PPL vs. Upper/Lower: Choosing the Best Workout Split For Muscle Growth

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If you feel your lower body is lagging behind then it makes sense to train an upper/lower split. This means that 50% of your workouts will be focused on your lower body. However, if you feel you need to work more on your upper body then use a PPL split, which means that two-thirds of your time will be spent training your upper body.

How Much Time Do You Have Available?

A Man Holding a Dumbbell and His Reflection in a Mirror

Realistically, I could never say that one of PPL or upper/lower is definitely better than the other.

This will always come down to you as an individual.

Basically, how well your body reacts to the training stimulus of either split is likely to differ to the next person.

So, I can really only go from what works for me as an individual.

But remember, this doesn’t automatically mean that would also be the better workout for you.

That being said, one of the main factors you need to consider is how much time you have available to train.

And I mean on a daily basis, as well as how many overall days during the week.

A push/pull/legs split is typically used for either 3 or 6 days a week.

However, the best way to probably work a push/pull/legs split is shorter workouts, say 45-50 minutes, 6 days a week.

But, of course, you may not be able to train for 6 days a week due to other commitments.

Nevertheless, you certainly have three days a week available to you that you could easily train for 60-75 minutes per workout.

Now, let’s say that you have the same daily time available, but you can train 4 days a week.

This being the case then the upper/lower split will probably work out better for you.

This will allow you a more even split of training, and can also lead to potential muscle growth.

However, if you do have 5 or 6 days available to you to train then you could actually follow either training split.

I would say that this largely depends on the specific body parts that you wish to focus on more.

So, as an example, if you feel your legs are lagging behind, you could do an upper/lower split 5 days a week with 3 lower body workouts.

Then again, if you feel that your chest is letting you down, you may wish to do PPL for 5 days a week, whereby you only train pull or legs once a week.

This will obviously depend on whether you believe your legs or pull muscles are better developed.

So, as you can see, there is no “one-size-fits-all” or a “better” workout plan for everyone.

Whether PPL or upper/lower is better will largely depend on you, your training goals, and the time you have available to you.

How Well Does Your Lower Body Respond to Training?

Something else to consider is how well your lower body responds to training.

In truth, I could also say the same about your upper body.

However, as the lower body houses the largest muscles in the human body, you can expect certain metabolic and muscle-growth “reactions” from training your lower body more regularly.

Therefore, with an upper/lower split half your training will be solely focused on your lower body.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to workout splits. However, the upper/lower split offers a good balance between training volume and recovery time, making it suitable for a wide range of lifters with different goals.”

Layne Norton, PhD., Bodybuilder and Researcher

But, if you do PPL three or six times a week then you’re only going to be hitting your lower body one-third of the time during the week.

So, as I say, this all comes down to how well your lower body reacts to training.

Furthermore, performing the big compound lower body exercises, such as squats and deadlifts, will have a huge impact on your overall muscular growth.

And I’m not just talking about your legs here, as squats and deadlifts can definitely have a carry over to your upper body too.

This is down to you to decide which option is best for you.

So, push/pull/legs will typically be better for you if you respond well to lower body training, but you struggle with upper body development.

Conversely, if your upper body appears to be well stimulated by training, but your lower body is lagging behind, then an upper/body split would work better for you.

As I say, it is a matter of personal preference, but it also makes sense to see how both your upper and lower body specifically react to training.

How Well Do You Recover?

The final thing to look at is your own powers of recovery.

Once again, just as not everyone’s body will react in the same way to training, our powers of recovery will also generally differ from each other.

Now, you could actually train PPL or upper/lower any number of days a week you wish.

That being said, upper/lower is generally viewed as a 4-day workout plan, whereas push/pull/legs is seen as a 6-day a week workout.

“The upper/lower split was a staple in my training routine during my competitive bodybuilding days. It allowed me to hit all the major muscle groups with high intensity twice a week, leading to significant muscle growth.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bodybuilder and Actor

Okay, I understand that PPL can be done for just 3 days a week.

However, I would actually say that if you only have three days a week available to train you would probably be better off with three full-body workouts a week.

