In this comprehensive guide I will teach you how to build muscle and get jacked with the 6 days per week push / pull / legs split.
Now let’s get down to business…
- Part 1: Ronnie Coleman’s Training Program
- Part 2: The Mountain Dog Training Program
- Part 3: Stan Efferding’s Bodybuilding Program
The push / pull / legs split is one of the best training splits of all time. The idea is simple: you train your whole body over three workouts.
You have a “push” day where you train your chest / shoulders / triceps, a “pull” day where you train your back / biceps and a “legs” day where you train your quads / hamstrings / calves. For example:
Push / Pull / Legs Split Overview
- “Push” workout = chest / shoulders / triceps
- “Pull” workout = back / biceps
- “Legs” workout = quads / hamstrings / calves
The push / pull / legs split is so effective because it eliminates overlap between different muscle groups.
For example you train all of your “pushing” muscles on the same day so they all recover together. You never have to worry about sore triceps limiting your performance on chest day or sore biceps limiting your performance on back day.
There are 3 different versions of the push / pull / legs split:
- The 3 days per week version
- The 4 days per week version
- The 6 days per week version
The 6 day push / pull / legs split is very popular with elite bodybuilders. It lets you train each body part twice per week. It also gives you plenty of room to specialize on weak body parts or perform a lot of exercises per body part.
Here is what your weekly training schedule might look like:
6 Day Push / Pull / Legs Training Schedule
- Monday: Push
- Tuesday: Pull
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday: Push
- Friday: Pull
- Saturday: Legs
- Sunday: Off
Many of the world’s best bodybuilders including the legendary Ronnie Coleman have trained using this training split. The 6 days per week push / pull / legs split works very well for intermediate to advanced bodybuilders with above-average recovery ability.
If you are a powerlifter or if you have below-average recovery ability then this split is NOT for you. It is just too difficult to recover from for most people.
If you are an advanced bodybuilder with great recovery ability then you will grow like a weed training this way. In this comprehensive guide I want to cover three different strategies for organizing your weekly workouts using this split.
First we are going to look at Ronnie Coleman’s training program. Ronnie performed two heavy workouts per week for each body part. However, these workouts were slightly different from each other.
For example Ronnie had a “back thickness” day early in the week where he focused on heavy deadlifts and rows. And I do mean heavy – just take a look at Ronnie performing t-bar rows with 9 45-pound plates:
What an unbelievable set!
Later in the week he had a “back width” day where he focused on lat pulldowns and dumbbell pullovers. Ronnie did something similar for all of his other body parts. This can be a great strategy if you can handle 2 heavy workouts per week per body part.
John Meadows often uses the 6 day push / pull / legs split with his advanced bodybuilding clients. When he does he programs 3 “heavy” workouts and 3 “pump” workouts per week.
The heavy workouts are his typical Mountain Dog style workouts featuring a lot of volume and some high-intensity techniques such as drop sets and partial reps. These are the workouts that really build the most muscle mass.
The “pump” workouts are designed to give you a great pump without taxing your muscles or central nervous system too much. These lighter workouts help you recover from the main heavy workouts and have a synergistic effect on muscle growth.
Finally we are going to look at Stan Efferding’s unique take on the 6 day push / pull / legs split. Stan used this split when he won his IFBB pro card and is an authority on the subject.
Stan likes to perform the same workout twice per week for each body part. This is another good option and Stan has some unique strategies to get the most out of these workouts.
For inspiration you can click right here to see Stan incline pressing the 210 pound dumbbells for reps.They don’t call Stan the “World’s Strongest Bodybuilder” for nothing! Don’t worry, we will cover Stan’s approach to bodybuilding training in great detail in part 3 of this article.
If you are an intermediate-advanced bodybuilder with great recovery ability then at least 1 of these 3 strategies will work AWESOME for you. If you have below average recovery ability and you attempt these routines anyway, well… don’t say I didn’t warn you!!
Note: if you have any trouble reading the routines presented here then check out this article on how to read a training program.
Part 1: Ronnie Coleman’s Training Program
Ronnie Coleman was the greatest bodybuilder of all time. He was also one of the strongest bodybuilders of all time. In his prime Ronnie could squat and deadlift 800+ pounds for reps and bench press 500+ pounds for reps.
How did Ronnie get so strong? Ronnie built his size and strength using the classic 6 day push / pull / legs split.
