Key Takeaways

  1. The push pull legs (PPL) workout split is a tried-and-true workout routine that separates your muscle groups and exercises into push, pull, and legs days.
  2. PPL routines can be customized for different training frequencies, intensities, and priorities to allow for more or less recovery and volume.
  3. Keep reading to learn about the best PPL routines and how to create your own!

“Push pull legs” routines have been one of the most popular workout splits for decades now.

In fact, just about every time-proven strength and muscle-building program fits this basic mold, and that’s not likely to change.

I’ve been following variations of “PPL” routines for years now, and here’s where it’s gotten me:

Not too shabby. 🙂

My bestselling books and workout programs for men and women are also essentially push pull legs routines with additional “accessory” (isolation) work to help bring up “stubborn” body parts like the arms, shoulders, and calves.

The primary reasons push pull legs routines have stood the test of time are they train all major muscle groups, allow plenty of time for recovery, and can be tailored to fit different training goals, schedules, and histories.

They’re easy to understand, too.

At bottom, a push pull legs routine separates your major muscle groups into three different workouts:

  1. Push workouts: chest, shoulders, and triceps
  2. Pull workouts: back and biceps (with a bit of hamstrings and glutes as well if you’re deadlifting)
  3. Legs workouts: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves

And it has you train anywhere from 3 to 6 times per week, depending on how much abuse you’re willing to take, what you’re looking to achieve with your physique, and how much time you can spend in the gym each week.

So, if you’re looking to gain muscle and strength as quickly as possible, and if you’re not afraid of a bit of heavy compound weightlifting, then push pull legs might be your golden ticket.

And by the end of this article, you’re going to know exactly how push pull legs works, who it is and isn’t best for, and how to create a customized PPL routine that’ll work for you.

Let’s get to it.

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What Is the Push Pull Legs Routine?


The push pull legs routine, also known as the push/pull/legs or PPL split, is a weightlifting program that has you do three kinds of workouts:

  1. Push workout
  2. Pull workout
  3. Legs workout

Your push workouts focus on the muscles involved in your upper body pushing motions, with the major ones being your pecs, triceps, and shoulders.

Thus, it’s similar to most “chest and triceps” workouts that you find in other bodybuilding splits.

In a well-designed PPL program, your push workouts will generally revolve around barbell and dumbbell bench pressing, overhead (military) pressing, dipping, and doing isolation exercises for your triceps.

Your pull workouts focus on the muscles involved in your upper body pulling motions, with the major ones being your back muscles and biceps.

Thus, it’s really just a “back and biceps” workout.

These workouts generally revolve around deadlifting, barbell and dumbbell rowing, pulldowns, pullups and chinups, and doing isolation exercises for your biceps.

And last, your leg workouts focus on training your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

These workouts generally revolve around squatting, lunging, and doing various isolation exercises for each major muscle group noted above.

In case you’re wondering about your abs, you’ll train your core indirectly through all your compound lifting, but you can add ab exercises at the end of any of these workouts.

So, when you get down to it, the push pull legs split isn’t all that different from many “body part” routines.

The reason I bring this up is body part splits are generally frowned upon these days, but they can be just as effective as anything else when programmed properly.

One of the reasons organizing your training this way is advantageous is muscles generally work in pairs.

For example, when you pull a barbell off the ground, your back muscles and biceps are responsible for generating the force while your chest and triceps are just along for the ride. On the flip side, when you push a heavy barbell off your chest, it’s now your chest and triceps that are the prime movers while your “pull” muscles take the back seat.

That’s why you can blitz your biceps one day and have no issues training your triceps the next.

Likewise, you can pull without issue when your chest, shoulders, or triceps are sore, and you can push or train your legs when your back and biceps are still recovering.

That said, there is a bit of overlap between the muscles involved in each workout, which is why you should always take at least one day off the weights per week.

For example, your lats are involved in bench pressing, and both deadlifting and squatting heavily involve your lower body.

Summary: The push pull legs routine has you train your “push,” “pull,” and leg muscles on different days. Push pull leg routines closely resemble a “chest and triceps,” “back and biceps,” and “legs” body part split. 

