Our website is supported by our readers. We sometimes earn a commission when you click through the affiliate links on our website at no extra cost to you.
When it comes to building strength in the gym, it’s not as complicated as one would think. Or it shouldn’t be, in my opinion. However, with the internet being what it is, “helpful” information is always at your fingertips. Heck, every so-called Influencer and IG model is more than willing to peddle their get fit in 7 days workout routine, for a fee (results may vary*).
So listen, if you want a no-BS approach to getting strong, which will require a ton of mental fortitude and sweat, let me tell you about the 3-day barbell-only push, pull legs (PPL) workout. It’s simple, straightforward, and guaranteed to push your limits.
What Is A Push, Pull, Legs Workout Routine?
A push, pull, legs workout, or PPL, is a comprehensive approach to lifting weights that divides workouts into three distinct categories:
- A push movement is any exercise that works your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Examples of push movements include the bench press, overhead press, and push-ups.
- A pull movement is any exercise that works your back and biceps. Examples of pull movements include pull-ups, rows, sled pulls, and deadlifts.
- And finally, leg movements are any exercises that work your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Examples of leg movements include squats, lunges, and deadlifts (yes, deadlifts count as both a pull and leg movement).
It’s a multi-faceted approach to effectively torch different muscle groups while allowing sufficient time for recovery.
How The 3 Day Barbell-Only Push, Pull, Legs Workout Routine Works
Now that we have that cleared up, let’s get into the workouts. This 3-day routine can be done as a circuit, with each exercise performed for 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps. Of course, you’re going to make modifications based on your fitness level, but the idea is to get uncomfortable.
As the name indicates, every exercise will be performed with a barbell. The weight you add to the bar is based on your physical ability to lift it for the given sets and reps.
You can also structure your workout in a pyramid, starting with one rep of each exercise and working your way up to 10 reps total. Whichever way you choose, make sure to warm up properly and strictly maintain proper form to avoid injury. You’ll be performing compound movements. Don’t get sloppy.
3 Day Push, Pull, Legs Example Split
Day 1: Push Workout
I hope you chugged your favorite pre-workout and you’re firing on all cylinders because this first day of push exercises is going to tax you.
You’ll start with a 4 movement circuit. Each set should be performed in a slow, controlled manner. Your goal on each set is to go as close to failure as possible. Adjust the weight accordingly.
- Barbell bench press: It’s a classic for a reason. The bench press targets your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Make sure to keep your core engaged and lower the barbell to your chest, not your neck. 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Barbell overhead press: This exercise will work your shoulders and triceps. Keep your core tight and press the barbell overhead, making sure to not lock out your elbows. 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Barbell push press: This exercise combines the overhead press with a slight leg drive to help press the barbell overhead. Make sure to keep your core engaged and use your legs to help press the barbell up. 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Barbell push jerks: Similar to the push press, but instead of just using your legs to press the barbell overhead, you will also dip and explosively drive under the barbell to catch it in a full lockout overhead position. This exercise is great for explosive power and coordination. 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Day 2: Pull Workout
It’s day 2 and I hope you’re not too sore. Today’s objective is to work the antagonist muscle groups from Day 1. Again, l want to emphasize the importance of proper form, including grip width, range of motion, and positioning.
- Barbell rows: This exercise will work your back and biceps. Keep your core tight and pull the barbell towards your chest, making sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement. 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Barbell deadlifts: The barbell deadlift is a compound movement that will engage your entire back, as well as your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Make sure to keep your core engaged and your back straight as you lift the barbell off the ground. 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Pull-ups: Substituting a barbell for a dedicated pull-up bar, pull-ups are a great way to work your back and biceps. Use an overhand grip and pull yourself up towards the bar, making sure to keep your core tight. 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Barbell power cleans: Not to be taken lightly, the power clean is a great way to work your back, legs, and explosive power. Start with the barbell on the ground and explosively lift it up to your shoulders, catching it in a front rack position. 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Day 3: Leg Workout
Okay, this is the final day of our 3-day Push, Pull, Legs training. If your body isn’t spent at this point, it will be soon after.
