4 Day Push Pull Workout Routine To Build Muscle & Strength

4 day push pull workout routine to build muscle and strength

The four day push-pull workout split is a widely popular and effective muscle building routine that allows lifters to train a muscle more frequently, incorporate heavier compound lifting, and recover between sessions.

In previous articles we have discussed some of the best 3-day workout splits for cutting and how much muscle you can gain in a month.

However, we have yet to specifically discuss in detail why the four day push-pull workout split may be a great option for lifters looking to add muscle mass and strength without having to train 5-6 days a week.

In this article we will discuss in detail four day push-pull workout split, specifically:

  • Benefits of a Push-Pull Routine
  • What are Pull Muscle Groups?
  • What are Push Muscle Groups?
  • How to Structure Your 4-Day Push-Pull Workouts?
  • Are There Drawbacks To A 4 Day Push-Pull Split?

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Benefits of A Push-Pull Routine

benefits of a push-pull routine

1.  Trains Most Muscle Groups At Least Twice Per Week

By training four times a week and using a push-pull split, you are able to train muscle groups twice per week. With other workout splits, such as training legs one day, chest and back another, arms on the third, and shoulders on the fourth; you only train the muscle once a week.

Training a muscle directly at least twice a week is a necessity if you are looking to increase muscle mass, simply because it is nearly impossible (or highly inefficient) to cram all your weekly training volume for a muscle into one day. 

Bumping up your training frequency will allow you to train the muscle more efficiently, more often, and decrease your chances of injury and excessive muscle soreness.

2.  Allows You to Train the Barbell Strength Lifts Frequently

Instead of training the bench, squat, and deadlift once per week, you could hypothetically train each of those movements (or their variations) twice per week. 

For example, you could front squat and back squat, bench press and flat dumbbell bench, and then trap bar deadlift and barbell Romanian deadlifts all in the same week.

The push-pull workout split is a great split for lifers looking to maximize strength yet not have to spend 5+ days in a gym.

3.  Ensures You to Accumulate Adequate Training Volume for Muscle Growth

As discussed above, training volume (total number of quality work sets) per week is one of the most significant factors that drive muscle growth. Most lifters who train four times a week should aim to train muscle groups directly with at least 12-16 total sets per week, up to even 20-24 total sets (in specific training phases). 

That said, in a single session lifters should aim to train a muscle directly with 8-12 total sets, as doing any more than that often means low quality work or the sake for “doing more”. This is exactly why training a muscle group at least twice per week (sometimes 3-4 times a week) is far superior than training a muscle once per week.


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What Are Pull Muscle Groups?

the main pull muscles of the lower and upper body

Below are the main pull muscles of the lower and upper body.

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Latissimus Dorsi (Back)
  • Trapezius
  • Biceps
  • Rear Deltoids

What Are Push Muscle Groups?

the main push muscles of the lower and upper body

Below are the main push muscles of the lower and upper body.

  • Quadriceps
  • Pectorals (Chest)
  • Shoulders (Anterior and Lateral Deltoids)
  • Triceps
  • Calves

How To Structure Your 4 Day Push-Pull Workouts?

how to structure your 4 day push-pull workouts

The below 4-day push-pull workout split trains all muscle groups twice per week. The larger muscle groups, such as the quadriceps, chest, back, and hamstrings are trained with ~16 direct work sets per week. 

The smaller muscle groups such as the deltoids, triceps, biceps, and calves are trained with ~8 direct work sets per week, however this is because they are often used as secondary muscle groups during the heavier compound exercises.

For best results, choose the workout split that works best for your schedule. 

This workout split is ideal if you do not want to train on the weekends.

  • Monday: Push A
  • Tuesday: Pull A
  • Wednesday: OFF
  • Thursday: Push B
  • Friday: Pull B
  • Saturday: OFF
  • Sunday: OFF

This workout split is ideal if you want to maximize your rest between sessions to allow for more recovery.

  • Monday: Push A
  • Tuesday: OFF
  • Wednesday: Pull A
  • Thursday: OFF
  • Friday: Push B
  • Saturday: Pull B
  • Sunday: OFF

Any variation works well, however having an off day here and there can help you if you recover between sessions.

