3 Day Push / Pull / Legs: The Ultimate Guide!


The 3 days per week push / pull / legs split is one of the most effective training splits in the world. Many of the biggest and strongest athletes in the world have used this training split throughout their training careers.

If you want to get jacked and freaky strong then this split is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Josh Bryant Programming
  • Part 2: Forced Reps Training
  • Part 3: Westside Barbell
  • Part 4: Rest-Pause Training

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about the 3 day push / pull / legs split.

The push / pull / legs split is one of the oldest and most effective ways to train. The idea is simple: you train your entire body over 3 separate workouts. You have a “push” day where you train your chest, shoulders and triceps. You have a “legs” day where you train your entire lower body. Finally you have a “pull” day where you train your back and biceps.

There are many different versions of the push / pull / legs split. However, one of the most effective versions is the 3 day push / pull / legs split.

The basic idea is to train 3 days per week hitting each body part once every 7 days. For example:

  • Monday: Push Workout
  • Wednesday: Legs Workout
  • Friday: Pull Workout

The 3 days per week push / pull / legs split has many advantages.

First of all the split reduces overlap between different muscle groups. You train all of the pressing muscles and all of the pulling muscles on the same training day so all of these muscles are trained and recover together. This is a great way to make sure that you are properly recovering from your workouts.

With some other bodybuilding style splits you might be training your chest or your back when your arms are still sore. Obviously this is not a good thing if you want to be as strong as possible in the gym.

Another huge advantage of the 3 day push / pull / legs split is you have 4 full days off during the week to recover from your workouts. Many trainees find that they make their best progress training 3 days per week. This is true for beginners and advanced trainees.

Keep in mind that guys like Stan Efferding and Eric Lilliebridge make their best progress training just twice per week!

If you struggle to make progress training 4+ days per week then the 3 day push / pull / legs split might be perfect for you. There are a TON of different ways that you can organize your workouts using this training split.

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you 4 of the most effective programs to use with this split:

  • Josh Bryant Programming
  • Forced Reps Training
  • Westside Barbell
  • Rest-Pause Training

There are many other ways to design a 3 day push / pull / legs routine but these 4 programs work AWESOME for a lot of trainees. The Josh Bryant and Westside Barbell 3 day programs work great for powerlifters or anyone who wants to get freaky strong.

On the other hand the forced reps and rest-pause 3 day programs are perfect if you want to build muscle mass but you also like throwing around heavy slag iron. I am confident that at least one of these programs will work great for you.

Note: if you have any trouble reading the routines presented here then check out this article on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: Josh Bryant Programming

Josh Bryant is one of the world’s most successful powerlifting coaches. He has trained many of the world’s strongest athletes including the world record bench presser Julius Maddox.

One of Josh’s favourite training splits to use with his clients is the classic 3 days per week push / pull / legs split. For example:

Josh Bryant 3 Day Push Pull Legs Split

  • Monday: Heavy Bench Press Workout
  • Wednesday: Heavy Squat / Deadlift Workout
  • Friday: Upper Back / Biceps Accessory Workout

Josh believes that the 3 day push / pull / legs split is a great option for advanced powerlifters and anyone who wants to get freaky strong. One of the biggest advantages of this split is that there is a HUGE emphasis on rest and recovery.

First of all you are only training body parts once per week. I know a lot of “experts” on the internet say that you have to train a body part 2-3 times per week to get stronger. Nothing could be further from the truth! A lot of world-class powerlifters find that they get their best results training each body part or lift once per week.

When you are squatting or deadlift 500-600+ pounds every week you need all the rest you can get!

The bench press specialist Vincent Dizenzo hired Josh Bryant in 2011 because he wanted to bench press 600 pounds in a new weight class. Josh said “game on!” and put Vincent on an 11-week bench press peaking cycle.

Here is one of the exact “Push” workouts that Josh designed for Vincent during his 600 pound bench press training cycle. Check it out:

Vincent Dizenzo Bench Press Workout

  • A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 2**, 1/1/X/1, 4 minutes rest
  • B1: Bottom position overcoming isometric, 2 x 1, 6 second hold, 2 minutes rest
  • B2: Speed bench press (competition grip), 2 x 3***, 1/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • C1: Top position overcoming isometric, 2 x 1, 6 second hold, 2 minutes rest
  • C2: Speed bench press (competition grip), 2 x 3***, 1/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • D1: Bench press against chains, 1 x 6****, 1/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • E1: Dead bench (competition grip), 3 x 1*****, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Standing band flyes, 2 x 15, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • G1: Flat DB triceps extension against bands, 4 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • H1: Rope cable pushdown, 3 x 15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • I1: Band scap retractions, 3 x 12, 1/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest
  • J1: Standing band pull aparts, 4 x 12, 1/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest

Here is Vincent’s training video for this workout:

Talk about a high-volume bench press workout!

