PPL Split: Dumbbell Shoulder Press form

Ah yes, the classic PPL split — which means push, pull and legs. It’s a workout split that you perform throughout the week over a course of 306 days depending on how much you can handle.

What’s a workout split you say?

A workout split is a routine that you follow for a certain number of weeks (usually 8-12) before you switch it up, take a break, try new exercises, and so on.

When done with proper form and an emphasis on progressive overload, the PPL Split is very effective. Like any workout routine, progress is the key. If you aren’t progressing on your lifts, you’ll end up like all the other skinny-fat guys who have been “working out” for years.

The PPL split can also be tailored to your individual goals, allowing you to focus on your strengths and improve your weaknesses.

First things first: I’m all about the Lean Warrior Philosophy. My goal is to develop a strong, athletic, flexible physique. Therefore, I want to avoid as much injury as possible. Keep this in mind when you’re trying to lift or pull hundreds of pounds.

It’s important to go heavy at times, but you must listen to your body. If you’re benching 235 and it’s hurting like a mofo, perhaps you need to take some time off and fully recover from heavy lifting. Your joints will thank you for this.

You can still build a great physique with lighter weights and bodyweight training. A combination of these two styles of training is what I prefer and recommend to everyone that wants to get fit. It works.

The good news is that you can do both with the PPL split.

What is The PPL Split and Why Is It Effective?

push day bench press

Essentially, this split divides your muscle groups into three main functions: the muscles that push, the muscles that pull, and the muscles that dominate on the field.

Each workout day involves the training of one of these three groups. While one group works, the other two are enjoying time off from lifting.

Push Day: This day is dedicated to your chest, shoulders, and triceps. These are the main ‘pushing’ muscles of your body.

You can imagine these muscles being engaged by pushing motions such as dumbell or barbell bench pressing, overhead shoulder presses, and rope tricep extensions. You’re pushing the weight away from your body.

Pull Day: This day you are activating muscles that pull the weight towards your body. The main muscles you’re hitting this day work your back and biceps.

These exercises include pull-ups, chin-ups, various rows, pulldowns and so on for the back.

A few sets of barbell bicep curls, incline dumbbell curls and hammer curls are more than enough for the biceps when you’ve been hitting your back for an hour.

Personally, I prefer to start this split each week with the Pull Day. This is uncommon because most people start with a Push day. But, I like to hit my back when I’m fully refreshed from a few days of rest, followed by a Leg Day and then the Push Day.

Technically, you could call this the PLP (Pull, Legs, Push) Split. It just depends how you organize your workout days. But, this is personal preference and you are free to do how you wish.

Leg Day: While your legs can both push and pull, this is a third separate workout simply to rest your upper body while training your lower body.

In my opinion, it’s best to put the leg day between your push and pull days. This allows your upper body to rest several days before hitting it again with the weights.

The key lifts to perform on Leg Day would be the Squat, the Leg Press, Dumbbell Bulgarians or Lunges, Leg Curls/Extensions, Calf Raises, and Deadlifts if you want because deadlifts hit your legs hard when performed correctly.

Refer to my fat burning leg workout for ideas of how to structure a solid Leg Day.

Ab and Core Training: It’s important that you don’t neglect the core. Your abs need to be training just like the rest of your body. Abs and core are most often trained on leg days, but you will be perfectly fine training them on whatever day feels best for you.

Just remember that your core should be engaged in every exercise. It helps your strength and stability and prevents injury. Better yet, keeping your core engaged during all your lifts helps supplement the gruesome work you put in to getting that six-pack.

I personally like to do weighted ab exercises with the rope. I can pull the entire stack of weights for about 12-15 reps these days. I have an incredibly strong core from this exercise alone.

However, you should still add in some bodyweight ab exercises such as leg lifts and roll outs. Just understand that abs won’t show much unless you’re really lean and eating the correct amount of calories on your diet.

Don’t worry about getting lean if your goal is to build strength and muscle for the next 6-12 months. If you work on your abs, they will be ready for the beach when you diet in the future.

