"When I first started, we trained six days per week and worked every body part twice. Then we moved to five days per week and hit every body part once. Then we moved to a four-day split and separated it in to upper and lower workouts. Did we get lazy? Did we get smarter? Who the hell knows? We were making gains back then, and we're making gains right now. The bottom line is this: it doesn't matter what training split you're on. What matters is that you follow it and work your ass off."

Leave it to Dave Tate to make my question seem trivial. Here I am calling different strength coaches and asking them what their "perfect" split is, and the first thing out of Tate's mouth—which is full of food while he's talking with me, by the way—pretty much negates all my following questions. How am I supposed to find out more about his personal training split if it doesn't matter what training split he's on?

I'd already talked with Nick Tumminello and Eric Cressey about three and four-day splits and got some exciting insight—stuff I'm personally going to use over the next few months, actually—and I knew Tate would have a different spin on the old five-day split if I could just coax it out of him. For now, though, he's just chomping on his sandwich.

He senses my frustration and laughs.

"Dude, don't get your panties in a bunch. Do you want to know I'm doing? I'm gonna warn you: it's weird. But I think you'll like it."

Dave Tate on the Five-Day Split

Call it the "Convenience Split."

While Tate is fortunate enough to make his own work hours, the hours he works are insane. "I'm trying to build my business, so I don't have the control to train at a specific time every week," he says. "I train when I can."

Does that mean he trains twice per week? "Are you kidding? To gain muscle you need the appropriate volume," he says. "I'm in there at least five days."

Tate's 5-Day Mess of a Schedule

  • Saturday: Quads/ Hamstrings?
  • Sunday: Chest/ Biceps
  • Monday: Off
  • Tuesday: ?
  • Wednesday: ?
  • Thursday: ?
  • Friday: Off

"If you're looking at this schedule and think it's a mess—which it is—let me shed some light," he says.

"Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday have question marks next to them because I really don't know what I'm going to train on those days. All I know is that I have to put triceps, shoulders, back, and possibly hamstrings in there somewhere. I go by how I feel."

In other words, auto-regulation.

"Friday's off because I may have to go to a niece's birthday party, the amusement park, or something family-oriented on Saturday. If that's the case, all I have to do is move quads to Friday and take Saturday off. It's not gonna hurt anything."

"Monday's an off day for the same reason: I may have a commitment on Sunday. Then I just move my chest and biceps day to Monday."

This is getting complicated, I tell Tate.

"Really, it's not. This is all based on convenience. Most guys are in school, or at work, and have screwed up schedules. They're just like me. This kind of split allows them to train their ass off when they can."

Next is combining the body parts.

"My leg day usually includes quads and hamstrings, but I have a question mark next to hamstrings because I may have to get out of the gym early. Or my quads may just get too trashed, and I may not be able to work my hamstrings hard. If that's the case, I'll pair hamstrings with my back day, especially if I'm doing deadlifts or rack-pulls."

"Also, I'm always going to combine chest with biceps and back with triceps, since my arms grow best if I train them twice per week." So Tate works his biceps directly on Sunday and then indirectly on his back day—whatever day that is—since his biceps assist with all pulling movements.

So, I ask, what's the progression?

"I take my volume, load, intensity, and density all up at the same time."

And this, he tells me, is where it starts to get crazy.

"Take 'back day'. The first week I'll only do two exercises—say, wide-grip pull-downs and barbell rows—and I'll only do two or three sets of 8 to 10 reps," he says. "I'm not working hard at all. They're just warm-up sets."

Then what?

"I go home."

Oh. Well, that's not too crazy.

"The next week I come in and I'll add an exercise, increase the weight, and increase the sets and reps all at the same time."

So if Week 1 looked like this:

  • Wide-grip Pull-down: 2 x 10
  • Bent-Over Row: 2 x 10

Then Week 2 will look like this:

  • Wide-grip Pull-down: 3-4 x 12 (more weight!)
  • Bent-Over Row: 3-4 x 12 (more weight!)
  • Straight-arm Pull-down: 3-4 x 12

And Week 3? You guessed it—increased across the board.

  • Wide-grip Pull-down: 4-5 x 12 -15 (more weight!)
  • Bent-Over Row: 4-5 x 12 -15 (more weight!)
  • Straight-arm Pull-down: 4-5 x 12-15 (more weight!)
  • Another Back Exercise: 4-5 x 12-15

"As you can see, this will lead to disaster very soon," says Tate. "But that's the intention. That's what I want. So I start off lighter so I can push it out for three or four weeks. Then around week three, four, or five—when I start that workout where I know it's going to be incredibly tough—I turn it into a complete and total blast day. "

"I kill it. I'll do strip sets till I puke. I'm going to make it the nastiest workout for that body part, because I know the next time I come back, I'm going to do two new exercises with light weight for a few sets of ten."

If you're willing to try the split, Tate suggests keeping a training log.

