Best Push Day Workout Routine & Exercises for Muscle Growth

Barbell Medicine
January 26, 2024
Reading Time: 31 minutes
Table of Contents

    If you’re looking for an efficient way to drive strength and muscle hypertrophy in your upper body, changing up your training split to include a dedicated push day may be the way to go. By utilizing a movement pattern training split that includes dedicated training days for push, pull, and leg exercises, a lifter can focus on all of the muscles contributing to a given movement without much carryover fatigue to the next training day, which uses primarily different muscles.

    In general, push or “pressing” movement patterns predominantly train the muscles of the chest, shoulders, and triceps. If you plan on adding a push day to your program, you will need a few efficient exercises to help you maximize your gains.

    In this article, we’ll take you through a few of our favorite push day exercises, which are the barbell bench press, the overhead press, the dumbbell flye, the dumbbell lateral raise, and the overhead triceps extension.

    For those who like to switch things up a little, we will mention some alternative exercises you could do to add variety to your program. We’ll also delve into the specifics of push days — go into what they are, how to plan your nutritional intake for effective push days, as well as share tips for training safely and achieving maximum results.

    But before diving any deeper, let’s first cover the basics— what is a push day, and why do we incorporate it into our programs?

    What Is a Push Day?

    A push day, as the name suggests, is a training day that entails working out the muscles that push the weight away from our bodies. If you’re thinking of a bench press, or any other pressing exercise for that matter, you’ve got the right idea, as most push-day exercises will involve a pushing or pressing motion where our arms lock out at the end of the range of motion.

    In a training split, push days are mostly upper-body focused; however, some trainees may choose to incorporate leg exercises into them, while others will add a separate lower-body day into their training splits. Either way, adding push days to your routine can be extremely beneficial, as pushing motions could be regarded as a cornerstone of strength performance.

    Think of it this way: even to do some of the most basic movements, such as opening a door or getting off the ground, we need to utilize some of our “push” muscles. Not to mention that we use these muscles to perform some of the most basic lifts, such as bench presses. Training these muscles can provide a lot in terms of improving strength and endurance in the upper body, as well as building well-toned and aesthetic chest, shoulders, and arms.

    Adding a push day to your routine could also provide the added benefit of more efficiently targeting these muscles and allowing for better recovery. Push days are typically programmed together with “pull” days, which incorporate rowing exercises and train the latissimus dorsi, biceps brachii, trapezius, and lower back muscles. While they don’t necessarily have to be programmed like this, push and pull days are often planned consecutively (or sometimes as part of a push/pull/leg day training split), giving the trainee the chance to focus on and exhaust a smaller number of muscles on the same day, while allowing them to rest and recover on the next day.

    So, now that we’ve defined push days and some of their benefits, let’s take a closer look at the muscle groups they focus on. 

    Muscles Worked in a Push Day Workout

    The muscles worked in a push day are the pectoralis major, deltoids, and triceps brachii. These muscles all contribute to the flexion and adduction of the arms in some manner, making them necessary components of every pressing movement, which is what push days are all about.

    To understand how these muscles are engaged and utilized in pressing movements, we’d have to take a closer look at each of them and what they do. So, let’s start with the largest muscle group of the three— the pectorals.

    Media type: Image

    Media Content: The pectoralis major & minor muscles of a human.

    The pectorals are what we refer to as the chest muscles. This muscle group is the second largest in our upper bodies, closely following the latissimus dorsi. It’s made up of two muscles: the pectoralis major, which is the larger of the two, covering the whole chest area, and the pectoralis minor, which is a much smaller muscle located under the pectoralis major.

    The pectoralis major is the biggest muscle in our chests and the second biggest in our upper bodies. While it is located under the breast tissue in women, in men, it’s located under the skin and subcutaneous fat. It comprises two heads: the larger sternocostal head, which originates from the sternum, the top costal cartilages of the ribs, and the sheet-like tendon of the external oblique muscle, as well as the clavicular head, which originates from the clavicle. [1]

    On the other hand, the pectoralis minor is a much smaller muscle and thus has limited functions. It is a triangular muscle that originates from the third to fifth rib margins, which are next to the costochondral junction. But just because it’s smaller doesn’t mean it’s insignificant. The pectoralis minor plays a major role in stabilizing the scapula, also known as the shoulder blade, by pulling it anteriorly and downward against the thoracic wall. [2]

    In a pressing motion like the bench press, the pectoralis major is engaged in adduction as you push the load away from your torso. The pectoralis minor is not directly involved in the movement but rather works to stabilize the shoulders.

    Speaking of shoulders, let’s take a closer look at our shoulder muscles next.

    Media type: Image

    Media Content: The deltoid muscles of a human.

    The deltoid muscles, also known as the shoulder muscles, have been traditionally divided into three functional heads; the anterior head, which originates from the lateral one-third of the clavicle, the middle or acromial head, which is the largest and originates from the acromiom’s lateral margin, and the posterior head, which originates from the scapular spine. Although recent research has revealed that these three heads could be divided into seven sub-divisions based on their functions and tendon insertions, in this article, we will focus on these three main heads. [3]

    The deltoid muscles are the primary movers of the shoulder abduction, which refers to the movement of the humerus at the shoulder joint away from the midline of the body. They are also responsible for dislocating the humerus head when an individual carries a load.

    Next up, we’ll be taking a closer look at our triceps.

    Media type: Image

    Media Content: The triceps of a human.

    Much like the pectoralis major and the deltoid muscles, the triceps brachii are made up of different parts — three to be exact. These parts are the long, lateral, and medial heads. The triceps are the only muscles that lie parallel to the posterior humerus. Their primary duties include extending the elbow and stabilizing the shoulder joint. While the medial head is engaged in all forms of elbow extensions, the long and lateral heads are only activated against resistance. [4] The long head also aids in adducting the humerus, which brings the upper arm closer to the body.

    The function of the triceps in relation to the shoulder is less obvious. Although it helps with shoulder adduction and extension, other muscles — such as the deltoids and latissimus dorsi — play a more critical role in executing these movements. [5]

    Now that we’ve covered the muscles worked in a push day, their functions, and how they are engaged in pressing motions, we can move on to the part you’ve been waiting for — the ultimate push day workout.

    The Ultimate Push Day Workout Routine

    Here’s a quick overview of the exercises we’ve selected for the ultimate push-day routine:

    • Barbell bench press
    • Overhead press
    • Dumbbell flye
    • Dumbbell lateral raise
    • Overhead triceps extension

    1. Barbell Bench Press

    Barbell Bench Press

    Media type: GIF
    Media Content: Someone doing a barbell bench press.

    Movement Category: Primary

    Programming: 5 sets of 4 to 6 repetitions

    Weight: Use a weight that leaves you 2 to 3 repetitions short of failure, e.g. RPE 7 to 8.

    The barbell bench press is a popular exercise that many fitness enthusiasts incorporate into their workout programs. It’s a compound movement that targets the pectorals, anterior deltoid, and triceps brachii.

    The bench press is an extremely effective workout for achieving improved strength and hypertrophy in the chest. Studies show that even in untrained individuals, two to three months of bench press training may result in a substantial increase in muscle thickness. [6-8]

    The secondary muscles recruited during a bench press are the triceps, followed by the anterior deltoid. All of the “push-day” muscles are agonists in this exercise; however, the triceps and delts tend to not contribute as much to the movement as compared to the pectoralis major. This can be observed from the way that the triceps grow at a reduced rate compared to that of the chest muscles from the bench press, and most of the growth occurs in the lateral head. [9] As for the delts, the bench press mainly focuses the load on the anterior deltoid, so to train the deltoid muscles as a whole, other exercises that target the middle and posterior heads should be incorporated into the workout program.

    To do a bench press:

    • Lie on the bench — your head should barely be ahead of the barbell when viewed from the side. This makes it possible for the bar to move up and down without colliding with the rack.
    • Using an overhand grip, grab the barbell with both hands, leaving a space of two or three hands wider than a shoulder grip between your thumbs.
    • Press your shoulder blades back into the bench and fix your eyes on a point somewhere just over your feet on the ceiling.
    • Lift the bar off the rack and let it hover over your shoulder joint. This is your starting position.
    • Inhale deeply and hold your breath.
    • Lower the bar down until it touches your sternum, about a couple of inches in front of your shoulder joint. The elbow and humerus should form a 30 to 40-degree angle with the torso in this position.
    • Press the bar back up to the starting position.

    2. Overhead Press

    Overhead Press

    Media type: GIF
    Media Content: Someone doing a barbell overhead press.

    Movement Category: Secondary

    Programming: 3 to 5 sets of 6 to 10 repetitions

    Weight: Use a weight that leaves you 2 to 3 repetitions short of failure, e.g. RPE 7 to 8.

    The overhead press is another classic pressing exercise that is done quite similarly to the bench press; however, the pressing angle is quite different. This exercise, which can be done both standing and sitting, mainly targets the anterior deltoid while recruiting the middle head of the delts and the triceps as secondary muscles. In this article, we will focus on the standing overhead press. This is because, while the push muscles do most of the work, the overhead press could also be considered a full-body movement, as it activates many additional muscles, such as the trunk and core, to stabilize the body while going through the range of motion. This required stability allows for more activation, and all push-day muscles exhibit higher levels of muscle activity in the standing variation.

