Want To Learn How To Use Push, Pull, Legs To Build Muscle & Get Results? Read On…

Push pull legs is the foundation of many bodybuilding programs found on the market. When I started my training journey many years ago, I never had a training structure. I would walk into the gym and walk up to any machine, read the label, and bust out the number of reps and sets I read in some bodybuilding magazine I purchased with my $5 weekly pocket money 🙂

When I learned of the “Push Pull Legs” (PPL) weight training routine, not only did I save time in the gym due to having weight training structure — but I also started seeing results! This is what I achieved using Push Pull Legs, with only slight variations.

Not bad for someone that has maintained a very simple weight training structure over the years. I’m a simple guy 🙂

In this article, you will learn what push pull legs is all about and how to structure it around your lifestyle to build muscle in the most efficient way possible.

My Strength Training Course for Beginners (video series) is essentially a push pull legs routine with slight modifications.

What is Push Pull Legs?

It is a weightlifting training structure that “divides and conquers” your muscles into groups where each muscle group is trained separately — allowing other muscle groups to have the rest and recovery they need.

The primary reason why the push pull legs routine has been instrumental in many online programs is because it trains all major muscle groups, allows for adequate recovery time for your muscles, and can be tailored around your lifestyle.

At the most basic level, a push pull legs routine separates your major muscle groups into three distinct workouts:

As you might have gathered, a 3-day a week training program can easily be structured as:

  • Monday (push day)
  • Tuesday (pull day)
  • Wednesday (Legs day)

And if you are wanting to push yourself even harder, you could duplicate a 3-day per week routine and make it a 6-day per week routine by doing the following:

  • Monday (push day)
  • Tuesday (pull day)
  • Wednesday (legs day)
  • Thursday (push day)
  • Friday (pull day)
  • Saturday (legs day)

How many days you train per week using push pull legs really depends on how much time you are willing to spend in the gym and the kind of results you want to achieve in your body. Personally, when I’m travelling overseas I’ll revert to a 3-day per week (push, pull, legs) and when I’ve returned from vacation, I’ll switch to a 6-day push pull legs program.

Why Is Push Pull Legs Effective?

Muscle groups usually work in pairs. For example, when you undertake deadlifting, your back and biceps are doing the work while your chest and triceps are resting.

What this means for you is that Monday can be “back and biceps” (pull day) while Tuesday can be “chest and triceps” (push day) and Wednesday can be “legs day.” On each day, only a single pair of muscles are being worked while the other muscle pairs are resting. This allows sufficient rest, recovery, and growth in those other muscle pairs!

A pushing workout focuses on the muscles in your upper body responsible for pushing motions—chest (pecs,) triceps, and shoulders. Most PPL programs on the market will involve “chest and triceps” on push day.

A highly effective pushing workout will be centred around the following exercises (click to view demonstration):

A pulling workout focuses on the muscles involved in pulling motions—back, biceps.

Again, most PPL programs that are well-designed will involve the following exercises on “back and biceps” day.

And last but not least —legs day! Which predominantly focuses on exercises that work your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves.

Popular exercises for legs that will absolutely build size and strength in your legs are:

After all of that, it should be mentioned that any of the exercises mentioned above will also active other muscle groups in your body to some level. There is an overlap between the muscles involved in each workout. If you are training Chest and Triceps then there will be some muscular engagement in your biceps, back, abs, etc.

You should aim to have one day of complete rest from weight training every week. I do 🙂

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Basic Push Pull Legs Routines

You can select any of the following push pull legs routines based on how many days per week you can commit to weight training.

You can elect to do cardio any day of the week, preferably after your weight training. Personally, I leave all of my cardio training until after my weight training. If you would like to learn more about what my personal routine is, check this out.

So with only three basic workouts to choose from, it becomes an easy task to modify your training program each week, if you wish. You can easily swap in and out various “chest” exercises on push day. Or swap out various exercises for “biceps” on pull day.

The most basic push pull legs routine follows this;

Two days per week

• Day 1: Upper Body (Push & Pull muscles)

• Day 2: Lower Body (Legs)

If you can only train twice per week because you are travelling or are heavily time poor, then give yourself as many rest days as possible between Day 1 and Day 2. Personally, I would suggest 3 days of weight training per week to see measurable results in your body.

A common three day per week push pull legs looks like this;

  • Day 1: Pull Day
  • Day 2: Push Day
  • Day 3: Legs Day

Personally, I would suggest that you give yourself one day of rest between each training day. For example; structuring a three day per week push pull legs on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is better than Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

If you are like me and want to really push yourself, you can do the six day per week push pull legs routine. It looks like this.

