PPL vs Upper Lower [The Best Split Training Program]

While both Push/Pull/Legs (PPL) and Upper/Lower (UL) weight training schedules are popular and effective, we typically prefer the Upper/Lower body split. This training plan typically requires fewer days in the gym, and it allows you to do both push and pull exercises on upper body days. This prevents fatiguing your “push” or “pull” muscles and allows you to do all your upper body lifts with more power. However, both are excellent programs that are great for total body training to drive muscle growth. If PPL works best for your schedule, you won’t go wrong with it.

PPL vs Upper/Lower

What is PPL Training?

PPL is an acronym that stands for “Push, Pull, Legs.” Depending on how you build your workout plan, this program will put you in the gym anywhere from 4–6 days per week (see the sample schedules below).

  • PPL stands for “Push, Pull, Legs.” Each workout corresponds to one of these letters.
  • PPL programs typically include 4–6 weekly workouts.
  • A “Push” workout day focuses on upper body lifts with a pushing movement.
  • Your “Pull” day asks you to perform upper body exercises with a pulling motion.
  • The “Legs” day is for lower body exercises.

On push day, you will perform 4–5 upper body pushing exercises that target the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Sample exercises include bench press, overhead press, and skull crushers.

Pull day will focus on 4–5 upper body lifts with a pulling motion. These exercises are designed to target your back and biceps. A few exercises you may include are pull-ups, barbell rows, and bicep curls.

Leg day is, you guessed it, a workout consisting of 4–5 lower-body lifts. To work your lower body completely, you’ll have to target your quads, hamstrings, and calves. You may also include ab workouts on this day. Some exercises you may add to your workout routine are squats, Romanian deadlifts, calf raises, and hanging leg raises.

Sample PPL Schedule

The most grueling PPL schedule requires you to hit the gym 6 days per week. For many, this time commitment is too much to ask for. Luckily, you can modify the PPL program to perform 4 or 5 weekly workouts, depending on the week. Below are samples of both programs.

6-Day Schedule:

  • Monday: Push
  • Tuesday: Pull
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Push
  • Friday: Pull
  • Saturday: Legs
  • Sunday: Rest

4–5 Day Schedule:

Week 1

  • Monday: Push
  • Tuesday: Pull
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Push
  • Saturday: Pull
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 2

  • Monday: Legs
  • Tuesday: Push
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Pull
  • Friday: Legs
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

What is Upper/Lower Split Training?

Upper/Lower split training is a schedule where you perform upper body exercises on one day, followed by lower body exercises for your next workout. Most lifters who follow this program work out 4 days per week.

  • Upper/Lower body split training focuses on upper body lifts and lower body lifts for alternating workouts.
  • If you perform upper body lifts on one day, you will perform lower body lifts the next time you’re in the gym.
  • Most lifters on an upper/lower split train 4 days per week.
  • Upper body days ask you to perform 5–6 upper body exercises.
  • Lower body days ask you to perform 5–6 exercises that focus on your legs.

When following this program, you will perform 5–6 exercises per workout. This means each day in the gym will push you to your limit. It makes for an excellent program used by bodybuilders, strongmen, and athletes alike. Like PPL, it’s proven to build muscle mass.

Sample Upper/Lower Schedule

The Upper/Lower split can have as much variety as a PPL program. Since you are performing 2 upper body days and 2 lower body days per week, switch up which workouts you include. Your first upper body day may include bench press, pull-ups, and curls. Then, the second might focus on rows, tricep extensions, and push-ups. Here’s what a weekly Upper/Lower split looks like:

  • Monday: Upper
  • Tuesday: Lower
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Upper
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Lower
  • Sunday: Rest

What Should You Look for in a Lifting Program?

What is the measure of a good lifting program? First and foremost, it should be one you can commit to and stick with. It’s essential that the weightlifting program you choose fits your schedule. Getting in the gym is the most important part of any workout program.

  • Choose a program you can stick to.
  • Include 10–20 sets of hard work per muscle each week.
  • Allow for 2–4 rest days for muscle groups between workouts.

On the more scientific side, you need to do 10–20 sets of hard work (warm-up sets don’t count) per muscle per week to get results. That doesn’t just mean 10–20 sets of “arm” work. It means 10–20 sets of targeted biceps work and 10–20 sets of exercises that target your triceps. An ideal lifting program allows you to work every muscle to this degree. It also allows at least 2 full days of rest before you work out that muscle again. This prevents overtraining, drives muscle development, and prevents injury.

