The Best Push Pull Legs Split for Building Muscle

The push pull legs (or PPL for short) split is one of the most popular workout programs for building muscle and strength gains. Many athletes and bodybuilders, including advanced lifters, swear by the PPL routine as the best way to train for muscle mass. Not only is it effective for muscle growth, but you can tailor it to your schedule to reach your fitness goals, whatever they might be. 

This article explains the push pull legs training method, details the many benefits, and outlines the StrengthLog Push Pull Legs Intermediate and Advanced training programs.

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What Is the Push Pull Legs Split?

The push pull legs split is likely the most popular way to combine your major muscle groups into a three-day workout routine.

Push pull legs split

You can do abs on any of the training sessions whenever you have the time and the most energy.

Even though the PPL split is a three-day routine, you can adapt it in different ways to suit your goals and experience level. 

  • A beginner or intermediate-level lifter might thrive on three weekly sessions, working out on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
  • Advanced lifters, on the other hand, can ramp up the training frequency and train six consecutive days with only one rest day during the week.
  • You can also use a PPL routine as a four- or five-day split by scheduling your training days appropriately. The drawback is that your training split won’t be consistent; you’ll work different muscle groups on different days from week to week.

Regardless of how many days per week you train, the push pull legs split is a great way to divide your different muscle groups, allowing optimal training volume and recovery time to suit your individual needs.

Who Should Do the Push Pull Legs Split?

Push pull legs workout splits work great for anyone with some training experience. Whether you’re looking to build muscle or going for fat loss, a PPL split will help you reach your goals and give you the best results possible.

For a beginner new to the world of strength training, jumping straight into a PPL routine might be too much. Instead, a full body workout program where you train your entire body two or three times weekly is a good idea to prepare for the high volumes of a PPL split. An upper-lower split routine where you divide your muscle groups into one workout for your upper body muscles and one for your lower body is also an ideal training program for the beginner.

If you’re a beginner, check out any of these three programs. They’ll introduce you to weight training with the best exercises and prepare your body for more advanced routines like a push pull legs split.

They are all free in StrengthLog, ready for you to start gaining.

Advanced trainees also benefit from a push pull legs training plan. You can tailor your training frequency and exercise selection to take advantage of your experience. You can fit two rounds of a PPL routine into a given week, allowing for a high training volume and making time for both compound exercises and isolation work.

The push pull legs split is also popular among elite bodybuilders. Research (and real-life experience) shows that high-level bodybuilders follow either a bro split, working each muscle group on separate days, or a three-day split like a PPL routine performed twice weekly.1

Lastly, if you enjoy the push pull legs training method, you can make it your long-term workout plan of choice. It stands the test of time, and you could reap its benefits for your entire lifting career if you want to.

Pros of a Push Pull Legs Split

The pros of a PPL routine far outweigh the potential cons. 

  • You combine muscle groups that work together in similar movement patterns. You train your push muscles: your chest, shoulders, and triceps in the push workout. On the following day, you work your pull muscles: your back, biceps, and rear delts. Then you finish the PPL split with leg workouts that combine your lower body muscles that all work together.
  • Each body part gets plenty of time for recovery between gym sessions, even if you train each muscle group twice weekly. There is minimal overlap between push exercises on the first training day and the different exercises in your pull workout. And your lower body workouts on day three are mostly separate from the first two.
  • Push pull legs splits are highly customizable. Want to work out three, four, five, or even six days per week? No problem. You can easily tailor a PPL routine to your experience level, goals, and schedule. You can even switch the sessions around to the day of the week you prefer. P can stand for both Push and Pull, so you can start with either day, depending on your priorities.
  • No need to think about and plan for muscle overlap. For example, your triceps won’t be sore and limit your bench press, which could happen if you train your arms a day or two before chest day.
  • A well-designed PPL routine has room for both compound movements and isolation exercises, allowing you to focus on building muscle and strength while also working on any weak point you might have.

Cons of a Push Pull Legs Split

While the PPL method has more pros than cons, you should be aware of a few potential drawbacks.

  • With the three-day PPL split, you only train each muscle group once per week. That’s not a problem, but if you’re an advanced lifter, you might have to squeeze a lot of sets into each workout to get enough training volume for optimal muscle growth. That could make the training sessions overlong for anyone who can’t spend that much time in the gym.
  • It can be challenging to fit everything into a three-day PPL routine if you’re an advanced lifter or bodybuilder. You might have to do several big lifts in every workout, which can be less than optimal for strength development.
  • The six-day-per-week push pull legs split is demanding and can dip into your energy reserves. Your diet and recovery need to be on point to make it work. You should only consider it if you are a reasonably advanced lifter with plenty of experience and the ability to recover from a high training volume.

Overall, the benefits of a PPL split outnumber the drawbacks. The cons are mainly a question of your training experience and available time, and you can easily work around them by adapting the program.

Introducing the StrengthLog Push Pull Legs Workout Routines

In the StrengthLog workout tracker, you’ll find two excellent push pull legs workout splits, one for intermediate lifters and one for advanced trainees. You can’t go wrong with either one.

Let’s take a closer look at them and help you decide the best option.

Push Pull Legs Intermediate

The intermediate PPL split comes in two variants: one with three weekly workouts and one where you train six days per week. 

The 3-day and 6-day routines are basically the same, the main difference being that you do two rounds instead of one in the latter.

Below is an overview of the StrengthLog Push Pull Legs Intermediate routine. 

Day 1: Back and Biceps

Day 2: Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps

Day 3: Legs

Day 4: Rest or repeat the above

As you can see, we’ve flipped the pull and push days around, making it into a Pull/Push/Legs split. You avoid deadlifting and squatting back-to-back if you’ve opted for the three-day version and want to train several days in a row.

Now you have a day or push movements between those two challenging lifts, allowing for better recovery to avoid overworking the muscle groups involved in both movements. If you train six days per week, you’ll perform deadlifts and barbell squats on consecutive days no matter what, but for the intermediate lifter, that extra day of recovery is a good thing.

Here is an outline of a week of training:

Workout 1, Pull Day

  1. Deadlift
  2. Lat Pulldown
  3. Barbell Row
  4. Barbell Curl

Workout 2, Push Day

  1. Bench Press
  2. Overhead Press
  3. Dumbbell Chest Fly
  4. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
  5. Dumbbell Standing Triceps Extension

Workout 3, Leg Day

  1. Squat
  2. Leg Press
  3. Leg Curl
  4. Seated Calf Raise

The other difference between the three- and six-day variants is that you only deadlift once per week in the six-day version even though you perform two rounds of the routine. Deadlifts tax your nervous system, and most people benefit from only doing them once, especially as part of a demanding six-day workout plan for the entire body.

You can see details like rep range, the number of sets, and the % of 1RM, where applicable, in StrengthLog.

Push Pull Legs Advanced

Our advanced PPL routine ramps things up. 

StrengthLog’s Push Pull Legs Advanced is a six-day routine, and it’s not a training program for beginners. If the intermediate PPL split is tailored for general muscle-building and gaining strength, the advanced split is intended for bodybuilders and experienced lifters. 

Day 1: Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps

Day 2: Back, Rear Delts, and Biceps

Day 3: Legs

Day 4: Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps

Day 5: Back, Rear Delts, and Biceps

Day 6: Legs

Day 7: Rest

Every other training day is a “light” training day, and every other is heavy, allowing you to hit all muscle fibers with a combination of compound exercises and isolation movements.

Light weights don’t mean less challenging, though.

It means focusing on proper form, mind-muscle connection, and hitting your body parts from different angles, all important things for overall muscle development.

One the heavy training days you move some serious weight using primarily compound movements. You’ll see strength progression as well as muscle growth.

A week of training with the StrengthLog’s Push Pull Legs Advanced Split looks like this:

Workout 1, Push Day

  1. Dumbbell Chest Press
  2. Incline Dumbbell Press
  3. Standing Cable Chest Fly
  4. Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  5. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
  6. Cable Lateral Raise
  7. Barbell Lying Triceps Extension
  8. Tricep Pushdown
  9. Dumbbell Standing Triceps Extension

Workout 2, Pull Day

  1. Deadlift
  2. Lat Pulldown
  3. Barbell Row
  4. Dumbbell Row
  5. Reverse Dumbbell Flyes
  6. Barbell Curl
  7. Dumbbell Curl
  8. Hammer Curl

