Workout 4: Intermediate, 3-day split

July 17th, 2008  |  Published in Workout ideas  |  15 Comments

A word on split routines: I prefer to split routines by movement types (e.g. “pushing”, “pulling”, etc.) or by intensity (e.g. heavy, medium, light), not “body parts”.

The body doesn’t really understand “parts”; it understands kinetic chains — a sequence of events designed to achieve an objective. The body will use whatever “parts” it thinks it needs to get the job done, in the appropriate order.

Thus, for example, when throwing a ball, the body doesn’t think “OK, first, I’m hitting the rear delts and forearm extensors, then I’m totally recruiting the external obliques…”

It just thinks: Throw ball.

So don’t get all fussy about which body parts a given exercise “works”. Just get as many pieces moving as possible, as smoothly and precisely as possible. Let your body figure out the rest.

This routine can be done every other day, or as a Monday-Wednesday-Friday split. Don’t do more than two days of this workout in a row. I prefer the Monday-Wednesday-Friday split, because it gives you two days to recover from deadlifting before you squat again. Rest about 90 seconds between sets (you might want a little longer between squat sets).

You’ll notice that although I note “triceps” and “biceps” there is no direct isolation work for these. In general, I feel they get enough work from the compound movements. However if you feel a need for additional isolation work, throw in a couple sets of close-grip pushups or presses on day 2, and a couple sets of biceps curls on day 3.

Technically, of course, deadlifting is also a leg exercise but I’ve filed it in this case under “pulling” exercises. If you wanted to limit the leg involvement, you could also change it to something like a shrug or hang clean pull.

Notation: Exercise sets x reps

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

day 1 – legs

  1. Squat3 sets x 6-10 reps
  2. Split squat or lunge3 x 8-10
  3. Stiff-legged deadlift3 x 8-10
  4. Calf raise3 x 6-10

day 2 – chest, shoulders, triceps (or “push”)

  1. Bench press or dumbbell press3 x 6-10
  2. Standing shoulder press or side press3 x 6-10
  3. Dips OR assisted dips (if you are able to do these)3 x 6-8
  4. Ab crunches or Swiss ball crunches3 x 8-10

day 3 – back, biceps (or “pull”)

  1. Deadlift 3 x 6-8
  2. Pullups OR lat pulldownsDo 3 sets of as many as you can do for pullups (if you can do more than 6-8 pullups at once, put a 5-lb plate between your knees and do them), 3 sets of 6-10 reps for lat pulldowns
  3. Dumbbell row 3 x 8-10
  4. Back hyperextension 3 x 8-10


  1. Roberta says:

    February 20th, 2009at 12:53 pm(#)

    Thanks for the great info and write-ups…best women’s forum and realistic, well-rounded info on training!

    I can’t see the links for the exercises to get proper form instruction and while I know many of them, I would like to get guidance to make sure my form is ok. Where else can I get the info for each of the above exercises? Thanks

  2. Sandra says:

    May 12th, 2009at 7:21 am(#)

    Roberta, you can check out (if you haven’t found it already)/

  3. Tia says:

    June 5th, 2009at 9:50 am(#)

    Thanks so much for these workout ideas and info, I’ve been looking for a woman’s weight training website for ages now -this is great.

  4. om says:

    July 7th, 2009at 8:24 pm(#)

    Hi, just popping in to report annoyingly that the links for at least some of the exercises on this page are broken.

  5. Erin says:

    July 20th, 2009at 8:51 am(#)

    Thanks for the workout ideas! I’m switching to this split from a 5×5 and have one question: Since you’re doing 3 sets, is that sets across or ramping up weight? Should I be doing 1-2 warm-up sets and then the 3 sets at my working weight?

  6. Mistress Krista says:

    July 23rd, 2009at 5:05 am(#)

    Erin, you can play with it a bit. 1-2 warmup sets are always a good idea. You can experiment with ramping up to the heaviest set on the last round, or you can keep the weight constant throughout. Some exercises, esp. those that are more technically complex (e.g. squats) seem to benefit from increasing weight from set to set. It seems to prime the body neurologically better — you “groove” the movement better. The major exception to that is pullups, which seem to start strong and degrade rapidly.

  7. Cathy says:

    March 15th, 2010at 12:47 pm(#)

    Mistress Krista, I’ve been reading you site for a couple of years now – awesome information! You have great instruction dished out with great wit! I was perusing this page of workouts, and have found that most of the links are dead! Will you fix these, please? Purty, purty please????

  8. Caly says:

    April 9th, 2010at 9:39 pm(#)

    Hey Krista – I can’t do the dips. Should I do something else in their place?

  9. Mistress Krista says:

    April 10th, 2010at 6:26 am(#)

    Sure — close-grip pushups are a nice substitute.

  10. Amber says:

    January 16th, 2011at 11:02 am(#)

    For everyone who wants links to see how to do the exercises, google “ shoulder press” or whatever exercise you’re looking for without the quotes.

  11. serena says:

    December 7th, 2011at 10:03 pm(#)

    Why is it that many body part split routines call for working out the back muscles and chest muscles on separate days but call for training the legs only once a week? I see you have the deadlifts added into the “pull” days but more emphasis is placed in the upper body.

  12. Mistress Krista says:

    December 21st, 2011at 7:53 am(#)

    @Serena: The logic is that chest/shoulders are typically involved in “pushing” movements, while back muscles are typically involved in “pulling” type movements. I view deadlifts as a full-body movement, with lower body being a prime mover assisted and stabilized (heavily) by the spinal musculature.

  13. Amanda says:

    May 12th, 2012at 8:16 pm(#)

    Thanks for this awesome program! I’ve been following it for about 2 months now and can really see results. Next Saturday, I’m running a half-marathon. I want to maintain my strength gains, but don’t know how to taper off on strength training in the coming week. How should I do this?

  14. Mistress Krista says:

    May 13th, 2012at 5:04 am(#)

    @Amanda: No leg training this week; stop upper body by Tues. From Wed-Fri, enjoy some light movement. Don’t overthink this or worry about losing gains; you’ll be fine. Pick it back up again with an upper body workout the following Monday or Tuesday.

  15. Amanda says:

    May 23rd, 2012at 12:56 pm(#)

    Thanks Krista, you rock! Those hills were no match for my hamstrings and glutes.

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