    To do an overhead press:

    • Set the barbell in the hooks of a power rack, level with your upper chest.
    • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
    • Grab the barbells in a hook grip, leaving a space of two or three hands wider than a shoulder grip between your thumbs.
    • Make sure that your core is tight and your chin is tucked.
    • Grab the bar off the rack and set it over your clavicle. Keep your chest high and elbows pointed forward. You should be looking straight ahead of you. This is your starting position.
    • When ready, press the bar up until your arms are locked out. Make sure to squeeze your glutes and keep your back straight.
    • Lower the bar down slowly with control.
    • Your knees should remain locked throughout the range of motion.

    3. Dumbbell Flyes

    Dumbbell Flyes


    Media type: GIF
    Media Content: Someone doing a dumbbell flye.

    Movement Category: Tertiary

    Programming: 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions

    Weight: Use a weight that leaves you 1 to 2 repetitions short of failure or your 1RM, e.g. RPE 8 to 10.

    Dumbbell flyes are an isolation movement that mainly targets the pectorals while also challenging the anterior deltoids and recruiting the triceps and biceps for stabilization. The great thing about dumbbell flyes is that they offer a great ROM. The range of motion necessary to complete the movement also makes it an excellent exercise for achieving hypertrophy.

    To do dumbbell flyes:

    • Lie on your back on an incline or flat bench.
    • Set your feet firmly on the ground, on either side of the bench.
    • Pick up a dumbbell in each hand (or have a spotter hand them over to you).
    • Lift your arms straight up above you, just short of lockout.
    • Ensure your elbows are slightly bent and your palms are facing each other. This is your starting position.
    • Inhale, then slowly lower your dumbbells laterally, in an arc motion, until they are level with your chest. Make sure to maintain a slight bend in your elbow. Avoid locking your arms out.
    • To reverse the motion, focus on pulling the dumbbells up and back together. At the highest point of the range of motion, the dumbbells should be hovering over your shoulder joint.

    4. Dumbbell Lateral Raise

    Dumbbell Lateral Raise


    Media type: GIF
    Media Content: Someone doing a dumbbell lateral raise

    Movement Category: Tertiary

    Programming: 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions

    Weight: Use a weight that leaves you 1 to 2 repetitions short of failure or your 1RM, e.g. RPE 8 to 10.

    If you’re aiming to grow your shoulders, the dumbbell lateral raise may be one of your go-to exercises. The dumbbell lateral raise targets all heads of the deltoid muscles but puts the focus on the lateral head. The dumbbell lateral raise isolates the shoulder muscles and is a great exercise to incorporate into your routine, especially if you want wider shoulders, as it can effectively drive hypertrophy in the shoulders, making them bigger.

    To do a dumbbell lateral raise:

    • Grab a set of dumbbells and stand straight with your feet hip-distance apart.
    • You should hold the dumbbells slightly away from your body, with your palms facing your sides. This is your starting position.
    • Slowly raise the dumbbells until your arms are in T-position and lined up with your shoulders. Do this with as much control as possible.
    • Your shoulders, elbows, and wrists should be locked out and should form a straight line throughout the range of motion. Don’t let your wrists trail ahead of your elbows.
    • Hold at the top of the motion, then lower your arms back to the starting position slowly and with control. Don’t let the dumbbells touch your sides at the lowest point of the movement.

    Push Day Exercise Alternatives

    Doing the same exercises day in and day out may become tedious after a while. We all need some variety here and there to keep our workouts enjoyable. Therefore, we’re sharing some alternative exercises that could replace the ones we shared above in the workout.

    Keep in mind that these exercises stay true to the general mechanics of the program and engage the same muscles in similar ways, albeit with different equipment. So, switching these exercises out for one another won’t provide variety in how the muscles are targeted and will mostly yield similar results.

    Here’s an overview of the alternative exercises with their counterparts in the program:

    • The dumbbell bench press instead of the barbell bench press.
    • High incline bench press instead of the overhead press.
    • Cable crossover instead of the dumbbell flye.
    • Cable lateral raise instead of the dumbbell lateral raise.

    1. Dumbbell Bench Press

    The Dumbbell Bench Press


    Media type: GIF
    Media Content: Someone doing a dumbbell bench press.

    Movement Category: Primary

    Programming: 3 to 5 sets of 4 to 6 repetitions

    Weight: Use a weight that leaves you 2 to 3 repetitions short of failure, e.g. RPE 7 to 8.

