Coolcicada PPL is a Push Pull Legs Routine that was originally shared on a bodybuilding.com forum by user Coolcicada before becoming a widely used and popular routine. This article will feature everything you need to know about the program, how it compares to other programs, and how you can customize it.
Coolcicada PPL: What is it?
The Coolcicada’s program is a specific Push/Pull/Legs (PPL) training program that was originally shared and popularized on a bodybuilding.com forum . The unique name, Coolcicada, originates from the forum user who created and shared the program.
Due to the unique name of the forum user, this is often incorrectly written as “Coolcicadas PPL,” “Coolcicad’s PPL,” or “Cool Cicada PPL.” However, searching for all variations will still lead to the same program.
Origins: Bodybuilding Forum
Bodybuilding.com user Coolcicada originally posted this PPL workout routine in 2012, describing it as an intermediate routine. It quickly received traction on the forum and grew in popularity.
In fact, this forum post has received over 2.75 million views and nearly 2,000 comments . Given the popularity of PPL split routines, it is no surprise that a bodybuilding PPL was able to generate such a high level of interest.
Unlike many other training protocols, Coolcicada provides the basic framework for exercises, but does not offer any specific details regarding linear progression, cycles, autoregulation, load management, warm-up exercises, or otherwise.
Forum user Coolcicada has not been active on the bodybuilding.com forum since 2013 and no further information, feedback, or recommendations have been provided .
As originally posted on the forum, here is the routine .
There are a few important observations when reviewing this program. First, it is a very simple program. There are no complex formulas for determining weight, sets, or reps. Also, there is no need to scavenge for accessory accessories or adapt the program on a week-to-week basis.
Another glaringly obvious feature of this program is the high volume. While primary exercises are to be performed with three sets of five reps (not including warm up sets), accessory work each day consists of at least four exercises, usually done for 30+ reps.
With this level of volume built into each workout, this program is heavily focused on hypertrophy. As such, it is certain to reap benefits for lifters that are looking to build size and volume, such as bodybuilders.
Science research supports this notion. A 2019 systematic review of literature on maximizing muscle hypertrophy stated that “higher volumes of effort are warranted for maximizing muscle growth response” .
It is also worth noting that Coolcicada recommends performing the split six days a week. While splits are advantageous to give specific muscle groups more time between workouts, a high volume 6-day split may still elicit enough Central Nervous System (CNS) fatigue to inhibit growth if recovery is insufficient.
CNS Fatigue occurs when the nervous system is unable to communicate with the muscles, therefore limiting performance [aa]. High-intensity lifts and excessive stress accumulation during a workout or over the course of a week may negatively impact subsequent sessions.
Finally, many people may be quick to point out that there is no deadlift. This is often an issue that lifters run into when performing a PPL split, because the deadlift can be used as both a ‘Pull’ or ‘Leg’ exercise.
Fortunately, Coolcicada included a revised version of the program that includes the deadlift in the ‘Pull’ day, as shared by bodybuilding.com forum user Spiderman997 .
- Hack Squat
- Leg Extensions
- Hamstring Curls
- Bench Press
- DB Incline Bench
- DB Seated Press
- DB Side Raises
- Rope Pushdowns
- Weighted Pull-Ups
- Face Pulls
- Chest Supported Rows
- Incline DB Curls
- Hammer Curls
In this revised version, we also observe some differences in exercise selection. While this does not offer a comprehensive program, it does demonstrate the flexibility in following this program.
In response to some common questions throughout the thread regarding progression and adding weight, Coolcicada shared the following strategy for progression: “5lbs/week in compounds. For isolations. Once I am able to do 3 sets of 10 at a weight, I move up. The next workout you may only be able to do 8, but gradually build” .
Again, this allows for flexibility for each lifter to determine what are the appropriate increases in weight to continue to progress.
Although more detailed programming information is lacking, Coolcicada does provide general bodybuilding advice in another forum . It includes some valuable pieces of advice, particularly for the general fitness enthusiast or novice weightlifter.
As evidence of the effectiveness of this program, some Coolcicada’s results have been shared on bodybuilding.com forums and Reddit.
One bodybuilding.com user, kauseemcee, shared how the PPL split helped to better manage fatigue and avoid burning out from constant full body workouts . Additionally, they shared that their “squat and bench has gone up almost 30 pounds each in under 3 weeks!”
Another member on the same forum, GhostOnTheTrack, shared how this program was perfect for their fitness goals . The program was enjoyable, leg workouts were not overly taxing, and they were able to go from 330lbs to about 225lbs in about a year. This is further evidence of the versatility of the program beyond hypertrophy.
