The Push-Pull Leg Routine: A Guide To Building Real Muscle

As much as you hear it, how often do you think about how different you are from the other people in the gym? Everyone has a body, but that doesn’t mean their muscles are going to respond to the same workout yours does and vice versa. If you are feeling frustrated with your current progress, it is a signal from your body that you need to switch something up.

If you never heard of the Push-Pull Legs (PPL) routine, now is the time to get acquainted, because it might just be the workout you need to get those gains you’ve been looking for.

What Is The Push Pull Legs (PPL) Routine?

As you would expect, a Push-Pull Leg split utilizes three workouts focused on pushing, pulling, and your legs. The push workout targets pushing movements that work the upper body—mainly the shoulders, triceps, and chest.

The pull workout works with pulling movements, like the rowing machine, and uses the back muscles and biceps.

Lastly, the leg workout focuses on the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.

The reason it is a split is because you need to split the push, pull, and leg workouts up between three days.

What Does Push Pull Legs Work So Well?

The Push-Pull Leg split is an example of excellent programming because just by following the PPL pattern, you eliminate any overlaps in your exercise routine. Now, some might say that an overlap can work, but for some people, managing volume is key.

For example, if you focus on muscle groups, you might end up working your biceps and triceps two days in a row. Overtaxing the muscles can affect the recovery period and may even counteract your efforts. With the Push Pull Legs method, you limit that, since the muscles you use to push and pull are not the same (synergistic or antagonist muscle groups). Furthermore, you get in that precious leg day to give the upper body a rest.

That means you get better-localized recovery for the exerted muscle groups and can play around with the tempo, frequency, and weight amount.

Since you negate the overlap, you can also customize the split to your goals. For example, if you focus on pulling moves that work the chest, you can obliterate your shoulders on the next day and let your chest recover. By tailoring your days to your training goals, you get better control over the results.

In the end, the Push-Pull Leg routine gives you a way to manage your workouts so you see the growth you want.

Push Exercises

Here are some examples of push exercises that you would be adding into your “push day” workout:

  • Dumbbell bench press – flat and inclined
  • Barbell bench press – flat and inclined
  • Arnold dumbbell press
  • Military press – dumbbell or barbell
  • Seated shoulder press
  • Dumbbell flys
  • Skull crushers
  • Tricep extensions
  • Push-ups
  • Push-downs

As you can see, a pushing exercise is one that pushes the weight away from you. When you decide to make a push workout sequence, it is best to choose 4-5 exercises. Stick to that workout for about 6 weeks, depending on your progress. Once you get to a point where you want to swap something in, use the exercises that you haven’t done yet.

Pull Exercises

Here are some exercises that are considered “pulling” movements:

  • Deadlift
  • Stiff-legged deadlift
  • Pull-ups
  • Chin-ups
  • Pullovers
  • Face pulls
  • Barbell row
  • Bent-over dumbbell row
  • Upright row
  • Lat pull-down
  • Concentration curls
  • Dumbbell curls

A pull exercise is ultimately the opposite of a push movement. You pull the weight in towards you. Again, choose 4-5 exercises when setting up your program then change some around after you have used your plan for about 6 weeks.

Leg Exercises

Now, leg exercises can be both push and pull, but that doesn’t necessarily matter here. On leg day, your focus is to work the entire lower body. Here are some exercises you can use:

  • Calf raises
  • Leg extensions
  • Lunges – front, rear, and to the side
  • Hack squats
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Hip thrust
  • Leg press
  • Front and back squats
  • Goblet squat
  • Sumo squat
  • Leg curls

Depending on how long and grueling you want your leg day exercise to be, you can choose anywhere from 4-6 exercises. Don’t put front and back squats into the same workout—alternate these exercises instead.

Push-Pull Leg Routine Examples

As you start putting together a list of PPL exercises, you can start developing an appropriate split for your goals. For those who are looking to either lose weight or gain muscle, you can workout safely and see progress with 3-5 days of training per week. You are also not limited to starting out with push workouts every single time. You can start with legs then go pull and, lastly, push, if that suits you better.

You can also add cardio into your split, but it is wise to hit the treadmill after your PPL routine, not before. For the best growth, you will want to put a 6-hour window between weight training and cardio. Keep that in mind as you rearrange your schedule. Additionally, don’t forget some abdominal work, since the PPL routine doesn’t automatically include core-focused movements.

3 Day Push Pull Legs Routines

The outline for a 3 day PPL routine looks something like this:

  • Day 1: Pushing
  • Day 2: Pulling
  • Day 3: Legs
  • Day 4: Rest day
  • Day 5: Pushing *you can also rest for day 5, 6, and 7
  • Day 6: Pulling
  • Day 7: Legs

It is a simple and easy template to plan out a workout. Some people find that 3 days is not enough for their goals, especially if they are experienced. However, for beginners, 3 days on is more than enough to get started.