Push Day Workout A:

  • Front Squat: 5 sets of 5-10 reps
  • Barbell Flat Bench Press: 5 sets of 5-10 reps
  • Hack Squat or Leg Press: 3 sets of 5-10 reps
  • Dip: 3 sets of 5-10 reps
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 4 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Cable Triceps Pushdown: 4 sets of 10-15 reps

Front Squat

Sets: 5 Reps: 5-10

The main area targeted by the front squat is the quadriceps. The front squat is chosen here instead of a movement like the back squat, to prioritize more quadriceps development and limit the amount of stress placed on the hips and lower back, as the other pull days will increase loading to the lower back and hamstrings. 

Focus on squatting low, and staying as upright as possible.

Barbell Flat Bench Press

Sets: 5 Reps: 5-10

The main areas targeted by the barbell flat bench press is the pectoral muscles, however during most compound upper body pushing movements the triceps are used as well. Additionally, the anterior shoulder muscles (anterior deltoid) do get some loading as well during the bench press.

Focus on lowering under control and not bouncing the weight off your chest.

Hack Squat or Leg Press

Sets: 3 Reps: 5-10

The hack squat or leg press is a great exercise to add additional quadriceps targeted volume without loading the lower back or hamstrings too much. 

The key here is to do hack squats or leg presses as deep as possible, allowing the knee joint to go into deep flexion to maximally load the quadriceps. Focus on full range of motion and using your quadriceps to lift the load, not your hips.

Focus on deep reps and slow eccentric phases to maximize muscle growth.

Dips

Sets: 3 Reps: 5-10

The main area targeted by the dip is the triceps, however the chest muscles are also used especially when you train in a full range of motion (go lower in the dip). 

Go all the way down, and all the way up, making sure to not keep or use momentum.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Sets: 4 Reps: 10-15

The dumbbell lateral raise is a shoulder isolation exercise that targets the lateral head of the deltoid. Raises are a good alternative to overhead pressing in this day, since you already have done a good amount of heavy pressing movements (bench press and dips) and want to target more of the lateral head of the shoulders since the anterior (front) has already be trained and hit with the bench press and dips.

Raise your arms as high as you can without shoulder discomfort, which may be as high as above your head. Pause at the top briefly, the lower slowly. 

Cable Triceps Pushdown

Sets: 4 Reps: 10-15

The triceps are the main muscle group used during the pushdown. Performing the pushdown is a great way to add additional direct triceps training volume without adding unnecessary loading and stress to the shoulders and chest.

Strict form, making sure to not hunch forwards as you press down.

Pull Day Workout A:

  • Cable Underhand Pulldown: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
  • Barbell Romanian Deadlift: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
  • Prone Hamstring Curl: 4 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Supported or Machine Row: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
  • Narrow Grip Barbell Curl: 4 sets of 5-10reps
  • Hip Thrust (Machine or Barbell): 4 sets of 10-15 reps

Cable Underhand Pulldown

Sets: 4 Reps: 5-10

The cable underhand pulldown is an exercise that targets the lats, as well as some biceps. By doing the pulldown with an underhand grip, you can often get a fuller range of motion and more aggressive contraction. 

When training vertical pulling movements twice per week, try to perform one time with an underhand grip and the other with an overhand grip.

Barbell Romanian Deadlift

Sets: 4 Reps: 5-10

The barbell Romanian deadlift is an exercise that targets the hamstrings, glutes, and erectors (not to mention it can train the back and traps too). The key here is to go heavy enough to feel an aggressive stretch and loading on the hamstring, but not heavy enough that your lower back starts to round. 

Keep the knees slightly bent, so that the shins are perpendicular to the floor. If you don’t feel the movement in the hamstrings, keep your knees straighter, your lower back arched or flat, and lower the weight slower (much slower).

Prone Machine Hamstring Curl

Sets: 4 Reps: 10-15

This machine targets the hamstrings, specially low lower hamstrings where it attaches to the back of the knee joint. 