As we will address later when comparing with other programs, this is one of the most used and beloved PPL programs by members of the bodybuilding community.
Criticisms and Opportunities for Improvement
Programming & Periodization
As sports science has evolved, it is clear that there is great potential to enhance the Coolcicada’s Push/Pull/Legs routine to create a comprehensive, well-rounded program.
The clear lack of programming and guidance is the primary shortcoming with this program. Every great routine – for powerlifting, bodybuilding, or otherwise – is programmed specifically for the user to reach their intended goals.
Programming is the systematic manipulation of various strength training variables “to optimize training-induced adaptations” . One key programming variable is periodization, which entails “planned manipulations of training variables to maximize fitness adaptations while minimizing the risk of overtraining” .
This program is also lacking a strategic approach to determining the increasing loads. While Coolcicada suggests 5lb weekly increments in the comments section, general rules may not be applicable to everyone.
Therefore, a clearly defined protocol for determining weight and loading (including deload weeks if necessary) could enhance the versatility of this program for various lifters.
As it is, this program requires a high degree of self-awareness to manage loads, periodization, CNS fatigue, and rest. But even experienced lifters may benefit from a higher degree of programming.
Incorporating a percentage-based loading strategy for primary and accessory exercises with corresponding adjustments to volume and loads as weeks progress during a given cycle may be helpful.
One way for lifters to do this is to adopt Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Autoregulation to better manage loading and ensure that the optimal volume is performed for all workouts. Using RPE Autoregulation, a lifter will be able to make adjustments on a set-to-set basis to maximize volume while avoiding overtraining .
Beyond programming, many members of the forum expressed concern over absence of the deadlift and other accessory exercises, specifically targeting the core muscles and forearms.
One option is to incorporate the deadlift into either the Pull or Legs day, depending on your preference. Spiderman997’s version is an example of this adaptation with the deadlift in the Pull day.
As for core and forearm exercises, they can easily be incorporated as desired. Both of these muscle groups will inherently be used in other exercises built into the program, particularly primary lifts.
Additional Resources from Physiqz
For a more comprehensive exploration of the importance of programming variables, it is highly recommended to check out other free resources available from Physiqz.
If you are looking to understand how you can take the Coolcicada routine and build it into your own custom program, check out this article: 10 Powerlifting Programs for Intermediates: CUSTOM Calculator – Build Your Own Intermediate Routine! .
PPL Routines Overview
Before comparing the PPL Coolcicada with other programs, we will do a quick PPL review to understand why and how they may be used.
PPL is a very popular 3-day split that can be repeated twice a week for a 6 day training split. The advantage of a split routine is that by isolating specific and synergistic muscle groups in each workout, you are able to increase recovery time before they are trained again .
However, this does not mean that you require days off. For example, in a Push/Pull/Legs/Push/Pull/Legs/Rest split, after training upper push muscles such as the chest, shoulders, and triceps on Monday, they would be able to rest for two full days before being trained again on Thursday.
Doing so, a split allows for maximum recovery and maximum training frequency. A typical full body workout, if also performed six days a week, would require lower intensity in each training session to properly recover and be a sustainable program.
While the PPL PPL split is common, it can just as easily be a Push/Legs/Pull or Pull/Legs/Push. Likewise, 4-day and 5-day splits can be created to accommodate rest or emphasis specific body parts.
PPL vs Upper Lower
A similar and popular split is the Upper Lower, which alternates between upper body and lower body days. In this sense, both push and pull could be combined into upper body workouts, or, many people like to separate into four separate workouts: Upper push, lower push, upper pull, lower pull (a variation of a Push/Pull split).
What is better? Deciding between Push Pull Legs / Upper Lower may come down to preference and other programming considerations. Total volume is an important factor. Some people may consider performing a 531 PPL to reduce volume and increase intensity while on a 6-day split.
Upper Lower which has significantly more lower body training than a PPL program. As such, it is important to pay close attention to recovery and CNS fatigue, especially with more frequent high intensity exercises such as squatting and deadlifts.
To accommodate the Upper Lower, it may often be performed just four times a week to accommodate more rest, which may be ideal for some people. One way to use these programs could be as follows: 4-day Upper Lower (Powerlifting; strength and power) vs Push Pull Legs routine (Bodybuilding; hypertrophy).
Another popular split for bodybuilders is a ‘bro split’ that isolates a single muscle group (or a few) in a workout, such as chest. The idea is that muscles can be trained with extreme intensity and have maximum recovery time (often a whole week).
