by Tony Gjokaj February 03, 2021 9 min read

The Golden Age bodybuilders (like Arnold, Steve Reeves, Frank Zane, and more) are some of the most admired physiques in the history of bodybuilding.

Through the 1950s all the way into the 70s, these individuals looked like Gods walking amongst mere mortals (Anchorman reference accomplished).

These individuals weren't only strong-looking, they were STRONG. Some of them would compete in powerlifting competitions and push up some crazy numbers.

As decades progressed, a lot of bodybuilding went towards single body part training splits. While these programs were helpful, the golden age bodybuilders pushed a lot of boundaries through their workouts by targeting many muscle groups in one day.

If you look at their training splits, you'll realize there was a common pattern about their programs - they trained muscle groups frequently.

For example, they would train legs 2-3 times per week.

So with that, this post is going to dive into an effective frequency-based training split that has been used for decades - since peak Arnold times.

Bring out the Push-Pull-Legs split.

About Push-Pull-Legs (PPL)

The Push-Pull-Legs split is one of the more common training splits utilized in a "Frequency-Based" Training program (more on this later).

Push-Pull Legs is also one of the more customizable training programs, as you can move them around. For example, if you miss a training day, you just do the training day the next day and continue on.

Frequency-Based Training

Frequency-Based Training is a prioritization of training our muscle groups 2-3x per week. This benefits us in a few ways ways:

  • Frequent stimulus of these muscle groups. You aren't DESTROYING your muscles. You're stimulating them to elicit growth. This is how advanced lifters build size more effectively.
  • Proficiency in specific lifts. Benching 2x a week makes you better at benching.
  • Easier to stay consistent. Many try to skip leg day once. It's hard to skip leg day twice or more. Frequency training holds you more accountable than single day body part splits.
  • Muscles benefit in working in movement patterns. Since most compound movements like the Bench target multiple muscle groups (chest, shoulders, triceps), we believe it's best to target muscles in this way.

Push-Pull-Legs Split Layout

The Push-Pull-Legs training split is broken down into three types of days that are pretty much self-explanatory: A push day, a pull day, and a leg day.

Let's summarize each of them.

Push Day

Push Day focuses on three major muscle groups: the Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps. The shoulder portion of this workout consists of both the anterior and lateral (medial) deltoids.

Pull Day

Pull Day focuses on the muscle groups that initiate pull movements, from the back, biceps, and rear deltoids.

These workouts typically consist of rows, pull ups, bicep curls, and face pulls. Sometimes Deadlifts are incorporated into these training days to emphasize back training. 

Leg Day

Leg Day focuses on all the major muscle groups in the lower body: the Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, and Calves. 

We typically add abdominal work in these days, as Squats and Deadlifts typically utilize the core, and we don't want our abdominal muscles to be sore on this day!

PPL Program: Training Skeleton

Push Day

Our chest, shoulders, and triceps are muscles that don't need much work to stimulate growth. Most of the time, they respond with heavier loads.

So on this day, we start with two heavier exercises - Horizontal and Vertical Pushes (Chest and Shoulder exercises). Then we move onto a chest isolation, a lateral raise, and finish off with tricep work.

  • Horizontal Push: Bench Press, Dumbbell Bench Press, Decline Bench Press
  • Vertical Push: Overhead Press, Shoulder Press, Incline Bench Press, Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Chest Isolation Exercise: Machine or Cable Fly. Dips can be utilized.
  • Lateral Raise Variation
  • Tricep Exercise 1: Heavy Triceps exercise (ie. Skullcrushers)
  • Tricep Exercise 2: Light Isolation exercise (ie. Cable Pushdowns)

As the shoulder muscles don't need much volume to grow, we prioritize more volume (total sets and reps) in our chest muscles.

Pull Day

Our back muscles are a very large group of muscles that must be trained in various angles to elicit proper growth response.

So with that, on Pull Days, we focus on two primary back exercises - Horizontal and Vertical Pull variations (Rows and Pull Ups).

Then we move on to back isolation work, rear delt work, and bicep exercises to finish it off.

