Welcome to the first workout of the Ultimate Push-Pull Leg Series.
In this blog, we’re hitting the first push workout of the week. Over the course of the next six blogs, I’ll be taking you through the rest of the push-pull leg sessions to complete the full week of workouts.
If you want to get everything in your hands right away, you can pick up the full push-pull legs hypertrophy plan which recently launched over on jeffnippard.com. I’ll have a little more info about that at the end of the blog
PUSH DAY 1
In this one, we have seven exercises that target the chest, shoulders, and triceps. So, let’s get right to it.
After a quick five-minute warm-up on the treadmill or StairMaster and a few upper-body dynamic drills like arm circles and cable external rotations, you’ll kick the workout off with your first exercise.
EXERCISE 1 OF 7: BENCH PRESS - 1 SET x 3-5 REPS
Obviously, before this heavy working set, you’ll want to do a full warm-up pyramid to get the blood flowing and prepare yourself mentally for that heavy load to come on the top set. Here’s my full warm-up protocol for your reference.
Applying this, you want to set up an arch that feels comfortable to you, with the most important thing being that you get tight and stable on the bench. It doesn’t have to be a huge power-lifting style arch, but you should at least dig your upper back into the bench so you’ll have a strong base of support. I further suggest that you pinch your shoulder blades together and tuck your shoulder blades down. Rolling your elbows forward will also further increase stability.
For the max effort top set, have a spotter help you unrack the bar by lifting the weight out softly, not yanking it up aggressively. As illustrated in the pic below, make sure you have 3 points of contact with the bench.
- Upper back
Lower the bar down and slightly forward until it reaches the highest contact point on your chest. Then, press the bar slightly back and up with as much explosive force as possible. As long as your elbows are slightly tucked on the negative, you can optionally flare them out as you push the weight up. However, some people may find flaring uncomfortable on their shoulders. If this applies to you, realize that there’s a pretty wide range of elbow tuck that’s perfectly fine on the bench press. This is because when you look at the way the pec fibers fan out, anything from 0 to 30 degree of elbow tuck is going to line up with the majority of the pec fibers anyhow.
Within this range, you can pick a level of flair that you feel works your pecs well, that you’re reasonably strong with, and doesn’t give you any pain or discomfort.
If you don’t have a spotter, you can try unracking the bar with your butt up off the bench (this is legal in competition). Then, once you’ve unracked, drop your butt down onto the bench and start your set from there.
One thing worth noting is that the International Powerlifting Federation recently updated the rule book in an attempt to combat the increasingly out-of-control range of motion problem with more and more exaggerated arching. Currently, you need to reach a certain amount of elbow depth in order for the lift to count.
According to the new rules, you need to get the bottom of your elbow below the top of your shoulder joint, in order for the lift to count. I’m confident that as long as your arch isn’t really massive, this shouldn’t be an issue for most lifters.
For the final reps on your top set, the bar speed should clearly slow down, you’re still keeping your form tight, and maybe you could have gotten just one more rep.
If you don’t like to bench press, for whatever reason, feel free to swap it out for a flat dumbbell press or even a machine press, as long as you keep the same number of sets and reps.
EXERCISE 2 OF 7: LARSEN PRESS - 2 SETS x 10 REPS
For these two sets, you’ll want to drop the weight back to about 75 percent of what you used for your heavy top set. For example, if you did 295 pounds for your top set, you would use about 225 pounds for your Larsen press.
The Larsen Press is basically just a normal bench press except, rather than having your feet planted on the floor, your legs lie flat on the bench. I’ll usually grab another bench or a box that I can set my feet on, so they aren’t left hanging. This helps me keep my balance on the bench a bit better.
Other than keeping your feet up, do the same setup, with the same arch. Keeping your feet off the floor will completely eliminate any leg drive, thereby more proficiently helping to isolate the pecs, front delts, and triceps. To make the movement even more hypertrophic, I’ll take a slightly closer grip, which will increase the range of motion and shift the emphasis slightly more toward the upper pecs and triceps.
Unlike the top set, where you’re using explosive force on every rep, here, your lift will need to have a nice smooth and controlled tempo with a one to two second negative and a one to two second positive, softly touching the chest at the bottom. Rather than just moving the weight from point A to point B, be certain to feel the pecs and triceps stretching and contracting as you press.