Workout 3, Leg Day

  1. Leg Extension
  2. Leg Press
  3. Lunges
  4. Romanian Deadlift
  5. Leg Curl

Workout 4, Push Day

  1. Bench Press
  2. Incline Dumbbell Press
  3. Bar Dip
  4. Overhead Press
  5. Barbell Upright Row
  6. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
  7. Close-Grip Bench Press
  8. Overhead Cable Triceps Extension

Workout 5, Pull Day

  1. Lat Pulldown
  2. Cable Seated Row
  3. Dumbbell Row
  4. Dumbbell Shrug
  5. Back Extension
  6. Dumbbell Curl
  7. Preacher Curl
  8. Concentration Curl

Workout 5, Leg Day

  1. Squat
  2. Leg Press
  3. Leg Extension
  4. Seated Leg Curl

Again, you’ll find details regarding reps, sets, and % or 1RM in StrengthLog.

Perform a couple of warm-up sets before hitting your working weights. Warming up gets the blood flowing to your muscles, improves your performance, and reduces the risk of injury.

StrengthLog’s Push Pull Legs Split: Progression Model

Whether you’re following the intermediate or advanced PPL split, progression is the key word to build muscle and strength. Doing the same things over and over means that your strength and muscle mass stay the same.

The two essential factors for gaining muscle are progressive overload and training volume. Unless you continuously lift heavier weights or do more work, your muscles won’t respond to your efforts by growing bigger and stronger.

Our push pull legs splits do the work for you. At least the progression planning part. You’ll have to put in the hard work in the weight room yourself, though.

Both routines offer built-in progression in the form of percentage-based 1RM training in the squat, deadlift, and bench press.

In addition, you get a gradual increase in training volume during the program. You add a set or two of selected exercises to the workouts each week.

You want to do at least ten sets per muscle group each week, although advanced lifters, bodybuilders, and athletes might need 20 sets per muscle group for optimal muscle growth.2 3

training volume push pull legs split

At the same time, you don’t want too much volume. When you perform more sets than you can recover from, you get diminishing returns and might find yourself unable to recover from your training.

optimal training volume push pull legs split

That’s why StrengthLog’s Push Pull Legs splits offers you several options. No single training program fits everyone.

If you’re a high-level athlete or an experienced bodybuilder: go with our advanced PPL routine.

If not, the intermediate PPL split has you covered.

Stimulate, Don’t Annihilate

“Stimulate, don’t annihilate.” Those are the words of 8-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney. What do they mean?

Train hard, but train smart.

  • Increase the weights when you can, but not at the expense of good form and a full range of motion.
  • Challenge yourself, but don’t train to failure all the time.

Training to failure is when you can’t do another repetition, no matter what. You might even try to do one more rep and fail, hence the term. A personal trainer might tell their client to train to failure to keep them motivated, but research does not support the concept as a superior method for muscle growth.4 5 Do it too much and too often, and it might even lead to overtraining and psychological burnout.6

Taking a set to failure now and then can be helpful for advanced lifters to stimulate muscle growth. However, you generally achieve similar muscle and strength gains with or without doing so.

The benefit of leaving a rep or two “in the tank” is that you recover much faster. That’s important with a high-volume, high-frequency workout routine like a push pull legs split. Instead of getting worn down, you continuously get bigger and stronger.

That being said, training to failure not and then is challenging and fun. Just don’t do it every set or even every workout. And when you do take a set to failure, do so in isolation exercises or using a machine. There is a greater chance of something going wrong and you injuring yourself if you go all-out on heavy compound exercises using free weights.

Rest Intervals

How long you rest between sets impacts how much weight you can use and how many reps you can grind out. Depending on your training goals, resting shorter or longer can be beneficial.

Research shows that a 3-minute rest between sets might promote greater muscle growth and strength increases compared to resting one minute.7 The difference isn’t massive, though.8

For most people, resting for 2–3 minutes between sets is ideal. You might want to rest even longer to recover properly for your next set of heavy compound movements like the deadlift or the squat. On the other hand, you might be ready for your next set of an isolation exercise, like the dumbbell lateral raise, in 60 seconds.

Be flexible. You don’t have to time your rest intervals to the second. When you feel ready for your next set, you probably are. Resting a minimum of one minute between sets is likely a good idea, though, to perform your best.

