You’ve probably heard of upper body/lower body splits, or you might still be on a muscle group-based split ever since you learned about them in high school gym class. But if you’ve never tried a push/pull workout split, now might just be the time to flip the script.
Instead of grouping your training by muscle group or function, push/pull splits group exercises with similar movement patterns. Depending on your goals and training age — the amount of time you’ve been working out — you can program push/pull workouts in various ways.
The common theme in push/pull workouts is a focus on how you’re moving rather than what part of your body you’re moving. This can keep your training a lot more balanced, ensuring you make steady gains and avoid the risk of injury.
Best Push/Pull Workouts
- Best Push/Pull Workout For Strength
- Best Push/Pull Workout For Bodybuilding
- Best Push/Pull Bodyweight Workout
- Best Push/Pull Workout For Fat Loss
- Best Push/Pull Workout For Beginners
Note: The notation prescribed in these routines is (sets) x (reps).
If your goal is getting strong, a push/pull workout program can definitely make a difference. You’ll be putting your main focus on the big lifts for overall strength development.
It also means that your rest time in between sets might be a lot longer than you’re used to. Think between two and four full minutes. Don’t worry, though — you won’t be “wasting” that gym time. The more recovered you are between sets, the more effort you’ll be able to put into each lift.
Perform this workout twice per week. On the first day, you’ll perform deadlifts and overhead presses where indicated. On the second day, you’ll perform squats and bench presses where indicated.
Rest for a full two to four minutes between each set — more for the heavier sets, less for the slightly lighter ones. If you can complete the prescribed number of reps with excellent form at your current weight, you can move up the next week. Try five pounds for upper body moves, and 10 for lower body moves.
- Deadlift or Back Squat: 4 x 5
- Overhead Press or Bench Press: 3 x 5
- Dumbbell Lunge or Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 10
- DB Row: 3 x 10 per arm
- DB Bench Press: 3 x 10
As with pretty much any program, it’s important to focus on your compound lifts to get the most bang for your buck. For bodybuilding, you’re going to include some more accessories that will help you isolate your smaller muscles. You know, the ones you’re planning to show off. Chief among the benefits of push/pull programs for bodybuilders is that they’ll maximize your recovery. That means you can add more intensity to your program without sacrificing gains.
Perform this workout two or three times per week, with adequate recovery in between. Alternate between squats and deadlifts on different days where indicated. Note that most exercises are performed with dumbbells to minimize muscular asymmetries. Perform each rep at a slow, measured tempo, and contract your muscles at the top of each lift. For exercises labeled with a number and letter first (e.g., 1A and 2A), do them back-to-back as supersets.
- 1A. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat: 3 x 12 per side
- 2A. Dumbbell Hip Thrust: 3 x 12
- 1B. Chin-Up: 3 x 2 short of failure
- 2B. Dip: 3 x 2 short of failure
- 1C. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press: 3 x 10
- 2C. Dumbbell Bent Over Reverse Flye: 3 x 10
- 1D. EZ-Bar Skull Crusher: 3 x 10
- 2D. Dumbbell Hammer Curl: 3 x 10
Manipulating your body weight can be just as difficult as lifting a loaded bar. For a lot of lifters, bodyweight training can actually seem harder than working with weights — all the more reason to integrate it into your programming.
Implementing push/pull bodyweight workouts will help make sure you’re not just building your chest and triceps with endless push-ups. You’ll get a much more well-rounded bodyweight experience when you’re actively thinking about pushing and pulling in the same session.
You can get after this workout three or four times a week, depending on your experience level and goals. Perform supersets where indicated and don’t rush through your reps. Go through each rep slowly and with a full range of motion — no kipping or bouncing. If needed, use resistance bands to assist with certain exercises.
- 1A. Pull-Up: 4 x 2 reps short of failure
- 1B. Dip: 4 x 2 reps short of failure
- 2A. Chin-Up: 3 x 2 reps short of failure
- 2B. Close-Grip Push-Up: 3 x 2 reps short of failure
- 3A. Hanging Leg Raise: 4 x 15
- 3B. Bodyweight Split Squat: 4 x 15 per side
- 3C. Scapular Pull-Up: 4 x 15
- 3D. Bodyweight Jumping Lunge: 4 x 15 per side
If you’re looking to change your body composition, push/pull workouts can help you get there. These types of workouts allow you to exercise more of your body per session than a muscle group-specific plan does. That means you’ll be able to pack more work in each time you train.
This workout can be performed between two and four times per week, depending on your experience level. You’ll also notice some freedom in exercise selection — this is by design to keep things fresh and fun if training in a caloric deficit. A slightly higher rep scheme will also ensure that your heart is pumping the whole session.
- Deadlift or Back Squat: 3 x 8
- Band Pull-Apart: 3 x 15
- Overhead Press or Bench Press: 3 x 8
- Walking Dumbbell Lunge: 3 x 15 per side
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 10 per side
- Dumbbell Row: 3 x 10 per side
- Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 x 10
Push/pull workouts are not for the faint of heart — but just because you’re a beginner doesn’t mean you can’t do them. By using a push/pull formula, you’ll be ensuring balanced strength development from the start, setting you up for long-term success in the gym.
Start by performing this beginner push/pull workout twice or thrice a week. Over a month or two, see if you can gradually make your way up to four sessions per week. Make sure you practice your form diligently for each move. Always lower the weight and/or reps if you can’t complete the sets with excellent form.
- Goblet Squat or Kettlebell Deadlift: 3 x 12
- Band Pull-Apart: 3 x 15
- Dumbbell Hip Thrust: 3 x 12
- Dumbbell Row: 3 x 12 per side
- Dumbbell Overhead Press: 3 x 10
- (Assisted) Pull-Up or Inverted Row: 4 x 2 reps short of max effort
- Push-Up: 4 x 2 reps short of max effort
Upper Body Push/Pull Anatomy
To understand why push/pull workouts are so important, it’s helpful to think about your actual muscles. Knowing the biomechanical “why” of these workouts will help motivate you to perform them more diligently and make more gains.
