This is a complete guide to setting up The Best Push Pull Legs Workout Plan in 2021.
In this new guide, you’ll learn exactly how to build the best program you can to achieve the best results possible, including:
- Best 3 Day Split To Get Stronger
- Best 4 Day Split To Build Muscle
- Best 6 Day Split To Lose Fat
- How To Build Your Push Pull Legs Program For Your Specific Goals
- How To Apply Progressive Overload To Maximize Progress
- Frequently Asked Questions that I’ve seen tons of questions on and more!
Let’s get started!
What is Push Pull Legs?
Push/pull/legs split is a straightforward training method to split your training into 3 primary movement patterns. The push workout consists of exercises to train the upper body pushing muscles, the chest, shoulders, and triceps. The pull workout aims to train all of the upper body pulling muscles; the upper back, lats, and biceps. The leg workout centers around training the lower body muscles, such as the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.
I’ve been training a long time and used many different programs to build more strength and muscle.
Often, the programs are pretty solid and make sense, depending on what your goals are.
Others haven’t been the best, unfortunately, which is why I wanted to make a change in my training.
Not only for me but for my clients as well.
They’ve been getting solid results, but I knew there was a better way to improve what we’ve been doing.
Enter the push pull legs split!
I’ve seen a ton of excellent resources out there on the subject.
However, my goal with this guide is to go over every minute detail on the push-pull-legs workout plan.
That way, you don’t ever have to go searching for answers again. All the information is right here and ready to be shared with anybody that needs help.
If you want to learn all about the best training program out there, look no further because this is it!
Let’s get started!
What is the push pull legs workout plan?
As I’ve stated above, the push pull legs workout plan consists of splitting up your training into 3 primary movement patterns.
Incline work is crucial for upper body pushing movements. It trains the clavicular head of the pecs, which is essential for muscle and injury prevention.
Push is for the upper body pushing muscles:
- Traps (I recommend traps on the push day to pair with your side delts.)
If you want the biggest and stronger back possible, you better have some kind of heavy rowing variation.
Pull is for the upper body pulling muscles:
- Upper Back
- Rear Delts
For leg days, doing some kind of high bar squat to train the quads directly is great. Other variations are awesome for training the entire lower body as a unit as well.
Legs are for the, well legs lol.
Why use a Push Pull Legs split?
Push Pull Legs, or PPL, for short because I’m already tired of writing it, is considered the best way to set up your workouts by many.
The main reasons why?
- Allows for optimal recovery. Because you’re splitting the body into 3 separate sections, it makes it easy to recover from. If you’re doing full-body 3 times per week, you might not recover from those deadlifts you did the other day, and now it’s time to do barbell rows.
- Programming for long term progress is simple. Setting up a PPL program is easy; you pick 1-2 exercises per body part and get stronger at it over time. You go from 200 for 5 to 200 for 10 on the bench press, and you probably got bigger and stronger. See? Easy.
- It gives you an easy framework to work with based on your goals. If you want to focus on strength, building muscle, or fat loss, the push pull legs split is incredibly easy to use for whatever goal you may have!
As you can see, no matter what your goal is, you can tailor a push pull legs program to suit it instantly.
Now, let’s go over the significant benefits and drawbacks to figure out how many days you should be running a push pull legs split!
3-4 Day Push Pull Legs Workout Routine
- Great for strength. Strength training is all about managing fatigue and staying away from failure. Technique and power output are of utmost importance. Because of this, a 3-4 day split is your best bet to focus on getting stronger.
- Much easier to recover from compared to 5-6 day training. The more you can train and recover from, the faster your progress will be. Most people can’t recover from high-frequency programs. Plus, most people reading this work full-time jobs and probably don’t want to spend 6 days a week in the gym.
- Perfect for those that have trouble with higher frequency programs. If you want to do all the volume in the world and push the intensity, you need to lower your training frequency. You can’t push them all into the red. If you do, you won’t be able to recover, and eventually, your progress will stall. Or you might even regress, which is much worse.
- Higher volume is required if your goal is muscle hypertrophy. If you only train 3-4 days per week, you’ll need to do more volume each day to make up for it. For most people, 5-10 HARD work sets per week are all you’ll need to stimulate muscle growth. If you don’t want to train really hard (close to and to failure), you will have to do more volume to make up for it.
- Not much room for variation. If you want to do more exercises for specific muscle groups, each workout will take forever to fit everything in. Higher frequencies allow you to add more exercise variation and get more work done each week.
5-6 Day Push Pull Legs Workout Routine
- Allows for a much higher frequency, allowing you to train each muscle group 2-3 times over a 6-12 day rotation. Most parties out there can agree that training each muscle group 2-3 times per week is better for muscle growth. Muscle protein synthesis usually tops out at 72 hours after the initial training session. Meaning that after 3 days, you can most likely train the same muscle group again to maximize muscle growth.
- The higher your frequency, the greater your variation can be for different exercises and specific muscle groups. If you only train 3-4 days per week, it’ll be more challenging to add variations and rotate through them each week. By training more often, you can use 6 different workouts instead of 3. Like so, push 1, pull 1, legs 1, push 2, pull 2, legs 2, etc.
- It can help accelerate fat loss and muscle growth. In general, the more work you can do and recover from, the greater your muscle-building goals will be. Likewise, the more movement you do throughout the week, the greater your fat loss will be. By training more often, you can potentially do more work and get better gains then only training 3 or 4 days per week.
