The Best “Push Pull” Workout Routines for Building Your Chest, Back, and Arms

The push pull workout routine is one of my favorite workout splits for building a strong and muscular upper body.

The gist of a push pull workout is simple: you do a handful of exercises for both your pushing (chest, triceps, shoulders) and pulling (back, biceps) muscles. 

It’s worth noting right off the bat that it’s best to think of the push pull workout “split” as more of an individual workout than a full-fledged workout routine, since it doesn’t include your lower body.

That said, the push pull workout paradigm is simple, effective, and time-efficient way to organize your upper body training,

And in this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to do the push pull workout plan right, including . . .

  • What a push pull workout is
  • The benefits of push pull workouts
  • The best push pull workout for mass (including examples of a 3-day push pull workout routine, a 4-day push pull workout routine, and 5-day push pull workout routine)
  • Tips for making your push pull workouts more effective

What Is a Push Pull Workout?

A push pull workout is exactly what it sounds like: you train your pushing and pulling muscles in the same workout. 

Instead of dedicating entire workouts to one muscle group, like training your chest on one day, your back on another, and so forth, with the push-pull approach, you design your workouts according to “movement patterns.”

The pushing pattern primarily trains your . . .

And the pulling pattern your . . .

A simple example of a push pull workout would be something like bench press and incline bench press (chest, shoulders, triceps) and lat pulldowns and dumbbell rows (back, biceps).

That said, depending on where you look online, you’ll find different takes on the “proper” way to design push pull workouts.

Some people only apply this framework to upper-body workouts and assume that you’ll take care of legs in other workouts. Others try to fit their leg training into this push pull mold as well, usually training hamstrings in their pull workouts and quads, calves, and glutes in their push workouts. 

Basically, with the first option you’re just following an upper/lower split where you do both pushing and pulling exercises on your upper body days, and with the second option, you’re doing full-body workouts, not strictly push and pull workouts.

The former option makes more sense to me because it makes for shorter, more enjoyable, and usually higher quality workouts. 

“What about the push pull legs (PPL) split?” you may be wondering.

The PPL split is slightly different than a push pull workout template because with PPL, you do at least one workout per week for your pushing muscles, one for your pulling muscles, and one for your leg muscles. With push pull training, however, you combine pushing and pulling exercises into one workout.

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Push Pull Workout Routine Benefits

1. They train all upper-body muscle groups.

A common beginner mistake is dedicating too much time to training the “mirror muscles”—the pecs, shoulders, and biceps—and neglecting the back, traps, and triceps. 

This not only spoils your “aesthetics” over time, it may also increase your risk of injury. (We don’t need to get into the nitty gritty details here, but a significant strength or muscle imbalance between various upper-body muscle groups may precipitate an injury, especially a shoulder injury).

Well-designed push pull workouts avoid this issue by ensuring all of your upper-body muscles are trained proportionately.

2. They’re time-efficient.

Instead of spending an entire workout training your chest, back, shoulders, arms, or whatever, push pull workouts allow you to train all of your upper-body muscles in a single workout.

This is beneficial for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s more fun than body-part workouts and makes for higher-quality training because when you train one muscle group in a workout, its performance usually begins to plummet before your workout is finished.
  2. If you have time for three or more workouts per week, you can repeat your push pull workout at least twice. This is beneficial because research shows that training your muscles more often than once a week is likely better for building muscle.

How you organize your workouts depends on what you want to emphasize. If you want to prioritize your upper body, a good solution would be to do two push pull workouts and one lower-body workout per week. Like this: 

  • Monday: Push pull workout
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Lower-body workout
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Push pull workout
  • Saturday and Sunday: Rest

And if you want to emphasize your lower body, you could do one push pull workout and two lower-body workouts per week. Like this:

  • Monday: Lower-body workout
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Push pull workout
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Lower-body workout
  • Saturday and Sunday: Rest

If you want to develop your upper and lower body more or less equally, then you’d be better off doing a 4-day push pull workout routine like this:

  • Monday: Push pull workout
  • Tuesday: Lower-body workout
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Push pull workout
  • Friday: Lower-body workout
  • Saturday and Sunday: Rest

And if you’d like to train develop your upper or lower body even faster, a  5-day push pull workout routine like this would work well (just swap the push pull workouts for lower-body workouts and vice versa if you want to emphasize your legs instead of your upper body):

  • Monday: Push pull workout
  • Tuesday: Lower-body workout
  • Wednesday: Push pull workout
  • Thursday: Lower-body workout
  • Friday: Push pull workout
  • Saturday and Sunday: Rest

3. They allow for plenty of rest.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that the more often they train a muscle, the faster it’ll grow, but this is wrongheaded. 

A good rule of thumb when building a workout program is that you want to leave at least 48 hours or so between training the same muscle group. If you train biceps on Monday, for instance, then you generally don’t want to train them again until Wednesday.

There are two primary reasons for this: 

  1. It reduces your risk of injury (especially repetitive strain injuries).
  2. It ensures you can give maximal effort in your workouts, which helps with progressive tension overload.

As you’ll see, each of the push pull workout routines in this article give you at least two-to-four days of rest between training the same muscle group.

The Best Push Pull Workout for Mass

If you want to train all your upper-body muscles in a single push and pull workout, you have to make sure you include a . . .

