Illustration of a weight lifter doing a 6-day workout split to build muscle.

The Best 6-Day Workout Split for Building Muscle

6-day workout splits can be remarkably good for building muscle. With so many training days to play with, you can take several different approaches, ranging from minimalism to total maximalism. You can get great results with 20-minute workouts. You could also lift for an hour every day, building a truly terrifying amount of muscle.

However, when you’re training this often, it’s easy to wear yourself out. You’re stressing your hands, postural muscles, and joints almost every day of the week. You need to be smart about it. Fortunately, there’s a long tradition of training 6 days per week. All the lumps have been hammered flat.

The two most popular 6-day workout splits are the push/pull/legs split and the upper/lower split. Both can be great for building muscle, but one makes for a better default, especially when done right.

A skinny guy building muscle. Illustrated by Shane Duquette for Outlift.

What Are 6-Day Workout Splits?

6-day workout splits are workout routines that have you doing 6 different workouts per week. The most common is the push/pull/legs split, where each day focuses on a different area of the body, like so:

The idea is that a vigorous workout can stimulate 2–3 days of growth. If you train a muscle every day, you won’t fully recover, and your performance will suffer. If you wait longer than 3–4 days, you’ll miss out on an opportunity to stimulate a new wave of growth.

You can train your muscles more often if you train them more gently. This is called high-frequency training. You can find 6-day splits that train every muscle every workout. I don’t recommend it. It doesn’t stimulate extra muscle growth, and it’s hard to avoid overuse injuries.

Another popular variation is the 6-day upper/lower split, where you alternate between training your upper and lower body, like so:

I’m a fan of Upper/Lower Workout Splits, but the 6-day version is a bit much, especially for your back and postural muscles. In our experience, the Push/Pull/Legs Split stimulates just as much muscle growth while doing a better job of managing recovery.

Illustration of a man doing the bench press on Chest Day.

Are 6-Day Workout Splits Effective?

6-day workout splits are fantastic for building muscle. They aren’t necessarily better than 3-day, 4-day, or 5-day routines, though. It all depends on what exercises you choose, how well you train, how much effort you put in, and how you divide up your training volume.

Dividing your training volume into 3 full-body workouts is a great default, especially for beginners. I gained my first 50 pounds that way. But as your lifts grow gradually heavier, those workouts begin to drag, and you may find yourself losing the will to lift. Plus, 3-day routines don’t leave nearly as much room for isolation lifts.

A 4th workout spreads your volume thinner, making each workout a little easier. A 5th day makes those workouts easier still. When you have 6 training days, your work is spread so thin that you can either leave the gym feeling fresh or pile on more sets and exercises. That gives you two options:

  • Spread your volume thin: By spreading your volume over 6 training days, you only need 2–3 exercises per workout to stimulate every muscle with great volume and frequency. You can be out of the gym in 20 minutes.
  • Stack your volume high: With 6 rigorous workouts per week, you have time to train each muscle as well as it could possibly hope to be trained. You can bulk up aggressively and effectively.

We’ll give you a 6-day split that flirts with both of those approaches. There are 4–5 exercises per workout, which should take you about 45–60 minutes. Then we’ll give you some guidelines for cutting those workouts down or bulking them up.

The main downside of training 6 days per week is it may not leave much energy for cardio. However, if you want to spend a few months focusing purely on muscle growth, 6-day splits can be incredibly powerful.

Illustration of a weight lifter doing the overhead press on Push Day of his 6-day workout split.

The 6-Day Push/Pull/Legs Split

How the Push/Pull/Legs Split Works

Push/Pull/Legs Splits are common among modern bodybuilders, given that they do a better job of training your legs than traditional bodybuilding routines while still giving plenty of love to your upper body.

We like to build our muscle-building programs on a foundation of progressive overload, ensuring steady size and strength gains, so we’ve built each workout upon a big compound exercise:

  • Monday: Push Day (Bench Press)
  • Tuesday: Pull Day (Chin-Up)
  • Wednesday: Leg Day (Squat)
  • Thursday: Push Day (Overhead Press)
  • Friday: Pull Day (Pull-Up)
  • Saturday: Leg Day (Deadlift)
  • Sunday: Rest

For example, on the first Push Day, you begin with the bench press (or another big horizontal press). Then we fill in the rest of the workout with complementary chest, shoulder, and triceps exercises.