Here is how Ronnie organized his workouts:
- Monday: Chest / Triceps
- Tuesday: Shoulders / Back / Biceps
- Wednesday: Quads / Hamstrings / Calves
- Thursday: Chest / Triceps
- Friday: Shoulders / Back / Biceps
- Saturday: Quads / Hamstrings / Calves
- Sunday: Off
This is technically a modified push / pull / legs split because Ronnie trained his shoulders on his back and biceps day. Everything else is the same though.
Ronnie was so strong that he had to alternate back and forth between two different workouts for each body part. He found that performing 2 different workouts was the only way he could train heavy year-round without burning out.
For example here is how Ronnie organized his back workouts:
- Tuesday: Back thickness workout
- Friday: Back width workout
- Tuesday: Back thickness workout
- Friday: Back width workout
And so on. This is a great strategy if you need a lot of variety in your training and you adapt quickly to specific exercises. It certainly worked for Ronnie! Here is what Ronnie’s back thickness workout looked like:
Ronnie Coleman Back Thickness Workout
- A1: Conventional deadlift, 1-3 x 4-8, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Barbell bent-over row, 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: T-bar row, 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: 1-arm dumbbell row, 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
Here is a good training video:
Talk about a heavy back day! Ronnie Coleman was unbelievably strong on back thickness exercises such as deadlifts and rows. Some of his best lifts include deadlifting 800 pounds for 2 reps, bent-over rowing 500 pounds for 8 reps and t-bar rowing 9 plates for 9 reps.
After watching the video it’s easy to see why Ronnie only trained these back thickness exercises once per week! These exercises place a ton of stress on the lower back and are very difficult to recover from. By performing them only once per week Ronnie gave himself enough time to recover during the week.
Of course Ronnie still trained his back twice per week using his favourite 6 day push / pull / legs split. Here’s how Ronnie organized his other back workout:
Ronnie Coleman Back Width Workout
- A1: Wide overhand grip lat pulldown, 3-5 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Wide overhand grip behind-the-neck lat pulldown, 3-5 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3-5 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Lying DB pullovers, 3-5 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
You can click right here for a video of Ronnie’s back width workout.
This workout was MUCH easier for Ronnie to recover from. He was still lifting extremely heavy weights on every exercise. However, none of these exercises taxed his lower back very hard.
Ronnie Coleman used a similar strategy when training his chest.
He had one training day where he focused on barbell pressing movements such as the bench press and incline bench press. Then on his second chest workout he focused on dumbbell pressing exercises such as the flat DB press and the incline DB press.
This strategy allowed Ronnie to train his chest heavy twice per week without burning out on one type of exercise.
Here is what Ronnie’s barbell chest workout looked like:
Ronnie Coleman Barbell Chest Workout
- A1: Flat BB bench press, 1-3 x 5-12, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Incline BB bench press, 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Decline BB bench press, 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
You can click right here for a video of Ronnie Coleman’s chest workout.
When it came to training his chest Ronnie liked to ramp up to 1 heavy working set per exercise. For example on the bench press he performed 5 total sets. He did 1 set with 1 plate per side, 1 set with 2 plates per side and so on until his final working set with 5 plates per side.
Ronnie’s dumbbell workout was similar: he performed lots of warm up sets culminating in his 1 working set to failure. Check it out:
Ronnie Coleman Dumbbell Chest Workout
- A1: Flat DB press, 1-3 x 5-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Incline DB press, 1-3 x 5-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Flat DB fly, 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
You can click right here for a video of Ronnie Coleman’s dumbbell chest workout.
Talk about a heavy dumbbell chest workout! I see 200 pound dumbbells flying all over the place!! Looking at this workout it’s easy to see why Ronnie had the second best chest of all time. He trained his chest twice per week using a lot of volume and unbelievably heavy weights.
Only Arnold Schwarzenegger could beat Ronnie in terms of overall chest development.
Finally let’s look at how Ronnie organized his quadriceps training. Ronnie used about 3 exercises per quad workout. He always started with some type of squat, either a back squat or a front squat. After squats he moved onto accessory exercises like leg presses, hack squats, lunges and leg extensions.
Ronnie’s Wednesday squat workout focused on back squats. Check it out:
Ronnie Coleman Back Squat Workout
- A1: Back squats (medium stance / heels flat), 1-3 x 4-12, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: 45 degree Leg press, 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Leg extensions, 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
You can click right here for a video of Ronnie Coleman’s back squat workout.
And here is Ronnie’s second weekly squat workout:
Ronnie Coleman Front Squat Workout
- A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 1-3 x 4-12, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Machine hack squat, 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Walking lunge (BB on back), 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
You can click right here for a video of Ronnie Coleman’s front squat workout.
