Are Push / Pull / Legs Splits Good For Building Muscle?


Push Pull Legs Muscle

The push / pull / legs split is one of the most popular training splits in the world for building muscle. Many of the world’s top bodybuiders including Ronnie Coleman and Chris Bumstead use a push / pull / legs program to build their world-class physiques!

Introduction

  • Part 1: The 6 Day Push / Pull / Legs Split
  • Part 2: The 4 Day Push / Pull / Legs Split
  • Part 3: The 3 Day Push / Pull / Legs Split

In this comprehensive guide I’m going to show you why the push / pull / legs split is one of the best training splits in the world for building muscle mass.

With the push / pull / legs split you train your entire body over three separate training days:

  • Push Day = Chest / Shoulders / Triceps
  • Pull Day = Back / Biceps
  • Leg Day = Quadriceps / Hamstrings / Calves

The push / pull / legs split has many advantages over other types of training splits. The biggest advantage of this split is it reduces overlap between muscle groups. This means that you are taking all of the muscles that are worked during similar exercises and you are training them on the same day.

The push / pull / legs split is a very efficient and effective way to train for muscle growth because your recovery is optimized but you can still train each muscle group with plenty of volume and intensity.

There are three types of push / pull / legs splits that bodybuilders use to build muscle:

In this comprehensive guide I’m going to teach you how to use each of these push / pull / leg training splits to build maximum muscle mass.

The 6 day push / pull / legs split is probably the most effective variation for advanced bodybuilders. It lets you train each muscle group twice per week which is a fantastic training frequency for building muscle.

Many of the world’s best bodybuilders including Ronnie Coleman, Chris Bumstead and Stan Efferding have used this split to prepare for their bodybuilding competitions. The main drawback of this split is you need to have above-average recovery ability to recover from 6 hard workouts per week.

The 4 day push / pull / legs split is another fantastic option for building muscle. This variation lets you train muscle groups once every 5-6 days which is great for building size and strength.

Some of the top bodybuilding coaches like Dante Trudel, John Meadows and Dorian Yates sometimes recommend this split.

The 3 day push / pull / legs split is less popular for building muscle. However, it can be a good choice for extremely strong bodybuilders and people with below-average recovery ability. You are only training each body part once per week which means you can use a ton of volume and intensity per workout without overtraining.

I hope you found this overview of the different push / pull / legs splits helpful. Now let’s take a closer look at how some of the world’s top bodybuilders use these splits to build maximum muscle mass.

Part 1: The 6 Day Push / Pull / Legs Split

The 6 day push / pull / legs split is one of the most famous bodybuilding training splits in the world. Many legendary bodybuilders including Ronnie Coleman have used this split to build as much muscle as possible.

With the 6 day push / pull / legs split you are going to perform 2 push workouts, 2 pull workouts and 2 leg workouts per week. For example:

The 6 Day Push / Pull / Legs Split

  • Monday: Push
  • Tuesday: Pull
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Push
  • Friday: Pull
  • Saturday: Legs
  • Sunday: Off

This split works unbelievably well for building muscle mass if you can recover from it. This split lets you train each muscle group twice per week with a reasonably large amount of volume and intensity.

Many bodybuilders like Ronnie Coleman prefer to perform 2 completely different workouts per week for each muscle group. Ronnie Coleman performed an “A” workout for each muscle group early in the week and a “B” workout for each muscle group later in the week. For example:

The Ronnie Coleman Training Split

  • Monday: Pull #1
  • Tuesday: Legs #1
  • Wednesday: Push #1
  • Thursday: Pull #2
  • Friday: Legs #2
  • Saturday: Push #2
  • Sunday: Off

Ronnie’s two weekly workouts for each muscle group used completely different exercises. This is a great strategy for building muscle because it lets you overload your muscles in two different ways during the week. It can also be helpful for some people for building strength because it makes it harder for your nervous system to adapt to the routine.

Many advanced bodybuilders and powerlifters find they can make strength gains for longer periods of time when they alternate two different workouts per muscle group.

The way Ronnie Coleman organized his chest workouts was really interesting: he performed 3 barbell chest exercises on his first weekly “push” day and 3 dumbbell chest exercises on his second weekly “push” day. For example:

Ronnie Coleman’s Chest / Triceps Workout #1

  • A1: Flat BB bench press, 3-5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • B1: Incline BB bench press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • C1: Decline BB bench press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • D1: Seated unilateral DB french press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • E1: Hammer strength machine dips, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • F1: Standing cable tricep pushdown, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

Ronnie Coleman’s Chest / Triceps Workout #2

  • A1: Flat DB press, 3-5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • B1: Incline DB press, 3-5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • C1: Flat DB fly, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • D1: Lying ez-bar extension (behind head), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • D2: Close grip bench press (with ez-bar), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • E1: Two-arm seated DB french press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • F1: Two-arm bent-over DB tricep kickbacks, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

These workouts may look pretty similar to each other.

