Push Pull Legs Routine | The Best Mass-Building Workout Split

By Edd Oldfield | Bodybuilder and Personal Trainer

Monday: chest, Tuesday: shoulders, Wednesday: legs. Sound Familiar?

Ever noticed people in the gym performing the same bodypart workouts on the same days, using the same exercises and the same weights… and often look the same?

If you’re looking to pack on some solid muscle mass, it’s time to mix up an average training routine.

Mass-Building Basics

Push, pull and legs is a very simple, yet effective training split for anyone, ranging from those picking up their first barbell to hardened gym veterans. Push workouts include chest, shoulders and triceps. Pull workouts take care of back and biceps. While leg workouts cover quads, hamstrings and calves.

The reason it works so well is that it places more emphasis on multi-joint compound exercises than on isolation-based exercises. Don’t expect set after set of pec deck and preacher curls in this program. The main reason for the majority of these workouts being comprised of compound exercises is exercises like barbell bench press, squats and deadlifts offer the most ‘bang for your buck’. They involve multiple muscle groups and allow the most room for progression of reps and weight. This means more growth for you.


Putting It All Together

The basic premise of any push, pull and legs programme will always be similar, but there will be subtle differences for those just getting started in the gym to those who have been slinging iron for years.

The first major difference between the beginner program and the advanced program is the addition of training days. The advanced trainer will be training two days on and one day off, which allows for increased frequency of hitting body parts, leading to more opportunities for growth and recovery.

BEGINNERS Routine Split

The focus for the beginner should be to learn proper technique and form, therefore all sets should be stopped 1-2 reps shy of true failure (whereby another rep could not be completed without comprising form) unless stated.

The beginner is also only training 3 days a week, with at least a day’s rest after each session. This is to promote recovery between workouts as a beginner’s recovery capabilities will much less than a more experienced gym-goer.

Training days >> Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Monday | PULL

Exercises Sets & Reps
Deadlifts 3 x 5-8 reps
Close Grip Chin-ups 3 (Bodyweight > failure)
Bent Over Rows 2 x 8-12 reps
Wide-Grip Cable Row 2 x 10-12 reps
Barbell Curls 2 x 12-15 reps

Wednesday | PUSH

Exercises Sets & Reps
Flat Barbell Bench Press 3 x 8-12 reps
Incline Dumbbell Press 2 x 10-12 reps
Standing Military Press 3 x 6-8 reps
Wide-Grip Upright Rows 2 x 12-15 reps
Narrow Grip Dips 3 Bodyweight > failure
Cable Pushdowns 2 x 12-15 reps

Friday | LEGS

Exercises Sets & Reps
Squats 2 x 10-12 reps
Leg Press 3 x 6-8 reps
DBell Stiff-legged deadlift 2 x 12-15 reps
Leg Extensions 2 x 15-20 reps

As you can see in the beginner programme, there are very few isolation exercises. The programme focuses on the old-school basic mass movements such as deadlifts, squats and standing military press. This is for two reasons:

  • It gives beginners a great foundation of strength and teaches basic lifting techniques rather than relying on machines.
  • It works a large number of muscle groups at once including the all-important core muscles, which are often neglected by beginners and are very important to handle heavier weights as the beginner progresses.

Advanced Routine Split

An advanced trainer who is used to weights as a stimulus will have much greater recovery capabilities than their less experienced counterparts. They’ll be able to benefit and grow with extra training, whereas a beginner could burn out and potentially not progress.

Rest days >> Day 3, 6, and 9.

Day 1 | PULL 1

Exercises Sets & Reps
Deadlifts 1st: 3-5 reps 2nd: 6-8 reps
Underhand Pulldowns 2 x 8-12 reps
Dumbbell One Rows 1st: 6-8 reps 2nd: 12-15 reps
Pendlay Rows 1st: 6-8 reps 2nd: 12-15 reps
Skull Crushers 3 x 8-12 reps
Rope Hammer Curls 2 x 12-15 reps

Day 2 | PUSH 1

Exercises Sets & Reps
Incline Bench Press 1st: 6-8 reps 2nd: 8-12 reps
Flat Dumbbell Press 2 x 8-12 reps
Wide-Grip Dips 3 (Bodyweight > failure)
Dumbbell Shoulder Press 2 x 8-12 reps
Arnold Press 2 x 12-15 reps
Skull Crushers 3 x 8-12 reps
Underhand Pushdowns 2 x 12-15 reps

Day 4 | LEGS 1

Exercises Sets & Reps
Front Squats 1st: 6-8 reps 2nd: 12-15 reps
Feet Low & Close Leg Press 2 x 15-20 reps
Stiff-legged deadlifts 6-8reps > 8-12 reps
Glute Ham raises Bodyweight > Failure
Walking lunges 2 x 20 each leg

Day 5 | PULL 2

Exercises Sets & Reps
Bent Over Rows 1st: 6-8 reps 2nd: 8-12 reps
T-Bar Row 2 x 6-8 reps
Close Grip Chin-ups 3 (Bodyweight > failure)
Rack Deadlifts 1st: 3-5 reps 2nd: 6-8 reps
Barbell Curls 3 x 8-12 reps
Reverse Grip Cable Curls 2 x 12-15 reps

Day 7 | PUSH 2

Exercises Sets & Reps
Decline Bench Press 1st: 6-8 reps 2nd: 8-12 reps
Incline Dumbbell Press 2 x 8-12 reps
Flat Machine Press 2 x 10-12 reps
Seated Smith Machine Shoulder Press 2 x 8-12 reps
Wide-Grip Upright Rows 2 x 12-15 reps
Close-Grip Bench Press 2 x 6-8 reps
Overhead Rope Extensions 3 x 12-15 reps

Day 8 | LEGS 2

Exercises Sets & Reps
Squats 1st: 6-8 reps 2nd: 8-12 reps
Lying Leg Curls 2 x 12-15 reps
Hack Squats 2 x 15-20 reps
Smith Machine Front Squats 2 x 15-20 reps
  • Stretching and foam rolling is also recommended on this program to aid the recovery process even more. You will also notice on initial compound exercises the inclusion of a lower rep set. This is in a strength building range, rather than hypertrophy and will give carry over on subsequent hypertrophy sets.

  • The reason for the inclusion of these strength sets is that the advanced trainer should be looking to lift more each session be it by a rep or by an increase of 0.5kg. This is known as ‘progressive overload ‘ which means if you’re getting stronger each session you will be growing each session and vice versa. So adding in some strength sets will aid this.

  • Also, this means the advanced trainer should be logging workouts every time they train so they can look back and see what was done previous and aim to beat it. This is why there are 2 rotations of each workout as progression can grind to a halt much quicker if following the same workout for body parts over and over.

Take Home Message

If you’re serious about putting on mass and building strength, give push, pull and legs a try.

For best results, fuel your muscles with a protein shake after a heavy session.


Lauren Dawes

Lauren Dawes

Writer and expert

Lauren is an English Literature graduate originally from the South. She’s always loved swimming, has discovered the power of weight training over the past few years, and has lots of room for improvement in her weekly hot yoga class. On the weekends she’s usually cooking or eating some kind of brunch, and she enjoys trying out new recipes with her housemates – especially since shaking off student habits, like mainly surviving off pasta. Above all, she’s a firm believer in keeping a balance between the gym and gin. Find out more about Lauren’s experience here: