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There are many different workout routines out there.
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Too many, in fact.
Starting Strength. Ice Cream Fitness. NerdFitness. And random routines on random workout forums.
It seems as if every single gym-goer not only came up with their own routine but also loves to share it with the internet.
But not all of those are great. Not even all of them are good.
But, if you’re a beginner, how can you tell which workout routine to use?
I’ve put together a PPL routine that has helped beginners bloom into beautiful and buff fitness butterflies. Why not try it out?
And what the heck does PPL mean, anyway?
Why PPL (And What Does It Mean)?
There are certain advantages to working out certain muscle groups at once. You can read more about that here.
The short version, though, is that if you try to exercise every muscle on your body every time you hit the gym, it’ll be a long, exhausting, ineffective workout.
On the other extreme, focusing on one specific muscle at a time is good for ancillary workout days or for elite bodybuilders. It’s not good for beginners.
My favorite compromise is a split routine, where you exercise one section of your body each gym day.
Your muscles can broadly be placed into three categories: they push things away from your, they pull things toward you, or they are your legs.
So, my favorite routine is a Push, Pull, Leg split routine.
The following is a PPL that’s good for beginners. It hits every major muscle yet starts off easy enough anybody can do it.
An Explanation of Terms
Since this explanation of the workout is aimed at beginners, I’m not going to presume you know all of the lingo.
- Rep: One complete movement, all the way up and all the way down. Rep is short for “repetition.”
- Set: A series of reps performed together without a rest period in between. If you’re exercising one arm or leg at a time, train both limbs for one set.
- 2×5: 2 sets of 5 reps each. These numbers can change.
- 3×8-12: 3 sets of between 8 and 12 reps. Typically, you want to aim for 12 reps, but it’s okay if you only get 8 done. Work your way up.
A PPL routine has three days. One for pushing muscles, one for pulling muscles, and one for leg muscles.
There are five exercises each day in my version of this routine.
The first exercise is the major lift, the most important one. Feel free to put all of your energy into it.
All of the rest are minor lifts. They are good for volume to better trigger muscle growth and for hitting stabilizer muscles the major lifts might miss, but don’t sweat it too much if you can’t get all the way through them.
Don’t forget to rest in between each set!
For the major lifts, take a longer rest, 3 to 5 minutes between sets. The minor lifts can be done with only 1 to 3 minutes of rest.
Regardless of which day you’re working out today, you need to warm up.
I like to get the blood flowing with some movement such as jogging or jump roping.
Once your muscles are warm, some dynamic stretches are good. Especially if they mimic your upcoming movements.
After that, prepare for the major lift. To do this, you need to know how many pounds you’ll be lifting for the major lift’s set.
Get the bar ready and don’t put any weight on it!
Push out 10 reps with the empty bar.
Then put on a quarter of the maximum weight and perform 8 reps.
Now, load it halfway, and do 5 reps.
Fill it with 3/4ths of the weight and bust out 3 reps.
Finally, you’ll be ready to go all-in for the major lift.
Click on the links for a video on how do perform each exercise.
- 5×5 Bench Presses
- 3×8-12 Overhead Presses
- 3×8-12 Incline Dumbbell Presses
- 3×8-12 Overhead Tricep Extensions
- 3×8-12 Push-Ups
- 1×5 Deadlifts (2×5 when you’re more experienced)
- 3×8-12 Barbell Rows
- 4×8-12 Dumbbell Curls
- 4×8-12 Hammer Curls
- 3×8-12 Pull-Ups
A note about pull-ups:
They can be difficult for beginners. If you can’t yet do a single pull-up, aim for a dead hang (use seconds instead of reps), then an assisted pull-up, then work your way to full pull-ups. The linked video covers these.
- 3×5 Squats
- 3×4-6 Romanian Deadlifts
- 3×8-12 Bulgarian Split Squats
- 3×8-12 Hamstring Curls
- 3×8-12 Calf Raises
How Much Weight Should You Lift?
Are you ready to take a hit to your ego?
The first week you do this routine, perform the workouts with as light a weight as possible
Empty barbell, lightest dumbbell. Add 5 pounds to it every week.
Can you start with more?
Sure, but it is beneficial to start with an empty bar.
Part of weight training is teaching your body how to fire the neurons and contract the muscles to do each movement properly.
Starting so light lets your body, from the muscles to the tendons, adapt to the exercises without getting overburdened.
Besides, you’ll hit the heavy weights before too long.
If you are impatient and have some weightlifting experience, you can start at a heavier weight.
Set up the major lifts and do 5 reps with an empty bar. Then, add 5 pounds, and do another set of 5 reps.
Keep increasing the weight until it’s no longer easy. Then drop back down to the next lowest weight.
Note that I did NOT say “until it’s hard!”
For best results, start from an easy weight. Your joints will thank you.
Increasing the Weight
Once you’ve got the exercises down, let’s increase your strength!
For the major lifts, add 5 pounds every week.
This is called Progressive Overload, and it works.
For the minor lifts, only add 5 pounds when you can hit 12 reps on every set. Those are more for volume than intensity, so don’t expect higher numbers as quickly.
Scheduling the PPL Routine
As a beginner, especially one in school, the PPL routine should occupy 3 of the 7 days in each week.
A common suggestion is to visit the gym on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This gives you rest days in between each workout day and also frees up the weekend.
For studying, right?
If you need to, because of classes or work, feel free to move those days around wherever they need to go.
You could workout on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday without issues. Each day focuses on different muscles so the lack of a rest day in between won’t lead to overtraining.
Ramping Up the PPL Workout Routine
In fact, once you’re ready to go past the beginner stage, smushing the days together is a good way to progress in your lifts even faster.
Adding rest as an R to PPL, you get PPLR. Repeat.
That’s an eight-day cycle so you won’t do the same thing from week to week, but it works for some people.
Other people recommend a seven-day cycle. PPLPPLR. Repeat.
However, for as good as the PPL routine is, it misses some ancillary workouts (let’s call ’em A).
So, I like to throw in a day that focuses on a specific muscle, such as this tricep workout. For me, that ends up looking like PPLAR.
When to Push and When to Pull?
So, I almost always refer to a PPL routine as a Push, Pull, Legs split.
But there are folks who use a Pull, Push, Legs split. Some even do leg day first.
Does it matter?
Go with whatever order is most comfortable for you.
Which day goes before the other is not important. What is important is that you get all three done regularly.
Oh, and something else is very important…
The Most Important Thing
When doing any of these workouts, the number one thing that will determine success is whether or not you do them with proper form.
Paying attention to reps, sets, and weight is good.
But without good form, you’ll lose out on gains or, worse, injure yourself.
With the proper form you will:
- Be able to lift more weight
- Target the correct muscles
- Improve your range of motion
- Breathe properly
- Drastically cut down your chance of injury
- Waste less energy with every movement
Watch YouTube videos to learn the basics of each workout’s form but make sure to have someone you trust watch you perform the movement in real life.
That way you’ll learn whether or not you’re moving properly.
Even if you decide not to follow this routine and go on to do your own thing, there is one very important takeaway.
Always perform every exercise with proper form.