One of the most commonly asked questions for resistance training is … what’s the best workout split for gaining muscle? Although many workout splits exist to choose from, it can be challenging to know which is best for you. Before choosing which workout split to try, start by determining number of training days.
For most people, a four-day workout program is optimal because it allows for sufficient training volume and frequency to see progress, while also leaving time for activities outside of the gym.
In this article, we provide you with a definitive guide to a push-pull workout routine.
With just four days per week, an effective push-pull workout routine can be created that’s both enjoyable and effective. Keep reading to learn more.
What is a push-pull workout split?
A push-pull workout split consists of training your pushing muscles on one day and your pulling muscles on a separate day. Unlike the upper/lower split, you train both the lower and upper body all in one workout. However, you divide them based on their primary action/movement pattern. You also never train a single muscle group in one session, like a bro split.
For example, you train the quads, chest, triceps, calves, and shoulders during the push workout. In the pull workout, you hit the hamstrings, glutes, back, and biceps.
Here’s an example push workout:
- Barbell Squats: 4 sets x 4-6 reps
- Bench Press: 4 sets x 4-6 reps
- Overhead Press: 4 sets x 8-10 reps
- Tricep Extensions: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- Calf Raises: 4 sets x 12-15 reps
Here’s an example pull workout:
- Romanian deadlifts: 4 sets x 8-10 reps
- Lat pulldowns: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- Barbell rows: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
- Dumbbell curls: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- Seated hamstring curls: 3 sets x 12-15 reps
The push-pull split is a full-body workout program where you train four days per week. Beyond being very effective for building muscle and strength, the push-pull split routine also benefits competitive powerlifting.
Example Push-Pull Split Routine
If you were to follow a four-day push-pull workout routine, here’s what your training week would look like:
- Day 1 – Push day #1
- Day 2 – Pull day #1
- Day 3 – Rest day
- Day 4 – Push day #2
- Day 5 – Pull day #2
- Day 6 – Rest day
- Day 7 – Rest day
Here are some helpful guidelines for designing your own push-pull workout routine:
- Perform quads/squats on push days
- Pick 5-6 movements per day
- Stick to 1-2 compound movements per day; the rest can be accessories
- Alternate between heavy (strength-focused) days and lighter (hypertrophy-focused) days
Below are some sample push and pull workouts you can try using the above guidelines!
Push Day #1
- Barbell back squats: 5 sets x 3-5 reps
- Bench press: 5 sets x 3-5 reps
- Single-leg leg press: 3 sets x 6-8 reps (each leg)
- Shoulder dumbbell press: 4 sets x 6-8 reps
- Weighted dips: 3 sets x 6-8 reps
- Seated calf raises: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
The first push day of the week is focused on strength. This workout’s two main compound movements are the barbell back squat and the flat barbell bench press. These two exercises are equally effective for building muscle and gaining strength.
We also added in single-leg leg press to further strengthen the quads. Doing a unilateral exercise for the lower body is great for preventing and/or correcting any muscular or strength imbalances. Following those three exercises, you perform a few accessory exercises for the shoulders, triceps, and calves.
As long rep ranges and muscle groups are consistent, exercise customization is flexible according to equipment availability and skill level. Overall, this workout uses lower rep ranges to place a greater emphasis on building strength.
Pull Day #1
- Hip Thrusts: 4 sets x 10-12 reps
- Lat pulldowns: 4 sets x 12-15 reps
- Chest-supported rows: 4 sets x 10-12 reps
- Seated leg curls: 4 sets x 12-15 reps
- Incline dumbbell curls: 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Rear delt flys: 3 sets x 15 reps
The primary purpose of this workout is hypertrophy for the posterior chain, including the back, glutes, and hamstrings. A few accessory movements are also added for the biceps and rear delts. The workout starts with hip thrusts to target the glutes, a great carry-over exercise for the deadlift, especially if lock-out needs work.