Vincent is performing 10 separate exercises for his chest, shoulders and triceps! There is no way you can train with this kind of volume when you are hitting body parts 2-3 times a week. However, you have the option to train with these kinds of high-volume / high-intensity workouts when you use the 3 day push / pull / legs split.

OK, let’s let’s take a closer look at Vincent’s “push” workout. Vincent’s workout is organized into 4 main phases:

Outline Of Vincent’s Bench Routine

  1. Phase #1: Heavy bench press set 
  2. Phase #2: Speed bench press sets supersetted w/ bench press isometric sets
  3. Phase #3: Bench press supplemental exercises (bench w/ chains, dead bench)
  4. Phase #4: Bench press accessory exercises (chest, triceps, shoulders)

When Josh works with elite-level powerlifters this is how he likes to organize their workouts when they train for their competitions. Josh starts the workout with the competition lift (squat, bench press, deadlift) because this is what you are tested on at a powerlifting meet!

The top set can be a heavy single, double or triple depending on how how many weeks you have until your powerlifting competition.

After the heavy set Josh has his powerlifters perform 3-10 “speed sets.” These are a lot like the speed sets performed with the Westside Barbell training system. After the speed sets Josh has his powerlifters perform several supplementary and accessory exercises to help drive up the competition lift.

Again when you use the 3 day push / pull / legs split you can use a lot more volume on the supplementary and accessory exercises because you have so many off days to help you recover during the week.

If you are looking for a great powerlifting program to use with the 3 day push / pull / legs split then the Josh Bryant powerlifting program is a great choice.

Part 2: Forced Reps Training

The 3 day push / pull / legs split isn’t just for powerlifters! It also works great for bodybuilders looking to build muscle mass. If you want to build muscle working out 3 days a week then high-intensity training is definitely the way to go.

One of the best high-intensity training programs is Dorian Yates’ “Blood And Guts” training. Dorian’s training program was based around training to failure or even beyond failure on every set.

Dorian trained 4-5 days a week using a traditional bodybuilding “bro-split” but his high-intensity program can also be performed 3 days a week.

Here is what your weekly training schedule might look like:

  • Monday: Chest / Shoulders / Triceps
  • Wednesday: Quads / Hamstrings / Calves
  • Friday: Back / Biceps

Of course you can train on Tuesday / Thursday / Saturday or any other 3 days of the week if that works better for your schedule. Just make sure that you have at least 1 rest day in between all of your workouts.

As I mentioned earlier Dorian all the way to failure or even beyond failure on every set. This is why it is called “high-intensity” training – you are pushing yourself to your absolute limits on every set! Dorian’s favourite high-intensity training technique was called “forced reps.

Here is what a set with forced reps looks like:

  • Step #1: Train to failure in the 5-10 rep range.
  • Step #2: Perform 1-3 extra reps with the help of a spotter.

Let’s take a look at a video example: 

This is a video of Dorian Yates performing the Nautilus machine pullover for his upper back. Dorian performs 5 reps on his own. He hits failure in the middle of this 6th rep. At this point his training partner pushes on the machine to help Dorian lift the weight.

After finishing the rep Dorian lowers the weight back to the starting position on his own without any help. That counts as 1 “forced rep.” Dorian completes 3 total forced reps in this set.

All in all Dorian performs 5 regular reps on his own plus 3 additional forced reps. Talk about a high-intensity set!

If you are going to use the 3 day push / pull / legs split to build muscle then I highly recommend you use post-failure techniques like forced reps to stimulate growth.

Here is a Dorian-inspired push / pull / legs routine that you may want to try. Check it out:

Dorian-Style “Push” Workout

  • A1: Decline bench press, 1 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: Hammer strength incline press, 1 x 6-8**, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • C1: 30 degree incline DB fly, 1 x 10-12**, 2/0/1/0, rest as needed
  • D1: Smith machine overhead press, 1 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • E1: Standing cable lateral raise, 1 x 10-12**, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • F1: Standing cable rope pushdown, 1 x 10-12**, 2/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • G1: Lying ez-bar extension (to forehead), 1 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, rest as needed

**Train to failure in the listed rep range, then perform 1-3 extra forced reps with the help of a spotter. If the rep range is 6-8 then you perform 6-8 reps to failure and then perform 1-3 extra forced reps to finish the set.

You can click right here to see Dorian walking a bodybuilder through this exact workout.