Ronnie doesn’t do anything fancy here. He just trains hard and heavy on a handful of basic bodybuilding quadriceps exercises.
One of the reasons Ronnie was able to train his legs heavy twice per week was the fact that he used such different exercises on each training day. Front squats and back squats largely work the same muscles. However, the two exercises feel completely different form each other and overload your muscles and your nervous system in completely different ways.
If you try to do heavy back squats twice per week year-round then you may run into trouble. However, when you alternate back squat and front squat workouts this becomes more feasible.
If you want to use the 6 day push / pull / legs split and train each body part heavy twice a week then Ronnie Coleman is a great role model. I love the way he uses 2 different workouts per body part to prevent training plateaus.
Part 2: The Mountain Dog Training Program
John Meadows’ Mountain Dog Training is one of the most popular bodybuilding training programs in the world. John describes his program as the “safest way to build maximum muscle mass.”
Here is John giving a great overview of his training style:
John normally has people train 4 days per week using a traditional bodybuilding-style training split where you hit each muscle group once per week. However, sometimes John has his bodybuilders use higher-frequency training programs.
One of John’s favorite training splits for advanced bodybuilders is the classic 6 days per week push / pull / legs split.
When John uses this split he likes his clients to use 1 “heavy” workout and 1 “pump” workout per week for each muscle group. For example:
- Monday: Push (Heavy)
- Tuesday: Pull (Heavy)
- Wednesday: Legs (Heavy)
- Thursday: Push (Pump)
- Friday: Pull (Pump)
- Saturday: Legs (Pump)
- Sunday: Off
The heavy workouts are your traditional bodybuilding style workouts using lots of volume and a fair amount of high-intensity techniques such as drop sets, forced reps and partial reps. These are the workouts that really build the most amount of muscle.
The “pump” workouts are lighter workouts that you perform later in the week. These workouts are designed to flush nutrient-rich blood into the muscle and to help you recover from your heavier workouts early in the week.
During the pump workouts you should use lighter weights and train nowhere near failure. They are supposed to help you recover, not beat you into the ground!
In my experience a lot of trainees make awesome progress with 1 heavy workout and 1 lighter workout per week. It is a great strategy to use if you can recover from the 6 day push / pull / legs split. Now let’s take a look at some sample Mountain Dog style workouts performed by IFBB pro Marc Dugdale.
Here is a heavy back workout that Marc recently performed. Check it out:
Marc Dugdale’s Heavy Back Workout
- A1: Lat pulldowns (narrow / neutral grip), 4 x 10**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: One-arm barbell rows, 4 x 8***, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Chest supported t-bar row, 3 x 10****, 2/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Rack Deadlifts, 1 x 10-15*****, 1/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- E1: 45 degree back extensions (holding DB at chest), 1 x 15-25******, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- F1: Standing DB shrugs, 3 x 10, 1/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest
**Perform 4 sets slowly ramping up in weight. The last set should be a hard set of 10. On the last set after your 10th rep perform a 15 second stretch with your arms extended.
***Use the 25 pound plates for a bigger range of motion. On your 4th set perform a double drop set. Marc Dugdale did 8 reps with 3 plates, 8 reps with 2 plates, 8 reps with 2 plates on his double drop set.
****On your last set do a single drop set followed by a 15-second stretch. So it’s 10 reps, then drop the weight and do 10 reps, then do a 15 second stretch with your arms straight with the new lighter weight.
*****Perform several light, low-rep warm up sets. Then perform a “challenge set” with about 70% of your 1-rep max. Get as many reps as you can in good form. Really push yourself on this set!
Here’s what your set of rack deadlifts should look like:
Talk about a brutal workout! John is famous for putting some of the harder back exercises like rack deadlifts towards the end of your routine rather than at the start. This is a great strategy for advanced bodybuilders to use.
You don’t have to use as much weight on rack deadlifts AND the rest of your upper back works much harder because it is already pre-fatigued. Many other advanced bodybuilding programs like DC Training and Dorian Yates’ “Blood And Guts” Training also place deadlifts at the end of their workouts for this very reason.