- Because the frequency is so high, you can’t really push the volume AND intensity high. If frequency goes up, either volume or intensity has to drop to maintain optimal recovery. The more often you train, the lower your volume or intensity will be. Which is weird because you see tons of workout programs online where they’re doing 5-6 different exercises 6 days per week with 4-5 sets per exercise. This violates all recovery principles out there and makes no sense if the goal is muscle growth.
- A lot of people can’t be consistent with training more frequently. All training programs need to be based in reality. If you can’t be consistent over the long haul with a program, it doesn’t matter how great the gains will supposedly be. For most of you reading this, 6 days per week, training splits just aren’t going to be realistic.
Pick The Push Pull Legs Split based on your goal
In the end, set up your push pull legs program based on your goals.
- If you want to focus on strength, 3-4 days is perfect.
- Muscle growth? 4-5 days is going to work well.
- If you want to focus on losing body fat and maintaining muscle mass, 5-6 days is going to improve your body composition significantly.
Now that we have the pros and cons of each split taken care of let’s go over how to set this up for whatever goal you might have!
Push Pull Legs For Strength
Do you want to get strong enough to rip a log in half like Cap? This split might make it possible so read on!
As I’ve stated before, the whole point of strength training is to generate the most power possible.
Whether that’s for improving your 1 rep max or 10 rep max, getting stronger over time is what matters.
Or even better! Making your 1 rep max your new 10 or 20 rep max over time is what strength training is all about!
If you go from benching 150 for 10 to 150 for a set of 20, you got stronger.
If you originally squatted 200 lbs for 1 and now you can squat it for a set of 10, you got stronger.
Strength training isn’t just about increasing your one-rep max, as you can see from these examples.
Using a push pull legs split for strength training is actually super easy and ensures you’re getting in plenty of recovery over time.
Since the goal is getting stronger, we want to focus on big, compound movements that promote full-body strength.
Movements such as the squat, bench press, overhead press, dips, pullups, rows, etc.
If you want to learn everything about setting up a Push Pull Legs Strength Training program check out my video here:
Let’s start with the push day to get an idea of how you can set this up.
- Bench press
- Overhead press
- Incline bench press
Dips are a staple in Mike Israetels training and something I urge you to work toward for tricep strength, and hypertrophy as well.
As you can see, you pick a couple of tried and true exercises to build strength in the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
If you want to prioritize the overhead press instead, simply start with that first in your rotation for the day.
You can also use a seated DB press instead of a barbell press or any other variation you can think of.
Just pick a couple of exercises and work on getting stronger in the 5-10 rep range.
Pretty simple right?
Next on to the pull!
- DB Rows
- Neutral Grip Lat Pulldown
Paul Carter showing the correct form used to train the lats correctly using a Dumbbell row. And no, it’s not as simple as vertical pulling is lats and horizontal pulling is upper back. There’s much more to it than that!
A good way to set it up for strength is by starting with a deadlift variation for your pull workout.
Sumo, conventional, trap bar, whichever you want to get stronger at.
I put pullups first in this example because bodyweight exercises are challenging.
Especially if you can only do sets of 5-10 on them, and you want to get better at them.
Starting with these first after your Deadlift variation will give you the best chance to improve performance.
Don’t throw them in at the end of the workout as an afterthought.
I always recommend some kind of row variation. If you need to build a bigger and stronger upper back, prioritizing an upper back row and pullups is a great idea.
Then, you can throw in some lat work at the end to keep everything balanced.
Finally, let’s get to legs, everybody’s favorite!
- Back Extension
Jared Feather knows a thing or two about leg day. And as you can tell, the Romanian Deadlift is a massive cornerstone of his training to build huge glutes and hamstrings as well!
With this setup, I always recommend starting with the squat.
It’s a great way to warm up the entire lower body, and the stronger your squat is, the stronger your whole body will be.
Everything improves when your squat goes up, so it needs to be done first to maximize performance.
After the squat, doing another heavy hinging movement such as Romanian deadlifts or good mornings will hammer the glutes, hamstrings, and low back.
I always recommend doing some kind of unilateral bodyweight movement.
Lunges, Bulgarian Split Squats, or step-ups, it’s entirely up to you.
The whole goal with these is to get a huge stretch and increase muscle mass.
Finally, doing some kind of low back, glute, and hamstring exercise will balance everything out.
Glute ham raises, back extensions, or reverse hypers are key here.
Push Pull Legs For Muscle Growth/Fat Loss
Now that we have the push pull legs program for strength done, let’s move onto the proper set up for muscle growth and fat loss.
The reason this program is going to be the same for these two goals is simple.
To build muscle, you need to create mechanical tension.
To create mechanical tension you need to train close to or to failure.
And the best way to train to build muscle will also be the best way to maintain muscle.
When you’re in a fat loss phase, your main goal other than losing fat should be to maintain muscle mass.
A nice side effect if you have a lot of body fat to lose is that you can actually recomp.
Even in a calorie deficit you can lose fat and build muscle as long as you have enough adipose tissue stores to fuel muscle growth.
Pretty neat huh?
With that explanation out of the way, let’s go over a sample push pull legs program for building muscle and losing fat.
Execution Is Key
Once again, Paul Carter breaking down how proper movement execution should look to maximize your time in the gym and minimize joint pain.
Your whole goal when trying to build muscle is to push close to failure and create as much tension as possible.
You don’t need to do a million sets to build muscle, if you do it means your execution can and should be better.