What Are the Benefits of Push Pull Legs?

There are several reasons why PPL routines are a staple among bodybuilders and powerlifters.

First, like most good weightlifting programs, they have you spend the majority of your time doing compound exercises.

Compound exercises are movements that involve multiple large muscle groups and require (and develop) the most whole-body strength.

For example, the squat involves moving the knees, ankles, and hips, and requires every muscle in your body to work together, with the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and low-back bearing the brunt of the load.

On the other hand, an exercise like the Russian Leg Curl involves moving the knees and focuses on strengthening the hamstrings and glutes, which is why it isn’t considered a compound exercise.

Now, the reason compound exercises are so important is they’re far better than isolation exercises for gaining strength and size.

They’re not only more efficient in terms of muscle groups trained per exercise, but they also allow for heavier loads to be safely lifted, which makes it easier to continue to progressively overloading your muscles.

The only major downside to doing a lot of heavy, compound weightlifting is it’s extremely demanding on your body, both in terms of energy required for workouts and post-workout recovery.

That’s why PPL has you split your upper body into two separate workouts and limits the amount of lower body training that you’re doing every week.

This way, your muscles have plenty of time to recover between workouts and your nervous system isn’t being continually pushed to the red line, which allows you to perform better over the long term.

Another major benefit of push pull legs is it can be easily customized to fit your needs and circumstances.

With just three basic workouts to choose from, it’s easy to grasp and think with on the fly and add, subtract, or shift around workouts each week as needed.

For example, the most basic PPL setup looks like this:







And if you want to train just twice per week, you could do something like this:


Push & Pull (upper body, basically)



Or, if you want to push yourself to the limit (har har), you could do a six-day per week routine something like this:













A caveat, however: don’t attempt a routine like this unless you’re an intermediate or advanced weightlifter and either eating for maintenance or lean bulking.

Summary: PPL routines emphasize compound exercises, which are more effective than isolation exercises for gaining muscle and strength. PPL routines are also flexible, which allows you to tailor them to how often you can train and how much rest you need.

The Best Push Exercises


The best push exercises are the ones that effectively train your chest, shoulders, and triceps, such as the:

And since you can never have big enough shoulders as a natural weightlifter (and it’s hard to bring your triceps up to snuff), it’s usually worth including a few isolation exercises for both of these muscle groups, like the:

  • Side Lateral Raise
  • Overhead Triceps Extensions
  • Lying Triceps Extension (“Skullcrushers”) 

If you want to learn more about the most effective exercises for your chest, shoulders, and triceps, check out these articles:

The Best Chest Workouts for Building Awesome Pecs (According to Science)

The Best Shoulder Workouts for Men and Women (2020)

The 6 Best Triceps Workouts for Bigger, Stronger Arms

The Best Pull Exercises

The most effective pull exercises are ones that train your back (including lats, erector spinae, and traps) and biceps.

Due to the nature of compound exercises, many of the best pull exercises will also train your rear deltoids, and even your glutes and hamstrings. 

Here are some of the best pull exercises:

And here are some additional exercises for your biceps, which most people like to train on the same day as their pulling exercises: 

  • Barbell Curl
  • Dumbbell Curl
  • Hammer Curl

If you want to learn more about the these exercises and how to program them into your workouts, check out these articles:

The Best Back Exercises to Build Your Best Back Ever

The Absolute Best Biceps Workout: 5 Biceps Exercises That Build Big Guns

The Best Leg Exercises

best leg-workouts

When people refer to the “legs day” of a push pull legs routine, what they really mean is “lower body.” That’s because you don’t just want to train your legs—you want to train your entire lower body including your glutes and calves. 

With that in mind, the best “legs” exercises are ones that train your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

Here are some of the best lower body exercises:

If you want to learn more about the these exercises and how to incorporate them into your workouts, give these articles a read:

The Ultimate Leg Workout: The Best Leg Exercises for Big Wheels

The 7 Best Butt Exercises That Will Give You Glorious Glutes

4 Calf Exercises That’ll Give You Calves You Can Be Proud Of

How to Make Push Pull Legs Work for You

So, you’re ready to hit the gym?


The first thing to decide is how many days per week that you want to train.

