As any seasoned gym-goer or athlete will attest to, nothing beats training a push and pull workout for maximum muscle definition and thickness.
A push workout and a pull workout must be in any program designed to add mass to the trainee’s upper body — but how does one fit a push and pull workout into a weekly program? Should there be a push and pull day? Should both movements be on separate training sessions?
We answer these questions and more. Read on to learn about the best way to schedule a push and pull workout. We’ll also dive deep into why training both movements is crucial and what exercises will give the best bang for anyone’s buck.
The Benefits of Push vs. Pull Workout Splits
The muscles involved in pulling and pushing are some of the largest muscle groups in the body. For this reason, the merits of training them go beyond adding size. Every push and pull workout recruits some of the largest muscles in the upper body.
The recruitment of large muscles makes push and pull workouts beneficial in multiple ways. The hypertrophy in the upper body muscles leads to several benefits:
Aesthetics and a Dominating Appearance
The muscles of the upper are the first groups of muscles noticed by people. In fact, development in the traps, arms, shoulders, and chest muscles can cause a lifter to stand out visually. With an emphasis on training the back, a lifter can develop the lat muscles, earning the coveted v-taper.
Training based on pulling and pushing makes a lifter better at these movements — which are crucial to daily living.
Not everyone will have the opportunity to go to the Olympia competition, but everyone needs to pull and push. Even without hypertrophy, this alone should be reason enough to train using a push-pull split.
Higher Calories Expenditure
A push vs. pull workout split works all the muscles of the upper body — including the abdominal muscles if free weights are in the program. These include the pectorals and anterior shoulder muscles for pushing. As well, the musculature of the back gets its fair share of activation during pulling workouts.
The high recruitment of multiple muscle groups creates an increased demand for energy. In other words, the calorie burn per workout will also be higher compared to the calories expenditure of a body part split.
The calorie-crushing benefits of a push-pull split don’t stop after the workout. Once the muscles of the upper body develop as a result of the split, more calories are necessary. This remains true even if the lifter is at rest.
Push vs. Pull Workout: Muscles Trained and Exercises
In a push-pull split, the target will be the muscles involved in both movements. Knowing which muscles fire during the movements will be instrumental in exercise selection.
Here are the muscles pull and push workouts train:
Push Workouts: Get the Chest, Triceps, and Shoulders To Show
In general, push workouts incorporate movements that train the muscles in front of the body. The only exception would probably be the abdominal muscles as these require their own schedule.
There are two planes along which a trainee can push — vertically or horizontally. Vertical push workouts that include presses and handstand push-ups will train the shoulder muscles or the delts. The deltoid muscles that come into play during vertical pushing are the anterior and lateral shoulder muscles. For some vertical pushing exercises like the incline bench press, the trainee also activates the upper pectoral muscles.
The dip is also a vertical push workout. Lifters can perform dips on a dip bar, suspension or modular bodyweight trainer (TRX or Unity Training), or gymnastics rings. Dips are great for the triceps as well as the often-neglected lower pectoral muscles.
Horizontal pressing activates the triceps (the muscles behind the arms). Also, the pectoral (chest) muscles are pivotal to exercises like the flat and decline bench press, as well as the push-up. The anterior deltoid also experiences some tension with horizontal pushing exercises.
Pulling Workouts: Add Girth to the Rear Delts, Biceps, Traps, Lats, Rhomboids
Pulling workouts activate more muscles than pushing workouts. For this reason, pulling workouts may require more recovery, granted that they’re on a separate day from push or leg day.
There are horizontal pulls and vertical pulls. Horizontal pulls include barbell or dumbbell rows and face pulls. These exercises work the rear delts and the trapezius. Depending on the execution of rows, even the biceps can get involved in the pulls.
When it comes to vertical pulls, nothing beats pull-ups. Pull-ups are some of the best exercises for upper body strength and back musculature. Pull-ups are so effective that any lifter can make them the bulk of an upper-body pull session. Because pull-ups build bicep strength, an arm day won’t be necessary.
Of course, not every lifter is capable of performing pull-ups. For lifters unable to perform pull-ups, there are lat pull-downs. Lifters can adjust the handles on the lat pull-down machine to target other back muscles like the rhomboids and inner lats.
How To Implement a Push/Pull Workout Split
A lifter can implement this training split in several ways. While it’s tempting to have both push and pull movements in the same workout, this isn’t the best way to go about it. Why? This is because doing so will take up too much gym time.
Instead, these are recommendations that have stood the test of time:
Push One Day, Pull Another
Allocating separate days for pulling and pushing will enable lifters to achieve two things.
First, lifters will be able to maximize their time training muscles involved. The problem with putting pushes and pulls in one workout is that the movements take a lot of energy. As a result, fatigue builds early or midway into the session, causing most trainees to “sandbag” the other half of the workout. Hence, by having separate days for pushes and pulls, trainees can give their 100% in both.
The second benefit of splitting pushes and pulls is that it allows lifters to work out and recover at the same time. Following either a push or pull workout, a trainee can still show up the next day and work out while the muscles from the last session recover.
Have Two Days for Both Pushes and Pulls
Why two days? There’s a lot of evidence pointing to the ideal frequency to train muscle groups. The sweet spot seems to be twice a week.
With push and pull workouts scheduled twice a week, trainees can work the muscles involved at the right frequency without doing too much. Along with leg day, this amounts to about five days a week.
Here’s an idea of how to sequence a twice a week push-pull split:
- Monday: Pull
- Tuesday: Push
- Wednesday: Rest or active recovery
- Thursday: Pull
- Friday: Push
- Saturday: Legs
- Sunday: Complete rest
Most lifters make the mistake of skipping warmups. This is a mistake that can lead to serious injury down the road.
There are many types of warmups. One that tackles a lot of the muscles for push and pull workouts are band pull aparts. To perform a band pull apart, simply stand holding a resistance band and hold both ends of the resistance band. From here, keep the abs braced, hold the band in front, and pull until both arms are directly at the sides. Perform for 15 to 20 repetitions. Band pull aparts warm up the traps, rear shoulders, rhomboids, and forearms, making them perfect for pull days.
When it comes to push days, the triceps and shoulders need special attention. Lifters can warm up the shoulders by doing forward arm circles for 20 reps. The rep count is also the same for backward arm circles. This will mobilize and get the blood flowing to the shoulders.
For the triceps, banded tricep pull-downs are excellent. All a lifter needs to do is find somewhere to loop the resistance band and pull down on two sides of the band. The upper arms should not move.
Also, easy push-up variations can warm up the triceps and chest muscles. Easy push-up variations include push-ups with knees on the floor and hand-release push-ups.
Optimize Your Pull and Push Workout with the Best Programming in Sacramento
Programming push and pull workouts can be a pain. From rep schemes to weight recommendations, there are too many nuances to get on top of for maximum results.
Luckily, that’s where we come in. Try a free week with us and get an upper body that pulls attention and pushes the competition away.