The Push/Pull/Legs Split Routine for Massive Muscle Gains

bodybuilder 8 flickrIf you are past the beginner’s stage, and want to gain muscle mass at the optimum rate, one of the best approaches you could take to accomplish that goal is to use the push/pull/legs split routine.

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.

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 five 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

37 Replies to “The Push/Pull/Legs Split Routine for Massive Muscle Gains”

  1. With the push pull legs routine, if done in the order of
    Push, legs, pull, light cardio/ top off on any exercises that weren’t hit to well in the previous exercise as long as it isn’t the next day’s routine could you do this without off days for as long as you like?

    • It would be too much for most people, so it’s not something I would usually recommend. But if you’re quite advanced and have built up to it gradually it should be ok. I’d stick with just light cardio on day 4 though – no weights at all.

  2. Good sir I’m just starting out . Is it okay to if i will do the push pull and leg schedule on Monday Wednesday and Friday only then Monday, Wednesday, Friday again on the next week. Will it gain optimal results or not. Also will this help me loose my stubborn belly fat 🙁 i have a tight scedule at work so i cannot go to the gym and i only have a bench press and a dumbell and barbell set with a total of 100 pounds plate when added all together thankyou !

    • Training each body part once per week is not optimal – especially if you are a beginner. If you can do it 4 days per week (alternating the workouts), or better still use the 5 day rotating cycle, you will get quicker results. Having said that, if you are a complete beginner you will probably do better with a full body workout performed three days per week.

      Yes it will help a little with your belly fat, but diet is the main factor here. A little high intensity cardio will be useful too.

      Sounds like you have the start of a decent home gym there, but you will need some more weights; and I’d get a squat rack too (or some sturdy squat stands if space is an issue).

      • So sir you mean if i can i should train every other day for example push , pull , legs then push again. All having a day of rest in between.

        • Yes that would be ok; or you could do the rotating 5 day cycle I mentioned above (2 on, 1 off, 1 on, 1 off and repeat).

  3. So I’m in my 3rd week of doing Push/Pull/Legs (minus the Legs because I’m nursing a bad knee for the next little while). Prior to that I was doing a modified Starting Strength routine (the injury forced me to change because I can’t squat).

    Anywho, here’s my routine:
    Overhead Press 3×5
    Closed Grip Bench 3×6
    Dips 3×8-10
    Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3×10
    French Press 3×12
    Lateral Raise 3×12

    Sooo…I know this day lacks some pure chest exercises, and I want to address that. However, I feel like the bench press is an overrated exercises, especially compared to the OHP when it comes to pure upper body strength.

    As such, I start with the OHP and move to an assistance exercise for it (the Close grip bench), followed by a wide grip forward leaning Dip. Then I have the Dumbbell shoulder press and Lateral Raise to hit my middle delts and address my vanity needs, as well as the French Press because I feel like my triceps get an excellent workout all around from that exercise.

    So, what would you do with this? I’m seriously considering adding a Push Day 2 for the chest dominant exercises…but how would I put in the order of the workouts? Push 1 -> Pull -> Break -> Push 2 -> Legs -> Break -> Repeat cycle?

    Here’s my Pull day, for reference:
    Deadlift 1×5
    Pull ups 10x??? (meaning whatever I can do with strict form)
    Pendlay Row 3×8
    Reverse Flyes (for rear delts)
    T-Bar Rows 3×10
    E-Z Bar Curls 3×12

    Looking forward to hearing your response, and thank you in advance.

  4. Yes a second push workout would be fine, and you would just alternate the two on your push day. For instance if you are doing push, legs, pull, you would do push 1, legs, pull, push 2, legs, pull etc.

    Personally I think you have got too much shoulder work in your push workout above though. And when you say 10x???, I presume you don’t mean you are doing 10 sets of pull ups?

    • yea 10 sets… I can only do 3 strict form pull ups for the first 3-4 sets, after that I go down to doing 2 or 1 rep for the remaining sets. Is that too much considering all the other pulling exercises?

      • Probably yes. I’d reduce it to 5 or 6 sets. You could do 10 sets if you were specializing, but you would want to reduce your volume elsewhere so you could recover properly.

  5. Hi sir
    I have trained for 4 months
    Can i start with push pull leg
    My weight is 163 ib and lenght is 179 cm

    • You can if you want to, but you’d probably do better with either a full body workout or an upper/lower split, at least for the next several months.

  6. So I had a bad accident that I’ve been recovering from and I’ve been working out for the past 10 years in order to do so. Some years have been sparatically and some I’ve been more consistent. I just graduated from college in May and am trying to follow a more strict workout routine but have been struggling with how to fit everything in. I was doing 4 on and repeating the cycle the following week while adding in a cardio day after the second day in that cycle. I came across this particular split you mentioned where you do 2 on, 1 off, 1 on, 1 off then repeat and I think I’ll try that because it will provide me with more frequency in that I’ll be able to hit my muscles every 5 days like you mentioned. 1 question I have is what days are best to add in a cardio session or 2?

    • Sorry to hear about your accident Connor, but it’s good that you’ve been taking such positive steps to recover from it. As for cardio, you could do it either after some of your workouts (after upper body training is usually best), or on some of your off days. Either of these approaches works fine; so do whichever feels best for you.

  7. It’s ok. It was a huge life changing experience that I’m very thankful for. Learned and still am learning a lot from it. And thanks for the advice… very helpful!

