A push-pull workout is a style of training that targets muscles based on whether they involve a pushing or pulling action.
These workouts are popular among bodybuilders and other athletes because they optimize recovery time between workouts and help create a balanced physique.
This article explains everything you need to know about push-pull workouts and includes a routine that you can use for building muscle.
Push-pull is a style of training that structures workouts based on your muscles’ movement patterns.
With this training style, you train upper body muscles that perform pushing movements one day and upper body muscles that perform pulling movements another day — either on the following day or separated by a rest day, depending on your experience level.
Here are the muscles that perform pushing and pulling movements:
- Pushing: chest, shoulders, and triceps
- Pulling: back, biceps, and forearms
A day for training the lower body and core typically follows the push and pull upper body workout days — again, either on the following day or separated by a rest day.
The leg muscles include the muscles located on the front (quadriceps) and back (hamstrings) of the thigh, glutes, and calves.
The push-pull style of training allows you to exercise all the major muscle groups a maximum of twice per week — assuming you trained 6 days a week with 1 day off.
This is a popular training split performed by bodybuilders and other types of athletes, like football players and wrestlers (
However, push-pull workouts are great for anyone looking to gain muscle size and strength, including beginners.
Note that how frequently you train per week may depend on your experience level, which is discussed in more detail below.
Push-pull is a style of training that structures workouts based on whether the muscle performs a pushing or pulling action.
There are several benefits to a push-pull training regimen.
Allows for optimal recovery
Traditional bodybuilding style workouts involve training one body part per day (
This means you might train your chest one day, shoulders the next, triceps the day after, and so forth.
In this way, you’re training many of the same body parts multiple days in a row, which may overstress your muscles with time (
Conversely, following a push-pull training regimen allows your muscles the full 72 hours it takes to recover before you train them again (
This is because you can only train a major muscle group every 3 days.
Anyone can benefit
Anyone can perform the push-pull training regimen and benefit from it.
Adjust how many times you train according to your strength training experience.
Beginners with less than 6 months of training should alternate training days with rest days to allow for a maximum of 3 training days per week (4).
Those with intermediate (6 months to 2 years of training) and advanced (greater than 2 years of training) resistance training experience can train up to six times per week with 1 rest day separating each split (4).
Here are examples of a training split for beginners as well as intermediate and advanced lifters:
- Day 1: Push
- Day 2: Rest
- Day 3: Pull
- Day 4: Rest
- Day 5: Legs and core
Intermediate and advanced:
- Day 1: Push
- Day 2: Pull
- Day 3: Legs and core
- Day 4: Rest
- Day 5: Push
- Day 6: Pull
- Day 7: Legs and core
You can increase or decrease the per-workout volume (repetitions, sets, and weight) for specific muscle groups according to your preferences and training goals.
The push-pull training regimen supports muscle recovery, and anyone can perform the workouts.
Here is a sample push-pull routine with workouts separated by a rest day.
Perform 3–4 sets of 8–12 repetitions for each exercise, and rest for 2–3 minutes between sets (
Day 1: Push
- Seated dumbbell shoulder press. With dumbbells positioned to each side of your shoulders and elbows below the wrists, press upward until your arms are extended overhead. Pause for a second at the top, and then slowly lower the elbows back down to the starting position.
- Dumbbell incline chest press. Position dumbbells to the sides of your upper chest and press up until your arms are extended, and then slowly lower your elbows back to the starting position.
- Bodyweight triceps dips. Grip parallel bars. Starting with your arms straight and hips and knees bent, lower your body by bending your arms until a stretch is felt in the chest, and then slowly push yourself back up until your arms are fully extended again.
- Cable rope triceps pushdown. Facing a high pulley cable system, grasp the rope attachment. With elbows to your sides, extend arms down and turn palms down at the bottom. Slowly let your forearms come back up while keeping your elbows pinned to the sides of your body.
- Incline dumbbell chest fly. With dumbbells above your upper chest, palms facing inward, and arms extended in a slightly bent position, lower dumbbells outward to the sides of your shoulders. Keep your elbows slightly bent and bring dumbbells back together in a hugging motion above the upper chest.
- Dumbbell lateral shoulder raises. Holding dumbbells at your sides, keep your elbows slightly bent while raising your arms until your elbows are at shoulder height, before slowly lowering the elbows back down.
