The push/pull/legs split is one of the simplest, most enduring and popular workout routines there is. And it’s also extremely effective; assuming of course that it’s done right.
So in this article I’ll explain what a push/pull/legs split involves and why it’s such an effective way to train. And I’ll also give you a sample workout routine that you can get started with straight away.
What Is The Push/Pull/Legs Split Routine?
The push/pull/legs split is a very simple and logical training method in which you split your body into three parts. And each part is then trained on its own separate day.
In the “push” workout you train all the upper body pushing muscles, i.e. the chest, shoulders and triceps.
In the “pull” workout you train all the upper body pulling muscles, i.e. the back and biceps.
And in the “legs” workout you train the entire lower body, i.e. the quads, hamstrings, calves and abdominals.
These three workouts are then alternated over however many weekly training sessions you choose to do.
So for instance if you can only make it to the gym three days per week, you would simply do each workout on its own set day once each week, e.g. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. However this is not the best way to do it as it means that each body part is only being trained once per week, and as I’ve said previously this is not optimal for muscle growth (though it’s fine for a maintenance program).
So a better way would be to train four days per week, alternating the workouts over your four training sessions. It doesn’t matter which days you choose as long as you never do more than two days in a row.
Another method is the rotating five day cycle, where each workout is done over a five day period. So this means you would train 2 on, 1 off, 1 on, 1 off and then repeat. This is probably the best way to do it as it means that each body part is trained once every 5 days – and this is about ideal for the more experienced trainee. But it does mean that your training days are constantly changing so you need a fairly flexible schedule for this to work.
Why Use A Push/Pull/Legs Split?
The push/pull/legs split is probably the most efficient workout split there is because all related muscle groups are trained together in the same workout.
This means that you get the maximum overlap of movements within the same workout, and the muscle groups being trained get an overall benefit from this overlap.
For example when you train chest with say bench press, you are also hitting your anterior deltoids and triceps hard. And when you train shoulders you are again involving your triceps. So it makes sense to work these all together in the same workout for maximum synergy and effectiveness.
Similarly when you train your back your biceps are heavily involved, so it again makes sense to train these immediately afterwards so that they can derive the maximum benefit from the additional stimulation.
It also means you will have minimum overlap of movements between workouts, and this will facilitate better recovery than most other body part splits.
The joints too are involved differently in each workout, and this reduces joint strain and helps prevent injury. And in practice the push/pull/legs split does seem to cause less training injuries than other methods of training.
A Sample Push/Pull/Legs Split Routine
Here’s a great sample workout plan that is well structured and properly balanced; and it’s sure to give you exceptional results…
Workout 1 – Push
Bench Press 3 X 5 – 7
Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 X 6 – 8
Incline Dumbbell Press 3 X 8 – 10
Side Lateral Raises 2 X 10 – 12
Triceps Pressdowns 2 X 8 – 10
Overhead Triceps Extension 2 X 8 – 10
Workout 2 – Pull
Bent-over Row 3 X 5 – 7
Pull Ups 3 X 6 – 8
Barbell Shrugs 3 X 8 – 10
Face Pulls 2 X 10 – 12
Barbell Curl 2 X 8 – 10
Dumbbell Hammer Curl 2 X 8 – 10
Workout 3 – Legs/Abs
Squats 3 X 6 – 8
Romanian Deadlifts 2 X 8 – 10
Leg Press 2 X 10 – 12
Leg Curl 2 X 10 – 12
Calf Raise 4 X 8 – 10
Hanging Leg Raise 2 X 10 – 15
The sets listed are your work sets. Always warm up properly first in order to prepare your body for the heavier work, and to help prevent injury. However another advantage of this split routine is that fewer warm-up sets are required as training each exercise/body part warms you up for the next.
Who Should Use A Push/Pull/Legs Split?
The push/pull/legs split is ideal for both the intermediate and advanced trainee.
More specifically though, if you are just starting out or have not had much in the way of results from your efforts so far, you’ll almost certainly do best with a full body workout routine, training three days per week. Stick with this for at least six months – more if you are still progressing well.
Once you hit the intermediate stage however you’ll probably find you’ll do better with an upper/lower split routine, training three or four days per week. And this is in fact one of the best ways to train for the vast majority of the population.
But at any time past the beginner stage you may find the push/pull/legs split suits you better. Or you may wish to alternate upper/lower splits with a push/pull/legs split in order to derive all the benefits that each has to offer.
Either way the push/pull/legs split is an extremely effective method of training that is certain to give you exceptional results if you apply yourself to it diligently.
Photo credit: SSCusp, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr