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Push Pull Workout Split At Home- The Efficiency Split

For decades people in the gym have argued over the best upper body training split… Some say push pull, others say back, shoulders, chest, arms. Some say full body, every time.

As a personal trainer, I’m only interested in one thing – results.

They inform my training approaches over everything else.

When it comes to the best split for upper body muscle, I can’t look any further than the push pull workout split. 

When a client comes to me looking specifically to add size and strength to their upper body, this is the approach I’m taking.

I’ll spend this article explaining why, and share the kind of workouts I use to help them achieve their goals.

A person working out hard with a barbell

Push Pull Workout: Benefit of this particular split

A quick three benefits of the push pull split over some of the other upper body training options you have…

Push pull workout benefits

Benefit 1: Achieve true strength balance

My problem with an upper body split of ‘back/shoulders/chest/arms’ is that it’s not balanced.

Most shoulder exercises are going to be push exercises, so you end up with a program that’s heavily weighted in favor of pushing. This can lead to injury problems down the road.

As I’ve discussed several times in my shoulder exercises article, I think most people do too much pushing in their workouts, which is why shoulder injuries are so common among gym goers. 

With a push pull workout split, you match your pushing with pulling, so you achieve a much better strength and muscle balance.

This means you can avoid many of the common injuries you’d be at risk of in general training.

You also create a much more even physique, so you’re not ‘all chest and no back’, which creates that hunched gorilla look.

Benefit 2: Allows for optimal recovery

When you train opposing muscle groups on separate days, your muscles have more time to recover and grow.

This is because pushing and pulling exercises work different muscle groups, so you’re not putting the same muscles under stress two days in a row.

I understand there are crossovers between the two, but as a general rule you are always placing more of the work on opposing muscles.

This means the chest, shoulders and triceps will be working more on a push day and the back, rear delts and biceps would be working more on a pull day. 

This recovery time is important because it’s when the muscles will rest and grow. Too much work would lead to significant overtraining and compromise gains.

Benefit 3: It’s more efficient

Since you’re training half of your upper body each day (as opposed to a third if you break it down into chest, back, shoulders), you can get a full workout in a shorter amount of time.

This makes a push pull workout split a great option for people who are short on time or who want to maximize their results in the gym.

If you were to follow a push pull workout plan, you’re getting a full upper body workout in two training sessions.

In 4 workouts across the week, you’ve achieved a great training stimulus. If you were following a back/shoulders/chest/arms split for example, it’s taking you 4 workouts to do the same.

A push pull workout split is twice as efficient as a back/shoulders/chest/arms split, and a third more efficient than a chest/back/shoulders split.

Choose your training time wisely if you want to maximize efficiency, muscle gains and reduce the risk of injury.

5 Steps to use the “Push Pull Workout” to get a bigger, stronger upper body…

Push pull workout general infographic

Step 1: Choose exercises wisely

We know that in order to build muscle we need a few different variables – mechanical tension and metabolic stress being two of the most important ones.

This was highlighted by Brad Schoenfeld in his 2010 review paper – The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training.

What that means is we need to pick our exercises wisely.

Rather than waste time with exercises that don’t create muscle mechanical tension and metabolic stress, we need to pick movements that adequately challenge our muscles.

This means we pick large, multi-joint compound exercises.

Movements such as presses, rows, pull ups, push ups etc are far more effective than curls, lat raises etc. 

It’s not to say that curls, lat raises, press downs and the like are bad exercises – they’re not. It’s just that there’s a time and a place for them.

We’ll still include them in this push pull workout program, but they won’t form the basis of it. They’re additional extras.

Step 2: Follow an appropriate training schedule

You tread a fine balance with an intense training program.

On one hand you want to maximize the impact of the exercise through load, intensity and volume. On the other hand, you need to optimize rest and recovery so you can grow.

If the focus is on growing upper body size and strength, you will have to compromise on cardio and some leg training, but there isn’t enough time to optimize for everything, all of the time.

The suggested push pull workout split looks like this:

  • Day 1: Push (chest, shoulders, triceps)
  • Day 2: Pull (back, biceps, rear delts)
  • Day 3: Legs and abs (lower body workout)
  • Day 4: Push (chest, shoulders, triceps)
  • Day 5: Pull (back, biceps, abs)
  • Day 6: Rest
  • Day 7: Optional active recovery (such as yoga or light cardio)

By following this split you’re training your upper body 4 times per week, giving a nice balance of stimulation and recovery.

You’re also managing to get a leg session in, so you’re not completely neglecting your lower body and abs either. 

The 6th session of the week (the active recovery one) is purely optional.

It’s not necessary, it’s merely there if you feel you want to do it.

A person doing pull ups

Step 3: Warm up thoroughly

The overarching point of the warm up is preparation. You are preparing your body for what it’s about to do, so warm ups shouldn’t be generic. They share some basic principles…

  • Increase your heart rate and blood flow, which prepares your muscles for activity.
  • Increase your range of motion, which can help to prevent injuries.
  • Warm up your muscles, which makes them more pliable and less likely to tear.
  • Mentally prepare you for your workout.

In order to tick those boxes appropriately, we have to consider the workout we’re about to do. It’s only then that you can perform a warm up with the work ahead in mind.

For a push pull workout, we need to focus on the upper body. Sitting on a bike for 5 minutes just isn’t going to cut it – the upper body needs to be warm.

Push pull workout warm-up

Warming up for a push pull workout

Here’s a warm up that will be sufficient for the workouts in this program. It will take around 7-10 minutes to complete, and you’ll be fully prepared for the exercises you’re about to do. 

  • 5 Minutes on a rower, air bike, ski erg, cross trainer or similar.

Then 2 sets of 10…

Complete the warm up with a single passive hang lasting 20 seconds. This is to help improve shoulder and thoracic spine mobility.

Your technique will improve thanks to the increased range of motion at the joint, and your injury risk will drop. 

You’ll then be ready to get on with the workout. 

Step 4: Look to progress each week

Depending on where you are in your training journey, you should be looking to make some measure of progress every week.

If you’re brand new to training, you’ll be making dramatic improvements to your strength on a weekly basis.

As a general rule, if you’re new to training you should be looking to add around 2-5% to your weights each week.

Don’t be tempted to rush progress because you could end up lifting with poor technique. Your progression should NEVER come at the expense of exercise form.  

If you’re experienced in the gym and have plenty of years training under your belt, you might not make the dramatic strength gains.

That’s OK – you could look to increase weights when possible, and seek for other measures of progress.

That could include shorter rest periods, slower tempo during a lift or adding in an additional set.

Don’t compare yourself to others. This is your journey – just keep working hard.

Step 5: Eat for growth

This is a program designed to increase strength and size, so you need to fuel the workload.

I wouldn’t suggest that you use this workout program for fat loss (use these workouts instead), so the training you do here should be fuelled by plenty of food!

We go into detail on the principles of nutrition for fitness in this guide.

It’ll help to teach you how to eat for your workouts, ensuring that you are consuming the right amount of types of food to train well and recover fully. 

You’ll still need to consume healthy food, but the volume and intensity of this program means you can do so without gaining fat. 

Make sure that alongside your daily food consumption, you pay particular attention to your post workout recovery foods.

You need to ensure that your protein consumption, your fluid intake and your carb intake are sufficient (see nutrition for fitness guide for more detailed information on this).

Keep caffeine and alcohol intake to a minimum so you don’t disrupt your sleep patterns. 

Push Pull Workout – The Efficiency Split

In this section we’re going to go into more detail about the workouts and the execution of the exercises.

We’re going to split the program into four different workouts, each containing 6 exercises. The warm up is the same for all of the workouts.

Push Workout 1

Push pull workout exercises infographic 1

The first push workout of the week is designed to hit the chest, shoulders and triceps with plenty of volume and lots of different angles.

We end with bottoms up kettlebell presses to focus on shoulder health and stability. There’s no heavy work in here, it’s a pure volume session.

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press410
Push Up on Handles412
Dumbbell Shoulder Press48-10
Landmine Press410 (per side)
Parallel Bar Dips410
Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press410 (per side)

1. Incline dumbbell bench press

Probably my favorite form of pressing movement – certainly the one I use the most in my programming.

An incline dumbbell bench press forces each side to work independently, it allows for a greater range of movement than with a barbell.

The incline also allows for additional shoulder work to be included into a predominantly chest exercise. 

I think dumbbells are more home gym friendly for this exercise, because if you use a barbell you’d need to open a power rack. Dumbbells get around this.  

Equipment needed for incline dumbbell bench press:

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

Strong Home Gym incline dumbbell bench press form tips:

  • Set the bench to a slight incline 
  • Lie back and position dumbbells over your chest
  • Use either an overhand or neutral grip
  • Lower the dumbbells towards your chest
  • Feel a stretch at the bottom
  • Press dumbbells back to a full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not lowering dumbbells far enough
  • Going too heavy
  • Setting incline too steep

2. Dumbbell push ups

The increased range of motion of the dumbbell push up is key to making this exercise more effective.

It increases the recruitment of stabilizing muscles in the shoulders and lats, which means the muscles do additional work throughout the exercise. It also gives you more time under tension.

As a final pro tip, you can add weight to your back and slow the tempo down to make this a SUPER challenging exercise.

Equipment needed for dumbbell push ups:

Strong Home Gym dumbbell push up form tips:

  • Place dumbbells directly under each shoulder
  • Start with arms fully extended 
  • Lower yourself until you’ve reached full depth
  • The chest should reach 1-inch above ground 
  • Feel the stretch across the chest and shoulders.
  • Press back up to a straight arm position.
  • Repeat as many times as required.

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not lowering chest far enough
  • Letting lower back sag

3. Dumbbell shoulder press

In this exercise the dumbbells allow free movement and provide the most comfortable lifting position.

They allow either a neutral or pronated grip, to support shoulder, elbow and wrist health.

They’re unilateral, so train both sides equally. Keep the core braced throughout to protect the back and prevent lordosis.

Don’t be tempted to go too heavy because you can destroy form easily here.

Instead, focus on maximizing the range of movement in this exercise to get the most out of it. Stay slow and controlled with your movement.

Equipment needed for dumbbell shoulder press:

Strong Home Gym dumbbell shoulder press form tips:

  • Stand upright holding dumbbells at shoulder height
  • Use either a neutral or pronated grip
  • Press the dumbbells directly overhead
  • Reach full extension and pause
  • Lower the dumbbells back to starting position
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not lowering dumbbells far enough
  • Not pressing dumbbells high enough
  • Arching lower back
  • Not keeping core tight

4. Landmine press

The landmine press can be used as both a shoulder and a chest exercise. It also works the core and lower back too, because you have to prevent the rotation through the core.

It’s a perfect exercise for combat athletes, throwers and strength sports athletes.

It’s a unilateral exercise so it balances the body well. There’s more technique element than other presses, but that’s no bad thing!

Equipment needed for landmine press:

  • Landmine attachment (or plate in the corner of the room)
  • Barbell
  • Plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plate
Read our best bumper plates guide here

Bumper plates are ideal for a home gym.

They can last a lifetime and allow you to do additional lifts which require you to drop the bar.

Our team has compared over 100 types and the Rogue Fleck plates came out on top.

They are great value, use color allowing you to quickly see how much you’re lifting and the pattern will give your home gym a unique look.

Strong Home Gym landmine press form tips:

  • Stand leaning slightly forwards.
  • Keep your core tight.
  • Take the loaded barbell in your hand.
  • Press the barbell away from you.
  • Return it to the starting position.
  • Resist rotating your torso on return.
  • Repeat as many times as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Going too heavy and rotating
  • Not stabilizing torso with opposite site
  • Overuse of the legs

5. Parallel bar dips

Dips are a great push exercise. They are similar to a decline bench in that they hit the chest muscles from a lower position, plus they require a lot of input from the triceps and shoulders.

