Push Pull Legs | 5 Day ‘PowerBuilding’ Workout

Overview of Push Pull Legs Powerbuilding Training

The Push Pull Legs routine is a popular method of training for drug free athletes looking to build muscle and gain strength. It carries the traits of an effective training program for the goal of both muscle building and strength gain. These traits are outlined in the green table below.

 

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Each bodypart is trained with a frequency of 2-3 x per week.

40 – 70 reps total per bodypart, per session.

Generally contain big, compound movements which give you the best bang for your buck in terms of strength and muscle size. i.e. Squats, Deadlifts, Presses and rows.

 

Example Workout Splits

Push/Pull/Legs/Push/Pull/Legs (can be done 5-6 x per week)

Upper Body/Lower Body/Upper Body/Lower Body etc (can be performed 4-5 x per week)

Full Body Workout (can be performed 2-4 x per week) [/x_alert]

What’s does “PowerBuilding” Mean?

The “Powerbuilding” aspect of this particular Push Pull Legs workout plan is that it leverages some of the benefits of powerlifting to increase your strength which will also directly and indirectly impact your muscle growth.

Increase your strength in the 1-6 rep range and it stands to reason that your ability to handle higher loads in the 8-15 range will also increase. Being able to handle more weight for more reps during your sets means more total volume which, as the scientific literature generally agrees on, equals more muscle growth.

So, how does this affect the programme? You’ll find one or two more power/strength based exercises at the start of each day to gain some of these strength benefits. Not only that, those reps will also contribute to your total training volume that day to help you build muscle. Win-Win

Who Should Use Push Pull Legs?

Difficulty Level : Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced

The Push Pull Legs routine ideally is suitable for a drug-free lifter (all information in this article will be assuming that you are) who has at least an hour, 5-6 days per week to dedicate to the gym.

If you can only get to the gym four or less days a week, I’d recommend choosing a different program as the Push Pull Legs routine will begin to move away from the optimal training frequency required for your body parts to optimally grow and get stronger.

As displayed in the box above. Training bodyparts 2-3 x a week has been shown to be more beneficial than training each body part once per week. You won’t get this frequency doing Push Pull Legs only 4 x per week. In this case I’d recommend using an Upper Body/Lower Body workout split instead. (Or a full body routine, if you can train only 2-3 x per week)

Can I Change the Routine?

It depends – If you’re a beginner, then absolutely not. Unless for injury or medical reasons.

In all of my experience as a trainer and helping newbies at the gym, one of the biggest reasons I see for lack of progress, is that they are more intuitive and/or emotional about their training.

“I want bigger arms!”

“I want bigger pecs mainly”

This is fine and everybody’s individual training goals should be respected, however, I find this tends to have newbies making some bizarre training decisions like spending an entire session on four different types of bicep exercises or doing a crap ton more training volume and smashing every single angle of their “upper inner chest”.

This is like dropping a nuke on an ant farm and will take you further away from your goal, not towards it.

Here’s some truth serum – when you’re a beginner, you don’t have “weak points”. All of your body parts are weak.

It’s going to take a good year or two of following a solid, science based programme like this workout to reveal any weak points that you may have in the future.

Don’t change a thing for at least that time frame. Follow the programme to a tee. It’s scientifically sound.

INTERMEDIATES/ADVANCED

You may exchange certain exercises for others that follow a similar movement pattern and stimulate the same bodypart(s).

You may want to add an extra set on some/all exercises to increase training volume or periodise your training with planned overreaching phases (i.e go beyond the volume normally recommended for drug free athletes, usually done by adding sets)

You may want to experiment with different set and rep ranges. Ideally sticking between the 2-6 rep range for our power exercises (the first exercise) and around 6-15 reps for all other accessory exercises. You won’t find much benefit going beyond 15 reps unless going to complete failure…and overusing failure would negatively impact the rest of your workout. Not advised.

How Long Should I Rest Between Sets?

Power/Strength Exercises : As long as necessary for your power/strength exercises. Our number 1 goal is to hit the number of reps and sets prescribed for that day. These movements are highly fatiguing so trying to go by a clock and not resting enough will be counter inuitive. Make sure you’re fully recovered before attempting your next set

3-6 minutes would be my general guideline.

Accessory/Higher Rep Exercises : For higher rep exercises, you’ll find that 1-3 minutes rest is generally sufficient to recover but it will depend on the exercise. Remember, the goal is exactly the same. You want to get as close to the prescribed sets and reps as possible.

You’re not hardcore if you take such little rest that your rep output is 10/7/4 when your target was to hit 10/10/10 – You’ll be leaving some muscle growth at the door. Make sure you’re fully recovered for your next set to ensure a high quality set.

Should I Take Each Set to Failure?

Taking every set to failure is when you cannot perform another rep of the exercise without assistance.

