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Push Pull Legs Circuits

The Push/Pull/Leg circuit is a classic training style that hits all the key muscle groups in a short amount of time. Here are a few of my favorite P/P/L routines.

Push Pull Legs Circuits

Being short on time doesn't mean you have to be short on options when it comes to getting your training in. Below, you'll find two of my favorite push/pull/legs circuits. These routines are easy to fit into a busy schedule, hitting all your major muscle groups hard and in a hurry. 

Bodyweight Push/Pull/Legs

Consider this my "No Excuses" workout. I've given you a few others recently, including my Full-Body Workout in the Park and On the Road Band Workout routines, both of which give you great workout options for times you're not able to get to the gym. You can also check out my Band Push/Pull/Leg Circuit, featured in my JYM Band Workout Breakdown article.

This one is even more bare bones—a full-body workout that requires no gym equipment and consists of only three exercises. This is a workout I like to do in a hotel room when I'm traveling and the hotel doesn't have a sufficient gym or fitness center. Here are the exercises:

  • Exercise 1: Push-Ups
  • Exercise 2: Inverted Rows
  • Exercise 3: Reverse Lunges or Step-Ups

With these three exercises, you're hitting more or less all the major muscle groups in the body through an upper body pushing exercise (push-ups), an upper body pull (rows) and a compound leg movement (lunges/step-ups). It's a simple circuit, but also very effective and very challenging if you keep it fast-paced and do several rounds.

Workout Details

The workout is simple. Do the exercises circuit-style: One set of each without resting in between. That's one circuit.

You may have to get a bit creative on inverted rows. In the video below, you'll see that I use a table and pull myself up underneath it while grabbing onto the sides. With lunges/step-ups, do whichever one you prefer. For step-ups, you'll need something sturdy to step onto, like a solid chair, bench or couch. With both rows and step-ups, make sure the furniture you use is sturdy enough to not break, since you probably won't want to replace or pay for a damaged table or chair.

For reps, do push-ups and inverted rows to failure each time through. For lunges/step-ups, I typically do these as a pyramid, 5 reps down to 1 rep – 5 reps stepping back with the left leg, 5 stepping back with the right, then 4 per side, then 3, then 2, then 1. You'll do this for lunges/step-ups in every round through the circuit.

I recommend doing the circuit at least three times through, resting 1-2 minutes between each round. Advanced individuals should do at least five rounds to bump up the volume.

Workout Add-Ons

As I mentioned before, the basic template of this workout is an upper body pull, an upper body push, and a leg movement. If you have more equipment available (a jungle gym set-up or even some dumbbells lying around), you can swap out exercises if you want. For example, you can do dips, incline push-ups or overhead dumbbell presses instead of push-ups; pull-ups or dumbbell rows instead of inverted rows; and/or bodyweight or dumbbell squats instead of lunges/step-ups. The possibilities are endless with this format.

You can also increase the circuit from three exercises to four or five simply by adding an abs/core exercise and/or a cardio activity (ala cardioacceleration). For the abs/core exercise, a sit-up, crunch or lying leg raise will work; for cardio, jumping jacks, running in place or burpees can be done anywhere with no equipment. With the abs/core exercise, shoot for higher reps (15-20+); for the cardio activity, go for 30-60 seconds.

With the added elements, the workout would look like this:

  • Exercise 1: Push-Ups – to failure
  • Exercise 2: Inverted Rows – to failure
  • Exercise 3: Reverse Lunges or Step-Ups – 5-4-3-2-1 per leg
  • Exercise 4: Lying Leg Raises – 15-20 reps
  • Exercise 5: Jumping Jacks – 60 seconds

Rest 1-2 minutes and repeat. Do 3-5 rounds total.

Bodyweight Push/Pull/Legs Circuit

Exercise Reps
Push-Up To failure
Inverted Row To failure
Reverse Lunge or Step-Up 5-4-3-2-1

Download This Workout

Dumbbell Push/Pull/Legs

The above bodyweight workout is great for those stuck at home or in a hotel room with no workout equipment, but even when you're able to get to the gym (as most of you probably are on a regular basis), that workout template is still great to use. If I'm going to do a circuit like that in a gym, I prefer to choose a single piece of equipment to minimize down time between sets – walking over to another training station can slow down a workout and decrease intensity, which is the exact opposite effect we're going for.

In this case, I'm talking about a dumbbell-only full-body circuit using the following three exercises:

  • Exercise 1: Flat-Bench Dumbbell Press
  • Exercise 2: One-Arm Dumbbell Row
  • Exercise 3: Dumbbell Squat (or lunge)

Workout Details

As with the bodyweight push/pull/legs circuit, you'll do each exercise back-to-back-to-back with minimal rest time between exercises. For each exercise, select a weight that will have you reaching failure somewhere around 10-12 reps. If you're at a gym, you'll have an entire rack of dumbbells in front of you, so you'll be able to use a different weight for each exercise if you want. But you can also choose to use the same weight for all three exercises, taking each set to failure (in which case you probably wouldn't end up at 10-12 reps for all three exercises, and that's fine.)

You'll do dumbbell presses first, then move onto one-arm dumbbell rows using the same bench you did the presses on. Do one set of rows for each arm before moving onto squats. For the dumbbell squat, you can choose any variation you like – a goblet squat using only one dumbbell, or a dumbbell front squat where the dumbbells sit on the fronts of your shoulders with your elbows up high (basically a clean/rack position with dumbbells). If you'd rather not squat, feel free to do a simple dumbbell lunge instead, doing 10-12 reps per leg.

Complete anywhere from 3-5 sets of the circuit, resting 1-2 minutes between each circuit.

And as I mentioned in the bodyweight circuit, you can also add an ab/core exercise and cardio activity to the circuit for a total of five exercises. For the ab/core exercise, a regular or reverse crunch on the floor will work; for the cardio move, 60 seconds of bench step-ups at your station is a good choice.

Dumbbell Push/Pull/Legs Circuit

Exercise Reps
Flat-Bench Dumbbell Press 10-12
One-Arm Dumbbell Row 10-12 per side
Dumbbell Squat 10-12

Complete this circuit 3-5 times, resting 1-2 minutes between each circuit.

This workout probably won't take very long – you could probably do five sets of this circuit in around 20 minutes (or even less if you're in good shape). If you're short on time, feel free to stop there. If you want to do more, pick out three other dumbbell exercises (one upper body push, one upper body pull, one leg move) and do the same type of circuit 3-5 times through. I recommend switching the order of muscle groups, and even varying the rep counts, if you do another circuit. For example...

Optional Circuit #2

Exercise Reps
Dumbbell Step-Up (onto bench) 15 per leg
Dumbbell Bent-Over Row (both arms) 15
Dumbbell Overhead Press (standing or seated) 15

Complete this circuit 3-5 times, resting 1-2 minutes between each circuit.

Download This Workout


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