Push Pull Legs: Routine Builder App | Create YOUR Customized PPL Workout!

26 Powerlifting and Powerbuilding Programs | FREE Downloads | Written by Jon Chambers | Updated on 12 June 2022

A meme with a door saying don't push, pull only

The Push Pull Legs (PPL) workout split routine is a highly effective training protocol used successfully by powerlifters ranging from beginner to professional. This article provides a comprehensive overview of the benefits of implementing a PPL routine and how you can create a customized push pull leg split tailored to your goals.

What Does PPL Mean?

PPL is simply an abbreviation for “push,” “pull,” and “legs” (sometimes called push pull workouts or push/pull/legs) because it combines an upper body and lower body program that is designed to deliver maximum results.

Split Push Pull Legs Workout Routine vs Full Body Workout

To begin, what is the difference between a split routine and a full body workout routine?

A full body workout incorporates movements and exercises that utilize the entire body. For example, a full body workout could incorporate some variations of a chest press, pull up, and squat. By doing this, many muscle groups in the body are engaged.

Alternatively, a split workout routine isolates a specific muscle group to train, while not engaging the other muscle groups [1]. A common example is the classic chest, shoulders, and triceps workout, commonly referred to as an “Upper Push Workout,” because of the ‘push muscles’ used. In this workout, only exercises that engage these muscles are completed.

Whether or not a split routine or a full body workout is optimal is debatable. Most research has concluded that the hormonal and body composition benefits obtained each from routine are very comparable, and that the ultimate driver of growth may be training volume, not training programming [2, 3].

However, by training differently, a split routine offers the ability to create a specific program geared toward gaining specific goals. For instance, research suggests that a split routine may be optimal for stimulating muscle growth, especially if the goal is to develop very specific muscles [2].

Likewise, the flexibility provided by split training is highly desirable to many lifters because it enables targeted training, based on your specific strengths, weaknesses, and goals. By understanding how to customize a split routine, you can create a training program with the best pull workout that will optimize your results.

A Push Pull Workout Routine Split, Tailored To Your Goals

One of the great things about a split routine is that you can completely customize it to align with not only your goals, but also your availability.

Are you busy with your career, family, school, or otherwise, and only have two days each week to workout? No problem. Alternatively, if you have lots of time and want to be in the gym six days a week, you can do that too.

Are you training as a competitive powerlifter? A split routine can help maximize your power in the most critical lifts. But, it can be just as effective for the casual bodybuilder looking to fine tune their physique.

Are you trying to develop size or strength? Both can be effectively accomplished by implementing a customized split routine.

Another consideration is volume. It is very common to implement some form of periodization or conjugate training in powerlifting and bodybuilding, and split routines offer the flexibility to incorporate both.

This flexibility is one of the reasons that a split routine has stood the test of time. This article explains exactly how to build the perfect PPL routine to meet your goals and strengths, as well as  your weaknesses and constraints.

Split Variations (Push and Pull Workouts: The Best Workout Split for Mass)

First, let’s look at the various variations and options the push/pull offers.

Workout Timing

The first key variable to consider is the frequency and timing of your lifts. It is not uncommon to see weekly training splits as short as two days or as long as six days. Naturally, the most common splits are somewhere in the middle, ranging from three to five days.

There are two important considerations when designing the frequency of your training sessions:

  1. What muscle groups are you splitting?
  2. How often can you workout?
  3. How often should you workout?

What muscle groups are you splitting?

The muscle groups you’re splitting will be influenced by the amount of days that you are able to workout, or by your areas of priority. The most common split, as addressed in this workout, consists of three primary groups: upper body push, upper body pull, and lower body.

However, people will often combine upper push and upper pull into a single upper body workout. Similarly, some people will split their lower body workout into a lower body push and lower body pull exercises.

Taking it a step further, many bodybuilders practice a restricted form of split training by isolating just one or two muscles in a specific workout. Again, this largely comes down to your goals and preferences.

How often can you workout?

Your workout availability is the most important constraint. If your life does not allow the time, flexibility, or energy to commit to training six days a week, it doesn’t make sense to try to perform a six day split. But, if you have only a few days a week, don’t let it deter you, many people make progress with their lifting using only two to three days per week.

How often should you workout?

Understanding how often you should workout depends on many factors. Of course, if permissible, more volume is always recommended because there is a large body of evidence that relates strength and size increases directly to total volume of training[4, 5]. By working out more often, you will increase your total volume and be able to make progress faster.

However, overtraining will hinder performance and results. The objective is to find the sweet spot known as supercompensation.

When you exercise, the induced stress load generates a fatigue response. This can take the form of physical microtears to muscles or central nervous system (CNS) fatigue. In response, the body undergoes a natural recovery process to repair, rebuild, and grow stronger.

An amazing point to consider is that with the right amount of exercise stimulus and sufficient recovery, the body’s recovery actually overcompensates, creating a state of improved strength and performance, known as supercompensation.

See Figure 1 [6]. In red, you will see the fatigue generated by the workout, which lowers the relative level of fitness and/or muscle performance. In blue, the body recovers from that stimulus back to the original baseline. Finally, in green, the recovery continues, taking the relative fitness level beyond the original baseline.

Figure 1. Timing workouts to optimize supercompensation for muscle growth [6].

The objective is to time your workouts at the peak of the supercompensation phase, which will allow you, theoretically, to elevate your baseline with each workout.

Key Takeaway: If you train more often than your body can recover from, you won’t see progress and have essentially wasted your time.

Another consideration is the intensity and volume of a workout. Excessive training may prevent you from fully recovering, meanwhile insufficient intensity may not trigger enough of a response to realize gains.

In Figure 2, we see that the state of supercompensation does not last indefinitely [7]. If there is too much time allocated to recovery, fitness levels will eventually return to their baseline.

A graph showing that timing and intensity influence CNS response.

Figure 2. Both timing and intensity influence the physiological response to exercise.

But in addition to the necessity of timing your workouts, you must also train with the right intensity. Overtraining and undertraining may also limit your ability to make progress towards your goals.

If this entire concept of supercompensation is confusing, watch this excellent two-minute video with some visuals that illustrate the importance of training with the optimal intensity and timing [8].

Bottom line: There are plenty of aspects to consider to optimize your personal training program, whether that involves increasing lift strength or developing a ppl bodybuilding routine, and by structuring your split routine correctly, you can achieve maximum gains.

Exercise Selection Methodology

Not all exercises are equal, but that’s a good thing. Different exercises can be tailored to different goals. For example, competitive powerlifters and competitive bodybuilders have different objectives. While a powerlifter will be focused on optimizing power and strength, particularly in the primary lifts (bench, squat, and deadlift), a bodybuilder will be focused on optimizing size and physique.

Accordingly, a powerlifter may look to incorporate more compound movements whereas a bodybuilder may dedicate more time to isolation work to fully develop very specific muscle groups. Either way, there is not a single, best approach to developing a push pull legs workout plan or split routine. But rather, the best split (and push pull legs routine) is the one that helps you achieve your goals.

There are a couple key differences when considering high-power compound movements such as squats and/or isolation exercises, such as a preacher curl:

Physiological Response to High-Power Resistance Training

Research shows that the hormonal response to exercise, including the secretion of testosterone, growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), and cortisol, correlates with the total volume of muscle recruitment [4]. Basically, recruit larger muscles and your hormonal response will be greater.

This is why Don Saladino, the celebrity trainer of Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman, claims that the most important thing to do when building a superhero physique is to have legs that are ‘yolked’ [9]. For more from Don, check out this awesome podcast interview with WHOOP. The quads and glutes, being the largest muscles in the body, will recruit a greater response than bicep curls (when controlling for volume and total work).

Consequently, higher intensity training sessions elicit greater CNS fatigue, an important consideration for highly competitive lifters. In fact, a study found maximum effort training creates CNS fatigue that may last up to 72 hours [10].

Just to clarify, CNS fatigue occurs when the nervous system is unable to optimally send signals to the neuromuscular junction, therefore hindering performance [11]. While the mechanisms of CNS are still being researched and disputed, most hypotheses focus on the impact of high-intensity training on critical neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine [12].

Key takeaway: If you’re performing high-volume, high-intensity powerlifting, it is very important to allocate sufficient time to fully recover.

Muscle Hypertrophy in Multi-joint and Single-joint Exercises

If your objective is building size and muscle volume, which is often a priority for bodybuilders, isolation training targets specific muscles.

Research shows that muscle hypertrophy, the growth of muscle cells, is very comparable for Multi-joint (MJ) and Single-joint (SJ) movements [13]. However, the benefit of isolation training rather than high-power, compound movements, is that it does not elicit as much CNS fatigue.

Therefore, while training for muscle volume and aesthetics, it may be beneficial to perform less-demanding SJ movements because the recovery time post-workout will be reduced. Shorter recovery time allows for a greater volume and frequency of training, and therefore a greater rate of muscle growth. it’s a game of frequency vs volume to achieve optimal results. This flexibility is one of the benefits of push pull legs hypertrophy.

