When looking to develop the shoulders with a push/pull split, it can be confusing as to which day you should train them (on push vs. pull), so we set out to answer that exact question.
When following a push/pull split, training your shoulders on a push day produces the best results because the shoulders are already involved in most pressing movements (including horizontal pressing movements). Training your shoulders on push days allows for better recovery and growth if programmed correctly.
By the end of this article, you will know precisely why you should be training shoulders on push days and how to get the most out of your push-pull split for overall muscle growth. I will also share a sample push-day workout to help you build strength and size across all pushing muscle groups (shoulders, chest, and triceps).
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Shoulder Muscle Overview
When people talk about building the shoulder muscles, they are referring to the deltoids. The deltoid muscle group makes up the front, middle, and back of the shoulders and is responsible for pushing the arms in front of you or overhead (or on any upward angle).
In addition to moving loads and objects away from you, the back of the shoulders also assists in pulling objects towards you, as well as opening up the arms (like a reverse bear hug).
The deltoids are broken down into three distant heads: the anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids.
Anterior (Front) Deltoids
The front deltoids contribute to most pushing exercises, including shoulder presses, incline presses, and push-ups. For this reason, the anterior delts may not require additional isolation training.
That said, if you feel that your anterior delts aren’t getting enough stimulus to grow or get stronger with pushing movements alone, you can add some isolation work but you should do it after your pressing movements.
Lateral (Middle) Deltoids
The lateral deltoids cover most of the shoulders and are used when you do overhead presses and when lifting the arms out to the sides. The lateral delts also assist the chest during bench presses and incline pushing movements (i.e. incline bench press).
Posterior (Rear) Deltoids
The rear deltoids are trained during most rowing movements, as they help to pull the shoulders back. You can also isolate the rear delts during bent-over reverse flys.
Most lifters add these at the end of the push day (after other shoulder movements); however, some may prefer doing rear delt work as part of the pull day since they are a posterior muscle group.
Related Article: Grow Your Shoulders with These Exact Exercises!
Training The Shoulders On Push Day
Train Shoulders from a Fresh State
When training shoulders on a push day, you can train them from a fresh, non-fatigued state. This is key as you want the shoulders to be as strong as possible so you can push your intensity and get more growth.
If you were to train them on pull days, the shoulders would be pre-fatigued from the prior push day, as shoulders are still trained during most chest and triceps compound exercises. This would limit the amount of quality work that you’re able to perform and limit your progress.
For example, the bench press trains the chest, triceps, and front deltoids to a very high degree. Therefore, even when not training the shoulders on a push day, you will still be training them and would not recover properly if you did them again on pull day.
Allow for Recovery Better Between Sessions
By training your shoulders on push day, you can work them hard and then let them recover properly before working them again. This allows for better performance in subsequent training sessions, encourages better growth, and reduces your risk of injury.
Injuries occur when your body is pushed past the point where it is able to recover. If you’re training your shoulders on push day and pull day, then your muscles will not recover properly and fatigue can compound to the point that you injure yourself.
The shoulders are used for most upper-body pushing exercises (bench presses, dips, incline bench presses, chest flys, etc.), so it makes the most sense to train them with chest and triceps and then allow them to recover on pull days.
Can Improve Universal Upper Body Pressing Strength
When training shoulders on push days, you can place all your effort and abilities into heavy upper-body pressing exercises like incline, military, and push presses to pursue strength goals.
If you were to train heavy bench press on Monday during your push day and then heavy overhead press on Tuesday during your pull day, your overhead press would not be as strong as it could be due to the bench press tiring out the front delts the day before.
This is an issue for strength athletes who need to increase all pushing movements. The solution is to do one heavy pushing exercise per push session, spaced 2-3 days apart.
Related Article: 4 Day Push Pull Workout Routine To Build Muscle & Strength
May Compete With Chest Training
Since the shoulders are involved in most pressing movements, you must pay attention to your overall pushing volume to ensure it’s allocated evenly between horizontal pushing (chest dominant movements) and vertical pushing (shoulder dominant movements).
If you always train shoulders after chest on push days, you may limit your overall shoulder growth because you’ll always train your shoulders from a more fatigued state.
One way to combat this is to train the chest first on push day 1 and the shoulders first on push day 2. This is your best option, rather than training shoulders on a pull day, which can limit growth in the chest and shoulders due to minimal recovery between sessions.
