Push Vs Pull Workouts: A Complete Guide + 4-Day Training Plan

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You can take any number of approaches to strength training. You might decide that you feel best with total-body workouts, in which you perform an array of exercises each workout that together work all of the major muscles in the body.

Alternatively, you might do split routines, or body parts splits in which you focus on specific areas of the body during a given workout, with the sum total of your workouts during the week ultimately addressing all of the major muscles in the body.

In this latter approach, you might focus on upper-body muscles one day and lower-body muscles another day, or you may further divide the body into a leg workout and core workout, an arms and chest workout, and a shoulder and back workout.

Another approach to split workout routines for the upper-body muscles is to do push vs pull workouts.

In this article, we will discuss what push versus pull workouts entail, the benefits of push-pull workouts, how to do them, and common examples of exercises for push-pull splits.

We will cover: 

  • What Is a Push-Pull Workout?
  • What Muscles Are Involved In Push vs Pull Workouts?
  • Benefits of Push Pull Splits
  • How to Follow a Push-Pull Workout Routine
  • Examples Of Push vs Pull Exercises and Workouts

Let’s dive in! 

A person holding dumbbells.

What Is a Push-Pull Workout?

Push-pull workouts or push vs pull workouts is a style of strength training that involves training groups of muscles that work together to facilitate the pushing movement and the pulling movement.

Push vs pull workouts focus on the pushing muscles in one workout and the pulling muscles in another in an effort to train the muscles that work synergistically for common functional movements together in one workout.

The push vs pull workout training approach is a way to structure your workouts and select the exercises that you are going to do based on muscle actions rather than muscle locations.

When you are following a push vs pull workout plan, you perform exercises that target the muscles involved in pushing one day during the week and then target the muscles involved in pulling during a separate workout another day of the week.

You might perform these workouts on back-to-back days or take one or more rest days in between the workouts, depending on your fitness level and goals.

Typically, the push vs pull split workout routine is accompanied by at least one other workout during the week that targets the lower-body and core muscles.

Then, depending on the experience level of the weightlifter, a second push-muscle workout and pull-muscle workout may follow the lower body workout on subsequent days of the week. This may be followed by one more leg and core workout, followed by a day of rest. 

A person doing a cable pull down.

Benefits of Push Pull Splits 

There are several benefits to the push vs pull muscle split workout routine, including the following:

#1: Push vs Pull Workout Splits Help Ensure Equal Attention On Opposing Muscles

Performing push vs pull workout splits helps ensure that you are dedicating an equal amount of time, energy, and training volume to opposing muscle groups, which can help prevent muscle imbalances. Muscle imbalances can limit your functional strength, compromise your physique, and can increase the risk of injuries. 

Even with the best of intentions and trying to follow a carefully-created strength training workout routine, it’s not uncommon that total-body weightlifting training plans end up not being particularly well balanced.

For example, if you tend to gravitate towards chest and shoulder exercises, your total-body workouts might include just one or two exercises that work each of the opposing muscles in the back but an abundance of exercises that target either the chest or shoulder muscles or both. 

Over time, the more biased your strength training routine is towards certain muscle groups or movements, the more likely it will be that you will develop significant muscle imbalances. 

Therefore, the push-pull split routine is a prudent approach for athletes who are not particularly inclined to do exercises for pulling muscles because it essentially forces an equal distribution of training volume on both functional groups of muscles of the body.

A person doing a chest press with cables.

#2: Push vs Pull Workout Splits Allow You to Train Each Muscle Group At Least Twice a Week

One of the primary benefits of the push-pull workout routine is that if you structure your training week in this manner, you can work all of the major muscles of your body twice a week with plenty of rest in between.

Studies suggest that it is best to have at least 48 hours of rest between targeting the same muscle groups, yet greater gains in strength and muscle size (hypertrophy) occur when muscle groups are worked at least twice per week.

For this reason, the push vs pull workout split routine can strike the right balance of giving you the training frequency you need while also affording enough recovery between workouts to maximize muscle hypertrophy.

Indeed, studies suggest that a split body workout routine like the push vs pull workout split is more effective than either total-body workouts or isolated muscle workouts for hypertrophy (gains in muscle size).