"The body parts don't drop off at the same time," he says. "That'd be an absolute nightmare. Your nervous system would be shot for a year. But you have to document for progress."

Now it's Tate's turn to ask me a question.

"Are you going to try it?"

Eric Cressey on the Four-Day Split

"You're following the wrong four-day split, man."


"I'm not a fan of the Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday set-up at all," he says. "It's built on convenience. And if you're trying to build a strong, muscular body, convenience shouldn't be your first priority."

According to Cressey, the above split only has two "fresh" days—Monday and Thursday—where you're completely rejuvenated and can attack the weights with full-force. It also gives you too much wiggle room to go out on Friday night, slam down beers, and generally act like an idiot.

That's why he recommends training on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

"That way you get three fresh days. It may not seem like much, but over the course of a year, it's a huge deal," he says. "And if you know you need to get in and bust your ass on a Saturday there's a good chance you won't be out till three in the morning."

And it's not just set up this way to discourage you from drinking and possibly taking home fat chicks. There's also science behind it.

"If you look at how skeletal muscle protein synthesis is elevated after a training session, you tend to see it returning to baseline about 36 hours after exercise. I think if you have more frequent bouts with less long gaps in the middle, you'll be in a better situation to gain muscle," says Cressey.

So how would a guy go about setting up his four-day upper/lower program?

"You have to prioritize what you need and get the most muscle activated," says Cressey. For most of us, that means starting off the week with a lower-body day and exercises like deadlifts, squats, and single-leg work, then moving to an upper-body day that focuses on heavy pulls.

Here's how Cressey would set it up:

Monday:Lower Body

  • Heavy movement: (deadlift, squat, etc.)
  • Single-leg movement: (lunge, split-squat, etc.)
  • Assistance movement: (pull-through, RDL, etc.)
  • Core: (Pallof press, half-kneeling chop, etc.)

Tuesday:Upper Body

  • Heavy vertical pull: (chin-up, pull-up, etc.)
  • Horizontal press: (bench press, push-up, etc.)
  • Horizontal pull: (cable row, bent-over row, etc.)
  • Heavy vertical press: (push-press, military press, etc.)
  • Direct arm work and rotator cuff work


Thursday:Lower Body

  • Speed movement: (deadlift, squat, etc.)
  • Single-leg movement: (lunge, split-squat, etc.)
  • Assistance movement: (pull-through, RDL, etc.)
  • Core: (Pallof press, half-kneeling chop, etc.)


Saturday:Upper Body

  • Heavy horizontal pull: (cable row, bent-over row, etc.)
  • Vertical press: (push-press, military press)
  • Vertical pull: (chin-up, pull-up, etc.)
  • Heavy horizontal press: (bench press, push-up, etc.)
  • Direct arm work and rotator cuff work


"A lot of guys try to make their programming way too fancy," says Cressey. "The more experienced I get, the less variety I have in my training sessions. I really believe I make better gains when I train four days per week and don't have more than 5-6 exercises per session."

Cressey also stresses the importance of changing up the volume and intensity. "If one day you do heavy lower body, the next time you should do speed and rep work. Same thing for upper body."

So if you did 4 x 3 on deadlifts on Monday, try doing 4 x 6-8 on squats on Thursday.

It all goes back to two of Cressey's rules:

  1. To get stronger, you gotta lift heavy stuff.
  2. To get bigger, you gotta lift heavy stuff and semi-heavy stuff for more reps.

See you on Saturday!

Nick Tumminello on the Three-Day Split

"I have to be honest, I don't like total body splits. They just don't force any changes."

I didn't expect to hear that, especially from Tumminello.

So what do you do for a three-day program if you're not doing total body?

"I break it into upper and lower body days with an added fourth day to bring up weaknesses," he says. "I've had more success with this program than any other program I've done."

Tumminello's Three-Day Secret Weapon Split

  • Monday:  Upper Body Pull
  • Wednesday:  Lower Body
  • Friday:  Upper Body Push
  • Saturday or Sunday:  Weakness Day

According to Tumminello, the "Weakness Day" is perfect for any guy as long as he tailors it to his needs. And, of course, it's completely optional.

"Let's say you've got crappy calves and shoulders," he says. "Well, on Saturday you'd go in and do some higher volume work with lighter loads for those muscle groups. Think of it as an active recovery or a de-load but focusing on weaknesses."

But the weekend isn't just for bringing up lagging body parts.

"Get outside and run some sprints. Do kettlebell work. Throw some medicine balls. Play basketball. Whatever. Just get your ass outside and have some fun," says Tumminello.

Final Words

Maybe you're happy with your current split or perhaps you'd be better off stealing one from this article so you can push past a plateau, gain some new muscle, and spice up your gym time. Whatever you decide, Tumminello wants to reiterate what Tate told us earlier:

"We're arguing about best exercises and the best splits, but it's like, fuck it, are you training hard? Do you even like your program? In the end, that's all that matters."

Ain't that the truth?