5 Day Push Pull Legs
Let’s be honest – a 6 day workout routine is a bit heavy going. So I’m giving you back an extra recovery day, this is my 5 day push pull legs split workout. Enjoy the fruits of your fitness, take the weekend off.
5 Day Push Pull Legs Split Workout
I’ve spent years playing with workouts. Some work for me, and sometimes you just drift along doing the same thing. I hit 40 in April 2022 and I decided I wanted to be stronger than 20 year old me was. I had also just come off of a stupidly acquired tennis elbow injury in BOTH arms and had trained legs a lot. I didn’t want to let that hard work go to waste. This led me to developing a 5 day push pull legs split.
To the point
How Credible Is This?
This workout follows the Push Pull Legs (PPL) philosophy that Aston University cite as the most enduring and efficient weekly workout routine, that also works when performed correctly.
The advantage of the workout is that it can be run at a maintenance level of 3 training days a week, or you can double it up and hit each muscle group twice a week. For that reason it is popular amongst those looking to break away from the classic 1 day a week per group ‘Bro Split’.
Which Bodybuilders Have Used The PPL Split?
Frank Zane, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dorian ‘The Shadow’ Yates and Ronnie Coleman have all used the PPL split routine. With Frank using it back in the 1970s to tremendous aesthetic results. See for yourself:
5 Day Push Pull Leg Split vs Bro Split
The advantage of the workout for bodybuilders is that it facilitates heavy mass building periods of training.
The Bro split puts a lot of work into one session with a lot of recovery time, making it great for cutting periods or summer. But it means while you can lift heavy at the start of that workout, your next heavy day is a week away. It’s hard for your body and neuromuscular pathways to adapt to overload like this and get stronger, as easily.
Sports Medicine published a report on this – suggesting for maximum neuromuscular adaptation, a muscle group should be targeted twice per week.
“…the major muscle groups should be trained at least twice a week to maximize muscle growth.”
Source: Pubmed, Schoenfeld, Ogborn and Krieger
Routines like the 5 Day Push Pull Legs split, mean you do less volume on one muscle group per day, but you hit it twice in a week.
So if you are trying to shock your physique with heavy training, you have a better chance of adding numbers to your lifts with a PPL. Explosive or heavy lifts are generally best served by fast-twitch Type II fibres which are thicker than the slow twitch fibres mostly stimulated by high reps.
Fast twitch fibres have more potential for muscle growth than slow twitch fibres perhaps in part to their ‘already thick’ composition. Back to why you won’t necessarily get such good strength gains from a Bro Split compared to a 5 Day Push Pull Legs split, there are also numerous studies on recovery time of fast twitch fibres which can also play into things. But without boring you too much, let’s get on with the workout.
The science on muscle recovery and why PPL is good for strength gains is here:
Day 1 - Legs
I know it’s called the 5 Day Push Pull Legs split – but you didn’t think it came in that order right? Sorry, we start the week with legs including squats part of the foundational lifts, why?…Because we mean business. International chest day is tomorrow. Take pride in knowing when everyone else is hovering around the bench or cable column, you are the type to do the hard work first.
- Core – anterior and posterior (Posh way of saying abs and lower back)
- Small amount of hamstrings/glutes as secondary
Day 1 legs is focused on the anterior leg. This means the quads. I wanted something to help grow out my teardrops or lack thereof so positioned this day to really place attention on that part of leg aesthetics.
- Leg Press – Warm-up 1-2 sets light, just to get blood flowing
- Back Squats – 5 x 5. Set 1 = 65% of your 5 rep max, Set 2 = 85% of your 5 rep max, last 3 sets at maximum 5 rep max.
- Heel Elevated Barbell Front Squats – 5 x 5 – As above.
- Travelling Lunges (or) Front Foot Elevated Split Squats – 3 x 10 each leg. Pulse between each rep. (If elevated = 5-7 inches roughly and lean forward a touch)
- Leg Extension – 3 x 12 reps 1 x 25 reps with the 12 rep weight. Rest/pause till 25 reps. Should burn.
- Superset: Calf raise – 3 x 15 to 25 reps. High reps, think burn not rep score.
- Superset: Hanging leg or knee raise – 3 x failure
If the lower back feels funny, you may want to swap out the back squat for a leg press. Front squat for a hack squat.
As an alternative to lunges or split squats, I like to do 4 x 10 of ‘1 and a half’ reps, squat with a wide stance and toes out.
Another alternative is heels elevated on a weight plate, kettlebell at the chest and nice deep goblet squats to failure. We are going for the pump here, so find the move that works best with the resources you have. Train properly, the outcome will be much of a muchness, it’s not that deep.