On the second Push Day, you start with the overhead press (or another big vertical press). Then we fill in the rest of the workout with complementary shoulder, chest, and triceps exercises.

The bench press and overhead press support one another while emphasizing different pushing muscles. If you get gradually stronger at them in a moderate rep range (6–20 reps), you’ll build a bigger chest and shoulder girdle, guaranteed.

Having a clear focus gives you a clear goal: lift more weight or get more reps on those big compound exercises.

Illustration of a lifter doing biceps curls on Pull Day of his 6-day workout split.

Day 1: Push Day (Bench)

ExerciseSetsReps
Bench Press4–5 sets6-12 reps
Incline Bench Press3–4 sets8-12 reps
Overhead Dumbbell Press3 sets10-15 reps
Skull Crushers3 sets10-15 reps
Lateral Raises3 sets12–15 reps

The first Push Day is built around a horizontal press, such as the bench press. I like to use the dumbbell bench press, barbell bench press, or weighted dip. The chest press machine can work, too.

After the horizontal press, we move to an incline press to give your upper chest and front delts a bit more work. An incline bench press works well here. Landmine presses are another good choice. Some machines are good for this, too.

Skull crushers are an important part of building a bigger bench press. They also train the long heads of your triceps, which haven’t been trained yet. The overhead presses and lateral raises are for your shoulders and upper traps.

Day 2: Pull Day (Chin-Up)

ExerciseSetsReps
Chin-Up4–5 sets6–12 reps
Seated Cable Row4–5 sets8-12 reps
Lat Pulldown4 sets10-15 reps
Lying Biceps Curl3 sets10-15 reps
Forearm Curl3 sets12–15 reps

The first Pull Day is built around the chin-up. I recommend doing them with an underhand, angled, or neutral grip. If you can do more than 12 reps, add some weight.

Seated cable rows come next, done with whatever grip you prefer. If not a seated row, you could do a 1-arm row or use the t-bar row machine. Then come lat pulldowns or dumbbell pullovers. After that, we move to preacher curls and forearm curls for your elbow and wrist flexors (like your biceps and forearms).

If your rear delts don’t get worked very hard by compound pulling movements, you could add some reverse flyes to the end of this workout.

Day 3: Leg Day (Squat)

ExerciseSetsReps
Squat3–4 sets6-10 reps
Romanian Deadlift2–3 sets8-12 reps
Leg Extension3 sets10-15 reps
Hamstring Curl3 sets10-15 reps
Standing Calf Raise3 sets12–15 reps

The first Leg Day is built upon the squat. I like high-bar squats here because they allow for a deep knee bend without overly stressing your spinal erectors, which you’ll need in a moment. You could also do safety squats or use the hack squat machine.

The Romanian deadlift is next. It’s a great assistance exercise for the deadlift, and it’s great for bulking up your hamstrings and back. Then we move to leg extensions and hamstring curls, giving your quads and hamstrings more volume.

Standing calf raises finish off the workout. You can replace them with another exercise if you prefer. Hanging leg raises fit well here.

Day 4: Push Day (Overhead Press)

ExerciseSetsReps
Overhead Press4–5 sets6-10 reps
Dips4–5 setsAMRAP
Chest Fly3 sets10-15 reps
Overhead Extensions3 sets10-15 reps
Lateral Raises3 sets12–15 reps

The second Push Day is built around an overhead press variation, such as the standing barbell “military” press. If your back is tired, you could do a dumbbell or machine press. If you want to focus on building a bigger bench press, you could do a close-grip bench press.

After pressing, I like to do dips. They’re easy on your spinal erectors while being hard on your pressing muscles, including your serratus muscles. Overhead pressing works the serratus, too, which is one of the goals of this workout. This will keep your shoulder girdle tough and strong.

