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An In-Depth Look At Training: Push, Pull, Legs

December 12, 2020

If you are looking for a properly structured training routine that builds strength and muscle, keep on reading. Push, pull, Legs is one of the most popular training routines that is used by professional athletes and casual gym goers alike.  In this post we will be taking an in depth look at Ken's version of push pull legs.    


Ken Lu is a professional men's physique competitor and personal trainer. Over the years, Ken has experimented with many different training routines and learned which routines work best for his body. One of Ken's favorite routines is Push, Pull Legs. In this post, we will cover the rationale behind this routine, how to warm up, how to manage intensity, what exercises to use, how long to rest, and a killer ab circuit


In a previous blog  An Interview with Ken Lu: Co-Founder & Personal Trainer at BLK BOX GYM  we briefly touched on his training and nutrition plan.In this post we will focus completely on the training.  

Weekly Training Routine

This is a typical week of training for Ken:


Day 1: Heavy Push Day  

Day 2: Heavy Pull Day  

Day 3: Heavy Leg Day  

Day 4: Light Push Day  

Day 5: Light Pull Day  

Day 6: Light Leg Day  

Day 7: Rest  


Abs:  Ab Circuit at the end of light days

Why Push, Pull Legs?     

Push Pull Legs is a training style based on movement patterns instead of body parts. This program has an advantage over traditional body part splits in that it is inherently more balanced.  


The problem with an un-optimized body part split is the high probability of creating muscular imbalances. For example, in a typical 5 day body part split: (Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms, Legs) Chest and Shoulders would be considered push days whereas there is only one back day to balance things out. This usually causes the muscles in the anterior side (front) of the body to be more developed compared to the posterior (backside) which results in poor posture such as rounding of the upper back, forward head, and slouched shoulder posture.


On the other hand, when you train with a Push Pull Legs routine, the probability of developing muscular imbalances are much lower since the ratio of Push to Pull is 1:1.  


Another upside of the Push Pull Legs routine over a body part split is that the ratio of upper body to lower body training is 2:1 instead of 4:1. Although skimping on leg day doesn't necessarily result in muscular balances, the myriad of benefits you get from performing heavy squats and dead lifts is definitely notable.  



How to Warm up effectively?

The primary goal of warming up is to get WARM. Warm muscles and joints drastically reduces the chance of injury.


Ken likes to start with "general" warm ups such as walking on a treadmill or using a rower machine for 5 minutes. The goal of a general warm up is to simply raise your heart rate and body temperature.


Next Ken will mobilize his thoracic spine. The thoracic spine is made up of 12 vertebrae that starts at the base of the neck and ends around the top of the lower back. Most people have stiff thoracic spines and it is a good idea to mobilize it with a foam roller as it can improve your posture and performance. This takes around 1-2 minutes.


Next up is dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching contrary to static stretching involves movement. If its an upper body focused day, Ken will dynamically stretch his shoulder joints with a light resistance band. If its a lower body focused day, Ken will perform dynamic stretches for his hips and ankles. Essentially, the dynamic stretching routine depends on what the training program is for that day.


Finally, he ends his warm-up routine with his "specific" warm ups. "Specific" is referring to Ken's individual mobility issues he has identified over the years. For example, Ken's left ankle has poor mobility because of multiple sprains in the past. As a result, Ken will do additional mobilizations to his left ankle before he engages in any lower body training. If you are injury free and always train with perfect form, there is no need for specific warm ups. However, we are sure if you look hard enough, you will find something to work on!


In conclusion, this is Ken's warm up sequence that he performs himself as well as all his clients.  

  • General Cardio
  • Thoracic spine mobilizations  
  • Dynamic stretching based on training routine
  • Specific mobilization/activation drills based on individual deficiencies/injuries  


How to manage intensity?

For the purposes of this blog, training intensity is referring to weight. For Ken's training, the highest intensity exercises are at the beginning at the workout and the lower intensity exercises at the end of the workout. You want to put the heavy compound exercises at the beginning because that's when you have the most energy. Not only is this more practical, its also prevents injuries. As you approach the end of the workout, your muscles are more fatigued and it is more appropriate to perform lower intensity exercises.


Ken usually performs 4 sets of 6-8 exercises per training day followed by 4-5 sets of ab training.


However, a beginner trainee can perform anywhere from 3-5 exercises per training day.

Example Push Pull Legs Routine:

Push Day:  


On a push day he divides his exercise into chest and shoulders.  

4 X Chest Exercises

4 X Shoulder Exercises

  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Incline Bench Press
  • Weighted Chest Dips
  • Pec Flys
  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • Single Arm Arnold Press
  • Lateral Raises with Drop Set*
  • Super Set*: Face Pull + Rear Deltoid Flys

*A Drop Set is a training technique where you perform an exercise and then drop (reduce) the weight and continue for more reps until you reach failure.

*A Super Set is a training technique in which you move quickly from one exercise to another separate exercise without taking a break for rest in between the two exercises.


Pull Days:


A typical Pull Day would look like this

  • Lat Pull down
  • Barbell Row
  • T Bar Row
  • Close Grip Pull down
  • Dumbbell Row
  • Single Arm Pull down
  • Dumbbell Pullover
  • Super Set*: Face Pull + Straight Arm Pull down


Rest Periods:


How long you rest in between sets depend on how much intensity the exercise is. For heavy compound movements, Ken rests anywhere from 3-5 minutes. For all other exercises, Ken keeps the rest periods between 60-90 seconds to ensure the training intensity is still there.


Legs:


Leg day is generally the most demanding workout in Push Pull Legs. The biggest muscle groups in your body are all found in the lower body. This also means you are handling a lot more weights when you train legs compared to your Push and Pull days. Heavier weight means more stress placed not only on your muscles and joints but also on your central nervous system.


A typical Leg Day looks like this

  • BarbellSquat
  • Barbell Deadlift
  • Barbell Hip Thrust
  • Bulgarian Split Squat
  • Reverse Hyper or Glute Ham Raise
  • Seated Calf Raise
  • Standing Calf Raise


Abs: 


Ken performs his ab routine at the end of Light Push, Pull, and Legs.


A typical ab circuit consists of 4-5 sets 10-12 reps of

  • Crunches
  • Shin Touch
  • Bicycle Kick
  • Ankle touch

The above exercises are performed in a circuit fashion with 60 minutes rest in between circuits. Below is a video demonstration:  

The ab circuit exercises are not set in a stone but follow a set of guidelines. As long as you follow these guidelines, you can customize the ab circuit to your fitness level and preference.


There are 3 types of ab exercises, Trunk Flexion, Rotation, and Isometric. For the ab circuit, Ken chooses 2 trunk flexion exercises and 2 rotation exercises. Isometric exercises are usually omitted because you already isometrically train your abs with the heavy barbell exercises but you may add these if you want.


  1. Trunk Flexion: Any type of sit-up, crunch exercise involving bringing your knees towards your chest or vice versa is considered trunk flexion.
  2. Rotation Exercise: Any type of wood chopper, ball twist exercise involving a rotation or lateral flexion of your torso is considered a rotation exercise.
  3. Isometric or Stability Any type of exercise that requires you to brace your core in order to maintain a neutral lumbar spine is considered an isometric exercise. Planks is the most common example but most compound barbell movements require a degree of isometric core contraction.

Written by

Ken Lu

Ken has a Bachelor's Degree of Psychology from the University of British Columbia, specializing in Sport Psychology. As well as being a Certified Personal Trainer, Ken is also a Movement & Mobility Specialist, and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He has trained for and won the 2018 NPAA BC Men's Physique Championship.