Training

How Push and Pull Workouts Can Optimize Your Fitness Regimen

Train your muscles every third day with a push-pull workout split.

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Man Doing Dips
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Let’s go back to the ’80s - back to the era of Miami Vice, Mötley Crüe, parachute pants, and Lee Haney's dominance of bodybuilding. Just as you don't hear "totally awesome" much anymore, another term from back then has slipped out of popular usage in gyms. It's "push-pull," and it's a way of dividing your upper-body workouts into pushing muscles on one day and pulling muscles on another day. This was especially popular in the '80s, when most bodybuilders trained individual muscles less frequently than they did in the '70s, but not as infrequently as they do today. We'll explore this evolution and explain why a push-pull system is still a totally awesome way of working muscles more often.

It seemed like Arnold Schwarzenegger lived in Gold’s Gym. In the early ’70s when he was Mr. Olympia, he worked out twice daily and hit body parts three times per week (not counting calves and abs, which he trained daily). Not everyone had the luxury of hitting the iron twice daily, but almost every bodybuilder was working body parts every other day. By the late ’70s, this started to change. Splits that stressed muscles twice per week were the norm. And in the ’80s, this was often stretched to twice every eight days via a popular three-on, one-of split (three training days, followed by one rest day).

In any split in which your workouts are spread over three consecutive days, typically one day is devoted to legs. Then the question is, how do you organize your upper-body work over the remaining two days to maximize rest for each muscle? If you hit chest and back one day and shoulders and arms the next, you’re going to stress delts, biceps, and triceps on both days. This is because front delts and triceps assist on chest presses and dips and rear delts and biceps assist on almost every back exercise. Any split that results in this double-stress for shoulders and arms is going to severely reduce your growth-inducing recuperation for those areas.

The best solution to this quandary is the push-pull system. Exercises in which your elbow joints are straight at contractions (bench presses, shoulder presses, pushdowns, etc.) are pushers. Exercises in which your elbow joints are bent at contractions (T-bar rows, pulldowns, barbell curls, etc.) or in which you lift vertically (deadlifts, shrugs, etc.) are pullers. Pushers and pullers are divided into separate workouts. So, you work chest, front delts, and triceps in a push workout, and back, rear delts, traps, and biceps in a pull workout. This allows you to train body parts twice weekly or twice every eight days with sufficient time to recuperate between workouts.

PUSH-PULL BASICS

  • This system is ideal for splits in which your body is divided into three workouts over three days.
  • Schedule pushing muscles (chest, front delts, triceps) for one workout.
  • Schedule pulling muscles (back, rear delts, traps, biceps) for a different workout.
  • Each workout should progress in this order: chest or back, shoulder muscle(s), triceps or biceps.
  • Medial delts, which assist on overhead presses, should be hit in the push workout.

PUSH-PULL TIPS

  • Many people like to train legs after an off-day. However, to maximize the rest of your upper-body muscles, schedule leg day between the push and pull days.
  • If you train your body over four consecutive days instead of three, you can still do a push-pull split. Do push (without triceps) and pull (without biceps and forearms) on the first two days, legs on Day 3, and arms on Day 4. Take at least one day off, then repeat.
  • Legs can also be divided into push (quads) and pull (hamstrings) workouts.
  • Calves and abs can be trained on any of the three days.

PUSH-PULL 3-ON, 1-OFF TRAINING SPLIT

  • DAY 1 | PUSH | Chest, Front & Medial Delts, Triceps
  • DAY 2 | LEGS | Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Abs
  • DAY 3 | PULL | Back, Rear Delts, Traps, Biceps, Forearms
  • DAY 4 | OFF

PUSH WORKOUT

PUSH WORKOUT
CHEST
EXERCISE REPS SETS
Barbell Bench Press 8-12 4
Dumbbell Incline Press 8-12 4
Flat-Bench Flye 10-12 4
Dip 10-12 3
FRONT & MEDIAL DELTS
Shoulder Press 8-12 4
Dumbbell Front Raise 10-12 3
Side Lateral 10-15 5
TRICEPS
Lying Triceps Extension 10-12 4
One-Arm Triceps Extension 10-12 3
Pushdown 10-12 4

PULL WORKOUT

PULL WORKOUT
BACK
EXERCISE REPS SETS
Front Pulldown 10-12 4
Barbell Row 8-12 4
One-Arm Dumbbell Row 10-12 4
High-Cable Row 10-15 3
REAR DELTS
Machine Rear Lateral 10-15 4
TRAPS
Dumbbell Shrug 10-12 4
BICEPS
EZ-Bar Curl 10-12 4
Preacher Curl 10-12 3
Alternate Dumbbell Curl 10-12 4
FOREARMS
Reverse Wrist Curl 12-15 3
Wrist Curl 12-15 4

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