DO NOT take each set to failure as this will have a similar impact to not taking enough rest. Your subsequent sets in the rest of your workouts will suffer.

While training to failure has its benefits, the general scientific consensus is that total volume is the more important factor for muscle growth. So again, the most important thing is to achieve the prescribed target amount of sets and reps in the program.

Leave at least 1 or 2 RIR (reps in reserve) for each set of your exercises. (Beginners : try to leave 2 reps in the tank. Intermediate and advanced trainee’s can usually more confidently guage how close they are to failure)

If you want to take some sets to failure or near failure, then you may do so on the last set of your final exercise for that bodypart or at the end of your workout. (As long as it doesn’t affect another bodypart – i.e. if you took a Bench Press movement to failure when you still have delts/triceps to go in the workout, going to failure wouldn’t be recommended)

What Lifting Tempo Should I Use?

Use controlled technique with every repetition to ensure the target muscle is being stimulated. For your lower rep, powerlifting exercises, use explosive but controlled power to lift the weight (concentric portion of the lift) and then lower the weight more slowly on the way down (eccentric portion) always maintaining control.

Don’t get me started on those “time under tension is EVERYTHING!!” nuts who break out a stop watch to time each rep. That bullshit will cost you valuable intensity, which will in turn cost you some valuable gains.

Evidence supports total training volume being the most important factor for muscle growth – Lift with control, simple. Don’t over complicate this.

Where is Day 4 and 5?

There isn’t a day 4 or 5.

On your 4th day of training for the week, you simply go back to Day 1 of training and go again.

For example on a 5 day a week training routine :

Day 1 : Push
Day 2 : Pull
Day3 : Legs
Day 4 : Rest
Day 5 : Push
Day 6 : Pull
Day 7 : Rest
Day 8 : Legs
Day 9 : Push

If you wanted to train with this programme around 6 days a week, then you’d just have a rest day every 4th day. (After every Push Pull Legs cycle)

Can I have Two Different Workouts for Each Workout Day to Switch Between?

Example : Day 1a, Day 2a, Day 3a, Day 1b, Day 2b, Day 3b..repeat.

If you’re a beginner, I’m going to say no. I want you to become strong and well drilled in the prescribed compound exercises.

This will help with injury prevention as you become more competent in performing the bigger exercises and the exercises I’ve prescribed also give you the best bang for your buck in terms of muscle growth.

Your fast results as a beginner following this programme will hopefully keep you from becoming bored or demotivated.

I’ve never understood the want to over complicate training – The easier you can keep track of progress, the better your results will tend to be. The fewer exercises you need to keep track of, the more you can focus on besting your performance from the last workout.

Intermediates/Advanced : By this point you should be competent with your technique and/or noticed weaker body parts on your physique – you may want to address these in a Push/Pull/Legs/Push(b)/Pull(b)/Legs(b) type of manner. (Or make a different customisation that addresses your particular weaknesses – Let me know if you need me to help with that)

If this is the route you want to go, then simply copy the template of the program I am prescribing below and replace whatever exercise that you want to change with a different exercise of your choice that targets the same bodypart.

After you’ve done this you’ll have two workouts for each day. (Day 1a and a Day 1b for example)

Even if you’re an intermediate or advanced trainee, understand that this is NOT a necessity, but merely a suggestion. I feel that there is enough exercise variety in the 3 days prescribed in the plan as it is.

Deadlifts and Squats on the Same Day?

Many people like to do deadlifts on “Pull” day claiming that deadlifts are a lower back exercise.

While, yes deadlifts do work the lower back (and most major muscles on the body), all other large muscles in the posterior chain such as your glutes and hamstrings also get some major activation.

If you’re finding that doing squats and deadlifts on the same day is too fatiguing, then you could switch out the deadlifts from leg day and move them into being the very first exercise on your “pull” day but for now, especially if you’re a beginner, I want you to perform the routine exactly as is.

If you do make this switch, include a quad or hamstring dominant exercise in its place on your leg day depending on your weakness. Maybe some split squats/lunges (Short step forward so that your knee goes down at a 90 degree angle for quads and take a bigger step forward for more hamstring activation).

Again though, I can’t stress to you enough of not over complicating a good routine that is bringing you results.

How to Progress Reps?

There are many ways to do this with no wrong or right answer. Obviously, you want to be creating progressive overload and achieving more volume over time to grow, so how do we achieve that? I’ll give you one example :

Low and medium rep exercises (4-6 or 8-12 rep exercises):

Bench Press workout 1 : 4 sets x 6 reps @ 100kg
Bench Press workout 2 : 4 sets x 5 reps @ 102.5kg
Bench Press workout 3 : 4 sets x 4 reps @ 105kg
Bench Press workout 4 : 4 sets x 6 reps @ 102.5kg (notice the increase from workout 1?)