For optimal hamstrings development, try to train both the seated and lying prone hamstring curl variations.

Supported or Machine Row

Sets: 4 Reps: 5-10

You can choose any machine or supported row variations, as long as you are able to train hard and not have to support your own body weight (such as in a barbell bent over row). You want to do a supported row variation here since your lower back and hamstrings are already fatigued, and may become a limiting factor during row training, rather than the upper back itself.

Train this movement to full muscle failure. The supported row variations allows for that as your hamstrings and lower back are not the limiting factor.

Narrow Grip Barbell Curl

Sets: 4 Reps: 5-10

This exercise targets the biceps. Taking a narrow grip will allow you to keep your elbows into the body and remove the temptation to let them flare out which would increase stress on the shoulders and lateral biceps.

Focus on going all the way down every rep as slow as possible.

Hip Thrust (Machine or Barbell)

Sets: 4 Reps: 10-15

The hip thrust can be done with a plate loaded machine or a barbell. Both target the glutes, however the machine variation is easier to load, and often doesn’t allow you to use momentum or lift the load with anything but your glutes.

You can train heavier with this movement, but you should not be training with a weight that you are unable to lift and pause with for 2-3 seconds every rep,and slowly lower. 

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Push Day Workout B:

  • Hack Squat: 4 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Barbell Wide Grip Incline Bench Press: 4 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Machine Leg Extension: 4 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Dumbbell Flat Chest Flye: 4 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 4 sets of 15-20 reps
  • Cable Overhead Triceps Extension: 4 sets of 15-20 reps

Hack Squat

Sets: 4 Reps: 10-15

Similar to the first push day, the hack squat or leg press can be used again to add quality work to the quadriceps without overloading the back or hips. Use the high rep based machine leg day to push the muscles to complete failure!

Low and slow is the name of the game when it comes to the hack squat (slow on the way down).

Barbell Wide Grip Incline Bench Press

Sets: 4 Reps: 10-15

The main areas targeted by the barbell flat bench press are the pectoral muscles, with a focus on the upper pecs. Train this movement with a wider grip to place a deeper stretch on the chest.

You can play with the width of your grip and see what feels best on the shoulder.

Machine Leg Extensions

Sets: 4 Reps: 10-15

The machine leg extension is an exercise that specifically targets the quadriceps. This is an excellent movement to train the quadriceps to complete failure and induce serious muscle growth, without having to add additional wear and tear to the back and hips.

Add a 1-2 second pause at the top of every rep to really maximize muscle growth.

Dumbbell Flat Chest Flye

Sets: 4 Reps: 10-15

The dumbbell flat chest flye targets the pectoral muscles, and is an isolation movement that allows you to train the muscles to failure. This can also be done to train the chest without adding additional stress and volume to the shoulders and triceps.

Your elbows should be slightly bent, but make sure to not turn this into a wide grip bench press.

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Sets: 4 Reps: 10-15

This exercise targets the shoulders, primarily  the anterior and lateral head of the deltoid. Additionally, the triceps are used to extend the elbows at the top of the press.

Do this from a seated position to make it a more shoulder-focused exercise.

Cable Overhead Triceps Extension

Sets: 4 Reps: 15-20

The triceps are the main muscle group used during the pushdown. Performing the pushdown is a great way to add additional direct triceps training volume without adding unnecessary loading and stress to the shoulders and chest.

Make sure to go as low as you can with your hands behind your head, and then fully extend the elbows at the top.

Pull Day Workout B:

  • Assisted Wide Grip Pull Up Machine: 4 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Barbell Good Morning: 4 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Underhand Barbell Bent Over Row: 4 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Seated Machine Hamstring Curl: 4 sets of 15-20 reps
  • Dumbbell Hammer Curl: 4 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Barbell Walking Lunge: 3 sets of 20-30  steps

Assisted Wide Grip Pull Up Machine

Sets: 4 Reps: 10-15

The assisted wide grip pull up machine is a great exercise as it targets the lats. Whether you are a beginner or pull up pro, the assisted pull up machine doesn’t allow you to use momentum by kipping, swinging, or losing tension at the top.

