The Ronnie Coleman Push / Pull / Legs Split!


Push Pull Legs

The push / pull / legs split is one of the best training splits ever invented. Many bodybuilders including the legendary Ronnie Coleman made their best gains using this split.

If you want to learn how a world champion bodybuilder uses the push / pull / legs split to build muscle then this article is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Ronnie Coleman’s Push Workouts
  • Part 2: Ronnie Coleman’s Pull Workouts
  • Part 3: Ronnie Coleman’s Leg Workouts

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you how Ronnie Coleman used the classic push / pull / legs split to win the Mr. Olympia title 8 times in a row and become the greatest bodybuilder of all time.

The push / pull / legs split is a way of organizing your workouts where train your entire body over three separate days: 

  • “Push” workout = chest / shoulders / triceps
  • “Pull” workout = back / biceps
  • “Legs” workout = quads / hamstrings / calves

The push / pull / legs split is so effective because it reduces overlap between different muscle groups.

Whenever you perform an exercise like the incline bench press you are working your chest, shoulders and triceps. Training these muscle groups together on your “push” day makes sense because it gives your muscles the greatest amount of time to recover between workouts.

Ronnie Coleman believed in the push / pull / legs split so much that he used it throughout his entire bodybuilding career.

Ronnie trained using a 6 day push / pull / legs split so he could train each muscle group twice per week. For example:

The 6 Day Push / Pull / Legs Split

  • Monday: Chest / Shoulders / Triceps
  • Tuesday: Back / Biceps
  • Wednesday: Quads / Hamstrings / Calves
  • Thursday: Chest / Shoulders / Triceps
  • Friday: Back / Biceps
  • Saturday: Quads / Hamstrings / Calves
  • Sunday: Rest Day

Ronnie liked this training split because it let him train each muscle group twice per week and it let him use several different exercises per muscle group.

Most people don’t know this but Ronnie Coleman was a very intelligent man and put a lot of thought into his workouts. He rotated through two completely different workouts per body part and he used different training strategies for his strong and weak muscle groups.

For example Ronnie trained very heavy on his chest and back exercises but kept things lighter and trained for the pump on his bicep and tricep exercises.

This is one of the big advantages of the push / pull / legs split: you don’t have to train each muscle group the same way. You can choose to train heavier for certain muscle groups and lighter on others to build as much muscle as possible.

In this guide I will teach you all of the different tricks that Ronnie Coleman used to get the most out of his 6 day push / pull / legs split.

Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: Ronnie Coleman’s Push Workouts


Ronnie Coleman trained his chest and triceps every Wednesday and Saturday. He actually trained his shoulders on his “pull” day but I will include them here to keep things simple.

One of the really cool things about Ronnie Coleman’s training program is he performed two different workouts per muscle group.

This is very obvious when you look at his chest workouts. Check it out: 

Ronnie Coleman’s Chest Routine #1

  • Exercise #1: Flat BB bench press, 3-5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • Exercise #2: Incline BB bench press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Decline BB bench press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video:

Ronnie’s first chest workout is very simple. He performs several heavy sets on three different exercises: the flat bench press, the incline bench press and the decline bench press.

For each exercise Ronnie performs several warm up sets and one all-out working set with a very heavy weight.

In this video Ronnie works up to 495 pounds for 5 reps on the flat bench press – wow!

Ronnie Coleman mixes things up for his second weekly chest workout by focusing on dumbbell exercises. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Chest Routine #2

  • Exercise #1: Flat DB press, 3-5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • Exercise #2: Incline DB press, 3-5 sets of 5-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Flat DB fly, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video:

For his second chest workout Ronnie focuses on three “meat and potatoes” dumbbell exercises: the flat dumbbell press, the incline dumbbell press and the flat dumbbell fly.

Ronnie still trains heavy even though he is using dumbbells. In fact Ronnie uses the 200 pound dumbbells for his first 2 exercises – wow!

Many professional bodybuilders use up to 4-6 exercises per chest workout. Ronnie sticks with just 3 chest exercises for both workouts because he is training each muscle group twice per week.

This is one of the advantages of the 6 day push / pull / legs split – you can keep your workouts shorter because your training frequency is so high. 

Now let’s look at how Ronnie Coleman trained his shoulders. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Shoulder Routine #1

  • Exercise #1: Seated barbell military press, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Standing DB lateral raise, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Barbell front raises, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: Rear delt pec dec, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #5: Bent-over DB rear delt raise, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #6: Standing DB shrugs, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps

Here is the training video:

Ronnie trains his shoulders with a ridiculous amount of volume. He is using 6 different exercises to train his front, side and rear delts!

Ronnie uses a very simple strategy when training his shoulders: he performs 1 heavy overhead pressing exercise followed by 5 isolation exercises with lighter weights and higher reps.

This is a strategy that many other bodybuilders including Phil Heath and Dorian Yates have used in their training.

If you are using a push / pull / legs split and performing multiple exercises for your shoulders then you may want to copy Ronnie and perform 1 heavy compound exercise plus several lighter isolation exercises.