Why Do a Push, Pull, Legs Routine Anyway?

woman squatting as part of PPL

While a full body workout can be beneficial, I personally enjoy working out muscle groups on different days. I’ll dedicate a day to Chest & Triceps, a day to Back & Biceps, a day for Legs and a day for Shoulders.

That is 4 days per week of solid lifting. It’s not your typical PPL split, but it is a split that does dedicate days to pushing and pulling. It also gives plenty of time to allow your muscles rest to recover and grow.

Recovery is extremely important when you’re trying to get stronger and build size. Taking 2-3 days off between muscle groups is best for natural lifters (especially if you’re in the leaning down phase).

This type of workout schedule is all about pairing muscle groups together. Your chests are working with your triceps and parts of your shoulders. This is also why I believe in structuring your workouts to have both iron weights and bodyweight exercises.

Your body is only as strong as the weakest link. Many people injure themselves in the gym because their weak links don’t develop strength. For example, you might be progressing in your bench press, but if your wrists are weak eventually this weakness will catch up to you.

Therefore, throwing in some dumbbell wrist curls and plyo push-ups can do wonders for strength development in the weaker parts of your body.

Do spend time with these body weight movements. It is absolutely vital for injury prevention. Anyone that’s been lifting for quite some time will know the importance of what I’m talking about here.

I’ve stated many times in other articles that you do not need heavy weights to build muscle. As long as your muscles are getting the right amount of tension and calories, they will grow.

Scheduling the Best PPL Split for Your Lifestyle

When it comes to scheduling your own PPL split, it all comes down to how much time you have available for working out.

The reality is that if you’re working out hard, it only takes 30 minutes to get a great workout in. Knowing this, you should be able to find time to workout at least 4 days per week. 5 would be ideal.

I try to rest no more than 45-60 seconds between sets. This allows you to get 15 sets within those 30 minutes. This is an ideal amount of sets. If you have more time, you can increase your amount of sets to 18-20.

The key is that you pick a routine that makes the most sense for your lifestyle.

Start your PPL splits with a muscle building back workout and you’ll thank me later for it. And, you don’t even need to deadlift hundreds of pounds like all those strong boys (who always end up injured in the long-run from this type of training).

As a natural lifter, the goal is INTENSITY and rest. Hit your muscles hard, then give that group a few days of rest. Plus, you’ll want to make sure you’re eating well so that your muscles can grow.

3-Day Per Week Split:

  1. Monday: Pulling Muscles (Back and Biceps)
  2. Tuesday: Rest and Recover
  3. Wednesday: Leg Day (Lower body muscles)
  4. Thursday: Rest and recover
  5. Friday: Push (Shoulders, Chest, Triceps)
  6. Saturday: Rest / Interval Training
  7. Sunday: Rest and Recover

This is the most flexible and convenient version of the split. It is also what I recommend for those who have a busy life. And, it’s good enough to build muscle and get you lean (as long as you keep the intensity high).

You start the week off with a Pull day. Hit the back and biceps with around 15 to 18 sets. Your biceps will get hit throughout this workout so you only need direct bicep work for no more than 6 sets.

You will follow up this workout with a rest and recover day. Relax and enjoy your time off, but don’t forget to eat enough food to boost recovery. Then, you will be ready for the dreaded Leg Day. As I’ve stated in other articles, legs burn the most calories of any muscle group.

If you haven’t worked your legs out for some time, go easy on them. They will be extremely sore if you give them an intense workout for the first time in weeks.

The following day will be another rest and recovery day. Your legs will be in pain if you haven’t hit them for some time. You’ll finish off this week with your Push day to hit the Shoulders, Chest and Triceps.

If you prefer hitting your chest and shoulders at the beginning of the week, then feel free to swap your Push day with your Pull day.

While a lot of these “influencers” will convince you that heavy lifting with lower reps is key to building muscle, your risk of injury greatly improves. Therefore, I really believe in the power of Warrior training.

Your body will be much healthier and moveable than these heavy lifters who only do compound lifts. There’s nothing wrong with compound lifting, but you want to make sure you’re adding in the bodyweight movements that hit the weaker muscles in the chain. This is how you prevent injury.

