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The Push-Pull Intermediate Split

There’s nothing wrong, however, with training chest and triceps the day before I train legs. If my chest is sore when I go in to do legs, it won’t affect my leg workout. I also train deltoids the day before I train back and biceps—again, muscle groups that won’t affect one another.

Q: I’ve been doing a three-days-a-week full-body workout; however, I’m now lifting enough weight to where it’s exhausting doing squats, bench presses and deadlifts in one workout. I’m planning on changing to two exercises for each bodypart, which I believe you recommend in your book Natural Bodybuilding, and a four-day program. I found one on the Internet and would really appreciate if you could critique it for me—or suggest a better routine:

Push A: Monday

Bench presses

Military presses

Close-grip bench presses


Seated calf raises

Pull A: Tuesday

Bent-over rows


Dumbbell shrugs

Dumbbell curls

Stiff-legged deadlifts

Push B: Thursday

Incline dumbbell presses

Dumbbell presses

Skull crushers

Leg presses

Leg press calf raises

Pull B: Friday

Deadlifts (full or rack)


Barbell shrugs

Barbell curls

Leg curls

A: I think it’s a good idea to switch to a split routine after using a full-body program for some time. As you mentioned, when you get stronger and use heavier weights on exercises such as squats and deadlifts, it becomes physically exhausting to do them all in one workout.

The next step is to train half of the muscle groups in one workout and the other half in the next workout, as with the push-pull routine you listed. I included several variations of the two-way split in my book Natural Bodybuilding, but I think the best version for you would be the intermediate program where you train each muscle group twice a week.

The routine that I used for bulking up when I was in my early 20s was a push-pull routine. I trained chest, deltoids, triceps and calves on Monday and Thursday and abs, legs, back and biceps on Tuesday and Friday. I focused on using the basic exercises with heavy weights, and it gave me great results, although it was a very tough routine to follow.

I used approximately three exercises for bigger muscle groups and only two exercises for smaller muscle groups like arms and calves. I tried to keep the total sets for each workout under 30 so I didn’t overtrain.

Looking at the routine you listed, I think you could add more exercises to develop the muscles fully. The benefit of using a split over a full-body routine is that you can do more than one exercise for each muscle group.

Here’s an example of a more complete push-pull program for you to try:

Push Routine A

Bench presses 3 x 10, 8, 6

Incline dumbbell presses 3 x 8, 8, 6

Military presses 3 x 10, 8, 6

Upright rows 3 x 10, 8, 8

Barbell shrugs 3 x 10, 8, 6

Pushdowns 3 x 10, 8, 6

Lying extensions 3 x 8, 8, 6

Standing calf raises 3 x 12, 10, 8

Seated calf raises 3 x 15, 12, 10

Pull Routine B

Incline situps 2 x 30-40

Incline knee raises 2 x 30-40

Squats 3 x 10, 8, 6

Leg curls 3 x 10, 8, 6

Wide-grip chins 3 x 10, 8, 8

Barbell rows 3 x 8, 8, 6

Deadlifts 3 x 8, 8, 6

Barbell curls 3 x 10, 8, 6

Push Routine B

Incline presses 3 x 10, 8, 6

Dumbbell bench presses 3 x 8, 8, 6

Seated dumbbell presses 3 x 10, 8, 6

Lateral raises 3 x 10, 8, 8

Dumbbell shrugs 3 x 12, 10, 8

Close-grip bench presses 3 x 10, 8, 6

Dips 3 x 10, 8, 8

Donkey calf raises 3 x 15, 15, 15

Leg press calf raises 3 x 12, 10, 8

Pull Routine B

Hanging knee raises 2 x 20-30

Kneeling cable crunches 2 x 20-30

Leg presses 3 x 12, 10, 8

Stiff-legged deadlifts 3 x 10, 8, 8

Pulldowns 3 x 10, 8, 6

One-arm dumbbell rows 3 x 10, 8, 8

Hyperextensions 3 x 15

Seated dumbbell curls 3 x 10, 8, 6

This routine is best performed four days a week with three days of rest. You’ll be training each muscle group twice a week, which will give you enough recuperation time for the muscles to grow.

The key to the split routine, as with all training programs, is to train heavier consistently so the muscles keep getting bigger. By focusing on the basic exercises and using a moderate number of total sets for the workout, you’ll be able to progressively increase your muscle mass and strength.

