Plotting your workout schedule can be overwhelming. There are a lot of ways you can organize your sweats to optimize your results. You can plan around muscle groups (leg workouts and arm workouts), knock everything out with a full body routine or split your sessions into pull days and push days.
If you’re thinking huh?! Allow me to introduce you to pull-day workouts. “A typical pull-day workout consists of upper-body exercises that utilize a pulling motion,” says Jennifer JacobsCPT, and founder of the J METHOD.
Meet the experts: Jennifer Jacobs, CPT, is a certified personal trainer, creator of Beachbody’s Job 1, and founder of the J Method. Kelly Bryant, CPT, RYT, is a certified personal trainer and registered yoga teacher who is a coach on training app Future.
It’s important to think about all the angles—vertical pulling (lat pulldowns, pullups, and chinups), horizontal pulling (bent over rows, seated cable rows, and chest supported rows), and hinge movements (deadlifts and good mornings)—for a well-rounded mix of moves on pull day, adds Jacobs.
What makes a pull day so great? Pull moves primarily engage the posterior chain (the back of the body), which are key for posture, mobility, and functional strength, explains Jacobs. “Splitting your training between pull and push days is a straightforward way to create a program that will allow a variety of movements to avoid overuse and injury, optimize training time, and accomplish more training in a shorter period,” she adds.
This rockstar pull-day workout from Kelly Bryant, CPT, RYT, a coach with personal training app Future, includes a primary lift and accessory work. It works upper and lower body, hitting shoulders, lats, biceps, triceps, core, glutes, and hamstrings and is effective for all levels.
Equipment: dumbbells, resistance band, bench (or elevated surface) | Good for: bodysuit
Instructions: Complete the prescribed reps for the first two moves (primary lift). Rest for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Repeat twice more for a total of three supersets. Then, complete four rounds of 8 reps each of the last four exercises (accessory moves). Rest only as needed between exercises and rounds.
1. Dumbbell Deadlift
- Holding two dumbbells in your hands, stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Position the weights in front of your thighs, palms facing your body.
- Keeping your knees slightly bent, press your hips back as you hinge at the waist and lower the dumbbells toward the floor. (“Push your hips back like you’re shutting a car door with your butt,” says Bryant.)
- Squeeze your whole back side of the legs to return to standing. That’s one rep. Complete 10 reps.
Resistance Band Deadlift (Alternative)
- Start standing with feet hip-distance apart and a resistance band wrapped around arches.
- Grab the top of the band with both hands, arms straight, and press hips backward into a hinge position.
- Drive down through heels to stand up straight, squeezing glutes at the top. That’s one rep.
2. Renegade Row
- Start in a plank position with feet hips-width apart and dumbbells in hands (palms facing inward).
- Engage entire body and bend left elbow to row left arm up until upper arm is at least parallel with side.
- Keep shoulders and hips square to the floor. Maintaining stability, slowly lowering the dumbbell back to the floor. Repeat with right arm. That’s one rep. Complete 6 reps.
3. Walking Lunge w/ Biceps Curl
- Start standing with feet together and a dumbbell in each hand.
- Take a big step forward with right foot and lower down into a lunge until both legs form 90-degree angles and left knee lightly touches the floor (or as close as you can go). In this position, bend at both elbows to curl dumbbells up to shoulder height.
- With control, lower dumbbells, then press through your left foot to extend legs and step it forward next to your right foot.
- Continue alternating right and left.
4. Resistance Band Pull-Apart
- Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold a resistance band taut between both hands and extend arms straight in front of body in line with shoulders (palms facing floor and elbows slightly bent).
- Squeeze the shoulder blades together and engage core as you pull fists outwards past shoulders.
- Slowly return to start. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: Maintain strong, straight wrists throughout.
5. Glute Bridge
- Lie on your back with feet flat against the floor and knees bent.
- Squeeze your glutes and lift your hips off of the floor until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Pause at the top, then lower back down to the starting position. That’s one rep.
6. Lateral Raise
- Stand with knees slightly bent and feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells with arms at sides.
- Lift dumbbells out wide until arms are parallel to the floor.
- Lower with control to return to start. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: If you prefer, swap the band for a pair of dumbbells and complete the same movement.