If you just go through the motions and aren’t controlling the negative, you’re missing out on easy muscle growth with lighter weights.
Each rep starts with a strong concentric action to use as many muscle fibers as possible.
Then, the second part of each rep has a controlled negative where you’re forcing the muscles to slow down the descent.
By doing this, you’re going to have much more efficient and productive training.
On top of that, your joints aren’t going to get super beat up just moving the weight through space.
This is the big difference between strength training and muscle building.
I’m strength training, you’re trying to generate the most force possible and minimize the fatigue at the same time.
This means controlling each rep and focusing on force production.
Muscle growth is all about generating as much tension as possible on the muscles and fatiguing the muscles to the point where they’re forced to grow.
Pretty simple but it needs to be stated.
If you’re just moving the weights around and have to do 10-20 sets per muscle group to build more muscle, your mechanics suck.
Rep Range For Muscle Growth/Fat Loss
Unlike strength training, we want a slightly higher rep range to build the most muscle possible.
You can build muscle in any rep range as long as you’re training close to failure.
This means a set of 5 or a set of 20 will build just as much muscle.
However, sets of 5 with heavy weights and sets of 20 will be much more fatiguing then more moderate rep ranges.
That’s also why training heavier than sets of 5 isn’t a great idea for muscle growth.
Imagine doing sets of 3 to failure each week with more and more weight.
Losing fat and building muscle looks a lot like this to some people. Just move around a lot like the Ultimate Warrior and you too will be jacked and lean!
I guarantee you won’t be able to control each rep and your joints are going to hate you eventually.
On the flip side, if you’re only doing sets of 20 you’re going to create a ton of muscular fatigue and soreness.
So for this program, I recommend sticking to the 8-12 rep range.
This is the universally agreed upon rep range that will build the most muscle without beating up your joints or crushing your recovery.
It’s pretty easy to set up too.
- Start with a weight you can do for a set of 8.
- For big compound movements, don’t go to failure but leave one rep in the tank. This can also be considered technical failure. Once your form breaks down the set is over.
- For isolation exercises, you can pretty much go to complete muscular failure forever as long as you’re only doing 1-3 sets per movement.
- Each workout your goal is to try and beat the reps you did the previous week.
- When you get to 12 reps on an exercise, it’s time to add weight.
- 5 lbs added is a great way to keep progressing for a long time.
- If you add 10 lbs each time your progress will slow down. I’ve seen it too many times to be a coincidence so don’t try to progress too quickly.
- However, what you shouldn’t do is stop once you get to 12 if you have more reps in the tank. Push it as hard as you can each week, focus on proper execution, and expect training to be hard.
Building muscle is hard so you should expect the process to be physically demanding as well.
Eventually, you’re going to plateau and not have the capacity to add more reps for multiple workouts in a row.
When this happens, you can either deload, back the weight off, or do a combination of both.
If you choose to back the weight off, back it off 10-20% and try to break rep PR’s all the way up to where you plateaud.
By that point, you should easily be able to get past that weight you were stuck at.
When this happens, you’ll notice you not only got stronger but you got bigger as well.
It really is as simple as that.
Progress from doing a set of 8 at 200 lbs on the squat to a set of 300 for 8 and you’re definitely going to have bigger legs.
Check out Charly Joung’s insane Squat technique. He didn’t build massive legs by quarter squatting and going through the motions with bad form. Just something to think about!
Pay attention to your technique, progress slow, and beat your reps week after week.
Simple as that!
The breakdown for each workout is simple. You pick 1-2 exercises for each major muscle group and work up to 1 hard set.
- 1-2 for chest
- 1-2 for shoulders
- 1-2 for triceps
- 1-2 for traps
- 1-2 for upper back
- 1-2 for lats
- 1-2 for biceps
- 1-2 for rear delts
- 1-2 for quads
- 1-2 for hamstrings
- 1-2 for calves
3 Day Push Pull Legs Workout Example
As you can see, it’s incredibly easy to set up your own workout and never have to guess what to do again.
Plus, with a push pull legs program, you don’t have to worry too much about your recovery from day to day.
3 Day Training Programs are great to balance stimulus to fatigue. Plus your recovery is going to be easy to hit for a very long time.
Mainly, your volume should be low if you’re performing the exercises correctly and stimulating them by pushing close or to failure.
There’s also the fact that anything you do on your push day shouldn’t affect your pull day and vice versa with your leg day.
Suppose you’re only training 3-4 days per week. It’ll be even easier to get enough recovery, which is essential for growth.
After all, you don’t grow from training; you grow by recovering from training.
If you’re doing 6 workouts a week with 10-20 sets done per muscle group, you’re not going to recover.
People say they have, but they would grow much faster and not be as beat up by doing less volume and pushing harder on your sets.
Just something to think about!
4, 5, or 6 Day Push Pull Legs Workout Example
When training 4, 5, or 6 days per week, we simply pick a second set of exercises to add to our first set.
Here’s how this setup would look for each week training 4 days per week.
- Monday – Push 1
- Tuesday – Pull 1
- Wednesday – Off
- Thursday – Legs 1
- Friday – Push 2
- Saturday – Off
- Sunday – Off
- Monday – Pull 2
- Tuesday – Legs 2
- Wednesday – Off
- Thursday – Push 1
- Friday – Pull 1
- Saturday – Off
- Sunday – Off
Then you just keep rotating through each workout from there.
Training more for certain goals is fine. And usually, more is better in general as the Seven Deadly Sins prove!
