The Perfect Push-Pull Workout, Part 1: Upper Body

Young muscular man in a black tank top performing a dumbbell pullover pull workout.

New year… new you! Ok, we know that’s not true. Though we may try and convince ourselves otherwise, January the first doesn’t somehow alter our DNA, modify our talents and skills, or get rid of our flaws and weaknesses. Nope, only continuous dedication and hard work get us there. But that’s ok, because we’re not afraid of a little hard work, and this workout is designed to help you get maximal results in minimal time. How, you ask? A push and pull combo workout routine! 

A push-pull training strategy can be quick, simple to execute, create a more balanced physique, and may even help prevent injury! The key is to split up your muscle groups into push and pull movements, grouping each into one day.

Plus, a push-pull strategy is a super structured way to push our muscles to the limit for optimal gains, while still allowing for proper rest and recovery. And the best part – you don’t need to be stacking on tons of more weight, adding hundreds of reps, or lifting until you can’t walk for a week just to see results. It’s working smarter, not necessarily harder. I call that… efficiency.   

A sample schedule might be: 

  • Monday — Upper body push
  • Tuesday — Lower body push
  • Wednesday — Cardio & core
  • Thursday — Upper body pull
  • Friday — Lower body pull
  • Saturday — Cardio & core

In this article we’ll cover some of our favorite upper body push-pull exercises. In Part 2, let’s just say it’s Leg Day AMPED!! Ok, here…we…go!

Upper Body — Pull Exercises

Single Arm Dumbbell Row
Equipment needed: bench, dumbbell

Muscular caucasian man performing a bent leg, single-arm dumbbell row pull workout.

Standing next to a workout bench and holding a dumbbell in your right hand, bend over to place your left knee and left hand on the bench. Your hand should be directly underneath your shoulder, with your knees below your hips. Keeping your core tightened, reach down with the dumbbell until fully extended, pause, and then bring up again slowly. Try this for ten reps, and then switch to the other side. Repeat 3 times on both sides. 

Lat Pulldown
Equipment needed: resistance band or lat pulldown machine

Fit young caucasian woman performing a  pull workout on a lat pulldown machine.

If you belong to a gym, or happen to have a lat pulldown machine, feel free to hop on that. If you’ve just got a resistance band, affix it to a high point, like a closed door, or secure overhead beam in your garage. Pull down slowly with both hands, stopping when they’re level with your chin, then slowly let them back up to the starting position, and repeat. Do this for 4 sets of ten. 

Dumbbell Pullover
Equipment needed: bench (optional), dumbbell

Young muscular man in a black tank top performing a dumbbell pullover pull workout.

Lay down on a workout bench (perpendicularly for a deeper lift), with a medium-to-heavy dumbbell in your hands, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms directly above your head, and slowly bring the dumbbell back behind your head, until it’s level with it. Keeping your elbows straight, bring it back up to starting position. Do this for 3 sets of ten. 

Seated Row
Equipment needed: resistance band

Young black, fit woman on the ground performing a seated row with a resistance band.

Sit with your feet directly out in front of you, legs flat on the ground. Wrap your resistance band around both feet, and grip with both hands at your sides. With your shoulders back and your chest elevated, draw your elbows back straight behind you. Perform the movement 20 times, for 3 sets. If you have access to a cable row machine, you can use it in the same way. For both, make sure your core is engaged through the entire movement. 

You can also mimic this exercise well with TRX Straps.

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Back Extensions
Equipment needed: back extension bench

Fit young caucasian woman performing back extension push workout.

Lay face down on a bench, with your waist lined up with the end of the bench. Make sure your legs are holding yourself in place. With both hands crossed across your chest, engage your core and pick your torso up to a comfortable angle, about six inches up from the horizontal position. Lower yourself down slowly and repeat. Try this for 4 sets of eight lifts. 

No back extension bench? Try having a partner hold down your feet or do some supermen instead.

Bicep Curls
Equipment needed: dumbbells or barbell

Fit young man wearing a blue shirt performing a bicep curl with a barbell. 

These are just your normal, run-of-the-mill, standard bicep curls… but with absolutely perfect form! Just make sure you’re keeping your shoulder blades back, and your elbows are still. Lift both dumbbells simultaneously at your sides, up to a 90-degree angle, hold for an instant, and then bring back down slowly. If you’re using a barbell, make sure to use a curl bar so your wrists stay comfortable.  

Upper Body — Push Workouts

Equipment needed: floor mat (optional)

Young brunette woman performing push ups with her knees on a mat below her.

You’re probably pretty familiar with the humble push up. But that’s a good thing — it’s one of the foundational push-pull exercises there is, and a compound exercise to boot! That means it uses multiple muscle groups at the same time. Whether you’re doing these with your knees up or on the floor, make sure you maintain a straight back, and keep your form throughout. Try four sets of 10, and then gradually increase when that gets easier. 

Chest Flys
Equipment needed: bench (optional), dumbbells

Young man performing a chest fly push workout with two dumbbells in his hands.

We’re just going to come right out and say it. When done properly, a chest fly is the ultimate chest building exercise. Period. Now let’s make sure you do them properly: lie down on your bench, with two dumbbells of a lighter weight in your hands, directly above your chest. The movement is basically a hug, all the way up and down. So make sure you keep a curvature in your arms, and don’t straighten them out at the top or bottom of the movement. Try three sets of 10, unless you’re doing these as a superset with push ups, in which case you may want to ease up. 

Overhead Presses
Equipment needed: dumbbells or barbell

Muscular young man doing an overhead press in front of several large windows.

Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, raise a barbell or two parallel dumbbells so they are directly under your chin. Your elbows should be almost underneath your hands. Press up slowly and extend your arms directly over your head, and slowly bring back down. If you have an incline bench handy, you can switch it up, but if you don’t, it’s ok. Try three sets of eight. 

Lateral Raises
Equipment needed: dumbbells

Young black-haired ethnic woman performing a lateral raise push workout with 2 pound weights.

Unless you’re an olympic gymnast who won gold on the rings (in which case, good for you! And why are you reading this?), you’re going to want to go super light on these. Choose two dumbbells that are so light that it might seem like a joke — those are the ones. Stand feet shoulder-width apart, holding those weights directly at your hips at your side. Bring them both up, keeping your arms straight, until parallel with your shoulders, then bring back down. Try three sets of ten.

Tricep Extension
Equipment needed: bench (optional), dumbbell

Fit young woman performing a tricep extension push workout in a fitness studio.

Sitting on a workout bench, with your back perfectly straight, pick up a dumbbell. Make a triangle with both hands and hold the top of the dumbbell straight above your head. Keep your elbows locked to the sides of your head (imagine your biceps are glued to your ears) and slowly bring the dumbbell back down behind your head, with your back, chest, and head firmly positioned and not moving. Try three sets of ten. 

Well that’s it! We hope you’ve enjoyed part 1 of the perfect push-pull upper body workout routine. Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon, that’ll just be focusing on your lower half. And if you’re looking for some guidance, check out Studio SWEAT onDemand’s huge library of virtual strength-training and other workouts that you can do anytime, anywhere. We also offer tons of Spinning, TRX, HIIT, Yoga, Barre, Bootcamp, Pilates classes, and a whole lot more. Wanna check us out? Sign up for our 7-Day Free Trial, and pu-pu-push it real good!

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