On each workout Ronnie picks 3 “meat and potatoes” chest exercises and works up to a top set of 5-15 reps performed just shy of failure. The big difference is Ronnie focuses on barbell pressing exercises on his first chest day and dumbbell pressing exercises on his second chest day.

This change is large enough to stimulate his chest in a completely different way and to ensure that he makes progress over a longer period of time.

The classic bodybuilding Mr. Olympia winner Chris Bumstead takes a similar approach when he trains with the 6 day push / pull / legs split. Here is what his weekly training schedule looks like:

The Chris Bumstead Push / Pull / Legs Split

  • Monday: Push #1
  • Tuesday: Pull #1
  • Wednesday: Legs #1
  • Thursday: Push #2
  • Friday: Pull #2
  • Saturday: Legs #2
  • Sunday: Off

Chris rotates through 2 similar but slightly different workouts per muscle group. His workouts use similar set and rep schemes but the exercises are completely different. This small change is enough to prevent him from burning out physically or mentally.

Let’s take a look at some of Chris’s “pull” workouts. Check it out:

Chris Bumstead’s Pull #1 Workout

  • A1: Lat pulldowns (any grip), 3 sets of 8-10 reps**
  • B1: Barbell bent over rows, 3 x 6-8, 6-8, 10-12
  • C1: 60 degree incline DB curl, 4 sets of 10-12 reps
  • D1: Pull ups (any grip), 3 sets to failure
  • E1: Standing ez-bar curls, 2 sets of 10-12 reps
  • F1: Standing ez-bar curls, 2 sets of 40 seconds time under tension

**On the last set perform a double drop set to failure

Chris Bumstead’s Pull #2 Workout

  • A1: Pull ups (any variation), 3 light sets with bodyweight only
  • B1: Rack pulls, 2 sets of 8-10 reps
  • C1: Hammer curls, 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  • D1: Supinated grip row or pulldown, 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • E1: Cable curls, 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • F1: Seated cable rows, 2 drop sets for 20 total reps
  • G1: Standing DB curls, 1 “run the rack” drop set to failure

Chris Bumstead uses much more variety in his workouts than Ronnie Coleman. Actually Chris’s two “pull” workouts look nothing like each other! Chris uses different exercises as well as different set / rep schemes between the two workouts. This is an excellent strategy for building muscle if you respond well to more variety in your workouts.

Stan Efferding is another bodybuilder who has used a variation of the 6 day push / pull / legs workout to prepare for his bodybuilding competitions.

Stan actually trained twice per day, 6 days per week to prepare for his bodybuilding shows. He took the regular push, pull and legs workouts and divided them into a morning and evening workout. Check it out:

The Stan Efferding Bodybuilding Split

Monday

  • AM: Chest
  • PM: Shoulders

Tuesday

  • AM: Back
  • PM: Biceps / Triceps

Wednesday

  • AM: Quads
  • PM: Hamstrings

Thursday

  • AM: Chest
  • PM: Shoulders

Friday

  • AM: Back
  • PM: Biceps / Triceps

Saturday

  • AM: Quads
  • PM: Hamstrings

Sunday

  • AM: Off
  • PM: Off

The only difference between this split and the regular 6 day push / pull / legs split is Stan trained his triceps on his “pull” day.

So why did Stan train twice per day for his bodybuilding competitions? Stan felt this was an easy way to stimulate muscle growth twice per day as opposed to just once per day. Here are Stan’s exact thoughts on this topic:

“I prefer to do 2 a day training. 40 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night. We do our quads for 40 minutes and then we come back at night and do 20-30 minutes of the same type of training just for hamstrings.

That way we get the benefit of those of those stimuli for all of the hormones and all of the water and glycogen and sodium in the muscles. And all of that stuff together is what stimulates hypertrophy. It’s not just the loading, it’s the whole environment.”

This is an extreme approach to training. You really need to have superior genetics to grow on this kind of training program. However, it worked like magic for Stan Efferding.

Let’s take a look at some of the workouts that Stan used with this modified 6 day push / pull / legs split. Here is one of Stan’s chest workouts. Check it out:

Stan Efferding’s Bodybuilding Chest Workout

  • A1: 30 degree incline barbell press, 2 x (5, 8**), 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: 30 degree incline DB press, 2 x 6-8****, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Decline hammer strength press, 2 x 7-9**, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Standing cable crossover, 2 x 15-20, 1/1/X/1, 120 seconds rest

**Performed as a double drop set. Perform 7-9 reps, drop the weight, perform as many reps as you can, drop the weight, perform as many reps as you can, done!

