using your freshly recovered energy from a day or two off. Another reason to hit legs the first day of a training week is to target low-hanging fruit opportunities to build that technical coordination early.
We want to develop a lot of motor unit recruitment for that coordination which will in turn develop that valuable blast impulse for athleticism. Of course not just for athletes, but for general fitness when individuals are starting to get into the groove of more intense training.
Day one is going to start with a big leg-focused movement like a snatch or power clean to crush that neural drive. It is going to get your nervous system and brain to fire on all cylinders to set your body for the week of training ahead. Then you will move into another heavy compound movement like front squat or back squat to encourage the release of testosterone and growth hormone. Finally you will hit 1-2 accessory movements to double down on that hypertrophy so you can build the biggest muscle group in your body as you recover throughout the week.
Day 2 - Upper Body
Coming into day two, we will focus on our upper body with a heavy arm day, AKA international chest day! Yes, I know international chest day is typically done on a monday, but it’s going to be determined by when you start your training week.
Day 2 is going to be where you will really take a deep dive into exerting the central nervous system to squeeze every ounce of volume you can from your workout. This is where we turn back to some theoretical science.
Similar to day 1, you will start with a heavy, but explosive upper body movement like a behind the neck jerk to prime your nervous system for the rest of the workout. Work up to a heavy double or triple to hit that heightened level of neural drive and then your body will be ready for some serious volume. Now it’s time for some drop sets of bench press because our body is ready to handle that volume and keep up with the desired level of intensity for muscle growth.
By doing 2-3 drop sets a few minutes after a heavy double or triple, we can achieve a better mind-muscle connection. This is going to drastically improve your muscle development over time while still increasing your absolute strength over the course of your training block.
Day 3 - Athletic Day
Our day 3 is not what you are going to expect from a typical 4 day workout split. This is going to be your athlete's day to develop balance, dynamic trunk control, body awareness, and give you a little recovery before your last heavy day for the week. Many people will recommend doing a higher volume day for legs or to another full body workout to target the entire body. Not in this case.
Even though you might be pushing a lot of weight on squats, bench or deadlifts, we still want you to be athletic. You still need to jump high, be explosive, and be able to absorb force in various ways. From a theoretical stance, we need to do exercises that are going to improve that blast impulse and overall power input.
For your athlete day, you want to incorporate plyometrics, jumps, and core exercises to focus that power you’ve been developing earlier in the week. This is not going to be specifically an upper body or lower body workout. This is going to technically be a full body workout, just with a lesser focus on weight and a greater focus on developing that athletic muscle for performance.
Day 4 - Speed and Impulse Day
This takes us into our last day: speed and impulse day. What is impulse? Impulse is going to be the amount of force you produce in a designated period of time. When we talk about the ability to build muscle, especially for athletes, we want to recruit power in various joint positions at very high speeds.
Day 4 is going to be another full body workout that is going to target your entire body. This last day in our workout split is going to tie everything together from earlier in the week. To start the day, we will focus on a highly technical lift to work on that coordination and recruit motor units FAST.
After moving as fast as possible in our first lift, we are going to do some core work. Not in the way you think. Doing core work on day 4 does not involve isolating the abs or doing hundreds of crunches. You want to do compound lifts that will engage the core through rapid movement like single leg squats do. Once these secondary compound exercises are out of the way, we will incorporate in the upper body accessories. Doing something like pull ups supersetted with chest press is going to be our focus on improving our upper body hypertrophy. Using pulling movements in conjunction with pressing movements is going to provide that contralateral stimulus.
To finish off the last day of our four day workout split, we will throw in some ab exercises for dynamic control. Use something that is going to target your entire core like passing the plate or hanging leg raises with a plate on your shins.
Lower Body Exercises
The first set of exercises that we want to take a look at to include in our workout routine is going to be targeting the legs. Since day 1 is leg day, here are the best lower body exercises to build muscle mass as an athlete.