Pull-Day Workout FAQs:
In case you still have a few questions lingering about pull-day exercises, here are all the answers from trainers.
What are the benefits of pull days?
The main benefit of incorporating pull days into your workout plan is that it helps break up your training. Focusing on specific muscle groups on designated days, gives your muscles adequate rest on the off days, and reduces your chances of overuse or injury. It also helps keep your fitness routine fresh while training your *entire* body.
The complement to pull days are push day workoutswhich naturally include ”pushing exercises.” These target the opposing muscles including the chest, shoulders, triceps, quads and calves, explains Jacobs. Think moves where you literally push something away from your body (the floor during squats or dumbbells during shoulder presses).
How many exercises is best for a pull day?
For an effective pull day, Bryant usually includes 5 to 8 exercises. This is how many movements it takes to get a good amount of work in both the upper and lower body, she says.
Keep in mind, the number of exercises doesn’t matter as much as hitting all the essential body parts. “A pull day (or pull days, combined if you’re doing two) needs to hit the glutes, hamstrings, and upper and mid back, including the lats, traps, and rhomboids,” Bryant says. “To a lesser extent, we also want to hit arm and shoulder muscles like biceps, triceps, and deltoids.”
She also opts for moves like hip thrusts, single-leg deadlifts, or pullovers and some unilateral (use one side of the body at a time) like a single-arm row, single-arm pull-down, or walking lunges to kick up the core stability work.
What is a good push/pull day schedule?
You can start with one push day and one pull day each week. “If you’re working out on a push-pull split, you definitely want to be hitting each of those at least once per week,” Bryant says. “If you’re balancing out your strength training with things like yoga, Pilates, running, or other activities, one push and one pull day per week will be enough to see progress.”
However, if you’re really focusing on strength-training, it’s great if you can hit push and pull twice per week, each.
Sample Pull/Push Workout Week:
M: Sweater T: Push W: Rest Th: Sweater F: Push Her: Rest Su: Rest
Keep in mind that your pulling muscles all like to work together and support one another, so you’ll never be truly focusing on only one muscle group or one part of the body, Bryant adds.
What are the best pull-day exercises?
Deadlifts. “They power up our glutes and hamstrings, which is fantastic recovery for folks who spend most of their time sitting,” says Bryant. “Those glutes and hammies are lengthened when sitting, and contracting them in a deadlift helps wake them back up to support day-to-day movements like unloading the washing machine, picking up a kiddo out of a playard, or really any heavy bending and lifting we may encounter.”
Resistance band pull-aparts. “These are a really helpful movement to work the postural muscles between the shoulder blades and can be a helpful movement snack between Zoom meetings,” says Bryant.
Rows. “There are dozens of ways to complete a row, whether that’s using a band, dumbbells, cable machine, barbell, kettlebell, or suspension trainer, and rows can be done with one or both hands,” says Bryant. “A simple and straightforward option for most people is to start with a bent over dumbbell row.”
Resistance band pull down. “Tea lats are one of our most under-trained muscles in modern life,” Bryant says. “We simply don’t spend enough time playing on monkey bars. They’re so important for stabilizing the shoulder blade and preventing injury. For those of us who work out from home or don’t have access to a pullup bar or pull-down machine, it can be especially challenging to find ways to work those lats.”
Pullover to triceps extension. “I actually discovered on Instagram that seemed gimmicky, but I truly fell in love with it,” says Bryant. “It’s super efficient, hitting your abs, lats, pecs, and triceps, along with all of the smaller shoulder stabilizing muscles.”
Walking lunges. There’s some debate as to whether lunges are a push or pull movement, per Bryant. They do add some extra work for the posterior chain.
Bottom line: Think of pull exercises as an effective way to strengthen muscles all over and max out on recovery between workouts while reducing your risk of injury.
Andi Breitowich is a Chicago-based writer and graduate student at Northwestern Medill. She’s a mass consumer of social media and cares about women’s rights, holistic wellness, and non-stigmatizing reproductive care. As a former collegiate pole vaulter, she has a love for all things fitness and is currently obsessed with Peloton Tread workouts and hot yoga.