As long as you’re progressing and adding reps/weight week after week, I wouldn’t change anything.
If you wanted to train 5 or 6 days per week, you’d have to make sure you nail your recovery and only pick 1 movement for each muscle group per workout.
Here’s how a 6-day program would look.
- Monday – Push 1
- Tuesday – Pull 1
- Wednesday – Legs 1
- Thursday – Off
- Friday – Push 2
- Saturday- Pull 2
- Sunday – Legs 2
I would only recommend a 6-day program to those looking to lose body fat and improve body composition.
It will be difficult for most people to recover from, which is necessary to continue building muscle mass.
As long as you keep the volume low (1-2 hard work sets per exercise), you should be fine.
If you start throwing in drop sets and doing tons of high rep sets to add more volume, you’re going to have problems.
Also, if you’re going to use 2 variations of each push pull legs day, here’s how I recommend setting it up.
- Chest compound
- Shoulder isolation
- Tricep isolation
- Upper back compound
- Lats compound
- Biceps isolation
- Rear delts isolation
- Quad compound
- Hamstring isolation
- Calf isolation
- Shoulder compound
- Chest isolation
- Tricep isolation
- Lat compound
- Upper back compound
- Biceps isolation
- Rear delts isolation
- Hamstring compound
- Quads isolation
- Calves isolation
You can mix and match this any way you like, but I recommend setting up different focuses each day.
Each push day starts with either a chest or shoulder compound to overload the targeted muscles.
Then doing the opposite movement for isolation work will allow you to push the tricep work afterward.
I’m not a huge fan of loading up on a ton of presses 1 after the other, which helps fix that.
Heavy weights with high levels of control is difficult but it builds muscle faster than any other method.
Same thing with the pull workouts.
The upper back and lats each get their focus at the beginning of each workout, depending on how you set it up.
This makes it easy to prioritize different things and keep training balanced.
For legs, having a quad focused day and a hamstring focused day definitely helps with doing quality work week after week.
With all of these setups, you can even change it so that you’re prioritizing weak points, which is one of the major benefits of using a push pull legs program.
Let’s say you want to focus on chest over shoulders for the next month.
Here’s how you could set it up!
- Incline bench press
- Lateral raises
- Dumbbell bench press
- Incline dumbbell flys
- Upright rows
- Overhead extensions
As you can see, you load all of your chest compounds and isolation at the beginning, so they get all of the focus.
Then, you throw in some side delt work to isolate the shoulders but not overdo it with heavy compounds, which will affect your recovery.
It’s pretty easy to set this all up as long as you follow a basic template and balance everything.
Just pick a template, pick a couple of exercises that work well with your structure, and get after it.
If you have any questions on any of this, definitely let me know in the comments below!
Next up, I will go over how to build your own push pull legs program based on your goals and training experience.
Let’s get to it!
Build Your Own Push Pull Legs Program
Building your own program is something that every lifter should do during their training journey.
It’s great to follow accomplished lifters programs, but eventually, you need to develop your own methodology and principles to follow.
Programs are great, but principles are much more important.
If you have a set of principles to follow, you’ll never be lead astray.
And if you do, all you have to do is follow your principles to get right back on track.
For me, my principles have always been pretty basic.
- Start light
- Progress slowly
- Recover as hard as you train
- Push for rep PR’s to drive progress
- Stay in shape
Pretty basic principles that allow me to navigate any training program and adjust it to my specific needs.
After all, what you do as a beginner athlete will be different once you’re advanced.
Also, if you’re wondering if you’ve progressed from intermediate to advanced, you haven’t.
Advanced athletes know they’re advanced without having to question it or ask somebody else if they are.
For this section’s purposes, we’re going to cover all the ways you can program a push pull legs program for your goals.
Step 1 – Decide On Your Main Goal & Training Frequency
Before starting any program, you need to ask yourself, what is your main goal?
How you train will be different depending on what your training goal actually is.
If you want to lose fat, you’ll need to train and move more.
This means training anywhere from 4-6 days per week and moving at least 30 minutes every day.
You also need to be in a calorie deficit. This isn’t up for debate, so don’t bother arguing it.
If you want to build muscle, you will want to train a little bit less than for fat loss.
4-5 days is definitely the sweet spot for true muscle building training.
You also need to make sure you’re eating in a slight calorie surplus to serve as building blocks for muscle tissue.
If you don’t, you won’t build much muscle mass at all unless you’re a beginner, have a high body fat percentage, or both.
Finally, if your main goal is strength, you need to be training 3-4 days max.
Strength training is incredibly demanding, with the heavier loads necessary to push performance higher.
Heavier loads+more recovery=more strength gains
The worst thing you can do as a strength athlete is to train super heavy with high volume and frequency.
If somebody disputes this, they most likely have much higher testosterone and better genetics than the majority of people out there.
It doesn’t make any sense to think this level of recovery is possible for those of us with average genetics and no special sports supplements.
Guys like Ronnie Coleman have superior genetics, recovery capacity, and respond well to sports supplements. For everybody that’s natural with an average run of the mill genetics, you CAN’T train like them and expect to recover.
There’s a lot more to training then just picking weights up and putting them down.
After deciding what your goal is, it’s time to figure out how many days per week you can dedicate to training.
You need to think about how the rest of your life will affect your program as well.
If you work a super hard, heavy labor job, you won’t be able to train as much as an office worker that sits all day.
These are just a few of the things you need to consider when deciding your main goal and how many days you can train.
