After the full body and upper/lower splits, the push/pull/legs split is one of the next most simple, popular and proven workout schedules around. It’s also one of the most intelligent and effective… assuming of course it’s actually done right.
There’s a few different versions of it that can work well, and a few different ways to structure it over the course of the week (some of which are definitely more or less ideal for certain goals and situations than others).
So, let’s now cover all of this and more…
What Is The Push/Pull/Legs Split?
The push/pull/legs split is a weight training schedule that revolves around splitting the body up into 3 groups: upper body pushing muscles, upper body pulling muscles and legs. Each group is then trained separately on its own workout day.
- The “push” workout would train all of the upper body muscles that are involved in pushing exercises. This primarily includes Chest, Shoulders and Triceps.
- The “pull” workout would train all of the upper body muscles that are involved in pulling exercises. This primarily includes Back and Biceps.
- The “legs” workout would train the entire lower body. This primarily includes Quads, Hamstrings and Calves.
Beyond that, abs are probably most often trained with legs, but they can really be trained on any of the days just the same.
The main purpose and benefit of splitting the body up this way is that related muscle groups are trained together in the same workout. This is fantastic for preventing the type of overlap issues that are so common with other less intelligent (or just plain stupid) splits.
For example, compound chest exercises like the bench press will always train the shoulders and triceps indirectly. So if you trained chest one day, and shoulders and triceps on some other day, the potential for problems is instantly increased.
However, by pairing up all of the muscle groups that get trained indirectly during exercises for other muscle groups, the push/pull/legs split greatly lessens that potential and almost idiot-proofs the overall structure of your routine. (The key word there is “almost,” as there will always be people dumb enough to screw up something that is borderline idiot-proof.)
As for how the workouts are scheduled over the course of a week, there’s a few different options. Let’s now take at look at the 2 most popular ones and see which is most ideal for you.
The Classic Push/Pull/Legs Split (7 Day Cycle)
- Monday: Push (Chest, Shoulders, Triceps)
- Tuesday: off
- Wednesday: Pull (Back, Biceps)
- Thursday: off
- Friday: Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Abs)
- Saturday: off
- Sunday: off
First up, we have what is often the only version of this split that most people even know exists.
As you can see, there are 3 total weight training workouts per week done in an every-other-day format with 2 days off at the end. This makes this by far the most convenient and easy-to-schedule version of this split you’ll ever see.
However, this also means that each muscle group is trained just once per week (or once every 7th day). And that right there is where this split starts to suck.
If you’ve read my post about training each muscle group once per week, then you should already know that it is the least effective weight training frequency. Yes, it can still work if everything else is done right. It’s just NOT what works best for the majority of the population.
So, while this classic version of the push/pull/legs split is terrific in terms of convenience and easy scheduling, it’s crap in terms of training frequency per muscle group/exercise. And for that reason alone, I wouldn’t really recommend it to most people looking to build muscle, increase strength, or improve performance.
On the other hand, a once-per-week frequency like this is actually suitable if your primary goal is to mostly just maintain the amount of muscle and strength you currently have. For example, if your goal at the time is fat loss and you want to make sure you maintain all of your muscle/strength while that fat is lost. Or if you’re happy with your body and no longer wish to gain any more muscle or strength.
In these types of situations, this version of the push/pull/legs split can work just fine. But for pretty much anything else, this is the version I would be LEAST likely to recommend. The frequency just isn’t optimal for anything but “maintenance.”
Let’s see if we can fix that…
The Rotating Push/Pull/Legs Split (5 Day Cycle)
- Monday: Push (Chest, Shoulders, Triceps)
- Tuesday: Pull (Back, Biceps)
- Wednesday: off
- Thursday: Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Abs)
- Friday: off
- Saturday: Push (Chest, Shoulders, Triceps)
- Sunday: Pull (Back, Biceps)
- Monday: off
- Tuesday: Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Abs)
- Wednesday: off
- Thursday: Push (Chest, Shoulders, Triceps)
- Friday: Pull (Back, Biceps)
- Saturday: off
- Sunday: Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Abs)
And now for my personal favorite version of the push/pull/legs split, which I tend to refer to as the “rotating” version.