Of course, there are still drawbacks. If training for strength, power, or to compete as a powerlifter, it is likely better to incorporate MJ movements. Multiple studies have shown that MJ movements result in more strength acquisition and performance than SJ exercises [14, 15].

Periodization Models: What is Periodization

Periodization has become a prominent component in designing training programs for powerlifters, bodybuilders, and athletes across various sports. Essentially, periodization is the intentional manipulation of training variables in a cyclical fashion to optimize performance at specific times [16]. The variables that can be adjusted include:

  • Volume
  • Intensity
  • Exercise selection

The timing of cycles are important for powerlifters to optimize their peak strength and power at the time of a competition, and likewise for bodybuilders to optimize their physique. Planned around these competitions, periodization models are often categorized as macrocycles (a year), mesocycles (a month), and microcycles (a week) [16].

Figure 3 depicts how periodization may be implemented in preparation of a major competition [17].

A graph that depicts how periodization may be implemented in preparation of a major competition

Figure 3. Manipulation of volume and intensity to optimize performance during a competition [17].

Benefits of Periodization

Research has shown that the body has improved strength adaptations when training stimulus is varied. Basically, your body has an innate ability to adapt to its external environment, and training is no different. If you repeat identical training for extended periods of time, results will begin to stagnate because your body adapts.

In fact, one 2018 study found that after six weeks of training, a non-periodized group only increased strength by 1.5% in the following six weeks (weeks 6-12) [18]. On the other hand, two different groups using periodization techniques saw increases in strength of 9.4% and 6.9% during the same period, which demonstrates the potential long-term benefits of using a periodization training method.

Types of Periodization

Although periodization is highly customizable, there are three main types of periodization:

  • Linear Periodization (LP)
  • Non-linear Periodization (NP)
  • Conjugate Method.

Note that Undulating Periodization (UP) is a very popular form of NP.

LP is known for its gradual increase in training intensity over a period of time. To compensate for the increase in intensity, there is a proportionate gradual decrease in training volume [16]. So to start, an individual will train with high volume and low weight, and over time, they will work towards low volume and high intensity, increased weight exercise.

NP implements frequent variations to volume, load, and intensity, promoting a greater degree of neuromuscular adaptation to the workouts [19]. These training variations may occur at variable frequencies, ranging from daily to biweekly [16].

If you’re trying to determine if LP or NP is best, the evidence is largely inconclusive, because both offer very similar benefits to strength, power, size, and body composition [16, 19]. However, research clearly supports the notion that periodization is superior to non-periodization.

The final type of periodization is the Conjugate Method, which was made famous by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell [20]. At its core, the Conjugate Method features three separate components: maximal effort method, dynamic effort method, and repetition method [21]. Essentially, the intention is to alternate between sessions of maximum strength, maximum speed, and then maximum volume (at a submaximal weight).

As with any other periodization technique, this can be adapted to the athlete, but the general idea is to create variability to stimulate maximize hormonal and neuromuscular adaptation to the workouts, and therefore optimize strength and performance.

How Is Linear Progression Different Than Periodization?

Periodization, as explained above, involves a program strategy, but linear progression refers to specific weight increases.

In fact, linear progression is a feature included in all sorts of workout routines, but especially in beginner programs, because you’re able to take advantage of the fast recovery that characterizes beginner lifters. It involves the increased ‘progression’ of adding weight, consistently, over a certain period of time, but only weight, not reps.

Push Pull Legs Workout: Overview

Now that you know all about the variations of pull push workout and split routines, we can focus on the Push Pull Legs (PPL) routine.

The PPL routine has been a highly effective and reliable split used successfully by powerlifters and bodybuilders ranging from beginner to professional. This is because it effectively groups synergistic muscles and is easily adaptable to a variety of constraints and performance goals.

Synergistic Muscles

Synergistic muscles are muscles that work together to complete certain movements. For example, lifting a glass to drink requires multiple, synergistic muscles in the biceps. In this case, both the brachii and brachialis muscles must be activated to complete the motion [22].

Now, think about doing a push up. Although push-ups have a reputation as a chest exercise, the shoulders and triceps must also be engaged. In many movements, muscles in the chest, shoulders, and triceps are synergistic. A few other examples include the incline bench press and dips.

The fundamental purpose with a split is to enable sufficient recovery time between workouts so that muscles can fully recover and reach the state of supercompensation. To do this, it is imperative to work all synergistic muscles together in a single workout so that they are able to completely rest on the other days (training and rest).

Since the overlap of synergistic muscles is unavoidable, it actually makes sense to group your workouts into the PPL format.

