Trainer Don Saladino 3-Day Split Workout Program Test and Review – Men's Health
I was stuck in a workout rut, so I gave this full-body, schedule-friendly plan from celebrity trainer Don Saladino a try.
As a Men’s Health editor, I often feel like I eat, sleep, and breathe fitness.
That level of engagement with gym culture can be super rewarding. I’m able to help people learn more about their bodies and the best ways they can use them, spending most of my working hours dedicated to sharing the best workout advice to the MH audience. But the focus can have some downsides, too. There are times I feel burned out and uninspired by the time it comes for me to pack my editor brain away and hit the gym myself, so the last thing I want to do after a full day of explaining deadlift form is to bust out a round of heavy pulls. I’m usually able to combat this fitness brain drain by designing my own workout plans to be flexible based on how I feel—but earlier this year, I hit a rut.
The problem wasn’t that I was struggling to get into the gym. I was working out five to six days per week, making my active time a priority along with (and sometimes ahead of) work and personal commitments. But I still felt uninspired by all those hours spent lifting and running, and my performance began to suffer. I’m a NASM-certified trainer, but I knew that I would be better off with someone else calling the shots. I needed a coach of my own to help me break out of my training malaise.
I turned to MH Advisory Board member and celebrity trainer
Don Saladino (his clients include Ryan Reynolds, Sebastian Stan, and David Harbour) to help breathe some new life into my workouts. The goal wasn’t for me to spend even more time in the gym, or to find more objectives for training—I wanted to focus on following a program, first and foremost. I also wanted whatever program I followed to be one that is offered online for anyone to buy, since so many people who exercise at home have used these types of plans for their own fitness routines. I also wasn’t looking for any particular body composition or weight loss goal. I started the program at what I feel is a healthy weight for me (197 pounds), and I felt fine about the way I look. This wasn’t about numbers, on a scale or on the barbell. My biggest goal was finding a plan that, first and foremost, helped me enjoy my workouts.
I settled on Saladino’s 3-Day Split Gym Program, which, as the title implies, is structured to require three dedicated training days per week, using equipment most people have access to with a basic gym membership (think lat pulldown machines, squat racks, etc.). According to the description on Saladino’s website, the plan is designed to "create lean muscle, shred body fat, and build athleticism, all while working on mobility and flexibility." The six-week plan also includes a nutrition and supplement guide, but I didn’t use those resources; I was solely concerned with the exercise component of the endeavor.
●6-week program; 3 full-body workouts per week
●Stated Goals: build lean muscle, enhance mobility, flexibility, and athleticism
●Features: Program PDF, virtual exercise library
●Virtual (e-mail) program support
I chose the plan specifically to focus my exercise energies after feeling burned out. Instead of putting only decent effort into workouts almost every single day, I would go as hard as possible on the three structured days of the week, then use the free days to run, do heavy bag work, or just lay low for active recovery without feeling like I had missed out on any gains. Considering my goals, this was the perfect plan for me.
The first step to starting the program was familiarizing myself with all the exercises that make up the weekly three-day split, which I was able to access via downloadable PDF file. Saladino includes a handy downloadable exercise library featuring video demonstrations and explanations of each movement, which was helpful to know exactly how he designed the routines. Like many programs, each of the training days was structured identically from week to week (with some variation in the number of sets and reps on certain weeks). The idea here is to progress from each week to the next, working up to heavier weights as the routine becomes more familiar. This doesn’t go on forever, because it’s just a six-week plan—but this type of structure provides a solid framework to build upon.
I split my training days between my backyard gym, where I have most of the gear needed for the program (or at least worthy approximations via resistance bands) and the corporate gym I use at the Men’s Health office. I had no issues completing the workouts from an equipment perspective; all of the exercises required basic gear you could find (or easily mimic, in the case of a machine chest press) in your average big-box club.
Every workout began with a jump, throw, carry warmup circuit, a staple of Saladino’s training plans. This got me moving immediately and helped me start each session better; I had gotten into the bad habit of going right into the biggest lifts of my workouts without much (if any) prep. Next up, a big compound lift. One day hit legs, the next chest, and the final was focused on the posterior chain. Each of the exercises Saladino chose was different than the standard pick for these big muscle moves (going with barbell front squats, for example, instead of back squats), which injected some much-needed variation into my routine. From there, a four-round superset, which was generally a push-pull pair. A four-movement circuit capped off each day, with biceps and triceps exercises baked into each series.
Saladino also included an option for 20 to 30 minutes of cardio at 120 to 140 BPM (check out more details on exactly what that means here), but since I was running and doing other activities on my off-days, I ended each workout with the circuit.
The consistent structure helped me to stay on task and move efficiently through each workout, especially once I was a few weeks in and accustomed to the format. I enjoyed tracking my progress from week to week; I added weight when the reps that were challenging the week before came easy, and by the end of the program, I wasn’t hitting PRs—that wasn’t the objective, after all—but I was moving confidently with heavier loads than at the start.
I was also much more focused. Saladino prescribed a specific amount of rest between each set; I kept a keen eye on my watch and did my best to adhere to the format every day. This kept me from dawdling or improvising, and I was able to finish almost every workout across the six weeks in between 55 and 60 minutes.
I also felt like I was being pushed, in a good way—when I was training on my own, I would often skip out on tracking my rest so closely. Workout sessions ballooned beyond the one hour mark, which made it tough to fit in everything I wanted to do physically within the constraints of my busy schedule. By keeping my eye on my rest, I kept my training tight, and often found myself breathing hard but not overburdened.
The program also allowed for flexibility, as I wound up traveling twice within the six weeks without skipping a session. I was able to finish up my workouts before a weekend away for the first trip, then saved a training day for an impromptu drop-in at a gym I wanted to check out for the other. Staying on track was easy.
Overall, I felt that the 3-Day Split program gave me everything I wanted—consistency, structure, and focus—and considering the ridiculous arm pump I felt every day at the end of each workout, a little extra muscle, too. Physically, I felt great after finishing the six weeks. Most importantly, I kicked that workout fatigue I was fighting through when I started.
There are workout programs out there that can help you achieve more specific goals, like maxing out your deadlift or hitting a certain number on the scale, but for my goal of refocusing my training and making it fun again, this one hit the mark for me. I’m ready to move on to more involved plans—and with the foundations I built with this split, I’m confident I’ll be able to crush whatever objective I choose that comes next.
Brett Williams, a fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running. You can find his work elsewhere at Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.
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