3 Day Split Workout Routine for Definition

a man exercising with dumbbells at a fitness club
Adult male working out at the gym (Image: TongRo Images/TongRo Images/Getty Images)

A split workout routine targets one or two specific muscle groups on different days. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that for general health, do two days a week of weight training that targets every muscle group at least once. The American Council on Exercise suggests split workout routines for people who are accustomed to exercise but want to gain more muscle strength, tone and definition. Talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.

General Guidelines

You have many options for three-day splits, depending on your goals and preferences. In their 2008 book "Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning,” Thomas R. Baechel and Roger W. Earle say the best range to define your muscles is eight to 12 repetitions for about three sets. Rest 30 to 60 seconds between sets. Do about four to six exercises per muscle group in your splits, to overload the muscles and achieve faster results. If you are new at split routines, start with similar muscle groups in each session; e.g., your pushing and pulling muscles.

Day One

Start your split workout routine with the pushing muscles of your chest, shoulders and triceps. The best chest exercises include dumbbell chest presses, dumbbell flys, pushups and bench presses. For the shoulders, try dumbbell shoulder presses, lateral raises and frontal raises. Your triceps muscle acts as a secondary muscle during these pushing exercises, so you do not need to separately work the triceps as hard as you might otherwise. Finish your workout with triceps kickbacks and cable rope pull-downs.

Day Two

The next day of your split, focus on your legs. Target your hamstrings, your glutei maximi, or glutes, and your quadriceps and calves. Start with the larger muscles first, and finish with your calves. Begin with squats, lunges and deadlifts for total leg activation and muscle gain. For definition, do leg presses, machine leg extensions and lying leg curls. Finish with standing and seated calf raises.

Day Three

The last day of your three-day split workout routine involves the pulling muscles of your back, along with your biceps and abdominal muscles. Start with lateral pulldowns, seated rows, standing bent-over barbell rows and single-arm dumbbell rows to target all the muscles of your back. For your abs, do planks for 30 seconds, bicycle crunches, incline crunches and leg raises. Do the leg raises on a Roman Chair, often referred to as a Captain’s Chair, if one is available. If not, lie on your back for the leg lifts. For your biceps, do dumbbell biceps curls, hammer curls and cable barbell curls.

Considerations

Ideally, do three-day splits on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, using Tuesdays and Thursdays for cardiovascular workouts only. This enables your body to recover after intense weight training sessions. Change your training splits every four to six weeks to keep your body from falling into a rut and impeding results.

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