  • Day 1: Push
  • Day 2: Pull
  • Day 3: Legs
  • Day 4: Push
  • Day 5: Pull
  • Day 6: Legs
  • Day 7: Rest day! Plan your next vacation! 🙂

As you can see, the six day per week routine is exactly the same as the three day per week routine, only doubled!

I should mention that a six day training week does not make them better than three day training week. A well-structured 3 day per week program beats the pants off a shitty 6 day per week program, any day.

By the way, as a natural weight lifter, you shouldn’t be doing any more than six weight training sessions per week. You will run the risk of over-training and burning yourself out. Been there done that! Also, you should keep your weight training sessions to 1 hour.

Training Guidelines

If you are a beginner wanting to build muscle and strength as fast as possible — then you must commit to weight training 3–6 times per week.

Your weight training sessions need not be more than one hour in length as a natural weight lifter. However, they will be (and should be) tough. And if you are still finding your way around the weight room and learning correct form, spilling over to 90 minutes in a single session is practical. Your aim should be to limit your time in the gym to around 60 minutes.

Ideally, you should aim to weight train 4–5 times per week but personally, I started my weight lifting journey at 2–3 times per week and worked myself up to 5-6 times per week. I don’t know anybody that flicked a switch from never-lifting-a-dumbbell-in-their-life to training 6 days per week consistently.

Push Pull Legs Exercise Selection

There are many different variations of the push pull legs routine. Shortly, I will share with you how I structure my own push pull legs routine and you can do as you please with it 🙂

Click on the listed exercises below if you are not sure how to do them and a video will pop up showing you correct form and technique.

Day 1. Push Day

Day 2. Pull Day

Day 3. Legs Day

2-Day Push Pull Legs

If you are on vacation and still want to continue your training momentum without living in the gym, this routine is perfect. It is one that I personally use if ever I’m travelling. Sometimes I’ll do the 3 day push pull legs if I’m stuck in a natural disaster whilst overseas and all of my activities are cancelled (a very true side story :()

If you are home and juggling work, kids, family life, etc. I would try and do a 3 day per week push pull legs. If not, this is how you can maximise your training on a 2 days per week push pull legs.

  • Day 1: Push Day + Pull Day [Upper Body]
  • Day 2: Legs Day

3-Day Push Pull Legs

This routine is the foundation of push pull legs and one that I started my fitness journey learning. There are times where I still revert back from a 6 day push pull legs to a 3 day push pull legs (if travelling.)

As mentioned earlier on, it looks like this:

  • Day 1: Push Day
  • Day 2: Pull Day
  • Day 3: Legs Day

4-Day Push Pull Legs

What’s great about sparing 4 days per week for weight training is that you have an extra day for weak-point training. For example, personally, my chest is a weakness for me. If I were to adopt a 4 day per week push pull legs routine, I would use the fourth day to do an extra push (chest) day. Make sense?

It would look like this;

  • Day 1: Push Day
  • Day 2: Pull Day
  • Day 3: Legs Day
  • Day 4: Push Day 2 (weak point training day)

For most guys, their legs are their weakest. If this applies to you, then this is how I would structure a 4 day push pull legs routine with emphasis on legs training;

  • Day 1: Legs Day
  • Day 2: Pull Day
  • Day 3: Push Day
  • Day 4: Legs Day 2 (weak point training day)

5-Day Push Pull Legs

Most people prefer to train weekdays and have their weekends off. This allows you to have greater flexibility around how to structure your push pull legs routine. There may be two areas that you want to target twice. Maybe you need to target your legs and shoulders twice? Or your biceps and triceps twice?

For example if your legs and shoulders are lagging and need extra attention, you could do this;

  • Day 1: Legs Day
  • Day 2: Push Day
  • Day 3: Pull Day
  • Day 4: Legs Day 2 (weak point training day)
  • Day 5: Push Day 2 (weak point training day)

6-Day Push Pull Legs

Personally, I only suggest 6 day push pull legs routine if you are thinking about competing. It’s a different level. It means you are training on one of your weekend days and for most people, it is just not practical (nor very social.)

At the time of writing this, I was weight training 6 days per week when I was preparing for all of those fitness model competitions I did earlier this year. At the moment, I am back to 5 days per week with the occasional light cardio session on the weekend.

