The One-Week Push-and-Pull Split

by Carla Henderson

Sled pull

Maximize your time at the gym by switching to a push-and-pull split.

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Have you ever considered switching to a push-pull split? Having a day at the gym dedicated to a glorified “shoulder workout” is becoming an ancient artifact of the weight room. The solution? Push-pull. 

This methodology gets the muscles of your body working synergistically across a week of training rather than working each group on its own. The push refers to exercises that involve the chest, triceps, shoulders, and quads; while the pull involves forearms, biceps, hamstrings, and back. When you organize a training session in this way, you use your agonist muscles (the muscle that is contracting) while its direct opposite (the antagonist) is relaxed. 

An easy example of this is the way biceps and triceps work together: While the bicep is contracting, the tricep is relaxing. Splitting muscle groups in this way prevents over-training while still performing compound functional movements. Compound lifts are exercises that allow you to engage two or more more muscle groups at the same time. This “split” allows for adequate recovery and decreases the risk of injury, while also maximizing your training capacity in the gym. 

Research highlights the effectiveness of multi-joint resistance training and the benefits of muscle size and strength — especially in women — to build a better physique, decrease the risk of osteoporosis and improve metabolic function (just to name a few). The push-pull split capitalizes on the body’s ability to create muscle adaption and hypertrophy (read: growth) while still allowing it to recover. 

An example of how to organize your workout on a pushing day would be to focus on chest, shoulders, quads and triceps. A pulling day would focus on back (middle, upper, lower traps and rhomboids), biceps and hamstrings. Each of these muscle groups can be trained twice per week with a total of four training days. 

In the following example, we’re working both upper body and lower body. In doing so, you will burn more calories and utilize compound movements. 

The 4-Day Push-Pull Split

Complete the prescribed sets and reps in each routine, taking a 60- to 90-second rest between sets during all workouts.

Day 1: Push

Exercise Sets Reps Barbell or dumbbell bench press 4 6-8 Dumbbell curtsy lunge 4 8-10/leg Bench or ring dip 4 8-10 Barbell strict press 4 6-8 Sled push 2 50 meters Single-leg V-up 4 20

Day 2: Pull

Exercise Sets Reps Barbell pendlay row 3 12 Prone resistance-band hamstring curl 3 12 Prone resistance-band hamstring curl 3 20 Banded face pull 3 20 Dumbbell reverse flies 3 12 Dumbbell hammer curl 3 12-15

Day 3: Push

*** Perform with plates or with the hardest variation of push-ups you can manage. To modify, use plates or a box.

Exercise Sets Reps Landmine single-arm shoulder press 3 12 per side Barbell reverse lunge 3 10-12 per leg Deficit push-up 3 AMRAP*** Barbell tricep extensions 3 10-12 Side-plank dips 3 15-second hold per side

Day 4: Pull

**60-90 secs rest between sets

Exercise Sets Reps Pull-Up (weighted, or the toughest variation you can) 4 5-10 Barbell romanian deadlift 4 8-10 Chest-supported dumbbell row 4 8-10 Supinated barbell biceps curl 4 8-10 Hanging leg raise 4 6-12

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