Four-Day and Three-Day Training Splits for Strength and Size

TAGS: program for strength, program for size, Chris Marzarella, Three day training split, Four Day Training Split, strength gain, gain muscle, muscle growth

Lifters usually fall into two categories: those who train for strength and those who train for bigger muscles. There comes a time when these goals should meet, come together, and interact. When you are trying to gain size, there is a correlation between the two. Having bigger muscles usually means you can push heavier weights, and vice versa.

With the holidays and all of the celebratory foods coming, why not make those extra calories work for a change? I’m not saying you should eat three times the amount of food you normally eat, but you should engage in a small calorie surplus. Remember, sooner or later overeating will catch up to you.

The plan listed below can handle strength adaptation and also create an environment where muscle hypertrophy can be initiated quite effectively. You will make use of particular four main lifts: the squat, the bench press, the deadlift, and the overhead press. I have used this for several different clients including Ironman athletes, chefs, middle-aged folks, MMA fighters, an FBI agent, and young college kids. All of them are very different people with different goals. I ensured that they would meet their personal objectives but along the way also get stronger and build some quality muscle.

MORE: Bare Bones Conjugate: A Bar, Rack, and Bench Weeks 1-4

This program calls for a four-day split. You can choose your rest days, but I prefer Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday. It allows ample time to recover. I will also show you a way to complete this with a three-day split if you are limited on time, but ideally, you should try to schedule four days a week.

I prefer using a setup that hits the body twice. Squatting in different forms is acceptable, along with various forms of pressing and deadlifting. You will use a belt only when directed during the heavy part of the week, and you will train beltless on other days of the week. Each week you will go for a maximum rep range. One week will be an eight-rep max, the next week will be a six-rep max, the following week will be a five-rep max, and the final week will be a three-rep max. Once you hit your max, you will deduct a percentage and perform predetermined sets. You’ll follow up with assistance work to make that lift stronger.


Four-Day Training Split

Day 1 — Squat

Day 1 begins with the barbell squat. It will be a below parallel squat. If you can’t squat below parallel, you’re using too much weight. Reduce it. Week 1 will be an eight-rep max. You’re going to go beltless until you can no longer achieve eight reps. In this exercise, you will hold off using a belt until you complete the final set of your rep max, after you have found your rep max.

Once you have arrived at your prescribed rep max, increase the weight by five to ten pounds and do as many reps as possible to positive failure with your belt on. Positive failure means that your form is good but you won’t be able to perform another rep in good form.

Once you have completed this final set, you must deduct 10% from your final lift of the prescribed rep max of that week. You will go for three sets of five reps on Week 1, four sets on Week 2, four sets on Week 3, and stick with four sets of five for Week 4. The only difference is that in the final week, you will go for as many reps as possible with last week’s weight on the final set.

So, let’s assume some numbers here and set up an example. Let’s imagine we are peering into someone’s notebook, along with some comments, because our individual keeps notes.

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You’ll follow up with one exercise for assistance work. Pick one that is a compound exercise related to the body part and lift being worked. In the above example, leg press would be a great choice to develop size. You will go for four sets of eight. Next, you’ll work the upper body. Follow the same protocol as above to find your rep maxes for the week.

Day 2 — Active Rest

Day 2 is an active rest day. One of my favorites is a circuit training day, followed by a low impact walk. This will also aid in recovery.

Example Day 2 Active Rest

Circuit (3-4x10 with 45 seconds rest between rounds):

  • Squat
  • Pushup
  • Lunge
  • TRX Row
  • Step-Up (Bench or medium box)
  • Burpees

Treadmill: 20 minutes

Day 3 — Deadlift

Day 3 will lead off with deadlifts, sumo or conventional. Follow the same protocol as above to find your rep maxes for the week. Your assistance exercise will be the stiff-leg deadlift for four sets of eight. Hitting the upper body, the overhead press is next. Follow the same protocol as above to find your rep maxes for the week. Your assistance work will be the behind-the-neck press. Shoot for four sets of eight.

Day 4 — Rest

Day 5 — Hypertrophy

Day 5 will shift the focus into hypertrophy, with greater volume and higher reps.

  • Beltless Front Squat: 4x8-10
  • Smith One-Legged Squat: 3x12/10/8
  • Goblet Sumo Squat: 3x12 (Perform these as one-and-a-half reps: full descent down, back up halfway, go back down, return to full standing position)
  • Stiff-Leg Deadlift: 4x8
  • Seated Leg Curl 3x25
  • Leg Press Calf Raise: 4x12
  • Seated Calf Raise: 4x20

Day 6 — Hypertrophy

Day 6 is similar in sets and reps, using different exercises.

  • Guillotine Bench Press: 4x8-10
  • Cable Rows: 4x8-12
  • Overhead Supine Grip Dumbbell Press: 3x8-12
  • Lat Pulldown: 3x12-15
  • Bench Dips: 4x20
  • Barbell Curl: 4x12

Day 7  — Rest


Three-Day Training Split

If you are short on days you can train, try this three-day schedule instead.

Day 1 — Squat and Bench

  • Squat Variation: Follow the rules for the week listed
  • Split Squat: 4x6-8
  • Bench Press: Follow the rules for the week listed
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press: 4x6-8

Day 2 — Active Rest

Day 3 — Deadlift and Overhead Press

  • Deadlift Variation: Follow the rules for the week listed
  • Stiff-Leg Deadlift: 4x6-8
  • Overhead Press: Follow the rules for the week listed
  • Behind-the-Neck Press: 4x6-8

Day 4 — Optional Active Rest

Day 5 — Full Body Bodybuilding Workout

Choose compound exercises and perform four sets of eight to 12 reps (4x8-12):

  • Beltless Front Squat
  • Stiff-Leg Deadlift
  • Incline Barbell Bench Press
  • Barbell Rows
  • Overhead Dumbbell Supine Grip Press
  • Lat Pulldown
  • Bicep Curl
  • Bench Dips

With this program, you’re hitting the body twice a week with slightly different rep ranges, volume, and lifts. This will ensure an equal amount of work to get you bigger and stronger. Brad Schoenfeld has stated in a review that growth and strength of the muscle are influenced by at least three factors that mediate the hypertrophic process and that mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress each play a role in exercise-induced muscle growth1.


It’s the fall. There is no better time to get bigger and stronger than now. Sweaters and hoodies are coming out of the closet. You’re in your off-season in bodybuilding, baseball, or your sport of choice, and you now have some time, make a dent in your training and how you look. Don’t waste valuable time. Eat your carbs, maintain a steady protein intake, and eat some fats! Don’t forget to stock up on creatine and fish oils.

This program can give you these results you’re after. I have used with slight variations on many clients. Suit it to your needs but follow through with the set and reps prescriptions. Get to gettin’ and grow!


  • The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research ‘The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training’ Brad J. Schoenfeld Global Fitness Services, Scarsdale, New York

Chris Marzarella is a personal trainer based in the New Jersey area. He is the owner of Marzarella Fitness & Sports Conditioning. He is the author of the book "A Practical Guide to Daily Undulating Periodization: 2nd Edition." You can reach Chris via email at or through his website at


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