That’s one way to approach it. You’re seeing gradual progress here every 4th week in your lifts.

You could try to keep the weight the same and keep adding reps every week until you reach the end of the range and then add more weight on but this would bum you out quite quickly if you’re not a beginner since you’re not going to keep getting stronger every single workout.

If that was the case, we’d have a whole bunch of Ronnie Colemans walking around within two years of everyone first starting to lift. Be patient and smart – progress will come. That method may work for higher rep ranges (as shown below in the example) but for heavier, lower rep exercises you’re asking for injury.

High Rep Exercises example (12-15 reps)

Hammer Curls workout 1 : 2 sets x 12 reps @ 10kg
Hammer Curls workout 2 : 2 sets x 13 reps @ 10kg
Hammer Curls workout 3 : 2 sets x 14 reps @ 10kg
Hammer Curls workout 4 : 2 sets x 15 reps @ 10kg
Hammer Curls workout 5 : 2 sets x 12 reps @ 11kg (progress from workout 1?)

Keep it simple.

 

PUSH – PULL – LEGS

5 day Workout Routine

 

PUSH
Bench Press
4 sets
4-6 reps

Overhead Barbell Press

4 sets
4-6 reps
Dumbell/Cable Flyes
3 sets
8-12 reps
Dumbell Lateral Raises
3 sets
8-12 reps
Close Grip Bench Press
3 sets
8-12 reps
Skull Crushers
2 sets
12-15 reps

 

PULL
Pendlay/Barbell Rows
4 sets
6-8 reps
Pull-ups/ Lat Pulldowns (overhand)
3 sets
8-12 reps
Seated Cable Rows

3 sets

8-12 reps
Barbell Bicep Curls
3 sets
8-12 reps
Hammer Curls
2 sets
12-15 reps
Ab Exercise of choice
4 sets
8-12 reps

 

LEGS
Squats
4 sets
4-6 reps
Deadlifts
4 sets
4-6 reps
Leg extensions
4 sets
10-12 reps
Leg curls
4 sets
10-12 reps
Calf Raises
4 Sets
12-15 reps

 

Please leave any questions or concerns down below in the comments section and I’ll be happy to answer – Happy gaining!

Once you’ve finished with the Push Pull Legs powerbuilding workout : click here to head back to view other Muscle Building Workouts
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This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Are you recommending straight sets

    For one particular workout for one exercise you want to have same weight and same reps and increase weight only in next workout?

  2. Are you recommending straight sets or pyramid loading for one particular workout

    1. The sets mentioned in this workout are all working sets. You can hit either straight sets or pyramid up/down if you like as long as they’re working sets (not warm-up sets or sets that end far from failure). The lowest hassle way is straight sets. No messing around with different weights, but go with your personal preference as long as they’re working sets.

  3. Hey, how long are the recommended rest periods? I am thinking of giving this a go after training Mike Matthews PPL for a few months. Thank in advance!

    1. Hey Paul,

      Take as long as you need to ensure your next set is of the highest quality.

      Generally, 30-90 seconds for rep ranges between 12-15
      2-5 minutes for your big compound movements or rep ranges between 1-8.

      Again, this is a very general recommendation and depends on your fitness levels, the specific exercise and how intense your set was (if you left one rep in the tank, you’ll need more rest than if you left two or three reps in the tank at the end of your set)

      I personally don’t time mine and go when I’m ready. If you have a large drop-off in reps from one set to the other, it’s a pretty good indicator you needed a longer rest period.

      Hope that helps!

      Al

  4. Hey, I was wondering what’s your opinion on adding two sets of incline bench press for 8 reps on chest days?

    1. If you feel that your upper chest is a weakness, then you can certainly add it. If you’re still a beginner (first year of lifting) I wouldn’t worry about these little details just yet. Work on the foundations; build strength and muscle with the basics, then you can work on any weaknesses that may appear.

  5. thanks for this

    1. You’re welcome, Will!

  6. Hey, I don’t quite understand how to progress the weight on the exercises that are in the 8-12 rep range. What do you recommend ? Should I try to increase the reps as much as I can and then add weight when I hit the upper limit since these happen to be isolation/accessory exercises ?

  7. Can deadlift be replaced with RDL (same reps and sets range)? And add one more exercise for quads in 10-12 reps range?

  8. So for instance if you can only make it to the gym three days per week, you would simply do each workout on its own set day once each week, e.g. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. However this is not the best way to do it as it means that each body part is only being trained once per week, and as I ve said previously this is not optimal for muscle growth (though it s fine for a maintenance program).

    1. That’s why it’s called a 5-day workout. The minimum I’d recommend for this workout is 4 days a week. If you’re going 3 days a week, you’re better off hitting an upper body/lower body routine for the reasons you mentioned.

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