A push-pull workout routine is probably nothing new for those of you who have dabbled with workout splits before, but for anyone who hasn’t, rest assured it’s an easy strength training method to get to grips with.
In a nutshell, it’s the process of structuring training sessions to focus on push muscles and pull muscles individually, and doing so is a proven way to ‘create a more balanced body,’ so says Andy Vincent, a strength and conditioning coach. You’ll be strong all over without any weak spots, in other words, which can also help you achieve goals and new PBs sooner, if that’s what you’re aiming for.
So without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about push workouts and pull workouts, including an example full-body push and pull workout to suit all levels.
What is a push workout?
‘Push movements are effectively any exercise that involves an action where a weight or load is moved away from your body,’ Vincent explains. ‘So, a push workout is something that involves these kinds of movements, like throwing and jumping. They can include your lower and upper body, and can form either a gym workout or a home workout, depending on which exercises you go for and which equipment you need.’
Benefits of a push workout
As we’ve mentioned, the point of implementing a push pull workout split is to isolate your ‘push muscles’ from your ‘pull muscles’, so the main benefit of a push workout is to strengthen and train your push muscles. ‘These are your explosive muscles which can aid in strength and performance,’ Vincent tells us. He shares the following examples of push muscles:
A full-body push workout to try
Perform three sets of 8-12 reps of the following exercises, with 10-15 secs between each set, taking 60 secs rest before moving on to the next exercise.
- Get into plank position, with your hands under but slightly outside of your shoulders.
- Keeping your elbows tucked close to your body, lower down until your chest nearly touches the floor. Your upper arms should form a 45-degree angle when your torso is in the bottom position of the move. Pause, then push back to the starting position as quickly as possible. Keep your core braced the entire time.
If your hips sag at any point during the exercise, your form has been broken. When this happens, consider that your last repetition and end the set.
2. Forward lunge
- Keeping your back straight, engage your core muscles and place your hands on your hips to stay balanced.
- Take a big step forward with your right foot and bend your knee until your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Allow your back heel to lift, but don’t let the knee touch the floor.
- Step back to the starting position, then repeat on the opposite leg.
- Holding a weight in front of your chest, stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, toes slightly turned out.
- Keeping your weight in your heels, bend your knees and lower your bum back and down, as if you’re about to sit in a chair.
- As you lower, engage your core, pull your weight back through your hips and ensure your shoulders don’t round.
- When your thighs are parallel with the floor, pause for a second, then drive through your heels to push back up to the starting position.
4. Chest press
- Lie flat on your back, with a dumbbell in each hand, extend your arms directly over your shoulders, palms facing inward.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and slowly bend your elbows, lowering the weights out to the side, parallel with your shoulders, until your elbows form 90-degree angles.
- Slowly drive the dumbbells back up to start, squeezing your shoulder blades the entire time.
Check out our edit of the best dumbbell arm exercises for more upper body workout inspiration.
- Start by shifting your weight on to one leg at the front, and place the other behind you, balancing on the ball of your back foot, to come into a lunge position.
- Keeping your hips square, back straight and core tight, lean your torso forward slightly and sink down until your back knee almost touches the floor. Make sure you keep your glutes engaged throughout.
- To come up, simply reverse the move, pushing through your front heel to return the start. Repeat for the prescribed number of reps, then switch legs.
6. Shoulder press
- Stand with a dumbbell in each hand. Bend the elbows at 90 degrees with the dumbbells at ear level and palms facing forward.
- Now straighten your arms and press the dumbbells towards the ceiling, then return to the start.
7. Tricep extension
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold one dumbbell with both hands above your head.
- Slowly lower the weight behind your head, flexing at the elbows and keeping your upper arms still.
- Extend your arms back to the starting position.
Not a big fan of tricep extensions? Let us guide you through the most effective tricep exercises.
Other push workout exercises to consider:
- Bulgarian split squat
- Barbell back squat
- Barbell front squat
- Landmine press
What is a pull workout?