PPL Muscle Groups

PPL lifting is such an effective workout because it categorizes synergistic muscles into three main groups: upper body push, upper body pull, and legs.

Upper body push exercises utilize muscles in the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Think of your standard upper body push exercises – bench press, shoulder raise, triceps extensions, etc. – these pushing motions build off the same core movements and muscle groups.

Upper body pull exercises utilize muscles in the biceps, back, and trapezius (‘traps’). Whether doing rows, pull ups, chin ups, or shrugs, these pulling motions activate the same group of synergistic muscles.

Finally, legs include the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Now, it is important to note that the hamstring (a lower body pull movement) opposes the glutes and quads (lower body push movements), so this split does not exclusively utilize synergistic muscles. For this reason, some people choose to separate legs into lower push and lower pull.

Reddit PPL (Push Pull Legs Reddit)

Because we all like to share push pull legs results and strategies, Reddit is a good place to check out some variations of the PPL routine. Gathering information from multiple sources helps improve your results and there are plenty of PPL Reddit tips included, you’ll just need to use common sense for making adaptations.

Benefits of a (Push Pull Split) PPL Split

Researchers agree that the PPL split is so effective because it can accommodate the optimal training frequency, training intensity, exercise methodology, and periodization strategy based on your constraints and your goals.

By splitting your training, you are able to maximize the volume and intensity in your workouts, as well as total muscle recruitment and overall load. As a result, this will induce a larger hormonal and neuromuscular response to the training stimuli, which is critical to making progress in size, strength, and power.

Question: How long should you wait between recovery time?

Depending on your training frequency, you may have anywhere from 48 hours to six days of time to recover after a lift, ensuring that your body overcomes CNS fatigue, is able to repair muscular damage, and prepare you to perform at the optimum level for your next workout.

However, the awesome thing is that because you are not straining yourself with full body workouts everyday, you can train more consistently with higher intensity as each muscle group will enter a workout rested.

The importance of rest cannot be overstated. A 2015 article evaluating the effect of resistance training frequency determined that two times per week is the optimal frequency to maximize hypertrophy [23]. Of course, this study evaluated hypertrophy, and not peak power. Moreover, there are many variables that will impact your ability to fully recover, including sleep, nutrition, stress, work, and other commitments.

Sample Push Pull Legs Split Workout

There are countless ways to split your PPL routine. To simplify and provide a broad overview, we will share some common split options ranging from two days to six days.

To maximize training results by incorporating some form of periodization, it is important to perform different workouts that focus on different muscles at varying volumes and intensities. For the sake of simplicity, these PPL splits will assume that you have two workouts for each muscle group. Sample PPL workout variations are provided in the next section.

Figure 4 breaks down common PPL splits by the number of training days and primary focus area (if applicable).

PPL SplitPrimary FocusMondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturday
2-dayn/aPush 1, Pull 1Lower
3-dayn/aPush 1Pull 1Lower
4-dayUpper PushPush 1Pull 1LowerPush 2
4-dayUpper PullPull 1Push 1LowerPull 2
4-dayLowerPush 1LowerPull 1Lower
5-dayUpperPush 1Pull 1LowerPush 2Pull 2
5-dayLower / Upper PushLowerPush 1Pull 1LowerPush 2
5-dayLower / Upper PullLowerPull 1Push 1LowerPull 2
6-dayn/aPush 1Pull 1LowerPush 2Pull 2Lower

Figure 4. Sample workout schedule for common PPL splits.

An important note about selecting the appropriate split: the more days that you are training, the more important it is that you are properly rested and fed.

Although there are many people who train seven days a week, it is not recommended for PPL splits. Rather, a 6-day split with two workouts in each group is recommended as the maximum training frequency for natural bodybuilders and powerlifters.

If you find that you are able to train seven days a week without recovery issues, it is likely an indication that your training intensity and volume are insufficient. Remember, adequate intensity is required to create a state of supercompensation.

Furthermore, while higher frequency is ideal for increasing size and strength, recovery typically requires a caloric surplus in addition to optimal sleep (quality and quantity).

Sample PPL Workout: Pull Day Workout Exercises and Push Workout

Finally, after laying the framework, we can start discussing some common PPL workouts. Note that this push and pull workout can be manipulated as necessary to meet your custom goals. Included in Figures 5-9 are two upper push workouts, two upper pull workouts, and one lower workout.

Note that the deadlift may be used for upper pull day workouts or lower body lifts, depending on your specific needs.

Upper Push 1
ExerciseSets*Reps% 1RM
Flat BB Bench Press34-685%
Standing BB Military Press2%4-685%
DB Lateral Raises27-875%
Core / Ab Exercise28-1265%
*Not including warm-up sets

Figure 5. Sample upper body push workout (push workout exercises).

