Get ready for a lot of pushing and pulling.
If fitness is your focus, you’re likely looking up different classes to join and exercises to incorporate into your routine. One of the most effective is push-pull workouts, which are designed to help you continuously get stronger as time goes on—a major perk for those who struggle with hitting fitness goal plateaus.
What is a Push-Pull Workout?
A push-pull workout means you work two muscle groups that perform similar body mechanics but in two different workouts. Quite simply, you train one part of the body on different days, Whitney Berger, personal trainer, certified yoga instructor and founder of WhitFit NYC, explains.
For example, exercises you would do on a push day are ones that use push-out movements. On a push day, you would work the chest, triceps and front delts. On a pull day, the exercises are pull-related movements, which work the back, biceps and rear delts.
“A pushing exercise is any movement that pushes the resistance away from the body or the ground and involves the extensor muscles such as pectoralis major, triceps, quadriceps and gluteus, to name a few,” says Eddie Baruta, a trainer at Ultimate Performance.
These exercises include dips, barbell presses and dumbbell presses (from decline to standing shoulder press), squats and split squats (which also incorporate different types of lunges, a more dynamic form of split squats).
From a functionality standpoint, these are exercises that help with standing up, maintaining a good posture, walking, running, playing sports, lifting objects off the ground and placing them overhead, Baruta adds.
“By contrast, a pull exercise is a movement that pulls the resistance towards the body and away from the ground. Some of these muscles include the latissimus dorsi, the elbow flexors, hamstrings, quads and spinal erectors—the last two being involved somewhat equally in the deadlifts and squats,” says Baruta.
A few examples incorporate pull-ups, pulldowns, rows and various forms of deadlifts. The benefits are similar to the push muscles, in the sense that all the muscles are involved in the day-to-day activities and they need to work synergistically (concentrically or eccentrically) for proper overall function, Baruta states.
The Benefits of Push-Pull Workouts
First and maybe most important, push-pull workouts are both simple and effective.
“It’s simple to design a structured workout plan. It is highly effective because it works for all muscle groups, and muscles that overlap one another. If building muscle is what you want, this is for you,” says Berger.
Second, these exercises are the best way to build strong, healthy, pain-free shoulders.
“Most of our daily activities and repetitive motions exist in the ‘push’ range of motion,” says Kevin Snodgrass, Head Trainer for Vivo. “Things like working at a desk, driving, texting and sitting on a couch all engage the anterior muscles of the shoulder and chest—the ‘push’ muscles. These can become tight, immobile and overactive, resulting in muscle imbalances and shoulder pain or dysfunction. Incorporating push-pull exercises helps to increase mobility, decrease stiffness and pain, and build strength evenly.”
How to Incorporate Push Pull Workouts into Your Routine
A simple way to add push-pull exercises is with the Superset format: Two exercises performed back-to-back without rest. The goal is to target the opposite or antagonist muscle group, Snodgrass explains.
Examples of a push-pull superset
Pushups, then band back rows
Overhead press, then lat pulldowns
Bicep curls, then tricep extensions
Side Raises, then back flyes
Perform 8-10 repetitions of each exercise for 3-5 sets.
Another other option is to alternate days, Berger explains. Exercise examples for push day include:
Incline dumbbell press
Decline bench press
Exercise examples for pull day include:
Bent over rows