BlogPhysical ActivityPush-Pull Workout Routine for Beginners: The List of Exercises to Tone Your Body

Push-Pull Workout Routine for Beginners: The List of Exercises to Tone Your Body

Mariia Roza
Written by Mariia Roza on July 13, 2021

Table of contents

Push-pull workout splits are highly popular among professional bodybuilders, athletes, and average Joes who have a gym membership. This type of workout is not only a highly efficient way of weight lifting and resistance training, but it also helps you spend less time at the gym and recover better.

Get your 100% personalized meal plan by completing our 3-min quiz

Get your 100% personalized meal plan by completing our 3-min quiz

None of the known diets should be followed without considering your unique body needs, preferences, and goals

Start Quiz

If you don’t know how to start lifting weights, here are lists of push and pull exercises. Some of them are appropriate for at-home workouts, and some require specific machines at the gym. Check them out and choose what will work best for you.

Push-pull split: Explaining what is push-pull exercises routine

Push exercises for the upper and lower body are the ones when you push something from yourself. For example, when you push all your body off the ground with push-ups or push your upper body with glutes and hamstrings in squats. These exercises are focused on large anterior muscle groups of the chest, shoulders, and quadriceps

Pull exercises are those when you pull something towards yourself. For example, when you pull yourself closer to the bar in chin-ups or pull a dumbbell to yourself in bicep curls. Pull exercises help you work on your posterior muscles of the back, rear delts, glutes, and hamstrings.

This classification doesn’t mean that you don’t work on your front muscles, like abs, when doing pull-ups or that your glutes don’t participate in squats. In compound movements, you incorporate a lot of large muscle groups. However, you focus more on back muscles with pull exercises and front muscles when doing a push workout. Combining push and pull exercises increases your chances of getting a well-balanced body.

Do push-pull workouts help you lose weight? According to science(1), resistance training (including weight lifting) engages large muscle groups and is as efficient for weight loss as aerobic exercises. It can help you improve your body composition and lose fat in the long term by increasing your metabolism.

List of push exercises with examples

You can compose your whole routine around push exercises as they can engage almost all muscle groups. The best push exercises include push-ups and bench press. Here is a more variable list of exercises that work both on your upper and lower body.

Bench press | Shutterstock
Bench press | Shutterstock

Lower body push exercises

  • Goblet squats work best on the quadriceps and glutes. If you’re working out at home and don’t have goblets or dumbbells, you can always opt for a large bottle of water.
  • Back squats are one of the best exercises to strengthen your body. However, if you’re new to the bar, ask a certified trainer to check your position. Back squats can cause injuries in your lower back or knees if you use the wrong stance.
  • Bulgarian split squat also works on quads and glutes. In this exercise, you’re holding a dumbbell and doing squats while one of your legs is up. 
  • Glute bridge works on your glutes and also engages your abs, lower back, and hamstrings. 
  • Leg press works on different muscle groups depending on your foot placement. Choose the narrow stance to work on your outer thigh muscles or a wide stance to tone your inner thighs.
Bulgarian split squat
Bulgarian split squat

Tip: Don’t forget to warm up your chest and shoulders before you start a workout. It can be as quick as five to ten minutes, but adding it to your routine will help you avoid injuries.

Upper body push exercises 

  • Incline machine press helps you work on the front part of the shoulder and upper chest.
  • Lateral raise, both seated and standing, works on your lateral deltoids. 
  • Chest dips work primarily on your chest; however, your delts and triceps are also engaged.
  • Incline dumbbell fly work on pectorals.
  • Triceps cable push downs are pretty efficient to build triceps and deal with flabby arms.
Lateral raise | Shutterstock
Lateral raise | Shutterstock

Shoulder push exercises

  • The overhead press is an exercise where you press a bar up and put it down to your chest level.
  • Behind the neck overhead press is also performed with the bar, but you put it down to your neck in this case. This exercise engages your medial deltoid.
  • The dumbbell shoulder press is performed seated and works more on stabilization of your shoulders.
The overhead press | Shutterstock
The overhead press | Shutterstock

Horizontal push exercises

  • Bench press. Lay on a bench and push a bar that lays in front of your chest. Don’t forget to make a slight arch in your lower back,
  • Dumbbell incline bench press works best on your pcs as dumbbells are floating, and your chest should be all-time constrained to balance them.
  • Push-ups. They’re the same inverted bench press you can perform using the weight of your body. Push-up is one of the best compound movements of all time. Can’t do a proper push-up? Check out our 5-step guide to your first push-up right below.
Bench press | Shutterstock
Bench press | Shutterstock

Five exercises to help with push-ups

Physiologically(2), females are not as strong as males, and for that reason, it’s much harder for a woman to do a proper push-up. Nothing is impossible, though! To add strength to your arms, shoulders, and chest, do these five exercises, and soon you will be able to perform push-ups like a pro.

Push-up plank hold

To do a push-up, you have to strengthen your core. Hold the plank position for at least 30 seconds and make four reps. You can also do some retractions by pulling your shoulders back and forward. 