#3: Push vs Pull Workouts Can Improve Functional Performance

Compared to body part split routines in which just one or two muscle groups are targeted per workout, or total-body workouts that haphazardly include a variety of exercises, push vs pull workouts can improve functional strength and performance because you’re training muscle groups that have to work together in real life to carry out common functions (pushing and pulling).

Lower/upper body split workouts can be more effective and allow you to work at a higher intensity without completely fatiguing the one or two muscle groups you are targeting.

A person doing a Renegade row, a pull exercise in a pull vs push workout.

What Muscles Are Involved In Push vs Pull Workouts?

One of the keys to successful push versus pull workouts is ensuring that you are targeting the right muscle groups for each movement. Muscles involved in pushing include the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor in the chest, the deltoid and rotator cuff muscles in the shoulders, and the triceps along the back of the upper arm.

Muscles involved in pulling include the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and rhomboids in the back; the biceps on the front of your upper arm; and the muscles in the forearms, such as brachioradialis.

Although there can be some overlap in the muscular involvement with the pushing and pulling movements, these are the general muscle groups targeted by pushing workouts and pulling workouts, respectively.

A person doing a pull down.

How to Follow a Push Vs Pull Workout Routine

How you should follow a push vs pull workout routine depends on your experience level and training goals.

For beginners, it is typically advisable to only train three days a week to begin. This will allow adequate rest and recovery between workouts without overtaxing your neural muscular system and inhibiting recovery.

Thus, a beginner wanting to follow the push-pull training approach might perform the push muscle workout on Monday, rest on Tuesday, the legs and core workout on Wednesday, rest on Thursday, and perform the pulling muscle workout on Friday or Saturday, resting the other two days of the week.

Advanced athletes typically perform the push muscle workout on Monday, the pull muscle workout on Tuesday, the legs and core workout on Wednesday, the push muscle workout on Thursday, the pull muscle workout on Friday, and the final legs and core workout on Saturday with a full rest day on Sunday. 

Of course, the order can be modified as long as you are separating the two pushing muscle workouts and the two pulling muscle workouts by several days.

On push muscle and pull muscle workout days, most athletes perform 3 to 4 sets of 5-10 exercises, aiming for 8 to 12 repetitions per exercise, depending on the primary strength training goal (strength or hypertrophy). 

Usually, lifters take 2-3 minutes of rest between sets, depending on their training level and the relative intensity of the load they are lifting (% of 1RM).

A person doing an overhead press.

Examples Of Push vs Pull Exercises and Workouts

The effectiveness of following a push-pull strength training routine hinges upon choosing appropriate exercises for push workouts and pull workouts.

Here is a sample 4-day push vs pull strength training plan.

Perform the designated number of sets and reps per exercise, using a load that is 65-85% of your 1RM for the exercise or the load you can lift for a maximum of 8-12 reps per exercise.

Weekly Workout 1: Push Muscles

ExerciseSetsReps
Dumbbell Chest Press36-12
Seated Overhead Press38-12
Incline Dumbbell Chest Fly210-12
Dumbbell Chest Fly210-12
Tricep Dips Either On Assisted Machine Or Bodyweight38-12
Cable Crossover or Pec Deck210-12
A person doing chest press.

Weekly Workout 2: Pull Muscles

ExerciseSetsReps
Barbell Rows or Row Machine36-12
Pull-Ups Either On Assisted Machine Or Bodyweight210-12
Cable Reverse Fly310-12
Cable Pull Downs210-12
Dumbbell Shrugs210-15
Dumbbell Curls38-12

Weekly Workout 3: Push Muscles

ExerciseSetsReps
Incline Dumbbell Chest Press36-12
Bench Press36-12
Military Press or Shoulder Press Machine38-12
Cable Chest Fly210-12
Cable Tricep Push-Downs38-12
Alternating Forward and Lateral Raise With Dumbbells210-15
A person on a gym machine.

Weekly Workout 4: Pull Muscles

ExerciseSetsReps
Dumbbell Bent Over Reverse Fly38-10
Dumbbell Single-Arm Bent-Over Row36-12
Lat Pull-Downs210-12
Chin-ups38-10
Cable Curls38-12
Straight-Arm Pull-Downs210-15

There you have it! Your push/pull workout for your next week at the gym.

For a list of even more exercises to add to your gym workouts, check out our Complete List Of Compound Exercises.

A person doing a bicep curl.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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