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Back to Basics: Push, Pull, Leg

By: Leo Totten, MS, USAW 5

There are a lot of fancy training methodologies out there. How do the Bulgarians train, how do the Chinese train, what is the latest and greatest out there? The truth is, there are many ways to “skin the cat”, so to speak, but sometimes its just good to get back to basics.

Its all about “focus”. In our day to day living, many of us try to “multi-task” and do an OK job at a lot of things, but are we really focused on any one thing and doing it really well?


The same holds true for training. Sometimes we as coaches and athletes, try to do too much or jump around trying to do too many varieties of exercises and training strategies. All of this is actually a form of multi-tasking. It works but are you really focused to get the maximum benefit?


Here is a strategy that I have found to be simplistic but yet very effective: Push / Pull / Leg.

All of the major muscle groups are worked by focusing on one exercise from each of these three “categories”.


The concept was developed out of necessity back in my high school teaching days when I taught weightlifting classes in our Physical Education department. At the time, we had 55 minute class periods which didn’t leave too much time in the actual weight room. By the time the kids got down the hall, changed their clothes in the locker room, got in their squads for roll and team stretching, not to mention leaving enough time at the end of class to get to the locker room and change clothes again, we actually only had about 30 minutes of time in the weight room. Not much, huh??


In order to get the most out of the time, the Push / Pull / Leg plan was developed. We chose one exercise from each category to focus on that day. The class kept moving so that we could get 10 solid minutes in each category which equated to about 4 sets or so with reps determined by the exercise goal (we hustled, for sure!) We wanted to work all the major muscle groups in the short time we had allotted, so by doing one exercise from each category, we were able to accomplish that goal.


The exercise depended on the goal of the cycle and where the class was at in their learning stages but the choices were:



PUSH PULL LEG

Bench press Deadlift Back squat

Incline press Clean pull Front squat

Push press RDL Lunges

Push jerk Power clean Step ups

DB bench press Power snatch Overhead squat

Think about it, if each person does any one of the exercises listed from each category, all of the major muscles of the body have been worked. Granted, some of the smaller, “beach” muscles weren’t worked, but you know the athletes will find time to fit those in at home or when they had free time at the gym. But while they were with me, we hit the most important muscles in every workout! We were going to take full advantage of the little time we had in the weight room.


Fast forward to later on in my teaching career. Now, instead of 55 minute class periods, we changed over to the 90 minute module!! Man, we were in heaven!! We could REALLY get some kick butt workouts in now! We could take time for a dynamic warmup, 45-60 minutes in the weight room, followed by a nice cool down activity. Life was good!!


But, you know what? We still stuck to the Push/Pull/Leg routine but now could take our time and really focus even more!!




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