  • Horizontal Pull: Barbell Row, Dumbbell Row, Seated Rows (Machine or Cable)
  • Vertical Pull: Pull-ups, Lat Pulldowns, Chin-ups
  • Back Variation: Can be a lighter cable or machine variation for pull ups and pulldowns 
  • Rear Delt Variation: Facepulls or Rear Delt Flys
  • Bicep Exercise 1: Heavy Biceps exercise (ie. Barbell Curl)
  • Bicep Exercise 2: Light Isolation exercise (ie. Cable Preacher Curls)

Leg Day

Leg Days are challenging in that we are doing two heavier variations during our workouts. Sometimes, recovery can be impacted if we do train our legs multiple times per week.

For example, if we have a heavy Squat-focused day, our deadlift variation will be a lighter exercise, like a high rep Romanian Deadlift, or a pause Deadlift.

On the other hand, if it is a heavy Deadlift-focused day, we will start with this first. Then, the squat variation would be a lighter one.

  • Squat Variation: Back Squat, Front Squat, Zercher Squat
  • Deadlift Variation: Deadlift, Sumo Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift
  • Quadriceps Variation: Leg Press, Hack Squat, Leg Extensions, etc.
  • Hamstrings Variation: Leg Curl (seated, lying)
  • Glute Variation: Glute Kickbacks, Pull-Throughs, Glute-Ham Raises, Hip Thrusts, Glute Bridges
  • Calves: Seated or standing calves
  • Abdominal Work: Rotational ab work should be prioritized for overall health.
  • OPTIONAL: Calves #2

PPL: Weekly Layout

1x A Week (3 Days/Week)

In this layout, we train each muscle group 1x per week, following a 3 day training split.

This one is for the beginning lifters, or for the busy individual who wants to stay active. You could potentially add more exercise volume (sets or reps) in these programs.

  • Monday: Push
  • Tuesday:Rest
  • Wednesday: Pull
  • Thursday:Rest
  • Friday: Legs
  • Saturday:Rest
  • Sunday:Rest

2x A Week (6 Days/Week)

In this layout, we train each muscle group 2x a week, following a 6 day training split.

This one is for the more advanced lifters, as this training frequency can up your fatigue levels quite easily.

  • Monday: Push A
  • Tuesday: Pull A
  • Wednesday: Legs A
  • Thursday: Push B
  • Friday: Pull B
  • Saturday: Legs B
  • Sunday:Rest

1.5-1.75x A Week (5 Days/Week)

In this layout, we utilize three consecutive training days with a rest day in between. This program operates on a 7 day schedule, meaning that it will be a pretty flexible one.

If you need to skip a day, utilize that as a rest day and repeat.

Frequency is key here.

  • Monday: Push A
  • Tuesday: Pull A
  • Wednesday: Legs A
  • Thursday:Rest
  • Friday: Push B
  • Saturday: Pull B
  • Sunday: Legs B
  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Repeat Push Day A

Recommend Volume Per Week

With each muscle group, we have recommended training volume that we can utilize to elicit muscle and strength responses in our body. Before applying this section, consider the following:

  • Some will need more or less volume to progress. As many of us are different, some individuals will need less work done while others may need more work.
  • Stick at it for 1-2 weeks, and assess. It could potentially be hard at first (physically and/or mentally), but stick with it for a couple of weeks until you adapt to the training load.
  • Manage your recovery properly. If you can't find yourself recovering from session to session after those initial few weeks, make sure you decrease the volume for a time to recover properly.

So with that, let's go into recommended sets for each muscle group.

Recommended Weekly Sets Per Muscle Group

The recommended weekly sets is based off some of Dr. Mike Israetel's research in muscular development. We have also added our own ballpark to make sure we are getting enough volume in.

Please keep in mind that you might need less or more volume depending on your level of experience.

  • Chest: The chest can require up to 10-22 total weekly sets for muscle growth. This will include incline variations as well.
  • Back: The back can require 10-25 total weekly sets for muscle growth. This will include pull ups and row variations.
  • Shoulders: The shoulders can utilize about 8-26 weekly sets for the entirety of the muscle group. This will include anterior (shoulder presses), lateral (lateral raises) and posterior delt (rear delt) muscles. We put more isolation work in the lateral and posterior deltoids because our shoulders get targeted with our chest.
  • Biceps: The biceps can require 8-26 weekly sets per week for muscle growth. Keep in mind that your back work may include some additional bicep work, so stay on the lower end and assess.
  • Triceps: The triceps can require 6-30 weekly sets per week. Keep in mind that your chest and shoulder work will include tricep work, so stay on the lower end and assess.
  • Quadriceps: The quadriceps (front of thigh) muscles can require 8-20 sets per week for muscular growth. Sometimes glute exercises will utilize quadricep work (glute kickbacks), so keep that in mind.
  • Hamstrings: The hamstrings (back of thigh) muscles can require 6-20 sets per week for muscular growth. Sometimes glute exercises like the hip thrusts will utilize some hamstring work.
  • Glutes: Up to 16 sets can be utilized for glute growth. Keep in mind that if you squat and deadlift, you can be on the lower end of glute isolation work.
  • Calves: The calves can require 8-16 sets per week for muscular growth. If you're looking to grow your calves, utilize more sets or an extra calf exercise to hit your targeted goal.
  • Abdominals: Up to 25 sets can be utilized for abdominal work. As our ab muscles are very small, we typically prioritize more of overall core work for them (rotational movements at the end of our workouts). As our squats and deadlifts utilize our abs, we might not necessarily need the max 25 sets for growth.