The issue is that this demands daily training with very high volume in each session to be sufficient for an entire week. Additionally, most people (especially novice to intermediate lifters) will greatly benefit from increased training frequency that a PPL split provides.
Questions about Implementation
If you are following a P/P/L routine such as the Coolcicada PPL routine, following the provided program and exercise selection is rather straightforward and effective. However, some common questions arise and will be addressed.
Lateral Raises: Push or Pull
First, are lateral raises push or pull?
This is open to interpretation, because the primary muscle worked is the deltoid, which forms part of the shoulder. Given that shoulders form part of the upper push group, it makes sense to include lateral raises with an upper push workout.
Alternatively, there is definitely a pulling component and rear deltoids are frequently used in numerous pulling movements. For this reason, it may be appropriate to use the lateral raise in either workout, depending on personal preference. In the many other programs, it is included in the push workout due to the major activation of the shoulder.
Interestingly, a 2020 study found that muscular activation during lateral raises actually varies depending on the internal or external rotation of the humerus bone (in the upper arm) . Rotating the humerus internally works the posterior deltoid and trapezius more, meanwhile an external rotation favors the anterior and medial deltoid.
Deadlifts: When to Perform?
By now, you will be aware that the Coolcicada’s pull day is comparable to a bicep/back workout without deadlifts. Given that the deadlift is one of the ultimate complex movements for strength and power and critical for powerlifters, many people ask: What day to do deadlifts?
While some people question: is the deadlift push or pull? The better question may be, is the deadlift pull or legs? With a high degree of back and upper body involvement in the upward pulling motion, it could definitely serve as part of the pull day.
Simultaneously, the deadlift serves as a complex lower body movement that targets the gluteus maximus and hamstrings, in addition to numerous other complementary muscles. A 2020 study actually found that the deadlift may result “in similar improvement in lower body maximal strength and jump performance” as the squat .
As with most other considerations, this becomes highly personalized in determining when to deadlift. If used as a pull exercise, this may result in deadlifting and squatting on subsequent days, totalling up to four heavy lifting days per week. For many, this may be too taxing on the CNS nervous system unless volume and intensity is significantly reduced.
For some people, alternating between deadlift and squatting on lower body days may be optimal, allowing for high intensity lifting once per week for each. In practice, this could be accomplished in the following way.
Lower Body A: Heavy deadlift + Light squat variation (front squat, hack squat, etc.)
Lower Body B: Heavy squat + Light deadlift variation (RDL, trap bar squat, etc.)
In the revised Coolcicada plan provided by forum user Spiderman997, the deadlift is included in the pull workout and the lower body workout has been modified.
Wherever you choose to implement your deadlift, be sure that you have mastered your form and technique. This article covers the most important cues in the deadlift setup to drastically enhance your lifting .
Additionally, if you are looking for a greater focus on the deadlift as a key exercise, this article provides all the information you need to find the perfect deadlift workout (bodybuilding, powerlifting, or otherwise) .
Many often wonder about performing squats on push day. While squats are certainly a pushing movement, PPL programs specifically isolate legs to the one day. Therefore, a PPL is actually an Upper Push / Upper Pull / Legs program.
Squats could be performed alongside upper push movements if following a full body Push Pull program that alternates between two workouts. This may be effective in a 4-day split such as Push/Pull/Rest/Push/Pull/Rest/Rest.
If broken into four workouts, this resembles the 4-day Upper Lower split that was previously mentioned: Upper Push / Upper Pull / Lower Push / Lower Pull. In this case, squats would solely be performed on the lower push day.
Finally, an important note about programming for women. Many wonder if there is a Push Pull Legs for women. Again, this really comes down to individual programming.
All PPL programs will still work just as effectively for women as for men. The most important aspect in selecting and implementing a PPL program (or any training program) is to customize and program it according to individual needs and goals.
PPL Routines: Everything You Need To Know
For a comprehensive exploration of the science-backed programming tools, techniques, and keys to creating a custom PPL routine, this article is for you .
PPL powerlifting routines, bodybuilding legs routines, example push and pull workouts with exercise selection are provided for you!
Comparing PPL Programs
After growing on the bodybuilding.com forum, the routine has since garnered attention on other strength and muscle communities such as Reddit.
Scavenging Reddit with searches such as “Reddit fitness PPL,” “Reddit beginner PPL,” “PPL split Reddit,” or “Push Pull Legs split Reddit” will often lead to threads on discussions on similar topics.