Ronnie uses different exercises in his second shoulder routine but he uses the same overall strategy. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Shoulder Routine #2

  • Exercise #1: Seated DB overhead press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Machine lateral raise, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Machine overhead press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: DB front raises, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #5: Cable standing rear-delt pull-apart, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #6: Cable bent-over rear-delt pull-apart, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video:

Ronnie is known for his unbelievable upper body strength and he shows us why in this video. Ronnie overhead presses the 160 pound dumbbells for reps – wow!

Once again Ronnie performs 1 heavy shoulder exercise followed by 5 smaller isolation exercises to pump his shoulders full of blood. Using 6 shoulder exercises twice per week would be overkill for most bodybuilders but it worked like magic for the one-and-only Ronnie Coleman.

After training his chest Ronnie moved onto his triceps exercises. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Triceps Routine #1

  • Exercise #1: Seated unilateral DB french press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Hammer strength machine dips, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Standing cable tricep pushdown, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video:

Ronnie’s triceps routine is pretty simple: he performs 3 different exercises using lighter weights and higher reps. He already performed plenty of heavy pressing exercises for his chest so he just needs to “finish off” his triceps with some higher-rep pumping work.

One of the things I like about Ronnie’s triceps routine is he uses three different exercises to train all 3 heads of the triceps.

The dumbbell french press targets the long head of the triceps, the machine dips overloads all 3 heads of the triceps equally and the cable pushdowns target the medial and lateral heads of the triceps.

You don’t have to use 3 triceps exercises with your push / pull / legs split but using different exercises to target the different heads of the triceps is a great idea.

Now let’s look at Ronnie’s second weekly triceps routine. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Triceps Routine #2

  • Exercise #1: Lying ez-bar extension (behind head), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Close grip bench press (with ez-bar), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Two-arm seated DB french press, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: Two-arm bent-over DB tricep kickbacks, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video:

Once again Ronnie focuses on a variety of triceps exercises to target all three heads of the triceps.

Ronnie actually uses a very interesting triceps superset: he performs ez-bar skull crushers immediately followed by close grip bench presses with the same weight. This is called a pre-exhaustion superset and is a great way to stimulate more muscle growth by extending the time under tension of your set.

You can read more about triceps pre-exhaust supersets in my article: 

The 5 Greatest Arm Superset Workouts!

Again Ronnie focuses on isolation exercises and he trains for a huge pump. He already threw around the 200 pound dumbbells for his chest exercises so he just has to “finish off” his triceps with lighter weights and higher reps.

This is a great strategy that you can use in your own push / pull / legs workouts: train your chest and shoulders with compound exercises but focus on isolation exercises for your triceps.

Part 2: Ronnie Coleman’s Pull Workouts

Ronnie Coleman trained his back, biceps and shoulders together every Monday and Thursday. We already covered Ronnie’s shoulder workouts in part 1 of this article so we’ll just focus on his back and biceps here.

Ronnie Coleman had the best upper back in bodybuilding history so his back routine is definitely worth studying.

Ronnie actually trains his upper back as two separate body parts.

On Monday he has a “back thickness” day where he focuses on heavy deadlifts and rowing exercises to make his back thicker. Then on Thursday he has a “back width” day where he focuses on lat exercises like cable pulldowns and dumbbell pullovers to make his back wider.

Here is what Ronnie’s back thickness workout usually looked like. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Back Routine #1

  • Exercise #1: Conventional deadlift, 3-5 sets of x 4-8 reps
  • Exercise #2: Barbell bent-over row, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: T-bar row, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: Standing 1-arm DB row, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps

Here is the training video:

Talk about a brutal back workout! For this workout Ronnie focuses on deadlifts and 3 old-school rowing exercises.

Ronnie doesn’t always train heavy on every exercise. For example some weeks Ronnie will go lighter on deadlifts or even skip the exercise completely. However, this was his go-to back thickness routine throughout his entire bodybuilding career.

One of the really interesting things about Ronnie Coleman’s training program is he never performed any lower back isolation exercises like back extensions. Instead he just focused on heavy barbell exercises like deadlifts and t-bar rows.

I guess when you are t-bar rowing 450 pounds you don’t need any lower back isolation exercises!

Now let’s look at Ronnie’s second weekly back routine. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Back Routine #2

  • Exercise #1: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Behind the neck lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: Lying DB pullovers, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps

Here is the training video:

This workout is a more traditional bodybuilding style workout. Ronnie performs several sets per exercise with moderately heavy weights and trains for the pump.

Most bodybuilders will probably get better results using a mix of back width and back thickness exercises per workout rather than splitting them up into separate workouts.

For example the DC Training program has you perform 1 back width exercise and 1 back thickness exercise per workout.

Performing all of your back thickness exercises in one workout is probably overkill for most people using a push / pull / legs split. However, this strategy certainly worked for Ronnie and he had the best back development of all time!