Which is the Best Workout plan? PPL vs. Upper/Lower

Now that you are familiar with the PPL and Upper/Lower split and what makes a good workout program, it’s time to compare these two plans. Then, we’ll decide which is better and why.

Upper/Lower Split: Pros

One of the biggest pros of the Upper/Lower split for most people is that the schedule only requires them to get to the gym 4 days per week. For many of us, driving to the gym takes a significant amount of time. It can be easier to commit to 4 days of training per week than training frequencies of 5 or 6 days each week. Another plus of the upper/lower split is mixing push and pull exercises in the same upper body workout. Rather than fatiguing one set of muscles with nonstop push exercises, you can do heavy push and pull exercises on the same day, maximizing the load you put on each muscle group.

  • Fewer weekly workouts
  • Less fatigue by mixing push/pull exercises into the same workout
  • More lower body emphasis
  • Better for beginners

Another positive of the upper/lower split is that it gets you to work your lower body 50% of the time you’re in the gym. In comparison, only 33% of your PPL workouts are lower-body focused. Because lower body compound lifts drive the most real strength gains and boost testosterone, including more of them is excellent for training. Plus, lower body exercises are often neglected despite being essential to a good fitness foundation. For beginners, getting off on the right foot is critical. This makes Upper/Lower splits ideal if you’re a beginning weightlifter.

Upper/Lower Split: Cons

If you’re only going to the gym 4 days per week, be prepared to put in more work each time you’re there. Upper/Lower split programs often include 5–6 exercises each day. This means you’re in for a long, brutal workout each time you’re in the gym. If you already have trouble getting motivated for leg day, looking at a laundry list of lower body workouts can make you feel true despair. If you dread long workouts, the Upper/Lower split isn’t for you.

  • Longer workouts
  • Daunting leg days
  • Muscle fatigue in upper body

The Upper/Lower split allows you to do big push and pull exercises on the same day, which benefits many. However, for some lifters, this can lead to extreme fatigue. You may not feel like you’ve recovered from your first upper body day by the time the second one rolls around. This can make some feel they’re not getting the most out of each workout, which is certainly a strike against the Upper/Lower split.

PPL: Pros

A big benefit of the PPL workout plan is that the workouts are much shorter than performing an Upper/Lower split. Instead of 5–6 exercises each day, you’ll be performing 3–4 lifts each day of a PPL program. For some, the idea of more brief exercises per week holds more appeal than fewer, longer workouts. If you’re one of those people, the PPL plan is perfect for you.

  • Shorter workouts
  • Balanced emphasis
  • Better for advanced lifters

When following a traditional Upper/Lower split, some lifters feel like their upper body workouts are spent trying to cram a little bit of everything into the workout. Jumping from chest, to back, to shoulders, to arms often leaves less room for accessory workouts. A PPL program gives more room to breathe. Your push day will have some big lifts, but then you’ll move into accessory workouts. This balance is more enjoyable for many, and advanced lifters honing their physique often find PPL more beneficial than a traditional body part split.

PPL: Cons

Although we presented a PPL plan that alternates between 4 and 5 workouts per week, some believe the best way to advance with a PPL plan is to get in the gym 6 times per week. For many of us, this is too much to ask. Not only is getting to the gym 6 times per week hard to fit into a schedule, but it’s also physically taxing. A lot of lifters don’t feel like they get enough recovery time with 1 weekly rest day. This can lead to fatigue, burnout, and abandonment of the program.

  • More weekly workouts
  • Overall fatigue
  • Beginners experience fatigue on push/pull days.

One reason beginners should be wary of PPL programs is that designated “push” and “pull” days put a lot of stress on one set of muscles. Your push muscles may feel gassed after the first 2 exercises, leading you to perform poorly during the remaining pushing motions. This can lead to poor form, injury, and feeling that you’re not performing up to your potential.

Is it Better to Do a Push/Pull/Legs or Upper/Lower Workout Plan?

The Push/Pull/Legs (PPL) and Upper/Lower (UL) workout plans are extremely effective ways to build muscle. Honestly, because both work so well, it largely comes down to personal preference. Here are our verdicts on which one is better and why:

  • If your preference and schedule means fewer, longer workouts are more manageable, start an Upper/Lower program.
  • If you like more frequent, shorter workouts, follow a PPL program.
  • Beginners should start with an Upper/Lower lifting program.
  • Advanced lifters who feel like their upper body is lagging should use a PPL program.

At Fitness Day One, we personally love compound lifts and targeting the lower body as much as the upper body, so find the best lifting plan that fits your schedule and targets the entire body.