Upper Pull 1
ExerciseSets*Reps% 1RM
BB Deadlift34-685%
BB Bent-Over Row34-685%
Chin Up**34-6
1-Arm DB Row28-1285%
*Not including warm-up sets

Figure 6. Sample upper pull workout.

Lower Body
ExerciseSets*Reps% 1RM
BB Back Squat34-685%
BB Front Squat34-685%
Bulgarian Split Squat34-685%
Calf Raise38-1285%
*Not including warm-up sets

Figure 7. Sample lower body push exercises.

Upper Push 2
ExerciseSets*Reps% 1RM
Incline Bb Bench Press34-685%
Seated DB Military Press24-685%
DB Rear Lateral Raise27-875%
Core / Ab Exercise28-1265%
*Not including warm-up sets

Figure 8. Variation of an upper push workout.

Upper Pull 2
ExerciseSets*Reps% 1RM
BB Bent-Over Row34-685%
Wide Grip Pull-Ups**34-6
1-Arm DB Row37-875%
Bicep Curls28-1265%
*Not including warm-up sets

Figure 9. Variation of an upper pull workout.

Executing PPL Workouts

Since these sets, reps, and weight ranges are guidelines, it is important to use discretion and pay attention to how your body feels and tailor the program to your goals. For example, when comparing push pull legs vs upper lower, you may need to alter your exercises based on your capabilities or limitations to establish the best push pull workouts or the best bodybuilding split.

PPL Program: Additional Guidelines

When developing a ppl programming method and ppl routines, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Prioritize Rest During Push Workouts

For sets with 4-6 reps (~85% of 1RM), it is recommended to rest for 3-5 minutes in between sets. This provides the immediate recovery needed to perform each set with maximum intensity. Studies have shown that this rest period can help to maintain the quantity of reps completed over multiple sets and may help facilitate increases in absolute strength [24].

If six reps are too easy, increase weight until you are in the 4-6 rep range with your push/pull workout. Likewise, if you cannot complete four reps, decrease the weight. To achieve the best push workout, you’ll need to pay attention to your ability as it increases.

For sets with more than seven reps, you can reduce the rest time if desired. However, it is still recommended to rest up to three minutes.

How to Progress with your Push Workout Routine with Push Day Exercises

As introduced with the concept of periodization, it is necessary to increase strength to continue to increase muscle mass. By applying periodization techniques to your push workout for mass, you can continually increase your load, capitalize on supercompensation, and progress as a powerlifter, bodybuilder, or fitness enthusiast.

The goal should be increased strength for your push day workout routine, not necessarily simply size. Note that the set and rep ranges may stay the same, but because your 1RM is increasing, the actual weight that is used will gradually increase.


The goal to increase your 1RM also depends on scheduled rest periods, aka cyclical deloads. Common practice is to dedicate a complete week to a restoration phase every 4-6 weeks [18]. In this week, a significant reduction in intensity or volume of your leg push pull (or even a complete stop) is necessary to allow the body to fully recover from the training that has accumulated in the weeks prior.

PPL Routine Exercises

In this section, we’ll cover some of the most common and effective exercises that you can use to build your PPL routine (push pull prgram). For each split, exercises will be categorized as primary, secondary, or supplementary exercises. This will be useful later when designing your custom PPL split.

Push Day: Upper Push Exercises (Push Workouts)

Categorized List of Upper Push Exercises
ExerciseCategoryPrimary FocusSecondary Focus
Barbell Flat Bench PressPrimaryChestTriceps
Barbell Incline Bench PressPrimaryChestShoulders
Barbell Decline Bench Press
Barbell Standing Military Press
Dumbbell Standing Military Press Primary
Dumbbell Flat Bench PressSecondaryChestTriceps
Dumbbell Incline Bench Press
Dumbbell Decline Bench Press
Dumbbell Seated Shoulder Press Secondary
Barbell Seated Shoulder Press
Dumbbell Lateral RaisesSecondaryShoulders
Triceps ExtensionsSecondaryTriceps
Triceps PushdownsSecondaryTriceps
Wide Push-UpsSupplementaryChestTriceps
Narrow Push-UpsSupplementaryTricepsChest
DipsSupplementaryTricepsChest / Shoulders

Figure 10. A reference list of upper push exercises and their corresponding target muscles.

In designing a workout, it is important to focus your workout around compound movements that recruit as much muscle engagement as possible so that you can optimize the hormonal and neuromuscular adaptations, to maximize gains.