Q: I’m writing from sunny South Africa.  Are there any tips you can give in regard to training? I train, let my endocrine system recover completely—two to three days of rest—and train again. That appears to me to be the only way it makes sense for a natural trainer. I do two to three warmup sets and one heavy set, four to six exercises per workout, splitting the body into two groups and training every three to four days. It makes no sense to me to train back if my chest is still sore from yesterday or the day before, with the hormone system still depressed. The only supplement I take is whey protein powder, three to four times per day, with three to four other meals. Sometimes I like to train more, but having started out as a hardgainer, 160 pounds at 6’1”, I find my body doesn’t handle it. I’m now 230 pounds, but about 22 percent bodyfat, so slowly burning that up.

A: Recuperation is key for making progress in bodybuilding. As you noted, if the muscles aren’t fully recuperated, growth won’t take place. It’s not just the muscles that need recuperation, however. The body as a whole does as well.

Everyone recuperates at a different rate. I once had a training partner who would get so sore, it would take him a week to recover from a hard session. I remember that he even got sore for days after pumping up for a contest. His recovery rate was very poor compared to most people who weight train on a consistent schedule.

You obviously have figured out the correct amount of recuperation you need because you’ve progressed from 160 pounds to 230 pounds; however, you might want to try pushing yourself a little more in your training to see if you’re still getting the recuperation your body needs.

I like to take a full day off from training after two consecutive days of working out, but I train different muscle groups from day to day, so it doesn’t matter if the muscles that I trained the day before are sore when I train the next day. Because I’m hitting different muscle groups, I stick to the schedule and train the following day.

I arrange my program to separate muscle groups that may overlap. For example, my shoulders are worked pretty hard when I train my chest. If you schedule your chest and shoulder days back to back, you will end up overtraining the deltoids because you’re essentially working them two days in a row—one day indirectly and the next day directly. For that reason I make sure that my chest and shoulder workouts are separated by three days.

I use the same strategy when it comes to my legs and my back. The lower back is indirectly involved in leg exercises like squats and stiff-legged deadlifts. If I were to work legs the day before or the day after working back, I’d end up overtraining my lower back or possibly injuring that vulnerable area of the body. That’s why I separate my leg and back sessions by at least three days.

There’s nothing wrong, however, with training chest and triceps the day before I train legs. If my chest is sore when I go in to do legs, it won’t affect my leg workout. I also train deltoids the day before I train back and biceps—again, muscle groups that won’t affect one another.

You mentioned that the only supplement you use is whey protein powder. I can suggest a couple of others that may help you recuperate. The first is a recovery drink taken immediately after your workout. It should contain fast-acting protein and carbohydrate to replenish your muscle cells after a hard workout.

I always use two scoops of 2:1:1 Recovery from Optimum Nutrition after my workout. It contains 35 grams of easy-to-digest protein and 70 grams of carbohydrates. The carbs are absorbed into the muscle cells to replace the glycogen that you burned during your workout. The higher carbs also raise the insulin level, making absorption of those important nutrients even easier. The amino acids from the protein in the 2:1:1 Recovery are also transported into the muscle cells.

Another great supplement that aids recuperation is HMB from Optimum Nutrition. The HMB helps with muscle recovery by increasing protein synthesis and reducing muscle tissue damage. HMB, also known as B-hydroxy B-methylbutyrate, is a natural compound produced during the metabolism of the essential amino acid leucine. Leucine also occurs naturally in foods such as soybeans, beef and fish.

I can attest to the power of HMB in my own workouts. I’ve been supplementing with three grams of Optimum Nutrition’s HMB capsules for the last three weeks and have noticed a significant improvement in muscle recuperation and recovery. Although I’m using heavier poundages in my workouts and pushing the intensity, I’m not getting so sore that I find it hard to move.

I recommend that you try switching up your workouts so you’re not training related muscle groups on back-to-back days. In addition, take advantage of some of the great supplements that are available today, like 2:1:1 Recovery and HMB to get ultimate recuperation.

Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at, or send questions or comments to him via e-mail at [email protected]. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, Listen to John’s new radio show, “Natural Bodybuilding Radio,” at You can send written correspondence to John Hansen, P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561.  IM

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