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Lifting Programs: Upper/Lower vs PPL

A couple weeks ago I talked about two methods for training, the full body method and the bro split, as the two basic styles for lifting. Today I want to talk about the next two methods, the upper/lower split and the PPL methods. These two styles are geared more for those that are no longer beginners, and want to change their workouts to a more intense regimen. As with the last article, I will go into detail on each method, describe pros and cons, and give examples of each type of workout. At the end, I’ll give my personal recommendations on what I think is the superior method.

Upper/Lower Split

The names for workout methods really are not very complicated. That being the case, I’m sure you can guess what this method is all about. An upper/lower split is a training method that separates upper body into one workout, and lower body into another. Generally a rest day is taken after both workout days are completed. Let’s look at two examples of a weekly regimen:

Regimen 1
Monday: Upper
Tuesday: Lower
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: Upper
Friday: Lower
Saturday: Rest
Sunday: Upper

Regimen 2
Monday: Upper
Tuesday: Lower
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: Upper
Friday: Lower
Saturday: Core/Cardio
Sunday: Rest


The difference between the two is that Regimen 2 adds a day of core and cardio work in order to keep the regimen on a seven day schedule. Many people prefer having the normal week stay consistent, so each day is the same workout/body group week after week. Regimen 1 is a repeating 3 day cycle. When you look at week after week, the dynamic of each week changes. Monday will be upper body week one, lower body week two, and rest day week 3. 

If you’re doing an upper/lower split, you may be doing each grouping multiple times during a week, but it’s good to change exercises of the same body group up a bit. I usually recommend having 2 unique workouts of each, so an upper body 1 and upper body 2, and a lower body 1 and lower body 2. I like to keep those workouts consistent for 4-8 weeks before changing the exercises of each workout. This way you can work on building towards improvement in each of the exercises you’re doing, but you won’t be bored by doing the same exact exercises every three days. 

PPL

Another incredibly creative name, PPL stands for Push, Pull and Legs. All it does is essentially take the upper part of an upper/lower split and separates it into two groups, a push and a pull. Push day refers to the push motion exercises of chest, triceps, and shoulders.  It basically takes the upper lower split and splits the upper once more into two different groups.  Push day generally works out your chest, triceps and shoulders, which are the muscles whose exercises are pushing movements. Some typical exercises here would be your bench and shoulder presses, tricep skull crushers, dips, etc.

Pull day works back and biceps, as the exercises used for these muscle groups are done with pulling movements. Example exercises here are pull-ups and lat pull downs, curls, rows, etc.  whose Leg day is the last of the 3 days in this cycle, which of course will work your quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. 

In terms of resting, there are two options (which I show below in the two different regimens). You can do one rest day per week in order to make it a 7 day cycle, either resting after your first PPL cycle or second. Or, you can make an 8 day method by resting after each PPL cycle.Here are visuals for each cycle type:

Regimen 1
Monday: Push 1
Tuesday: Pull 1
Wednesday: Leg 1
Thursday: Push 2
Friday: Pull 2
Saturday: Leg 2
Sunday: REST

Regimen 2
Monday: Push 1
Tuesday: Pull 1
Wednesday: Leg 1
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Push 2
Saturday: Pull 2
Sunday: Leg 2
Day 8: REST

What I prefer
I personally prefer the 8 day cycle PPL method over the upper/lower split, and over any other cycle for that matter. I like to have 3 days of intense workouts, and a rest day after each 3 day cycle. The first few times getting into a new PPL cycle you may find that you’re still sore even after the rest day. My suggestion would be to push through it, because as we talk about a lot in the Influential Gentleman health section, your body is capable of adapting and adjusting. You may be thinking, what about cardio? Or core? I like to do cardio at the end of workouts a couple days a week. Same thing goes for abs. You may enjoy that ideology as well, or use rest days to do cardio and core. I’ll do cardio a couple times a week, and core on days I’m not doing cardio, adding only ten to twenty minutes more on top of my normal hour workouts, which to me is manageable.

Also, take note of how I’ve included a “1” or “2” after my Push, Pull and Leg days. This isn’t just saying it’s the first or second time of the week I’m doing it. This is showing that I have two different push, pull, and leg workouts. Each 8 day period, therefore, I have 6 individual workouts. I then repeat those individual workouts the next 8 days, and continue to do so for 4 to 6 cycles before making some adjustments to keep things fresh. Leg day 1 may be front squats, one-legged dumbbell deadlifts, hamstring curls, reverse lunges, and step ups. Leg day 2 may be back squats, straight-leg deadlifts, quad extensions, and calf raises. I like to ensure that my body isn’t becoming overly accustomed to the same workouts, and that i’m varying the muscles I’m hitting. If I do 6 exercises on push day, one day may have 2 chest, 2 triceps, 2 shoulders, while another may have 3 chest, 2 shoulders, 1 triceps. Gotta keep it fresh. 

Which method is right for you?

As I said last time, it’s all a matter of preference. You really can’t understand what the best method is for you until you try out all of the methods, and see which one suits not only your body, but your goals as well. If you can only lift 4 times a week, maybe upper lower split is the best. If you are more committed and want to be lifting almost every day, go for PPL. See how your body reacts, which one helps you gain more strength, and which one leaves you the most sore. If you’re working all of your muscle groups consistently, there is no wrong answer. Find out where on the spectrum you are from trial and error, and you should be happy with your workout. 

The most important thing is that you’re working out in some capacity. Remember, an influential gentleman strives to become the best version of himself. If you’re not taking care of your body and maximizing it’s effectiveness, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Treat your body like the temple that it is, and whatever method you use, work hard to get yourself in great physical shape. That doesn’t mean you have to be shredded and 8% body fat. Being and feeling healthy is what’s most important. Find the balance between working out and enjoying life.

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