If you want to maximize muscle and strength gains and have the time, then I recommend 4 to 6 training days per week.

If you’re short on time, however, or don’t want to train that often for some other reason, then don’t despair—you can still do great with 2 to 3 workouts per week.

Once you’ve decided how many days you’re going to train each week, the next step is turning that into an actual specific routine.

There are many ways of programming PPL workouts, but I’m going to keep it simple and give you a few templates to choose from.

Let’s start with the workouts themselves, and then we’ll see how to combine them into routines.

The Push Pull Legs Workouts

You can create an infinite variety of push pull routine workouts, but here are a few of my favorites.

As you’ll see, they involve a lot of heavy, compound weightlifting, supplemented with moderately heavy accessory work.

(If you’re not sure how to do any of these exercises, click on them to be taken to videos that teach proper form.)

The Legion Push Pull Legs Workouts

Alright, that’s it for the workouts.

Let’s now see how to turn them into weekly workout routines.

The 2-Day Push Pull Legs Routine

As I mentioned earlier, you can do well training just twice per week.

More would be better if you’re trying to gain muscle and strength as quickly as possible, but when circumstances won’t allow for more gym time, this is a solid 2-day routine that you can always fall back on to at least maintain what you’ve got.

Here it is:

2-Day Routine

Pros and Cons of the 2-Day Routine


  • Good for people who can only train twice a week
  • Effective method of “easing in” to a more serious workout routine
  • Probably enough work to maintain your strength and muscle mass, at least in the short term


  • Not enough work to gain strength and muscle as quickly as possible
  • Not enough frequency to master the compound lifts as quickly as possible
  • Workouts can get long if you add many accessory exercises for lagging muscle groups

The 3-Day Push Pull Legs Routine

This 3-day routine is your basic PPL program, and it’s my personal favorite setup for training 3 days per week.

Again, more training is best for maximizing gains, but this 3-day split is a time-proven program for getting big and strong.

Here’s the routine:

3-Day Routine (Push Pull Legs)

The Pros and Cons of the 3-Day Routine


  • Good for people who can only train three times per week
  • Effective method of “easing in” to a more serious workout routine
  • Enough work to maintain your strength and muscle mass, at least in the short term
  • Can work very well for beginners


  • Not enough work to gain strength and muscle as quickly as possible
  • Not enough frequency to master the compound lifts as quickly as possible
  • Workouts can get long if you add many accessory exercises for lagging muscle groups

The 4-Day Push Pull Legs Routines

The major benefit of adding a fourth day is it allows you to work more on whichever major muscles groups are most lagging in your physique or that you just want to focus most on.

Thus, I’m going to provide two 4-day routines: one for people that want to focus more on their upper bodies, and one for focusing more on the lower body.

Here they are:

4-Day Routine (Push Pull Legs)

The Pros and Cons of the 4-Day Routine


  • Great for people who can get to the gym four times a week
  • Allows you to train either your “push” or lower-body muscles more than once per week
  • Approaches an optimum amount of work for maximizing muscle and strength gain


The 5-Day Push Pull Legs Routines

This is my preferred PPL split because it allows you to push the limits in terms of volume and intensity while also allowing a couple days for recovery.

Again, I’m going to provide two routines here, one for emphasizing the upper body, and one for the lower body.

Here you go:

5-Day Routine (Push Pull Legs)

The Pros and Cons of the 5-Day Routine


  • Great for people who can get to the gym five times a week
  • Allows for optimum amount of work for maximizing muscle and strength gain
  • Allows you to train either your upper body muscles or lower body muscles more than twice per week


  • Requires a fair amount of time spent in the gym
  • Less recovery time between workouts means you have to be more careful about your sleep, nutrition, non-weightlifting activities, etc.
  • Overkill if you just want to maintain your strength and muscle mass on vacation, during a mini-cut, etc.

The 6-Day Push Pull Legs Routine

If you’re lean bulking, an advanced weightlifter who needs a lot of volume to progress, or feeling masochistic, then this might be for you.

Seriously though, a 6-day PPL split is about the most a natural weightlifter can get away with until their progress not only stalls but begins to regress.