EXERCISE 3 OF 7: STANDING ARNOLD PRESS - 3 SETS x 8-10 REPS
For the most part, I think any optimized push day should have both a horizontal press to target the pecs more, and a vertical press to target the shoulders more. Of course, if you’re really pressed for time, you could collapse them both into a single incline press, as we did in our minimalistic workouts. The difference here is that you’re going for maximum effectiveness over maximum efficiency, so you’ll need to do both pushing movements.
The standing Arnold press begins with the dumbbells facing palms in. As you press upwards, you’re going to flare your elbows out until you get to full elbow extension. Then, reverse the motion back down, focusing on controlling the weight through the entire range of motion.
In the past, I’ve often hit these in a higher rep range and thought of them more as a mind-muscle connection pump-style exercise. Because of this, I’ve often limited myself to 30 or 40-pound dumbbells. But lately, I’ve been loading them quite a bit heavier and have worked my way up to 60-pound dumbbells for sets of 8 to 10.
I’ve found that thinking of the lift more like a barbell overhead press, by squeezing my glutes and driving through my heels, has helped me overload my shoulders better. Most recently, I think of it more like an in-between movement. That is, I still want to feel my delts working, and I still want to get a good shoulder pump, but I’m also much more focused on gradually increasing the weight as well.
Also, this is an exercise where wearing a belt and wrist straps can make a pretty big difference. If you have either of those, I definitely recommend throwing them on for this one.
EXERCISE 4A: PRESS-AROUND - 2 SETS x 12-15 REPS
EXERCISE 4B: PEC STRETCH: 2 SETS x 30 SEC HOLD
The press-around is one of those exercises that can, for many, feel a bit awkward at first. However, once most lifters “play around” with it for a few weeks, it tends to really click. I tend to think of this exercise like a combination between a cable flye and a cable press, except you’re doing one arm at a time.
The key thing when executing the movement is to press around your body, past the midline, to get the most possible end-range contraction out of the pecs. If you think about pretty much every other exercise that hits the pecs, they almost all stop at or before the midline.
When you press, you stop before the midline. When you flye, you stop before the midline. When you dip, you stop before the midline. However, the chest isn’t fully contracted until well past the midline. To compensate for this limited contraction, with the press-around, we’re trying to target that very end-range of motion that hardly ever gets hit.
With that said, is that end-range of motion really important for a hypertrophy? I’m not sure. As far as I know, it’s never been directly studied, at least not in this context, but I certainly can’t see it hurting, especially if the stretch isn’t being compromised.
After hitting one side on the press-around, you’ll stretch that same pec for a 30-second hold. Then, switch and do a press-around with the other arm, followed by stretching that other pec for a 30-second hold as well.
Three years ago, I uploaded a video breaking down a study which showed that holding a stretch for 30 seconds between sets at about a 7 out of 10 intensity, so just before the point of pain or discomfort, was able to increase muscle growth by approximately 50 percent.
The group that did traditional training without inter-set stretching saw a 6.2-millimeter increase in muscle thickness, while the group that did stretching in between sets saw a 9.4-millimeter increase on average.
Since then, more research has come out on the topic. Just this past month, a new review was published by Schoenfeld and colleagues where they concluded that inter-set stretching may enhance muscular adaptations without increasing the time spent exercising. It’s time efficient because you can just do the stretching while you’re resting in between sets.
It’s reassuring to know that the benefit of stretching in between sets seems to be gaining scientific support over time. We also don’t need to worry about any potential strength interference because we’re doing the static stretching on our last exercise for the pecs for the day. However, even if we were doing that stretching earlier, it wouldn’t be a big deal because contrary to popular belief, static stretching doesn’t seem to interfere with strength unless the stretch is held for longer than 60 to 90 seconds. So to me, this seems to be something with only potential upsides. As of now, there seems to be no clear downsides. After all, you’re just resting between sets anyway, so why not add some stretching.
EXERCISE 5 OF 7: CROSS-BODY CABLE Y-RAISE - 3 SETS x 12-15 REPS
I first saw this movement in a training vlog from one of the natural bodybuilding GOATs, Alberto Nunez. He was talking about how he gets a much better stretch on these than he does with regular cable lateral raises. I now understand why.
To illustrate, if you look at the lean-away Egyptian cable lateral raise, which I’m still a big fan of by the way, you’ll notice that your body sort of blocks you from getting a really deep stretch on the delts. Pause and think for a minute about how, if you’re going to stretch your side delts as much as possible, you’re not just going to put your arm against your side. Instead, you’re going to pull your arm across your body, and in doing so, you should feel a bigger stretch in your delts.
Similarly, with the crossbody y-raise we also want this kind of stretch, except under active tension. The way Alberto described the movement was to think about drawing a sword at the bottom, and then sort of flicking it up and out at the top. One thing to be aware of is that you don’t want to turn this into a front raise. You’re not lifting the cable up in front of you. Instead, we’re lifting it out and back in a diagonal plane of motion.
A further plug for the Y-raise comes from considering the anatomy of the deltoid muscle fibers. It’s pretty common knowledge that there are three heads: the front or anterior head, the side or lateral head, and the rear or posterior head.
However, the latest Anatomy Literature suggests that the deltoids may be better thought of as having seven intramuscular segments.
As you can see in the diagram, some of these compartments, like the D4 and D5 segments, could be hit more effectively with something sort of in between a front raise and a lateral raise. It turns out that this is precisely what the Y-raise accomplishes. The bottom line is that lifting the arm out at slightly different angles and in slightly different planes of motion is more likely to maximize the development of the entire shoulder and help create that round, 3D deltoid look more effectively.
EXERCISE 6A: SQUEEZE-ONLY PRESSDOWN - 3 SETS x 8 REPS
EXERCISE 6B: STRETCH-ONLY OVERHEAD EXTENSION - 3 SETS x 8 REPS
You’ll hit both of these exercises as a superset, doing them back-to-back without resting in between. Basically, you’re doing partial half reps on both of these exercises. On the pressdowns, you’re doing the second half of the range of motion, hitting the squeeze part only. On the overhead tricep extension, you're only doing the first half of the range of motion, so hitting the stretch part only.
I give credit to HypertrophyCoach for this combo. I first saw this on his Instagram and proceeded to try it out for myself. It clicked immediately! I think the reason it works so well is the second half of the pressdown is the hardest part of that exercise. HypertrophyCoach calls this staying where it’s the hardest. However, you can’t just do half reps because we know that the stretch aspect of the lift is probably the most important. Since it’s really hard to get a good stretch on the triceps with pressdowns, instead, we’ll just flip around and do half-rep stretched partials with the overhead extension. This is a fun combo move and I think you guys will really feel your triceps working in a unique way.
EXERCISE 7 OF 7: CROSS-BODY TRICEP EXTENSION - 2 SETS x 10-12 REPS
The goal in exercise seven is to get in a little extra tricep volume with the arm positioned at a less conventional angle. Since most people pretty much always do tricep extensions and tricep pressdowns with the arms tucked into the side, I think the cross-body extension is a good variation to include.
Because the long head of the triceps crosses both the elbow joint and the shoulder joint, varying your shoulder position can impact which region of the triceps you’re emphasizing. As of now, I don’t think we have the scientific evidence to be able to say with any real confidence which shoulder position is best at targeting which division of the triceps. Since most likely there’s going to be individual differences regardless of shoulder positioning, my best recommendation is to include a variety of tricep exercises that puts the shoulder in different positions, periodically swapping them in and out.
As I said at the beginning, if you guys are looking to get started on the full week of training right away, I recently launched my new Push-Pull Legs Hypertrophy System over on jeffnippard.com. This covers 12 weeks of push-pull legs workouts and is split up into three phases.
Phase 1 uses the workouts that I’ll be doing on my youtube channel and is designed with moderate to high volume and moderate to high intensity.
Phase 2 is a low-volume and ultra-high-intensity phase. It’s a really fun and unique four weeks of training.
Phase 3 is what I’m calling the super-compensation phase. This is where we jack volume all the way up even higher than in Phase 1 and do very high-rep metabolic-style training. The idea is that after the low volume of Phase 2, we’ll be much more sensitive to the increase in volume in Phase 3. Then after week 12, there’s a full deload week, from which you can start the program over again and keep running it through for as long as you’re continuing to make progress.
You also get a full spreadsheet for tracking your progress, an e-book that explains everything you need to know about the program, and access to a full video library of exercise demos from me. There are over 75 exercises included in the program. Since it’s designed for intermediate to advanced trainees, if you’re still in your first year or two of training, I suggest running through my Fundamentals Program at least once first before moving on to this routine.
For the record, I’ve been running this program myself and if you want to run it as well, you can pick it up over at jeffnippard.com or click the link below.
My Fundamentals Training Program: https://jeffnippard.com/products/fundamentals-hypertrophy-program
A summed-up video of this blog is also available on my YouTube channel.
That’s it for this one, guys. Thank you so much! I’ll see you guys all here for the next blog.
IPF 2023 Bench Press Rules:
Hypertrophy Coach Instagram Post:
Alberto Nunez Training Vlog: