January 2, 2023

Is a 3 Day Workout Split Optimal?

Is a 3 day workout split optimal?

Choosing the right workout split can be tricky business.

Train too often, and you end up overtraining and losing gains. Too infrequently, and you end up undertraining and losing gains.

In this article I want to make the case for a 3 day split and share how I've organized this into a highly effective option for putting on size and strength.

If you like this article, check out some high-level programming through TrainHeroic.

Is 3 days a week enough to put on size?

The short answer to this question is, yes, absolutely it can be.

Many bodybuilders and powerlifters have built impressive physiques on a 3 day training split.

The bodybuilders of the 1960's and 70's often used the 3 day split, and their physiques were definitely nothing to scoff at.

A solid example is Bill Starr, who made 5 x 5 famous, which was designed as a 3 day training split.

3 day workout split

Those who prescribe to the High Intensity Training model of bodybuilding (HIT) also frequently utilize a 3 day split, ala Dante Trudel's Doggcrapp training, which is one of the best training systems I've every put myself through.

My team training program, SWOLE TOWN, Also frequently uses the 3 day high intensity training split to great effect.

So why do people train 5 or 6 days a week? Because it's optimal?

Or because they are simply obsessive about training and are stuck in the "more is better" fallacy?

Read: The Best 4 Workout Programs for Size AND Strength

More Is NOT always better.

The truth is that more is not always better.

People train 6 days a week often because they are obsessive about training, and enjoy doing the extra work.

The problem with this is that inevitably, most people are unable to push themselves hard enough with that many training days.

If they did, they'd crush themselves and never recover adequately.

Now, there are some out there who thrive with heavy amounts of training volume and frequency.

Especially guys who are genetically gifted in the recovery department AND on various amounts of the sauce...

But instead of imitating what others do... don't you think you should take the time to find out what actually works the best for YOU, and brings you the most optimal results?

The Case For a 3 Day Workout Split

muscle and strength and power

When you organize your training into a 3 day split, you HAVE TO prioritize everything you do.

There simply isn't room to do anything half-assed.

This results in very intense and focused training sessions, where each one is pushed to the brink of your abilities (and beyond).

When you train 5 or 6 days, a lot of the work can sometimes be "fluff."

If you're on your 3rd or 4th chest exercise, how hard can you really push those sets?

With 3 days, there is no room for that. Everything you do is big, meaningful work.

And of course probably the most important part.. you have more time to recover (i.e., adapt and grow).

The most shocking thing that stood out to me when I started training 3 days vs. 5-6 days/week was that I was SORE.

I had gotten used to training so frequently that I had stopped truly taking sets to and beyond failure and really pushing the envelope.

So, the primary benefits of training 3 days are:

  • Much More Intense and Focused Sessions
  • More recovery days, which = more time to adapt to the training stimulus, which = MORE GAINS.
  • No fluff. Everything you do has to be meat and potatoes.

What Does Science Say?

It's always helpful to dig into some research when implementing training methods.

In this case, it's important to understand a few important factors:

Number one, training frequency matters.

Training a muscle group twice a week will result in greater hypertrophy than training it once. (Schoenfeld 2016)

Number two, more is NOT necessarily better.

Studies (like this one by Yue Et al) have shown that training a muscle group twice per week can be more effective at building muscle than training it 4 times per week.

The reason I've highlighted these two concepts is because when training 3 days, the challenge is to get adequate training frequency to optimize hypertrophy.

As you'll see below, this is definitely doable and possibly even optimal on 3 training days.

You can also check out Dante Trudel's DoggCrapp training, which is the epitome of the 3 day HIT split, and where I've gotten much of my information and ideas about training over the years.

What are the Drawbacks?

As with all things in the training arena, there are pros and cons.

The biggest drawback of using a 3 day workout split is that many people simply are not accustomed to pushing themselves to and beyond actual failure all the time.

Most people think that they do.. but are in reality multiple reps away from failure, and going beyond failure is a whole different animal.

Check out this classic clip of Arnold pushing 40 year old Ed Corney to failure on the back squat, then discussing his philosophy on training through failure.

