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October 09, 2020 10 min read

If you’re new to the world of training, chances are that you’ve started your fitness career with a generic workout routine or one that was made for you by a personal trainer. We all know that you can’t just throw a bunch of exercises together and expect the gains to quickly follow.

So, what does it take to create a workout program? One that you can call your own.

The bro-split has been rightfully questioned for usually only training one muscle group per week, which isn’t usually enough for most people, simply because they don't with enough intensity to trigger muscular adaptations.

One of the most recommended programs to take its place is the push/pull/leg (PPL) split.

It might sound easy enough. One day is for pushing, the next for pulling, and another for legs—right? But the program goes much deeper than that, and there’s a lot we can learn about our bodies by examining what really goes into a well-planned PPL training routine.

How Does the Push-Pull-Legs Routine Work?

The push/pull/legs split is essentially an upper/lower body split, but with two upper-body days to each leg day.

But what makes it so special?

By organizing the upper body with respect to the pushing and the pulling muscles, you’re effectively stacking antagonist and agonist muscles with each other. So, for example, your biceps and triceps.

When the agonist muscle (the muscle that’s working) is engaged, that means the antagonist (its direct opposite) is relaxed and disengaged. This avoids one of the largest pitfalls of training routines: overtraining certain muscle groups.

The PPL routine circumvents overtraining because you’re training agonists/antagonists on separate days.

But what are these push, pull, and leg muscle groups that we speak of?

  • The push workout targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
  • The pull day workout targets the back, biceps, and rear delts.
  • The leg routine targets the hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves. 

Each day includes a warm up, at least one compund exercise that allows you to train heavy and hard, followed by supplemental hypertrophy focused training for maximal muscle growth.

If you’re wondering about the core, you can usually expect your compound lifts to take good care of it. However, most people will add some core exercises to their leg day, or use a rest day to focus on mobility and core work.

While simple, a PPL routine really boils down the essentials of a good workout plan to their absolute essence. Organizing your training with respect to how your whole body interacts with itself is a sure-fire way to turbocharge your strength and muscle mass gains.

The Benefits of the PPL Training Program

We’ve already touched on a number of the reasons why the PPL is a fantastic route to go when designing a training program for yourself. But there are a number of other benefits to training in this manner. 


With this style of training, no matter how hard you go, your body always has enough time to recover before your next training session. This might be more challenging if you’re a beginner and you opt for the 6-day PPL split, but it still gives your muscles enough time to rest.

And, as we all know, rest is insanely important.

Letting our muscles recover is the whole reason they grow—not to mention all of the other psychological and physiological reasons you should be sleeping enough each night. This point really can’t be overstated. 

Building muscle will feel easier

This is partly due to the fact that these workouts usually contain a lot of compound lifts. And, for those who are unaware, compound lifts are the exercises that require you to engage at two or more major muscle groups. They tend to require some technique and attention to form as well. Examples include the bench press, deadlift, and squat. 

Compound exercises are more efficient when it comes to training since you’re hitting several muscle groups at the same time. You can’t get the same bang-for-your-buck payout with an isolation movement that works a single muscle at a time.

Furthermore, there’s research that shows that compound movements are simply just more effective at building strength and instigating muscle growth. Pairing compound movements with the other benefits of a PPL split will guarantee you getting swole faster than ever before.

A man doing push ups in a gym.

The PPL Split Is Infinitely Customizable 

The final major benefit of this type of split is the customizability. And we’re talking, like, really customizable. Knowing the basics of what muscles are considered “push” and which ones are “pull” is key. 

You want to hit this specific muscle group a bit harder? You want to increase the size of that other one? You think one side is lagging behind the other? It’s relatively easy to implement variations into whatever standard routine you choose in order to work smarter towards your goals.

Adding in some isolation exercises or unilateral movements can really boost your progress if programmed into your routine correctly.

But it doesn’t just stop with amoount of exercises you can tailor your program with. You can also adjust your training frequency too.

