Workout routines come in all shapes, styles, and splits. There's full-body, upper/lower, bro split, and more.
One of the best workout routines for muscle growth that has stood the test of time is Push Pull Legs or PPL for short.
How is it effective for building muscle and strength, and (more importantly) how do you set up your very own PPL routine for maximum results?
We're here to answer that very question (and a whole lot more!) right now.
What Is the Push/Pull/Legs Split Routine?
The push-pull legs (PPL) split routine is a tried-and-true workout program that separates your muscle groups and exercises into push, pull, and legs days.
You’ll be training a minimum of three days per week doing a
- Push Workout
- Pull Workout
- Leg Workout
Push workouts train the body's "pushing" muscles (i.e., those muscle groups primarily worked during pushing movements). This includes the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Pull workouts train the body's "pulling" muscles (i.e., those muscle groups involved in any pulling movement). Pull workouts are known more commonly as "Back and Biceps" routines. These workouts primarily focus on the lats, rhomboids, rear delts, traps, and the other smaller muscles of the back.
Leg workouts train all the muscles of the lower body. These workouts will train the quads, hams, glutes, hips, adductors, and calves.
Now, you may be wondering, “what about abs?!”
Your abs will be involved in just about any compound exercise, especially if you're performing free weight (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, etc.) or bodyweight exercises. However, if you're seeking additional ab and core training, you can add 1-2 ab exercises to the end of your workouts.
Something else worth mentioning is that there is a fair bit of overlap between the muscles involved in each workout (typically supporting muscle groups, especially in the case of push and pull workouts, pull and leg workouts, mostly), which is why it may be helpful to take at least one day off the weights per week.
Why Use A Push/Pull/Legs Split?
Bodybuilders, high-level athletes, and even average joes and janes have used push/pull/legs split workouts for decades, and there are several reasons why they've stood the test of time.
For starters, PPL workout routines prioritize compound exercises, such as heavy presses, pull-ups, rows, deadlifts, squats, lunges, push-ups, and dips. Compound exercises are incredibly efficient movements that stimulate muscle tissue, which also means you get a tremendous amount of training effect for your time spent in the gym.
You also burn more calories doing compound exercises than doing only isolation movements in your workout routines, which can be beneficial for those looking to lose weight and burn fat.
Compound exercises also provide a greater ability for overload, which leads to more significant gains in strength and size. For instance, you're able to move a lot more weight doing pull-ups, deadlifts, and rows than you can on straight-arm pulldown, pullovers, or bicep curls.
At the same time, compound movements are also incredibly demanding, both on the muscles and the nervous system. That's why Push/Pull/Leg split routines also include a certain amount of isolation exercises as it allows you to get in more training volume, particularly for those smaller muscle groups, without driving your body into the ground and potentially causing overtraining.
One last benefit of the push/pull/legs split routine is highly customizable based on your training equipment, schedule, and preferences.
You can perform up to 6 workouts per week or as few as two workouts per week if you're strapped for time.
Most people will fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, with the vast majority of people training three days per week using the following schedule:
- Day 1: Push Workout
- Day 2: OFF
- Day 3: Pull Workout
- Day 4: OFF
- Day 5: Legs Workout
- Day 6: OFF
- Day 7: OFF
“OFF” days are best spent focusing on active rest and recovery. You don’t have to be a complete sloth on these days. Some low-level activity or moderate cardio exercise can increase circulation, aid recovery, and keep energy expenditure high, which benefits those individuals looking to lose weight as well as those trying to “lean bulk.”
For those with exceptional recovery (those with less physically-demanding jobs and low life stress) as well as the younger lifters out there, you can also try training up to six days per week on a PPL workout routine, such as:
- Day 1: Push Workout
- Day 2: Pull Workout
- Day 3: Legs Workout
- Day 4: Push Workout
- Day 5: Pull Workout
- Day 6: Legs Workout
- Day 7: OFF
Sample Push/Pull/Legs Split Routine
A Push/Pull/Leg split routine can be structured in a seemingly endless number of ways, so long as you stick to the core principle of a push workout, pull workout, and legs workout.
As for exercises, sets and reps are highly individual and based on your training experience, strength level, personal preference, anatomy, etc.