After those first two exercises, you can do a giant set of chest flyes, overhead extensions, and lateral raises. If you do them as straight sets, feel free to use short rest times or drop sets.

Day 5: Pull Day (Pull-Up)

ExerciseSetsReps
Pull-Up4–5 setsAMRAP
T-Bar Row4–5 sets8-12 reps
Pullover3 sets10-15 reps
Dumbbell Curl3 sets10-15 reps
Hammer Curl3 sets10-15 reps

The second Pull Day is built around the Pull-Up. I like to do those pull-ups with my knees or legs raised, working my abs and shifting a bit more work to my lower lats.

Your back can probably handle quite a lot of volume, so after the pull-ups, I recommend t-bar rows or dumbbell rows followed by some pullovers or lat pulldowns. Make sure you aren’t doing rowing variations that work your spinal erectors too hard. You’ve got deadlifts tomorrow.

Dumbbell curls and hammer curls finish off the workout, bulking up your biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis.

Day 6: Leg Day (Deadlift)

ExerciseSetsReps
Deadlift3–5 sets6-12 reps
Leg Press3–5 sets8-12 reps
Back Extensions3 sets10-15 reps
Reverse Crunches3 setsAMRAP

The second Leg Day is built around the deadlift. I’ve always done sumo, Romanian, or conventional deadlifts here. Trap-bar deadlifts are great, too.

The leg press is a good assistance lift for your squat, and you won’t be limited by your tired spinal erectors. Next are back extensions (or good mornings), where you intentionally train your spinal erectors, bulking them up for your next deadlift day.

Reverse crunches are great for your lower abs. You could swap these out for another exercise if you prefer. The workout ends early because deadlift days ought to be short and sweet, especially when they’re on Saturday.

Illustration of a weight lifter doing pull-ups on Pull Day of a 6-day workout split.

How to Do the Workout Routine

This 6-day workout split hinges on progressive overload. Fight to outlift yourself every workout, especially on the first exercise. Here are some other guidelines:

  • Exercise selection: Choose exercises that suit your body and your goals. If you prefer dips to bench presses, choose dips. If you prefer front squats to high-bar squats, choose front squats. If you prefer pulldowns to pull-ups, choose pulldowns.
  • Volume: We have 4–5 exercises in each workout by default. In our experience testing these routines on ourselves and clients, this tends to be the best starting point. If you want a minimalist routine, use the first exercise (the main exercise) and pick 1–2 more (of your choice). If you want more than 4–5 exercises, add another.
  • Progression: The goal is to gradually get stronger at the first exercise of each workout. If you hit your rep targets last workout, add a little weight. If you’re still trying to add more reps, try to get more total reps than last time. For example, if you got 9, 8, 7, and 6 reps (30 reps) last workout, try to get 31+ reps this workout.
  • Rest times: Rest for 3 minutes between sets on the first exercise. After that, rest for 2 minutes between sets. On the final exercise, rest for 1 minute between sets.
  • Reps in Reserve: Push yourself hard on the first exercise, leaving 0–1 rep in reserve, ideally without failing your last rep. On the other exercises, leave 0-2 reps in reserve. I like to take the last exercise all the way to failure.
  • Muscle-Building Diet: You need enough food to fuel muscle growth. That’s especially important with a routine as rigorous as this one. If you’re skinny-fat or overweight, you can get extra energy from your body fat. If you’re thin or lean, you’ll need to get that energy from your food—you’ll need to gain weight.
Illustration of a lifter doing deadlifts on Pull Day.

Conclusion

6-day workout splits are fantastic for building muscle. It’s a generous training schedule that can fully maximize your rate of muscle growth, even with relatively short workouts.

Ideally, you’d split up your workouts so that your muscles have 2–3 days of rest before training them again. That’s why 6-day Push/Pull/Legs Splits have stood the test of time. They make for a great default. If you’re confident another approach suits you better, you may be right.

If you have any questions, drop them below. I’ll answer all the comments. If you want the latest research and methods in your inbox, we have a free muscle-building newsletter.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder and creative lead of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and has a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained 65 pounds at 11% body fat and has ten years of experience helping over 10,000 skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.