- Leg Press
- Leg Extension
- Bar or leg raise station
- Barbell – Olympic Rack or Smith Machine
Turn off your socials and get your mind in the zone, you should be able to drill this workout in about 60 minutes. It’s a toughie, but well worth it.
Suggested Leg Day Playlist
- James Hype
- Hatebreed – Sometimes you need some angry music to get yourself through
Day 2 - Push (Inc International Chest Day)
Probably the favourite workout of most male lifters, international chest day. Well, it’s kind of chest, but it’s also shoulders and tris. This day 2 workout is the ‘Push’ day. That means we hit horizontal push, vertical push and arm extension (push). We are going to start with a heavy exercise after warming up, and I wanted to touch on how I want you to warm up.
Grab a chest press machine (it’s easier to do this on one) and pin the weight on the lowest easiest weight. Do 6 reps, then immediately jump down a weight, do 6 more reps. Get the idea? We are going to do this until we can’t do 6 reps. You’ll find you end up doing a warm up of about 40-60 reps. It’s a great way to gradually introduce load in a nice manner. I call this a ‘Burn up‘. My take on a warm up. We will do it on other days too, so remember it. When you’re done, let’s go find a bench.
- Chest – Pecs
- Shoulders aka Delts – Anterior (Front) and Medial (Middle)
- Triceps – The backs of your arms
- Chest Press ‘Burn up’ (Explained above)
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press – 4 Sets 6-8
- Seated Military Press – 5 x 5. Follow the same process as Day 1 5 x 5 sets. Set 1 @ 65% of 5 rep max; Set 2 @ 85% of 5 rep ma. Sets 3-5 Max 5 reps.
- Chest Press Machine (Take your pick) – 3 x 12 + 1 x 25 (with the 12 rep weight using rest/pause method) NB: I use a plate loaded chest press for this personally.
- Dumbbell Lat Raise – 3 x 12 + 1 x 25 (rest pause method)
- Superset: Overhead tricep extension (cables) followed by rope tricep extension | 3 x 12 of each. Then once complete, do 1 x 25 of overhead extension with your 12 rep weight.
This one is wide open to some alternative action.
Don’t like incline dumbbell bench press? Go for incline barbell bench press.
Don’t like dumbbell lateral raise? Use cables and do single arm lateral raise. For tricep exercises, feel free to use dumbbell french press on a bench instead of the overhead cable tricep extension, or rope extensions for standing tricep pushdowns etc. The key thing here is to hit (with some weight) horizontal and vertical push, then add some isolation in with the lateral raise work and tricep exercises.
You can use a TRX for tricep extensions, you can throw in push ups instead of the chest press, or dips for the incline bench. (I know they work a different part of the chest slightly). If you can walk out the gym feeling like you have trained hard, pushed yourself, as long as your triceps, shoulders and chest feel pumped, that’s the main thing. How you did it exactly, is minor.
- Chest resistance machines – pin selected, or plate loaded
- Cable column (Or TRX, Resistance Bands)
- Bench (Good for doing dips from also if needed)
- Barbell station – Bench Press or Smith Machine
45-50 minutes. I’ve timed this myself. I don’t hang around and I rest about 30-45 seconds, except for the initial heavy sets, where I may rest for 2 minutes.
Day 3 - Pull
My personal favourite day as my regular gym has a lovely plate loaded EZ barbell preacher curl station. It’s so nice. This is the day we will hit parts of the back, traps, and your biceps.
- Rear delts
- Abs (If ab roll out executed)
Start with a back machine ‘burn up’. I tend to use a pin selected row machine or lat pulldown. Something with easy ability to increase the weight every 6 reps. From here we are going to head over to the pull up bar. If pull ups are too hard for you, stick to the lat pulldown OR better still, chin assist machine or grab some heavy duty bands and use them to assist pull ups. The aim here is to get better at pull ups.
- Wide Grip Pull-ups: 2 x 8-10 + 1 x Fail
Then If they have it: Ab roll out 2 x 10-15 + 1 x Fail
- Chest Supported Barbell Bench Row* (This is rare to find – A T-Bar is good also): 5 x 5 – The usual method
- Machine row (Or Cable close-grip low row) – 3 x 12 + 1 x 25 (12 rep weight, rest/pause)
- Superset: 4 x 25 reps of shrugs with barbell curls 3 x 12 + 1 x 25 (12 rep weight, rest/pause)
- Rope Cable Face Pulls – 3 x 15
Shrugs can use any form of weight, kettlebell, plates with hand holds in, barbells etc. The bicep curl part of the workout, can be a dumbbell curl, or cable column curl. The face pulls could be a resistance band rear delt flye instead, but perhaps with slightly higher rep range eg: 3 x 25-35.
*This chest supported exercise can be done with a bench set to an incline and a free bar on the floor. Face the bench and reach down to grab the bar. If this is too awkward, feel free to replace out with a bent over row, or dumbbell bent over row.
