You can’t beat the classics.
Muscle cars, classic physiques (think Steve Reeves era), classic attire and hair styles that always seem to make a comeback.
That’s why it seems like no matter how many training splits I try, no matter how many different techniques and routines, I always seem to find my way back to one tried and true classic that has become a favorite of mine: The Push/Pull Split.
With push/pull training, any muscle group that overlaps with another will be trained on the same day.
Take a workout with heavy weighted dips for example. Though this is primarily an exercise that stimulates strength and growth in the chest, the deltoids and tricep muscles will be taxed as well. So rather than splitting these up and having one day for chest, one for delts, and one for triceps, all three muscle groups will be trained on “push” day. This gets work done on all three muscle groups, all the while hitting minimal movements.
Another example would be weighted pull ups. Weighted pull ups are a great exercise to pack mass on the back, but the biceps and some rear delts are being indirectly hit as well. So back, biceps, and rear delts will all be trained on the same day.
As for lower body and abs, they can either have there own day devoted to them or be split up between push and pull days, with squats being hit as a push exercise and hamstrings being hit as a pull exercise.
2-3 Days a Week is all it Takes
A big benefit of training this way vs separating the body into one muscle group being trained a day is that the whole body can be trained in 2-3 days a week. With a day off in between each workout you’ll have ample time to rest and recover.
Whoa whoa wait a second! Only 2-3 days a week!? Won’t I lose size if I’m not in the gym 6 days a week?
I remember thinking the same thing when I was a bit younger when I talked to the older guys in the gym who were only in there every other day. These guys were always bigger and stronger than me, but I always just took that as them having the legendary “old man strength.” Now that I’m more experienced, I attribute this to the fact that they were training hard during their 3 days there, resting and recovering, and balancing work and home life at the same time.
Now sure, if I wasn’t a full time worker, ate 100% perfect, slept 8-10 hours a night, and lived a stress free life sure I could probably live in the gym and still get results. But that’s not realistic right now for me or the millions of other husbands and dads who work full time out there, so progressing and growing with weight training without letting the other aspects of my life slip, a 3 day approach works perfectly.
Designing my own Push/Pull Routine
The main lifts
When designing my own push/pull routine, I like to stick to heavy compound movements as my main focus. I’ll hit 3-4 of these exercises, before finishing up with 1 or 2 sets of assistance and pump work.
These exercises are the ones that recruit the most muscle fibers, have the biggest carry over to other muscle groups, and add strength and size. For these movements, I like to use reverse pyramid training (RPT) to progress weekly.
If you’re new to reverse pyramid training, its a training technique where you start with your heaviest set and decrease the weight by around 10% with every set and add a rep or two
To use squats as an example it would look like this:
- set one: 225lbs for 5 reps
- set two: 200lbs for 6 reps
- set three: 180lbs for 8 reps
This hits muscles with strength and hypertrophy rep ranges all within one exercise, with the drop of weight in every set keeping you fresh for the next. This isn’t anything too new, the guys over at Anabolicmen, Greg from Kinobody, as well as Martin from Leangains use it and get great results. It’s really a great way of training!
Some examples of compound lifts:
- Bench press (flat, incline, decline)
- Dumbbell bench press(flat, incline, decline)
- Weighted Dips
- Military press
- Clean and press
- Push press/jerks
- Lying tricep extensions
- weighted chins/pull ups
- barbell or dumbbell rows
- machine rows
- barbell bicep curls
- Deadlifts or romanian deadlifts
Though my primary focus in training is progressing on my main lifts, isolation movements come into play as assistance exercises as well.
Coming from a background in competitive natural bodybuilding, I’m still addicted to the pump.
There’s nothing like banging out a few higher rep sets of bicep curls or lateral raises at the end of a workout to fill the muscles up and make you feel huge! The only problem with this is that though you look bigger in the mirror after training, as soon as the blood leaves the muscles you’ve targeted you return to how you look before going to the gym that day. That’s why I use this type of training as a secondary technique, saving them for the end to finish things off by filling my muscles up with glycogen.
For these movements I generally stick to the same weight through all sets, either doing sets 8-12 with a minute or so of rest in between, or doing them rest pause fashion with only 15 seconds or rest in between and going taking each set near failure. This is killer!
Another option for assistance work would be explosive bodyweight progressions. While not “pump up” exercises, they are a great way to build more power along with working the muscles pretty darn well.
Examples of isolation exercises:
- side lateral raises
- front lateral raises
- Arnold presses
- dumbbell kickbacks
- cable tricep extension variations
- chest fly variations
- push up variations (clapping, diamond pushups,etc.)
- Handstand pushups
- higher rep dumbbell or barbell rows
- alternating dumbbell curls
- zottman curls
- cable curls
- bodyweight pull up/chin up variations
- band pull aparts
- rear delt fly/machine fly
- leg press
- leg extensions
- leg curls
- weighted walking lunges
- box jumps
- jump squat variations (jumping split squats, broad jump, etc.)
- calve raises
Putting it all Together
Below are 2 Push/Pull variations that I’ve come up with. Each workout can be followed of a Monday, Wednesday, Friday rotation, or every other day. As you can see, they’re pretty minimalistic and can be done in under an hour.
With this routine, all muscle groups are hit once a week starting with main lifts and finished off with assistance lifts.
- Weighted pull ups or chin ups RPT 3×5,6,8
- Hex bar deadlifts RPT 3×5,6,8
- Dumbbell rows 3×10-12
- Barbell bicep curls RPT 2×6,8
- Zottman curls 3×10-12
- Low incline DB bench RPT 3×5,6,8
- Flat bench press RPT 3×5,6,8
- Seated DB military press RPT 2×6,8
- Pushups with weight on back 2×12-15
- Cable tricep pushdowns 3×10-12
- Side lateral raises 2 sets rest pause
- Front or back squat RPT 3×3,6,10
- Leg press RPT 3×8,10,12
- Leg extension RPT 2×10,12
- Stiff leg DB leads 2×10,12
- Calve raise 3×12-15
- Cable ab crunch 3×10-12
This routine will focus on main lifts the first two workouts a week, saving all assistance and pump work for a separate day. This routine will hit the whole body twice a week.The full body workout can also be hit with body weight progressions, so if you enjoy doing those they can be reserved for that day.
- Incline bench press RPT 3×5,6,8
- Flat DB bench RPT 3×5,6,8
- DB military press RPT 3×5,6,8
- Back or front squats RPT 3×3,6,10
- Weighted pull ups or chin ups RPT 3×5,6,8
- Barbell or cable rows RPT 3×5,6,8
- Alternating DB curls 3×10-12
- Romainan deadlifts RPT 3×8,10,12
“Full pump day”
- 50 pull ups in as few sets as possible
- Incline DB bench 3×10-12
- Leg press 3×10-12
- Barbell curls 3×10-12
- Lying tricep extensions 3×10-12
- Side lateral raise 3×10-12
- Hanging leg raise 2×10-12
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