“Push pull legs” routines have been among the most popular workout splits for decades.
The primary reasons they’ve stood the test of time are they train all major muscle groups, allow plenty of time for recovery, and are customizable depending on your goals, schedule, and experience level.
They’re easy to understand, too.
So, if you’re looking to gain muscle and strength as quickly as possible and not afraid of a bit of heavy compound weightlifting, then the “PPL” split might be your golden ticket.
In this article, you’ll discover what the push pull legs routine is, its benefits, highly effective PPL example routines for training 2-to-6 days weekly, how to progress on a PPL workout split, and more.
Table of Contents
The push pull legs routine, also known as the push/pull/legs workout split or PPL split, is a weightlifting program involving three kinds of workouts:
- Push workouts
- Pull workouts
- Legs workouts
A push workout trains all the main upper-body muscles that push things away from your torso, such as your chest, shoulders, and triceps. These workouts revolve around “push exercises,” such as the barbell and dumbbell bench press, overhead press, close-grip bench press, and dip.
They may also include isolation exercises for your triceps, like the triceps pushdown, overhead triceps extension, and skullcrusher.
A pull day workout trains all the main body parts involved in pulling things off the floor or toward your torso. These workouts revolve around “pull exercises,” including the deadlift, barbell, dumbbell, and cable row, lat pulldown, pull-up, and chin-up.
Well-designed push pull legs splits will also include isolation exercises for your biceps, like the biceps curl, hammer curl, preacher curl, and incline curl.
And last, a leg day workout trains all the main lower-body muscles, such as the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Unlike push and pull workouts, these workouts generally don’t revolve around specific “movement patterns.”
Instead, they typically contain exercises that train your entire lower body, such as the back and front squat, lunge, leg press, hack squat, Bulgarian split squat, calf raise, hip thrust, Romanian deadlift.
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Push pull legs workout programs are a staple training method among bodybuilders and powerlifters because they emphasize compound exercises.
A compound exercise is any exercise that targets multiple muscle groups at once, such as the squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press.
They should make up the lion’s share of any well-designed weightlifting program because they allow you to train dozens of muscles simultaneously, lift heavy weights safely, and progress regularly, which is generally better for muscle and strength gain.
The only downside is that compound weightlifting is demanding on your body, needing a lot of energy for workouts and a lot of time to recover afterward.
That’s why PPL has you split your upper body workouts into two separate training days and limits the amount of lower body training you do each week (which tends to be more taxing).
Organizing your training program like this allows your muscles plenty of rest days between workouts, so you can perform better over the long term.
Another major benefit of push pull legs training is you can easily customize it to fit your needs and circumstances.
With just three basic workouts to choose from, it’s easy to grasp and modify as needed. For example, the most basic PPL setup looks like this:
- Monday: Push
- Wednesday: Pull
- Friday: Legs
And you could do something like this if you prefer to train just twice per week:
- Monday: Push and Pull
- Thursday: Legs
Or, you could do a six-day routine like this to push yourself to the limit:
- Monday: Push
- Tuesday: Pull
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday: Push
- Friday: Pull
- Saturday: Legs
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Before hitting the gym, the first thing to decide is how many days per week you want to train.
If you have ample time and want to maximize muscle and strength gains, I recommend training 4-to-6 days per week.
If you’re short on time or don’t want to train that often, you can still do great with 2-to-3 weekly workouts.
With that decided, the next step is creating a specific routine.
There are many ways of organizing PPL workouts, but I’m going to keep it simple and give you a few PPL example routines to choose from.
Let’s start with the workouts themselves, and then we’ll see how to combine them into routines.
You can create an infinite variety of push pull legs workout routines, 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.
Now, let’s see how to turn them into weekly workout routines.
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. Still, when circumstances don’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:
This 3-day routine is your basic PPL program, and it’s my 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 gaining size and strength.
Here’s the routine:
Adding a fourth day allows you to work more on whichever major muscle groups are most lagging or you want to develop quickly.
Thus, I’m going to provide two 4-day routines: one for people who want to focus more on their upper bodies and one for focusing more on the lower body.
Here they are:
This is my preferred push pull legs split because it allows you to push the limits of volume and intensity while allowing a couple of 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:
A 6-day PPL split contains about as much volume as most natural weightlifters can manage before they compromise recovery and subsequent progress.
As such, you should only attempt this push pull legs routine if you’re an experienced weightlifter who would benefit from the extra volume, is in a lean bulking phase, recovering well from training (no stress, aches and pains, or sleep issues, for example), and feeling up to the challenge.
If you don’t meet these prerequisites, choose a less demanding push pull legs split from above.
Here’s the 6-day routine:
A common variation of push pull legs is push legs pull (PLP).
This setup gives your upper body more time to recover between workouts but your lower body less time, which means that it’s best suited to people more concerned with upper body development than lower body.
Here are several ways to set it up:
This gives your upper body more recovery time than the typical 3-day push pull legs routine.
Even though push legs pull routines tend to favor upper body recovery, you can still use a few different variations to change its emphasis.
Here are a couple of examples:
These programs are for those who want to push whole-body volume and intensity a little more than you can on the 4-day routine.
If you want to focus most on upper-body development during your next bulk and are willing to work, this is a fantastic routine.
The same rules apply here as earlier: Don’t do this routine if you’re in a calorie deficit or not feeling rested and fresh. Leave it for when you’re well-rested, fed, and ready to train.
Here’s the routine:
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Ask yourself at the end of each set, “If I had to, how many more reps could I have gotten with good form?” If the answer is more than two, increase the weight or reps to make your next set more challenging.
If your push pull legs workout calls for 4-to-6 reps of the deadlift and you get 6 reps for a set, add 10 pounds to your next set.
If you manage 3 or fewer reps with the new weight, reduce the weight by 5 pounds to ensure you stay in the 4-to-6 rep range.
Follow this pattern of trying to add reps or weight to every exercise in every workout.
These supplements can help you optimize your performance and gains while following a push pull legs workout routine:
- Protein powder: Protein powder provides your body with the nutrients needed to build muscle tissue and recover from workouts. For a clean and delicious protein powder, try Whey+ or Casein+.
- Creatine: Creatine boosts muscle and strength gain, improves anaerobic endurance, and reduces muscle damage and soreness from your workouts. For a natural source of creatine that also includes two other ingredients to enhance muscle growth and improve recovery, try Recharge.
- Pre-workout: A high-quality pre-workout enhances energy, mood, and focus, increases strength and endurance, and reduces fatigue. For a top-tier pre-workout containing clinically effective doses of 6 science-backed ingredients, try Pulse with caffeine or without.
(If you’d like even more specific advice about which supplements you should take to reach your health and fitness goals, take the Legion Supplement Finder Quiz, and in less than a minute, you’ll know exactly what supplements are right for you.)
+ Scientific References
- Stokes, Tanner, et al. “Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Exercise Training.” Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 2, 7 Feb. 2018, p. 180, www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/10/2/180/pdf, https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10020180.
- Jd, Branch. “Effect of Creatine Supplementation on Body Composition and Performance: A Meta-Analysis.” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 1 June 2003, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12945830/.
- Eckerson, Joan M., et al. “Effect of Creatine Phosphate Supplementation on Anaerobic Working Capacity and Body Weight after Two and Six Days of Loading in Men and Women.” The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 19, no. 4, 2005, p. 756, https://doi.org/10.1519/r-16924.1.
- Bassit, Reinaldo Abunasser, et al. “Effect of Short-Term Creatine Supplementation on Markers of Skeletal Muscle Damage after Strenuous Contractile Activity.” European Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 108, no. 5, 3 Dec. 2009, pp. 945–955, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-009-1305-1.