The Push/Pull/Legs Split Routine for Maximal Gains

The push/pull/legs split is unquestionably the most efficient workout split available since all of the muscle groups that are involved in it are trained simultaneously. By utilizing movements that target complimentary muscles, you can maximize your workout while reducing the time you are in the gym.

It is important to keep in mind that training experience and goals play an important role in designing a workout routine. The push/pull/legs split isn’t the ideal workout for an absolute beginner. It is a good routine for an individual with some lifting experience. If you are an absolute beginner in good health, the best starting routine would be Starting Strength or a similar full-body workout. This type of program will maximize your beginner gains and build a solid starting foundation.

What is the push/pull/legs split routine?

This routine divides the body into three workout days. During these three days, you will focus on a type of movement: pushing movements, pulling movements, and a leg focused day. The workout will start with movements that target the largest muscles then proceed to focus on smaller muscles as the workout progresses. For example, the bench press works the chest directly and the shoulders and triceps indirectly. This is the first exercise performed during push day followed by shoulder work such as the shoulder press and finishing out with tricep work. In most routines, you’ll focus on all the targeted muscles, fatiguing the biggest first and then concentrating on the smaller muscles as you near completion.

The first day in the split is the push day.

The push day will focus on pushing movements that will primarily target the chest, shoulders, and tricep muscles.

The second day in the split is the pull day.

The pull day will target your back and biceps with pulling movements. This is also a good day to focus on your forearms because the back and biceps exercises work them indirectly.

The third day in the split is the legs day.

This day is a specific day dedicated to training the legs. This is a fantastic time to do some core and abdominal training to ensure you are targeting all muscle groups with this split.

Why Use a Push/Pull/Legs Split?

This split targets all the muscle groups while providing adequate rest time. The workouts are progressive and ensure you completely fatigue the muscle groups by focusing on specific movements.

The split also ensures you can adequately resistance train the entire body in just 3 days per week. This is perfect for someone who is busy and can’t dedicate 4 or 5 days per week to weight lifting.

Exercise adherence is the most important aspect of any training routine. If you are not quite a beginner but not quite advanced, this routine should help you stick to a routine since it is much easier to make it to the gym 3 times per week versus 5 times.

Push/Pull/Legs Split Routine for Hypertrophy

Hypertrophy is the breaking down of muscle fibers by mechanical damage to increase their size. Hypertrophy is best achieved with 10-12 reps with a 3 second concentric (up) and eccentric (down) movement. The rest periods between sets is between 60 and 90 seconds.

Push Day – Hypertrophy

  • Flat Barbell Bench Press 3 sets of 10-12
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 3 sets of 10-12
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 sets of 10-12
  • Lateral Dumbbell Raises 3 sets of 12-15
  • Cable Tricep Pushdown 3 sets of 10-12

Pull Day – Hypertrophy

  • Cable Lateral Pulls 3 sets of 10-12 (or pullups)
  • Bent over Rows 3 sets of 10-12
  • Back Extensions 3 sets of 10-12
  • Dumbbell Curls 3 sets of 10-12
  • Hammer Curls 3 sets of 10-12
  • Forearm work (Wrist curls pronated and supinated)

Leg Day – Hypertrophy

  • Barbell Squats 3 sets of 10-12
  • Calf Raises 3 sets of 12-15
  • Dumbbell Lunges 3 sets of 10-12
  • Leg Extensions 3 sets of 10-12
  • Leg Curls 3 sets of 10-12
  • Ab work

Push/Pull/Legs Split Routine for Strength

Strength focused routines have a focus on less repetitions and more weight with more rest between sets to maximize the amount of weight lifted. The repetition range for strength is between 5 to 8 reps with about 4 to 5 sets. There are many variations on this ranging from 3×3 powerlifting style to the typical 5×5 strength routine. The general consensus on rest periods focusing on strength are typically around 1 minute 30 seconds and 2 minutes between sets. This allows the muscle time to restore glycogen and prepare to move heavier loads.

Push Day – Strength

  • Flat Barbell Bench Press 5 sets of 5
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 5 sets of 5
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press 5 sets of 6-8
  • Lateral Dumbbell Raises 5 sets of 6-8
  • Cable Tricep Pushdown 5 sets of 6-8

Pull Day – Hypertrophy

  • Cable Lateral Pulls 5 sets of 5 (or weighted pullups)
  • Bent over Rows 5 sets of 5
  • Back Extensions 5 sets of 6-8
  • Dumbbell Curls 5 sets of 6-8
  • Hammer Curls 5 sets of 6-8
  • Forearm work (Wrist curls pronated and supinated)

Leg Day – Hypertrophy

  • Barbell Squats 5 sets of 5
  • Calf Raises 5 sets of 6-8
  • Dumbbell Lunges 5 sets of 6-8
  • Leg Extensions 5 sets of 6-8
  • Leg Curls 5 sets of 6-8
  • Ab work


And there you have it – the push/pull/leg workout split. This isn’t a one-size fits all approach especially with the rep and set ranges. These are general guidelines that you can use to start a push/pull/legs workout split. Unless you are specifically training for strength, I highly recommend you follow the hypertrophy split routine. This one will help to build muscle. If you think you aren’t getting enough protein in your diet, check out this article on the benefits of whey protein.

The exercises can be switched out for similar exercises especially if you are unable to do the movements. A good example of this is some people cannot do squats so the leg press would be a great substitution. The key to any program is to create a program that you will stick to. This is one of the domains that shooting for the stars and failing isn’t always the best solution. When it comes to physical training, making a routine that you will stick to daily is the best way to achieve success. It’s all about exercise adherence.

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