If you want to gain muscle, which routine works best? A bro split or a push/pull/legs (PPL) routine?
For anyone who’s moved past the beginner stages of training, wants to put on some muscle, and can train 5-6 days a week, a PPL split is the one I’d go for.
I’ll explain why in just a moment.
First, let’s take a closer look at the key differences between a bro split and a PPL routine.
What’s a Push Pull Legs or PPL Split?
A push pull legs split, also known as a PPL split, is a training program that involves working different body parts on different days.
Muscle groups that work together are trained in the same workout, while the other muscles get a chance to recover and grow.
One day is devoted to upper body pushing movements, a second day to upper body pulling movements, and a third day to lower body exercises.
The push workout targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps, which are worked by compound lifts like the barbell bench press, incline dumbbell press, incline bench press, overhead press and dips. This is followed by some isolation exercises for the side delts and triceps.
The pull workout targets the back and biceps, and typically involves compound exercises like the seated row, barbell row, dumbbell row and pull-up, along with some isolation exercises for the biceps and rear delts.
Leg day hits the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings and calves with exercises like the barbell squat, leg press, leg extension, hip thrust, lunges, Romanian deadlift, leg curl, and calf raise.
The traditional way to do a 6-day PPL split involves training Monday through Saturday, then taking Sunday off. Here’s what it looks like:
- Monday: Push Day 1
- Tuesday: Pull Day 1
- Wednesday: Legs Day 1
- Thursday: Push Day 2
- Friday: Pull Day 2
- Saturday: Legs Day 2
- Sunday: Off
However, there’s no rule that says your training routine has to fit neatly into a 7-day week.
Personally, I much prefer to take a day off after three days of hard training. Leg day in particular can leave you feeling particularly wasted the next day, and it’s nice to have a day of rest before you start the cycle over again.
This means the routine doesn’t match perfectly with a 7-day week and runs over an 8-day period instead.
Here’s what it looks like:
- Day 1: Push
- Day 2: Pull
- Day 3: Legs
- Day 4: Rest
- Day 5: Push
- Day 6: Pull
- Day 7: Legs
- Day 8: Rest
This way, 3 out of every 4 weeks involve 5 training days rather than 6. The only real downside is that the workouts aren’t on set days, so you will need a flexible schedule to pull this one off.
What is a Bro Split?
The bro split, also known as a body part split, typically refers to a training program that involves hitting different muscle groups on different days of the week. The major muscle groups are typically trained just once a week.
There’s no single bro split out there. Rather, it’s an umbrella term typically used to describe a routine that involves training between 4 and 6 times a week, with the major muscle groups trained once a week.
Because each workout focuses on just one or two muscle groups, such as the chest, back or shoulders, the number of sets you do for each muscle in any given workout is relatively high.
While there are plenty of different ways to set up a bro split workout routine, here’s one example of how it might look:
- Monday: Chest
- Tuesday: Back
- Wednesday: Off
- Thursday: Legs
- Friday: Shoulders
- Saturday: Arms
- Sunday: Off
Bro Split vs PPL: Which is the Better Training Split?
One of the most frequently cited drawbacks of the bro split is the suboptimal training frequency.
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That is, several muscle groups, most notably the chest, back and legs, are trained just once a week.
Why does that matter?
On the whole, research shows that hitting a muscle group at least twice per week works better than once a week .
One of the benefits of a 5 or 6-day PPL split is that you hit each muscle group twice every seven days, which creates a more favorable environment for hypertrophy.
Training a muscle just once a week is still going to stimulate growth. It’s just that the gains are likely to come more slowly compared to working that same muscle twice a week or more.
However, training frequency on a bro split does vary from muscle to muscle.
That is, while the chest, back and legs are trained once a week, the same can’t be said for every single muscle group.
In fact, some muscles can end up being worked 2-3 times over the same period.
This means that the suboptimal training frequency is more of a problem for some muscles than it is for others.
The triceps, for example, can get worked up to three times a week. You’re hitting them directly on arms day. But they’re also likely to be involved when you train both your shoulders and your chest.
That is, pressing exercises like the dumbbell shoulder press or bench press will hit the triceps as well as the shoulders.
It’s the same story on back day, where the biceps and shoulders are also going to see some action. That’s because rows, pull-ups and pulldowns work the deltoids and biceps as well as the back.
In other words, if you’re working your shoulders and arms separately to your chest and back, the deltoids, biceps and triceps will end up being trained more often than once a week.
It is possible to compensate for a reduction in frequency, to an extent at least, by increasing your training volume.
In other words, you’d do more sets in each workout to make up for the fact that certain muscles are being trained less often.
But if you’re someone who needs a high(ish) volume of training to make your muscles grow, trying to cram all those sets into a single workout is counterproductive, for a couple of reasons.
Let’s say, for example, that you decide to hit each of your major muscles with a total of 20 sets per week.
Do all those sets in a single training session, and your performance towards the latter part of that workout is going to suffer. As fatigue accumulates, some of the sets that come later in a workout won’t involve as many stimulating reps.
Over time, this is likely to mean that muscle ends up being built more slowly.
What’s more, there’s only so much stimulation your muscles can respond to in any given workout.
Beyond a certain point, you end up creating large amounts of fatigue and damage (all of which takes time to recover from) without stimulating additional growth.
Rather than doing 20 sets per muscle in a single workout, then waiting a week to do the same thing again, you’re better off splitting that workout in two.
That is, you’d do 10 sets in the first workout, then do the same thing again a few days later.
This gives you two opportunities to stimulate growth over the course of a week, rather than just one.
That’s exactly what you do on a PPL routine, which is one of the main reasons I think it’s more effective for hypertrophy than a bro split.
None of this means that the bro split is worthless, and it does have a number of benefits.
One of the upsides of a bro split, for some people at least, is that it’s a more enjoyable way to train.
They thrive on the variety of training different muscles, and doing different exercises, from one day to the next.
Having a chest day, a shoulders day or a back day, where you dedicate an entire workout to just one area, often means leaving the gym with those muscles feeling pumped up and ready to explode.
Getting a pump is no guarantee that muscle is going to be gained any faster, but it still feels good.
If you’re someone who dreads leg days, and wants to spend most of your training time working on your upper body, the bro split can work well.
Leg days can be brutal, both physically and mentally. For a lot of people, one leg day a week is more than enough.
This isn’t ideal as far as building your quads, hamstrings and calves is concerned. But not everyone is that bothered about building bigger legs. Some lifters just prefer to focus their time and energy on the muscles in their chest, back, shoulders and arms.
Another benefit of the bro split is that it allows you to train each muscle with a high intensity of effort, which isn’t always the case on a PPL split.
Some people will run out of steam towards the end of a training session. As a result, the muscles being worked towards the end of a workout don’t receive the same intensity of effort than the ones trained at the start.
Gaining large amounts of muscle mass requires consistent effort over a number of years. And a big part of staying consistent is actually wanting to go to the gym.
If following a bro split makes it far more likely that you’ll do the work necessary to make your muscles grow, that’s a major benefit. A training split that’s optimal for muscle growth isn’t optimal if you don’t do it.
The bro split can also be useful if you’re trying to maintain the muscle you have, rather than gain any more.
A once per week training frequency will do a decent job of maintaining both muscle size and strength in the major muscle groups.
Frequently Asked Questions
What split do bodybuilders use?
While there’s no single training split used by all bodybuilders all of the time, most of their training programs do have a few things in common.
In a survey of competitive bodybuilders published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, results showed that most respondents trained 4–7 times per week, hitting the major muscles twice a week, with each workout lasting 60–90 minutes.
Off-season training sessions mostly involved targeting 2–3 muscle groups, 2–3 exercises per muscle group, 3–4 sets per exercise, 7–12 reps per set, and 1-3 minutes of recovery between sets and exercises.
Is a PPL split better than upper lower split?
Overall, there are pros and cons to both an upper lower and PPL split. In general, an upper lower split is a better choice for beginner and intermediate lifters who can train 4 times a week.
A PPL split is better suited to a more advanced lifter who’s able to train 5-6 days a week, and wants to focus on building their upper body muscle groups.
However, for an identical training volume, the average lifter will see similar gains with both approaches, and should pick the one they’re most likely to stick with. Both routines will produce results if you train hard, eat right and stay consistent.
Should I do a PPL split or full-body routine?
In general, a full-body workout routine is better suited to people who prefer lifting 3-4 times a week, or those who are able to make progress with a relatively low volume of training.
A PPL split is a better option if you’re able to lift weights 5-6 days a week, and require a higher volume of training to stimulate growth.
Typically, full-body routines are used by beginners, while body part splits tend to be more popular with intermediate and advanced lifters.
Is a PPL or Arnold split better?
Overall, both a PPL and Arnold split are solid choices for late intermediate and advanced lifters who want to build muscle.
You can expect identical results in terms of lower body gains, as both programs involve training the legs twice a week, on separate days to the upper body.
The Arnold split does have the advantage of training the shoulders and arms when they’re fresher. It’s also a better fit for agonist-antagonist supersets, allowing you to condense the same amount of training into a shorter period of time.
If I had to choose one routine over the other, the Arnold split would be the one I’d go for. However, both will produce good results if you train hard, eat right and stay consistent.
Is a 3 day PPL split enough to build muscle?
You can certainly expect to see some gains on a 3-day PPL split. However, the main weakness is that you’ve got just one push workout, one pull workout, and one leg workout each week. That means each muscle group is being trained just once a week, which is less than ideal when it comes to muscle growth.
Other 6-Day Split Routines
- The Arnold Split Routine: 6-Day Workout Plan
- 6-Day Dumbbell Workout Plan for Growth
- 6-Day Push Pull Legs Routine
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