Here is an example of programming the exercises:

Day 1

  • Bench press – 3 sets, 6-8 reps
  • Dumbbell press – 2-3 sets, 6-8 reps
  • Overhead triceps extension – 2-3 sets, 6-8 reps
  • Behind the neck press – 1 heavy set of 5 reps then as many reps as possible for the second set

Day 2

  • Lat pull-down – 3-4 sets, 8-10 reps
  • Seated row – 3-4 sets, 8-10 reps
  • Incline dumbbell curl – 3-4 sets, 8-12 reps
  • Lateral raise – 3-4 sets, 8-12 reps

Day 3

  • Squats, dumbbell – 3-4 sets, 5-8 reps *use a heavyweight
  • Leg press – 3-4 sets, 8-12 reps
  • Lying leg curls – 3-4 sets, 8-12 reps
  • Standing calf raises – 3-4 sets, 10-12 reps
  • Deadlift – 2-3 sets, 8-10 reps

Fine-tune this example to your own needs by adjusting the frequency of the exercises.

4 Day Push Pull Legs Routines

The 4-day split is much like the 3-day model, but it adds in some flexibility:

  • Day 1: Pushing
  • Day 2: Pulling
  • Day 3: Legs
  • Day 4: Rest day or push or pull
  • Day 5: Rest day or pull or legs
  • Day 6: Push
  • Day 7: Pull

As you can see, you can decide whether you want the rest day on the fourth day or the fifth day, allowing you to tailor the split more to your schedule. However, the one thing you want to keep in mind is to never double up two days of the same movements. You want to give each muscle group at least a full day (24 hours) of rest before working those muscles hard again.

You can refer to the examples given in the 3-day split for selecting exercises.

5-6 Day Push Pull Legs Routines

A 5-day split is most common among the people who want to see progress quickly or who have experience. 6-day programs are less common, and they are more or less a more intense version of the 3-day split. If you find that a 5 day a week training frequency isn’t enough for you, you can tack on an extra day. Keep in mind, though, that you could overtrain easily in that scenario.

So, for those who are interested in a 5 day PPL routine, here is an example template:

  • Day 1: Push workout A
  • Day 2: Pull workout A
  • Day 3: Leg workout A
  • Day 4: Push workout B
  • Day 5: Pull workout B
  • Day 6: Rest (or, if you’re doing 6 days, make this leg day B)
  • Day 7: Rest

The A and B designate two different workouts. These workouts don’t have to be entirely unique. You might want to have barbell exercises in A and dumbbells in B. It can be that simple. A 5-day split can also be flexible for your goals. You might want 2 leg days a week instead of 2 pull workouts, so you would start with legs that week.

Here is an example of how to make the A and B workouts separate:

Day 1: Push workout A

  • Bench press – 3 sets, 6-8 reps
  • Dumbbell Press – 2-3 sets, 6-8 reps
  • Overhead triceps extension – 2-3 sets, 6-8 reps

Behind the neck press – 1 heavy set of 5 reps then as many reps as possible for the second set

Day 4: Push workout B

  • Military press – 3 sets, 8-10 reps
  • Push-downs – 2-3 sets, 8-10 reps
  • Dumbbell flys – 2-3 sets, 6-8 reps
  • Skullcrushers – 2-3 sets, 8-10 reps
  • Bodyweight push-ups – 1 set, as many as you can to failure

PPL: Heavy/Light Weight Rotation

The heavy/light rotation will only work with the 4-5 day split routines. You can use the number of days to your advantage by increasing or decreasing the weight, depending on what you did before. This not only helps ward off boredom, but it can also potentially speed up muscle growth.

The heavy/lightweight rotation works like this: On your first day, you might go for a heavy push workout that utilizes compounded lifts and 5-8 repetitions. Once you get back to your push day, you might use a lighter weight or opt for more repetitions with more single-joint movements.

This approach was once very popular in the 1950s. Even famous bodybuilders of the era, like Reg Park and Bill Pearl, used the heavy/light rotation for PPL.

Tips For Your Push-Pull Leg Routine

One question that is going to come up as you start building the ideal PPL routine for you is how to get the most out of your Push Pull Leg workouts.

If you are a beginner, you want to focus on committing to the schedule you make for yourself, whether that is training 3 days a week or 6 days a week. Emphasize building strength. Apply the rule of progressive overload, which means that you have to gradually and continuously challenge yourself by adding more weight or more reps to your sets.

Other PPL Routine Considerations

You will notice that the rep range is commonly set at 6-8 repetitions or 8-10 repetitions. There is a reason for this: You build the most strength within this range. However, if gaining muscle is not your goal, you can increase the number of repetitions to 12-15 for more endurance work.

When you are trying to figure out how much weight you should be lifting, try to increase the weight by 5 lbs increments at a time. If that is too much, you can increase the rep range to find weight in the middle, such as 2 lbs plate.

Rest is also important. When you are warming up, you don’t any more than 1 minute between your sets, because you want the body to stay active. However, when you start working out for real, you want to get 2-3 minutes of rest between sets that focus on 6-8 reps, since those will be the heaviest. Sets with 8-10 repetitions need only 1-2 minutes of rest.

Final Thoughts on Push Pull Legs

Does the PPL routine work? Of course, it does! It has been favored by athletes and bodybuilders throughout the years, and it is guaranteed to be effective for both novices and advanced lifters in the gym. Since you can more effectively fine-tune the program to your goals, avoid overlap, and give certain muscle groups the rest needed for growth, Push-Pull Legs can help you get the perfect volume, frequency, and intensity in every workout.

Give it a try and let us know what you think.

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