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 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, as well as the glutes and the calves.
The push-pull style of training allows you to exercise all the major muscle groups a maximum of twice per week, assuming you train 6 days a week with 1 day off.
Recent research has shown that, for most people, training in this way (rather than focusing on a single muscle group each day) can lead to maximal strength gains (
Therefore, 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 a pulling action.
There are several benefits to a push-pull training regimen.
Allows for optimal recovery
Traditional bodybuilding-style workouts involve training one or two body parts per day (
This means you might train your chest one day, shoulders the next, triceps the day after that, and so forth.
But even if you’re focusing on your chest one day, your shoulder muscles inevitably have to work, too, because they are synergist muscles helping to perform movements like the chest fly and bench press.
In this way, you end up training many of the same body parts multiple days in a row, which may overstress your muscles with time (
The push-pull training regimen allows your muscles the recommended 48–72 hours of rest to fully recover before training again (
This is because you can train a major muscle group only once every 3 days.
Anyone can benefit
Anyone can perform the push-pull training regimen and benefit from it.
Adjust the number of 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 weightlifting experience (6 months to 2 years of training) should consider training 3–4 days per week. Those with advanced resistance training experience (more than 2 years) can train up to 6 times per week with 1 rest day separating each split (4).
Here are examples of training splits for beginners and intermediate and advanced lifters:
Beginner and intermediate lifters
- Day 1: push
- Day 2: rest
- Day 3: pull
- Day 4: rest
- Day 5: legs and core
- 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 your wrists, press up until your arms are extended overhead. Pause for a second at the top, and then slowly lower your 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, or put your hands on the edge of a chair or bench, facing away from it. Starting with your arms straight and hips and knees bent, lower your body by bending your arms until you feel a stretch in your chest. 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 chest fly. With hands above your upper chest, palms facing inward, and arms extended in a slightly bent position, lower hands outward to the sides of your shoulders. Keep elbows slightly bent and bring your hands back together in a hugging motion above your upper chest. You can do these with dumbbells or displayed below a machine.
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. Slowly lower your elbows back down.
Day 3: Pull
Bent-over barbell row. Hold the barbell with a shoulder-width overhand grip. Keep your feet hip-width apart and 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 your elbows, pulling them back alongside your body, and then slowly straighten your arms again.
Cable pulldown. Grasp a cable bar slightly wider than shoulder width and sit with your thighs under the support pads. Pull the cable bar down to your upper chest, keeping your lower back slightly curved. Slowly begin to straighten your arms and return to the starting position.
Dumbbell shrugs. Holding dumbbells at your sides, shrug your shoulders as high as possible, and then relax them back down.
Biceps curls. Grasp a barbell or dumbbells with a shoulder-width underhand grip. Keeping your elbows at your sides, raise the weight until your forearms are vertical. Pause at the top, and then slowly lower the weight 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 floor by hinging at your hips with a slight bend in your 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.
Lying hamstring leg curls.
Lie face down on the leg curl machine, stretching your legs out fully. The roller pad should rest a few inches over your calves, just above the heels. Grasp the support handles on each side of the machine. Exhale and flex your knees, pulling your ankles as close to your buttocks as you can. Keep your hips firmly on the bench.
Dumbbell standing calf raise. Grasp the dumbbells in each hand at your sides. Position the balls of your 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 your hips are fully flexed, slowly bringing your knees up toward your chest. Lower your legs back down. For more challenge, keep your legs straight, as in the example below.
SUMMARY: 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 it allows you to barely perform the desired number of repetitions.
For example, if your goal is to perform 10 repetitions of an exercise, use a weight heavy enough so that you’re struggling to perform the ninth and tenth reps.
However, you should still be able to maintain good form by the tenth rep. If you can’t, the weight is too heavy.
Using this same example, if you can perform more than 10 reps with good form, increase the amount of weight you use.
It’s a good idea to record your reps and weight lifted for each exercise so you can track your progress over time.
Incorporating variety into your workout routine will help you avoid boredom and stimulate your muscles in different ways (
You can add variety to your routine by using different cable attachments and using dumbbells instead of barbells, or vice versa, for certain exercises.
For example, you could use a straight bar instead of a rope cable attachment for triceps pushdowns, 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, such as biceps curls, chest flyes, 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 exercises are performed with two arms or two legs.
A push-pull training split generally refers to workouts centered on 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 anyone can perform it, regardless of training experience level.
If you have difficulty getting started or are worried about your form, consider seeking the help of a personal trainer if possible.