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The ideal push-pull workout: Your complete guide

Follow these routines to work out every muscle group evenly and help prevent workout-related injuries

Man doing HIIT push-ups.
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There are many different workouts that help individuals improve their fitness and muscle tone.  The most common ones usually involve weight training sessions. However, new exercise routines are always being introduced into the world of fitness with the hope that they’ll be much more than just a passing fad.

A push-pull workout is an example of this, where one session concentrates on push exercises and the other on pulls. In general, a push workout involves activating muscles that push weights away from the body, while a pull exercise regime works by activating muscles that pull weights toward the body. 

One reason why this push-pull workout separation routine can be beneficial is that it allows time for muscle recovery because one set of muscles is activated one day and a different set the next. 

Man carrying weights.
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How to structure a push-pull workout routine

The general rule of a push vs. pull workout is to structure the routine so that muscles that are involved in pushing movements are worked out one day and those involved in pulling the next. This leaves time for muscles to recover. 

Sessions can be as many as six days a week, with three focusing on the “push muscles” and three on the “pull muscles.” This leaves 24 hours of complete rest on the seventh day or between the six sessions. 

For example, this would mean that Monday, Wednesday, and Friday would be days where muscles in the chest, shoulders, and triceps are worked. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday would be reserved for pull-muscle exercises that concentrate on the back, biceps, and forearms. You can also mix in core and lower-body leg exercises in this split as desired.

A high-protein diet can also help with your overall goals, and eating plenty of quality protein from fish and lean cuts of meat can also aid in muscle development. Since push vs. pull exercise sessions are fairly regular with not many complete rest days in the schedule, the inclusion of complex carbs can also help maintain energy levels and boost performance.

pull-ups.
Anastase Maragos / Unsplash

Who is this split good for?

The split muscle group exercises are good for athletes who need to avoid muscle soreness and injuries while training for an event. By allowing enough recovery time, they are less likely to miss numerous training sessions because of injuries. However, anyone can benefit from this form of exercise as well because rest days allow muscles to recover and grow after regular activity.

Man doing tricep dips.
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Benefits of the push vs. pull split

1. All muscles are worked evenly

It’s easy to concentrate on certain muscles at the gym while neglecting others. This can disturb the balance of the body with uneven muscle tones and strength zones. A push-pull exercise regimen can ensure that all muscles are worked evenly. This is because an equal amount of time is spent activating opposing muscle groups.

Muscle imbalances can occur if following a weightlifting exercise program because these tend to concentrate on the muscles immediately on show, such as the biceps, chest, and stomach muscles while leaving weaknesses in the back. Again, this can lead to imbalances and an increased risk of training-related injuries.

2. Adds structure to workouts

If you go to the gym and exercise without a plan, you could again neglect or overwork certain muscle groups. With a push vs. pull split exercise program, you know exactly what exercises and what muscles need to be worked each day.

3. Helps avoid injuries

As already mentioned, injuries are common while regularly exercising or training, and the majority of these are muscle related. Causes are many but mainly involve overtraining. Split exercise routines allow the necessary recovery time needed between each session for the different muscle groups in the body to recover fully and not become injury prone.

4. Helps to add variety to workouts

Training or exercising regularly for general fitness can become monotonous. Split exercising helps break the monotony, making you more likely to succeed in your exercise goals.

fat-burning push-ups.
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Downsides of the push vs. pull split

1. The program needs to be completed

Push-pull workouts need to be done regularly for a person to gain full benefit, so it’s not for the casual gym goers who may only visit a gym when they feel up to it.

2. Session length

If you’re into quick, sharp, and intense workouts because you have little time to spare each day, then a push vs. pull session may not be for you because each exercise period has to work out a certain muscle group thoroughly. If you’re looking for a quick 10-minute gym fix, other exercises should be committed to instead, such as intense spin sessions.

3. One complete rest day a week

Those who exercise regularly, whether at home or in the gym, usually want two or three complete rest days in the week. However, because push-day workouts and pull-day workouts use different sets of muscles while resting others, you won’t have as much time to dedicate to overall rest and recovery.

Man doing pull ups.
Jasminko Ibrakovic / Shutterstock

Example push-pull split routine

Push day workout #1 

Exercise Sets Reps Rest Time
Bench Press 4 6–8 1 minute
Overhead Press 3 10–12 30 seconds
Dumbbell Front Raises 3 10–12 30 seconds
Cable Tricep Pushdowns 3 12–15 30 seconds
Dips 3 To failure 30 seconds

Pull day workout #1 

Exercise Sets Reps Rest Time
Pull-Ups 4 To failure 1 minute
Lat Pulldowns 3 10–12 30 seconds
Cable Rows 3 10–12 30 seconds
Cable Bicep Curls 3 12–15 30 seconds
Hammer Curls 3 12–15 30 seconds

Push day workout #2 

Exercise Sets Reps Rest Time
Military Press 4 6–8 1 minute
Cable Chest Flyes 3 10–12 30 seconds
Machine Chest Press 3 12–15 30 seconds
Lateral Raises 3 10–12 30 seconds
Skull Crushers 3 12–15 30 seconds

Pull day workout #2 

Exercise Sets Reps Rest Time
Machine Pulldowns 4 10–12 1 minute
Reverse Flyes 3 12–15 30 seconds
Dumbbell Rows 3 8–10 30 seconds
Preacher Curls 3 8–10 30 seconds
Concentration Curls 3 10–12 30 seconds
Man stretching his chest
Ketut Subiyanto / Pexels

Tips for getting better results

Even if you are diligent with following this program, there are a few other things you can do to maximize your results. In order to make sure you get the most out of your workouts, consider doing the following:

  • Get at least eight hours of sleep every night.
  • Warm up before your workouts and cool down after.
  • Eat plenty of lean protein.
  • Consume at least 25 grams of protein within two hours after your workout.
  • Eat the correct amount of calories, depending on whether you are looking to bulk or cut.
  • Drink a gallon of water daily.

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Christine VanDoren
Christine is a certified personal trainer and nutritionist with an undergraduate degree from Missouri State University. Her…
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