Next, perform lat pulldowns to target back width and chest-supported rows to target back thickness. Finally, we programmed seated leg curls as hamstring isolation exercises, followed by dumbbell curls for the biceps and rear delt flys to hit the posterior delt. Overall, this workout utilizes higher rep ranges to focus more on hypertrophy.
Push Day #2
- Front squats: 4 sets x 8-10 reps
- Incline dumbbell bench press: 4 sets x 10-12 reps
- Leg extensions: 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Dumbbell lateral raises: 4 sets x 12-15 reps
- Cable tricep extensions: 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Standing calf raises: 3 sets x 12-15 reps
The main purpose of this workout is hypertrophy for the quads, chest, shoulders, triceps, and calves. The two main compound lifts for this workout, the front squat and incline dumbbell bench press, are also assistance exercises for the back squat and flat barbell bench press. The front squat places a larger emphasis on the quads. The incline dumbbell press targets more of the upper chest.
Since one of the quadriceps muscles – vastus intermedius – doesn’t cross the hip joint, we added leg extensions to target it through knee extension. Lastly, you will perform dumbbell lateral raises to work the side delt, followed by isolation exercises for the triceps and calves. Overall, this workout utilizes higher rep ranges to focus more on hypertrophy!
Pull Day #2
- Deadlifts: 5 sets x 3-5 reps
- Barbell rows: 4 sets x 6-8 reps
- Weighted pull-ups: 4 sets x 6-8 reps
- Barbell curls: 4 sets x 8-10 reps
- Lying hamstring curls: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
- Face pulls: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
The second pull workout of the week focuses on building strength, which is why the workout starts with deadlifts. Choose from conventional or sumo deadlifts for targeting the posterior chain. We recommend doing conventional deadlifts for more erector targeting, and sumo deadlifts for more glutes.
Like the hypertrophy pull day, we added one back exercise that targets thickness – barbell rows – and one that targets width – weighted pull-ups. The second half of the workout features a few isolation exercises for the biceps, hamstrings, rear delts, and traps. Overall, this workout uses lower rep ranges to build strength throughout the posterior chain.
How to build a push-pull split
Choose compound exercises for each movement category
Every workout should have 1-2 compound exercises that you focus on progressively overloading each week or month by adding more reps or weight. Remember that you work the upper and lower body in each workout, so there should be a compound movement for each.
Here are some compound exercises to choose from based on each movement category:
- Lower body push: barbell back squat, barbell front squat, hack squats, pendulum squats, Bulgarian split squats, leg press, smith machine squats.
- Upper body push: barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press, incline barbell bench press, incline dumbbell bench press, pause bench press, barbell shoulder press.
- Lower body pull: Romanian deadlifts, good mornings, conventional deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, hip thrusts, glute bridges
- Upper body pull: pull-ups, barbell rows, dumbbell rows, chest-supported rows, seal rows, chin-ups
Choose accessory exercises for each movement category
After performing the two main compound exercises for the workout, you should pick accessory movements for the rest of the workout. These exercises can be chosen based on your weak points in a lift or lagging body parts.
For example, if you struggle with the lockout on a bench press, then consider doing a close-grip bench press as one of your accessory movements. On the other hand, if you’re quads are significantly smaller than the rest of your lower body, you should add in some leg extensions or lunges during the push workout.
For the most part, accessory movements will be isolation exercises unless there’s a specific weak point of the three big lifts that you’re trying to improve upon. This is just one of the ways that you can customize the workout to suit your individual physique and strength goals.
Here are some great accessory movements to choose from based on each movement category:
- Lower body push: leg extensions, lunges, Bulgarian split squats, single-leg leg press
- Upper body push: chest flys, close-grip bench press, tricep extensions, lateral raises
- Lower body pull: lying leg curls, glute kickbacks, seated leg curls, glute-hamstring developer (GHDs), nordic hamstring curls
- Upper body pull: lat pulldowns, lat pullovers, bicep curls, rear delt flys, machine rows, dumbbell rows
Decide how you want to train your legs
The push-pull split gives you a lot of flexibility regarding leg training. It also reduces the chance of people skipping leg training altogether because you don’t have a set leg day like other workout splits.