Generally speaking, these are the best exercises to include in your PPL workout routines:
Best Chest, Shoulder, and Tricep Exercises
Compound exercises that can be included in your push workouts are:
- Bench press
- Dumbbell press
- Incline press
- Overhead press
- Push-ups (and all its variations)
- Close grip press
Isolation exercises that can be included in your push workouts are:
- Flyes (dumbbell, cable, resistance bands, or suspension trainer)
- Overhead tricep extensions
- Tricep kickbacks
- Skullcrushers (lying triceps extensions)
- Side lateral raise
Best Back and Biceps Exercises
Compound exercises that can be included in your pull workouts are:
- Deadlift (conventional, trap bar, sumo)
- Barbell Row
- Meadows rows
- Dumbbell rows (chest-supported, one-arm, etc.)
- Lat Pulldowns
- T-Bar Row
- Cable Row (1-arm, seated, standing, 2-arm, etc.)
- Bodyweight rows
- Face pulls
Isolation exercises that can be included in your back and biceps workouts are:
- Barbell curls
- Dumbbell curls (any variations, standing, seated, alternating, etc.)
- Hammer curls
- Cable curls
- EZ Bar curls
- Incline curls
- Spider curls
- Reverse curls
- Rear delt flys
Best Legs Exercises
Compound exercises that can be included in your leg workouts are:
- Squats (barbell, front squats, goblet squats, dumbbell, kettlebell, etc.)
- Leg press
- Hack squat
- Lunges (front lunges, reverse lunges, side lunges, alternating, etc.)
- Romanian deadlifts
- Sliding leg curls on the floor
- Shrimp Squats
- Bulgarian split squats
- Sissy squats
- Jump squats
Isolation exercises that can be included in your lower body workouts are:
- Leg extensions
- Seated/lying leg curls
- Seated/standing calf raises
- Adductor machine
- Glute kickbacks
The Push/Pull/Legs Routine for Muscle Gains
As we said before, there are hundreds of ways to set up your PPL routine for muscle gains, fat loss, recomp, general fitness, etc.
Here's just one example we like and have used with great success.
- Bench Press: 3 sets x 6-8 reps
- Overhead press: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
- Incline dumbbell (or machine) press: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- Cable crossovers: 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Lateral raises (dumbbells, cables, or resistance bands): 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Tricep pushdowns: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- Overhead tricep extension: 2 sets x 12-15 extensions
- Barbell Row: 4 sets x 6-8 reps
- Pull-ups (sub: pulldowns): 3 sets x 8-10 reps
- T-bar, cable, chest-supported, or dumbbell rows: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- Straight-arm Pulldowns/Face Pulls (superset): 3 sets x 12-15 reps each
- EZ Bar Curls: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
- Hammer Curls (cable or dumbbell): 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- Barbell squat: 4 sets x 6-8 reps
- Romanian: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
- Leg Press (or hack squat): 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- Leg extension/Leg curls (performed as a superset): 3 sets x 12-15 reps each
- Seated calf raises: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
- Leg press calf raises: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
The Best Supplements to Help You Crush Your Push Pull Legs Workouts
This is a no-brainer. Creatine has stood the test of time and continues to be the #1 supplement when it comes to maximizing one’s natural muscle & strength.
SteelFit® Creapure® supplies 5 grams of high-quality creatine monohydrate as Creapure®, the “gold standard” of creatine supplements.
Consuming enough protein is essential to muscle recovery and growth. It supplies the essential amino acids your body needs to repair damaged muscle tissue and support the synthesis of new muscle.
Now, it's entirely possible to consume enough protein each day from "whole" food sources like beef, chicken, pork, fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy, etc. But, sometimes, you just don't feel like eating a meal or cooking one.
Protein powder is ready in a flash, requires virtually no cleanup or prep, and it's very economical. It also supplies high-quality protein that's efficiently digested and utilized and supplies all the amino acids the body requires.
SteelFit® offers both a rich, creamy whey protein powder as well as a great-tasting vegan protein powder to help you hit your protein requirements for the day and support muscle recovery and growth from your intense PPL workouts.
There's no question that the right pre-workout supplement can help increase energy, motivation, focus, and performance. It can also help reduce the onset of fatigue, helping you bang out more reps, which ultimately helps you build more muscle and strength.
Steel Pump® is our flagship pre-workout supplement containing premium, research-backed ingredients, including:
- Peak ATP®
Steel Pump’s easy-to-mix powder provides delicious flavor in every scoop to help fuel your most intense PPL workouts.
After you've tried Steel Pump®, you'll realize what a true pre-workout is and never waste money on a bargain bin, "concentrated," micro-dosed pre-workout ever again!