Day 3: Pull
- Bent over barbell row. Hold the barbell with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Keep the feet hip-width distance and the knees slightly bent. Slowly hinge by pushing your hips back, keeping your arms and the barbell close to your legs. While maintaining a long and neutral spine, bend the elbows pulling them back alongside your body, and then slowly straighten the arms again.
- Cable pulldown. Grasp cable bar slightly wider than shoulder-width and sit with thighs under the support pads. Pull down the cable bar to your upper chest, keeping the lower back slightly curved. Slowly begin to straighten the arms and return to the starting position.
- Dumbbell shrugs. Holding dumbbells to your sides, shrug your shoulders as high as possible, and then relax them back down.
- Barbell biceps curls. Grasp a barbell with a shoulder-width, underhand grip. Keeping elbows at their sides, raise the bar until your forearms are vertical. Pause at the top, and then slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position.
Day 5: Legs and core
- Deadlift. Squat down and grasp the barbell with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Keep your feet flat and lift the bar by fully extending your hips and knees. Slowly lower the bar back down to the ground by hinging at your hips with a slight bend in the knees.
- Barbell back squat. Position the barbell on the back of your shoulders and grasp the bar to stabilize it. Squat down by bending at the hips until your knees and hips are fully bent. Return to standing by pressing through your heels and squeezing your glutes.
- Quadriceps leg extensions. Sitting on a leg extension machine, extend your knees until your legs are straight, and then slowly bend your knees back to the starting position.
- Seated hamstring leg curls. Sitting on a leg curl machine, bring your lower legs to the back of your thighs by flexing your knees, and then slowly straighten the legs again.
- Dumbbell standing calf raise. Grasp the dumbbells in each hand at your sides. Position balls of feet on a platform with your heels hanging over. Raise your heels as high as possible, and then slowly lower them back down.
- Hanging leg raise. Grasp a bar overhead. Raise your legs by flexing at the hips and knees until hips are fully flexed, slowly bringing the knees up toward the chest. Lower the legs back down.
This workout routine provides examples of push, pull, and leg and core exercises separated by rest days.
Here are some tips and other factors to keep in mind when implementing a push-pull training regimen.
Choosing a weight
Use a weight heavy enough that allows you to barely perform the desired number of repetitions.
For example, if your goal is to perform 10 repetitions for an exercise, use a weight heavy enough so that you’re struggling to perform the 9th and 10th repetition.
However, you should still be able to maintain good form by the 10th repetition. If you can’t, the weight is too heavy.
Using this same example, if you can perform more than 10 repetitions with good form, increase the amount of weight you use.
It’s a good idea to record your repetitions and weight lifted for each exercise so that you can track your progress over time.
Incorporating variety into your workout routine helps avoid boredom and stimulates your muscles in different ways (
You can incorporate variety into your workout routine by using different cable attachments and using dumbbells instead of barbells or vice versa for certain exercises.
For example, instead of a rope cable attachment for triceps pushdowns, you could use a straight bar, or you could perform an incline chest press using a barbell rather than dumbbells.
You can also perform many exercises with cables that you can with dumbbells and barbells, like bicep curls, chest flys, and lateral raises.
Additionally, you can incorporate variety by performing both unilateral and bilateral exercises using cables or dumbbells.
Unilateral exercises are performed with one arm or leg at time, whereas bilateral exercise are performed with two arms or two legs.
Don’t skip out on nutrition and sleep
Limit your intake of alcohol, highly processed foods like frozen dinners, and foods that contain added sugars, like cakes, cookies, desserts, candy, and certain condiments.
In addition to containing a high number of calories with few nutrients, these foods promote inflammation in the body, which — when consumed in excess — can be detrimental to your health and training goals (
- Limit your exposure to blue light from screens before bed.
- Avoid the consumption of caffeine at least 6 hours before bed.
- Use blackout curtains or a sleep mask to induce deep sleep.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
To get the most out of the push-pull training split, use the appropriate resistance or weight and incorporate variety. Ensuring proper nutrition and sufficient sleep are also important.
A push-pull training split generally refers to workouts centered around muscle groups that perform similar actions.
“Push” workouts train the chest, shoulders, and triceps, while “pull” workouts train the back, biceps, and forearms. A day for training the lower body and core is also included in this training split.
The push-pull training regimen supports muscle recovery and can be performed by anyone, regardless of your training experience.
If you have difficulty getting started or are worried about your form, consider enlisting the help of a personal trainer if possible.