If you are getting ready for a push-pull-only powerlifting meet, then you don’t have to perform the traditional barbell back squat since that’s not part of the competition. Furthermore, if you prioritize hypertrophy and don’t plan on competing in powerlifting, you also don’t have to do barbell squats.
With that said, you should still perform a compound leg exercise that resembles a squat, such as a hack squat, leg press, power squat, pendulum squat, smith machine squat, or front squat. It’s also a good idea to do at least one unilateral movement per week, such as a lunge, Bulgarian split squat, or single-leg leg press. Many people develop strength and muscular imbalances in their lower body over time, so doing unilateral exercises helps prevent that.
If you are training for a full powerlifting competition or would like to improve your barbell squat, we strongly recommend squatting on push days and performing hip hinge movements, such as the deadlift, on pull days. You can give the most energy to both exercises since you do them on separate days. Since the workouts alternate between strength-focused and hypertrophy focus, doing heavy squats on Monday shouldn’t take away from your ability to do heavy deadlifts later on Friday because they aren’t back-to-back workouts.
List of push exercises
Any movement that involves pushing an object (barbell, dumbbell, etc.) away from your body or pushing yourself away from something is considered a push exercise. Regarding the upper body, push exercises train the chest, shoulders, and triceps. For the lower body, push exercises mainly target the quads and calves. Below is a list of push exercises for the lower and upper body!
Horizontal pushing movements
- Flat barbell bench press
- Flat dumbbell bench press
- Flat smith machine press
- Incline barbell bench press
- Incline dumbbell bench press
- Incline smith machine press
Muscles used in upper body horizontal pushing movements
- Pectoralis Major
- Pectoralis Minor
- Front delt
- Triceps Brachii
- Long head
- Lateral head
- Medial head
Any upper-body, horizontal push exercise will target nearly all upper body pushing muscles, but mainly the chest, anterior delts, and triceps.
- Barbell back squat
- Barbell front squat
- Bulgarian split squats
- Leg press
- Single-leg leg press
- Hack squat
- Smith machine squat
- Calf raises
Muscles used in lower body horizontal pushing movements
- Vastus lateralis
- Vastus medialis
- Vastus intermedius
- Rectus femoris
Any lower body horizontal push exercise will target the quads and adductors. Some engage other muscles, such as the core, especially if it’s a barbell compound exercise. Use machines over free weights to avoid using stabilizer muscles. Choose movement according to preference, equipment availability, and goals.
Vertical pushing movements
- Standing barbell shoulder press
- Seated barbell shoulder press
- Machine shoulder press
- Standing dumbbell shoulder press
- Smith machine shoulder press
- Seated dumbbell shoulder press
- Viking press
Muscles used in vertical pushing movements
- Front delt
- Side delt
- Upper Chest
- Triceps brachii
- Long head
- Lateral head
- Medial head
Any vertical pushing movement targets the shoulders, primarily the lateral and front deltoid, as well as the upper chest and triceps. The higher the incline or more vertical the pushing movement, the more the shoulders are targeted instead of the upper chest. Unlike horizontal pushing movements, there are no lower-body vertical pushing exercises.
List of pulling exercises
Pulling exercises involve pulling an object towards you or pulling yourself towards an object. Some quick examples of pulling exercises include chin-ups, deadlifts, bicep curls, and dumbbell rows. Similar to pushing movements, vertical and horizontal variations exist for the upper body. They are usually referred to as hip hinge exercises for the lower body.
Horizontal upper body pulling movements
- Barbell rows
- Dumbbell rows
- Single-arm dumbbell rows
- T-bar rows
- Chest-supported rows
- Cable rows
- Machine rows
Muscles used in horizontal upper body pulling movements
- Middle traps
- Teres minor
- Teres major
- Latissimus dorsi
- Rear delts
- Biceps brachii
- Long head
- Short head
Horizontal pulling movements pull weight towards the body with torso horizontal to the floor or bench. The movements are used to improve the overall thickness of the back.