For convenience, we compare and contrast some of the most popular programs found in various online fitness communities with the Coolcicada PPL (Reddit, for example).
Often referred to as the Reddit PPL, the Metallicadpa PPL was shared by Reddit user u/Metallicadpa and rose in popularity. As seen here, this program is very similar in terms of exercise selection and volume .
The biggest difference is that the Metallicadpa PPL offers more information to help with programming details, such as being a linear PPL. Specifically, there is a clear linear progression strategy with 5-10lbs added to primary lifts each session.
Additionally, AMRAP (as many reps as possible) sets are included, a strategy seen in many famous programs such as Cody Lefever’s Jacked & Tan 2.0 . As for deadlift, it is included in the pull day, making it very similar to Spiderman997’s version.
Looking at various forums, many users believe that there is no significant benefit to either program, but it really comes down to preference. One Reddit user, asked whether PPL workout (Reddit) or Coolcicada is the better PPL program, notes that “There is no “best” PPL, or routine. There is best for you and your current goals, but goals are always changing” .
Developed by John Sheaffer, Greyskull LP is a linear progression program designed for beginners to build strength. It is performed three times a week with each workout containing two primary lifts (squat, deadlift, bench, or overhead press) and 2-3 accessory exercises .
In each session, the weight will be increased for each primary exercise. This allows for fast and consistent progress in strength and power. Accessory exercises allow for increased hypertrophy and the ability to target additional muscles.
Given the simplicity, emphasis on high intensity, compound movements, large amount of rest, and focus on linear progression, this is very effective for novice powerlifters. However, the volume, frequency, and exercise variety may be limited for bodybuilders or more experienced lifters.
Therefore, when comparing against Greyskull LP, it comes down to experience level and goals. For novice lifters wanting to gain strength, Greyskull may be optimal. But for bodybuilding and more experienced lifters, Coolcicada is likely preferable.
Stronglifts 5×5 is an even more extreme take on strength and power development. Also training just three times per week, two workouts with just three exercises each are alternated. Therefore, the focus is all strength; hypertrophy is not a priority.
The workouts involved are :
- Workout A: Squat, bench press, barbell row
- Workout B: Squat, overhead press, deadlift
While it may not offer the same focus on hypertrophy, high quality gains are definitely possible, as evidenced in this collection of Stronglifts 5×5 results (Reddit) . For a Stronglift 5×5 spreadsheet, two versions are available for download in this forum .
Just like with Greyskull LP, Stronglifts 5×5 is designed for beginner lifts looking to increase strength fast. For hypertrophy and bodybuilding, the Coolcicada PPL or Reddit PPL would be advantageous when comparing Stronglifts 5×5 vs PPL.
PHUL & PHAT
Two other programs also serve as great options, especially for lifters that are looking for a balance between the aesthetics of a PPL program and the raw strength of a Stronglifts of Greyskull.
Power Hypertrophy Upper Lower (PHUL) and Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training (PHAT) may be just what is needed [27, 28]. Both of these programs separate training in power sessions and hypertrophy sessions, allowing the lifter to reap the benefits of both worlds: strength and size.
PHUL is a 4-day split, with two power days (upper and lower), a rest day, two hypertrophy days (upper and lower), and then two rest days.
The PHAT routine (Reddit) is a 5-day split, with two power days (upper and lower), a rest day, three hypertrophy days (back/shoulder, lower body, chest/arms), and a rest day .
When comparing PPL vs PHUL, it is evident that PPL will offer higher total training volume and opportunity for size and muscle gain. However, with power sessions and additional rest, PHUL would likely be better suited for sustainable strength and power increases.
Meanwhile, when comparing PHAT vs PPL, we come to a similar conclusion, with the exception that the opportunities for hypertrophy in a PHAT program would more closely resemble those in the PPL.
As for PHUL vs PHAT, the biggest difference is total volume. With an extra training day and more focus on hypertrophy, the PHAT program features higher volume. Both programs will target each muscle two times per week, the same as a PPL.
Coolcicada’s routine is a 6-day training routine that focuses on helping intermediate lifters maximize hypertrophy and muscular gains. Upon further review, this program, which also features a modification with deadlifts, is very comparable to the widely recognized Reddit PPL (Metallicadpa PPL).
While the program may be lacking in programming specificity, it can easily be customized to meet a variety of training objectives. But even so, other programs may be more suitable for lifters with varying goals and experience.
Overall, the Coolcicada PPL is a very effective program that will continue to help a lot of lifters create more gains in the gym.
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