Otherwise known as your chest muscles, these are primarily worked by pushing movements like the bench press, dip, or push-up. The pectorals do see some limited use in upper-body pulls with exercises like the dumbbell flye.
Your delts play a huge role in pretty much all major lifts — even if it’s “just” to stabilize them. Although it’s tempting to think of your deltoids as just another beach muscle, your rear delts in particular need a lot of love to keep you healthy and strong.
The biceps, believe it or not, are perhaps your quintessential pulling muscle. In both pull-ups and biceps curls, it’s easy to understand how pulling movements help shape these guys. They also play a role in elbow health, so it’s important to keep them tuned up.
While one of the keys to bulging triceps is undoubtedly a healthy mix of compound training and targeted isolation work, too much elbow extension can potentially induce injury or inflammation. Push/pull training is well-designed to circumvent nagging conditions like tennis elbow due to its one-to-one balance between bicep and tricep work.
Like the other muscle groups listed here, your back is composed of many different individual muscles. Your lats, traps, rhomboids, and erector spinae are all huge stabilizers of your spine. As such, they are all vital components of your big lifts (and activities of daily living).
Lower Body Push/Pull Anatomy
Especially when you’re training with “just” your body weight, it’s easy to forget that push/pull workouts are more than pullups and dips. For a fully effective routine, you need to attend to your lower body just as dutifully.
Your glutes are great at helping you pull with all variations of deadlifts. They’re also great at helping you push with all the squat variations. While different versions of these lifts emphasize slightly different muscles, pull-heavy lower body workouts are essential for glute development.
Your quads are the prime movers in most lower body push movements. Extending the knee is their primary job, and they’re on the job 24/7 whether it is hitting some squats in the gym or getting out of your chair at the office.
Yes, your hamstrings do help your squats tremendously from a knee stability point of view — but they’re primarily built by deadlifts and other pulls. If you neglect lower body pull work, your hamstrings can actually become the limiting factor in lower body pushing movements.
Your calves are the first thing between your feet and the rest of your body. As such, training them well provides a strong foundation upwards that influences knee and even hip health. As such, it can pay to add a little extra calf-specific work to your routine.
Benefits Of Push/Pull Workout Splits
Like with anything else in strength sports, there are pros and cons to every training split. The only perfect split is the one that’s working well for your body right now — and everything can change as you improve in the gym. That said, there are some pretty compelling benefits to push/pull training.
When you group exercises into similar movements, you help the body fully recover because the stimulus isn’t so jarring. Because push/pull workouts are almost holistic, you’ll be able to hit the same muscle groups from different angles. You’ll optimize recovery in your days off since you won’t need to train the big lifts more than three or four days a week.
Back to Basics
When you break your program down into its core essentials, it’s easy to see how few frills you need. Splitting up your workouts and exercises by movement pattern helps you identify what moves you’re not doing enough of. Often, those are the most “basic” yet most effective exercises — think pull-ups, dips, and push-ups.
Balances Your Program
Too many routines are very push-heavy, because the anterior muscles are the ones you see in the mirror. The “pull” muscles, though, are in your back and not “mirror muscles” — so they often get neglected.
With that on top of the fact that so many people maintain poor posture at home or work, a lot of extra pulling is a good thing. The sample push/pull workouts here emphasize the “pull” factor to give you a more balanced, stronger workout.
Newer lifters can benefit from push/pull workouts because they focus on building a proper foundation. They emphasize the importance of big lifts and compound movements. Focusing on these bigger moves as a beginner lets you really maximize on newbie gains, instead of just dedicating all your time to isolation work or another set of crunches.
Advanced lifters can also benefit from push/pull workouts. Depending on what your needs are, you can split upper and lower body days into very specific training foci. For example, if you keep missing the top portion of pressing movements, you could cater a whole upper push day into remedying that issue.
How To Program Push/Pull Workouts
With many push/pull routines, you’ll split your workout over several days. Some push/pull programs call for upper body push, lower body pull, upper body pull, and lower body push days.
Others call for just three days, with a push day, a pull day, and a leg day. These kinds of push/pull splits are excellent programming options when you’re gearing toward a specific goal, like a competition or upcoming max attempt.
The push/pull workouts in this article are condensed into one day to give you an overview of what it means to balance both pushing and pulling into your routine. By programming the same workout consistently over a few weeks, you’ll be able to track your progress very specifically.
How to Warm-Up For A Push/Pull Workout
As with any good workout routine, you’ll need a solid warmup. Not only does properly warming up help you lift heavier and train harder — it also helps prevent injury. Especially since well-programmed workouts tend to begin with bigger compound lifts, it’s essential that your body is ready to work before you start your first set.
A distinct advantage of push/pull workouts is that both motions will be on your mind, so you’re more likely to remember to integrate both pushing and pulling into your warmup, too. Pulling warm ups can help protect your shoulders during pushing movements by activating your rear delts and upper back.
- World’s Greatest Stretch: 3×6 per side.
- 90/90 Flow: 3×45 seconds.
- Band Pull-Apart: 3×20.
- Inchworm with Push-Up: 3×8.
- Glute Bridges: 3×10.
- Bird Dogs: 3×10 per side.
If you’ve been looking to find a training split that can fit all your goals, push/pull workouts might be for you. You’ll hit every muscle group, maximize your recovery, and ensure that your workout remains balanced. Say goodbye to programs where you neglect your back except through deadlifts Focus on hitting your rep goals with excellent form and you’ll be on your way to much-improved strength and performance.
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