They’re a safe exercise, stretch the chest and shoulders effectively and allow you to strengthen stabilizing muscles as well. 

They are great for shoulder and chest health because they really ‘open up’ the front of your body. Maximize the range of movement to get the most from the exercise. 

Equipment needed for dips:

  • Parallel bars
  • Power tower or power rack with dip attachments

Strong Home Gym dip form tips:

  • Start position has arms at full extension
  • Leaning forward slightly
  • Initiate movement by pushing elbows back
  • Continue descent until full elbow bend
  • Feel full pectoral muscle stretch
  • Pause and push back up to full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not reaching full stretch of chest
  • Not pushing to full arm extension

6. Bottoms up kettlebell press

These are one of the most humbling exercises you can do.

They’re so much tougher than you expect! The single sided element engages the core more fully, and the unilateral element builds strength in both sides.

Keep the movement slow and steady throughout. 

I like this exercise here because it’s really forcing you to work hard at a time when your upper body is fatigued.

You might need to drop the weight much lower thank normal to make this exercise work for you. 

Equipment needed for bottoms up kettlebell press:

  • A single kettlebell

Strong Home Gym bottoms up kettlebell press form tips:

  • Stand upright, holding an upside down kettlebell
  • The kettlebell should be at head height
  • Slowly press the kettlebell overhead
  • At full extension, slowly lower the kettlebell
  • Pause when kettlebell is at head height
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Rushing the movement – stay slow
  • Not going full range
  • Going too heavy and losing form

Note: Once you go through the push pull workout, be sure to also check out our separate push day and pull day workouts.

Pull Workout 1

Push pull workout exercises infographic 2

The first pull workout opens up with a medium-heavy deadlift.

We then work through a high volume session.

We’re hitting pull ups and inverted rows to failure, so there’s a lot of work for the back to go through in the workout. This is going to push you hard.

Pull Ups 3To Failure
Chest Supported Row410
Single Arm Row410 (per side)
Inverted Row4To Failure
Face Pulls315

7. Deadlifts

The king of exercises, Deadlifts are the biggest and heaviest pull we have.

They’re a foundation human movement with huge crossover into other patterns and physical abilities.

Used properly, they can build strength, reduce injury risk and ofer huge variety to a program. 

Deadlifts are often seen as the king of exercises, and it’s a claim with plenty of support.

They are used in this case to combine a medium-heavy weight with volume to strengthen the lower back.

They’re early in the workout because I want you to be fresh when you do them.

Equipment needed for deadlifts:

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.

Strong Home Gym deadlift form tips:

  • Grip on the bar about shoulder width apart
  • Bend your legs and keep your back straight
  • Lift your chest up
  • Drive through the legs keeping arms straight
  • Lift the bar to hip height
  • At the top of the movement squeeze the glutes together 
  • Reverse the movement on the way down 

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Going too heavy
  • Rounding the back
  • Driving the legs first – legs and back should move together

8. Pull ups

Pull ups are a great vertical pull movement that train and stretch the lats well. They’re tough for many, and if you can’t make 5 reps, use a band for assistance.

As and when you don’t need the extra help, simply remove it.

Pull ups are possible in almost all home gyms, making them ideal in this workout.

They’re a simple technique to learn, but hard to do. If you can do pull ups well, add weight to ensure you fail at the 10 rep mark.

Make sure you perform full pull ups, starting and ending the movement from a dead hang.

Equipment needed for pull ups:

Strong Home Gym pull up form tips:

  • Hold the pull up bar with an overhand grip 
  • Grip slightly around shoulder width
  • Lean back and pull chest to bar 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together 
  • When chest reaches the bar slowly lower yourself
  • Repeat the movement

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not lowering to full extension
  • Not pulling chest to bar

9. Chest supported dumbbell rows

This is a diagonal  row pattern that allows you to lift a lot of weight. There’s no need for the lower back to support a heavy weight, because the bench takes care of that for you.

This makes it really lower-back friendly, which is great after deadlifting earlier in the workout. 

The ability to move freely and adjust grip are also benefits of the exercise.

In addition, the fact that it’s unilateral means that both arms will work as hard as each other, minimizing any imbalance in effort and strength gain.

Equipment needed for chest supported dumbbell rows:

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

Strong Home Gym chest supported dumbbell rows tips:

  • Set the bench to a moderate incline 
  • Hold the dumbbells straight down
  • Pull the dumbbells up towards your torso
  • Squeezing shoulder blades together at the top
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells
  • Dumbbells shouldn’t touch the floor
  • Repeat as many times as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Lowering dumbbells to floor
  • Setting the bench incline too steep

10. Single arm rows

The single arm dumbbell row is another one of the ‘bank’ of exercises we have come to rely on over the years.

They’re unilateral, so work both sides and engage the core (important, as you’ve come to learn).

They also spare the lower back whilst lifting a heavy weight, which is also a good risk-reduction measure.

The single arm row is a perfect opportunity to add a little extra rotation into a lift as well, which has a great sporting crossover benefit. 

Equipment needed for single arm rows:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbell

Strong Home Gym single arm row tips:

  • Place non-lifting hand on bench
  • Place the same knee on bench
  • Lifting side foot on the floor
  • Back straight, dumbbell below the shoulder
  • Pull dumbbell up to torso
  • Squeeze shoulder blade in at the top
  • Lower dumbbell to full arm extension
  • Repeat as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not lifting through full range
  • Not squeezing shoulder blade at the top

11. Inverted rows

Inverted rows are a great way to train grip, scapular retraction, core and spinal stability in one go.

It’s a simple set up, doesn’t need much in the way of technique and has a lot of additional bicep and shoulder training benefits. 

Inverted rows are here as a volume play. Being a bodyweight exercise, most people can do them so they’re an accessible exercise, but they’re tough.

As always, focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together throughout the movement. Remember, the intensity here builds quickly.

Equipment needed for inverted rows:

Strong Home Gym inverted row tips:

  • Secure your bar in place
  • Secure your feet
  • Keep your back straight throughout
  • Lower yourself away from the bar
  • When arms are fully extended, pause
  • Pull yourself back up to the bar
  • Squeeze shoulder blades together at the top
  • Repeat as many times as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not lifting through full range
  • Not squeezing shoulder blades at the top
  • Rushing

12. Face pulls

The classic rear delt exercise, the face pulls are in here to help protect the shoulders. With the volume of pushing and pulling, our shoulders need some TLC every now and again.

These are a great way to provide it!

Make a point of squeezing the shoulder blades together at the top of the movement, and really focus on the full range of movement here.

You don’t need to go very heavy, but you need to be challenged by the movement. Quality of execution is the most important element of the exercise. 

Equipment needed for face pulls:

  • Cable station (ideal)
  • Rope handles

If you don’t have those, then you can perform it with…

  • Squat rack
  • Resistance band

Strong Home Gym face pulls tips:

  • Set the cable to face height
  • Stand 1.5 arms length away 
  • Hold the cable at full arm extension
  • Keep elbows high and pull 
  • As hands reach your head, pause
  • Slowly extend arms to start position
  • Repeat

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Standing too close to the machine
  • Not squeezing shoulder blades at the top
  • Letting hands drop

Push Workout 2

Push pull workout exercises infographic 3

The second push workout starts off with a medium-heavy bench press.

This sets the tone for more heavy work in the session, including the heavy push press and the single arm bench, which forces each side to engage.

It’s a big workout for the chest. 

Flat Barbell Bench Press58
Decline Dumbbell Bench Press312
Push Press56
Single Arm Bench Press58 (per side)
Arnold Press 312
Tricep Pushdown315

13. Flat barbell bench press

I couldn’t put together a list of push exercises without the most famous of all – the barbell bench press.

It’s not just a popular exercise because it gives you a great chest pump and helps you stroke your ego… it’s also a super effective exercise. 

The barbell bench press hits your chest, shoulders and triceps. It also allows you to push serious weight.

We’re using it here as a volume exercise. It’s a medium-heavy weight and lots of sets. A big opener!

Equipment needed for barbell bench press:

  • Barbell 
  • Weight plates
  • Bench

Strong Home Gym barbell bench press tips:

  • Grip the bar just wider than shoulders 
  • Push feet firmly into the ground
  • Lift the bar over your chest
  • Lower the barbell over your chest
  • When the bar reaches your chest, pause
  • Drive bar directly back upwards
  • Repeat as many times as required.

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Grip too narrow
  • Going too heavy
  • Not hitting full depth

14. Decline dumbbell bench press

Decline dumbbell bench press is a very effective way of hitting the lower chest. It’s also a really easy set up, even if you don’t have a decline bench.

Simply stack a couple of plates underneath the leg end of a to create a sufficient decline angle. 

It’s the best way to hit the lower chest with a large range of movement. The unilateral element is important, and the exercise is very home gym friendly.

An ideal addition here and a nice variation of the bench press.

Equipment needed for decline bench press:

  • Barbell
  • Bench
  • Plates if your bench doesn’t decline

Strong Home Gym decline bench press tips:

  • Set bench to a slight decline
  • Lower dumbbells to sides of chest
  • Reach a full chest stretch
  • At full depth, press back
  • Repeat

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Decline set too steep
  • Going too heavy
  • Not lifting through full range

15. Push press

Whilst the push press shares many similarities with the military press, there is one key difference – the use of the legs in the movement.

By using the legs to drive the barbell up, rather than just using the arms and shoulders, you can lift a lot more weight with the push press. 

The benefit here is that it’s great for power generation, it’s a more ‘whole-body’ movement and has excellent sports crossover.

Just make sure with the extra weight you are keeping your form tight. 

Equipment needed for push press:

  • Barbell
  • Plates

Strong Home Gym push press form tips:

  • Hold the bar on your chest
  • Maintain core rigidity throughout
  • Dip your knees into a quarter squat 
  • Drive the bar upwards with your legs
  • Using momentum, push the bar overhead 
  • At full overhead extension pause
  • ‘Drop’ the bar back into the rack position
  • Absorb impact with a quarter squat 
  • Repeat as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not using enough leg drive
  • Not reaching full extension

16. Single arm bench press

A single sided bench press is a challenging exercise for several reasons. First of all, it’s single sided, you have to really work hard through your core to stop your torso from rotating.

It means it’s a core exercise as well as a chest exercise. The fact that it’s a dumbbell exercise makes it inherently harder than a barbell exercise too.

The additional range of movement because it’s a dumbbell exercise makes it tougher because movement is not restricted by the bar.

Finally, being a single-sided exercise it forces both sides to work equally hard. Finally, ensure you help stabilize the torso by driving your feet into the floor. 

Equipment needed for single arm dumbbell bench press:

  • Dumbbells
  • Bench

Strong Home Gym single arm dumbbell bench press form tips:

  • Hold a dumbbell in one hand 
  • Lie back and position over your chest
  • Lower the dumbbell outside the chest
  • Engage core to prevent rotation
  • Drive feet into the floor
  • At full depth, pause 
  • Drive the dumbbell back to full extension
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Allowing torso to rotate
  • Moving too fast – losing control
  • Not stabilizing body with feet

17. Arnold press

The Arnold press is credited to Arnold Schwarzenegger – whether that’s because he invented it or popularized it, I don’t know.

What I do know is that they’re an excellent push exercise and have become synonymous with bodybuilding.

They aren’t great for heavy lifting, but they’re effective, they include pressing and rotation and they’ll blow your shoulders up. They’re all wins in my book. 