- T-Bar OR Landmine attachment + handles
- Smith Machine
- Pull-up bar / Chin assist / Lat Pulldown
- Cable column
50 minutes. I can fit this in on my lunch break
Day 4 - Legs (Again)
We are back to legs in this 5 Day Push Pull Legs Split, but today we will focus a bit more on the posterior chain. This means the back part of our legs. Those hamstrings and glutes get the priority today with quads only being secondary. The glutes are the largest muscle in your body, so training this neglected area is a great way to release natural growth hormone and break through leg gain plateaus.
- Quads (Secondary)
- Leg Curl (Seated) Burn-up – followed by 2 sets of 10-12 reps
- Sumo Deadlift – 5 x 5 – Clench glutes at top of rep
- Reverse lunge – 4 x 10 (I use a barbell, dumbbells are also fine)
- Glute Raise – (I use a machine – barbell is fine) 3 x 10 + 1 x 25 (rest/pause)
- Superset: 3 x 15 Kettlebell Swing with Sumo/Plie Squat 3 x Fail (Wide stance kettlebell hanging down) |
- Calves: Calf Raise (Any) 3 x 20-25
NB: An extra exercise you can throw in if you can’t complete one in this list is the Cable Column Kickback. You put your foot in a handle at the bottom of the cable column, then kick back one leg at a time. You should really feel it in your glutes. This is more of a finishing move to go with glute bridge, not a replacement for it.
I prefer seated leg curl as it stops my bum raising, but you can do these with TRX/straps or lying leg curls. We are trying to pre-exhaust really a little.
I love sumo deadlift as it hits the glutes and secondarily attacks teardrops also. Reverse lunge is more focused on hamstrings, and is great for stability too. The glute raise can be done in a number of ways depending on circumstances, you can even lay on your back and put your heels on a rowing machine seat, and drag it toward you and back. If you find yourself in that position, just go for high reps instead.
If you don’t have a kettlebell for kettle swing or sumo/plie squats, turn a dumbbell on its head and hold from the top, or hold two dumbbells close together.
For glute machine work, I’ve also seen someone do a leg extension hack. Check this out…
- Barbell + Plates
- Cable Column
- Leg Curl Machine
- Glute Machine (If lucky)
50-70 minutes this one. Setting up deadlifts can take a bit of time, and the same goes for glute work. That said, the day I write this, I managed to get it knocked out in 50.
Day 5 - Upper Body Party
You’ve made it, day 5 of the 5 Day Push Pull Legs Split, congratulations. In this rather fun day, we are going to do a mixture of upper body moves, but with a real focus on strength to begin with. As before, have a little burn up set before chest and back to get your body ready for weight.
- Flat Bench Press – 5 x 5
- Dumbbell Bent Over Row – 5 x 5
Then: Cable row 2 x 12 + 1 x 25 (The 12 Rep Weight Rest/Pause)
- Shoulder Press (I use a plate loaded machine here) – 4 x 10
- Pec Flye/Cable Crossover – 2 x 12 + 1 x 25 (The 12 Rep Weight Rest/Pause)
- Superset: Tricep French Press – 3 x 10-12 + 1 x Fail / Seat Incline Bench Bicep Curl – 3 x 10-12 + 1 x Fail
- Lateral Raise (Cable Column / Bands / Dumbbells) 2 x 12 + 1 x 25 (The 12 Rep Weight Rest/Pause)
By now, you will have learned that providing you hit these types of rep ranges and with this intensity, a little mix up is okay. Just keep recording your lifts so you can be sure to improve a little each week. This is why I mark rep ranges of 10-12. The weight you can do 10 reps today, when you get to 12, increase.
- Cable Columns
60ish Minutes. This one may take a few minutes more as it runs to 28-30 sets HOWEVER this session means the 5 Day Push Pull Legs Split has saved you an entire day on the usual 6 day routine.
Outro & Closing Tips
Thank you for reading through this and I hope you enjoy hitting this workout. It’s a favourite of mine and as mentioned earlier, has the flavour of influence from the likes of Reg Park and even Youtube’s Mountain Dog, with the burn-up sets. The rest pause is a Dorian Yates special also.
The 5 Day Push Pull Legs Split workout is best for seeing strength and size gains
This workout is about increasing your strength and ensuring progressive overload, so RECORD YOUR LIFTS! Add any new bests to a phone notepad, or paper one. Aim to beat the previous week by a rep or a kg. Push yourself.
Eat plenty of protein. At least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight and send us your progress or training photos @barbellsabroad on insta if you follow this workout. Aim for a 8-12 week period, then de-load and go lower in weight, higher reps. The 5 x 5s can become 5 x 10s etc.