    • Glad to be of help Connor. You certainly have a very positive attitude to life. 🙂

  8. SIr for how long can i do this program ? Can i change the exercise for PPL for the next session . i.e I am performing PPL twice per week , in first push workout if i did flat bench press and other exercise the next push of the same week i change the entire workout i.e there would be no flat bench press it might be incline bench press and so one again next week plat bench press and next push incline bench press .

    • You can do the program for as long as you are making gains. There’s no set limit. And if you change the rep ranges every few weeks you will be able to do it for much longer. And yes, if you do PPL twice per week you can certainly do a different set of exercises in each of your two sessions. Though training 6 days per week is very demanding and would be too much for most people. But if you are recovering from it well enough (i.e. you are getting stronger and growing) then it’s obviously fine for you.

  9. Hi David,
    Thanks for sharing this amazing program…. I have been weightlifting for about 6 months and haven’t really experienced many gains. I have really good fitness and endurance/stamina levels because I had been doing TapOut (you might have heard about it) for about a year and a half mixing the routines in and out along with playing 2 to 4 hours of soccer every Sunday, I live in Peru so soccer is a big thing here and almost every guy plays it. All this was before I started lifting, anyways, I started a self-crafted lifting routine in January and kept on mixing it up with soccer or swimming on Sundays after a Tue/Thu/Sat split in which I trained the heavy compound movements (squats, deadlift, presses…) and some isolation exercises, I am not a big fan of isolation exercises as they don’t really gas me up like the compound moves do. I was unlucky enough to tear my left hamstring in a soccer game back in March, so the heavy exercises that involved my legs have been pretty much out of the table for quite a while along with the really good cardio sessions as I have been unable to sprint or even jump for the time given. So I have just kept on training the upper part of the body for the past 3 months or so but it hasn’t really helped me much. I am now in a good point in my recovery though, I can run and even play soccer again so I am planning on starting this system the following way:

    Monday – OFF (I play soccer Sundays so I figured it would be good to rest this day)
    Tuesday – Push / some abs at the end
    Wednesday – OFF
    Thursday – Legs (I want to train legs here as this will give them time to recover until Sunday)
    Friday – OFF
    Saturday – Pull / some abs at the end
    Sunday – Soccer (1 – 1 1/2 hours approx)

    I would really appreciate any comments/changes on this. I know it might be a bit hard on my legs overall but I can’t really stop playing soccer.

    Greetings from Peru 🙂

    • Glad to hear you are recovering well from your hamstring injury Aaron. Yes your plan looks ok, apart from the fact that you are only training each body part once per week, so your progress will not be as fast as it could be. An hour or so of soccer once per week will not hurt – just make sure you are eating enough to gain weight and you should be fine.

      • Thanks for the kind reply, I highly appreciate it. I’ll start next week and see how it goes from there, I am trying hard to keep my diet at a good balance so that I can experience some gains, but it seems that I am really hard gainer.

        • Ok; best of luck. If you are still having problems get back to me in a couple of months and I’ll see if I can help further. But if you make sure you eat a calorie surplus (with a good amount of protein), get sufficient sleep and hit the right level of intensity in your training (see my e-book for specific guidance on this) you should do fine.

  10. What about this routine
    Mon chest,triceps,shoulders
    Tue legs back biceps
    Wed cardio
    Thursday do you find this routine

    • Yes that’s fine, as long as you can keep your legs/back/biceps workout to a manageable size. And take Sunday completely off so you have one day of rest per week.

  11. Great job on routine, just wondering why deadlift is on legs day and why face pulls is on pull day, considering as far as i know face pull is for rear dealts, which may be better to work on shoulders say(push day). sorry if this is a stupid question.

    • Thanks Wade; Romanian deadlifts are not the same as conventional deadlifts (which would have been put on the pull day). They are done with legs almost straight and are primarily a compound hamstring movement. Face pulls do work the rear delts, but they also work several other muscles of the upper back around the shoulder blade area, so are usually done on the pull day. You could do them with shoulders if you wish though.

  12. Oh, and just to clarify, how long should each of these workouts be, because they seem a bit short, but besides that really great routine, sorry to bother.

    • Depends on how long you rest between sets, but generally just over an hour, which is long enough.

  13. Hi, I was wondering If I could do push/pull 4 days in a row alternating between the two. Ex) push pull push pull. Would that give enough rest for my muscles to be rested enough for the second push and pull workout of the week?

    • No; it’s not enough rest. I would not do it that way unless you absolutely have to.

  14. Hi David,
    Im trying to build some real mass as quickly as possible. I’ve been working out for a few months consistently now..i started working out like 5 yrs ago though. I need to gain atleast 10kg as I’m underweight. I am currently following your 4day upper lower split. I’m getting stronger and bigger(not to the level I think I should be though). I’m getting more defined which I absolutely love :)Should I be continuing the same routine or should I try something else? Waiting for your advice.

    • I would stick to what you are doing as you seem to be doing very well. We rarely improve as fast as we think we should, but if you are getting bigger, stronger AND more defined you are really doing great. When you get as defined as you want to be you can increase your calorie intake and you will grow faster.

      Personally I think the upper/lower split is the best routine there is if you want to increase both size and strength. I rarely deviate from it now, but I do change the number of sets and reps regularly. And I may occasionally change some of the exercises too.

  15. sir,if i may ask….can i schedule my routine in this form:
    sunday & monday s are off…..
    will it be a good training programme ?

    • If you are young and have good recovery you may do ok with that, but for most people training 5 days per week will be too much to maintain for any length of time.

  16. workout 1,2 and 3 is the same day, and if it’s not, how do I distributed throughout the week

    • No, they are on separate days. How you distribute them though the week is fully described in the article under “What Is The Push/Pull/Legs Split Routine?”.

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