Of course John would never have you perform 2 heavy back workouts like this per week. Here is what one of Marc Dugdale’s back “pump” workouts looked like:
Marc Dugdale’s Pump Back Workout
- A1: Hammer strength iso-lateral rows, 4 x 10, 1/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest
- B1: Cable pulldowns (narrow / neutral grip), 2 x 10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Cable pulldowns (medium / neutral grip), 2 x 10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Cable pulldowns (wide / overhand grip), 2 x 10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rset
- E1: Dumbbell pullovers, 4 x 10, 2/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
- F1: Unilateral cable pulldown**, 4 x 10****, 2/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
**Sit sideways at the seat so you are pulling your working elbow down and directly to your side.
****For each set perform 5 half-reps in the contracted position to place maximum tension on your lats, then 5 full range of motion reps.
All of these exercises were performed with submaximal weights. For example you might want to use 60-70% of the weight that you would normally use for these exercises.
Marc’s back workout focuses on a lot of machine and cable exercises which are easier to recover from. This is a great strategy to pump your back full of blood and help you recover from the heavier work performed earlier in the week.
Here is what one of Marc’s heavy chest / shoulder workouts looked like. Check it out:
Sample Heavy Chest / Shoulder Workout
- A1: Incline Machine Press, 3 x 8**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Incline bench press, 3 x 6***, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Flat DB presses, 4 x 8****, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Unilateral cable reverse fly, 3 x 15, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest
- E1: Seated DB overhead press (neutral grip), 4 x 12*****, 120 seconds rest
- F1: Standing DB partial lateral raise, 2 x 25, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Perform sets of 8 with 80%, 90% and 100% of your 8-rep max. On your last set perform a double drop set. It should look like 8 reps → drop → 6-8 reps → drop → 6-8 reps, done!
***Perform 3 sets with 90%, 95% and 100% of your 6-rep max.
****perform all 4 sets with the same weight. On your last set perform a double drop set followed by a 30-second stretch in the stretched position with your final weight. If possible have a training partner gently push down on the dumbbells in the stretched position to further enhance the stretch.
*****Perform all 4 sets with the same weight. On the 4th set perform 12 reps, then drop the weight and bust out as many reps as you can, then perform an extra 10 partial range of motion reps in the bottom position.
You can click right here to see John Meadows demonstrating a heavy incline bench press as seen in this routine. Overall this is a typical Mountain Dog style chest / shoulder workout.
John Meadows is a huge fan of performing heavy barbell exercises like incline bench presses second in your chest routine after an easier exercise like machine presses or dumbbell presses. This is a great strategy for keeping your shoulders healthy over the course of a long training career.
Of course Marc’s chest / shoulder “pump” workouts are a lot easier to recover from. For example:
Marc Dugdale Pump Chest / Shoulders Workout
- A1: Hammer strength flat press, 3 x 10, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Standing cable flyes, 4 x 12, 2/0/1/1**, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Pec minor dips, 4 x 15, 1/0/1/0, no rest
- C2: Banded over and backs***, 4 x 10, 2/0/2/0, no rest
- C3: Bilateral cable reverse fly, 4 x 15****, 1/0/1/1, 30 seconds rest
- D1: Standing DB lateral raise, 4 x 20, 1/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
**Squeeze your pecs as hard as you can for 1 second in the contracted position
***Here is Marc Dugdale describing this exercise: “Banded over-&-backs are performed by grabbing a band about shoulder width apart with arms at your sides. Raise the band up over your head, rotate the shoulders, stretching the chest and bringing the band behind you until it touches the lower part of your back before moving it back up-and-over to the starting position. Keep the arms essentially locked the entire time. Over-&-back is considered 1 rep.”
****Perform 15 full range of motion reps followed by 15 partial reps in the first half of the movement only.
Once again this workout is performed with weights that are only 60-70% of what you would use during a normal heavy workout.
As you can see Marc focuses on isolation exercises where he can pump his muscles with as much blood as possible. All of these exercises are very easy on your joints and easy to recover from.
If you are looking for a great program to use with the 6 day push / pull / legs split then I highly recommend John Meadows’ Mountain Dog Training program. He does a great job of blending together heavy workouts and lighter / pump workouts over the course of a week.
I will be taking an in-depth look at the Mountain Dog training program in a future article. For now you can check out his website at MountainDogDiet.com.
Part 3: Stan Efferding’s Bodybuilding Program
Stan Efferding is one of my favorite people in the fitness industry. Stan is one of the only people to compete at the highest levels in both bodybuilding AND powerlifting. He won his IFBB pro card in 2009 and set multiple powerlifting world records.
