Pull Day workouts

The Ultimate Pull Day Guide For A Strong Back And An Upper Body To Envy

You’re finally getting the hang of strength training, and you’re ready to get serious about focusing on each muscle group. Athletes passionate about strength and muscle gain often work opposing muscle groups on different days. You may hear this called a push/pull/legs split – or PPL. 

This article will focus on the pull day, which specifically targets the muscles of the back (posterior chain), biceps, and shoulder muscles. 

  • What is a pull day?
  • The benefits of a split routine
  • A typical PPL schedule
  • Pull day order, volume, and rest intervals
  • Muscle activation
  • Upper-body Pulling exercises
  • Lower-body pulling exercises

What is a Pull Day?

A “Pull Day” incorporates pulling movements that engage the upper body and posterior chain muscles. Pulling movements develop the biceps brachii, and the back musculature, such as the latissimus dorsi (or lats), teres major, rhomboids, and trapezius (traps). 

Upper-body pulling movements involve primarily vertical and horizontal pulling. These movements are exactly what they sound like and target specific muscle groups. Vertical pulling from overhead involves the lats, biceps, and teres major (a small muscle under the shoulder blade), while horizontal pulling from forward to back works the rhomboids, lats, and traps.

The Push/Pull/Legs Split

This split is for the lifter ready to transition beyond simply training “upper” and “lower” muscle groups. The PPL split is for the dedicated athlete who can devote more time to the gym and understands how to perform an array of lifts using various types of equipment. 

The benefit of the PPL split is a constantly varied workout that incorporates compound and isolation movements for increased muscle focus and calorie expenditure

When comparing a full body routine to the PPL split, the split maximizes hypertrophic response. The split routine allows for greater recovery between sessions while maintaining training volume.

The PPL Split Schedule

Advanced athletes follow a 6-day training schedule, with one day of rest. Intermediate athletes might prefer programming that looks like this:

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

The basic concept is that you work opposing muscle groups on different days without overtraining or undertraining. 

Here are a few other factors to consider before we move on to the actual exercises:  

  • Exercise order
  • Exercise volume
  • Rest periods 


In most cases, you want to work the largest muscle groups first.  In the case of a pull day, your largest group would be the lats, then the traps, the rhomboids, and finally, the biceps.  You should never train the biceps first, as you don’t want this small muscle group fatigued and unable to complete the pulling movements for larger muscles. Keep in mind that many exercises (such as pull-ups) will work several muscle groups at the same time. 


Volume describes the number of sets and repetitions and depends on your goal. To tone your muscles and develop muscular endurance, you’ll incorporate higher rep schemes (think 15+) with less weight. For muscle hypertrophy, i.e., increased muscle mass, research shows that a heavy load with a moderate rep range of 6-12 reps is best. 

Rest Periods

Rest intervals are a key factor in strength training that many overlook but is vital to muscle growth. Like volume, the length of your rest period depends on your goal. If your goal is to maximize endurance, a rest interval of 45 – < 120 seconds is ideal between high repetition sets. Alternately, if your goal is muscle strength and you’re lifting to muscle failure, rest periods should be longer. Your muscle fibers need time to recover to pull at a maximum load again, demanding rest intervals of 2 – 5 minutes. One study found that longer rest periods (three minutes) promoted the greatest increases in muscle strength and hypertrophy.  

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Now that you understand the training schedule, order, rep scheme, and intensity, let’s jump into the movements. 

Don’t Skip the Warm-up

Activating the muscles is essential for proper mind-muscle connection. Activating simply means “switching on” smaller muscle groups so larger muscles, like the lats, aren’t doing all the work. Activating the muscles you plan to train improves muscle contraction, strength, and power

First, jump on an assault bike or rowing machine for some aerobic movement to get the muscles warm and the blood pumping. These two machines specifically work the biceps, shoulders, back, and legs. Next, perform these movements to activate muscles in your shoulders and back:

Reverse snow angels

This movement stabilizes the scapular muscles and offers a full shoulder range of motion.