  • Horizontal “push” exercise, which involves sitting or lying on your back and pushing a weight away from your chest, such as a bench press, dumbbell bench press, or chest press machine.
  • Horizontal “pull” exercise, which involves sitting, lying on your chest, or leaning over, and pulling a weight toward your chest, such as a dumbbell row, barbell row, or machine row.
  • Vertical “push” exercise, which involves sitting or standing and pushing a weight over your head, such as a barbell overhead press, Arnold press, or machine overhead press.
  • Vertical “pull” exercise, which involves sitting and pulling a weight down toward the floor or hanging and pulling your body up toward the ceiling, such as a lat pulldown or pull-up/chin-up.

If you feel your arm development is lacking, it’s also a good idea to include a few isolation exercises for your biceps and/or triceps, as these aren’t always adequately trained by compound exercises

With that in mind, here’s the best push pull workout for mass:

Flat Barbell Bench Press

3 sets | 4-to-6 reps | Rest: 3-to-5 min

Lie on a flat bench with your feet flat on the floor, directly under your knees. Pull your shoulder blades together and down, and without lifting your butt or shoulders off the bench, slightly arch your back. Grab the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart, take a deep breath, brace your core, and unrack the barbell.

Bring the barbell to the middle of your chest, making sure to keep your elbows tucked at about a 45-degree angle relative to your body. When the bar touches your chest, explosively press the bar back to the starting position.

Barbell Row

3 sets | 4-to-6 reps | Rest: 3-to-5 min

Position your feet under a loaded barbell about shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed slightly outward. Bend over and grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip and with your palms facing toward you. Straighten your back and raise your hips until your back is roughly parallel to the floor.

Initiate the movement by driving through your legs, then, using the momentum generated by your lower body, pull the barbell to your upper body, touching it anywhere between your lower chest and belly button. Once the bar touches your body, reverse the movement and return to the starting position. 

Barbell Overhead Press

3 sets | 6-to-8 reps | Rest: 2-to-3 min

Set a barbell in a rack at the same height as your upper chest. Grip the bar with a shoulder-width grip and your palms facing away from you. Unrack the barbell and take a small step backwards with each foot, keeping your wrists stacked over your elbows, and your elbows tucked close to your sides.

Plant your feet just outside of shoulder-width, arch your upper back enough so the bar is directly over your midfoot and your head is slightly behind the bar. Take a deep breath into your stomach and tighten your core muscles, squeeze your glutes as hard as you can, and push the bar off your chest toward the ceiling. Once your arms are straight and your elbows are locked out, reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

Pull-up (weighted if possible)

3 sets | 6-to-8 reps | Rest: 2-to-3 min

Grip a pull-up bar with your palms facing away from you and slightly wider than shoulder width apart, then lift up your feet so that you’re hanging with your arms straight.  Without swinging your feet or your knees, pull your body upward until your chin rises above your hands. After your chin rises above the bar, lower yourself to the starting position. Keep lowering yourself until your arms are completely outstretched and you feel a deep stretch in your lats.

Dumbbell Curl

3 sets | 8-to-10 reps | Rest: 2-to-3 min

Stand up straight holding a dumbbell in each hand, with your palms facing each other and your arms hanging straight at your sides. Keeping your left arm at your side, flex your right arm and curl the dumbbell up until it’s in front of your right shoulder. As you lift the dumbbell, rotate your wrist so that your palm is facing toward your shoulder at the top of the rep. Lower the dumbbell to the starting position, and repeat with your left arm.

3 Tips for More Productive Push Pull Workouts

1. End every set 1-to-2 reps shy of muscle failure.

In order to maximize muscle and strength gains, you need to take most of your sets close (but not all the way) to muscle failure, which is the point at which you can’t complete a rep despite giving maximum effort.

To ensure you’re taking your sets close enough to failure, ask yourself this question at the end of each set, just before re-racking the weight: “If I absolutely had to, how many more reps could I get with good form?”

If the answer is more than two, then you should increase the weight or reps to make your next set more challenging. This ensures you’re including the right balance of volume and intensity in your push pull workouts.

2. Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, move up in weight.

For instance, let’s say your workout calls for 4-to-6 reps of flat barbell bench press (as this one does). If you get 6 reps for a set of bench press, add 5 pounds to each side of the bar (10 pounds total) for your next set and work with that weight until you can (eventually) press it for 6 reps, and so forth.

If you get 3 or fewer reps with your new (higher) weight on your next sets, reduce the weight by 5 pounds to ensure you can stay within your target rep range (4-to-6) for all sets.

Follow this same pattern of trying to add reps or weight to every exercise in every workout. This method is known as double progression, and it’s a highly effective way to get fitter and stronger.

3. Take the right supplements.

Unfortunately, no amount of pills and powders are going to give you a “godlike” upper body. In fact, most muscle-building supplements are completely worthless.

But here’s the good news:

If you know how to eat and train to build muscle, certain supplements can speed up the process.  

Here are the best supplements for supporting your push pull workouts:

  • 0.8-to-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. This provides your body with the “building blocks” it needs to build and repair muscle tissue and help you recover from your workouts. If you want a clean, convenient, and delicious source of protein, try Whey+ or Casein+.
  • 3-to-5 grams of creatine per day. This will boost muscle and strength gain, improve anaerobic endurance, and reduce muscle damage and soreness from your push pull workouts. If you want a 100% natural source of creatine that also includes two other ingredients that will help boost muscle growth and improve recovery, try Recharge.
  • One serving of Pulse per day. Pulse is a 100% natural pre-workout drink that enhances energy, mood, and focus; increases strength and endurance; and reduces fatigue. You can also get Pulse with caffeine or without.

+ Scientific References

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Written by Joseph

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