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Strength Training Workout Plans – The Two Essentials

Depending on the goals of your training and in which stage you are on your muscular development the workout plans you should follow for most success will be different. But in general, there are two strength training workout plans that really are great and which you absolutely should know. Both have pros and cons that should be considered.

I recommend only doing heavy strength training three days a week and below I am assuming you follow my recommendation.

I also recommend that you are always tracking your workouts and the individual lifts. That means writing down the weight and how many sets and reps of each exercise you are performing. You might want to read my post on reps and sets.

The 2-day Split


On a 2-day split, your workout plan consists of only two different workouts. So every week you will be performing two of the same workouts.

Doing a 2-day split is actually very efficient in increasing strength and building muscle fast up to a certain threshold. Especially beginners can take advantage of this and I would indeed recommend they do, but also experienced lifters and in special cases also advanced lifters.

With a 2-day split workout plan, you need to strategically train the muscles in the right order. A good example of that is the following:

Workout 1:

Chest and shoulders (heavy compound exercises) + triceps and/or other isolation exercises.

Workout 2:

Back and legs (heavy compound exercises) + biceps and/or other isolation exercises.

As a bonus, you could also add some isometric exercises for abs and lower back on any of the days. But you should in total not be doing too many exercises or spending too much time.

Concerns On A 2-day Split

An important factor to consider when you are doing a 2-day split is that the recovery period is shorter than the 3-day split. For this reason, you don’t want to do a lot of exercises per muscle group. One heavy compound exercise per muscle group should actually be enough as long as you focus on lifting as heavy as possible.

Continue doing a 2-day split for a long duration and you will inevitably reach a point where increasing strength becomes harder and harder as heavier weights put more stress on the body and require a longer recovery. So, at some point, it would be best to transition to a 3-day split or you could also change the way you are training.

strength training workout plans

The 3-day Split


As you probably can guess, with the 3-day split your workout plan consists of three different workouts, and you will be doing each one just one time per week. This allows a longer recovery and you can actually add more exercises per muscle group.

With a 3-day split a good workout plan would look like this:

Workout 1:

Chest (heavy compound exercises) + triceps and/or isolation exercises

Workout 2:

legs (heavy compound exercises) + abs (+ isolation exercises)

Workout 3:

Shoulders and back (heavy compound exercises) + isolation exercises

As a bonus, you could also add some isometric exercises for abs and lower back on any of the days. But you should in total not be doing too many exercises or spending too much time.

Concerns On A 3-day Split

In this case, you would ideally want to have 2 full days (approximate 72 hours) between workout 3 and workout 1 as doing heavy shoulder exercises will affect your ability to perform chest exercises because of how these muscles work seamlessly together.

With a 3-day split, the strength and muscle gain will usually be slower, and that is why using a 2-day split could be really great as long as you are seeing consistent gains.

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10 Comments

  1. I am constantly looking out for different work out plans to vary my exercises and you have touch on something very ideal in here but I didn’t realize that the 2 days split is more effective than the 3 days split. I tend to work on different muscle groups on different days and on rest day I would go for a slow jog or just do some light stretching, taking whey protein and amino acid is also good for recovery to get back int the game!

    • Yeah, a 2-day split done properly can be very efficient to gain a lot of strength 🙂
      But sounds like you are already following a decent plan!

  2. When I see workout plans like that to me it never seems to be enough training. But on the other hand I have a tendency to do too much each week and get really tired.

    Two of my fear is that, if I’m not working out enough I will gain weight and not muscle because I have a tendency to gain weight. What do you recommend in that case. Should I do cardio in my non workout days?

    • Working out for too long at a time or too often is actually a mistake many people make. Working out for 3 sessions a week for about one hour is totally enough. When it comes to strength training you don’t need to spend that much time, and if do anyway you are actually not getting a lot of “extra” out of it.

      Doing cardio can be great to keep your weight under control. I would recommend you try out with some low or moderate intensity cardio on your non-workout days. I like to take a long walk 🙂

      I did CrossFit for 4-5 years and the really high intensity cardio training made my appetite go crazy and I often ended up overeating. This I never get when I just do low intensity stuff like walking or biking.

  3. I guess it just depends on peoples working arrangements and other commitments for which one they choose, well maybe not entirely but it plays a big role. For me the 3-day split would work best as it means I only have to go to the gym 3 times per week instead of 4. I’m quite busy for most of the week so it can be difficult to make the time.

    What kind of workout would you choose and why?

    • To begin with I would do a 2-day split because it is so effective. Then when the gains are slowing down I would transition to a 3-day split. My current workout is a 3-day split.

      Doing a 2-day split doesn’t mean you have to do 4 workouts every week. If you do a 2-day split with 3 workouts per week it simply means that one week you will be doing 2 of the same workouts, e.g. :

      week 1:
      Monday – workout 1

      Wednesday – workout 2

      Friday – workout 1

      week 2:
      Monday – workout 2

      Wednesday – workout 1

      Friday – workout 2

  4. Nice, I’ve been meaning to find a good workout plan that I can stick to and that will help me to build the muscles in my arms and chest. I think that starting with the 2-day split will be a great way to begin.

    What would you recommend as far as exercises go? Would it be better for example to use free weights like dumbbells, or something else like a kettlebell? My local gym has quote a selection of things.

    Thanks!

    • Hey Nick,

      I recommend the following:
      Bench press both flat and incline for chest with a barbell or dumbbell. If you are doing a 2-day split I would recommend you either do flat or incline bench not both.

      Overheadpress either standing with a barbell or seated using two dumbbells.

      Squats for legs, either back squat, front squat using a barbell or split squat (one legged) using two dumbbells.

      Pull-ups (with weight if you can manage) or pull-downs and deadlifts for back.

      Typically you can lift a bit more weight with barbell than dumbbells. Because of the muscle recruitment is a bit different with barbell and dumbbell it can be great to change between those if you ever hit point where it seems you cannot progress. But try to stick with either one for the specific exercise for at least some time, e.g. 1-3 months.

  5. This sounds like some solid strength training workout plans.

    I am a complete beginner, but would like to start going to the gym and gain some muscle! What would you recommend me?

    • Hey man!

      For a beginner I would definitely recommend a 2-day split. This is in my opinion how people who are new to strength training can become stronger the fastest and gain some muscle 🙂

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