If you can’t train consistently 5 days per week, do 4; if 4 is too much, a 3-day program will work just as well.
Whatever you do, make sure your consistency is on point.
Otherwise, it won’t matter how great your program is.
Step 2 – Pick Exercises Based On Your Individual Structure & Goal
After you’ve decided on your training frequency and goal, it’s time to pick exercises based on your individual structure and training goal.
Training For Strength
If you’re training for strength, this means finding big, compound exercises that don’t hurt.
If you’re a super tall guy and conventional deadlifts just don’t feel right no matter how you tweak your technique, maybe it’s time to move onto sumo.
Or just pick another bar in general, such as the trap bar deadlift.
This is where knowing your body and how it’s structured will give you an edge over newer athletes.
Here’s an example based on what I’ve found for myself.
Somebody with here size and levers will have no effort doing the Deadlift with great form. It’s just how it goes. Find movements that give you the biggest returns on investment for long term progress. Also, if a movement hurts pick something else!
I can’t do conventional deadlift whatsoever.
With my legs and torso’s levers and structure, every position feels weak, and I can’t maintain a neutral spine no matter what I do.
So, I simply switched to pulling from a high handle on the trap bar, and everything clicked.
Mind you, I don’t compete in powerlifting, nor do I plan to, so deadlifting with a straight bar doesn’t matter much to me.
I’ve also found pairing trap bar pulls with Romanian deadlifts is all I need to do to train hinging movements perfectly.
Based on that example above, you can see how finding the right movements is essential to getting stronger.
To make this simple for you, all you need to do for strength training is break your body up into movement patterns.
Here are the major movements patterns you should be used for strength training to make your training balanced.
- Horizontal push
- Vertical push
- Horizontal pull
- Vertical pull
As long as you have 1 exercise dedicated to each one of these movement patterns, you’ll be training the entire body to be as strong as possible.
Here are some examples of each one so you can figure out what you should be incorporating to build your own push pull legs strength training program.
- Horizontal push – bench press, dumbbell bench press, Incline press, Incline bench press, close grip bench press, wide grip bench press, pushups, etc.
- Vertical push – overhead press, dumbbell press, behind the neck press, seated overhead press, seated dumbbell press, push press, dips, etc.
- Horizontal pull – barbell rows, dumbbell rows, Kroc rows, seal rows, pendlay rows, chest supported rows, cable rows, inverted rows, etc.
- Vertical pull – upper back pulldown, Lat pulldown, pull-ups, chin-ups, rack chins, etc.
- Squat – barbell squat, front squat, pause squats, bodyweight squat, goblet squat, high bar squat, low bar squat,
- Hinge – conventional deadlift, sumo deadlift, trap bar deadlift, Romanian deadlift, good morning,
SSBgood morning, dumbbell Romanian deadlift, etc.
- Lunge – Lunges (duh), split squat, step up, Bulgarian split squat, one-legged squat, etc.
As you can see from the exhaustive list I’ve laid out for you, there are a million variations of exercises you can do.
Training movements is much different than training individual muscle groups and easier to program as well.
Just pick 1-2 exercises for each of your push pull legs days and hammer it.
Add weight over time and once you start plateauing, pick another variation, and get stronger at it.
After you run through two different variations, return to the original movement and break past that plateau.
Sometimes plateaus look like this and everything feels heavy and it sucks. Just back the weight off and rebuild.
If you set everything up correctly, I’m positive you’ll notice a difference!
Training For Muscle Growth/Fat Loss
Training for muscle growth and fat loss is a little harder to figure out compared to strength training.
But luckily, if you’re here you’ve already learned a lot from this post alone.
Picking exercises to train individual muscles instead of movements doesn’t have to be super tricky as I’m about to show you now.
The goal is to find exercises that train the targeted muscle group through a full range of motion with excellent execution.
If you train each muscle group with a full range of motion and amazing technique, you will build more muscle.
If you train with quarter reps and sloppy technique, you will have achy joints and less muscle.
But you’ll be stronger, I guess?
I don’t know, I don’t understand ego lifters and never will.
The other thing to consider is the stimulus you receive from the exercises you’re doing.
If you’re doing a bunch of the “best” exercises, but you don’t feel like you’re growing much from them, barely get a pump, and aren’t progressing in sets and reps, odds are that variation isn’t the exercise for you.
Barbell rows are one of the best exercises you can do to build the upper back, but if you are struggling to add reps and it doesn’t feel right for your body, it’s probably not the best option for you.
This is what perfect execution looks like. If you aren’t training this hard with this level of effort and technique you have some work to do.
I have multiple clients who have had to switch out numerous exercises just because they didn’t feel right.
Even if your execution is perfect, they just don’t feel natural and don’t benefit your physique much.
So it’s crucial to find the exercises that work best for you and go from there.
In general, if you feel the muscles working, you’re able to add weight and reps for a long time, and you’re growing, it’s a good fit, and you should keep it!
Here are the major muscle groups you should be training directly with compound and isolation exercises to build the biggest and best physique possible!
- Side delts
- Upper back
- Rear delts
This is where knowing your body will benefit you more than just following the best bodybuilders programs and calling it a day.
Cookie-cutter training plans are a dime a dozen, which is why following a basic template and picking your own exercises is so essential for progress to occur over a lifetime.
Plus, your form with each exercise should be strict and solid to maximize muscle growth.
Hopefully, this all makes sense, but if not, please drop a comment down below with any questions you may have!