Progressive Increase

While we have a recommended ballpark for muscular development, we highly recommend working your way up to the maximum recommended volume.

According to a study done last year, it was shown that you will see better growth and response by gradually increasing your volume overtime.

Therefore, we recommend working your way up in volume, progressing, and then working your way down and repeating the process. For example, we will start on the lower end of chest volume (10-15 sets), then work our way up to the higher end (20-22 sets) week by week.

This is why most periodized programs start with an introductory or "acclimation block" before they go into more volume or intensity blocks. Powerlifting, Strongman, CrossFit, and Bodybuilding athletes or pros workout in this way to perform their best.

Applying These Recommended Sets

Now that you have the weekly recommended sets, you can apply flexibility to your training program in a variety of ways.

For example, as your Chest may require 15-16 total weekly sets to respond to muscle growth, then we will do something like this:

*Consider this if you are doing two Push Days a week*

  • If you are doing 2 chest exercises per session, 4 sets for each exercise will get you that 16 total sets.
  • If you are doing 3 chest exercises in one of the sessions (ex. Incline Bench does target your chest), consider doing 3 sets per chest exercise. That will give you about 15 total weekly sets.
  • You can apply this similar process to each of your muscle groups based on the recommended sets.

This is what I typically do with every training split, and I monitor it to ensure my progress (based on my goals).

Sometimes if I'm training intensity (strength and power work), I will most likely do less sets weekly, as the weights are a lot heavier and recovery is more challenging.

Figure out what works best for you and stick with it for a time.

PPL: Strengths and Challenges

While the Push-Pull-Legs split is a incredibly efficient one, it is NOT the only way do train frequently.

Let's discuss the strengths and challenges of the Push-Pull-Legs split.

Strengths of PPL

  • Focuses on frequency training. As mentioned previously, training our muscle groups more than once a week may be more efficient for you.
  • Flexibility. This program is super flexible. If you have to skip a day, you can continue it the next day.

Challenges of PPL

  • Push days are very front-deltoid heavy. I've had a prior rotator cuff injury, so Push days always aggravates the prior industry. This is typically why I prefer an Upper/Lower split or a separate shoulder day that targets the rotator cuff.
  • Adherence on Leg Days. Whenever I trained people, they would always be more inclined to try and skip leg days because they were harder than the Push and Pull days. If you can stick to this training split, that is a good sign.

Leveling Up

Remember always: before starting a workout program like this one, please consider consulting a doctor or physician.

There it is: an Golden-Age training split that has stood the test to time for its efficiency and flexibility.

Let's finalize this training split with a few recommendations:

  • When it comes to training our compound exercises (Bench, Squat, Deadlift, Overhead Press), we recommend a rep range from 6-12 reps.
  • When it comes to training our isolation exercises (cables, machines, etc), we recommend a rep range from 8-15 reps.
  • Start with less sets at the beginning to assess fatigue levels, and then work your way up. Repeat the process after progressing a couple of weeks.
  • You should always implement a low volume or deload week after 4-6 weeks of consistent training.

For more of muscle anatomy and function, sign up to our newsletter and you can receive a free eBook download to our 70 page eBook, The Muscle Compendium.

Lastly, If you have any questions or comments about this training split, feel free to message me at tony@reforgedperformance.com, or on our social media.

Until next time, Reforged Legion!

Tony Gjokaj
Tony Gjokaj

Tony is the Owner of Reforged Performance Nutrition. He is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and has been in the fitness space for over a decade. His goal is to help bridge the gap between physical & mental health through fitness.



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