If you're looking for a time-efficient method to boost your strength, build lean muscle and reduce muscle and strength imbalances, structure your workouts with push-pull training.
As the name suggests, push-pull programs alternate between push and pull movements (usually as supersets — two exercises performed back to back with little to no rest in between). For example, pull-ups and shoulder presses or bench presses and bent over rows.
Check out more of our 20-minute workouts here — we’ve got something for everyone.
Benefits of Push-Pull Training
For one, since push-pull training usually incorporates compound movements, you "stimulate more muscle fibers and create a larger release of growth hormone," says Life Time personal trainer Mike Thomson. "Both are good for building muscle and leaning out." (Not to mention burning lots of calories.)
What's more, push-pull workouts can help ward off injury. "Most novice gymgoers love the show muscles [think: chest, biceps and shoulders] and often neglect the muscles on the other side of their body that they can't see," Thomson says. But this uneven training tactic can lead to muscle weaknesses and imbalances.
"By doing push-pull programs, you're showing some love to the pull-based movements that are often overlooked," Thomson says. In other words, "having a strong back will reduce injury and, if trained properly, should improve your press-based movements," he says.
Try This 20-Minute Push-Pull Workout
Designed by Thomson, this effective and efficient push-pull routine works your whole body and helps you build muscle in only 20 minutes.
Superset 1: Pull-Up and Dip
Do: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps of both exercises with little to no rest in between. Rest for 30 seconds between sets.
Move 1: Pull-Up
- Grab the bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Engage your core and squeeze your glutes as you pull your shoulder blades down, as if they're going into your back pocket.
- Bend your elbows and pull your chest toward the bar.
- Slowly allow your body to lower back down to the full hanging position.
Move 2: Dip
- Stand facing the parallel bars and place one hand on each bar with your palms facing inward.
- Straighten your arms, lifting your body into the air while keeping your knees bent. This is the starting position.
- Bend your elbows but keep your arms squeezed to your sides and lower your body, stopping when your elbows make 90-degree angles. You may lean forward slightly but always try to maintain a straight spine.
- Press back up to the starting position.
Superset 2: Dumbbell Bent-Over Row and Biceps Curl
Do: 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps of both exercises with little to no rest in between. Rest for 30 seconds between sets.
Move 1: Dumbbell Bent-Over Row
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, dumbbells in both hands.
- Hinge your hips back and lean your torso forward, keeping your back flat.
- Row your arms up, keeping your elbows at your sides, and lift the weight up to your abdomen. Think about squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Lower the weight with control.
Move 2: Biceps Curl
- Stand tall with a dumbbell in each hand at your thighs.
- Contract your biceps to lift the weights up toward your shoulders.
- Lower the weights back down with control.
Superset 3: Dumbbell Reverse Fly and Push-Up
Do: 3 set of the given number of reps for each exercise with little to no rest in between. Rest for 30 seconds between sets.
Move 1: Dumbbell Reverse Fly
- Stand with your legs about hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand by your side.
- Hinge forward at your hips and bend your legs slightly, maintaining a flat back. This is the starting position.
- Exhale and raise your arms out to your sides, squeezing your shoulder blades together during the movement. Do not round your spine or move your head forward.
- Inhale and lower your arms to the starting position.
Move 2: Push-Up
- Begin in a high plank, hands directly beneath your shoulders, body in a straight line from head to hips to toes. Avoid hiking or sinking your hips.
- Bending at the elbows, begin to lower your chest toward the ground, keeping a flat back. Your elbows should form a 45-degree angle with your ribs.
- When your chest hovers an inch off the ground (or as far as you can go), exhale and press into the floor to return to high plank.
- Complete 3 sets of as many reps as you can with proper form.