I’m here to help, after all!
Step 3 – Progressive Overload For Maximum Progress
The number 1 most important factor to pay attention to for progress to occur is progressive overload.
Hence the name progressive.
Progressive overload is, in its simplest terms, putting more stress upon your body to achieve a desired result.
Training for strength or muscle growth has a lot of the same factors but how you go about getting those results is slightly different.
Progressive Overload For Strength
For strength, you want to stay away from failure and generate as much power as possible for each rep.
Even when the weight gets heavy, your goal is to move the bar as fast and forcefully as possible.
Especially on your warm-ups!
By doing this, you’ll build your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are responsible for moving your body explosively.
If you lift slowly, including on your warm-ups, it will be much harder to improve your total body strength.
Look how explosive each one of his reps is on his warmup sets. That’s how you lift for strength and power. Your main movements should be controlled and then explosive each and every rep. Even when you can’t move the bar fast due to the load, the intent is still there.
The other thing to pay attention to is your recovery and limiting your fatigue as much as possible.
Strength training shouldn’t be done to failure. At least 1-2 reps away from failure is a good goal to shoot for.
It’s important to remind you that working with weights heavier than 3 reps per set is only necessary, leading into a powerlifting meet.
Getting stronger in the 3-8 rep range will give you a nice blend of strength and muscle, perfect for long term progress.
However, you can still get stronger by improving your 10, 15, and even 20 rep max.
If you start off deadlifting 200 for 5 and 6 months later, you can do 200 for a set of 20; you got stronger, right?
Getting stronger in all rep ranges still qualifies as strength training after all.
Let’s go over how to progress over time to build muscular strength!
I like to start as light as possible and progress as slowly as possible.
The lighter you start, and the slower you progress, the longer you’ll progress.
On top of that, you’ll get stronger in various rep ranges, which is excellent for improving muscular endurance, strength, and power.
Let’s use the bench press as an example.
Start with a weight you can do for 10 reps and increase the weight by 5 lbs until you drop down to 5 reps.
- Week 1: 200×10
- Week 2: 205×9
- Week 3: 210×9
- Week 4: 215×8
Once you get to the bottom of the rep range, it’s time to take a Deload for that movement.
Then you start back up the following week by subtracting 10-20% and pushing for rep PR’S.
Let’s drop 10% for this example.
- Week 1: 215×15
- Week 2: 220×14
- Week 3: 225×13
- Week 4: 230×12
From this example, you can see its incredibly easy to progress for long term progress without doing a ton of sets and reps.
Work up to 1 working set and keep trying to do more weight over time.
Once you plateau, back the weight off 10-20% and break rep PR’s all the way back up to the plateau.
Simple as that, and it works!
Back Off Sets
If you need to add more volume for specific movements that keep stagnating, simply add a back off set or 2.
Here’s how this looks with the overhead press, which commonly needs more volume than other barbell movements.
- Week 1: 150×10, 135×12
- Week 2: 155×9, 140×12
- Week 3: 160×8, 145×11
- Week 4: 165×7, 150×10
Pretty basic setup, but it allows you to get in extra volume on the movements that need it.
You can do multiple backoffs at the same weight as well.
- Week 1: 150×10, 3 sets @135
- Week 2: 155×9, 3 sets @140
- Week 3: 160×8, 3 sets @145
- Week 4: 165×7, 3 sets @150
You keep adding weight to the top set and back off sets week after week as long as you’re hitting 5 reps or more per set.
Then you deload once you hit a plateau, back the weight off and build back up.
Strength training is incredibly simple but just make sure that you’re keeping reps in the tank.
By not pushing close to failure, you’re able to maintain your technique and recover properly.
Progressive Overload For Hypertrophy
This is Dante Trudel of Doggcrap fame. You might joke about the program name and methodology, but it’s no question that the way he sets up his training for him and his client’s works. Beat the logbook with high effort forever.
Now that we have progressive overload covered for strength training let’s finish off with how to progress for muscle hypertrophy.
It’s pretty simple as I’m about to show you!
Unlike strength training, which focuses on keeping reps in the tank, training for muscle growth requires pushing as close to failure as possible.
This creates mechanical tension, which is the tension that’s created once you get to those last couple reps of a set, and your reps slow down to a crawl.
As Arnold has been famously quoted,
“The last three or four reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides the champion from someone else who is not a champion. That’s what most people lack, having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain no matter what happens.”Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold knows a thing or two about what it takes to grow. Those last couple of reps are what causes the muscle to grow. If you aren’t pushing close to failure, you’re not training optimally.
Muscle growth isn’t caused by increasing your volume to crazy levels even though Arnold did both.
It’s caused by generating as much tension in the muscles as possible, and those last couple reps of every set create the stimulus for muscle growth to occur.
This means pushing as close to failure as you can and getting stronger in whatever rep range you choose.
I stated before that the 8-12 rep range is the optimal range you should be shooting for, but you can build just as much muscle in the 5-20 rep range.
As long as you’re pushing hard and try doing more reps than last time, you’re on the right path.
Here’s how progress should look for the squat.
- Week 1: 300×12
- Week 2: 305×10
- Week 3: 305×12
- Week 4: 310×11
- Week 5: 310×12, etc.
It really is as simple as pushing to one top set and doing more reps than last time.
If you don’t get to 12 reps this time, keep the same weight the following week and try to beat whatever reps you did.