Now, Arnold, and many greats have pushed themselves this way AND trained 6 days a week.

You have to keep in mind that these guys are highly genetically talented, have years of training history, AND are highly enhanced (on steroids.)

Training is also their job.. they don't have the stress of a 9-5, and whatever else you may have stealing recovery energy away..

You can NOT assume that what they do is what will be optimal for YOU, right now. (or possibly ever).

Instead, hitting a 3 day split and hitting it HARD... leaving all your effort in the gym, may actually be optimal for YOU.

When you can master the 3 day split, and truly push yourself to and past your limits regularly, THEN, you can earn the additional day or two, as you may have adapted to the point that you actually need and can benefit from it.

Additional days/training volume should be added only if you NEED it.

How to Design a 3 Day Workout Split

In my opinion, the best way to organize a 3 day workout split is to have an A and B version of 2 different training days: A and B will hit the same muscle groups with different exercises.

Chest/Back/Shoulders: A and B version

Quads, Hamstrings, Biceps, Traps: A and B version

Your weekly split can be broken down this way: This is just an example from the SWOLE TOWN program.


Incline Barbell Bench Press
3 x max reps
Leg Press
x 8-8-8-20
DB Bench Press
3 x max
Seated DB Press
3 x max reps
Romanian Deadlift
3 x 8-12
DB upright Row
3-4 x 12-15
Lat Pulldown (Neutral Grip)
3 x max reps
DB Incline Curl
3 x max reps
Weighted Dips
3 x max
Snatch Grip Rack Pulls
2 x 8 reps
Cross-Body Hammer Curl
2 x 12
Pull up/Pull down
3 x max
DB Pause Triceps Ext.
3 x max reps
Shrug LadderSeated Row
3 x max


Back Squat (or hack)
x 8-8-8-20
Incline Barbell Bench Press
3 x max
Leg Press
x 8-8-8-20
Machine Hamstring Curl
4 x max reps
Seated DB Press
3 x max
3 x 8-12
Barbell Curl 3 x max repsNG Lat Pulldown
3 x max
DB Incline Curl
3 x max reps
Incline DB Hammer Curl 3 x 8-12SG Rack Pull
2 x 8
Cross Body
Hammer Curl
2 x 12
Farmer Carry/Shrug Combo x 2-3 setsDB Pause Triceps Ext
3 x max
Shrug Ladder


On the days in-between training sessions, you should be hitting 30-60 minutes of low to moderate intensity cardio.

You don't want to go so hard on the conditioning that you compromise gains by inducing more recovery debt.

BUT you definitely want to build or maintain your aerobic engine...

This is a topic for another discussion, but it's critical not to neglect this area, or you WILL limit your gains (and health) on many levels.

Progressive Overload

The above template is just an example, but there's a lot of detail left out (This is why following with strict details is optimal).

Most importantly, rest periods (we use 15 breaths between sets as indicated in Trudel's training system, or other timed rest at times).

You HAVE TO have consistency with this stuff, in order to measure your progress over time.

If you hit 3 sets of 10 on 60 seconds rest, then next week do 3 sets of 12 on 3 minutes rest, that isn't telling us much.

Progressive overload is the #1 most important factor to consider in your training.

Anyone, including all these Instagram influencers preaching otherwise, are usually just selling something (probably BS).

Yes, Progressive overload is absolutely mandatory.

You must get stronger over time on the movements you've chosen.. and to do that, you need to have consistency in how you're performing those movements.

This is a law of the training universe. (Progressive overload is literally one of the 7 grandaddy laws)

Conclusion on the 3 Day Workout Split:

As we discussed, a 3 day training split can work really well for a lot of people.

It offers more recovery time to adapt to training and growth, and will likely result in much more focused and intense training sessions.

The keys to remember are to emphasize progressive overload over time, and to train to failure on a lot of your sets. When you only have 3 days, and often 1 exercise for a muscle group on a given day, you HAVE TO push yourself extremely hard.

There are other variables we could discuss, like diet and nutrition, cardio, etc. and specifics on the 3-day split, but we'll save that for another article.

Thanks for reading. Please follow my blog, check me out on Instagram, and leave a comment if you've got feedback!

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