I don’t recommend it if you’re in a calorie deficit or aren’t recovering well from your current training program for whatever reason (not sleeping enough, stress, aches and pains, etc.). Instead, it’s for when you’re in a calorie surplus and feeling completely up to the challenge.

Here’s the routine:

6-Day Routine (Push Pull Legs)

The Pros and Cons of the 6-Day Routine


  • A great option if you can train six times per week
  • Allows for optimum amount of work for maximizing muscle and strength gain
  • Allows you to train either your upper body muscles or lower body muscles more than once per week


  • Requires a fair amount of time spent in the gym
  • Less recovery time between workouts means you have to be more careful about your sleep, nutrition, non-weightlifting activities, etc.
  • Overkill if you just want to maintain your strength and muscle mass on vacation, during a mini-cut, etc.

Another Option: Push Legs Pull

A common variation of push pull legs is push legs pull (PLP).

This setup gives your upper body more time to recover in between workouts but your lower body less time, which means that it’s best suited to people that are more concerned with upper body development than lower body.

Here are several ways to set it up:

The 3 Day Push Legs Pull Routine

This gives your upper body a little more recovery time than the normal 3-day push pull legs routine.

3-Day Routine (Push Legs Pull)

The 4 Day Push Legs Pull Routine

Even though push legs pull tends to favor upper body recovery, you can still use a few different variations to change its emphasis.

Here are a couple examples:

4-Day Routine (Push Legs Pull)

The 5 Day Push Legs Pull Routine

If you want to push whole-body volume and intensity a little more than with the 4-day routine, this is for you.

5-Day Routine (Push Legs Pull)

The 6-Day Push Legs Pull Routine

If you want to work most on upper body development during your next bulk and are willing to put in the work, this is a fantastic routine.

The same rules apply here as earlier: I don’t recommend this if you’re in a caloric deficit or if you don’t generally feel rested and fresh. It’s best for when you’re fully rested, fed, and ready to train.

Here’s the routine:

6-Day Routine (Push Legs Pull)

Summary: There are many varieties of PPL routines to choose from, and they all have their pros and cons. The one you should pick depends on how often you can or want to train, what muscle groups you want to prioritize, and how many years you’ve been weightlifting.

How to Progress in Your Push Pull Legs Workouts

As a natural weightlifter, here’s something you can take to the bank:

If you want to keep getting bigger, you have to keep getting stronger.

This is more important than getting a pump, increasing time under tension, and incorporating special training techniques like rest pause sets, periodization, and the like.

The reason for this is the number-one rule of muscle building is progressive overload, which is the process of gradually increasing the amount of tension on your muscle fibers over time.

You can accomplish this to some degree by continually increasing volume (reps), but ultimately, you also have to add weight to the bar.

That’s why the biggest guys and gals in the gym are generally the strongest.

So, with that in mind, here are several guidelines that will help you get the most out of your push pull legs workouts.

Use Reps In Reserve (RIR) to manage your workout intensity.

You probably noticed I’ve prescribed the intensity of your workouts using a system called reps in reserve (RIR). I describe this system in more detail in this article, but the gist is simple: 1 RIR = 1 rep shy of failure, 2 RIR = 2 reps shy of failure, and so forth. 

So, if a workout says you should use an intensity of 1 to 2 RIR, that means you want to do as many reps as you can within the prescribed rep range until you feel you can only do 1 or 2 reps more and then stop. 

For example, many of the workouts above call for 3 sets squats for 4 to 6 reps at an intensity of 1 to 2 RIR. 

Thus, you want to pick a weight that allows you to finish each of your sets feeling like you could have done 1 or 2 more reps if you absolutely had to, while completing at least 4 reps and not more than 6. In my case, that would be around 275 pounds, which I can get 4 to 6 reps with until my form starts to break down (1 to 2 RIR).

If this seems confusing, don’t worry—it’ll become second nature after a bit of trial and error and a few workouts.

Warm up before each workout.


Before your first set of your first exercise of each workout, make sure you do a thorough warm-up.

A warm-up accomplishes several things: 

  1. It helps you troubleshoot your form and “groove in” proper technique (which is particularly important when you’re learning a new exercise). 
  2. It can significantly boost your performance, which can translate into more muscle and strength gain over time. 