Keep doing this for weeks, months, and years. Eventually, you’re going to be doing 50+ lbs on specific exercises and build more muscle with this simple approach.
You don’t need a bunch of sets to build muscle, so don’t fall for the hype.
Here’s all you need to progressively build muscle for life.
- 1-2 sets per exercise
- 1-2 exercises per muscle group per workout
- Get stronger in the 5-20 rep range with the majority of your work in the 8-12 rep range
- Push until form breaks down on compound exercises and to failure on isolation exercises
- Eat to grow
Following these guidelines with a push pull legs split will allow you to build muscle for an extended period.
Just follow the basic template, pick exercises that work for your individual structure, and progress the correct way depending on your goal.
Hopefully, this all helps and if you have any questions, definitely feel free to ask them in the comments below!
Push Pull Legs For Beginners
Many of my readers are beginners who have never trained before and need a good training program.
I think push pull legs can definitely work well if you’re interested in the setup and want to try it out.
I would still recommend a 3-4 day full body program starting out but push pull legs will work just fine too!
If you want to learn more about other beginner training styles, you can check out my article here!
However, there’s a couple of distinct differences between a beginner program and everything else I have gone over in this article, as you’ll soon see.
The 3 main things that beginners should be focusing on are:
- Getting stronger at basic, compound movements
- Focus on good technique over adding weight
- Improve abdominal strength
With these 3 focuses out of the way, let’s go over how to tackle them all in a push pull legs program!
Push Pull Legs Beginner Program – Prep For Barbell Training Edition
Pushups are one of the best exercises I have all of my beginner clients start with. If you can’t do a set of 10 reps then you definitely have a lot of work to do. Keep working on them until you’re doing 30+ and then start working on dips or add weight to your pushups.
First off, beginners shouldn’t be training 6 days per week.
Yes, you’ll basically grow from doing literally any work at all, but focusing on consistency at the beginning is more important.
I’ve seen several personal trainers that train beginners with a million sets and reps to make them sore/throw up.
It’s just as sickening for me as it is for the poor clients that come into the gym to make a change, and they leave feeling like crap.
Starting out, you should be working on stimulating the muscle, not annihilating them.
To do this correctly, we want to focus on doing sets of 5 for barbell exercises and sets of 10 for dumbbell, bodyweight, and machine work.
Straight sets work much better for beginners and should be done over pushing sets closer to failure.
After all, the best way to ingrain horrible movement patterns as a beginner is pushing to failure and letting everything break down.
Here is how I would lay out a push pull legs program for beginners!
- Horizontal push
- Vertical push
- Horizontal pull
- Vertical pull
- Low Back
Just like pushups, pullups should be a major cornerstone of your training. Most beginners are going to have a tough time starting out, but I have other articles and videos you can check out to start progressing on them!
This is a very straightforward plan that works great for the majority of beginners out there.
I’ve found that most beginners out there are super weak through the abs and low back especially.
Getting those areas as strong as possible is essential before you ever do a barbell squat or Deadlift.
That’s why it’s important as a beginner to do some kind of abdominal or low back work every workout.
Here’s how this might look with some beginner-friendly exercises I’ve found work best starting out.
- Incline Bench press 3 sets of 5
- Seated DB Press 3 sets of 10
- Pushdowns 3 sets of 10
- Hanging Leg Raise 3 sets of 10
- Upper Back Chest Supported Rows 3 sets of 10
- Neutral Grip Pulldown 3 sets of 10
- Hammer Curls 3 sets of 10
Ab Wheel3 sets of 10
- Goblet squat 3 sets of 10
- Dumbbell RDL 3 sets of 10
- Walking Lunges 50 total reps
- Back Extensions 50 total reps
One of the biggest issues beginners have is a lack of strength, stability, and mobility throughout the lower body. Lunges address all of these problem areas and you can spend a long time just progressing with bodyweight before adding weight.
This program works very well and is a variation I’ve used with dozens of younger athletes with great success.
It’s designed to build strength through the entire body with a significant focus on abdominal strength.
It’s also a great way to train to get ready for the big barbell lifts such as the bench press, squat, deadlift, overhead press, and barbell rows.
You can also use bodyweight exercises in each workout, and I recommend you do so.
Push-ups and dips on push day.
Pull-ups and inverted rows on pull day.
Lunges and back extensions are already done on leg day, but you can use other close variations.
Try this program out if you’re new and add in barbell exercises once you’re ready.
I have a few goals I like to have my clients do before moving on to standing barbell exercises.
These goals are as follows:
- Goblet squat – 50 lbs for 50 reps in 3 sets
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift – 50 lbs in each hand for 20 controlled reps
- Push-ups – 50 Reps in 1 set
- Pull-ups – 10 reps, no Crossfit kipping
Ab wheel– 20 reps
- Hanging leg raise – 20 reps legs to bar under control, no CrossFit swinging
- Back Extensions – 20% of bodyweight for 20 reps
These are just my standards for my clients, but if you can do all of these, you’re definitely ready for heavy barbell training.
Push Pull Legs For Beginners – Barbell Training Edition
Here is some video of Jim Wendler’s training he does with the kids he trains at the high school level. Basic compound exercises, getting stronger at the basics, and notice the bodyweight exercises as well. If you’re a beginner, you should be training like this to develop a strong training base. This will build strength, muscle, conditioning and the resolve to get work done.
Once you’ve graduated from Goblet Squats, Dumbbell RDLs, Seated Dumbbell Press, and chest supported rows; it’s time to get ready for barbell training.