  • For upper push workouts, the greatest muscle concentration is in the pectoralis muscles (in the chest).

Accordingly, the exercises with the most return on your investment are bench press variations. Studies on the bench press have found clear relationships between maximum strength and muscle size in the pectoralis [25]. Additionally, it has been shown that muscle hypertrophy is significantly higher in the chest than triceps when bench press training [26].

Also, by alternating between flat, incline, and decline positions, it appears that there is value in performing all of these variations. Not only does this promote variety (a component of periodization), but it helps to target different muscles.

Two separate studies both concluded that optimal chest strength and size is obtained by combining bench press variations to optimize activation of the unique musculature in the chest [27, 28]. Meanwhile, another study found that at certain time points, muscular activation was maximized at an incline of  30° or 45°, indicating that incline lifts offer significant value [29]. If you’re doing an at home push workout, make sure to adhere to standard safety protocols, like having a spotter nearby.

Grip plays an important role as well. For more of an emphasis on the triceps, a narrower hand placement can significantly influence the muscles engaged. (Check out other powerbuilding workout plans to learn more.)

One other interesting consideration is stability. For example, a standing military press compared to a seated one or a barbell bench press versus a dumbbell bench press. As you would expect, seated exercises have more stability than standing exercises and the barbell offers more stability than dumbbells.

Incidentally, a 2013 study evaluated neuromuscular activity differences when standing and using dumbbells. The results found that neuromuscular activity is maximized when exercises are more ‘unstable.’

Upper Pull Exercises: (Pull Day) Pull Workout Routine

Figure 11 provides a categorized list of upper pull day exercises and identifies the primary and secondary muscle(s) targeted.

Categorized List of Upper Pull Exercises
ExerciseCategoryPrimary Focus
Secondary Focus
Barbell Bent-Over RowPrimaryBackBiceps
Wide Grip Pull-UpsPrimaryBackBiceps
Chin UpsPrimaryBicepsBack
Lat PulldownsPrimaryBackBiceps
Barbell ShrugsSecondaryTrapeziusBack
Barbell CurlsSecondaryBiceps
Dumbbell Hammer CurlsSecondaryBiceps
Seated RowsSecondaryBackBiceps
Dumbbell 1-Arm RowSecondaryBackBiceps
Inverted RowSecondaryBackBiceps
Face PullsSupplementaryBackTrapezius

Figure 11. A reference list of upper pull exercises and their corresponding target muscles.

The back contains a variety of different muscles that can be activated in a number of ways.

In a review of scientific literature, it is widely reported that the barbell bent-over row is the most effective exercise for engaging the largest muscles in an upper pull workout. In research done evaluating the popular exercises with overall engagement of the back muscles, one study concluded that the bent over row is optimal by eliciting the greatest activation in three of five back muscles, and ranking second for the other two muscles [31].

However, as a caution, a separate study concluded that the standing bent-over row induces a larger spine load and spine stiffness compared to other rowing variations [32]. For achieving the largest muscle activation, variations such as an inverted row can be substituted to decrease stress on the lower back.

To engage the latissimus dorsi (‘lats’), the recommended exercises are pull ups and chin ups. Pull ups, similar to Lat pulldowns, are particularly great at targeting the lats. Chin ups will still activate the lats, however they have more of a focus on the biceps.

Again, as with most training recommendations, incorporating a variety into your PPL split can help to optimize strength and size development, evenly distributed throughout the body.

Lower Body + Core Exercises: Leg Day Routine
Figure 12 provides a categorized list of lower body exercises and identifies the primary and secondary muscle(s) targeted.

Categorized List of Lower Body + Core Exercises
ExerciseCategoryPrimary FocusSecondary Focus
Barbell Back SquatPrimaryQuadricepsGlutes
Barbell Front SquatPrimaryQuadricepsGlutes
Barbell DeadliftPrimaryHamstringsGlutes
Barbell Romanian DeadliftPrimaryHamstringsGlutes
Leg PressPrimaryQuadricepsGlutes
Barbell Hip ThrustPrimaryGlutes
Barbell Front LungeSecondaryQuadricepsGlutes
Barbell Reverse LungeSecondaryQuadricepsGlutes
Dumbbell Front LungeSecondaryQuadricepsGlutes
Dumbbell Reverse LungeSecondaryQuadricepsGlutes
Barbell Step-UpsSecondaryQuadricepsGlutes
Dumbbell Step-UpsSecondaryQuadricepsGlutes
Dumbbell Goblet SquatSecondaryQuadricepsGlutes
Calf RaiseSecondaryCalves
Glute Ham RaiseSecondaryHamstringsGlutes
Leg ExtensionSupplementaryQuadriceps
Leg CurlsSupplementaryHamstrings
Bodyweight Single Leg SquatSupplementaryQuadricepsGlutes
Bodyweight Banded SquatsSupplementaryQuadricepsGlutes
Hanging Leg RaisesSupplementaryCore

Figure 12. A reference list of lower body exercises and their corresponding target muscles.