    Much like the barbell bench press, the dumbbell bench press is a compound exercise that mainly targets the pectorals while getting assistance from the triceps and anterior deltoid. One of the benefits of doing the bench press with dumbbells instead of barbells is that dumbbells actually allow for a larger range of motion, which could be useful if you’re training for hypertrophy. [10] Apart from this, there are some key differences in the results produced by the two types of equipment. For example, a 2017 study showed that the barbell bench press elicited higher activity levels in the triceps, while dumbbell bench presses were found to be more effective for pectoral activation. [11]

    To do a dumbbell bench press:

    • Pick up the dumbbells using a neutral grip with your hands facing inwards.
    • Sit on the bench and place the dumbbells’ ends on your hip crease.
    • Lie back and hold the dumbbells close to your chest.
    • When you’re ready, take a deep breath and press the dumbbells up until your arms are locked out. This is your starting position.
    • Slowly lower the dumbbells back down until the handles are at chest level.
    • Press the dumbbells back up to the starting position while contracting your chest at the top of the motion.

    2. High Incline Bench Press

    Incline Bench Press


    Media type: GIF
    Media Content: Someone doing a high-incline bench press.

    Movement Category: Secondary

    Programming: 3 to 5 sets of 6 to 10 repetitions

    Weight:  Use a weight that leaves you 2 to 3 repetitions short of failure, e.g. RPE 7 to 8.

    The high-incline bench press is a compound exercise that could be switched out for the overhead press in the outlined workout routine. When we talk about incline bench presses, two things may come to mind: that most sources recommend an incline of 15 to 30 degrees and that the exercise mainly targets the upper chest. The high-incline bench press, however, is typically done at an angle between 45 to 70 degrees, and while it does entail some upper pec activation, it may require relatively more contribution from the deltoid muscles.

    To do a high-incline bench press:

    • For this exercise, you’ll need a power rack with a bench.
    • Set your incline to anywhere between 45 to 70 degrees and place the bar on the rack, high enough to grab onto it with an overhand grip and a 90-degree bend in your elbows.
    • When you’re ready, inhale, lift the bar off the rack, and press it up until your arms are locked out. This is your starting position.
    • Slowly lower the bar back down until it touches your upper chest before lifting it back up to the starting position.

    3. Cable Crossover

    Cable Crossover


    Media type: GIF
    Media Content: Someone doing cable crossovers.

    Movement Category: Tertiary

    Programming: 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions

    Weight: Use a weight that leaves you 1 to 2 repetitions short of failure or your 1RM, e.g. RPE 8 to 10.

    Another excellent isolation exercise for increasing the size of the entire pectoral muscle group is the cable crossover. It’s a favorite among many fitness enthusiasts for a good reason — when you cross your wrists over one another at the end of a long range of motion, it promotes deep pectoral contraction. Because of the extra humeral abduction, the crossover action may help to better activate the pectoralis major and serratus anterior.

    Performing a cable crossover:

    • Adjust the pulleys to shoulder height.
    • Use an overhand grip to hold onto the cables.
    • Stand with your back facing the cable machine and your feet planted on the ground, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
    • Take a big step forward with one leg. The leg in front should be bent slightly at the knee, while the back leg remains straight.
    • Lift your arms and make a 90-degree bend in your elbows. Keep your forearms parallel to the ground.
    • Maintain a straight back, high chest, and tight core. This is your starting position.
    • Inhale, and on the exhale, push your arms forward and towards one another until your wrists cross in the middle.
    • Take a deep breath and slowly retract your arms back to the starting position with as much control as possible.
    • Switch up the wrist that ends up on top with each repetition.

    4. Cable Lateral Raise

    1-Arm Cable Lateral Raise


    Media type: GIF
    Media Content: Someone doing cable lateral raises.

    Movement Category: Tertiary

    Programming: 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions

    Weight: Use a weight that leaves you 1 to 2 repetitions short of failure or your 1RM, e.g. RPE 8 to 10.

    Much like the dumbbell lateral raise, the cable lateral raise targets the deltoid muscles — mainly the middle delts. The trapezius muscles are also engaged during this exercise. The cable lateral raise is another staple exercise to include in your program if you’re aiming to get a V-taper look, as it mainly serves the purpose of building strength and muscle hypertrophy in the shoulders.

    It can also be done two different ways: in the first, the cable is pulled by an arm in front of your torso, and, in the second, the cable is pulled from the back. For convenience’s sake, we will focus on the former.

