The Push/Pull/Legs Workout Routine for Massive Size Gains

Updated on May 21, 2018
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David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.

The push/pull/legs routine is great for size gains
The push/pull/legs routine is great for size gains | Source

The Push/Pull/Legs Split

If you are past the beginner stage and want to gain muscle mass at the optimum rate, one of the best approaches you could take to that is to use the push/pull/legs workout routine.

The push/pull/legs split is one of the most popular and enduring workout programs there is. And with good reason - it works really well.

However, you do need to know how to set it up in the most effective way if you want to get the best results from your efforts. So in this article I'll explain what a push/pull/legs split involves and why it's such an effective way to train. And I'll also give you a great example workout routine that you can use to get started with straight away.

What is a Push/Pull/Legs Workout Routine?

A push/pull/legs workout routine is one in which you divide your body up into three parts, as follows:

1. Upper body pushing muscles (chest, shoulders and triceps)

2. Upper body pulling muscles (back and biceps)

3. Lower body muscles (quads, hams and calves)

Optionally the abdominals and lower back can be added to the lower body workout.

You then alternate these workouts over however many weekly training sessions you choose to do. So if you can only make it to the gym three times per week, you do each workout once per week (say Monday, Wednesday and Friday). However this is not optimal for muscle growth as you will only be training each body part once per week.

So alternatively you could train every other day. Or you could train four days per week. Or you could use the rotating five day cycle, where you train two on, one off, one on, one off.

Advantages of a Push/Pull/Legs Training Split

With a push/pull/legs training split you train all related muscle groups in the same workout, which means you get the maximum possible overlap of the movements being trained. And the muscle groups derive the maximum benefit from that overlap. So this makes it a very efficient method of training.

For example, when you train chest, the front deltoids and the triceps are also heavily involved. And when you train shoulders, the triceps are again worked very hard. So it makes sense to train all of these body parts in the same workout.

And when you train back, the biceps are also hit very hard. So again it makes sense to train these in the same workout so that they can derive extra benefit from the additional stimulation.

You also get the minimum overlap of movements between workouts, which facilitates better recovery than other methods of training. And the joints are involved differently in each workout too, so there's less joint strain, and a reduced chance of injury.

An Example Workout Routine

Here's a great example of a push/pull/legs split that is properly structured, well balanced, and certain to give you excellent results:

Workout 1 (Push)

  • Bench Press 3 x 6 - 8
  • Incline Dumbbell Press 3 x 8 - 10
  • Overhead Press 3 x 6 - 8
  • Lateral Raise 3 x 10 - 12
  • Lying Triceps Extension 3 x 10 - 12

Workout 2 (Pull)

  • Bent-Over Row 3 x 6 - 8
  • Pull-Ups 3 x 10 - 12
  • Face Pulls 2 x 15
  • Barbell Curl 3 x 10 - 12
  • Dumbbell Hammer Curl 3 x 10 - 12

Workout 3 (Legs)

  • Squat 3 x 6 - 8
  • Romanian Deadlift 2 x 12
  • Leg Press 3 x 10 - 12
  • Leg Curl 3 x 8 - 10
  • Calf Raise 3 x 8 - 10

The sets listed are your work sets. Always ensure you warm up properly first to properly prepare your body for the heavier work, and to help prevent injury.

Then, as with any training program, you progress by increasing the weight a little when you reach the top end of the suggested rep range on all of your sets of a particular exercise.

Is a Push/Pull/Legs Split Right For You?

The push/pull/legs training split is a very productive training method that is suitable for trainees of all levels. However it is particularly suitable for intermediate and advanced lifters.

The reason for this is that beginners tend to recover and grow much quicker than people who have been training for a while, so it makes sense to take full advantage of this by training each muscle group more frequently using a full body workout routine. Then, once you have a bit of experience you will probably find you'll make better progress by switching to an upper/lower split routine.

But later on you may find a push/pull/legs split will suit you better. Or you could alternate the push/pull/legs split with an upper/lower split to get the best that both of these training methods have to offer.

Which is your preferred method of training?

See results

Other Considerations

To gain muscle mass you need a good training program, with a focus on compound exercises and progressive overload (increasing the weights you are using gradually over time). But you also need to eat right too; and a good muscle building diet will consist of a calorie surplus with plenty of protein (about 0.8 - 1.0g per pound of body weight per day), complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, fruit and vegetables.

You'll also need to ensure you get enough sleep - at least 8 hours per night, but 9 may be better. And if you can have an afternoon nap that might help too.

Some cardio is good, and will help to minimize fat gain as you build muscle, but don't overdo it. And don't do too much in the way of other physical activities either.

So that's it. Follow the advice given here and you will soon be able to transform your body to look the way you want it to. Best of luck; and if you have any questions do ask them in the comments section below.