Now let’s look at Ronnie’s bicep workouts. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Bicep Routine #1

  • Exercise #1: Preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Seated alternating DB hammer curl, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps

Here is the training video:

Ronnie Coleman’s bicep routine is pretty straight-forward. He picks three different biceps exercises and focuses on lifting lighter weights for high reps and training for the pump.

Ronnie already lifted very heavy weights during his back workout so he just needs to “finish off” his biceps with some lighter isolation work.

This reminds me of his triceps routine where he focused on finishing off his triceps with high reps after throwing around crazy heavy weights for his chest.

Now let’s look at Ronnie’s second bicep routine. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Bicep Routine #2

  • Exercise #1: Machine preacher curls, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Standing alternating DB curls (supinating grip), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Standing cable ez-bar curl, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video:

Once again Ronnie focuses on 3 different biceps exercises to train the long and short head of the biceps.

If you are using a push / pull / legs split to build muscle like Ronnie then I recommend you focus on lighter isolation exercises for your biceps. If you already performed 2-4 exercises for your upper back then there’s no need to lift ultra-heavy weights on your biceps isolation exercises.

Even if you tried to do this you wouldn’t be able to lift much weight because your biceps will be fatigue from all of your heavy back sets.

Part 3: Ronnie Coleman’s Leg Workouts

Ronnie Coleman trained his quads, hamstrings and calves twice per week on Tuesday and Friday.

As usual Ronnie trained these muscles with two completely different workouts. For example Ronnie started his first weekly quadriceps workout with back squats and his second weekly quadriceps workout with front squats.

Ronnie felt that alternating between these two types of squats was absolutely essential to prevent training plateaus and to fully develop his legs. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Quadriceps Routine #1

  • Exercise #1: Back squats, 3-5 sets of x 4-12 reps
  • Exercise #2: Leg press, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Leg extensions, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps

Here is the training video:

Talk about an intense workout! In the above video Ronnie works up to a ridiculous 800 pounds for 2 reps on the back squat.

Ronnie said in an interview the only thing he regrets from his bodybuilding career is only squatting 800 pounds for 2 reps – he says he had at least 5 reps in him!

After his heavy squats Ronnie performs slightly higher reps on the leg press and leg extension machines.

Now let’s look at Ronnie’s heavy front squat workout. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Quadriceps Routine #2

  • Exercise #1: Front squat, 3-5 sets of 4-12 reps
  • Exercise #2: Machine hack squat, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Walking lunge (BB on back), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video:

Ronnie Coleman is one of the only professional bodybuilders in the world to use front squats in his routine. Maybe this is why Ronnie’s leg development was so much better than everyone else’s?

In the above video Ronnie works up to a crazy 585 pounds for 4 reps before dropping the weight on the ground.

After his front squats Ronnie goes heavy on machine hack squats and walking barbell lunges. Ronnie’s legs were one of his stronger body parts so he doesn’t feel the need to use a ton of exercises.

This is one of the big advantages of the push / pull / legs split – you can easily increase your training volume for your weaker body parts and decrease it for your stronger body parts.

Now let’s look at Ronnie’s hamstrings routines. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Hamstrings Routine #1

  • Exercise #1: Standing unilateral leg curl, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Stiff legged deadlift, 3-5 sets of x 8-20 reps

Here is the training video:

Ronnie’s hamstrings workouts are even shorter than his quadriceps workouts. Ronnie a few sets each on leg curls and stiff-legged deadlifts.

Ronnie’s hamstrings were definitely one of his stronger body parts so there was no need to go crazy with tons of different exercises.

Here was Ronnie’s second hamstrings routine. Check it out:

Ronnie Coleman’s Hamstrings Routine #2

  • Exercise #1: Lying leg curl, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Seated leg curl, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps

Here is the training video:

This hamstrings workout was even simpler: Ronnie just performs a few sets each on lying leg curls and seated leg curls.

This is a strategy that many other professional bodybuilders including Branch Warren have used in their training.

You also have to keep in mind that Ronnie’s hamstrings get worked very hard on his “back thickness” workout early in the week. Exercises like deadlifts, barbell rows and t-bar rows work the hamstrings and lower back very hard even if that isn’t Ronnie’s main reason for performing them.

Conclusion

Push Pull Legs

The push / pull / legs split is one of the best training splits you can use to build muscle. I love the way elite bodybuilders like Ronnie Coleman use this split to take their physiques to the next level.

Ronnie uses the 6 day push / pull / legs split to train his muscles twice per week with two completely different workouts. This is a great strategy for avoiding training plateaus and boredom in the gym.

I think the average bodybuilder will have a tough time recovering from Ronnie Coleman’s full training program but there is a TON you can learn from him about designing your workouts. I especially like the way Ronnie used different strategies for different muscle groups.

For example Ronnie trained very heavy on his chest and back exercises but increased the reps and trained for the pump on his shoulder and arm exercises.

This is definitely something you can try in your own push / pull / legs workouts.

I am a huge fan of Ronnie so here is one of his best quotes to pump you up even more:

“There were some tough times and when those came up I just used my mental strength to push through knowing that my mind-controlled everything.”

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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