Push/Pull/Legs Split: The Most Effective Training Split

Picking the right training approach can be tricky. There are plenty of options to consider, each offering unique advantages.

One popular way to structure your weekly training is by using a bro split, but is it truly effective? Or might there be a better option?

Stick around because we are breaking it all down for you today.

Let’s dive in.

Push/Pull/Legs: What It Is And What Benefits It Offers

The push/pull/legs split is a way to schedule your weekly training by pairing specific muscle groups:

  • Push – training the ‘push’ muscles in your upper body (chest, shoulders, and triceps)
  • Pull – training the ‘pull’ muscles (back and biceps)
  • Legs – training all the muscles in your lower body (glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, etc.)

The split is excellent for several reasons. Here are some of its benefits:

1. Higher Quality Training

Let’s say you’re on a bro split and doing 16 sets for your chest in a single workout. Depending on the pace and intensity, that will probably take around an hour to complete. By the time you’re close to the end of the workout, your chest muscles will be depleted and exhausted. 

You might push yourself extra hard to do all of your sets, but you won’t be able to maintain the same level of intensity from start to finish. The last few sets of your workout will be of much lower quality and likely not as stimulative as your earlier training.

In contrast, if you allow yourself to train the same muscle group twice a week, you can split your weekly volume in half. As a result, each set will be of higher quality simply because you’re more recovered. 

Simply put, you would be able to get more results out of the same amount of training.

2. Greater Scheduling Flexibility

The beauty of push/pull/legs is that it makes it a lot easier to adjust your workout schedule on the go. Based on how you feel, if you can make it to the gym, etc.

For example, if you’re feeling particularly good one week or have a lot more spare time, you can do:

  • Monday – Push
  • Tuesday – Pull
  • Wednesday – Legs
  • Thursday – Push
  • Friday – Pull
  • Saturday – Legs
  • Sunday – off

In contrast, if you feel tired or don’t have as much time to train, simply strive to have one of each:

  • Monday – Push
  • Wednesday – Pull
  • Friday – Legs

You can also move around these workouts depending on your availability. For example, you can train three days in a row and take four days off or train on different days than those we’ve provided.

There is also a middle option, where you train four or five times per week. Here is how it might look in a two-week period:

Week 1 

  • Monday – Push
  • Tuesday – Pull
  • Wednesday – Off
  • Thursday – Legs
  • Friday – Off
  • Saturday – Push
  • Sunday – Pull

Week 2

  • Monday – Off
  • Tuesday – Legs
  • Wednesday – Push
  • Thursday – Off
  • Friday – Pull
  • Saturday – Legs
  • Sunday – Off

3. Sequence Workouts As You See Fit

Prevailing wisdom suggests that you must do your push/pull/legs workouts in a specific order for optimal results, which isn’t the case.

You can do the three workouts as you see fit:

  • Push ⇒ Pull ⇒ Legs
  • Push ⇒ Legs ⇒ Pull
  • Legs ⇒ Push ⇒ Pull
  • Pull ⇒ Push ⇒ Legs
  • Legs ⇒ Pull ⇒ Push

This is because each workout trains different muscles, so your body gets time to recover regardless of the sequence.

One Drawback of A Lower-Frequency Approach

One advantage of push/pull/legs is that it can work with a low-frequency approach. For example, it works great for people who can only train three times per week. If that’s you, do a push, a pull, and a legs workout within a week, and you’ve hit all the major muscle groups.

Still, the approach is not ideal because higher training frequencies appear more beneficial for hypertrophy and strength gain. Training each muscle group more frequently allows for better volume allocation (more on that below) and allows trainees to take advantage of the muscle protein synthesis spike resulting from training. 

Protein synthesis generally spikes within 24 to 36 hours after training and levels off within 48 hours or less if the trainee is more advanced. In other words, only training each muscle group once per week means gym-goers get several unnecessary recovery days before stimulating the same muscle again.

So, the idea here is that, while still beneficial for growth, training each muscle only once per week likely isn’t ideal. You would experience growth for 24, 36, or even 48 hours after training. But taking three, four, or five extra days to recover before working out again would limit hypertrophy.

In contrast, if you train a muscle on Monday and Thursday, you create a growth stimulus twice a week, allowing you to make better use of your time.

Aside from the muscle protein synthesis spike following each workout, we must discuss volume allocation.

Let’s say that you’re doing 16 working sets for your back and training the area once per week. If you move from a bro split to a push/pull/legs program, doing the same workout twice in seven days would be too much. Your body would simply be unable to recover from 32 total sets just for the back.

So, what do you do?

Instead of seeing the higher frequency as an opportunity to do 50 to 100 percent more sets, you split your current training volume in two. In the case of back training, you would split your 16 sets between two sessions, meaning each workout is less challenging and easier to recover from.

Doing so might be challenging at first, especially if you’re used to blasting every muscle group to complete exhaustion, but you get used to it. Each workout feels less demanding, but you’re still doing enough weekly training to promote development.

What to be Careful With When Using Push/Pull/Legs

The most important thing to be careful with when using the push/pull/legs split is to avoid adding too much training volume.

Switching to a push/pull/legs split is exciting. You might be eager to explore all the available training options, but be careful and distribute your volume wisely.

The best thing you can do is look at your current training and see how to distribute it into a push/pull/legs approach. Train for a week or two to see how it feels, and gradually add more working sets and exercises if you’re confident in your ability to recover and perform well.

