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Push Pull Bodybuilding Routines

Updated on December 24, 2014

What Is A Push-Pull Routine?

If you are into bodybuilding, you likely know that it's a good idea to split up your routine. If you are new to weight training, maybe you train the whole body during every workout. Sooner or later, you'll find that you want to do more work for each muscle group. Doing more exercises and sets for each muscle will lead to very long workout and possibly overtraining if you train the whole body per workout. At this point, you should split your weight training routine - working only a few muscle groups during each workout.

When you split up your weight training routine you will be able to do more exercises and sets for each muscle while still getting enough recovery time for them before the next time you train them. This is great if you feel ready to do more training for each muscle group. However, you need to split up your weight training routine the right way to get results. If you train certain muscles at one workout they could have a negative effect on your next workout. For instance, training the triceps during one workout, then training the chest at the next, will likely make you weaker on your chest exercises since the triceps assist on them. The best way to get around this is to train muscles that work together during the same workout. This is where a push-pull bodybuilding routine comes in.

So what is a push-pull routine? Simply put, it's a 3 workout routine that will have you training the "pushing" upper body muscles during one workout, the "pulling" upper body muscles the next workout, and the leg muscles during the final workout. You will then go through the cycle of workouts again after a day off. You may be better off doing 2 workouts before taking a day off, then doing the third workout followed by the first workout before taking another day off and so on. Training these muscle groups together will allow for plenty of recovery time, and you should build a lot of new muscle.

Workout 1 - Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps

The first workout in a push pull bodybuilding routine will work the upper body muscles that push weight. These muscle groups are the chest, shoulders, and triceps. The chest will be the first muscle group you train since it's the largest out of the three and it gets assistance from the shoulders and triceps when you perform exercises for it. The shoulders will be the second muscle you train, with the triceps being the last.

During this workout in push-pull bodybuilding routines the bench press should be the first exercise to work the chest, or pectoral, muscles. For most this means flat bench presses, though you should start out with incline presses if you have overdeveloped your lower pecs. Whatever the case, flat and incline presses should be the first 2 exercises you do. Other chest exercises you can do include dumbbell benches and inclines, decline bench presses, and weighted dips. To finish off your pecs, do a couple of high rep sets of push-ups, dumbbell flyes, or cable crossovers.

When it comes to the shoulder muscles, it's best to start out with some type of overhead press exercise. Military presses and dumbbell presses will both do the job. Training each head of the deltoids should also be part of a shoulder workout. You can do front, side, and rear laterals to hit each head with side laterals being the most important since they can help you build width in your shoulders. The trapezius muscles can also be trained with the shoulders. Shrugs with a barbell or dumbbells will work them.

The triceps will be the final body part you train in this workout of a push-pull bodybuilding routine. An excellent starter for the triceps is the close-grip bench press. Reverse-grip bench presses are also a great first exercise for the triceps. Triceps extensions should also be done for the triceps and they can be done many different ways - lying, seated, or standing and with a barbell, curl bar, or dumbbells. Cable exercises such as straight bar or rope pushdowns are great finishers to a triceps workout.

Workout 2 - Back and Biceps

The second workout in push-pull bodybuilding routines will have you training the back and biceps muscles. This is the "pull" workout for the upper body since these muscles are used to pull weight towards you. The large muscle group of the upper back will be trained first, followed by the biceps.

The upper back is made up many different muscles you need to train to build width and thickness. Training the lats (large muscles on outsides of the upper back) with pull-up and pull-down exercises will lead to more width and performing row exercises will lead to more upper back thickness.

Pull-ups are the best width builders for the upper back. Since you are moving your body through space while doing them, they are superior to cable pulldown exercises. The only problem is that, due to body weight and strength, many people can't get many reps on the pull-up. If you have trouble getting a decent number of pull-up reps you can get assistance or use an assisted pull-up machine. Cable pulldowns aren't as good as pull-ups, but still make for an excellent alternative to them. Both pull-ups and pulldowns allow for a lot of variety, as you can change your grip to work the muscles differently. The best ways to do then are close-grip underhanded style or wide-grip.

To build thickness, barbell bent rows are the best exercise to do. If you want to work one side of the upper at a time, dumbbell rows will do the trick. After you do free weight row exercises you can hit the cables. Cable rows will allow you to try different grips. Some row machines are good too.

After working your upper back it will be time to hit the biceps in your push-pull bodybuilding routine. Barbell and dumbbells curls will be the primary exercises in a biceps workout routine. Hammer curls should also be done to build thickness in the upper arms. An exercise like the preacher is excellent after you've done free weight biceps exercises. Concentration or cable curls make great finishers to a biceps workout.