Here we’re focusing on a basic 3 day split that has you training the pull muscles, push muscles, and legs, once a week. However, you can customize the frequency anywhere from 2 to 6 days a week, depending on your own schedule and goals. The lower side of the spectrum will have you training 3-days per week, while the higher side will be as much 6 days a week, as long as you can recover sufficiently. 

Choosing a Training Frequency

Now that we’ve laid out all that for you, how do you go about choosing what’s right for you?

The first step comes down to deciding how frequently you want to train.

There’s a lot of discussion about whether 3 days a week is “enough”. It certainly is, as long as you train with enough intensity.

While the more overloading the better is generally the way it goes, beginners will definitely want to dip their toes in before diving into the 6-day deep end. Going too fast can risk injury and that will put your training much further back than simply going 3 days a week.

For example, a basic 3-day PPL workout split will look something like this:

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

This training split gives your muscles plenty of recovery time, nop matter how hard you train, while also giving you the weekend off (bonus!). This is a good routine if you’re new to working out or are just training to maintain the strength and muscle you’ve already got.

However, if you’re looking to get a bit more serious, you may want to consider a more frequent training routine. 

If you’re looking for that extra something, consider doing a 4-5 day PPL split, such as this:

Week 1:

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

Week 2:

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

Week 3:

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

Week 4:

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

This is considered a rotating schedule since your workouts fall on different days in every 4 week period. While a standard PPL cycle will be 7 days (1 week), this one cycles through every fifth week.

While the schedule might seem chaotic at first, it really only follows a push/pull/off/legs/off routine; with legs being sandwiched in between two rest days. 

But while doing PPL this way might be more confounding when it comes to your schedule, it does allow you to progress into more frequent training sessions with most weeks only requiring 4 gym trips (with just one week requiring 5 trips to the gym).

The last major type of PPL split is the standard 6-day routine:

Week 1:

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

Week 2:

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

Week 3:

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

This regimen follows a very standard push/pull/legs/rest, repeat, type of split—one week having you workout only 5 times.

This may be the best way to go if you’re looking for some serious gains, fast. It effectively hits all of your muscle groups twice a week on a consistent basis. However, beginners would do well to avoid this split for now. The tight rotation of the schedule doesn’t offer much in the way of rest days and a beginner might have issues properly recovering.

However, there’s always a way to ramp things up if you’re an intermediate to advanced weightlifter who’s got a specific goal in mind.

If you’re up for the challenge and you think it’s for you, a solid push/pull/legs/push/pull/legs split might be the way for you. This way, your schedule is maintained from week to week with a single rest day. But a beginner should be wary when it comes to adding this much volume to their muscles at such an early stage in their training.

Choosing the Best Exercises for Your PPL Routine

Whatever frequency of workouts you fancy, you’re going to have to pick some exercises to fill them with. And just like the routine itself, there are recommended movements that will end up giving you a bigger bang for your buck. 

The Best Pushing Exercises

As we mentioned before, most of these exercises will be compound movements that will engage several muscle groups and joints. However, we can break this down further than just isolation versus compound, at least when it comes to the pushing muscles and the pulling muscles. 

These movements will effectively hit your chest, shoulders, and triceps.

But it’s also good to train in several different planes in order to hit your muscle groups from different angles and maximize muscle growth.

For pushing exercises, we have:

  • Incline dumbbell bench press
  • Dumbbell press
  • Incline barbell bench press
  • Flat barbell bench press
  • Close-grip barbell bench press

These all share the similarity of having your body be horizontal.

When it comes to vertical pushing movements, they include:

  • Standing barbell overhead press
  • Dumbbell shoulder press
  • Seated shoulder press
  • Dips

And if you’re looking to hammer in those delts, it’s worth it to include some isolation exercises to really gas out some muscle groups. 

  • Side Lateral Raise
  • Overhead Triceps Extensions
  • Skullcrushers

The Best Pulling Exercises

All pulling motions will engage your back and biceps. The “back” is an umbrella term composed mostly of the erector spinae, the lats, and the traps. 

Due to the movements involved in these exercises, many of them will also train some of your leg muscles (such as the glutes and hamstrings) while also hitting your rear delts.