It has long-been understood that the barbell squat is among the most effective exercises for gaining strength, size, and power. Placing significant stress onto the largest muscles in the body – particularly the quadriceps and the glutes – squatting allows for a high volume of weight to optimize neuromuscular adaptation and hormonal responses.

The same can be said for the barbell deadlift. Due to the intensity of heavy squatting and deadlifting, most PPL lower body workouts will be built around either of these two primary movements with supplementary exercises to target specific muscle groups.

Variations in squatting, lunges, plyometric movements, and other exercises often place a heavy emphasis on the quadriceps. To balance out and focus more specifically on training glutes or hamstrings, other exercises can be highly effective.

A study in 2014 determined that the two most effective exercises for optimizing hamstring activity are the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) and glute-ham raise [33]. Meanwhile, to optimize glutes, a 2015 study found that the barbell hip thrust has a larger activation of the glutes than doing a back squat [34].

When filling in the other exercises, there are a lot of options that can be adapted to create a flexible and optimized PPL split!

Create Your Customized PPL Routine!

Using the science-backed information on the benefits of implementing a PPL split and the variations to a split, this section will guide you through the process of customizing your own PPL split.

Key Considerations

To properly plan out a customized PPL routine, it is necessary to have a clear idea of your constraints, goals, strengths, and weaknesses. Ask yourself:

  1. How many days of the week are you able to train?
  2. What are you training for? (Powerlifting or Bodybuilding? Size, power or strength?)
  3. What specific exercises and/or muscles do you want to focus on?
  4. What are your 1RMs for different exercises?

Once you have clearly defined answers to these questions, it is easy to begin planning your customized PPL split.

Training Frequency

There is no point in planning a 6-day split if you can only get into the gym three times a week. Therefore, the most important question to ask yourself is how often you can train. This will be your limiting factor.

Keep in mind that the more you can train, the easier it will be to increase strength and size. This is because strength and size are directly correlated to the total volume performed.

Training Goals

Training as a powerlifter and training as a bodybuilder require different focus areas. Powerlifters will want to center their lifts around large, compound movements, performed with high intensity. This is the optimal approach to maximizing strength and peak power. Accordingly, this may require a greater emphasis on lower body training and therefore more rest may be required to accommodate.

Bodybuilders need to carefully consider their strengths and weaknesses, and address whether or not certain muscle groups are a priority. Furthermore, with the objective of increasing muscle size, the training objective is to maximize hypertrophy, which requires greater volume. This may result in a PPL split with less time allocated to compound lifts, enabling for quicker recoveries and more muscle groups trained.

Note: Generally speaking, lower rep ranges at higher weights will facilitate greater increases in peak power (powerlifting) while higher rep ranges at lower weights will facilitate greater muscular hypertrophy (bodybuilding). Either way, this program is able to adapt for an advanced ppl routine.

However, it is very possible that your goals are to improve your fitness and physique, without any clear objectives or competitions on the horizon. Depending on if you are a novice, intermediate, or advanced lifter, there are many ways you can approach your PPL split. To solely maintain current stature or to begin training as a novice, 2-day or 3-day PPL splits may be more than enough to reach your goals. For more experienced lifters, you may consider more intense splits catered to your needs.

Targeted Muscles

Using the previously referenced figures, you can hand-select exercises to build a program that focuses on the most important muscles for you. Perhaps you are more focused on developing your hamstrings and glutes than your quad? If that’s the case, then it’s important to structure your lower body workouts around exercises that prioritize these muscles.

Current Strength/Power Profile

To progress, it is important to use the optimal weight to stress but not overwhelm the body. When first building a PPL split and then incorporating periodization models to enhance long-term progress, a baseline is necessary.

This baseline is determined from current 1RMs. Using the chart in Figure 13, approximate rep ranges can be determined based on a 1RM to ensure that consistent effort cannot be maintained as strength and power increase [18].

3-Step Process: Finding The Best Workout Split for your PPL Program

Follow these three steps to create your custom PPL workout routine. Ultimately, the best ppl routine for you, is one that is crafted around your specific goals.

Step1. Select a PPL Split

Use your training availability and an honest assessment of your goals (and commitment level) to determine how many days a week you want to workout for your ppl program, then select which PPL workouts (push pull split workout and push pull exercises) you want to perform.

