Frustrated with hitting plateaus following conventional body part split workouts? Back in summer 2011 I was in exactly this position, and my strength was increasing at a snail’s pace. I realised a drastic change was needed, and this came in the form of the T-nation push-pull workout. This tried-and-tested workout regimen focuses on increasing strength and divides workouts by either push or pull movements on a given day.

The results really do speak for themselves! Read on to find out how it was achieved:

June 2011     BW: 75.0kg     DL: 115kg (250lbs) for 7 sets of 3 reps
June 2012     BW: 78.5kg     DL: 160kg (350lbs) for 7 sets of 3 reps

In just one year I had put on 3.5kg of lean muscle, and had the strength gains to prove it. All my major lifts had increased by at least 30%, yet I had also gained some all round muscle definition and size.

PushPull3

This program is perfect for an intermediate bodybuilder who has learned the basics and stopped making those initial “newbie gains”. You may find that your progress crawls to a halt as you continue the same routine which gave you your initial novice gains. Had I realised this earlier, I would not have wasted a year or more slogging out 4 sets of 8-12 on every movement, as recommended by a number of the programmes on bodybuilding.com, created by guys with godlike physiques that I aspired to.

Not only had I completely failed to realise that these guys had been training for way longer than I had, so had already developed the strength to be able to lift a lot more weight, but I had also not considered that some may not be entirely natural, and thus did not need the testosterone boost essential to growth that lifting heavy weights yields.

For the natural lifter who wants to pack on pounds of lean muscle, I would fastidiously learn the basics by following a conventional bodybuilding programme, and as soon as you notice your progress begin to flatline, move to a strength program such as the one listed below.

This is an adaptation of the T-nation push-pull workout designed to for an intermediate bodybuilder to push through those demoralising plateaus.

TRAIN EAT GAIN PUSH-PULL

Workout Split

Monday – Heavy Push
Tuesday – Heavy Pull
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – Moderate Push
Friday – Moderate Pull
Saturday – Rest
Sunday – Rest

*Note: You may want to add an arm day in at the weekend, as this split generally does not hit the arms in the way a bodybuilder usually would.

Heavy Push

(Take 3-5 mins rest between sets)

A   Back squat – 7 x 3 reps
B   Barbell bench press – 7 x 3 reps
C   Standing overhead press – 7 x 3 reps
D   Weighted dips – 7 x 3 reps
E   Leg Press Calf extensions – 4 x 10 reps

PushPullWorkout

Heavy Pull

(Take 3-5 mins rest between sets)

A   Deadlift – 7 x 3 reps
B   Barbell curbs – 7 x 3 reps
C   Weighted pull ups – 7 x 3 reps
D   Hip thrusts – 7 x 3 reps
E   Weighted crunch – 4 x 10 reps

PullDay

Moderate Push

(Take 45-60 secs rest between sets. Superset sets C1 & C2 etc…)

A     Leg press – 4 x 6 reps
B     Split squat – 4 x 6 reps
C1   Dumbell bench press – 4 x 6 reps
C2   Dumbell flies – 4 x 6 reps
D1   Skullcrushers – 4 x 6 reps
D2  Dumbell lateral raise – 4 x 6 reps
E     Barbell overhead shrug – 4 x 6 reps
F     Seated calf extensions – 4 x 15 reps

Moderate Pull

(Take 45-60 secs rest between sets. Superset sets B1 & B2 etc…)

A      Straight leg deadlift – 4 x 6 reps
B1    Reverse-grip EZ curls – 4 x 6 reps
B2   Barbell or Dumbell rows – 4 x 6 reps
C      Leg curls – 4 x 6 reps
D1    Shrugs – 4 x 6 reps
D2   Rear delt flies – 4 x 6 reps
E      Cable crunch – 4 x 15 reps

Workout summary

  • Don’t expect a huge pump – just because your muscles don’t feel like they’re about to explode doesn’t mean they won’t grow

  • For the heavy days use approximately 85% of your 1 rep max

  • The two heaviest workouts are at the start of the week when you are freshest and at your strongest, especially after two days off as suggested in this plan

  • Do not forget to deload once a month – see the section at the end of the article

Modifications to the original T-Nation plan

1. T-Nation suggested restarting the sequence on Sunday

Whilst not a bad idea, I made significant strength gains performing just 4 workouts per week, as this fitted in with my lifestyle and work schedule better.

 2. T-Nation suggested 8 sets of 3 reps on the heavy days

Performing 8 sets for 5 exercises takes it out of you and takes time out of your day. I found that 6-7 sets was a happy medium resulting in good strength gains without the risk of injury, with the added benefit of cutting down the workout duration.

 3. Where have the supersets gone from the heavy days?

Personally, I thought the supersets in the original plan detracted from the purpose of the heavy days. The second exercise was always compromised due to fatigue, and thus maximum strength gains also felt compromised.

 4. Why have some of the exercises changed? e.g. dumbell floor press vs. dumbell bench press

Exercises have been changed firstly to make supersetting more viable, for example attempting to superset barbell row with leg extension meant running halfway across the gym from the lifting platform to the machines area every set.

A few exercises were also not especially practical, such as floor presses which are extremely tricky to perform on your own when you have to start by lying down on the ground and raising 100lbs above your chest – give this a go if you don’t believe me.

A final note: Don’t forget to deload

If I could have warned my former self of one thing when I started this regime, it would have been to ensure I included deload weeks every couple of months to ensure the central nervous system (CNS) had adequate time to recover. Piling on the weight week after week clearly takes its toll on your body – you can feel your muscles crying out in pain. However, you’re unlikely to notice the effect on your CNS until it’s too late.

After about 6 months of increasing the weight week-on-week, I started to feel a tingling sensation akin to ‘pins and needles’ all over my back when I got hot or exercised. This worsened and I was eventually forced to take time off as advised by my physio. I thought by training flat out every session of the year I would make the maximum strength gains possible, but it then dawned on me that my overall strength gains were actually compromised by going as heavy as possible every single session.

This highlighted the importance of deloading. Ever since, I have been incorporating deloads into my strength training, either by performing the entire week with 60% of the weight every couple of months or by taking a week off entirely. Since then I have not had any CNS issues or significant injuries.