Use a medium weight and control the movement with a slow lifting tempo. If you rush this exercise you’ll lose a lot of the benefit of the unique movement pattern.

Equipment needed for Arnold presses:

  • Dumbbells
  • A bench

Strong Home Gym Arnold press form tips:

  • Sit upright with dumbbells
  • Keep dumbbells at chest height
  • Palms face your chest
  • Press the dumbbells overhead
  • Rotating dumbbells as you press
  • Rotate the dumbbells back on return
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not completing rotation both ways
  • Using too light a weight

18. Tricep pushdown

The tricep pushdown is an accessory exercise to really isolate the triceps. In this program it serves as a way to really maximize the effort put in by the muscle at the end of the workout.

Everything else in the workout up to this point is a compound exercise. The pushdown is almost like a tricep finisher in this circumstance, so to speak. 

The benefits are twofold. On one hand it can help to increase muscle size, making your arms bigger.

It’s also a great way to improve your elbow health too, which is something we often overlook in muscle building programs. 

Equipment needed for Arnold presses:

  • Dumbbells
  • A bench

How to do Arnold presses:

  • Sit upright with dumbbells
  • Keep dumbbells at chest height
  • Palms face your chest
  • Press the dumbbells overhead
  • Rotating dumbbells as you press
  • Rotate the dumbbells back on return
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not completing rotation both ways
  • Using too light a weight

Pull Workout 2

Push pull workout exercises infographic 4

We start this workout with a heavy focus on strength and power. This comes by way of heavy trap bar deadlifts and hang power cleans.

These should both be heavy weights designed to push you. The rest of the exercises are multiple-angle pull variations. 

Trap Bar Deadlift55
Hang Power Clean53
Pendlay Row410
Chin Up4To Failure
Single Arm Cable Pulldown48
Dumbbell Seal Row410

19. Low handle hex/trap bar deadlifts

I generally like to program this movement with the low handles because it engages the legs more, but that’s not the aim here.

In this instance I want you to lift with the high handles because our target is for you to train the lower back and spinal erectors.

Being strong here has large athletic crossover and injury resistance benefits.

This is programmed as a strength movement, so I want you to lift as heavy as you can with good form.

It’s first in line in the workout because I want you to be at your freshest as you perform the lift. 

Equipment needed for hex/trap bar deadlifts:

  • Hex/trap bar 
  • Weight plates

Strong Home Gym hex/trap bar deadlift form tips:

  • Line up hands with the barbell sleeves
  • Bend your legs, keep your back straight 
  • Arms straight, chest up
  • Drive through your legs
  • Squeeze the glutes together at the top 
  • Reverse the movement on the way down 
  • Repeat as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not keeping back straight
  • Driving legs too early
  • Not controlling descent

20. Hang power cleans

The hang clean is a favorite exercise of mine, because it helps the lifter to work on power generation through the back and hips.

The requirement for a powerful hip extension trains the lower back and glutes. The rest of the power generation comes through the muscles of the mid and upper back. 

It’s a fantastic way to train explosive pulls, and it spares the legs in a way that normal cleans (my weightlifting background won’t let me call them ‘squat cleans’) don’t.

Go medium weight here, but lift powerfully. 

Equipment needed for hang power cleans:

  • Barbell
  • Bumper Plates

Strong Home Gym hang clean form tips:

  • Assume overhand or hook grip
  • Deadlift the bar to standing position
  • Tilt your chest forward 
  • Push your hips back
  • Keep back straight throughout 
  • Drive hips forward, pulling bar to chest 
  • Drive elbows underneath the bar
  • ‘Drop’ into quarter squat position
  • Stand up to finish the movement
  • Repeat

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not keeping back straight
  • Not catching bar in quarter squat

21. Pendlay row

Following on with our strength and power theme in this section, we’re adding the Pendlay row to the mix.

The Pendlay row is an explosive, powerful version of the standard bent over row. You touch the floor with the bar between reps, which helps to maximize the range of movement. 

Where the trap bar deadlift and hang power cleans target the lower back, the Pendlay row hits the mid and upper back. It’s a great way to build mid and upper back muscle and strength.

Equipment needed for the Pendlay row:

  • Barbell
  • Plates

Strong Home Gym Pendlay row form tips:

  • Torso angle parallel to the floor
  • Hold bar with an overhand grip 
  • Hands slightly wider than shoulders
  • Pull the bar towards your chest with power
  • Don’t allow torso to lift as you pull
  • Lower bar under control to floor
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Torso angle too high
  • Bar not touching floor
  • Not lifting powerfully

22. Chin ups

In my opinion, chin ups belong in most pulling programs. They’re more accessible for most than pull ups, but they also hit the biceps harder.

Personally (and this is anecdotal), I also feel them hit my lats more. Plus, they give great variety in your pulls. In this workout, they serve as a volume exercise (we’re going to muscular failure).

If you can’t complete 5 reps, use a band for assistance. As and when you don’t need the extra help, simply remove it.

If you can do pull ups well, add weight to ensure you fail at the 10 rep mark. 

Equipment needed for chin ups:

  • Chin up bar
  • Band (if required)

Strong Home Gym chin up form tips:

  • Hold the bar with an underhand grip 
  • Grip slightly around shoulder width
  • Lean back and pull chest to bar 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together 
  • When chest reaches the bar slowly descend
  • Repeat the movement

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not lowering to full extension
  • Not pulling chest to bar

23. Single arm cable pulldown

I like this exercise a lot for exaggerating the length of the pull. It really works the lats through a long range of movement.

If you add a twist into the end (optional), you hit the biceps a bit more too. It’s a great muscle-builder and doesn’t have much in the way of complex technique to learn. 

You can perform this exercise with a rope tied around a dumbbell and hung over a power rack if you don’t have a cable station, so it’s still home gym friendly!

You don’t need to use a bench either if you don’t want to – this works just as well kneeling or half-kneeling.

Equipment needed for single arm cable pulldown:

  • Cable station and grip
  • Power rack and dumbbell (if no cable station)

Strong Home Gym single arm cable pulldown form tips:

  • Position handle high as possible
  • Pull down smoothly
  • Squeeze shoulder blade in through lift 
  • Pause when handle reaches the torso
  • Slowly return to start position
  • Repeat as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not extending to full range
  • Not squeezing shoulder blade in
  • Lifting too heavy or light

24. Dumbbell seal row

The dumbbell seal row is a fantastic pull exercise. It’s heavy-weight friendly because it spares your lower back. It hits the upper and mid back well.

It provides a full range of movement, which stretches the upper back. It’s home gym friendly and there’s almost no technique to learn. All in all, a great addition to a pull workout!

You don’t need plyo boxes like the video to lift your bench. You can do it easily by placing it on a few stacked weight plates.

Equipment needed for dumbbell seal row:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbells
  • Plates for stacking

Strong Home Gym dumbbell seal row form tips:

  • Position dumbbells directly below shoulders
  • Pull dumbbells up to the torso
  • Squeeze shoulder blades at top of movement
  • Slowly lower to start position
  • Repeat as required

This concludes the push pull workout split program. Your most efficient way to build serious upper body muscle.

Get yourself familiar with the exercises and ensure you maintain proper form throughout your training sessions.

Push Pull Workout for Upper Body Muscle: The bottom line

Across these workouts, you’ll hit your upper body hard.

It’s an all-encompassing push pull workout program, including high and low reps, different angles, different times under tension and alternative ways to perform exercises you already know.

By following this split and combining it with the dietary advice shared earlier, you’ll transform your upper body in 6 weeks.

Train the 4 workouts across the whole week, ideally not 4 consecutive days because your upper body will need the rest. 

So, re-read the article, save the workouts, and get busy in your gym – you’ve got a push pull workout split to perform!

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Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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