In weightlifting, a warm-up consists of doing one or two light sets of an exercise, followed by one or two heavier sets until you’re using a weight that’s about 70% as heavy as the heaviest weight you’ll use that day for that particular exercise. 

Here’s how to warm up properly: 

Do several warm-up sets with the first exercises for each of the muscle groups you’re training in that day’s workout.

For example, in the Push A workout outlined in this article, your first exercise is the flat barbell bench press, which trains your chest, triceps, and shoulders. 

Thus, warming up for the flat bench press will also warm up all of the muscle groups trained by the other exercises in your workout. So, in this case, you can do a few warm-up sets for your flat barbell bench press and then just carry on with the rest of your workout without any additional warm-up sets.

If you were doing a workout that involved exercises that train different muscle groups, though, such as the squat or lat pulldown, then you’d want to do several warm-up sets for each of these exercises. 

Here’s the protocol you’re going to follow for the workouts in this article:

  1. Estimate roughly what weight you’re going to use for your three sets of flat barbell bench press (this is your “hard set” weight).
  2. Do 10 reps with about 50 percent of your hard set weight, and rest for a minute.
  3. Do 10 reps with the same weight at a slightly faster pace, and rest for a minute.
  4. Do 4 reps with about 70 percent of your hard set weight, and rest for a minute.

Then, do all three of your hard sets for your flat barbell bench press, and then the hard sets for your close-grip bench press (the next exercise in Push A).

If you want to learn more about the importance of a proper warm-up and how to warm up for different workouts, check out this article: 

The Best Way to Warm Up For Your Workouts

You shouldn’t go to absolute muscle failure every set.

Absolute muscle failure is the point where you can no longer keep the weight moving and have to end the set.

We should take most of our sets to a point close to technical failure (one or two reps shy of the point where our form breaks down), but we should rarely take sets to the point of absolute failure.

Personally, I never train to failure for more than two to three sets per workout, and never on the squat, deadlift, bench press, or military press, as it can be dangerous.

Instead, I reserve my failure sets for isolation exercises like cable flyes, triceps extensions, biceps curls and the like, and it’s usually a natural consequence of pushing for progressive overload as opposed to deliberate programming.

You can learn more about to take sets close (but not to) failure in this article: 

This Is the Best Guide to the RPE Scale on the Internet

Rest 3 to 4 minutes in between each set.

This will give your muscles enough time to fully recoup their strength so you can give maximum effort each set.

If you want to learn more about how long you should rest between sets, check out this article:

How Long Should You Rest Between Sets to Gain Muscle and Strength?

Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, you move up in weight.

For instance, if you flat barbell bench press 135 pounds for 6 reps on your first set, you add 5 pounds to each side of the bar for your next set.

If, on the next set, you can get at least 4 reps with 145 pounds, that’s the new weight you work with until you can incline bench press it for 6 reps, move up, and so forth.

If you get 3 or fewer reps, though, reduce the weight added by 5 pounds (140 pounds) and see how the next set goes. If you still get 3 reps or fewer, reduce the weight to the original 6-rep load and work with that until you can do two 6-rep sets with it, and then increase the weight on the bar.

This method is known as double progression, which you can learn about in this podcast:

How to Use Double Progression to Get More From Your Workouts

What About Supplements?

supplement buyers guide

I saved this for last because, quite frankly, it’s less important than proper diet and training.

Supplements don’t build great physiques—dedication to proper training and nutrition does.

Unfortunately, the workout supplement industry is plagued by pseudoscience, ridiculous hype, misleading advertising and endorsements, products full of junk ingredients, underdosing key ingredients, and many other shenanigans.

Most supplement companies produce cheap, junk products and try to dazzle you with ridiculous marketing claims, high-profile (and very expensive) endorsements, pseudo-scientific babble, fancy-sounding proprietary blends, and flashy packaging.

So, while workout supplements don’t play a vital role in building muscle and losing fat, and many are a complete waste of money…the right ones can help.

The truth of the matter is there are safe, natural substances that have been scientifically proven to deliver benefits such as increased strength, muscle endurance and growth, fat loss, and more.