Push-up plank hold | Shutterstock
Push-up plank hold | Shutterstock

Forearm push-ups

This exercise will strengthen your arms. It works on the elbow extension, strengthens the tricep and the shoulder joints, and helps with shoulder stabilization. To perform it, hold the plank position on the forearms and push yourself up with one hand, alternating your hands. 

Push-ups negatives

Negative push-ups are when you focus on lowering yourself down very slowly and help push yourself back by standing on one knee. You’re concentrating on a lowering motion, not the pushing one. This exercise doesn’t take too much energy to perform, but it adds to your strength a lot. Your chest does most of the work in this exercise. 

Partial push-ups 

Put books or pillows under your chest so you don’t have to go all the way down or all the way up when performing push-ups.

Assisted push-up

This is the type of exercise you’ve already must have tried. Assist yourself in doing push-ups by standing on your knees and not your toes.

Assisted push-up | Shutterstock
Assisted push-up | Shutterstock

Push-ups on their own are a great exercise that works on your core, shoulders, chest, and arms. You can focus more on your triceps by placing your palms closer to the body and performing narrow-grip push-ups(3) or take some of the strain from your chest and triceps by choosing wide-grip push-ups.

List of pull exercises

Some women prefer push exercises and neglect pull workouts, and this is not the right approach if you’re aiming at a balanced physique. The thing is, pull exercises work on your back and rear delts, the muscles that are necessary if you’re doing some kind of sport or simply want to do your first chin-up. They are also essential for good posture.

Pay attention to pull-ups (chin-ups), barbell rows, and gable rows to make your back stronger. Here is a short top-10 list of pull exercises.

Pull-ups | Shutterstock
Pull-ups | Shutterstock
  • Wide grip lat pulldowns. Works on trapezius, deltoids, and lats (V-shaped back muscles, known as “wings”). An at-home alternative to this exercise is pull-ups and dumbbell rows. 
  • Close grip pulldown. In this exercise, you use the same machine, but your arms are much closer to each other. Because of this change, you activate slightly different muscles. Close grip takes some of the load from your lats and brings it to your chest.
  • Bent over barbell row. This is a compound exercise that incorporates your trapezius, deltoids, and lats. It also engages your bicep, tricep, forearms, glutes, and hamstrings. While doing this exercise, your back should be neutral and straight.
  • Barbell conventional deadlift. Excellent compound exercise that works on glutes, hamstrings, lower and upper back, quads, and core.
  • Hip thrust. You can do this exercise with dumbbells or a barbell. It’s quite easy to perform at home, and it’s one of the great pull exercises for glutes.
  • Standard Romanian deadlift. One of the all-muscle-included exercises. It works on the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, middle and upper back, trapezius, and forearms.
  • Single-leg Romanian deadlift. Along with adding to your muscles’ hypertrophy, a single-leg Romanian deadlift improves the ability of your body to stabilize itself, and it works on hip and ankle mobility. Muscles involved: Calves, glutes, hamstrings.
  • Bicep curl. Usually, curls and crunches work on specific, isolated muscles and don’t involve the whole body. For example, the bicep curl is focused on the bicep and forearm muscles. 
  • One-arm dumbbell row. Perfect exercise to work on your back, shoulder, and arm muscles. If one part of your body is less developed than the other, start with the lagging arm. 
  • Pull-ups. This is the king of all exercises, involving almost all your muscle groups. You can do wide-grip chin-ups to work more on your core and back, or you can try close grip to focus a bit more on your bicep and triceps. If you can’t do a proper pull-up (most women can’t do a chin-up without prior preparations), you can always opt for assisted pull-ups with a machine or a band.

4-day push/pull workout

Most certified trainers say that it’s better to split(4) your body into three parts and alternate push, pull, and leg days. This split routine is extremely easy to follow, and it helps you build muscles fast and efficiently. 

Another reason behind choosing push-pull workouts is that focusing on the one muscle group on day one and working on another part of your body on day two helps you avoid injuries that can happen if you overstrain certain muscle groups. 

Push-pull split means that you perform exercises on pushing muscles (chest, shoulders, triceps, quads) and pulling muscles (back, arms, hamstrings, glutes) and legs on different days of your week. This approach is less time-consuming than full-body workouts and is extremely popular in gyms.

Your push/pull/ week regimen might look like this:

  • Monday: Upper body push exercises
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Lower body push exercises
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Upper body pull exercises
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Lower body pull exercises

If you want to have more sports in your life but would like to avoid overtraining your body, you can add short circuit workouts on Saturdays or long cardio sessions on Sundays.

Tip: To overcome a fitness plateau, change your workout routine every couple of weeks. Change exercises you perform, their intensity, and the time you spend in the gym. 

This is an example of a push-pull split workout you can try to get a balanced physique. For maximum muscle hypertrophy, you should be a bit tired after each exercise. If the number of repetitions or sets is too large for you, you can always decrease them to your capabilities. You can also increase or reduce the load on your muscles by adding or dropping weights.

Day 1 (Push)

ExerciseMuscles incorporated
SquatsGlutes, hamstrings, quads, adductors
HyperextensionHamstrings, glutes, lower back
Bench pressChest, triceps, delts
Overhead pressShoulders
French extensionsTriceps 
Cable one-arm lateral raisesDeltoids
Hanging leg raisesAbdomen, obliques, hip flexors
Dumbbell calf raisesCalves
Ab crunchesAbdomen and obliques

Day 2 (Pull)

ExerciseMuscles incorporated
DeadliftHamstrings, glutes, back, core
Reverse lunges with dumbbellQuads, glutes, hamstrings
Chin-upsBiceps, triceps, shoulders, back, lats
One-arm dumbbell rowUpper and lower back, shoulders, biceps
Single-leg deadliftsHamstrings, glutes, ankles, core
Cable rowLats, shoulders
Hammer curlsBiceps, forearms
Lat pulldownLats, shoulders, deltoids, trapezius
Inside grip EZ-bar curlBiceps, forearms
Upright rowDelts and trapezius

Day 3 (Push)

ExerciseMuscles incorporated
Front squats with dumbbellsGlutes, hamstrings, quads
HyperextensionHamstrings, glutes, lower back
Leg extensionsQuads
Dumbbell bench pressChest, shoulders, triceps
Push-ups wide stanceChest, shoulders
Push-ups narrow stanceChest, deltoids, triceps
Cable press downTriceps, deltoids, forearms
Leg adductor machineHip adductors
Ab crunchesAbdomen and obliques
Dumbbell calf raisesCalves

Day 4 (Pull)

ExerciseMuscles incorporated
Romanian deadliftGlutes, hamstrings, quads
Prone leg curlHamstrings
Barbell rowLats, trapezius, delts, forearms
Lat pulldownLats, shoulders, deltoids, trapezius
Preacher curlBiceps
Pec deck butterflyChest and shoulders
Leg abductor machineHip abductors
Reverse pec deckDeltoids, trapezius, lats
Bayesian curlBiceps

Tips for muscle hypertrophy

  • Just going to the gym is not enough to build muscle. Muscle growth can be achieved much faster if you try progressive overload(5). This means you should try a bit harder every week or every month. Make a few reps more. Choose a bit heavier weights. Take shorter rests between sets. 
  • Most scientists(6) recommend a 360-480 calories surplus a day for those who want to gain muscle. There is no need to “bulk up” eating enormous food portions as most of these extra calories will be stored as fat.
  • Protein is vital(7) in protein synthesis and muscle growth. Make sure to eat 1.6-2.2 grams of protein per one kilogram of your body weight. If it’s challenging for you to increase your daily calorie intake or you can’t consume enough protein, you might benefit from trying out high-calorie protein shakes.
  • At the first stages of your new workout routine, you will see tremendous results quite fast. These are so-called “newbie gains.” At this point, you don’t need any kind of supplements. 
  • As the time comes and your body gets used to resistance training, you might benefit from some sports supplements. One of the supplements with an evidence-based(8) efficiency is creatine. Talk to your health provider before you start taking it, and do your research before buying any other kind of sports supplements (most of them don’t work).

All in all, work hard, eat a bit more, sleep well, and you will see results!

If these exercises are too advanced for you at the moment, you can start your way to the toned body by choosing shorter workouts at a moderate pace, composed by Unimeal experts. With the Unimeal app, you can get daily 10 to 20-minute workouts for any level of fitness.

Sources:

  • Stasser B., Schobersberger W. (2010, August 10). Evidence for Resistance Training as a Treatment Therapy in Obesity. Journal of Obesity. DOI: 10.1155/2011/482564
  • Haizlip K. M., Harrison B. C., Leinwand L. A. (2015, January). Sex-Based Differences in Skeletal Muscle Kinetics and Fiber-Type Composition. Physiology. DOI: 10.1152/physiol.00024.2014
  • Kim Y-S., Kim D-Y., Ha M-S. (2016, February). Effect of the Push-up Exercise at Different Palmar Width on Muscle Activities. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. DOI: 10.1589/jpts.28.446
  • Castanheira R. P. M., Ferreira-Junior J. B., Celes L. S., et al. (2017, December). Effects of Synergist vs. NonSynergist Split Resistance Training Routines on Acute Neuromuscular Performance in Resistance-Trained Men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001762
  • Peterson M. D., Pistilli E., Haff G. G., et al. (2010, November 27). Progression of Volume Load and Muscular Adaptation during Resistance Exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology. DOI: 10.1007/s00421-010-1735-9
  • Slater G. J., Dieter B. P., Marsh D. J., et al. (2019, August). Is an Energy Surplus Required to Maximize Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy Associated With Resistance Training? Frontiers in Nutrition. DOI: 10.3389/fnut.2019.00131
  • Stokes T., Hector A. J., Morton R. W., et al. (2018, February). Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Exercise Training. Nutrients. DOI: 10.3390/nu10020180
  • Kreider R. B. (2003, February). Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Performance and Training Adaptations. Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. PMID: 12701815