by Tony Gjokaj February 03, 2021 9 min read
The Golden Age bodybuilders (like Arnold, Steve Reeves, Frank Zane, and more) are some of the most admired physiques in the history of bodybuilding.
Through the 1950s all the way into the 70s, these individuals looked like Gods walking amongst mere mortals (Anchorman reference accomplished).
These individuals weren't only strong-looking, they were STRONG. Some of them would compete in powerlifting competitions and push up some crazy numbers.
As decades progressed, a lot of bodybuilding went towards single body part training splits. While these programs were helpful, the golden age bodybuilders pushed a lot of boundaries through their workouts by targeting many muscle groups in one day.
If you look at their training splits, you'll realize there was a common pattern about their programs - they trained muscle groups frequently.
For example, they would train legs 2-3 times per week.
So with that, this post is going to dive into an effective frequency-based training split that has been used for decades - since peak Arnold times.
Bring out the Push-Pull-Legs split.
The Push-Pull-Legs split is one of the more common training splits utilized in a "Frequency-Based" Training program (more on this later).
Push-Pull Legs is also one of the more customizable training programs, as you can move them around. For example, if you miss a training day, you just do the training day the next day and continue on.
Frequency-Based Training is a prioritization of training our muscle groups 2-3x per week. This benefits us in a few ways ways:
The Push-Pull-Legs training split is broken down into three types of days that are pretty much self-explanatory: A push day, a pull day, and a leg day.
Let's summarize each of them.
Push Day focuses on three major muscle groups: the Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps. The shoulder portion of this workout consists of both the anterior and lateral (medial) deltoids.
Pull Day focuses on the muscle groups that initiate pull movements, from the back, biceps, and rear deltoids.
These workouts typically consist of rows, pull ups, bicep curls, and face pulls. Sometimes Deadlifts are incorporated into these training days to emphasize back training.
Leg Day focuses on all the major muscle groups in the lower body: the Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, and Calves.
We typically add abdominal work in these days, as Squats and Deadlifts typically utilize the core, and we don't want our abdominal muscles to be sore on this day!
Our chest, shoulders, and triceps are muscles that don't need much work to stimulate growth. Most of the time, they respond with heavier loads.
So on this day, we start with two heavier exercises - Horizontal and Vertical Pushes (Chest and Shoulder exercises). Then we move onto a chest isolation, a lateral raise, and finish off with tricep work.
As the shoulder muscles don't need much volume to grow, we prioritize more volume (total sets and reps) in our chest muscles.
Our back muscles are a very large group of muscles that must be trained in various angles to elicit proper growth response.
So with that, on Pull Days, we focus on two primary back exercises - Horizontal and Vertical Pull variations (Rows and Pull Ups).
Then we move on to back isolation work, rear delt work, and bicep exercises to finish it off.
Leg Days are challenging in that we are doing two heavier variations during our workouts. Sometimes, recovery can be impacted if we do train our legs multiple times per week.
For example, if we have a heavy Squat-focused day, our deadlift variation will be a lighter exercise, like a high rep Romanian Deadlift, or a pause Deadlift.
On the other hand, if it is a heavy Deadlift-focused day, we will start with this first. Then, the squat variation would be a lighter one.
In this layout, we train each muscle group 1x per week, following a 3 day training split.
This one is for the beginning lifters, or for the busy individual who wants to stay active. You could potentially add more exercise volume (sets or reps) in these programs.
In this layout, we train each muscle group 2x a week, following a 6 day training split.
This one is for the more advanced lifters, as this training frequency can up your fatigue levels quite easily.
In this layout, we utilize three consecutive training days with a rest day in between. This program operates on a 7 day schedule, meaning that it will be a pretty flexible one.
If you need to skip a day, utilize that as a rest day and repeat.
Frequency is key here.
With each muscle group, we have recommended training volume that we can utilize to elicit muscle and strength responses in our body. Before applying this section, consider the following:
So with that, let's go into recommended sets for each muscle group.
The recommended weekly sets is based off some of Dr. Mike Israetel's research in muscular development. We have also added our own ballpark to make sure we are getting enough volume in.
Please keep in mind that you might need less or more volume depending on your level of experience.
While we have a recommended ballpark for muscular development, we highly recommend working your way up to the maximum recommended volume.
According to a study done last year, it was shown that you will see better growth and response by gradually increasing your volume overtime.
Therefore, we recommend working your way up in volume, progressing, and then working your way down and repeating the process. For example, we will start on the lower end of chest volume (10-15 sets), then work our way up to the higher end (20-22 sets) week by week.
This is why most periodized programs start with an introductory or "acclimation block" before they go into more volume or intensity blocks. Powerlifting, Strongman, CrossFit, and Bodybuilding athletes or pros workout in this way to perform their best.
Now that you have the weekly recommended sets, you can apply flexibility to your training program in a variety of ways.
For example, as your Chest may require 15-16 total weekly sets to respond to muscle growth, then we will do something like this:
*Consider this if you are doing two Push Days a week*
This is what I typically do with every training split, and I monitor it to ensure my progress (based on my goals).
Sometimes if I'm training intensity (strength and power work), I will most likely do less sets weekly, as the weights are a lot heavier and recovery is more challenging.
Figure out what works best for you and stick with it for a time.
While the Push-Pull-Legs split is a incredibly efficient one, it is NOT the only way do train frequently.
Let's discuss the strengths and challenges of the Push-Pull-Legs split.
Remember always: before starting a workout program like this one, please consider consulting a doctor or physician.
There it is: an Golden-Age training split that has stood the test to time for its efficiency and flexibility.
Let's finalize this training split with a few recommendations:
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Lastly, If you have any questions or comments about this training split, feel free to message me at email@example.com, or on our social media.
Until next time, Reforged Legion!
Tony is the Owner of Reforged. He is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and has been in the fitness space for over a decade. His goal is to help millions exercise their way out of depression and anxiety.
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