What is the PPL Workout?

push-pull-legs workoutPPL stands for Push, Pull, Legs, and is a workout routine popular with body builders. It’s generally regarded as a beginner routine, since in its most popular form it is done using linear progression/ but what is linear progression?

Linear progression means adding weight to your exercises every workout. This works very well and can result in fast progress for beginners.

Many people who become interested in lifting weights become interested because they have a particular vision of how they would like to look. This vision usually doesn’t include the type of body one typically sees on a power lifter or other power athlete. With that in mind, they often start out focusing on upper body, or with “curl for the girls”

PPL is designed to be a good program for beginners. It has enough volume to stimulate growth in the “show” muscles while at the same time including heavier weight in the big compound movements increase overall strength.

Here are a few terms you need to be familiar with before you read on:

  • SS means superset, which is two exercises performed one right after the other with no rest between them
  • BB is an abbreviation for barbell
  • DB is an abbreviation for dumbbell
  • 3 x 10, 2 x 5, etc. –  the first number refers to sets, the second to reps, as in 3 sets of 10, 2 sets of 5….
  • 1 x 5+ – the plus (+) after the 5 indicates as many reps as possible (AMRAP) with a minimum of 5
  • Main lifts are the first exercises done in a work out, usually compound exercises done with heavier weight and fewer reps
  • Accessory lifts are the remaining exercises, typically isolation exercises done with lighter weight and more reps

You might frequently hear newbie lifters say they aren’t worried about getting stronger, they just want to get bigger and look good.

While there are workouts primarily focused on hypertrophy (muscle growth) and workouts primarily focused on strength, you can’t get bigger without getting stronger. And the stronger you are, the heavier the weights you’ll be able to use, and ultimately the bigger you’ll get. The two are very closely related, much more so than the brovisors at the gym are telling you.


As I explained above, PPL stands for push, pull, legs, with each one being its own workout done two times a week.

  • Push is pushing things away
  • Pull is pulling things toward you
  • Legs is, well, legs dummy!

The Workout

Each workout starts with a heavy barbell exercise followed by higher repetition exercises. Each workout being done two times a week mean six workouts a week with one day off, like P-P-L-P-P-L-R with R being a rest day. You can do push-pull-legs or pull-push-legs.

As mentioned above, with linear progression you want to add weight every workout. If you’re a typical newbie and eating enough, you’ll make rapid gains ins strength. Nevertheless, you want to keep a slow and steady pace of increase for as long as you can. With that in mind, the typical recommended increases are:

  • 5 pounds for upper body lifts and squats
  • 10 pounds for dead lifts

However! I recommend lower increases to allow your body further time to adapt. In most gyms, the smallest plate they have is a 2.5 pounder, so you might have to get your own, but I suggest getting a 1.25 pound plate to use. With that you can do increase of

  • 2.5 pounds for upper body lifts and squats

I also recommend lowering dead lift increases to

  • 5 pounds for dead lifts

That works out to a 5 pound per week increase in your upper body lifts and squats, and a 10 pound per week increase in dead lifts. Do the math and you’ll see that after sic months of running this (30 weeks) your upper body lifts will have increased by 150 pounds and your dead lifts by 300.

Seems incredible, right? It is, but it’s also doable!

The Exercises

Here are my suggested exercises, including sets and reps, for each workout. I wouldn’t recommend swapping them out until you have a good idea of what you are doing, how you respond, and have a firm grasp on your specific goals.

These are my suggested exercises, which might differ from PPL exercises you see recommended elsewhere. They are the exercises that have worked the best for me through the years.

Push Day 1

  • 4 x 5, 1 x 5+ bench press
  • 3 x 8-12 overhead press
  • 3 x 8-12 close grip bench press SS with 3 x 15 Arnold presses

Pull Day 1

  • Dead lifts 1 x 5, 1 x 5+
  • 3 x MAX body weight chin ups
  • 3 x 8-12 narrow grip Yates rows
  • 3 x 10 wide grip front pulls
  • 4 x 8-12 alternating dumbbell curls

Leg Day 1

  • 2 x 5, 1×5+ squat
  • 3 x 8-12 straight leg pulls (from around the knee)
  • 3 x 8-12 leg press
  • 5 x 8-12 calf raises

Push Day 2

  • 4 x 5, 1 x 5+ overhead press
  • 3 x 8-12 bench press
  • 3 x 8-12 Arnold press
  • 3×8-12 close grip bench press SS with 3 x 15 lateral raises

Pull Day 2

  • Barbell rows 4×5, 1×5+
  • 3 x MAX chin ups
  • 3 x 8-12 close grip Yates row
  • 4 x 10-15 alternating dumbbell curls

Leg Day 2

  • 2 x 5, 1×5+ squat
  • 3 x 8-12 straight leg pulls
  • 3 x 8-12 leg press
  • 5 x 8-12 calf raises

Resting between sets

I recommend a minimum of 3 minutes and a maximum of 4 minutes rest between sets for the main exercise and 2 minutes for the remaining exercises. The main exercise is the first exercise done each workout.


When it comes to the the AMRAP sets, the goal is to get as many reps as you can while while keeping good form.


If you hit your rep goal that workout, go up in weight the next workout. Examples:

  • 2 x 5, 1×5+ squat

If you get 5 reps in all sets, go up the next workout.

  • 3 x 8-12 close grip Yates row

If you can’t get at least 8 reps in all three sets, the weight is too heavy: drop by 10% and start working back up. Once you can get 3 sets of 12 reps, go up in weight the next workout.

Failure and Deloading

At some point you’re going to fail to get the proscribed number of reps. When this happens you want to


Deloading is reducing the weight. Calculate 10% off your working weight and start working back. So if you failed at 200 pounds in the squat, you would back off to 180 at the next workout and start from there.

And that’s it!

PPL is a great program that can quickly add size and strength to a new lifter, supposing the calories and nutrition are there.


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