Workout 3 - Legs

The third and final workout in push-pull bodybuilding routines will be dedicated to training the legs. During this workout you will train your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.

Squats are the best exercise to build the muscles of the quadriceps, and likely the best overall weight training exercise since doing them will involve so many different muscles groups. If you have trouble with squats due to knee or lower back pain there some excellent alternatives - the best being hack squats and leg presses. You can also start with squats, then do one or both of the other exercises.

While the lower can be trained with the upper back, I've always preferred to train it with the legs. Many leg exercises, like squats, require lower back strength. If you train the lower back with the upper back your muscles could very well be sore come leg day. The best lower back exercise is the deadlift. Hyperextensions are also excellent.

The hamstrings will get some work from the major quadriceps exercises, but you should still do exercises that work them more directly. Stiff-legged deadlifts will hit your hamstrings along with the lower back. Leg curls are an excellent isolation hamstring exercise. They are done on machines in a seated, lying, or standing (one leg at a time) position.

The calves are the final muscle group to train on leg day in a push-pull bodybuilding workout routine. To get the most out of your calf training you need to do standing and seated calf raises. When performing calf exercises you should do high rep sets.

Ab Training In A Push-Pull Routine

You may have noticed that abdominal training isn't discussed as part of any of the workouts described above, but of course workouts for these muscles have to be part of a push-pull routine. They will help support the body during heavy lifts and you will likely want them to be as defined as possible. The thing about the abs is that they usually recover quicker than other muscle groups and should be trained more often than once every 4 or 5 days. You should try to do some ab work at least every other workout.

Crunches are certainly an abdominal workout favorite. You can do them while lying on a floor, bench, or to get a stretch in the abs you can perform them on a core ball. Leg raises are great for hitting the lower abs and can be done while hanging from an overhead bar, lying on a floor or bench, or seated on the edge of a bench. Twisting sit-ups done on a decline bench are another excellent exercise for the abs.

The obliques should also be trained with the abs. Side bends with light dumbbells or cables will target them.

Push-Pull Bodybuilding Routine Tips

One major key to success with push-pull bodybuilding routines is to enough rest time for each muscle before its next workout. There are three workouts in this routine, so you can train 3 days in a row then take a day off before starting the routine again. However, this depends on how much work you do during each workout and how soon your muscles recover. If you need another day off - take it.

Since you get more rest time while following a push-pull weight training routine, you can try some high intensity techniques to really hit your muscles hard. These include super sets, drop sets, forced reps, and more. High intensity techniques can take a lot out of you, so be mindful of how much recovery you need.

To avoid hitting a plateau, you should make changes to your push-pull routine regularly. Switching your exercises and/or your rep range are two of the best ways to this. You can even do lighter weight-higher rep workouts then go to heavier weight-lower reps the next workout cycle of your routine.

Sample Push Pull Bodybuilding Routine

Workout 1
Sets and Reps
Barbell Bench Press
2 sets of 8-12 reps
Incline Bench Press
2 sets of 8-12
Dumbbell Bench or Incline
2 sets of 10-15
Weighted Dips
1 set of 10-15
Dumbell Flyes or Cable Crossovers
2 sets of 15-20
Military Press
2 sets of 8-12
Dumbbell Press
1 set of 8-12
Side Laterals
1 set of 15-20
Rear Laterals
1 set of 15-20
2 sets of 10-15
Close-Grip Bench Press
2 sets of 10-15
Lying or Seated Triceps Extensions
2 sets of 10-15
Seated Dumbbell Extensions
1 set of 10-15
Straight Bar or Rope Pushdowns
1 set of 15-20
Workout 2
Upper Back
Close-Grip Pull-Ups or Pulldowns
2 sets of 8-12
Bent Rows
2 sets of 8-12
Dumbbell Rows
2 sets of 8-12
Cable Rows
1 set of 8-12
Wide-Grip Pull-Ups or Pulldowns
2 sets of 8-12
Barbell or Dumbbell Curls
2 sets of 10-15
Hammer Curls
2 sets of 10-15
Preacher Curls
1 set of 10-15
Cable or Concentration Curls
1 set of 15-20
Workout 3
Quadriceps/Lower Back
2 sets of 8-12
Hack Squats or Leg Presses
2 sets of 8-12
2 sets of 6-10
1 set of 10-15
Leg Extensions
2 sets of 15-20
Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
2 sets of 10-15
Leg Curls
2 sets of 15-20
Standing Calf Raises
2 sets of 20-30
Seated Calf Raises
2 sets of 20-30
Ab Workout
2 sets until failure
Leg Raises
2 sets until failure
Twisting Decline Sit-Ups
2 sets until failure
Side Bends
2 sets of 20-30

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