As you can see, it’s either 4 or 5 total weight training workouts per week (it varies due to the “rotating” aspect of it… but it ends up being 4 days per week the majority of the time) using a 2 on/1 off/1 on/1 off format that repeats every 6th day.
And that right there is the biggest difference between this version and the previous one. Whereas before it was 3 workouts being done over a 7 day cycle, we’re now doing 3 workouts over a 5 day cycle.
What’s the purpose of this adjustment, you ask? Simple… it increases the frequency from once per week (every 7th day) to about twice per week (every 5th day). Or, to look at it another way, each muscle group now gets trained 3 times every 2 weeks instead of 2 times every 2 weeks like before.
If you’ve read my post about training each muscle group about twice per week, then you already know that this is the most effective training frequency for virtually everyone who is past the beginners stage (meaning intermediate and advanced trainees).
And for that reason alone, this version of the push/pull/legs split is the one I am MOST likely to recommend to non-beginners who have a “looks” related goal in mind. It’s okay for “performance” related goals too, but I’d probably suggest something like upper/lower or full body instead in those cases.
But for just building muscle and looking awesome? I think this split is great. That’s why it’s one of the split options used as part of my new Bodybuilding 2.0 routine.
Now for the (potential) bad news. The fact that this split is done over a rotating 5 day cycle means the days you do and do not work out on will constantly change from one week to the next.
So some weeks you’ll be training on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Some weeks Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Other weeks Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. In the previous version, the workout days always remain fixed and constant (in the example shown, always Monday, Wednesday, Friday every week).
This lack of stability could obviously be a very big problem for many people from a scheduling standpoint. It’s absolutely fantastic in terms of allowing us to reach that optimal training frequency we want to reach, but what it has in training frequency it lacks in convenience and ease of scheduling.
And that means, unless you have a fairly flexible schedule, it’s going to be pretty hard to make work. But if you can, and it fits with your training preferences, experience level and goals… I definitely recommend it.
Push/Pull/Legs vs Push/Legs/Pull
One final note worth mentioning is that this split can also be done with the workouts in a slightly different arrangement. Specifically… as push/legs/pull instead of push/pull/legs.
Both versions are equally effective, and this modification is mostly only relevant when using my preferred rotating 5-day-cycle version. However, there are a couple of small differences and reasons for making this change.
- Push/Pull/Legs ensures that the “legs” workout (which is typically the hardest/most physically and mentally demanding workout of the week) ends up always having a rest day before and after it, which is nice. The downside is that the “push” and “pull” workouts are always done on back-to-back days. While this isn’t THAT big of a deal, it can still present some problems. For example, the shoulder girdle is used significantly in both workouts (as are the elbows), and this could be an issue for people with preexisting injuries or those who’d just like to prevent them. There’s also the next-day soreness factor. Doing back exercises like rows and pullups with any lingering tightness/soreness in any of those “pushing” muscles can be a little annoying or possibly even limit range of motion in really bad cases.
- Push/Legs/Pull pretty much eliminates ALL of those potential issues (although holding the bar in place for squats could also be a little annoying if there’s some chest soreness). The main downside here is that the “legs” workout no longer has that nice rest day before it.
So yeah… there’s kinda some pros and cons either way, although the cons really aren’t that huge in the first place.
As for which I like best, I’m much more likely to use and recommend it be done as push/legs/pull instead of push/pull/legs. Again, both are equally effective, but this is my preferred way of doing it most of the time.
Need A Workout Routine That’s Already Proven To Work?
Now that you know the basics of this split, it’s possible that you’ll still have a few additional questions about how to put everything together as effectively as possible. In fact, you may just want an entire workout routine that’s already fully designed and proven to work best. Well, the solution has arrived.
It’s called Bodybuilding 2.0: The Enhanced Muscle Growth Program, and it’s a complete routine built around the push/pull/legs split that puts all of the workouts together for you and also includes 2 NEW highly effective versions of this split to fit any schedule.
You can get the full details of this routine in my brand new guide: The Best Workout Routines