    To do a cable lateral raise:

    • Set the cable machine pulley to the lowest position and attach a single handle.
    • Stand with your feet planted hip-distance apart, your left side facing the cable machine.
    • Reach over your body with your right hand and grab the handle with a neutral grip. This is your starting position
    • Pull the handle across, keeping a slight bend forward in your elbow.
    • Raise the handle laterally, then slowly lower it back to the starting position with control.

    5. Overhead Triceps Extension

    Overhead Triceps Extension

    Media type: GIF
    Media Content: Someone doing overhead triceps extensions.

    Movement Category: Tertiary

    Programming: 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions

    Weight: Use a weight that leaves you 1 to 2 repetitions short of failure or your 1RM, e.g. RPE 8 to 10.

    The overhead triceps extension is an isolation movement that works the triceps branchii at the elbow joint with the shoulder placed into extension, thereby training the triceps at a near maximal length.

    This exercise can be done with a cable, EZ-curl bar, one dumbbell or a pair, but today, we will cover the variation done with two dumbbells.

    To do overhead triceps extensions:

    • Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart, a dumbbell in each hand.
    • Raise the dumbbells overhead and press them together.
    • Slowly lower them behind your head until your hands are level with your shoulders and your elbows are elevated. Keep your head and neck neutral, and tuck your chin in. This is your starting position.
    • Before starting the movement, make sure that your weight is evenly distributed between your feet, that you stand tall, and that your shoulders and core are engaged.
    • Squeeze your triceps and start straightening your arms. Go on until your elbows are just short of lockout. Pause for a second.
    • Return to the starting position with as much control as possible.

    While other pressing exercises could be incorporated into your push-day routine, programming a mix of the exercises we’ve mentioned here to your workout will be more than enough. Just keep in mind that you should avoid programming these exercises randomly. We suggest doing one primary and secondary movement, along with two isolation movements in the same workout.

    But that’s not all. Yes, we know that it would be so much easier to just follow an efficient workout program and call it a day, but other factors play into getting actual results. Among the most important of those is nutrition.

    Push Day Nutrition & Supplements

    The types and amount of food we eat have a substantial impact on health and making gains. While there’s a lot of nutrition information available, much of it is confusing and, in many cases, not well-supported by scientific evidence. Fortunately, there is a lot of overlap between a diet that is health-promoting and one that also supports high levels of physical performance. In this section, we’ll cover the basics of how to eat a diet that does both.

    Why Is Nutrition Important?

    The aim of a healthy diet across the lifespan is to promote normal growth and development, to improve and maintain robust health and function throughout adulthood, and to prevent or delay the development of disease. Improving and maintaining muscle mass and high levels of muscle function are incredibly important for health. Subsequently, there’s considerable overlap between a diet that promotes health and one that supports gains from training.

    That being said, there is no single “perfect” diet; a healthy diet can take many different forms. We use the term dietary pattern to describe the habitual, average dietary intake over long periods of time. This long-term dietary pattern is the main determinant of the health effects of a given diet, and improving dietary patterns across the population is a major public health goal. [12] Similarly, the dietary pattern also plays a significant role in how much muscle mass and strength someone gains from their training. Let’s cover some of the important details to eating a diet that does both.

    How Muscle Protein Synthesis Works

    One of the most important ways to support your training, muscle mass, and muscle function is to consume enough protein in an effort to support muscle protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis is an anabolic (e.g. tissue building) response to two main inputs: 1) dietary protein and 2) resistance training.

    When consuming a meal with an ample amount of protein, muscle protein synthesis rates increase for a few hours, returning to baseline shortly thereafter. [40]  By contrast, a single bout of resistance training typically increases muscle protein synthesis rates for over 24 hours, making it a very potent anabolic stimulus. Resistance training also stimulates muscle protein breakdown during the exercise to some degree. To improve strength or hypertrophy, muscle protein synthesis must outpace muscle protein breakdown.

    While resistance training does increase muscle protein synthesis rates, the correct amount of dietary protein is needed to serve as the building blocks for muscle tissue repair, remodeling, and turnover. As expected, not consuming enough dietary protein while lifting weights tends to result in less muscle mass and strength being gained. [14,15]

    How Dietary Adjustments Enhance Results

    Let’s look at some research. A 2015 study looked into the effects of protein consumption in relation to resistance training. The study involved measuring the changes in the body composition of two subject groups, one consuming a high-protein diet, and the other consuming a diet with average amounts of protein while resistance training. The group consuming a high protein diet saw more significant changes in body composition, including a decrease in weight, fat mass, and body fat percentage, as well as a higher increase in muscle mass compared to the normal protein group. [16]

    To add to this, a meta-analysis of 89 articles studying the effects of increased protein intake during a resistance training period has revealed the following:

    • Muscle strength is increased when resistance training is combined with protein supplementation in those not consuming enough protein otherwise.
    • For every 0.1 g/kg body weight/day increase in total protein intake during resistance training, muscle strength increases by 0.72%.
    • Increasing daily protein intake without resistance training does not lead to an increase in muscle strength. [17]

    So, we’ve gone over the importance of protein, but what does available research say about carbs?