Use the assisted pull up, even if you can do 10-15 strict ones, as the machine allows you to lower yourself slowly and also pause at the top of every rep for a few seconds. If you can do that without the machine, excellent, then do it, and add weight if you can. Just remember though to never add weight at the sake of not keeping the same level of repetition control and tempo.

Barbell Good Morning 

Sets: 4 Reps: 10-15

The barbell good morning targets the hamstrings, glutes, and erectors, and is similar to the Romanian deadlift in that it should be trained with a slow eccentric (lowering phase). You want to make sure your knees are only slightly bent, so that your shins are perpendicular to the floor. 

If you do not feel your hamstrings being intensely stretched and loaded as you load yourself, make sure your back is arched/flat, and strengthen your knees some. Slowing down the movement can also increase muscle loading.

Underhand Barbell Bent Over Row

Sets: 4 Reps: 10-15

This exercise targets the lats, as well as the biceps (due to the underhand grip). Taking an underhand (supinated) grip will allow you to keep the elbows in more during the row, while also helping to train the biceps with heavier loads.

Seated Machine Hamstring Curl

Sets: 4 Reps: 15-20

The seated machine hamstring curl trains the hamstrings, similar to that of the lying prone aviation. The difference between this and the prone is that the hips are flexed (seated) which may be more comfortable if your back or glutes are very sore from heavy Romanian deadlifts earlier in the week.

Dumbbell Hammer Curl

Sets: 4 Reps: 10-15

This exercise targets the biceps, with an added emphasis on the forearm/grip muscles. You can use this to also increase grip and forearm strength.

Do not allow the body to swing the weights up, and stay strict with your form. Only curl up to about chest height.

Barbell Walking Lunge

Sets: 3 Reps: 20-30 steps

The walking lunge targets the glutes primarily, but will also increase hamstrings and quadriceps development. These are placed as the last movement of the week since they will most likely create serious muscle soreness.

Take your time when doing these, and focus on pushing off the lead leg as you stand up. If you cannot lower yourself slowly without crashing your knee into the ground, slow down, or lower the weight.

Are There Drawbacks To A 4 Day Push-Pull Split?

are there drawbacks to a 4 day push-pull split

1. May Not Allow You To Train With As Much Volume As Possible

While training most muscle groups twice per week is often sufficient for general muscle growth and strength gains for beginners and intermediate lifters, more advanced lifters may struggle to gain the size they are after by only training muscles twice per week. 

A split that allows you to train muscles three times per week, however, could drastically increase your overall training volume and still allow you to not exceed daily volume totals, however this also means you would need to train more than four days a week.

2. Could Potentially Fatigue Lower Back During Harder Phases

When training the push-pull split, you often need to train larger compound exercises to ensure enough training volume and stimulus to the major muscle groups. This often means you are training squats, pulls, and back focused movements on a daily basis. 

For example, let’s say one day one you train back squats on a push day. Day two you train bent over rows for pulling. The third day you train front squats, and the last day you deadlift. While those movements all target push and pulling muscles, they all equally demand the lower back to be strong and stable.

This could become an issue deep into a training program or with stronger lifters who may find their lower backs become a limiting factor rather than the muscles they are trying to target. If this is the case, it may be wise to swap some of the heavier compound movements out for machine work that stresses the muscles without hitting the lower back.


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Results That You Can Expect From A 4-Day Push/Pull Split?

Most Lifters will find they are able to increase muscle mass and strength when following a four day push-pull workout split. Assuming you are recovering properly and fueling your triang with a good diet, it is likely that you could gain .5-1lbs of muscle per week when in a calorie surplus

If you are following this for cutting purposes, it is very likely that you will maintain muscle mass and lose minimal strength with this workout split.

Final Thoughts

The four day -push-pull workout split is a very popular and widely used training split that offers all level lifters a way to train muscle groups more frequently, dedicate time for strength development, and allow for recovery. While it has some limitations for more advanced lifters, it is a great four day workout split if you are looking to train most days of the week and increase muscle and strength.


About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.