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Push-Pull-Legs Program: The 1-Week Split

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Push-Pull-Legs Program: The 1-Week Split

Push-pull-legs (PPL) split workouts are a fast and efficient way to build muscle mass while working out for as little as three days per week!

This classic workout split divides your training week up into three distinct sections. Day 1: focus on push exercises. Day 2: focus on pull exercises. Day 3: focus on your legs. A PPL program targets all of your major muscle groupings through the week, while also giving you optimal time for rest and recovery.

It's a highly variable routine, allowing you to work out at the gym, using free weights or weight machines, or from the comfort of your own home with a simple but effective pull up assist band.

In today's article, we explore the benefits of a push-pull-legs routine and explain how you can build your own personalized PPL split!

What is a push-pull-legs workout?

The simple but effective concept behind the push-pull-legs training routine is splitting your workouts into three distinct segments. Each workout day is assigned to focus on either push, pull, or leg movements.

Each training day focuses on a specific set of muscles, allowing you to target all of your body's major muscle groupings in one week. For example, your first exercise day would focus on the upper body muscle groups that allow us to perform push movements. This could involve training your chest and triceps. For pull movements, you would target the upper body muscles needed for pulling, like the back. On leg day, you target your major lower body muscles, such as the quads and core.

PPL splits are focused on building strength and gaining full body mass. Ordinarily, the split happens over one week, giving you three focused strength training sessions every seven days. This can be varied, depending on your training intensity, creating a PPL 4-day split (with an extra leg or push session, depending on your training goals) or a challenging PPL 6-day split that affords much less recovery time.

The idea behind this form of split training is to spread your strength training exercises out over the week evenly. By only targeting your lower body during select workout days, you give your lower body muscles more time to recover before you hit them hard again in the next allocated session. This is much more efficient than attempting full body focused sessions every day of the week!

What muscles are targeted by push-pull-legs split routines?

A push-pull-legs split routine targets some of the body's largest and most important muscle groupings. The idea is to consistently build these groupings to allow for a naturally balanced body shape and a balanced level of strength and fitness through push-pull-legs hypertrophy.

A balanced PPL split will target the following major muscle groups in each of their allocated training sessions:

Primary push muscles

Chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps

Example exercises; banded push-ups, chest press, tricep dips

Primary pull muscles

Lats, trapezoids, biceps

Example exercises; pull-ups, lat pulldowns, banded rows

Leg (and lower body) muscles

Quads, hamstrings, abs, glutes

Example exercises; crunches, banded squats, banded glute bridges

Push-pull-legs 3-day split

A simple 3-day split is perfect for beginners, offering you plenty of recovery time between each session. For example, hitting your chest muscles on Monday ensures that by keeping to the schedule, your chest muscles have an entire week before they are targeted again on the following Monday.

The 3-day split also allows time for you to focus on other areas of training. Rather than spending the entire week working out with weights at the gym, you can use your 'Rest Days' for cardio, resistance band stretches, or complementary flexibility training sessions.

Here's an example of how a classic push-pull-legs 3-day split schedule would look like:

Monday: Push session

Tuesday: Rest day

Wednesday: Pull session

Thursday: Rest day

Friday: Leg session

Saturday: Rest day

Sunday: Rest day

3-day split with exercises

You can tailor your 3-day push-pull-legs split to incorporate the strength training exercises that you enjoy most. If you love the gym, then hit the weight machines, or if you prefer resistance bands, then tailor your routine to use pull-up assist or hip circle bands.

With your push-pull-legs schedule arranged, you can start to fill in each exercise session with more specific exercises that effectively target each muscle group. You can select from the vast pool of practices out there, of course, but we've put together a sample 3-day routine below for you.

This routine makes use of a resistance band for effective, targeted, and controlled movements. The exercises can also be performed using free weights or weight machines, making this a varied routine that you can practice at home or in the gym.

Remember to stretch out before and after any strength training exercise.