2 and 3 Day Workout Split (3 Day Push Pull Workout) 

If your split is 2-days, it is recommended to do one full upper body workout and one lower body workout. For a push pull legs 3-day split, it is recommended to do one workout for each major group: upper push, upper pull, and lower body for your 3 day ppl.

4 and 5 Day Workout Routine: 4 and 5 Day Split

If your split is four days or five days, you must decide which muscle groups you want to prioritize.

4 Day Push Pull Workout Routine

For push pull legs 4-day splits, you can choose one muscle group to perform a second time. This provides an opportunity to incorporate other exercises for variety.

Best 5 Day Split

For 5-day splits, you can select two groups that you want to prioritize by training twice each week. Another advantage of the 5 day push pull workout is the ability to target specific muscles groups.

Example: If you want to train five days a week with a primary focus on upper push and a secondary focus on lower body, your split might look like this:

5-Day PPL Split: Focus Upper Push and Lower Body
Push1LowerPull 1Push 2Lower 2

Figure 14. Sample 5-day split designed to focus on upper lower push pull legs.

6 Day Workout Split: Push Pull Legs 6 Day Split

For your 6-day split workout, it is recommended to train each muscle group twice, performing two different workouts for a 6 day push pull legs program.The PPL 6 day split gives you more options with different exercises to maximize gains. You can easily tailor 6 day bodybuilding splits or 6 day workout splits for strength training with ease.

Step 2. Select Your Exercises–How Many Exercises per Muscle Group?

To select your exercises, you will need to know what specific muscles you want to primarily target, and if your goals are to increase power, strength, or size.

For each training method, there are different recommended rep ranges [18]:

  • Power: 1-5 reps
  • Strength: 2-8 reps
  • Size: 8-15 reps

For each workout, it is recommended to choose one primary exercise, two secondary exercises, and then an additional secondary or supplementary exercise. Of course, more or fewer exercises can be used, but this will form a solid foundation for any workout.

It is also recommended to perform primary exercises with lower reps to optimize strength and power. Secondary and supplementary exercises can be effectively used in larger rep ranges to further increase volume, and target size and strength in specific muscles groups.

Example: Let’s say that you want to create an upper push workout focused on power generation with primary muscles targeted being your shoulders and triceps. Let’s also assume that you have the following 1RMs.

  • Standing barbell military press: 150lbs
  • Incline dumbbell chest press: 70lbs (each)
  • Dumbbell lateral raise: 50lbs (each)
  • Triceps extension: 70lbs

Using these arbitrary numbers, your workout might look like:

Upper Push Workout: Focus on Shoulders and Power
ExerciseSets*RepsWeight (lbs)1RM (lbs)% 1RM
Standing BB Military Press34-612515085%
Incline DB Chest Press34-6607085%
DB Lateral Raises27-837.55075%
Tricep Extensions28-12457075%
*Not including warm-up sets

Figure 15. Sample upper push workout designed for shoulders and power.

Step 3. Select Your Periodization Strategy for the Push Pull Routine

The most important component of your periodization strategy is to continue to increase loading throughout the cycle to optimize strength, power, and performance.

Your periodization strategy may be as complex or simple as you would like, but there are a few key rules to follow:

  1. Gradually increase total load
  2. Schedule a deloading/restoration week every 4-6 weeks
  3. Incorporate variety in your training

Variety may be implemented by using different exercises, weights, rep ranges, or frequency of workouts. Using the conjugate method, this may take the form of rotating between maximal effort and maximal speed training sessions.

This can be largely personalized and requires careful attention throughout the cycle. It is important to listen to your body and be cognizant of stagnation or overtraining, allowing your muscles to reach the sweet spot of optimized training and supercompensation.

Execution: Beginner Weight Lifting Routine (Beginner Leg Workouts)

One last word about the PPL split routine that you just created for yourself: No routine is perfect and everything can be modified, and one of the benefits of PPL is that you can start as a beginner and make big gains, especially with a push pull leg workout. With beginner PPL, your 1RM amounts will be lower, and you should make sure to follow the prescribe rest periods between sets.

Pay attention to your body and be willing to adapt as necessary. As you work through this PPL split, you will learn how your body responds to different training variables and what gives you the best results.

And most importantly, have fun and enjoy the process!


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About the Author

Squatting 500 pounds on an ohio rogue bar with a sports hernia

Jon Chambers

Jon Chambers is a powerlifter, strength coach, sports hernia expert, and writer involved in the strength training community for almost a decade on a mission to create the best strength and fitness guides on the web.