****Perform 6-8 reps to failure, then perform 4 extra forced reps with the help of a training partner.

Here is the training video for this workout:

Stan picks 4 exercises for his chest and performs 2 heavy working sets per exercise. Stan calls these “growth sets” because Stan is pushing himself all the way to failure to trigger a growth response. Now let’s look at one of Stan’s quadricep workouts. Check it out:

Stan Efferding’s Bodybuilding Quads Workout

  • A1: Single-leg leg extension, 2 x 20, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Leg press, 2 x 20, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Machine hack squat, 2 x 20, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Walking DB lunge, 2 x 20, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest

Here is the training video for this workout:

Stan says this bodybuilding style leg workout took him about 40 minutes to complete. He would take a nap, get a couple of bodybuilding meals in him and then come back to perform a 30 minute hamstrings workout.

This just shows how versatile the 6 day push / pull / legs split is for building muscle. You can use similar or completely different workouts per muscle group during the week. You can even split up the workouts into two-a-day workouts for extra muscle growth.

If you have above average genetics and respond well to high-volume programs then this split is definitely worth trying out.

Part 2: The 4 Day Push / Pull / Legs Split

I have a confession to make: the 4 day push / pull / legs split is my absolute favorite version of the push / pull / legs split. It works awesome for almost everyone and it is one of the absolute best ways for the average bodybuilder to train to build muscle mass. Here is what this split looks like:

The 4 Day Push / Pull / Legs Split

Week #1

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

Week #2

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

Week #3

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

As you can see you train different muscle groups on your 4 training days each week. Whichever muscle group you train on Monday is also trained on Saturday that week.

So what makes this training split so special? The secret is the training frequency. With the 4 day push / pull / legs split you are training body parts about once every 5 days on average. This training frequency gives you the best of both worlds: you train each body part pretty frequently but you can still use a ton of volume and intensity without worrying about overtraining.

Many bodybuilding coaches like Dante Trudel, John Meadows and Dorian Yates have used the 4 day push / pull / legs split with their clients. Let’s take a closer look at their programs.

I first learned about the 4 day push / pull / legs split while researching Dante Trudel’s DC Training program. Dante uses this split with advanced bodybuilders to help bring up their weaker muscle groups.

Here is a lower body routine that Dante Trudel wrote for IFBB pro Dusty Hanshaw back in 2009. Check it out:

Dusty Hanshaw’s Advanced Lower Body Workout

  • A1: Standing calf raise**, 1 set of 15-20 RP
  • B1: Seated adductor machine, 1 set of 15-30 RP
  • C1: Lying leg curl, 1 set of 15-24 RP
  • D1: Glute ham raise, 1 set to failure
  • E1: Hack squats, 2 sets of 16-20, 10-15 SS
  • F1: 45 degree leg press, 1 set of 20 SS

**Perform a 2 second pause in the deep stretched position

****Perform as many reps as possible with just your bodyweight

In case you are not familiar with the DC Training program the symbol “RP” stands for rest-pause and the symbol “SS” stands for straight set. A rest-pause set is a high-intensity training method where you perform 3 sets to failure with 20-30 seconds rest in between each set.

If the routine calls for “15-20 RP” then Dusty’s goal is to get 15-20 total reps with his three attempts. This could look like (10+5+3) = 18 RP. On the other hand a straight set is just a regular set performed to failure.

DC Training is technically a low-volume training program but Dusty is getting in a reasonable amount of volume with this routine. He is performing 2 exercises each for his quadriceps and hamstrings and 1 exercise each for his calves and abductors.

Of course you can also perform high-volume workouts with the 4 day push / pull / legs split to build muscle. John Meadows sometimes designs training programs for his advanced bodybuilders using this split. Here is a high-volume “pull” workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

John Meadows Pull Workout

  • A1: Meadows row, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • B1: 1-arm barbell row, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • C1: Reverse band pull up (wide / overhand grip), 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • D1: Rear delt lateral raise, 3 sets of 20-30 reps
  • E1: Seated DB curl (hammer grip), 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

John includes a variety of exercises to overload all of the major muscles in your upper back and biceps. John recommends that you stop 1-2 reps short of failure on your first 2 sets and go all the way to failure on your 3rd set for each exercise.

Dorian Yates is another bodybuilding coach who has used the 4 day push / pull / legs split with some of his clients. Here is a sample “push” workout that he designed for an up and coming bodybuilder. Check it out:

Dorian Yates’ Chest / Shoulder / Tricep Workout

  • A1: Decline bench press, 1 set of 6-8 reps**
  • B1: Incline hammer strength press, 1 set of 6-8 reps****
  • C1: 30 degree incline DB fly, 1 set of 8-10 reps****
  • D1: Seated DB front raise, 1 set of 6-8 reps****
  • E1: Seated DB lateral raise, 1 set of 6-8 reps****
  • F1: Standing unilateral cable lateral raise, 1 set of 6-8 reps****
  • G1: Standing cable pushdown (pronated grip), 1 set of 6-8 reps****
  • H1: Lying ez-bar extension (to forehead), 1 set of 6-8 reps****

**Perform a double drop set. Perform 6-8 reps just shy of failure, drop the weight, perform as many reps as possible, drop the weight, perform as many reps as possible, done!