Adjust grip and elbow positioning to emphasize different back muscles. Nearly all upper body pulling muscles are recruited with horizontal pulling exercises. Note that he biceps and forearms are heavily involved with any horizontal pulling exercise so include other bicep work with that in mind.
Vertical pulling movements
- Lat pulldowns
- Single-arm lat pulldowns
- Lat pull-overs
- Machine pulldowns
Muscles used in vertical pulling movements
- Latissimus dorsi
- Rear delts
- Biceps brachii
Vertical pulling exercises train the back via shoulder extension, with the latissimus dorsi as the main target. Depending on the exact exercise, some other back muscles are involved such as the traps, infraspinatus, and rear delts.
Vertical pulling exercises help increase back width and create a V-tapered physique. However, when it comes to the bench press, squat, and deadlift, the lats play a huge role in stabilization, so having stronger lats can have a huge carry-over to the main lifts.
Like horizontal pulling exercises, the biceps and forearms are also activated with vertical pulling movements. Adjust elbow and grip to emphasize different areas of the back. It’s a good idea to vary vertical pulling movements because some may work better than others.
Lower body pulling movements (hip-hinge)
- Conventional deadlifts
- Sumo deadlifts
- Glute bridges
- Hip thrusts
- Romanian deadlifts
- Stiff-legged deadlifts
- Good mornings
Muscles used in lower body pulling movements
- Biceps femoris (long head)
Hip-hinge movements are very beneficial for building and strengthening the entire posterior chain. Avoid quad-dominance and injury with posterior chain-focused exercises.
We recommend adding various hip-hinge movements to your workout routine because they are effective for building your glutes, hamstrings, and back.
Benefits of the push-pull split
- Great for busy schedules
- Effective for building muscle and strength
- There are no “leg days”
Great for busy schedules
As previously discussed, some people need more time and/or motivation to four days per week. A four-day push-pull routine will hit every major muscle group at least two times per week, which is often considered the optimal training frequency for muscle growth.
Moreover, a decent amount of compound lifts are used in push-pull training so that the training sessions can be done in under 60 minutes. Supersets can also be programmed during push-pull training for more time efficiency. Overall, the push-pull split routine is very flexible and can be customized to fit your needs.
Effective for building muscle and strength
Alternate strength-focused and hypertrophy-focused workouts for achieving both muscle size and strength. A push-pull training split is incredibly effective for building muscle because each major muscle group twice per week.
Plus three rest days per week allows adequate recovery for consistent workout intensity. This setup allows for enough volume and frequency for beginner and intermediate lifters to see progress.
There are no “leg days”
A push-pull split is designed with one to two leg exercises per workout. Leg-training occurs on each day, so if a workout is missed, legs can still be worked on the other days.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many days per week do you train with a push-pull workout routine?
A push-pull workout routine can be used as long as you can train between three to five days per week. As outlined in this article, the most optimal number of days per week is four.
Here’s what that would look like for three, four and five days of training:
- Five days: Push, Pull, Push, Pull, Push (the next week would be Pull, Push, Pull, Push, Pull)
- Four days: Push, Pull, Push, Pull
- Three days: Push, Pull, Push (the next week would be Pull, Push, Pull)
Is a push-pull workout split effective?
As long as you can be consistent, a push-pull workout program is one of the most effective routines that exist. They are great for building muscle and gaining strength. You only have to train four days per week, so you’re more likely to stay consistent and not burn out. Furthermore, related muscle groups are trained in the same session, so it’s more efficient overall.
Is push-pull best for bulking?
A push-pull workout routine can be used for bulking, cutting, or maintaining. What ultimately determines weight gain, loss, or maintenance is a combination of our energy output and input. If you eat more than you burn, you will gain weight. If you eat less than you burn, you will lose weight; if you eat the same, you will maintain your weight. So you can always adjust your diet according to your goals.