The Push-Pull Workout
I've known them all, German Volume Training, EDT, HIT, and Anti-Bodybuilding Hypertrophy Program. I've trained Thibaudeau style and the way of Cosgrove. You name it, I've tried it. I did it power-lifting style, Olympic style, and of course, regular old bodybuilding style.
All of them worked, of course...for awhile, but the one that I keep coming back to, the one that never fails me, is one of the most basic and ancient — in bodybuilding terms — routines of all. It's the basic Push/Pull system, presumably invented by that scoundrel, Joe Weider.
When I want to make guaranteed progress, I train Push/Pull.
In short, it's training those muscles involved in pushing in one session and training the ones involved in pulling in another.
There are a couple of distinct advantages to this type of program:
You Avoid Overstressing Body Parts
Most people would have said you avoid overtraining, but I don't think overtraining is all that common and that, if it occurs, it takes months and month of going to physical extremes.
That doesn't happen too often.
However, it's easy to overstress body parts in a very short time and thus hamper recovery. Training push/pull lets muscle groups rest completely.
In traditional workout schemes, you might work chest on one day, shoulders the next, and then triceps the next. That would constitute training the triceps and, to a lesser extent, the anterior delts, three training sessions in a row!
Push-Pull avoids that by grouping all the muscles involved in pulling (back, biceps, rear delts, traps, forearms, hamstrings) and all the muscles involved in pushing (chest, triceps, quads, lateral and medial delts) together.
You Increase Physical Fitness and Burn Extra Fat
By separating your body parts by function, you're able to hit the gym more often because, presumably, the muscles you're working that day aren't screaming for momma. Also, by splitting a total body workout into two, you're simply forced to go to the gym more often.
Doing so logically increases your physical fitness and burns some extra calories along the way.
Unfortunately, along with the advantages come a few potential disadvantages:
You Could Inadvertently Short-Change Certain Muscle Groups
In many Push-Pull routines, you end up training triceps, biceps, posterior delts, and forearms in a fatigued state compared to the chest, back, and quads because the big daddy exercises (squats, deads, rows, benching) are typically done first in the routines.
Solution: You can easily vary the order in which the movements are performed.
You Could Really Tax Your Nervous System
Squats, pull-ups, deadlifts, and presses, by nature, tax the body. Typically, you need at least 48 hours of recovery between sessions where those movements are used.
Solution(s): Use a recovery drink like Surge every workout, in addition to using Power Drive after the workout. You can also do an unloading week every 4th week where you reduce volume by 50%.
Despite the potential problems, I happen to really dig push-pull. The following is a sample push-pull program that I often use. Many components or strategies are based on techniques used or advocated by Charles Poliquin, Christian Thibaudeau, and Chad Waterbury.
Monday — Heavy Pull
Tuesday — Heavy Push
Wednesday — Off
Thursday — Light/Moderate Pull
Friday — Light/Moderate Push*
Saturday — Off
Sunday — Heavy Pull
Monday — Heavy Push
...and so on.
*Some lifters might use this day as an extra day off and do only 5 workouts in an 8-day period instead of the 6 workouts in an 8-day period shown above.
Monday (Heavy Pull)
A1. Dead Lifts, 8 sets of 3
A2. Supported DB Curls (lean against one of the posts on the power rack so that the post sits flat against your entire spine and back of your head — it prevents you from cheating), 8 x 3
B1. Weighted Pull-Ups (full extension, of course), 8 x 3
B2. Straight-Leg Deadlifts, 8 x 3
C. Serratus Crunch, 3-4 x 8-10
Tuesday (Heavy Push)
A1. Front Squats (start with the bar at the bottom of your range of motion, i.e., you duck-walk under the bar, get in position, and lift up), 8 x 3
A2. Smith Machine Bench Press (wide grip, bringing the bar to the neck, just below the chin, Vince Gironda Style), 8 x 3.
(I know, I know, it's the freakin' Smith Machine, but it allows you to bring the bar to your neck with some degree of safety, which makes benching a good chest/mediocre triceps movement instead of just a good triceps/mediocre chest movement).
B1. Standing Overhead Presses, 8 x 3
B2. A2. Dips (forearm touches biceps in the down position), 8 x 3
C. Leg Press Calf Extensions, 3-4 x 8-10
Thursday ((Light/Moderate Pull)
A1. Romanian Dead Lifts, 4 x 6 OR 2 x 12
A2. Reverse-Grip EZ Curls, 4 x 6 OR 2 x 12
B1. Barbell or Dumbbell Rows, 4 x 6 OR 2 x 12
B2. Leg Curls, 4 x 6 OR 2 x 12
C. Unilateral DB Shrugs, (one side at a time), 4 x 6 OR 2 x 12
D. Rear Delt Flyes, (4 x 6 OR 2 x 12
E. Cable Crunches, 3-4 x 8-10
Friday (Light/Moderate Push)
A. Leg Press, 4 x 6 OR 2 x 12
B1. Bulgarian Squats, 4 x 6 OR 2 x 12 per leg
B2. DB Floor Presses (keep elbows tucked to emphasize triceps), 4 x 6 OR 2 x 12
C1. DB Flyes, 4 x 6 OR 2 x 12
C2. Triceps "Concentration" Extensions (lie on a bench with a dumbbell held overhead with one arm and lower the forearm across your chest until the dumbbell touches. Use the other arm to support and/or assist the working arm), 4 x 6 OR 2 x 12
Triceps "Concentration" Extensions
D1. Dumbbell Lateral Raises, 4 x 6 OR 2 x 12
D2. Overhead Barbell Shrugs, 4 x 6 OR 2 x 12
Overhead Barbell Shrugs
E. Seated Calf Extensions, 3-4 x 15-20
• Don't underestimate the 8 x 3 workout. If you use an "honest" weight — approximately 85% of your 1RM — it'll kick your ass; maybe not during the actual workout, but later on in the day.
• In almost all cases, you'll see that regardless of which rep/set scheme I've indicated, the total number of reps equals 24. This is an old Waterbury chestnut that I've found to be extremely useful and effective.
• Rest intervals are 60 seconds between sets on heavy days, and 45 seconds on light to moderate days.
• While you may question grouping the two heavy workouts together back-to-back, I feel it's best to do them early in the week, when you're presumably freshest and strongest. Besides, since you're training different muscle group on different days and there's hardly any overlap, you shouldn't have a problem.
• Regarding calf work and the rep recommendations, bent-knee exercises such as Seated Calf Extensions call primarily on the soleus muscles, which require higher reps (longer time under tension) to grow, whereas straight-leg exercises such as Leg Press Calf Extensions require fewer reps (less time under tension).
It doesn't much matter whether you approve of my exercise choices or set and rep schemes. It's the push/pull system itself that I'm trying to "sell." Tailor it to your physiology. Change the workouts. Throw in a third push/cycle so that you rotate between 8 x 3, 4 x 6, and 2 x 12. Only you know what will work for you.
Just remember the key advantage to the system: you can train body parts multiple times a week without overstressing the body, and that's bound to equal growth.
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