Dorian-Style “Legs” Workout

  • A1: Seated leg extension machine, 1 x 8-10**, 2/0/1/0, rest as needed
  • B1: 45 degree leg press, 1 x 11-13, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • C1: Machine hack squat, 1 x 8-10, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • D1: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / neutral), 1 x 5-7**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • E1: Stiff legged deadlift, 1 x 8-10, 3/0/1/0, rest as needed
  • F1: Standing calf raise, 1 x 11-13, 2/1/X/1, rest as needed

**Train to failure in the listed rep range, then perform 1-3 extra forced reps with the help of a spotter. If the rep range is 6-8 then you perform 6-8 reps to failure and then perform 1-3 extra forced reps to finish the set.

This is a modified version of the exact leg routine Dorian used during his reign as the Mr. Olympia champion. You can click right here to see Dorian perform his full leg workout.

Dorian-Style “Pull” Workout

  • A1: Nautilus pullover, 1 x 6-8**, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: Hammer strength pulldown, 1 x 8-10**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • C1: Conventional deadlift, 1 x 6-8, 1/1/X/0, rest as needed
  • D1: Unilateral machine row, 1 x 5-7**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • E1: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinating grip), 1 x 7-9**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • F1: Machine preacher curl, 1 x 9-11**, 3/0/1/0, rest as needed

**Train to failure in the listed rep range, then perform 1-3 extra forced reps with the help of a spotter. If the rep range is 6-8 then you perform 6-8 reps to failure and then perform 1-3 extra forced reps to finish the set.

Once again this is a modified version of the exact back routine that Dorian used during his prime. You can click right here to see Dorian perform his full unmodified back workout.

High-intensity bodybuilding routines work great for building muscle mass but they aren’t all “roses and sunshine.”

There’s a reason so few people use Dorian’s high-intensity training style in the modern era: it’s just too hard for most people to handle! You really have to be a knucklehead to want to train this way year-round.

If you love to throw around heavy slag iron and you love the feeling of training to failure then go ahead and give this routine a shot. I am sure you will be pleased with the results.

Part 3: Westside Barbell

The Westside Barbell training program is one of the most famous and effective powerlifting training programs of all time. The original Westside template combines “max effort” and “dynamic effort” workouts using a 4 day upper / lower split. For example:

The Original Westside Training Schedule 

  • Sunday: Dynamic Effort Bench Press
  • Monday: Max Effort Squat / Deadlift
  • Wednesday: Max Effort Bench Press
  • Friday: Dynamic Effort Squat / Deadlift

For the max effort workouts you work up to a 1-rep max on a “special exercise” that is similar to but slightly different from the competition squat / bench press / deadlift. Some good examples include safety squat bar box squats, banded bench presses and deficit deadlifts.

Each week you change the max effort exercise to keep your body adapting to your routine.

The dynamic effort days are completely different. Instead of working up to a 1-rep max on a special exercise you perform 8-10 “speed sets” on the competition lifts. These speed sets are performed at around 50-70% of your 1-rep max. 

This workout schedule works extremely well for advanced powerlifters. There’s just one problem with it: most people can’t recover from it! It is just too hard on the average trainee’s recovery system.

Fortunately there are ways to modify the original Westside Barbell training program to make it work better for the average trainee. One of the best ways to do this is to combine the 3 day push / pull / legs split with Westside Barbell training principles.

For example here is what your weekly training schedule would look like:

  • Monday: Max Effort Bench Press
  • Wednesday: Max Effort Squat / Deadlift
  • Friday: Upper Back / Biceps Assistance

This type of Westside Barbell routine works WONDERFUL for anyone with below average to average recovery ability. The push / pull / legs split does a great job of reducing overlap between body parts and gives you plenty of rest in between workouts.

I first learned about his modified Westside routine format from Wesley Silveira, the founder of IronAddicts.com. Wesley found that a lot of his “average Joe” clients made SCREAMING fast gains using this type of training schedule. I have used it with some of my own training clients and I agree that it is a great way for the average trainee to train for strength and size gains.

Here is a sample routine you may want to try. Check it out:

Max Effort Bench Press Day

  • A1: Reverse band bench press (shoulder-width grip), 3 x 1**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 1 x 10, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: 30 degree incline DB press, 2 x 15-25****, 3/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Decline ez-bar extension (to forehead), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E1: V-bar cable pushdown, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest

**Performed at 85%, 92%, 100% of your estimated 1-rep max on that day.

****Perform 2 sets to failure in the 15-25 rep range using the same dumbbells for both sets.

You can click right here to see a perfect demonstration of the reverse band bench press.

Max Effort Squat Day

  • A1: Safety squat bar box squat, 3 x 1**, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Stiff legged deadlift, 2 x 8-10, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Glute ham raise, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Reverse hyperextension, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed at 85%, 92%, 100% of your estimated 1-rep max on that day.