Vertical pulling movements can be things like:

  • Pull-ups/Chin-ups
  • Lat pulldowns
  • Resistance band pulldowns
  • Deadlifts (most variations)

While horizontal pulling exercises include: 

  • Bent over dumbbell row
  • Barbell rows
  • Face pulls
  • Seated cable row 

And if you’re looking to isolate some pulling muscles (namely, the biceps), consider adding these isolation movements into your routine:

  • Hammer curls
  • Dumbbell curls
  • Barbell curls
  • DB concentration curls
  • EZ bar curls

The Best Leg Exercises

Your leg days will be concentrated on your hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves. And unlike the prior two days of the split, they can’t be broken down as evenly as horizontal and vertical movements. 

However, we can split them between knee dominant and hip dominant movements.

Knee dominant exercises include:

  • Hack squats
  • Back squats
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Squats
  • Front squats
  • Lunges
  • Leg extensions 

Hip dominant exercises include:

  • Back raises
  • Cable pull-throughs
  • Hip thrusts
  • Romanian deadlifts
  • Goodmornings

Leg curls and calf raises are examples of good isolation movements to include.

Getting a good variety of all of the above exercises will put you on the path to swoleness and incredible strength. Not to mention the fact that you’ll be better able to program exercises depending on your own personal needs. Knowing your body to that extent will come in time, but it’s probably best to stick to a sample workout program to start, and then personalize as you gain muscle and experience.

The Three-Day Sample PPL Workout Routine

While you can always raise the complexity by adding in different movements on different days of the same focus, below is a good start for how a real push/pull/leg routine will look like.

The Push Workout: 

  • Bench Press: 3×6-8
  • Shoulder Press: 3×8-10
  • Incline Dumbbell Flyes: 3×10-15
  • Triceps Pushdowns: 3×10-15

The Pull Workout: 

  • Rows: 3×6-8
  • Pull-Ups or Lat Pull-Downs: 3×8-10
  • Face Pulls: 3×10-15
  • Barbell Shrugs: 3×8-10
  • Dumbbell Curls: 3×10-15

The Legs Workout: 

  • Squats: 3×6-8
  • Romanian Deadlifts: 3×6-8
  • Leg Press: 3×8-10
  • Leg Curls: 3×8-10
  • Standing Calf Raises: 3×6-8
  • Seated Calf Raises: 2×10-15

The above is a great jumping-off point if you’re looking to create your own training routine. Like we mentioned before, one of the benefits of the PPL split is that it’s so easy to tailor to one’s particular needs and goals. Just keep the basic tenets in mind, and you’ll charge your way to jacked-up status.

But while many of us are lucky to have the doors of our iron temples open, if you can't make it to the gym, one day due to time constraints, don't worry. You can also get a great bodyweight workoout using this type of split.

Bodyweight and the PPL Split

While at first glance it might seem difficult to incorporate such a wide variety of workouts into a routine that doesn’t have any equipment at its disposal, it doesn’t have to be that way.

For push muscles you can include things like: 

  • Push-ups
  • Dips
  • Pike push-ups (and the other hundreds of variety of push-up)

And the pull muscles can be worked with:

  • Pull-ups
  • Chin-ups
  • Inverted rows
  • Front lever raises

And for your legs:

  • Bodyweight squats
  • Single leg squats
  • Lunges
  • Step-ups
  • Glute bridge
  • Box jumps

The beauty of body weight is that it’s hard to overtrain no matter how hard you go.

A man and woman doing squats with medicine balls.

A PPL Split To Change Things Up

Picking a routine and then sticking to it is one of the most important ingredients when it comes to working out—that goes without saying. If you've been looking for something new to try in your training, the PPL split is a great option because you can push your hardesrt and be ready for more on your next training session. 

Incorporating and tailoring this routine into your overall training program will turbocharge your strength and muscle gains like nothing else.

Getting to a point where you can listen to your body and customize a routine that works for your unique needs is a major step in elevating your physique and keeping it for the long term. 

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