Here’s how to set this up using Push Pull Legs.
- Incline Bench Press
- Overhead Press
- Hanging Leg Raises
- Weighted Chinups
- Barbell Rows
- Neutral Grip Pulldowns
- Trap Bar Deadlift
- Back Extensions
Start with sets of 5 on the barbell movements and add weight only when your form dictates it.
The bodyweight, machine, and barbell row should be done for sets of 10.
Focusing on form and doing each rep with great technique will build more muscle and strength for beginners rather than pushing to failure.
As long as you follow these guidelines, you should have no problem progressing as a beginner!
If I missed anything or you still have questions, let me know below, and I’ll help you out as much as possible!
Now that we have everything you need to know about push pull legs out of the way, we’ll go over frequently asked questions that you may have.
If you have other questions later on, I’ll add them to this section and keep expanding this post to help others out in the future!
Why push pull legs is “bad”?
Some people out there are under the assumption that push pull legs are bad for specific applications.
It’s perfect for muscle building, so I can’t imagine anybody thinking that for this goal.
For strength training, I do think an upper-lower split is better for long term progress!
2 upper body days and 2 lower body days focusing on the squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press tend to work better.
And finally, if your main goal is fat loss or you’re a beginner, I think doing a full-body program is better for these goals.
Here’s a great way to set up a full-body program for beginners.
Train 3 days per week, rotating through a and b workouts.
- Squat superset w/pushups
- Bench press superset w/inverted rows
- Back extensions
- Deadlift superset w/dips
- Overhead press superset w/pullups
This setup allows you to rotate through A and B workouts nonstop with bodyweight exercises for assistance work.
This is a great way to train if your goal is fat loss due to the supersets, and as a beginner, you get a lot of work in on the main lifts.
Plus, the bodyweight exercises allow you to train full body relative strength without compromising your recovery.
Give it a go and let me know how it works for you!
I would still progress like usual, depending on what your main goal is. Just follow the progressive overload examples I gave above and get after it!
Is push pull legs the best split?
As I’ve stated before, it depends on your goals.
For some, it’s going to work great. Others will have a tough time recovering from week to week.
I do think for muscle growth, it is the best split possible for sure.
You get to hammer a couple of movements that all train similar muscle groups each day.
You get full recovery before training those muscles again, and there’s no overlap of recovery like other splits.
Doing an upper/lower split means your whole upper body only gets 1-2 days of rest before training it again.
While doing a push pull legs, you’ll always have a minimum of 2-3 days before training the same muscles again.
As long as you’re recovering, you can push much harder on a push pull legs split than any other, which allows you to go to complete muscular failure.
A perfect environment for muscle growth to occur!
Is push pull legs good for beginners?
You can definitely do push pull legs as a beginner.
Do I think it’s the best way?
No, but it’s still an excellent way to train and manage fatigue for a beginner.
In that regard, it’s definitely superior to something like a body part split where you only train each muscle group once per week.
Beginners can train more often and reap the benefits because they recover very quickly from low volume training.
Is push pull legs good for weight/fat loss?
Absolutely. If you want to lose fat, the best way to do that is by moving more and training more.
Doing push pull legs keeps your recovery in check and allows you to train up to 6 times per week.
I only recommend this for those with fat loss goals, but it’s a great way to increase calorie burn.
Is push pull legs once a week enough?
Push pull legs once a week is the primary way to run this split.
3 day per week training is all you need for muscle growth to occur and strength to be built.
Just push your sets hard and do at least 1-2 exercises per muscle group each day.
If you need more volume on specific body parts, you can implement 50% sets, drop sets, 350 sets, and even rest-pause training.
If your goal is fat loss, I recommend doing cardio on all of your rest days for at least 30 minutes each time.
Can you do push pull legs every day?
Doing push pull legs every day without a single day off to recover is a bad move.
I’m fact, this is a great way to ensure you waste a lot of time doing more for less.
Recovery has to occur for muscle and strength to be built.
So make sure you have at least 1 day off of no hard training. You can do light cardio, but that’s it!
Who should use a push pull legs split?
Beginners, intermediates, advanced, push pull legs will work for pretty much every demographic out there.
I’ve gone over how to implement this extensively in this article alone.
And yes, I’ve seen people say women and men need to train differently.
This is only true because women tend to recover from more work than men.
This is probably due to having much more slow-twitch muscle fibers. They are much more resistant to fatigue and recover much faster than fast-twitch muscle fibers.
In this regard, women can handle a little more volume and recover a little faster as well.
How To Include Abdominal work into a push pull legs split?
If you can’t do standing Ab Wheel‘s like Dan Green, there’s always more room for improvement in abdominal strength.
I see this question all the time, and it’s very easy to incorporate into a push pull legs training plan.
You can simply add 1 ab exercises per day and get stronger in the 5-20 rep range over time.
Just make sure not to push too hard as it may cause recovery issues for your big compound exercises that cause significant axial loading.
Now It’s Your Turn!
I hope this comprehensive guide showed you how to use and setup your own push pull legs training plan.
Now, I’d like to turn it over to you!
What’s the #1 tip or program that you want to try first?
Are you going to start working on strength and train 3 days per week? Or perhaps you’re going to train 6 days per week and focus on fat loss for awhile?
Or maybe you still have more questions before actually starting your plan!
Whatever your next step is, let me know by leaving a comment below right now!
Thanks for reading and I hope you all have an awesome weekend!
Until next time,