You can click right here to see a perfect video of the safety squat bar box squat.

Upper Back Assistance Day

  • A1: Barbell dead stop row, 2 x 8-10, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: 1-arm DB row**, 2 x 10-15, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Wide overhand grip lat pulldowns, 2 x 10-15, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: 30 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3 x 10-12, 3/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest

**Use form in between an ultra-strict DB row and a “Kroc row.” In other words some momentum is allowed but keep it under control.

You can click right here to see the 4 x World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw demonstrating the barbell dead stop row.

If this routine looks like “not enough volume” then I dare you to try it and prove me wrong. Many trainees find that this kind of modified Westside routine is one of the fastest ways for them to reach their fitness goals.

Of course this is just 1 week of the routine. With a true Westside Barbell program the max effort lifts would change every single week and the assistance exercises would change every 2-4 weeks.

If you really want to learn the ins and outs of the Westside Barbell training program then check out the following articles:

These two articles will teach you everything you need to know about how to get freaky strong, jacked and maybe even a little tan using Westside training principles.

Part 4: Rest-Pause Training

If you have never heard of rest-pause sets then your name must be Patrick Star because you are living under a rock! Rest-pause sets are a high-intensity bodybuilding technique invented by Dante Trudel for his “DC Training” program.

Here is the procedure for a rest-pause set:

  • Train to failure in the 6-12 rep range, then rest 20-30 seconds.
  • Train to failure a second time with the same weight, then rest another 20-30 seconds.
  • Train to failure a third time with the same weight. Done!

Here is IFBB pro Dusty Hanshaw giving a perfect demonstration of a rest-pause set:

As you can see a rest-pause set is really three sets performed to failure with very short rest periods in between them. Rest-pause sets are probably one of the fastest ways for a bodybuilder to get stronger. They are almost like cluster sets and place a tremendous overload on your central nervous system.

Another huge advantage of rest-pause sets for a bodybuilder is you can get stronger while training in the traditional bodybuilding rep ranges. If you want to build muscle mass using a 3 day push / pull / legs split then a great choice is to use a rest-pause style routine.

Here is a cool rest-pause routine that Wesley Silveira used with one of his strongest online coaching clients.

Wesley had his client use the following training schedule:

  • Monday: Chest / Shoulders / Triceps
  • Wednesday: Quads / Hamstrings / Calves
  • Friday: Back / Biceps

This routine will work AWESOME for building muscle mass and strength. Check it out:

Chest / Shoulders / Triceps Workout

  • A1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 3 x (1, 8, 8), 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 1 x 7-9**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: 30 degree incline DB fly, 1 x 12, 3/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Seated DB overhead press, 2 x 10, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: DB lateral raise, 1 x 15**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Train to failure in the listed rep range, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a second time with the same weight, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a third time with the same weight, done!

Quads / Hamstrings / Calves Workout

  • A1: Back Squat (medium stance / heels flat), 2 x 10, 2/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Conventional deadlift, 1 x 10, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Hanging leg raise, 2 x 10, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Standing machine calf raise, 2 x 15**, 2/1/X/1, 120 seconds rest

**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Train to failure in the listed rep range, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a second time with the same wight, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a third time with the same weight, done!

Back / Biceps Workout       

  • A1: Hammer strength pulldowns (supinated grip), 2 x 15**, 2/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest
  • B1: Bilateral hammer strength row, 2 x 10, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Seated DB hammer curl, 2 x 10**, 2/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest

**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Train to failure in the listed rep range, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a second time with the same wight, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a third time with the same weight, done!

Wesley’s client who used this routine went by the name “2Scoot” online and was an unbelievably strong human being. He had a true 600 pound raw bench press and an 800 pound raw squat / deadlift.

I can’t guarantee that this routine will make you as big and strong as 2Scoot. However, I can promise you that this is one of the best rest-pause style routines that you can use with the 3 day push / pull / legs split.

I highly recommend you give it a shot if you like training to failure and throwing around heavy slag iron in the gym!

Conclusion

The 3 day push / pull / legs split is one of the classic ways to train. It was recommended by Stan Efferding in his classic article “you don’t grow in the gym” and for good reason: it works!

In my experience this split works best for two types of trainees:

  • Powerlifters who need lots of time to recover from their workouts
  • Bodybuilders who love to use high-intensity training programs

If you fit either of these categories then I highly recommend you give this training split a shot. The push / pull / legs split will never go out of style because it delivers results where it matters: in the real world.

Let’s wrap things up with one of my favourite Stan Efferding quotes:

“If you lack motivation, I can’t help you with that. That’s your problem to solve.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck with your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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