How does the “push-pull” principle work in strength training?

Anyone who lifts weights regularly cannot avoid the “push-pull” training principle. This involves dividing certain exercises into different days. fitness teacher dr. Stephan Geisler* explains the benefits and reveals how to implement this type of training sensibly.

The “push-pull” principle is a form of so-called “split training”. This, in turn, has its origins in classic bodybuilding and is intended to promote faster muscle growth through the optimal sequence of stress and recovery for the muscles. Studies show that split training is ideal for increasing strength.1 “To push” is English for “to press” and “to pull” means “to pull”. What this means is that you train the muscles involved in the training sessions with pulling movements separately from those involved in the stretching and pushing movements. Actually quite simple. Transferred to weights, all you have to ask yourself is: do I push or pull?

The principle of strength training using the “push-pull” method

“When I train the chest on Mondays, for example when I bench press, the arm is pushed forward and straightened,” explains Professor Geisler. “Consequently, all the muscles working together are integrated into the pushing movements.” If you reverse this sequence of movement, the result is rowing, “that is, a pulling movement for the flexor muscles of the arm, biceps and the like,” explains the expert.

If you design your training according to the “push-pull” principle, it is important to divide the mentioned types of exercise into different days. Split training is particularly helpful if you’re specifically working on building muscle. It is best for beginners to start with a push-pull split and a leg day, i.e. leg training and, if necessary, in combination with abdominal training. In other words, the training takes place over a total of three days. With advanced users, the frequency increases.

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Muscles or muscle groups after pushing or pulling

The muscles that are most likely to perform pushing movements are:

  • Breast
  • front and middle shoulder
  • triceps

The muscles or muscle groups that are most likely to perform pulling movements are:

  • the back
  • biceps
  • forearms
  • back of shoulder

Classic push-up training exercises

Classic pull training exercises.

What could a week of push-pull training look like?

Beginner

  • Monday: push
  • Tuesday: rest day
  • Wednesday: Throw
  • Thursday: rest day
  • Friday: Leg day (and abs training if needed)
  • Saturday: rest day
  • Sunday: rest day

advanced

  • Monday: push
  • Tuesday: pull
  • Wednesday: Leg day (and abs workout if needed)
  • Thursday: rest day
  • friday: push
  • Saturday: Throw
  • Sunday: Leg day (and abs training if needed)

Sources

* About the person: Prof. Dr. Stephan Geisler is Professor of Fitness and Health Management at the IST University Düsseldorf and Professor of Olympic Weightlifting at the German Sport University Cologne. There he also did his doctorate in the field of molecular sports medicine. His focus in research and teaching is strength training. He has been a student coach and physical trainer for many years and is the author of several international specialist publications. He gives tips and tricks for athletes and coaches on his Fitnessprofessor YouTube channel and on Facebook.

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