If you are up for the challenge and want to try a 6 day push pull legs for several weeks, this is what I would do;

  • Day 1: Push
  • Day 2: Pull
  • Day 3: Legs
  • Day 4: Push
  • Day 5: Pull
  • Day 6: Legs 

Essentially, you are replicating push pull legs twice. You can swap in and out certain push and pull exercises to keep it interesting. In any case, make sure you record your weight training somewhere. I use a smartphone app called FitNotes. Download it and use it every time!

Push Pull Legs Workout Progression

The only tried and true way of getting bigger and stronger on a PPL split is by aiming to progressively overload the muscles, week after week.

Your primary goal as a natural weight lifter — one that I wished I learned years earlier is — if you are not striving to lift slightly more weight each and every week for any exercise, you will plateau and your muscles will not get bigger and stronger. Period. End of story.

This is how you achieve progressive overload that guarantees continual progress.

Rep Range

Once you reach the top of the rep range for one set, you will increase the weight on the bar enough so that you can reach the bottom of the rep range for the next set.

In other words, once you reach 8 reps on the Inclined Bench Press at 170 pounds. Record that in FitNotes, have your 2 minute rest, and proceed to add 2.5 pound plates to each side of the bar. You will only reach 6 reps in your next set and if you can’t, you will need to add smaller increments.

As you get better and better, you’ll find that you won’t be able to make big incremental jumps in weight. The amount of weight you could add to the bar will drop from 2.5 pound plates aside to 1.25 pound plates aside. This should be expected during your training journey.

Rest Periods

Your rest periods for each set will follow this very basic formula.

  • For exercises in the 6–8 rep range: 2–3 minutes rest
  • For exercises in the higher rep ranges: 1 minute rest.

Research shows here and here that these rest periods are important as it allows your muscles to fully recover for the next set. Failing to do this will mean your muscles will not be prepared for the next set and you won’t be able to achieve proper progressive overload.

De-loading

As a natural weight lifter, you’ll need to scale back your training intensity and volume by 50% every 4–6 weeks! The reason for this is both for your mental and physiological well-being.

The symptoms for over-training are different for everybody. Most people will experience progressive exhaustion with each week of consistent training. You’ll wake up more and more tired. You’re motivation will slowly drop off. Muscular pain may linger around longer than expected.

You’ll feel a progressive lack of energy, enthusiasm, and motivation to go to the gym.

If you notice any of these symptoms, it is probably not a bad idea to enter into a de-load week or two. By doing this, you’ll allow your body to recover both physically and mentally, giving you the air cover to re-enter your training with more zest and vigour.

My Personal Over-Training Symptoms

These are some of the symptoms I experienced when I was preparing for the World Titles as a fitness competitor back in June 2017.

  • Slowly lost interest in training
  • Feeling tired and not fully rested from the previous day training session
  • “Dragging my ass around the gym” feeling
  • Dull aches and pains that do not go away
  • Lack of energy — despite taking a pre-workout!

I find that when I include a de-load every 4-6 weeks, not only does my body recover faster but psychologically — I return to being motivated to hit the weights again.

If you are planning on going on vacation then your week off actually counts as a complete de-load, and your body (and mind) is in full recovery. Some people I’ve emailed with are reluctant to take a de-load week because they fear losing progress because they are not “in the gym.” This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Progress is always made outside of the gym when you are resting.

What Supplements To Take?

It is the reason why I wanted to discuss workout supplements last. Quite frankly, you don’t need them! There are a few supplements which can help you achieve results SLIGHTLY faster but all of them are utterly useless if your nutrition and training is not taken care of first.

Here are the following supplements which I commonly use in conjunction with my nutrition and training.

  • Protein powder
  • Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
  • Carnitine
  • Pre-workout
  • Yohimbine HCL

If you’d rather watch an 11-minute video of me discussing these supplements and why I’ve used them, click here to check it out.

Closing Thoughts

The Push Pull Legs training routine is one of the most effective weight training programs you can start with as a beginner weight lifter.

Prior to 2017, I was travelling 3–4 months of the year and managed to build most of current conditioning by implementing the exact routines I have shared with you in this article.

And even as a fitness model competitor, the engine of my training program is a variation of push-pull-legs!

Push pull legs works because it trains every major muscle group and allows sufficient rest for each muscle group to allow for progressive overload to occur — the major ingredient for getting bigger and stronger over time.

I encourage you to try it and let me know how you go.

If you need any help or have any questions, please leave them in the comments below. I will be happy to help you out!

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