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    • dwelburn profile imageAUTHOR


      4 months ago from Birmingham, UK

      Yes, bent-over lateral raises or machine rear delts.

    • dwelburn profile imageAUTHOR


      4 months ago from Birmingham, UK

      HIIT - warm up with a moderate jog for 2 - 5 mins. Then sprint 30 seconds, slow jog one minute. Repeat 4 - 8 times. Warm down with a jog for 5 mins. That's just one example. See my article on the best cardio for weight loss for more info.

      Body part split - Yes that's great. Personally I would increase reps a bit on cable flies and face pulls. And maybe pull-ups and RDL's. But if these rep ranges are ok for you, it's fine.

    • dwelburn profile imageAUTHOR


      4 months ago from Birmingham, UK

      Generally speaking I'd suggest 3 sets of 5 - 8 reps most of the time. But some exercises are better performed at a slightly higher rep range, e.g. pull-ups/chin-ups, dips, RDL's.

    • profile image


      4 months ago

      Thank you very much for the advice on the cardio. What kind of a HIIT workout would you suggest? I've never tried it before. Thanks for the advice on the 5 day split. If I were to follow a routine as such , would the below be alright?


      Barbell Bench Press 3x6-8

      Incline Dumbbell Press 3x6-8

      Cable flies 3x8-10


      Barbell Rows 3x6-8

      Pull-ups 3x6-8

      Face Pulls 3x8-10 (shoulder or back day?)


      Squats 3x6-8

      Leg Press 3x8-10

      Romanian Deadlift 3x8-10

      Leg Curls 3x8-10

      Calf Raises 3x8-10

      Shoulders & Abs

      Over Head Press 3x6-8

      Side Lateral Cable Raises 3x8-10

      Rope Crunches 3x10-12

      Leg Raises 3x10-12


      Barbell Curls 3x8-10

      Rope Push Downs 3x8-10

      Dumbbell Curls 3x8-10

      Over head triceps extension 3x8-10

      Is this enough volume? Anything to add or subtract/replace?

      Many thanks.

    • profile image

      John Gunderson 

      4 months ago

      I would like to do the 3 day version but drop the isolation type exercises. What set/rep combo would you recommend if just doing 3 compound type exercises per workout i.e. bench, Op, close grip bench press?

      Thank you

    • dwelburn profile imageAUTHOR


      4 months ago from Birmingham, UK

      Cardio - depends on your goals. If muscle gain do 2 or 3 per week. If fat loss do 3 to 5 per week. One or two HIIT and the rest a comfortable pace steady state. You can do extra walking every day if you wish.

      Overhead press - use a barbell for your first couple of years. When you have built up a decent level of strength you can do either. Or alternate, about 3 months on one, then switch to the other.

      Lateral raises - yes cables are good.

      5 day body part split - chest; back; legs; shoulders; arms. 3 - 6 exercises per workout. But really, don't do this until you've been training regularly at least two years.

    • profile image


      4 months ago

      Thank you very much , you're very helpful , I appreciate it. Just a few more questions , sorry to be a pain. How many cardio sessions would you suggest? Is the over Head Press to be performed with a Barbell or Dumbbells? Would it be OK to perform the Lateral Raises with a cable?

      I know that you probably wouldn't recommend a 5 day body part split , but I fancy giving one a try , for a bit of fun really and to just experiment. Once I've given this 3 day split a good try. I was wondering whether you could give me a workout example for a 5 day split , if possible? I know that it probably won't be optimal , as I'm natural , but I'm curious to try one.

      Many thanks.

    • dwelburn profile imageAUTHOR


      5 months ago from Birmingham, UK

      It's always worthwhile to do some cardio, either after workouts, on off days or at a completely different time of day to your workouts. But don't overdo it; you really don't need much.

      I always suggest warming up with some brisk walking or jumping rope for a few minutes, followed by some dynamic stretching/mobility work. Then do appropriate warm-up sets before your work sets on all exercises.

    • profile image


      5 months ago

      Thank you very much. Actually , I will follow the routine as set out. Would you recommend any cardio with this workout? How would you suggest warming up , prior to the workouts?

      Many thanks.

    • profile image


      5 months ago

      Hi David

      If any alternative exercise are there for face pulls?

    • dwelburn profile imageAUTHOR


      5 months ago from Birmingham, UK

      Thanks Keith. Yes, the hammer curls are more for the brachialis and forearms, although they do of course work the biceps as well. But you can do reverse curls instead if you wish. Or add in some pressdowns to the push workout if you want to give your triceps more work.

    • profile image


      5 months ago

      Hello there.

      This workout looks fantastic. It looks well balanced. But I was just wondering why there's two biceps exercises but only one triceps exercise?


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