Machine-free Push/Pull/Legs Training Plan for Strength and Build

Everyone has goals. If you want to add strength, size, or muscle tone then a good weight lifting program is for you. If you want to improve your overall function, then a good lifting program is also for you! The PPL split we talk about today hits all the major muscle groups as well as some accessory work to help build muscle and skill.

What is PPL?

PPL is the initialism of “push/pull/legs” where the push/pull can be switched depending on who you ask. You may also see it written as “PLP” or “LPP” if the routine changes the order of the daily plan. Regardless, the idea is the same.

FUN FACT: PPL isn’t an acronym because you can’t pronounce “PPL” as an actual word by itself. For instance, LASER is an acronym that means “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation” and can be pronounced as an English word.

Work/Rest Split Schedule

A PPL routine splits up the work you do each week based mainly on the function of the exercise and secondarily on the area of the body targeted.

  • On “Push” days, you work on upper body movements that push resistance away from your body (e.g. bench press).
  • On “Pull” days, you work on upper body movements that pull resistance in towards your body (e.g. chin-ups).
  • On “Leg” days, you focus on lower body movements that work the quads, hamstrings, and calves (e.g. various squats).

The goal of this program is to accomplish a higher volume of lifting to stimulate muscle growth and strength building. There are three “splits” or schedules you can use depending on your fitness level and recovery abilities.

Beginners / Slow Recovery – “Every Other Day”

WEEK 1
MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT SUN
Push Rest Pull Rest Legs Rest Push
 
WEEK 2
MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT SUN
Pull Rest Legs Rest Push Rest Pull

In the Beginner split you are working out every other day alternating Push, Pull, & Legs in that order. In this split you will get through two full rotations of the routine every 10 days. The calendar continues in this pattern until you are ready to switch to the Intermediate program.

Good for … someone new to this type of volume training who needs to ramp up to more work, or for someone who recovers too slowly to do back to back training days. Slow progression.

Bad for … a moderately experienced or better lifter who has average or better recovery and wants to make significant strength gains.

Intermediate / Average Recovery – “Two on, One off”

WEEK 1
MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT SUN
Push Pull Rest Legs Push Rest Pull
 
WEEK 2
MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT SUN
Legs Rest Push Pull Rest Legs Push

In the Intermediate split you are working a two on, one off schedule with a rest day every third day. You are still following the Push > Pull > Legs rotation. In this split you will get through two full rotations of the routine every 8 days. Continue the schedule as indicated, with two working days followed by a rest day until you are ready to move on to the Advanced schedule.

Good for … an average lifter who is looking to make strength gains but who can’t recover well enough with more than two working days blocked together. Also good for Advanced lifters who are getting back into a PPL routine after an absence.

Bad for … an advanced lifter who no longer makes gains with a two on, one off schedule. Anyone who needs to add more volume to their training.

Advanced / Fast Recovery – “Six Day Split”

ALL WEEKS
MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT SUN
Push Pull Legs Push Pull Legs Rest

OR

ALL WEEKS
MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT SUN
Push Pull Legs Rest Push Pull Legs

In the Advanced split you are working on a 6-day schedule with a one rest day per week. In this split you are completing two full PPL cycles every sing

le week. This is an intensive working schedule that is high in volume.

Good for … Intermediate lifters with great recovery or Advanced lifters who need more volume to continue making gains.

Bad for … Beginners or Intermediate lifters with below average recovery ability. Anyone with too restrictive of a schedule.

Moves, Sets, Reps, & Rest

In our Machine-free PPL routine, each movement will have its own rep schema, owing to the fact that some moves are more physiologically taxing than others. Each day of training will include at least one compound exercise that works multiple major muscle groups, as well as supporting exercises (often called accessory work) that target smaller groupings of muscles.

You will notice that the movements don’t have a weight associated with them, and this is on purpose. A routine like this can’t prescribe everyone who does it to bench press 200lbs and deadlift 400lbs, since not everyone can do that! Check out the section, “Finding Working Weight” later for guidance on this.

Regardless of the weight you’re working with, the goal for every set is to accomplish quality reps with acceptable form. The human body is an amazingly robust machine that can move itself in just about any way you tell it to, even if you tell it to move poorly. At the same time, the human body is an amazingly stupid machine that will move itself in just about any way you tell it to, even if you tell it to move poorly. Your body does what you tell it to do 90% of the time, so if you decide to go much heavier than you can handle, your body will do its best to listen and complete the movement. This is where injuries happen most often, because you sacrifice good form for heavier weight or faster movement.

NEVER SACRIFICE GOOD FORM FOR HEAVIER WEIGHTS OR FASTER MOVEMENTS.