Preparing for StrengthLog’s Push Pull Legs Split

Both the intermediate and advanced versions of StrengthLog’s Push Pull Legs Split use the percentage of a one-rep max method to calculate your working weights in the bench press, squat, and deadlift

To establish an estimate of your 1RM without doing max lifts in the gym, enter the number of reps you can do with a given weight (in any unit) in our nifty calculator, and we’ll predict it for you.

>> The Best 1RM Calculator: Calculate Your One Rep Max

While no calculator for predicting your 1RM is 100% accurate, this one is based on the most accurate equations for all three big lifts available.9

Already know your 1RM in the bench press, squat, and deadlift? You’re good to go! Go lift some weights.

If you’re already in the gym and want the easiest way to estimate your 1RMs on the fly, you’ll also find this calculator in StrengthLog.

When You Reach the End of StrengthLog’s Push Pull Legs Split

The advanced push pull legs routine takes you on a six-week muscle-building journey, while the intermediate one is seven weeks long. Sooner or later, you’ll have completed the PPL program of your choice.

However, all good things must not come to an end.

If you enjoyed the last 6–7 weeks and the results you achieved, there is no reason to make any changes. The StrengthLog Push Pull Legs Splits aren’t a quick fix. They are designed to give you gains in the long term. “If it works, don’t touch anything” is an excellent strength-training motto.

When you finish the push pull legs split and want more, you have two options.

  • Start over from week one. You’ll find that the lower volume and intensity of the first week feel effortless, and you’ll likely be surprised at how much stronger you are.
  • Keep going with week six or seven. If your body feels strong and you’re still recovering properly, feel free to use the last week of the program as your go-to routine from now on.

If you feel tired after all your hard work (it’s normal and natural if that’s so), take a week off from serious training and simply play around in the gym. Or take a week completely away from weight training, go for a few walks or play some other sport you enjoy, and let your body recover and prepare for the next round of PPL fun.

Follow This Program

Want to give StrengthLog’s Push Pull Legs Split a go?

It’s available exclusively in our workout app StrengthLog.

While our PPL splits require a premium subscription, StrengthLog itself is entirely free. You can download it and use it as a workout tracker and general strength training app – and all basic functionality is free forever.

It even has a bunch of free programs and workouts. However, our more advanced programs (such as this one) are for premium users only.

Want to give premium a shot? We offer all new users a free 14-day trial of premium, which you can activate in the app.

Download StrengthLog for free with the buttons below:

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Good luck with your training!

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References

  1. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: June 2013 – Volume 27 – Issue 6 – p 1609-1617. Training Practices and Ergogenic Aids Used by Male Bodybuilders.
  2. J Hum Kinet. 2022 Feb 10;81:199-210. A Systematic Review of The Effects of Different Resistance Training Volumes on Muscle Hypertrophy.
  3. International Journal of Strength and Conditioning, Vol 1 No 1 (2021). Resistance Training Recommendations to Maximize Muscle Hypertrophy in an Athletic Population: Position Stand of the IUSCA.
  4. Strength and Conditioning Journal: October 2019 – Volume 41 – Issue 5 – p 108-113. Does Training to Failure Maximize Muscle Hypertrophy?
  5. Journal of Sport and Health Science, Volume 11, Issue 2, March 2022, Pages 202-211. Effects of resistance training performed to repetition failure or non-failure on muscular strength and hypertrophy: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
  6. Sports Medicine volume 23, pages 106–129 (1997). Resistance Exercise Overtraining and Overreaching.
  7. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: July 2016 – Volume 30 – Issue 7 – p 1805-1812. Longer Interset Rest Periods Enhance Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men.
  8. Eur J Sport Sci. 2017 Sep;17(8):983-993. The effects of short versus long inter-set rest intervals in resistance training on measures of muscle hypertrophy: A systematic review.
  9. The Accuracy of Prediction Equations for Estimating 1-RM Performance in the Bench Press, Squat, and Deadlift, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: November 1997 – Volume 11 – Issue 4 – p 211-213.
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Andreas Abelsson

Andreas has over 30 years of training experience and is a highly appreciated writer and educator on exercise, fitness, and nutrition. Few people stay more up to date and have a better grasp of the field of exercise science than Andreas.