Related Article: 10 Best Push Exercises for Muscle Growth and Strength
Training The Shoulders On Pull Day
Can Potentially Train Rear Delts More Directly
The main benefit of training the shoulders on pull day is that you can devote more time to training the rear delts (as they contract to pull the shoulders open).
The rear delts stabilize the shoulders during pushing movements but also help assist the lats and back muscles during rows, pull-ups, and other pulling/carrying movements.
If you wanted to devote more time to developing the rear delts, you could add direct rear delt training to your pull days and keep all other shoulder training on push days.
Shoulders May Be Fatigued from Push Day
The shoulders are already being indirectly trained with some amount of volume on push days, so training them on pull days would mean the shoulders get no rest days or recovery between sessions.
This will interfere with your ability to build strength and muscle because your shoulders will already feel beat up and tired. Training your shoulders in a fatigued state can also increase your risk of shoulder injury.
Will Interfere with Chest and Triceps Training on Other Days
Training shoulders on pull days will interfere with your chest and triceps development. Most shoulder builders (overhead presses, rear delt rows, lateral and front raises) will also recruit your upper chest and triceps to assist in the movement.
If you train the shoulders on a pull day and then train the chest and triceps the next push day, the shoulders will be too tired to assist in most chest and triceps exercises (bench press, shoulder press, dips, push-ups).
This will result in your shoulders tiring out before your chest and triceps, ultimately limiting the growth of those muscle groups.
Can You Train Shoulders On Push And Pull Days?
Training the shoulders on both days would mean you must recover longer between sessions, which would limit the number of training sessions you’re able to do per week.
The only time that I could see training shoulders on both push and pull days would be if you were to train only rear delts on pull days and train front and side delts on push days.
However, you should be aware that training rear delts in high volume and with heavy loads can impact their ability to stabilize and assist you on push days, so if you do train them hard on a pull day, I suggest giving them a full day of rest before attacking a hard push day.
- Monday – Push Day A (Chest, Front and Side Shoulders, Triceps)
- Tuesday – Pull Day A (Back, Rear Delts, Biceps)
- Wednesday – Leg Day A (Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves)
- Thursday – Push Day B (Front and Side Shoulders, Chest, Triceps)
- Friday – Pull Day B (Back, Biceps, Rear Delts)
- Saturday – Leg Day B (Hamstrings, Glutes, Quads, Calves)
My Recommendation For Training Shoulders On A Push/Pull Split
I recommend that you train your shoulders on a push day, making sure that you change the order in which you train your horizontal and vertical exercises to devote enough time and energy to develop the chest, shoulders, and triceps evenly.
If you are training a push/pull split, you should be training push days at least twice a week, maybe three times a week.
As detailed below in the sample workout program, I recommend performing either chest or shoulders first on the first push day of your program, choosing the one you want to place the most emphasis on for that session.
You cannot train your chest and shoulders at the same intensity in the same session because whatever you train first will impact your performance on the other.
On the second push day in the week, I would then train the other one (chest or shoulders) first to devote enough energy to that muscle group to encourage muscle growth.
If you choose to do a third push day, you could train whichever muscle group (chest, shoulders, triceps) you feel needs the most attention.
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Sample Shoulder Workout On A Push/Pull Split
The below workouts are both push days. The first session trains the shoulders after the chest and does so to not interfere with chest growth. The second day trains the shoulders first, as this day prioritizes shoulder strength, training the chest and triceps afterward for more general muscle growth.
Note: The following workouts are not in the Fitbod app, but the exercises are. You can use these workouts as templates to build your own workouts in the app. The Fitbod app will then help you progress your training every week to ensure you are on track for the best results you can get.
Push Day 1 – Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
- Barbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 8 reps, resting 2-3 minutes between sets
- Hammer Incline Chest Press: 3 sets of 8 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets
- Cable Lateral Raise: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 90 seconds between sets
- Cable Front Raise: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, superset with upright row
- Cable Upright Row: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 90 seconds between sets
- Cable Triceps Pushdown: 3 sets of 8 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets
Push Day 2 – Shoulders, Chest, Triceps
- Barbell Military Press: 3 sets of 8 reps, resting 2-3 minutes between sets
- Smith Machine Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 8 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets
- Hammer Chest Press: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 90 seconds between sets
- Machine or Dumbbell Chest Fly: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, superset with chest fly
- Push Up: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 90 seconds between sets
- Barbell or Dumbbell Skull Crusher: 3 sets of 8 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets
About The Author
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.