The chart below shows the movements we’ll be working with each day, the number of working sets you’ll be completing, and the goal number of reps between all sets.

Let’s be clear: whatever your goal is, good for you. You’re lifting weights and becoming healthier. It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting or if your goal is to look good in the swimsuit your significant other got you from Abercrombie & Fitch. Roll with what you want and pursue it until you get it.

In the movements table, each move is labeled either Main or Acc. (accessory), indicating whether it is intended to cause a large physiological stimulation (aka it’s the main working lift) or if it’s meant to exhaust the support muscles around the main lift.

Each of the main lifts has a certain number of Heavy sets as well as a single Blast set. Complete the Heavy sets first, reduce the weight as indicated, and then complete the Blast set for that movement. Once you’re done, move on to the next lift.

Rest

You will give yourself 45-60 seconds of rest between sets of the same exercise, and 2 minutes of rest between different exercises. This minimizes recovery time and time spent training while also maximizing your improvement.

Working Movements and Rep Schema

Push Move Sets and Reps
Bench Press (main) Heavy: 4 sets, 25 rep goal

Blast: Reduce by 20%, 1 set of max quality reps

Overhead Press (main) Heavy: 4 sets, 25 rep goal

Blast: Reduce by 20%, 1 set of max quality reps

Weighted Dips (acc.) 6 sets, 45 rep goal
Kettlebell Shrugs (acc.) 6 sets, 45 rep goal
Kettlebell Lat Raises (acc.) 6 sets, 45 rep goal
Pull Move Sets and Reps
Deadlift (main) Heavy: 4 sets, 25 rep goal

Blast: Reduce by 20%, 1 set of max quality reps

Barbell Row (main) Heavy: 4 sets, 25 rep goal

Blast: Reduce by 20%, 1 set of max quality reps

Chin-up (acc.) 6 sets, 50 rep goal
Pull-up (acc.) 6 sets, 50 rep goal
Sumo Deadlift High Pull (acc.) 6 sets, 50 rep goal
Legs Move Sets and Reps
Back Squat (main) Heavy: 4 sets, 25 rep goal

Blast: Reduce by 20%, 1 set of max quality reps

Barbell Calf Raise (acc.) 6 sets, 50 rep goal
Barbell Lunge (acc.) 6 sets, 50 rep goal
Step-up (acc.) 6 sets, 50 rep goal – Barbell, Kettlebell, or Dumbbell
Box Jump (acc.) 6 sets, 50 rep goal – Unweighted

For each movement you have two goals: total sets and total reps. Your weight should be appropriate to hit both these goals each week.

Finding Your Starting Weights

For each movement in the workout plan you need to know what weight to start with. There are a few good ways we can do this, some faster (but not necessarily better) than others.

Use your 1-rep max

If you know your 1-rep max for the main lifts, then you can start by using 65% of that number for your working sets. For instance, if you have a maximum bench press of 200lbs, you would start at 130lbs in your working sets on Push days for bench press in this routine.

Most lifters probably don’t have 1-rep max weights for the accessory movements, so you’ll need to use another method to hone in on working weights for those.

Find a 5-rep baseline

Start with a weight you think is 40-50% of your 1-rep max, which may end up being an empty bar for the main lifts or very light kettlebells/dumbbells for the accessory lifts.

  1. Perform 5 reps with good form
  2. Rest two minutes, add 5-10lbs (push/pull) or 10-20lbs (legs)
  3. Do another 5 reps.
  4. Repeat.

As soon as the reps begin to slow down and you can no longer complete a rep with a steady 4 second cadence (2 sec down, 2 sec up), stop making weight jumps. The last weight where you could maintain the 4 second cadence will be your starting weight in this program for that lift.

Start low, work up

The last, simplest method is to simply start around 50% of what you think your max might be, and then work at that weight in your first session. Jump weight every session as normal (see below) but expect the first few weeks to feel pretty easy. Take the time to really dial in your form in these sessions.

Adding Weight

This program is designed to help you progress regularly, so you should be adding weight regularly. Here is a guide to how much to add and when:

  • If you beat your rep goal by 10-15%, increase your weight by 5% for the next session.
  • If you beat your rep goal by 20-30%, increase your weight by 10% for the next session.
  • If you beat your rep goal by 35-50%, increase your weight by 15% for the next session.
  • If you beat your rep goal by 55% or more, increase your weight by 20% for the next session.

If you don’t meet your rep goal, decrease your weight by 5% the next session. You may also choose to try the same weight again, but if you fail to meet your rep goal on a lift two sessions in a row, you need to reduce the weight.