The push/pull/legs split is one of the most popular and enduring workout programs there is. And the reason for that is simple – it works really well. Provided, of course, that it’s done in the right way.
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 great example of a workout routine that you can use to 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 up into three parts. And each part is then trained on its own separate day.
In the “push” workout, you train all your upper body pushing muscles, i.e. your chest, shoulders and triceps.
In the “pull” workout, you train all your upper body pulling muscles, i.e. your back and biceps.
And in the “legs” workout, you train your entire lower body, i.e. your 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 times 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 train more than two days in a row.
Another method you could use is the rotating five day cycle. With this, each workout is done over a five day period. So that 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 being 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 method of training there is, because all related muscle groups are trained together in the same workout. This means that you get the maximum overlap of the movements being trained, and the muscle groups involved derive the maximum benefit from this overlap.
For example, when you train chest with say, bench press, the front deltoids and the triceps are also heavily involved. And when you train shoulders, the triceps are again worked hard. So it makes sense to train all these body parts together in the same workout, for maximum synergy and effectiveness.
Similarly, when you train your back, your biceps are also worked hard. So again, it makes sense to train these immediately afterwards, so that they can derive the maximum benefit from the additional stimulation.
It also means you get the minimum overlap of movements between workouts, which facilitates better recovery than most other training methods. And the joints are involved differently in each workout too, which 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.
An Example Workout Routine
Here’s a great example of a push/pull/legs split routine that is well structured, properly balanced, and certain to give you excellent results:
Workout 1 – Push
- Bench Press 3 X 6 – 8
- Incline Dumbbell Press 3 X 8 – 10
- Machine Flye 2 X 10 – 12
- Seated Dumbbell Press 3 X 8 – 10
- Lateral Raise 2 X 10 – 12
- Triceps Pressdown 3 X 10 – 12
Workout 2 – Pull
- Bent-over Row 3 X 6 – 8
- Pull Ups 3 X 8 – 10
- Cable Row 2 X 10 – 12
- Face Pulls 2 X 12 – 15
- Barbell Curl 3 X 8 – 10
- Dumbbell Hammer Curl 2 X 10 – 12
Workout 3 – Legs/Abs
- Squats 3 X 6 – 8
- Romanian Deadlift 2 X 10 – 12
- Leg Press 2 X 10 – 12
- Leg Curl 2 X 10 – 12
- Calf Raise 3 X 8 – 10
- Cable Crunch 2 X 12 – 15
The sets listed are your work sets, but always ensure you 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 intermediate and advanced trainees.
More specifically though, if you are just starting out, or you 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 that 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, my preferred method of training for most people, most of the time.
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 an upper/lower split with a push/pull/legs split, in order to derive all the benefits that each method has to offer.
Either way, the push/pull/legs split routine is an extremely effective method of training that is certain to give you exceptional results, provided you combine it with a good muscle-building diet, some proven supplements (not essential but certainly useful), and sufficient rest and sleep. Best of luck.
Photo credit: SSCusp, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr