Workout 2: Beginner, upper/lower split

July 17th, 2008  |  Published in Workout ideas  |  17 Comments

beginner, 2-day upper/lower split

This routine can be done on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, with the next workout being “floated” into the next week (so that one week Monday would be lower body, the next Monday would be upper body), OR on alternating days (1 day of workout, 1 day of rest, 1 day of workout, and so forth), OR 4 days a week on a Monday-Tuesday-Thursday-Friday schedule. Don’t do this workout more than two days in a row.

Rest 1 to 2 minutes between sets (you might want a little longer between squat sets).

Notation: Exercise sets x reps
For example: bench press 3 x 8 is 3 sets of 8 reps per set

day 1 – lower body

  1. Squat or leg press 2 x 12-15
  2. Stiff-legged deadlift 2 x 12-15
  3. Calf raise 2 x 12-15
  4. Back extensions 2 x 12-15

day 2 – upper body

  1. Lat pulldown 2 x 12-15
  2. Standing overhead shoulder press 2 x 12-15
  3. One-arm dumbbell row 2 x 12-15
  4. Bench press 2 x 12-15
  5. Ab crunches 2 x 12-15


  1. karla says:

    July 8th, 2009at 10:46 am(#)

    This seems really short? Is it only supposed to take under half an hour or are you supposed to go through it twice?

  2. Mistress Krista says:

    July 11th, 2009at 4:54 am(#)

    Yes, it is short. For beginners, a short workout is quite sufficient.

  3. jessie says:

    August 16th, 2009at 8:50 am(#)

    hi krista–i was directed to your (amazing!) site through another blog, and since this is My Year of Strength-ifying (official name to be determined) i am LOVING

    i am planning on beginning with the…erm…beginner workout, and had some questions. what should my warm-up be like? how long should i be working at the beginner program?

    i’m sure more questions will follow. your site has been so helpful–for one thing, my idea of the squat has totally changed. doing things your way means that i can do about 10 comfortably, as opposed to any number doing things the way i’ve normally seen them done–but my knees don’t hurt! thank you for such an informative and (erk, i hate this word and the pun that follows) empowering website!

  4. joe says:

    October 28th, 2009at 12:35 am(#)

    Krista, I was just wondering what a suitible replacement for the deadlift might be? I’m being a friend’s gym buddy, and she unfortunately suffered a herniated disc about 7 years ago, which still gives her a bit of trouble from time to time. She’s gone through all the other exersizes in this routine with no problem, and I’ve been extra careful to ensure her form is solid, but I’ve yet to have her deadlift, as I’m worried about hurting her back. For what it’s worth, internet research seems to say it’s okay provided you concentrate on form and don’t worry too much about doing a lot of weight, but I wouldn’t mind your experienced opinion.

    Obviously, nothing is going to replace the deadlift, but something that might help to strengthen her back and give her some confidence in it would be a great help, and fill the giant hole in Day 1 of the routine.

    Thanks for everything!

  5. Mistress Krista says:

    October 28th, 2009at 5:34 am(#)

    First, see if you can find a trap bar, which places the person effectively in the middle of the bar and changes the centre of mass a bit, allowing the lifter to remain more upright.

    If not, try sumo stance, very light, high-rep DLs. Generally people who suffer chronic back pain have diminished strength-endurance of spinal musculature, and should opt for longer, lighter sets to rehab. When I herniated a disk I could not tolerate heavy deadlifting, but have since managed to work my way back up using long sets (20 reps or more) of much lighter weight. Focus on keeping the shoulders back, as this will really tighten up the “chain” of muscles along the spine. (People say keep low back tight too, which is great, but I find the “shoulders back” cue to be more effective.)

  6. Kevin says:

    February 26th, 2010at 1:03 pm(#)

    Great routine! Whats good about a minimalistic approach here is that there is still gas in the tank for 1-2 accessory movements for 1-2 sets after, like rotator cuff, grip work etc. I have been doing something almost identical (just with differing parameters) with a one on, two off pace with cardio thrown in on off days and found it to be the holy grail of training for me.

    At 47, I can still make great gains with this, as the balance between volume and frequency in this routine is optimal for my recovery ability.

  7. Mistress Krista says:

    March 12th, 2010at 8:16 am(#)

    Jessie: For a warmup, just get moving. Take the joints through a full range of motion using light movements, e.g.:

    • arm and leg circles
    • arm and leg swings — up-down, front-back
    • walking lunges — to front, side to side
    • squats to full depth while holding a railing (so it’s lighter)
    • sumo squats
    • etc.

