When it comes to getting leaner, fitter and stronger, how you split up your workout doesn't matter quite as much as training intensity, progression or even diet. However, you still need to make sure your workout plan is balanced, trains your whole body and gives you enough rest between sessions to recover. If you've got three days a week to train, then a push-and-pull routine is a solid choice.
Pushing and pulling refers to the actions your muscles perform. Your main pushing muscles are your chest, quads, shoulders, calves and triceps, while your back, biceps, hamstrings and traps take care of the pulling movements. In your workouts you should have at least one exercise for every muscle group, though bigger muscles such as your quads, hamstrings, chest and back may require two exercises each.
Alternate workouts every week. In week one, perform your push workout twice and your pull workout once, and in week two reverse this so you do your push session just once and your pull session twice. The days you train are up to you, but you should alternate sessions, never performing two push or two pull workouts back to back. The American Council on Exercise recommends leaving at least 48 hours between working the same muscle group to allow time for recovery.
This is where the fun comes in and you can construct numerous examples of push-and-pull workouts. Make the majority of your workout multijoint compound exercises, such as squats, lunges and deadlifts, as these burn more calories and hit more muscle fibers, advises strength coach Rachel Cosgrove. You can split up your upper body into horizontal and vertical movements, too, adds trainer and powerlifter Nia Shanks. Chinups, pull-downs and overhead presses are all vertical exercises as they're performed above your head, while bench presses, pushups and dumbbell rows occur in the horizontal plane. A sample push workout may include barbell squats, lunges, calf raises, dumbbell chest presses, overhead presses and dips, while a pull workout could be deadlifts, leg curls, assisted pullups, cable rows and biceps curls. There's no need to stick to the same old exercises, though; let your imagination run wild and construct fun, varying routines.
Aim to progress each exercise every time you do it. This could be by adding extra weight, performing a few more reps or an extra set, or reducing your rest time between sets. You can change exercises every workout, or stick with the same ones until you plateau, then switch around. Adjust your sets, reps and weight depending on your goals. Heavy sets of five reps and under are best for strength gains, sets of six to 12 reps for muscle gain and lighter sets of 12 and above for muscular endurance. Check with your doctor before starting a training plan, and always ask a trainer for help with technique if you need it.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.