****Train to failure, then perform 1-3 extra forced reps with the help of a training partner.

Here is the training video for this workout:

Talk about an intense workout! Dorian is known for his high-intensity training style where he performs 1 working set to failure per exercise. Dorian even trains beyond failure with 1-3 extra “forced reps” on every exercise.

A forced rep is where your training partner helps you through the concentric phase of an exercise so you can train beyond failure.

The beauty of the 4 day push / pull / legs split is that you can perform high volume or high intensity workouts and still be ready to go 5 days later. This split takes the best aspects of high-frequency splits and the traditional bodybuilding bro-split and mashes them into one kick-ass program.

If you are not sure which push / pull / legs split is right for you then I HIGHLY recommend you give the 4 days per week version a shot. It is one of the fastest ways for the average trainee to build muscle.

Part 3: The 3 Day Push / Pull / Legs Split

The 3 day push / pull / legs split is one of the oldest training splits ever invented. The idea is simple: you train three days per week with one push workout, one pull workout and one legs workout. For example:

The 3 Day Push / Pull / Legs Split

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

Many so-called fitness experts would scoff at the idea of using this training split to build muscle. They say that training muscle groups once per week just isn’t going to cut it for building muscle.

I agree that most trainees will get better results training body parts more often than once a week. However, this split does work extremely well for some people.

In my experience the 3 day push / pull / legs split works best for two types of trainees:

  • Extremely strong bodybuilders / powerlifters
  • Trainees with below-average recovery ability

Both of these types of trainees need more rest between their workouts to make optimal progress. In my experience powerbuilding-style workouts work great with the 3 day push / pull / legs split. You are only training body parts once per week so you have to create deep inroads into your recovery ability with each workout to make progress.

Techniques like rest-pause sets, drop sets and forced reps are a good idea if you’re trying to use this split to build muscle.

Here are some sample workouts that you may want to try. These workouts were written by the coach Wesley Sylveira for his client that could bench press 600+ pounds and squat / deadlift 800+ pounds. Wesley was the founder of the IronAddicts.com bodybuilding forum and a good friend of Dante Trudel, the creator of DC Training. Check it out:

Chest / Shoulders / Triceps Workout

  • A1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 3 sets of 1, 8, 8 reps
  • B1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 1 set of 7-9 reps**
  • C1: 30 degree incline DB fly, 1 set of 12 reps
  • D1: Seated DB overhead press, 2 sets of 10 reps
  • E1: DB lateral raise, 1 set of 15 reps**

**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 sets of 10 reps
  • B1: Conventional deadlift, 1 set of 10 reps
  • C1: Hanging leg raise, 2 sets of 10 reps
  • D1: Standing machine calf raise, 2 sets of 15 reps**

**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!

Back / Biceps Workout       

  • A1: Hammer strength pulldowns (supinated grip), 2 sets of 15 reps**
  • B1: Bilateral hammer strength row, 2 sets of 10 reps
  • C1: Seated DB hammer curl, 2 sets of 10 reps

**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!

If you think this workout “doesn’t have enough volume” then try it and prove me wrong! This type of routine works awesome for bodybuilders who are already stupid strong or for bodybuilders with below-average recovery ability.

If you fall into one of these two categories then this type of 3 day push / pull / legs routine is definitely worth giving a shot. For most other trainees the 4 day or 6 day push / pull / legs split is probably a better option.

Conclusion

Push Pull Legs Muscle

The push / pull / legs split is easily one of the best training splits for building muscle. This split eliminates overlap between muscle groups which lets you train with more volume and intensity without having to worry too much about overtraining.

If you are looking for an efficient and effective way to build muscle then look no further. Just make sure you pick the best version of this split for you.

The 6 day push / pull / legs split works great for advanced bodybuilders and people with superior recovery ability.

The 4 day push / pull / legs split is a great all-around split and will work well for the vast majority of bodybuilders. This is true regardless of whether you like to train with a high-volume or high-intensity training style.

Finally the 3 day push / pull / legs split is a good option for very strong bodybuilders who need more recovery time between workouts or trainees with below-average recovery ability.

So what are you waiting for? Go design your next push / pull / legs training program and get back on the “gains train!”

“Don’t downgrade your dreams just to fit your reality. Upgrade your conviction to match your destiny.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on 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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