Squats are a staple of any leg day. You can choose between back squats or front squats, but make sure there is some kind of squat variation during your first day. Back squats are going to be great for loading the posterior chain and chasing after that absolut strength. Front squats are going to be a bigger test on the quads and also core. Maintaining that upright position without collapsing the chest is going to improve that dynamic trunk control. Any squat variation is also going to help improve that lower body range of motion to improve overall mobility.
The next lift that you can include in a lower body workout might come as a surprise. Deadlifts are often thought of as a movement that you would do on back day, but with our 4 day split, you aren’t going to have a day dedicated to the back. The deadlift would be included in the lower body day since it is another great compound exercise for targeting the posterior chain and building absolute strength. Not only is deadlift great for absolute strength, if you are doing high volume sets it is a great driver for full body hypertrophy.
2 Box Snatch
The third lift that you can start doing and that we recommend that athletes do more of are 2 box snatches. Snatches are going to be a testing movement that focuses on technical coordination and fire up that neural drive. Snatches are commonly associated with olympic lifters, but they are a powerful tool that anyone can use to develop and practice force production through the legs. Even though this is going to be done on your leg day, it is still a full body movement that will also improve your core and upper body stability.
Hang Power Cleans
The next compound movement for your first day of training is going to be another coordinated lift for producing power through the entire body. That is the hang power clean. Using power cleans in your workout routine is going to produce a similar adaptation to snatches, but here you are going to be able to load more weight on the bar. This might not be as technical of a movement as the snatch, but the focus on blast impulse and rapid force will be the same. This will usually be the first or second exercise you do throughout the training session before starting volume or accessories.
Reverse Hyper Extension
The last exercise to start incorporating into your leg day is going to be the reverse hyper extension. This is going to be one of the best accessories to target your hamstrings and glutes. Don’t mistake this for a hamstring curl or a leg extension. This is going to be an accessory that helps lengthen the muscles in the posterior chain and get a massive pump in your lower back. Doing reverse hyper extensions are going to improve those fast twitch muscles in the legs so you can improve athletic performance.
Upper Body Exercises
Now that we covered the main exercises for day 1, it’s time to take a better look at your arm day workout routine. You may not incorporate every single one of these into your upper body workout, but you can definitely pick a few to start doing more often.
Behind the Neck Jerk
The big lift that is going to drive your upper body workout is going to be a heavy upper body exercise like a behind the neck jerk. Doing behind the neck jerks to start your lift is going to engage that central nervous system and prime your body for the volume ahead. Using jerks in your workout routine is going to build stability in your shoulders and the upper back. Plus, who doesn’t love throwing some serious weight above their head?
I’m sure you could’ve guessed that barbell bench press would’ve made the list for arm day exercises. How can you celebrate international bench day without some kind of bench press? You can do plenty of variation with benching like incline bench press, close grip bench press, or even use a fat bar to engage the entire upper body. Benching is going to be where you can really attack your body with volume and encourage muscle growth while still building absolute strength.
The first great accessory exercise for your day 2 is going to be face pulls. Face pulls are a great contralateral movement to all the pushing you are doing on upper body days. These will target your upper back and rear delts. This is another exercise that will help you develop muscle mass in a specific area that will translate well to other lifts. Volume is priority over weight here since our main adaptation is hypertrophy.
If you want to double down on pressing after benching, dumbbell bench press is going to be your best friend. Using dumbbells is going to be great for developing stability and balance in the upper body. Dumbbells are also a great tool for helping fix imbalances in muscle groups that might perform unevenly throughout your compound lifts. There is a lot of variation you can do with dumbbell presses because when you start to use alternating reps, you will be able to target the core so you’re not being thrown off balance while completing the sets.
The last accessory for your upper body workout is going to be the Pennsylvania press. This is similar to an overhead press or a push press. Except instead of standing or being seated, you will be kneeling on a pad and using your hip drive to help propel the weight overhead. The Pennsylvania press is not meant to be done for just 3-4 reps. This is an exercise that is meant to be packed with volume to build muscle in the shoulders and triceps.