Monday: Push session

Perform 3 sets of each exercise 

  • Chest press x 8
  • Shoulder press x 12
  • Incline press x 12
  • Lat raises x 12
  • Tricep extensions x 12
  • Tricep pushdowns x 12
  • Banded push-ups to failure

Tuesday: Rest day

Wednesday: Pull session

Perform 3 sets of each exercise

  • Lat pulldowns x 12
  • Bent over row x 12
  • Face pulls x 12
  • Bicep curls x 12
  • Hammer curls x 12
  • Pull-ups to failure (band assisted)

Thursday: Rest day

Friday: Leg sessions

Perform 3 sets of each exercise

  • Banded squats x 12
  • Leg press x 12
  • Leg extension x 12
  • Leg curls x 12
  • Standing calf raises x 12
  • Banded glute bridge x 12
  • Crunches to failure

Saturday: Rest day

Sunday: Rest day

Push-pull-legs 4-day split

If you're finding the 3-day split isn't intense enough for you, you can ramp it up by adding in an extra day of strength training when you are fitter and stronger.

A 4-day split can help you target muscles that need extra work, or that you feel aren't strong enough. This could be in relation to your fitness goals or any targets you hope to reach. For example, if you're focusing on building larger biceps, you would want to add an extra push training day to your program.

You can vary the fourth day, week by week. Target an extra pull session in week 1 and an extra leg day in week 2, for instance. It's important to spread out your training days and to ensure that you allow adequate recovery time between sessions.

Here's an example of what a classic push-pull-legs 4-day split schedule would look like:

Week 1

Monday: Push session

Tuesday: Rest day

Wednesday: Pull session

Thursday: Rest day

Friday: Leg session

Saturday: Extra push session

Sunday: Rest day

Week 2

Monday: Push session

Tuesday: Rest day

Wednesday: Pull session

Thursday: Rest day

Friday: Leg session

Saturday: Extra pull session

Sunday: Rest day

Push-pull-legs 6-day split

The push-pull-legs split's main goal is to build full-body muscle mass coverage while giving your muscles optimal recovery time between sessions.

If you're experienced with strength training, you can also use the PPL split to create a more intense weekly workout. A 6-day split is for advanced gym-goers, as you need to be more aware of your body's limits and endurance level. Overdoing the exercises and not having enough rest can quickly lead to injury.

A 6-day split can be an effective way to build muscle and shred fat fast, as you'll be putting your body through 6 workouts per week. This gives your muscles half the recovery time that they would have with the 3-day split.

However, one way to take the tension off is to incorporate a mixture of free weight and resistance band exercises into the schedule while varying the intensity of the sessions. Instead of having two intense push sessions per week, you have one intense push session using free weights and one lighter, more targeted push session using resistance bands.

As you'll see from the example below, a 6-day split takes more planning than a simple 3-day split. You must keep to your schedule and exercise on your assigned days for this to be effective; otherwise, you can cause more damage by overworking your muscles.

Here's an example of how a push-pull-legs 6-day split schedule would look like:

Week 1

Monday: Leg session

Tuesday: Push session (light intensity/resistance bands)

Wednesday: Pull session

Thursday: Rest day

Friday: Leg session (light intensity/resistance bands)

Saturday: Push session

Sunday: Pull session (light intensity/resistance bands)

Week 2

Monday: Rest day

Tuesday: Leg session

Wednesday: Push session (light intensity/resistance bands)

Thursday: Pull session

Friday: Rest day

Saturday: Leg session (light intensity/resistance bands)

Sunday: Push session

Week 3

Monday: Pull session (light intensity/resistance bands)

Tuesday: Rest day

Wednesday: Leg session

Thursday: Push session (light intensity/resistance bands)

Friday: Pull session

Saturday: Rest day

What are the benefits of a push-pull-legs routine?

A well-planned push-pull-legs split is one of the best workout routines that you can incorporate into your weekly exercise schedule. There are plenty of fantastic benefits to be realized, but only if you stick to your plan, enjoy your recovery days, and don't miss out on leg day!

The PPL split is particularly efficient because it maximizes your opportunity for effective training by targeting all of your major muscles. Similar and complementary muscles that have to work together when you're performing movements are worked out in the same session, allowing you to build a solid muscular base that's balanced and coordinated.

The routine gives your muscles a chance for recovery between sessions, while also keeping you focused through the week to keep up your training. A push-pull-legs routine is all about variation, so you can create a personalized schedule that involves exercises you actually enjoy. Because there's a massive pool of exercises and equipment to choose from, you can easily mix up your routine if you start getting bored.