- Barbell squats: The king of all leg exercises, barbell squats are a fundamental movement that targets multiple muscle groups simultaneously while promoting overall lower body strength and power. Throughout the lift, keep your core tight and your back straight as you lower yourself down, making sure to not let your knees go past your toes. 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Bulgarian Split Squats: Unilateral movements like Bulgarian split squats provide several benefits, including improved balance, stability, and enhanced muscle activation. To do a Bulgarian Split Squat, stand with one foot in front of a bench, lower your body by bending the front knee, and return to the starting position. 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Romanian Deadlifts: To perform Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs) with a barbell, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold the barbell in front of your thighs with a slight bend in your knees, hinge at your hips while keeping your back straight, and lower the barbell along your legs until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Then, return to the starting position by extending your hips. RDLs are a hamstring and glute-targeting exercise commonly done with a barbell for added resistance. 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Barbell good mornings: This exercise works your lower back and glutes. Start with the barbell on your shoulders and bend forward at the hips, making sure to keep your core tight and your back straight.3 sets of 8-12 reps
Related Reading: The Best Foot and Leg Massagers
Why is the 3 Day Push, Pull, Legs workout so difficult?
- It targets multiple muscle groups: Unlike a typical workout that focuses on one specific body part, the push, pull, leg workout targets multiple muscle groups. This means that you are working your chest, shoulders, triceps, back, biceps, quads, hamstrings, and glutes all in one workout. With all of that load, this can be challenging for your body to handle, especially if you are new to this type of workout.
- It requires full-body strength and endurance: The push, pull, leg workout requires full-body strength and endurance. You will be performing exercises that require a lot of energy and effort, such as deadlifts, squats, and pull-ups. This can be challenging for your body to keep up with, especially if you are not used to this type of workout.
- It involves compound movements: The push, pull, leg workout mainly involves compound movements which means multiple joints and muscle groups are activated. This type of movement is beneficial for muscle growth and strength but it is also challenging for the body.
- It requires proper form and technique: The push, pull, leg workout requires proper form and technique, as well as a significant amount of focus and control. This can be challenging for some people, especially if they are new to this type of workout or if they are not used to paying attention to their form and technique.
What are some substitution exercises for each day?
Day 1: Push Workout Substitutions
- Barbell bench press: Dumbbell bench press or incline press
- Barbell overhead press: Dumbbell overhead press or lateral raises
- Barbell push press: Dumbbell push press or kettlebell push press
- Barbell push jerks: Dumbbell push jerks or kettlebell push jerks
Day 2: Pull Workout Substitutions
- Barbell rows: Dumbbell rows or kettlebell rows
- Barbell deadlifts: Sumo deadlifts or trap bar deadlifts
- Barbell pull-ups: Lat pull-downs or pull-ups with assistance bands
- Barbell power cleans: Dumbbell power cleans or kettlebell power cleans
Day 3: Legs Workout Substitutions
- Barbell squats: Goblet squats or front squats
- Bulgarian Split Squats: Lunges
- Romanian deadlifts: Sumo deadlifts or trap bar deadlifts
- Barbell good mornings: Single leg good mornings or kettlebell swings
If you are someone who wants to push themself physically and mentally, then yes, a 3 day push, pull, legs (PPL) split will do just that. It is an effective workout routine for building muscle and strength. This is the type of workout routine that allows for balanced muscle development and efficient use of workout time.
The key to success is to focus on progressive overload, meaning that you should aim to increase the weight, sets, and reps over time, and ensure a proper recovery between sessions.
Remember the information laid out here is merely a blueprint. Your individual results may vary and must be tailored to you. If you’re still feeling a little lost, it’s always a good idea to consult with a qualified fitness professional to create a workout plan that is suitable for your needs.
Is a 3 Day PPL Split enough to build muscle?
For a beginner, a 3-day PPL split can be enough to see muscle growth, as it allows for adequate recovery and progression in weight, sets, and reps. As the individual progresses, they may find that they need to increase the frequency of training to continue to see muscle growth.
However, according to one study:
The current body of evidence indicates that frequencies of training twice a week promote superior hypertrophic outcomes to once a week.National Library of Medicine
It’s worth noting that muscle growth is not only determined by the workout routine but also by other factors such as adequate nutrition, recovery, and consistency.
To get the most from a 3 Day PPL split, what should I eat?
Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough in your diet. Aim for at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
Editor-In-Chief at Recovatech. Dr. Ben is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic with over 10 years of clinical experience. He specializes in structural and neurological imbalances with an emphasis on functional movement patterns, exercise performance, and muscle recovery. He has been the team chiropractor for professional baseball and soccer organizations, as well as collegiate athletes. In his personal life, he’s always been driven when it comes to athletics and personal performance.