    Then do a couple of light sets of the movement you plan to do.

  8. New Plan of Attack « Girl Decides to Become a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader says:

    March 18th, 2010at 10:10 pm(#)

    […] Monday – Tuesday and Thursday – Friday I’ll be doing Upper Body: 1. Lat pulldown 2 x 12-15 (Current: 2. Standing overhead shoulder press 2 x 12-15 (fixed iron grip barbell that said 25lbs, hopefully that means 50 lbs) 3. One-arm dumbbell row 2 x 12-15 (15 lbs) 4. Bench press 2 x 12-15 (45 lbs AKA the bar) 5. Ab crunches 2 x 12-15 (using the ab machine 50 lbs) (Taken from: Stumptuous) […]

  9. Darren says:

    July 3rd, 2010at 10:27 am(#)

    Great beginner workout. I agree with you that you want to keep it simple and achievable.

    When would you add biceps to the upper workout?


  10. Mistress Krista says:

    July 3rd, 2010at 2:18 pm(#)

    Darren: Never. :) There is almost no sport-specific need for isolated elbow flexion, and many folks have over-tightened biceps as part of an overall shoulder dysfunction syndrome (too tight/active in the front stuff, too loose/weak in the back stuff). Do some underhand pullups now and again and your biceps should not suffer.

  11. Katrina says:

    November 1st, 2010at 8:21 pm(#)

    I’ve been doing this for about a month now regularly, and I’m really getting into it. I feel that I could add a couple upper/lower body exercises to the mix. What would you suggest? Or would you suggest that I don’t add anything and just keep doing this?

  12. Mistress Krista says:

    November 4th, 2010at 4:10 am(#)

    @Katrina: Great! Glad you feel inspired! I’d say keep this the same for another month to let your connective tissues (ligaments, tendons, etc.) catch up to your muscular strength, and then move to an intermediate workout.

  13. Jane says:

    September 30th, 2011at 3:19 pm(#)

    Hi Krista,

    Couple of questions:

    1. I have a long-term muscular back injury (myofascial pain syndrome). The deadlifts and one-arm rows actually relieve the chronic pain associated with the injury, but the back extensions definitely make it worse. Can you recommend a substitute?

    2. I’m also 11 weeks preggers. Any workouts designed for pregnant ladies or should I just stick with this and the intermediate workouts? Some might be difficult when I have a huge belly in the way? I got the ok from Dr to do weightlifting (I’m not actually a beginner but did take a couple months off when I was having bad morning sickness, so starting from scratch).

    Thanks for everything.

  14. Mistress Krista says:

    October 3rd, 2011at 5:26 am(#)

    1. Try planks.
    2. See the pregnancy section of this site. Also see

  15. Liz says:

    August 7th, 2012at 11:15 am(#)

    I would like to work in assisted chinups somewhere, where would be a good place to do that?

  16. Mistress Krista says:

    August 7th, 2012at 2:21 pm(#)

    @Liz: Substitute the chinups for the lat pulldown.

  17. Azul says:

    August 22nd, 2012at 12:24 am(#)

    Hi Krista:
    I love your site, madly. I’ve been in his quest for fitness for three or four years now, with ups and downs and making many many mistakes but now I think I’m finally on the right track eating well. This reform started at the beginning of this year when out of boredom and for the sake of mental health I joined the gym and without even noticing I just became addicted to it. To running to pull out the stress and to exercising and feeling sore the next morning.
    Some trainers in the gym gave me some routines with the best intentions but no clear guidance. I certainly lost a lot of weight and everyone notices and I am very glad about that.
    Now I’m trying to get rid of the last bits of fat and also looking for a good routine to get stronger. I looked at many routines in fitness forums and finally got here by chance while researching SS. I simply love this routine. It combines really tough moves with others not so demanding but equally effective. I feel I know now what I’m doing and not blindly following some busy/careless gym instructor’s instructions.
    One certainly has to research for oneself!

    Thank you very much for the site. I’m already feeling the progress with this routine although I started really looooow with the weight altoguh I have been lifting for several months already. However I am concentrating on form as you suggest.
    By the way, I love your dork to diva series. I always tell myself when I look at the mirror while lifting: Be the Diva!

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