When you join a gym and begin to lift weights, virtually any training programme will work. However, these newbie gains (as they’re known in gym parlance) are short-lived and you’ll quickly hit a plateau. But before you see if you can wriggle out of your 12-month gym contract, give the push/pull split a fair crack of the whip.
One major benefit of a push/pull plan is the increased frequency with which you hit your muscles. A typical split will see you in the gym six times a week: push/pull/legs comprises Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, which is then repeated – leaving Sunday as your day of rest.
Typical bodybuilding routines, where a muscle is trained only once a week (hello, chest Mondays) should be left alone if you’re a drug-free lifter. For the majority, muscle protein synthesis needs to be regenerated every 48-72 hours – so training part of the body once a week won’t suffice.
The push/pull plan also allows you to introduce microcycles in your training. That is, one push day you may focus on heavier, strength-style training while the second may involve higher-rep, hypertrophy-focused lifts.
“This push/pull workout allows you to hit the major upper body muscles hard on days one and two before targeting your legs and core on day three,” says personal trainer and fitness model Shaun Stafford.
“Splitting your sessions based on the different movements prevents the muscle groups from being overtrained, which can lead to injury. But because you’ll be exclusively training specific muscles, you’ll be able to hit the gym more. It’s the best way to build more muscle and burn more fat.”
Rest for no more than 60 seconds between each set. Do the exercises in each set in one go with no rests.
Day 1: Pull Pull-up Sets 4 Reps 6
Grasp a pull-up bar with an overhand grip so your palms are facing away from you and your hands are shoulder-width apart. Contract your upper back muscles to help pull your chest towards the bar. Lower under control.
Bent-over row Sets 3 Reps 8
Holding a barbell with an overhand grip just outside your legs, bend your knees slightly and hinge forwards from the hips, keeping your back slightly concave and your shoulder blades back throughout. Pull the weight up to your lower chest, then slowly return to the start.
Barbell curl Sets 3 Reps 10
Hold a barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart and palms facing forwards. Keeping your chest up and elbows close to your sides, curl the bar up until it’s level with the top of your chest. Lower under control.
Cable row Sets 2 Reps 12
Sit with your feet against the supports, bending your legs slightly. Grasp the handle, using the attachment so your palms are facing, retract your shoulder blades and sit upright. Without leaning back, pull the handle towards your lower chest.
Lat pull-down Sets 1 Reps 20
Sit in the seat with your knees firmly under the support. Grab the wide bar with hands double shoulder-width apart, palms facing forwards, retract your shoulder blades and sit upright. Without leaning back, pull the handle down in front of your face until it’s level with your chin.
Day 2: Push Bench press Sets 4 Reps 6
Lie on a flat bench holding a barbell with an overhand grip, hands just wider than shoulder-width apart. Drive your feet hard into the floor and press the weight straight up powerfully, then lower slowly to the start position.
Decline bench press Sets 3 Reps 8
Lie on a bench set at a slight decline, holding barbell with an overhand grip, hands just wider than shoulder-width apart. Press the weight straight up powerfully, then lower slowly to the start position.
Incline bench press Sets 3 Reps 10
Lie on a bench set at a 45° angle holding a bar with an overhand grip, hands just wider than shoulder-width apart. Drive your feet hard into the floor and press the weight straight up powerfully, then lower slowly to the start position.
Overhead press Sets 2 Reps 12
With your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a barbell level with the top of your chest, hands just wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your core and glutes braced so your hips don’t tilt forwards and press the bar straight overhead, driving your head forwards as you straighten your arms to engage your upper back. Lower back to the start.
Clap press-up Sets 1 Reps 15
Get into the top of a press-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders. Bend your arms to lower your chest almost to the floor, then drive up explosively to bring your hands off the ground and clap in front of your chest. Quickly put your hands back out to brace your fall and continue into the next rep. If you’re struggling, pause briefly between each rep.
Day 3: Legs And Abs Deadlift Sets 4 Reps 6
Hold a barbell with hands shoulder-width apart and your arms straight, hips low and chest up so your back is straight. Keeping your core tight throughout, drive down through your heels and pull the bar up your legs, pushing your hips forwards to stand tall. Bend forwards, hingeing at your hips until the bar is below your knees, then bend your legs to lower it to the floor.
Dumbbell squat Sets 3 Reps 8
Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your sides and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your knees wide apart and weight on your heels throughout, bend your legs to lower until your thighs are at least parallel with the floor. Then drive back up to standing.
Good morning Sets 3 Reps 10
Stand holding a barbell on the back of your shoulders, not your neck. Slowly bend forwards, hingeing at the hips, keeping your legs and back straight. Bend until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, then rise back to the start.
Jump lunge Sets 2 Time 1min
Start in a forwards lunge position with your hands in a sprinter’s stance for balance. Jump off the ground by driving up with your front leg. Swap your legs over in mid-air so you land with the other leg forwards. Keep alternating for one minute.
Hanging leg raise Sets 1 Reps 20
Jump up to grip a pull-up bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and palms facing forwards. Tense your core to stop your body swaying and raise your legs together until they’re at least parallel with the floor. Use your core to lower your legs under control.
Day 4: Rest Rest day. Then repeat the workouts over the following days.