For example, if you’re currently following a bro split and doing 16 sets for your back per session, don’t double that amount of work. Instead, split it up.

Example Push/Pull/Legs Workouts And Weekly Schedules

We will be exploring what an advanced, six-day push/pull/legs split might look like:

Push 1 (e.g., Monday)

Flat or Incline Bench Press2 heavy; 1 lighter5-8; 10-12
Dumbbell Shoulder Press310-12
Dips3To failure
High Cable Chest Fly310-12
Cable Rope Tricep Extension410-12
Dumbbell Lateral Raises410-12

Push 1 is nothing special and doesn’t feature that much training volume. It starts with a heavy bench press, and you gradually work down the list to assistance and isolation exercises. 

You can move the dips closer to the top if you struggle to do at least ten reps per set. That way, you would do them while you’re fresh and get more out of the movement.

One neat way to modify the shoulder press is by training one side at a time. Doing so requires your core to work extra hard and allows you to focus on each side.

You can pair the tricep extensions and lateral raises into supersets if you’re interested in saving some time.

Pull 1 (e.g., Tuesday)

Cable Lat Pulldown2 warm-up; 3 working; dropset last 8-10
Bent-Over Barbell Row2 warm-up; 2 heavy; 1 lighter6-8; 10-12
Incline Seated Dumbbell Curl410-12
Pull-Ups3To failure
EZ Bar Curls2 heavy; 2 lighter8-10; 12-20

Starting with cable lat pulldowns is an excellent way to warm up your back and improve lat activation. Afterward, proceed to the classic bent-over rows with two heavy and one light set.

Incline dumbbell curls are a neat variation that allows you to place a slightly greater stretch on the muscle, which can promote growth.

After that, you have pull-ups, taking each set to failure, and EZ curls, where you do two heavier and two lighter sets.

Again, nothing special, but it works so long as you maintain proper form, recover well between sets, and focus on progressive overload.

Legs 1 (e.g., Wednesday) 

Lunges3 warm-up; 3 working12-15
Romanian Deadlift2 warm-up; 3 working10-12
Hip Thrust/Glute Kicks310-12
Seated Calf Raises610-12
Hamstring Curls2 heavy; 2 lighter8-10; 12-20

The first leg day of the week is more geared toward the posterior chain, with only lunges being a quad-focused movement.

Romanian deadlifts, hip thrusts/glute kicks, calf raises, and hamstring curls target and develop the gluteal muscles, hamstrings, and calves. 

Push 2 (e.g., Thursday)

Close-Grip Bench Press38-10
Standing Barbell Shoulder Press310-12
Pec Deck Flyes1 heavy; 2 lighter8-10; 12-20
Overhead Tricep Extension310-12
Lateral Raise superset w/ Push-Up4 for LR; 3 for Push-Up10-12 LR; to failure Push-Up

The second push workout starts with a tricep-focused exercise and includes plenty of shoulder and chest-specific work.

As with the previous workouts, it is nothing special––you move from heavier work to progressively lighter accessory and isolation exercises.

The workout concludes with a superset consisting of lateral raises and push-ups. Doing so saves some time and speeds up the pace.

Pull 2 (e.g., Friday)

Pull-Ups3 warm-upA few reps from failure
Rack Pulls3 warm-up; 2 working8-10
Hammer Curl310-12
Lat Pulldowns310-12
Cable Curls310-12
Cable Rows2 drop sets20 reps total
Dumbbell CurlsRun the rack to failureTo failure

Pull-ups are a fantastic back exercise; performing them regularly can lead to impressive back growth. The second pull workout of the week starts with three sets of these, not taking any to failure. 

We then proceed to multiple back and bicep exercises, alternating between back and bicep-specific exercises. 

You can do all your back exercises first and finish the workout with the three bicep exercises if you prefer.

Legs 2 (e.g., Saturday)

Barbell Squat3 warm-up, 3 working, 1 heavy8-10; 4-6
Leg Press superset w/ Calf Raise2 for Leg Press; 2 for Calf Raise12-20 for Leg Press; to failure for Calf Raise
Hip Adductor Machine410-12
Standing Calf Raise410-12 + bounce reps to failure
Leg Extensions2 working; 2 triple drop sets10-12; to failure

The second leg day of the week is a squat day, where the focus is on the quadriceps. 

There is also plenty of calf work and some adductor-specific training. Adding some hip adductions can be a fantastic way to strengthen your inner thighs and reduce the risk of your knees caving in during heavy squats.

The workout concludes with two triple drop sets of leg extensions, which thoroughly exhaust the quadriceps and force growth. Go as hard as you can on these.

Start with a weight you can lift for 10 to 12 reps and go close to failure. Then, reduce the load by 25 to 40 percent, bang out another set to failure, reduce the weight once more, and pump up your quadriceps.

The Importance of Ongoing Adjustments

The above six workouts are part of an advanced push/pull/legs split, where the trainee hits the gym six consecutive days per week. 

As you can see, it is a lot of work, and it is certainly not for everyone, especially beginners and intermediate-level lifters. The only trainees who should attempt such a workout program are advanced lifters with multiple years of experience behind their backs.

Even then, trainees must monitor themselves to determine if the split is stimulative enough without causing recovery issues. 

For example, a young pro bodybuilder who doesn’t have a day job might be able to recover well and make good progress on such a split. However, a 40-something father of three with a full-time job would struggle. 

Working out six days per week can be incredibly time-consuming and challenging to recover from, so you must determine what approach works best for you.

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