Athletic Day Exercises
Incorporating an athlete day into your week of training might be a new concept for some people. Athlete days are important for putting that developed power production to use and establishing balance, core strength, and functional strength. Below are some of our favorite exercises to use on an athletic day.
PVC walks are going to be a great warm up for an athletic day. These will strengthen your feet, improve balance overtime, and start the day with an easy way to get focused for the rest of the lift. The goal of using PVC walks on an athlete day is to work on that elasticity and heighten the nervous system to a similar level that would be achieved by doing a heavy double or triple.
Depth Drop to Bound
That next exercise after the body is warmed up and primed is going to be the depth drop to bound. Using depth drops in training is going to help the body with rapid force absorption and rapid reapplication. This will take the strength training that you did earlier in the week and put it into a functional movement to test the entire body. This is just one of the practical examples of how resistance based training is going to improve athletic performance and you should be able to increase the distance you are jumping over time.
Athlete days are going to incorporate a lot of jumps. Unilateral jumps are just one of the many jump variations you can use to establish balance and force production. Unilateral jumps are also going to develop speed overtime because when you add some kind of resistance like a band, you will start to adapt and react to the contracting force. This exercise will develop agility and coordination over time which will transfer not just over to your lifts, but also to many sport specific actions that require changes in direction or rapid acceleration.
Speed and Impulse Exercises
The last day of the training week is going to be putting everything that we worked on together. It is going to be the culmination of all the strength, coordination, and athletic work that was done to perform as fast and aggressively as possible.
Rapid Fire Cleans
The first speed exercise on day 4 is going to be rapid fire cleans. Rapid fire cleans are going to be our exercise for the day that will prime the nervous system. Right out of the gate, we want to be moving heavy weight as fast as possible coming off a lighter athletic day. This is going to be a good test of coordination and absolute strength to move weight from the floor to a front rack position.
Single Leg Front Squats
Our hypertrophic exercise for a speed day is going to be single leg squats. Single leg squats are another exercise that we want to be moving weight as fast as possible while maintaining control in our core. For all you jumpers, runners, throwers, and football players out there. The single leg front squat is going to be something that will develop that rapid force that you need for your sports.
One of the best upper body exercises for speed and pulling power is going to be pull ups. Pull ups will engage the lats, biceps, and entire back so you can lengthen the muscles and grow over time. Pull ups are also going to help with muscle growth in the arms and increase the size of your biceps. For this exercise, you can get a free pass to be a meathead and focus on getting that massive pump.
Dynamic Trunk Control Abs
We’ve talked about dynamic trunk control a lot throughout this guide and it seems like everything works on it. This is true. Most of the compound and athletic movements are going to test your dynamic trunk control to a certain extent. But if we really want to get that rock solid core, there are a few great exercises to think about.
Using a hydro weight for something like crunches, Dane’s fast abs, or kayaking is going to be great to feel that burn in your core. Although if you don’t have a hydro weight and are looking for something more basic, you can always incorporate a simple hanging leg raise or banded hollow body rocks to target the core.
Best Training Split for You
As an athlete or general fitness enthusiast, the four day workout split is going to be a happy medium between resistance training and adequate rest throughout a week. As you start to train more, you might notice that you might want or need more work throughout the week to continue to progress in the gym. For athletes, be mindful that resistance training 4 times a week would be on top of your weekly training schedule. This is just supplemental work to improve performance in your sport.
As a casual gym-goer, you may want to move to a 5 day split at some point in the future if you plan to compete in competitions or want to have days to focus on specific areas of your physique. To help you come up with a program that meets your exact goals and needs, we’ve developed the Peak Strength app which will create a program catered to you. Sign up now and see what exercise you should be doing to reach your fitness goals.
Yo, It's Dane
Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!
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