Remember that the goal is to build the Warrior physique. The best way to do this is to train like a Warrior. Move fast, move intensely, get your entire body involved.

Change things up however you want. As long as your muscles are blasted by the end of the workout, your body will respond in the correct way: more strength, more stamina, more muscle growth. Just like a Warrior.

5-Day PPL Cycle

Week One

1) Monday: Pull (Back, Biceps)
2) Tuesday: Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Claves, Abs)
3) Wednesday: Push (Shoulders, Chest, Triceps)
4) Thursday: Off
5) Friday: Pull (Back, Biceps)
6) Saturday: Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Claves, Abs)
7) Sunday: Push (Chest, Shoulders, Triceps)

Week Two

1) Monday: Off
2) Tuesday: Pull (Back, Biceps)
3) Wednesday: Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Claves, Abs)
4) Thursday: Push (Chest, Shoulders, Triceps)
5) Friday: Off
6) Saturday: Off
7) Sunday: Off

The 5 day PPL split is great because it gives each muscle group five days of rest before they’re ready to rock-n-roll again.

This cycle is perfect if you have the lifestyle that supports it. As long as your training and diet is correct, you’ll hit your goals quickly.

I’m sure you noticed the 3 straight off days on Week 2. Yes, this is intentional. Why?

As a natural lifter who’s goal is to get strong and lean, rest is the most vital ingredient to this goal.

Taking 3 days off in a row after 2 weeks of intense lifting is going to do wonders for your strength gains and recovery.

You’ll be both mentally and physically prepared to step back into the gym for your next Pull day. I guarantee that all of your strength numbers will go up from this amount of recovery.

In fact, I have noticed significant gains in strength when I take an entire week off from the gym. I come back stronger than ever when I do this.

Again, if you are a busy student, spend long hours at work, or have an unpredictable schedule, this cycle may be hard to stick by.

The good news is, there are options. The 3-day cycle is still great for maintaining lean mass and giving your body shape.

The 5-day cycle is a bit hectic and more geared towards those serious about body building. As long as you’re lifting with enough intensity, you don’t need to be in the gym 5 days per week. It’s personal preference at this point.

Mix Up The PPL Split To Your Liking

While I have been dragging on about the PPL split, feel free to adjust the days as you wish. Create your own workout schedule from what you’ve learned so far.

Perhaps you want to hit your legs 3 times per week. That’s perfectly fine. I know girls who prefer hitting their legs on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Monday will be a strength day with heavy weights and low reps. Wednesday is more geared towards light weights and reps in the 12-15 range. And Friday is a bodyweight day with some HIIT sprints, stair climbing or treadmill incline power walking.

Obviously, you can schedule and organize the muscle groups in any order you wish, but I highly recommend that you give your muscles enough time to recover.

If you squat heavy on a Monday, don’t squat heavy again on a Wednesday. Stick to lighter weight exercises like leg curls or dumbbell lunges.

It’s important that you keep your body’s overall health in mind. Because I want you to break a sweat, you will need to embrace the rest days.

While your muscles may be able to lift weights 6 days per week, your joints and tendons will take a beating. This is often overlooked and it leads to long-term injury.

Therefore, the rest days are designed to give not just your muscles enough time to recover and rebuild, but your joints and tendons some much-needed love.

Final Thoughts On The PPL Split

Like anything in life, there are always pros and cons. Workout cycles and patterns can be crafted in infinite ways.

What’s most important is that you’re consistently hitting your muscles hard enough. You want your body to feel the need to respond through growth.

This is why I like to change things up. As a Warrior, you need to disrupt your body from the typical lifting routines of 4 sets with 10 reps.

Yes, you can build muscle with those routines. However, I’m not training you to be a body builder; I’m training you to be a Lean Warrior.

The best way to do that is to consistently change your style of training. Have a strength day. Then, have a bodyweight day. Follow that up with a day of super sets or rest-pause training. Mix them all together on another day.

As long as your muscles are fatigued and in need of recovery, you will give your muscles the hypertrophy they need to build.

What’s your experience with the PPL split? How do you like to train?