    With respect to muscle strength, a recent review of 49 studies has revealed that there may not be much of a correlation between carbohydrate intake in the short- or medium-term, as most studies did not find significant differences in strength performance between groups consuming low- or moderate- to high-carbohydrate diets. [18]

    Unfortunately, many of these studies were relatively short in length, were uncontrolled from a nutrition standpoint, used untrained subjects, and had relatively low training volumes. It may be that carbohydrate restriction, which is poorly defined in the literature, doesn’t really make a difference unless the training volume is quite high, the lifter is advanced, and/or actually low in carbohydrates.

    However, consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrates may have its benefits in some specific scenarios. Lower levels of liver and muscle glucose, e.g., muscle glycogen, reduce the rate of energy generation compared to higher levels, which limits the intensity of exercise that can be sustained. [19, 20] Reduced muscle glycogen impairs muscular force production by altering the flow of calcium, which is necessary for muscle contraction. [21, 22] It is currently thought that muscle glycogen levels below ~70 mmol/kg represents a threshold where muscular force production decreases, contributing to fatigue and limiting performance. [23] This suggests a threshold for reduced levels of muscle glycogen influencing performance, whereas a smaller decrease may have little to no effect.

    For these reasons, consuming carbohydrates prior to exercise when an individual is fasted and/or increasing carbohydrates during prolonged training sessions can help stave off glycogen depletion. [24] This is relevant because glycogen depletion is actually one of the factors that contribute to fatigue, so regulating your carbohydrate intake may allow you to offset fatigue for longer periods. In these scenarios, consuming a liquid carbohydrate supplement before and/or during prolonged endurance or high volume resistance training may be beneficial for performance. [25]

    Clearly, nutrition is important, and consuming the right diet can truly make a difference when it comes to getting results. But we’ve yet to answer the question of how you should plan your nutrition. The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all diet plan that can grant you the strength and bulk you desire. Our bodies are vastly different from one another, and if you’re looking for the right diet plan, you’ll need to find the right one for you. That being said, there are certain methods you could implement to plan a diet based on your personal needs, and we’ll share them with you now.

    Protein Recommendations

    Total protein intake for the average person should be roughly 1.6 grams per kilogram of total body weight per day, unless there is a special medical need for less. People who are actively reducing weight and/or have risk factors for anabolic resistance may set greater goals. [26] Highly competitive physique athletes, such as bodybuilders, who want to preserve as much muscle as possible while dieting, may benefit from boosting their protein intake by as much as 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight each day.

    For those able to consume protein within this range, plant protein sources (such as soy, lentils, etc.) appear to be equivalent to animal protein sources (such as fish or eggs) for promoting strength and muscle growth. However, the distinction between plant and animal protein sources may be more important for those eating a protein-restricted diet, for example less than 1 gram of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day, in which case prioritizing animal-derived protein sources may lead to better outcomes with respect to strength & muscle growth. [27] It is worth noting that there may still be other health benefits to plant-derived protein sources apart from muscle-related effects.

    In terms of protein intake, there are additional measures you could take to boost your gains. The aim should be to trigger the maximum amount of muscle protein synthesis, and this can be done by eating proteins at the right time of the day. For example, research shows that spacing protein intake three to five hours throughout the day can elevate muscle protein synthesis levels over 12 hours. [28] We also recommend including proteins in each meal so you can distribute your daily protein intake between the meals you eat throughout the day.

    Carbohydrate Recommendations

    While increasing protein intake for resistance training has ample evidence showing benefit, it’s less clear that people should adopt a particular level of dietary carbohydrate intake. In general, we recommend a starting point of approximately 3 to 5 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram in body weight. [29]

    One note, recent evidence has suggested that low levels of dietary carbohydrate may impair muscle mass gain along with endurance performance, particularly in trained individuals. [30, 31] Based on the existing evidence, we do not recommend a very low carbohydrate diet for trained individuals whose goals include significant muscular hypertrophy or strength, though a low-carbohydrate diet may be a reasonable choice for individuals new to exercise training who are trying to lose weight. There is likely minimal risk of impairing muscle gain in these individuals, particularly when compared to the substantial benefits of reducing fat mass and improving dietary patterns.

    Supplement Recommendations

    Supplements are very common, with ~75% of Americans reported taking dietary supplements in the previous year, contributing to the over $35 billion dollars-a-year supplement market. [32, 33] Unfortunately, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there about what supplements are useful or even safe. While we don’t think most people need to take a supplement, we acknowledge that there are some supplements with evidence for improving health and performance. In this section, we’ll briefly cover some information regarding supplement safety as well as what evidence-based supplementation can look like.

    For health, very few supplements are backed by good evidence that supports their benefits. For example, supplementing with vitamin D, fish oil, or multivitamins doesn’t seem to be beneficial at reducing risk of heart disease or certain types of cancer for most people. [34, 35, 36]

    Below is a list of supplements from our store that we recommend for individuals undergoing resistance training:

    • A protein supplement like WheyRx may be beneficial for health and performance for those who would otherwise not consume the recommended amount of protein. [37]
    • A small set of supplements have research showing benefit for performance; these are found in our Peri-Rx supplement, if that is consistent with someone’s goals. However, for individuals who are highly sensitive to caffeine, we also have non-caffeinated versions of this supplement, such as Peri-RX Watermelon.

    Getting the right amount of carbohydrates and protein in your diet will definitely facilitate achieving your desired results. While supplements aren’t totally necessary, they can boost the benefits of resistance training, making them useful for any resistance training diet plan.

    So, now that we’ve shared tips for nutrition planning let’s delve into some other tips trainees could implement into their training to achieve maximum results.

    Tips & Guidance for Maximum Results

    Apart from consuming the appropriate nutrients and taking supplements, there are a few other things you could do to ensure maximum results. We strongly advise considering these tips while going through your program to get the most out of it.  So, let’s start with our first tip, which is just as important as eating well — working out with the appropriate weights.

    Choose the Right Weights

    We’ve already mentioned the appropriate weights for each movement in the exercise descriptions, and it’s important to adhere to these guidelines. Using weights that are too light will not be effective in producing results, as it won’t challenge the muscles enough for development. Using weights that are too heavy may result in injuries.

    Training with the right load, however, will safely challenge your muscles enough to improve strength and trigger hypertrophy. Matching the load to your current fitness level, movement proficiency, and the recommended exercise is important and part of progressive loading. Only use the proper amount of weight for the recommended rep range and RPE.

    Plan Your Repetition Scheme

    Rep ranges are also important. The repetition scheme used determines the type of adaptations an individual gets from their training.

    For example, strength-focused programs typically prescribe lower rep ranges than size-focused programs so that individuals can handle weights closer to the 1RM. A powerlifting-focused program may recommend that the lifter perform the squat for 5 sets of 3 reps at 80% of their 1RM, each set being about 3 to 4 reps shy of failure, e.g. RPE 6.

    While this prescription could work for bodybuilding — particularly for compound movements (e.g. multi-joint exercises) — isolation exercises and/or those done with machines are typically programmed for higher rep ranges, which necessitate a reduced intensity. In other words, the  rep ranges for the hypertrophy will tend to be higher, though the viable rep range is relatively wide, ~ 4 to 25 reps per set or so. [38]

    Practice Progressive Loading

    This is probably the most important tip we could offer, as without progressive loading, chances are your program will stop working after a while. As mentioned above, progressive loading refers to the matching the load, reps, and/or other elements of the training one uses for resistance training to their current level of fitness. As an individual gains fitness, e.g. strength, stamina, and endurance, the load, reps completed, and so on will also increase. This allows us to continually challenge our muscles and trigger the mechanisms for building strength and muscle mass without generating too much fatigue. 

    Our muscles grow and get stronger after a period of systematic training, but to keep achieving results, we need to challenge our muscles continually. Not doing so will result in a plateau, which is when we stop seeing results. So, trainees need to measure their RPE from time to time, and switch over to the appropriate weights once using a set becomes too easy.

    Safety Precautions to Adhere

    Resistance training can be very beneficial to our health if done correctly, but can also be dangerous if we don’t adhere to safety precautions. Here is a list of precautions to adhere to, to make sure you’re training safely:

    • Practice proper technique: Each exercise can be characterized by specific points of performance, e.g., range of motion, tempo, posture, and so on, which ultimately result in  a range of acceptable techniques for an individual. Provided the exercise is performed in a repeatable way, using an efficient movement pattern, and meets all the points of performance specified for the exercise, an individual’s self-selected technique is good to go. We expect technique to vary over the course of a lifter’s career and would advise people to not be rigidly attached to a particular movement pattern.
    • Use well-maintained equipment: A lot of gym accidents are not caused by the trainee doing the movement wrong, but rather by faulty equipment. Always make sure to check if the equipment is well-maintained and operating smoothly before starting your exercise. Again, if you’re not sure of how you could understand if a piece of equipment is well-maintained, ask the gym staff to check it for you.
    • Avoid overdoing it: In general, a proper training program should not make you extremely sore or tired on a regular basis. If it does, it’s likely the training load is too high. Using autoregulation can be helpful to make sure you are selecting the right weight is important, but so is selecting the right program.
    • Reach out to professionals: If you still have questions about safety while training, or would like to get some help for perfecting your technique, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Our coaching team, which includes qualified physicians and personal trainers, will provide you with the tools you need to achieve your goals safely.

    How to Track Your Progress

    So, we’ve given you a killer workout program and some tips on how to maximize your results. You’re ready to implement them, but how would you know if they’re actually working? It’s hard to track progress just by looking in the mirror.

    There are three extremely effective ways to track your progress. They could be done alone, or combined with either one or both of the other ways. Let’s check them out.

    Keep a Fitness Journal

    This may seem tedious, but it actually works. It’s not uncommon for personal trainers to keep workout logs of their clients, but doing the same could help clients in a multitude of ways, too!

    Fitness journals are an excellent way to keep track of your training and progress. While some choose to only log their workouts, keeping tabs on other components could be useful too. For example, logging weights lifted, completed reps, RPE, and conditioning performed may be useful in assessing your progress. Yes, while this may sound like extra work, having all of this information down in writing will greatly facilitate keeping track of your results.

    Common Questions

    To finish off this article, we thought we’d share our answers to two of the most common questions we’ll get from trainees. Keep in mind that these answers may not exactly be what you want to hear. We only share information that is backed by evidence and the latest developments in sports science, so while our answers may not sound as buzzy as answers you’d get from other sources, you can be sure that we’re only providing reliable and, most importantly, realistic information.

    How Many Push Day Exercises Are Enough?

    The number of push-day exercises will rely on a few key factors: intensity, frequency, and volume. You can read about each component in detail in our How Many Chest Exercises Per Workout article, but to give you a brief overview:

    • Intensity refers to the weight used for an exercise.
    • Volume refers to the number of repetitions performed for a muscle group or movement in a given time period — usually measured by a single workout or full training week.
    • Frequency refers to how many types a muscle or muscle group are trained within a week.

    So, for example, our recommendations for beginners would be the following:

    • Exercise selection — Select 1 to 3 exercises based on your preferences to train each of major muscle groups of the body.
    • Volume — Complete 2 to 3 sets of 3 to 20 repetitions of each exercise
    • Intensity —Use a weight that gets you within ~4 to 5 repetitions of failure for each set at the designated rep range.
    • Frequency — Perform 2 to 3 exercises for each muscle group over two to three sessions per week.

    Regardless of where you’re at in your fitness journey, the key here is to target all of your push muscles within the same workout, which are the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, triceps brachii, anterior deltoid, middle deltoid, and posterior deltoid.

    We also advise incorporating two compound exercises and two isolation exercises in your workout. We’ve provided an example of an effective push-day workout, but as long as you follow this formula, you can program other exercises and achieve similar results.

    When Will I See Results?

    In short — at least 4 weeks or longer. Let us explain. [39]

    Gains in muscle strength through resistance training are frequently reported in the literature. Most studies will first measure the average strength of the test group participating in resistance training, then measure how individuals respond compared to the average. In most studies, the average strength of the subjects increases, however, this increase is not uniform and varies greatly from individual to individual. While a small group may not show any increase in strength (non-responders), some will get much stronger (“extreme” responders). The rest usually fall somewhere in between.

    The rate at which individuals increase their strength also varies. A recent evaluation of 40 resistance-training studies in which strength was tested consistently throughout the research period — not just before and after — discovered that it took an average of 4.3 weeks to see a meaningful gain. The time it took for the first noticeable gain in strength to appear ranged between 1 and 12 weeks. The extent of the strength improvement also varied throughout the 40 trials, ranging from 3 to 40% for squat 1-repetition max strength tests. [40]

    Another factor that further complicates these variables is the day-to-day fluctuations in performance. External and internal elements such as the individual’s environment, mood, motivation, energy levels, strategy, activity type, and more have the ability to affect performance level for each training session or competition. [41]

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    The Barbell Medicine Website Editorial Team consists of Fitness, Health, Nutrition, and Strength Training experts. Our Team is led by Jordan Feigenbaum, MD, an elite competitive powerlifter, health educator, and fitness & strength coach.
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