I say this because I believe the body reacts best when you train each muscle group more than once a week.

This is also why I have never actually trained a bro-split before.

So, once more, whether PPL or upper/lower is better for you will depend on your recovery.

In effect, your upper/lower daily workouts will be longer.

But this is fine, as you have three days every week for rest and recovery.

So, depending on your daily time available you could quite easily train upper/lower 4 times a week for 60-90 minutes per workout.

Now, as PPL means you’ll be training 6 days a week it makes sense to make the workouts slightly shorter.

Personally, if I’m training 6 days a week, regardless of which training split I’m using, I like to keep my workouts to 45-50 minutes.

That being said, which one of the two workout splits is better for you will always be down to how well you recover.

As an example, you may feel completely wiped out after a 90-minute upper or lower body workout.

In fact, even though you have 3 days rest during the week, this still doesn’t feel like enough.

However, working out for 6 days a week, for only 45 minutes at a time, feels absolutely fine.

Of course, there are other factors to think about, such as your nutrition, sleep, and even how physically active you are during the day at your job.

So, as you can see, even when it comes to recovery there is still no “one-size-fits-all”.

Both your training and your recovery will always be an individual thing.

The most obvious thing you can do is try to try both training splits.

I would suggest you pick one, follow it for 6-8 weeks, then take a complete week off training.

Follow this up by performing the other training split for 6-8 weeks again, and then take another week off.

You can then determine which training split produced the better results, plus did you feel better performing one over the other?

This is how you can decide whether PPL or upper/lower is better for YOU. 

Push/Pull/Legs Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions (and my answers) about the push/pull/legs split.

What are the Downsides of PPL?

One of the major downsides to PPL is something I’ve already alluded to, time availability.

This is specifically meaning people who have hectic schedules and therefore may not know what they are doing from one day to the next.

I’ve mentioned that a 3-day PPL split will require longer sessions, whereas the 6-day split requires you to be at the gym more often.

Then again, this may also mean that you’re not training at the same time of the day, so some days you may have more energy than others.

You can actually check out my case study of 1,198 gym-goers and their preferred time of day to workout.

However, if you’re never sure of when you can workout and for how long, I would suggest a full-body routine would be a better option.

Furthermore, another potential downside is that limited time availability may also mean that you can’t train the smaller muscle groups.

Sure, we all know that hitting the big compound movements is great for strength and hypertrophy gains.

But, who doesn’t love training biceps and triceps, and most of us want to push our calves a little harder.

So, performing PPL on a regular basis may mean that your smaller muscles lag behind.

Additionally, if you perform the split in the order it is written you may find leg day a struggle.

What I mean is that you will push first, then pull the next day before leg day.

Therefore, your fatigued pull-based muscles could impact certain leg exercises that require grip strength, e.g. Romanian deadlifts, dumbbell lunges, etc.

The only other real downsides I have already discussed, e.g. potentially not enough legs, poor recovery.

Do Bodybuilders Use PPL?

You would assume that most pro bodybuilders work a “bro-split”.

Therefore, they typically work on one body part per day.

That being said, we have now seen many workout routines from the Golden Era of Bodybuilding.

These all seem to focus on one or two body parts per training session, although most pro bodybuilders will also train multiple times per day.

However, I have trained in the same gym as numerous competitive bodybuilders and I have never once seen someone use the push/pull/legs split.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a single bodybuilder on this earth who doesn’t use PPL, I just haven’t personally seen it live in a gym.

“I’ve found the PPL split to be a versatile tool for many of my athletes. It allows for focused training on pushing and pulling movements, while also dedicating a full day to leg development, which is crucial for overall athletic performance.”

Eric Cressey, Sports Performance Expert

You tend to watch these hulking beasts closely and often you can work out the exact training split they are using.

But, the one thing I have seen most often is competitive bodybuilders focusing on what they would consider “weak points” in order to improve these for their next show.

And this is something else to consider, what particular time of year it is and how close this is to competition?

That being said, while I may have never personally witnessed a bodybuilder doing PPL I have seen one perform an upper/lower split.

I even spoke to the guy in question, who admitted that upper/lower wasn’t his usual way of training, but he was looking to increase volume for a few weeks, while training his body as evenly as possible.

Finally, Chris Bumstead is quite well-known in the bodybuilding community and of course as an online fitness influencer.

And it just so happens that Chris does love working a PPL split.

Here’s his workout explained.

Is 4 Exercises Enough For PPL?

Everything I’ve spoken about thus far is more concentrated on the number of days available to train, as well as how often you’re going to hit each body part.

Furthermore, I have also spoken about the average length of a PPL workout based on a  3-day and 6-day weekly split.

However, I haven’t really gone into exercise selection and what would be considered a good number of exercises.

Something that I’ve often seen asked is whether 4 exercises would be enough when training PPL?

I take it this specifically refers to the number of exercises per training session.

I like to view this in terms of what is the ideal workout length.

For me, unless you’re specifically training for something then your workouts don’t need to exceed 45 minutes. 

Now, depending on exercise selection, reps and sets, 4 exercises actually seems like the ideal number of exercises.

If you’re working in the hypertrophy range then most sets are going to take you between 30-60 seconds.

You’re going to rest for 60-90 seconds between sets and 4 sets per exercise works well for building muscle.

Therefore, you could say that the maximum time required to perform one exercise would be 10 minutes.

You hit 4 exercises in a workout and you’ve done 40 minutes.

And this falls perfectly within the 30-45 minute range.

Additionally, if you look at each individual training component of push/pull/legs, 4 exercises is ample to hit both the larger and smaller muscle groups with adequate intensity.

So, for all your regular gym-goers 4 exercises per day on a PPL split is ideal.

“The PPL (Push, Pull, Legs) split is a fantastic option for intermediate and advanced lifters who are looking to increase muscle mass and strength. It allows for high training frequency for each muscle group while still providing adequate recovery time.”

Jim Wendler, Powerlifter and Coach

Is an 8-Day PPL Good?

For me, training PPL on an 8-day split is perfect.

Okay, allow me to explain.

Firstly, there are obviously only 7 days in a week and therefore we all typically train with a certain amount of workouts per week in mind.

And the aim is to keep our training “even” and hit every body part within a 7-day period.

However, I prefer to look at my own training as a lifestyle choice and therefore working out is something I’ve always done and always will do.

Therefore, there is no “cut-off point” on a weekly basis.

Personally, I tend to find that I prefer to workout for 2-4 days in a row before taking a rest day, with 3 days being the optimal number of days in a row I like to train.

Anything more than 4 days and I don’t feel like I’m training with full intensity, simply because I am fatigued from my previous workouts.

So, an 8-day PPL split is ideal in my mind.

You workout for 3 days in a row, you hit each push/pull/legs workout with full intensity and then you get a day’s rest.

Then you start the whole process over again.

I also like to work a training protocol for around 8 weeks before potentially moving onto something different.

This actually works very well with an 8-day PPL split, as you’ll get a full 14 PPL sessions in.

If you’ve never tried this type of 8-day split before I encourage you to give it a go. 

Final Thoughts

So, I hope you understand that PPL is not better than upper/lower and vice versa.

In reality, which training split is better will always be an individual thing.

In other words, there is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to the perfect workout plan.

Which one is better for YOU will depend on the time you have available and your powers of recovery.

That being said, there is another way to look at this.

If you feel that your lower body development is lagging behind then an upper/lower split would definitely be better.

As you’ll typically be training 4 days a week, 50% of your workouts will be focused on your lower body.

However, when using a push/pull/legs split only one-third of your weekly workouts will be focused on your lower body.

You could also say exactly the same thing the other way round.

Therefore, if you feel that your upper body is falling behind then you’d be better off with a PPL split.

However, I still stand by the fact that the best training split for YOU comes down to time availability and how well you recover.

If you’re looking for the ideal way to build muscle, while burning body fat, I suggest you check out Massthetic Muscle, the workout program created by bodybuilder Frank Rich.

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