January 02, 2018


Have you ever tried a push/pull workout routine for your chest and back?

Training chest and back together on the same day can provide some unique benefits in comparison to a traditional bodybuilding split where chest and back are trained individually on separate days, such as:

  • Provides Advantage of Longer Rest Periods Between Sets
    • While you will shoot for around 2 minutes of rest between sets, by alternating chest and back exercises you will get around 5 minutes between sets of bench press, for example. This can allow for greater performance on each set and, therefore, over time -more gains.
  • Guarantees 1:1 Ratio of Pushing and Pulling
    • Listen, most of us need a greater ratio of pulling to pushing due to a lifetime of unbalanced workouts, sitting, computer work, driving and watching TV. Most of us have a more developed front side of the body. This at least establishes a balanced workout workload, which can then be further adjusted based upon your needs and goals.
  • Agonist/Antagonist Strength Gains
    • Training agonist and antagonist muscle groups (i.e. opposites such as chest/back, biceps/triceps, etc) can improve strength and recovery. 
  • Highly Efficient
    • Training chest and back together is a very efficient way of working out because very little time is wasted while a large amount of muscle recruitment can occur. 
  • Wicked Pump
    • By working opposite muscle groups together you’ll drive a ton of blood to those areas, leaving them engorged and pumped to the gills!


Push/Pull Chest and Back Workout Split

This split will take up two days of your training.

You will focus on horizontal push/pull during 1 training day and vertical push/pull on another.

Allow at least 3 days between workouts. So, for example, if you do horizontal push/pull on Monday, do vertical push/pull on Thursday.

While chest/back push/pull programming can be used throughout a lifetime of training, this particular protocol is on the higher side of volume and is focused on gaining quality size and strength throughout the upper body.

You just might be surprised at gains in your shoulders and arms – along with your chest and back – with this type of protocol.


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Important Programming Note:

You will notice that exercises are combined into letter groups. For example, Day 1 of horizontal push/pull begins with "A1" (Deadlifts) and "A2" (Barbell 15 Degree Decline Bench), each for 4 sets of 6 repetitions.

After a proper warm-up, perform a work set of Deadlifts, rest approximately 2 minutes and then perform a set of Decline Bench Press. Rest 2 minutes and repeat 3 more times for a total of 4 work sets for each exercise.

Then, it's time to move on to "B" exercises.

You can take more or less rest depending upon your goals and how you are feeling that day.

Typically, compound exercises are performed earlier in the workout and 2 minute rest periods are sufficient, while more isolated movements are done towards the end of the workout and rest periods can be shortened, if desired.

Day 1 – Horizontal Push/Pull

A1. Deadlift – 4 sets x 6 reps

Virtually any deadlift variation can be incorporated here. If you aren't sure or don't have a particular preference at this time, go for the conventional deadlift with a two hand-pronated grip.

A mixed grip can typically allow for greater loads to be used, but it also can increase the risk of a biceps injury. So unless you are training for a specific event or just really experienced with this grip, stick to the pronated version.

A2. Barbell 15 Degree Decline Bench Press – 4 sets x 6 reps – 2-1-X tempo

As a reminder, don't perform a J press - meaning when you press the bar it should not drift over your neck or face at the top when you arms are extended.

Have someone watch or film your technique because, especially on a decline angle, it can feel as though the bar is not moving towards your face but in reality it is.

B1. Bent Over Row – 3 sets x 8 reps – 2-1-X-1 tempo

Not T-Bar, not cables and not machines. While there's certainly a place for all of those movements, we are going to focus on the barbell version for this protocol.

Focus on pulling with your back and get as parallel to the floor with your upper body as possible, while maintaining a flat back.

Contract the shoulder blades hard for a second on each rep. Do not shrug your shoulders. 

This is easily one of the most butchered back exercises around. Be a part of the solution.

B2. Dumbbell 15 Degree Incline Press – 3 sets x 8 reps – 2-1-X tempo

The key here is to utilize a bench that can be adjusted to around 15 degrees.

You can go slightly higher than that if need be, but don't go past 30 degrees if you want to maximize pec recruitment. 

C1. Supinated Reverse Pushup – 2 sets x 12-15 reps – 3-1-1-2 tempo

if your chest doesn't make it all the way to the bar that's just fine.

The key is to focus on contracting your shoulder blades and getting a strong contraction at the top of each rep for 2 seconds.

C2. Towel Pushups - 2 sets x 12-15 reps – 3-X-X tempo

A great finishing exercise to this workout.

Day 1 Chest & Back Push Pull Workout

Day 2 – Vertical Push/Pull

A1. Weighted Chin-Ups – 5 sets x 5 reps – 2-1-X tempo

No half reps here.

Use a weight that allows you to fully straighten your arms at the bottom of each rep and pull your upper chest to your hands at the top of each rep.

Using your bodyweight is just fine if you're not quite ready to strap on additional weight.

A2. Weighted Dips 1 and 1/3rd – 5 sets x 5 reps -2-1-X tempo

Spending that additional time in the lower third of this movement really makes it much more difficult so don't add too much weight initially.

You can always add more on the next set.

Try not to miss any reps here, this is an incredible pec and triceps movement.

B1. Bodyweight Pullups – 3 sets x 10-12 reps – 3-1-1-1 Tempo

We are focusing on just your bodyweight here in order to get the hold at the top of each rep for a second.

Really work to find that mind muscle connection and pull through your back.

B2. DB Pullovers – 3 sets x 10-12 reps - 3-1-1 Tempo

Ahh, an oldie but a goodie.

Again, focus on range of motion here, especially if you haven't done these in a while. The weight will come next.

C1. Reverse Cable Flyes1 and 1/3rd – 2 sets x 12-15 reps – 3-1-1-2 tempo

Any variation here will do, however we prefer the one knee kneeling version for this protocol.

The one third really allows you to focus on performing the movement with your upper back muscles.

Don't be a hero and use too much weight.

C2. Cable Decline Flyes1 and 1/3rd – 2 sets x 12-15 reps – 3-1-1-2 tempo

The slight decline coupled with the extra third in the lower portion of this movement will have your pecs pumped like never before. 

Work hard to ensure the pecs do all of the work.

Day 2 Chest & Back Push Pull Workout

A Few Final Thoughts

Most trainees perform 4 total workouts per week. This push/pull split obviously takes up 50% of that, however it leaves ample room for everything else - even if you only train 3 days per week!

Due to the high amount of work the shoulders get in these two days, it’s recommended NOT to perform ANY additional direct shoulder work while you are running this program.

While your initial reaction might be “Dude, no way, my shoulders are gonna get puny!” just trust the process here.

There’s virtually no chance your shoulders can lose any size with this much pressing and pulling - plus, many are presently surprised as their shoulders actually gain size – most likely due to a form of super compensatory effect of being on the verge of being overtrained for years.

Deadlifts are also included in this split so you have 2 full days to hit the rest of your lower body and arms. As mentioned above, your arms also get a good deal of work in this protocol, so be conscious of your overall arm volume throughout the week.

It’s highly recommended to try many different training programs and styles to see what works for you and what doesn’t. This will pay many dividends throughout your lifetime.

Remember, quite often the workout you’re not doing is the workout you should be doing!


The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of USPlabs or any employee thereof. Examples used within this article are only examples. USPlabs is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the authors of this article.  Authors may have been remunerated by USPlabs.

The information provided in this article, as well as this web-site blog is intended for informational and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice for any condition. Always consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. By reading this disclaimer, you hereby agree and understand that the information provided in this column is not medical advice and relying upon it shall be done at your sole risk.

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