One of the interesting things about Stan is he used completely different training styles leading up to his bodybuilding and powerlifting competitions. When Stan trained like a bodybuilder he used a modified 6 day push / pull / legs split. Check it out:
Stan Efferding’s Bodybuilding Training Split
- Monday: Chest / Shoulders
- Tuesday: Back / Biceps / Triceps
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday: Chest / Shoulders
- Friday: Back / Biceps / Triceps
- Saturday: Legs
- Sunday: Off
The only major difference here is Stan trained triceps on his back / biceps day. Otherwise this was a traditional 6 day push / pull / legs split.
Stan preferred to train each muscle group with the same exercises twice per week. This is a trick that he picked up from Flex Wheeler, his bodybuilding coach.
When Stan trained like a bodybuilder he avoided heavy barbell exercises such as squats, bench presses and deadlifts. Instead he focused on more machine, dumbbell and isolation exercises which were easier to recover from but still allowed him to train his muscles hard.
Here is a bodybuilding chest workout that Stan coached Marc Bell through. Check it out:
Stan Efferding’s Bodybuilding Chest Day
- A1: Chest flat machine press, 4 x 12**, 1/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
- A2: 15 degree incline DB press, 4 x 12**, 1/0/10, 90 seconds rest
- A3: Standing cable fly, 4 x 12, 1/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
**Perform manual chest stretch with your arm extended on a fixed piece of equipment for 20-30 sec per arm in between sets. This stretch will have a synergistic effect with the rest of the workout in stimulating chest hypertrophy.
Here is a great video Stan Efferding taking taking Marc Bell through this exact chest hypertrophy workout:
As you can see Stan’s bodybuilding chest day focuses on machine and dumbbell pressing movements. These exercises still hit your chest very hard but are easier to recover from than barbell bench presses and incline bench presses.
It is easy to perform 2 heavy workouts per week when you focus on these joint-friendly exercises.
Here is what Stan’s quadriceps hypertrophy workouts looked like. Check it out:
Stan Efferding’s Bodybuilding Quadriceps Day
- A1: Unilateral leg extension, 4 x 12, 1/0/1/0, 90 sec rest
- B1: Leg Press, 7 x 15-20**, 2/0/1/0, 90 sec rest
- C1: Hack Squat, 4 x 15-20**, 2/0/1/0, 90 sec rest
- D1: Walking lunge w/ DBs, 4 x 20, 1/0/1/0, 90 sec rest
**In-between sets take 20-30 sec and sink down into a deep squatting position to achieve an occlusive stretch on the quads. This stretch will have a synergistic effect with the rest of the workout in stimulating quadriceps hypertrophy.
You can click right here to see Stan Efferding taking taking Marc Bell through this exact quadriceps hypertrophy workout.
Stan really likes to start his leg workouts with isolation exercises like the unilateral leg extension. He believes this is a great way to activate the target muscle so that it works harder during the compound exercises like leg presses and hack squats.
Other bodybuilders like Dorian Yates are also big fans of pre-fatiguing the quadriceps with leg extensions before moving onto more compound leg movements. I
f you want to train each muscle group heavy twice per week using the 6 day push / pull / legs split then Stan Efferding is a great role model. When you focus on joint-friendly exercises rather than the heavy barbell exercises then this twice per week training frequency becomes very effective.
The 6 day push / pull / legs split is one of the most controversial bodybuilding training splits in the world.
Some bodybuilders think it is the ultimate way to train. After all, you can train each muscle group twice per week with a lot of volume and a wide variety of exercises! Others say that it is just too hard to recover from for the average trainee.
In my experience they are both right! If you have average recovery ability then you should probably avoid this training split. However, if you are an intermediate-advanced bodybuilder with superior recover ability then this might be the ultimate way for you to train.
In this comprehensive guide we covered three separate strategies for organizing your workouts using the 6 day push / pull / legs split:
- Ronnie Coleman’s Strategy: Use 2 Heavy But Completely Different Workouts Per Week
- John Meadows’ Strategy: Use 1 Heavy Workout And 1 Pump Workout Per Muscle Group Per Week
- Stan Efferding’s Strategy: Use The Same Joint-Friendly Workout Twice Per Week
All 3 of these strategies work extremely well for advanced bodybuilders. I recommend you experiment with all of them to figure out which one works best for you.
Remember, no amount of scientific studies can ever replace real-world experience. Your job is to figure out what works best for you and then HAMMER IT HOME until you reach your goals.
“Small minds just can’t comprehend big spirits. To achieve something different you have to be willing to be mocked, hated and misunderstood. Use all the negative energy to fuel the engine of determination within you and stay strong.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck with your strength training journey!
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