‘A pull workout trains all of the muscles that do the action of pulling or hinging at the hips,’ Vincent tells us. ‘These “pull muscles” incorporate the entire posterior chain (the back of your body), so a pull workout can cover every part of your body, from your lower to your upper.’
Benefits of a pull workout
‘”Pull muscles” are the most undertrained since they’re positioned at the back of your body,’ says Vincent, ‘So training them in a pull workout is a great way to improve any muscular imbalances. A pull workout is also great for improving posture, injury prevention, and helping you to land and manage your body as you run and jump.’ Here are the main pull muscles to be aware off, according to Vincent:
- Upper back
A full-body pull workout to try
Perform three rounds of 8-12 reps of the following exercises, with 10-15 secs between each set, and 60 secs rest between each different exercise.
- Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Hold one dumbbell in each hand, and place them in front of hips with palms facing thighs.
- Keeping your spine in a neutral position and squeezing the shoulder blades, start sending the hips back.
- Keeping the dumbbells close to your body, lower them down so they are in front of your shins. Once they pass the knees, do not allow the hips to sink further.
- Maintain a neutral spine and drive through heels to fully extend hips and knees, squeezing glutes at the top.
- Sit on the floor with your shoulder blades against a bench or step. If adding a dumbbell or a barbell, balance it on your hips.
- Keeping your chin tucked in, push up through your hips to lift your bum off the floor.
- Clench your bum at the top – your shoulders, hips and knees should be in a straight line.
- Lower back down in a slow, controlled movement.
Confused as to how a hip thrust, with its pushing up movement, qualifies as a pull exercise? Vincent explains that it requires more strength from the posterior chain, which makes it a pull exercise.
- Lie on your back on a mat, with your knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Your feet should be hip-width apart. If you’re using a dumbbell, hold it in place on your hips.
- On an exhale, squeeze your glutes and push your heels into the floor to lift your hips up towards the ceiling. Pause for a moment at the top before slowly lowering back down (first shoulders, then lower back, then bum) to the mat. That’s one rep.
- Start with both feet planted on the ground hip-width apart. Brace your core, keeping your back straight and your chin tucked.
- Then draw both dumbbells towards your waist, keeping the elbow tucked into your side.
- To complete the rep, extend your arms back to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite arm.
- Start with a dumbbell in each hand, arms down and palms facing your body.
- Rotate each hand so your palms face forwards. Keeping a slight bend in the knees, activate your glutes.
- Engaging your core to avoid any sway in the hips, bend your arms, lifting the weights to chest height in a slow, controlled movement.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed and down, and keep your head, neck and spine neutral. Don’t arch your back.
- In another slow, controlled movement, lower the weights back down to your thighs by straightening your arms.
6. Lat pull-down
- Kneel at a lat pull-down station with a long resistance band tied around and grab the band in either hand, with a grip that’s slightly wider than your shoulders
- Without moving your torso, pull the band down to your chest, pulling your elbows toward the floor and your rib cage, and squeezing your shoulder blades at the bottom of the move
- Pause, then return to start.
How often should you do a push/pull workout?
Providing you do the same amount of push workouts as you do pull workouts, you’re all good. Vincent recommends at least one push workout and one pull workout per week, incorporating progressive overload to help you get stronger and fitter over time, and always including warm-ups (mobility exercises are a great shout) and cool-downs.
If you decide to split your push/pull workouts into upper and lower body, Vincent advises that you look to do one lower body push workout, one upper body push workout, one lower body pull workout and one upper body pull workout per week. Balance should be your goal – if you only do lower body workouts, you could end up with a weak back and shoulders, which could result in injury or back pain.
That said, if you’re focussing on building strength in one particular area, you may want to spend longer doing those workouts, so you might do a 1-hour upper body push workout and only a 30-min lower body push workout. Capiche?
How long should a push/pull workout be?
It’s less about duration and more about intensity. Listen to your body. If you feel like you’ve already worked hard and got a sweat on within 20 minutes and you’re not feeling going for any longer, take that as your cue to stop.