As a part of my work, it’s been my job to know what these substances are, and find products with them that I can use myself and recommend to others.

Finding high-quality, effective, and fairly priced products has always been a struggle, though.

That’s why I took matters into my own hands and decided to create my own supplements. And not just another line of “me too” supplements—the exact formulations I myself have always wanted and wished others would create.

I won’t go into a whole spiel here though. If you want to learn more about my supplement line, check this out.

For the purpose of this article, let’s just quickly review the supplements that are going to help you get the most out of your PPL (and other) workouts.


Creatine is a substance found naturally in the body and in foods like red meat. It’s perhaps the most researched molecule in the world of sport supplements—the subject of hundreds of studies—and the consensus is very clear:

Supplementation with creatine helps…

You may have heard that creatine is bad for your kidneys, but these claims have been categorically and repeatedly disproven. In healthy subjects, creatine has been shown to have no harmful side effects, in both short- or long-term usage. People with kidney disease are not advised to supplement with creatine, however.

If you have healthy kidneys, I highly recommend that you supplement with creatine. It’s safe, cheap, and effective.

In terms of specific products, I use my own, of course, which is called Recharge.

Recharge is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored and each serving contains:

  • 5 grams of creatine monohydrate
  • 2100 milligrams of L-carnitine L-tartrate
  • 10.8 milligrams of corosolic acid

This gives you the proven strength, size, and recovery benefits of creatine monohydrate plus the muscle repair and insulin sensitivity benefits of L-carnitine L-tartrate and corosolic acid.

Protein Powder

You don’t need protein supplements to gain muscle, but, considering how much protein you need to eat every day to maximize muscle growth, getting all your protein from whole food can be impractical.

That’s the main reason I created (and use) a whey protein supplement. (There’s also evidence that whey protein is particularly good for your post-workout nutrition.)

Whey+ is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate that is made from milk sourced from small dairy farms in Ireland, which are known for their exceptionally high-quality dairy.

I can confidently say that this is the creamiest, tastiest, healthiest all-natural whey protein powder you can find.

I also have the slow-digesting Casein+, which is perfect as your pre-bed protein, or Thrive if you want something that’s 100% plant-based

Pre-Workout Drink


There’s no question that a pre-workout supplement can get you fired up to get to work in the gym. There are downsides and potential risks, however.

Many pre-workout drinks are stuffed full of ineffective ingredients and/or minuscule dosages of otherwise good ingredients, making them little more than a few cheap stimulants with some “pixie dust” sprinkled in to make for a pretty label and convincing ad copy.

Many others don’t even have stimulants going for them and are just complete duds.

Others still are downright dangerous, like USPLabs’ popular pre-workout “Jack3d,” which contained a powerful (and now banned) stimulant known as DMAA.

Even worse was the popular pre-workout supplement “Craze,” which contained a chemical similar to methamphetamine.

The reality is it’s very hard to find a pre-workout supplement that’s light on stimulants but heavy on natural, safe, performance-enhancing ingredients like beta-alanine, betaine, and citrulline.

And that’s why I made my own pre-workout supplement.

It’s called Pulse and it contains 6 of the most effective performance-enhancing ingredients available:

And what you won’t find in Pulse is equally special:

  1. No artificial sweeteners or flavors.
  2. No artificial food dyes.
  3. No unnecessary fillers, carbohydrate powders, or junk ingredients.

The bottom line is if you want to know what a pre-workout is supposed to feel like…if you want to experience the type of energy rush and performance boost that only clinically effective dosages of scientifically validated ingredients can deliver…then you want to try PULSE.

The Bottom Line on the Push Pull Legs Routine

The push pull legs split is one of the simplest and most effective types of weightlifting routines that you can follow.

It trains every major muscle group in your body, it allows you to optimize volume, intensity, frequency, and recovery, and it’s easy to understand and program.

If you’ve never tried it before, you might find that you like it quite a bit more than whole-body or body-part splits.

So, give a routine in this article a go or create your own, and see how your body responds.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

If you liked this article, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever you like to hang out online! 🙂

What’s your take on the push pull legs routine? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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