Here are the most important benefits of planning a comprehensive PPL legs routine:

  • Work out major complementary muscle groupings
  • Optimize your workout recovery
  • Build full-body strength and fitness
  • Sculpt a natural, balanced body shape
  • Build bigger muscles and increase your muscle mass evenly
  • Tone muscles and build muscle endurance
  • Burn calories and shred fat
  • Improve your metabolism and burn calories all through the week
  • Personalize each training day to include the exercises you enjoy most
  • Choose from a wide range of movements and equipment, including resistance bands and bodyweight exercises
  • Create intense 6-day splits if you want to hit training goals
  • Create focused exercise schedules that are easy to keep 
  • Feel good and improve your mental well being as you exercise!

Is a push-pull-legs routine good for building muscle mass?

Push-pull-legs workouts are an effective way to gain strength and to build muscle mass, but before jumping into PPL routines, you should consider if this is the most effective training plan for you.

PPL are an incredibly effective way to build balanced muscle mass, as you're targeting all the major muscles that your body uses for movement, balance, and flexibility. It's particularly useful if you're skinny and are looking to pack on an even distribution of muscle.

If you want a natural but athletic body shape, it's essential to work on your arms, back, abs, and legs. Focusing on one specific area, such as your biceps, and ignoring other muscle groupings such as your shoulders, will quickly give you an un-even muscle distribution and an uneven look (like big chest, skinny legs).

However, PPL routines aren't necessarily the best way to build the most significant muscles you can. Because you're only working each major muscle grouping once a week (or twice, for a 6-day split), you're not targeting that muscle as thoroughly as possible. While a PPL routine gives your muscles plenty of recovery time and results in less chance of injury, hitting each muscle grouping several times a week at high intensity will ultimately build bigger muscles.

You can counter this by taking on 6-day splits when your fitness and strength improve; however, if it's a lean and sculpted look that you're after (rather than bulk), then a 3-day split should do the trick.

PPL are particularly effective for anyone looking to not only gain balanced muscle mass but for anyone looking to improve their functional fitness for everyday movements. PPL workouts don't need to involve intense weight training; they can be just as targeted using resistance bands, which is perfect for working on muscles that we use every day for simple movements such as lifting boxes or pushing open doors!

Is push-pull-legs bodybuilding good for beginners?

Push-pull-legs splits are fantastic for beginner bodybuilders looking to build a base layer of muscle quickly. Because the routine can be personalized and easily adapted to different levels of strength and fitness, it's also a great way to progress from being a beginner to a more advanced athlete.

Beginners need to ensure that they are keeping to their schedule for an even development of muscle mass. This helps create that natural look, rather than overemphasizing one muscle in the early stages of training. To build bigger muscles, beginners need to ensure that they are increasing the workload and the intensity of their workouts over time.

For muscle growth to be stimulated, the muscle needs to breakdown during exercise. This occurs when you're lifting weights or working out against resistance bands. The muscle then needs time to rest, allowing it to grow back stronger as it repairs itself. The next time you workout, you need to use heavier weights, more resistance, or endure more repetitions for it to rip again.

Increasing the weight or the resistance you work out against is an essential step for beginners. It's the only way to make progress and the only way to build bigger muscles. Still, this progress needs to be gradual to avoid injury. Each week, increase the number of reps for each exercise and increase the resistance band's strength or the weight of the dumbbells. You'll be surprised at how quickly you realize visible gains.

The last word on our push-pull-legs program!

Push-pull-legs is a fast, efficient, and proven way to build full-body muscle mass while working out for as little as three days per week. This classic style of split training works all of your major muscle groupings while giving you plenty of time off between workout sessions for optimal recovery.

You can take this routine to the gym, you can use free weights or weight machines, or you can make use of resistance bands back at home. Pick and choose your favorite push, pull, and leg exercises, choose how many days (and what days) you want to work out, then start exercising!

Why not try out our push-pull-legs split next week to get started on your full-body muscle-building journey?

Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

Katherine is a CrossFit expert with humble origins. Starting out on a ranch, ever since she was nine, she spent most of her life roping and competing in team roping. After finding bodyweight exercises interesting she sought after a career in CrossFit and dedicated her life towards achieving the body of her dreams. Today Katherine is a personal trainer that loves to travel the world and change the lives of her clients.

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