Band Pull-Aparts

Using a band, pull your hands away from each other and squeeze your shoulder blades together. This movement will activate your rhomboids, trapezius, and rear delts.

Scapular Pull-Ups (with a band)

To perform pull-ups (and other pulling motions) correctly, you must learn how to engage the scapula. To properly retract the scapula in a pull-up position, think of rolling your shoulders down and back from your ears, which should squeeze your shoulder blades (scapula) together and push your chest forward. This activates the rhomboids and trapezius and prevents overdevelopment of the lats. 

Upper-Body Pulling Movements

The following are key pulling exercises to include in any pull-day routine.

  • Pull-ups – The ability to do strict pull-ups is a goal for many, and the lat muscles are a critical player in this movement, along with the lower trapezius and biceps. As mentioned above, work on scapular activation to strengthen your pulling ability. 
  • Chin-ups – These are easier than pull-ups, though they isolate the traps to a lesser degree. Chin-ups place a more significant load on the biceps. 
  • Lat pull-downs – If you’re still working toward pull-ups, lat pull-downs mimic this movement the best. Remember to lean slightly back and keep the elbows tucked for greater activation. 
  • Bent-Over Barbell Rows – This pulling movement works the rear delts, middle and lower traps, and latissimus dorsi. This exercise also aids in creating a stronger lower back than other types of rowing movements. Avoid common mistakes such as bending over too far and pulling at the wrong angle. Remember the number “45” for optimal positioning with this exercise: Don’t bend over more than 45 degrees, and keep the elbows out at a 45-degree angle when pulling. 
  • Horizontal rows (on a machine) – This movement focuses on the mid-back, specifically the rhomboids, and trapezius. Remember to squeeze!

Grip position

Your grip position on all movements will develop different, smaller muscle groups. For instance, you can perform a lat pull-down with a wide-grip, mid-grip, or close-grip. A closer grip will work the biceps more, and a reverse grip better targets the lower lats. Try different grip positions when using equipment to feel how a slight change targets new muscles.

Don’t Forget the Rear Delts

A well-rounded (pun intended) deltoid isn’t complete without focus on the posterior delts. Horizontal pulling movements will best target the rear delts.

  • Face pulls – Get the most out of this movement by performing it kneeling and lying. Attach a tricep rope to a cable system and kneel on one knee. Pull the cable straight toward your face, with the movement ending with each end of the rope behind your ears. This position strengthens the rotator cuff. When performed lying, it minimizes gravity and better activates the rear delts. 
  • Wide grip seated row – Using the lat pull-down bar, affix it to the cable row machine to allow for a wide grip. Pull with your elbows perpendicular to your body. 
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Putting In The Bro Work 

The biceps receive plenty of action with all the movements mentioned above and may feel smoked by the end of your gym session. If you’re seeking an extreme bicep pump, there’s nothing better than bicep curls. There are a ton of variations of bicep curls, with each slight position change working different areas of the biceps brachii. Incorporate these curls into your pull day:

  • Concentration curls – Performed while seated with the back of the upper arm resting on the inside of the thigh. This movement prevents any swinging and offers a full range of motion to isolate the biceps.
  • Hammer curls – The dumbbells should look like you’re holding a hammer, arms by your sides with the palms facing each other. Curl the weight straight up, maintaining this position. This movement targets the outer head of the bicep.
  • Preacher curls – Seated with the elbows resting on a bench, curl the barbell with the palms facing upwards. Perform this movement slowly and allow for a full extension stretch.
  • Cable Curls – Use the same tricep rope you used for face pulls. This variation offers constant pulling tension for maximum muscle fatigue.

This video describes the science behind pull workouts for the back, biceps, and deltoids.

Unilateral Pulling Exercises

Don’t be afraid to incorporate unilateral movements into your training. Unilateral exercises focus on one side of the body at a time, which allows you to recognize and develop weak areas. Try out single-arm curls, rows, and pull-downs for maximum gains.

Sample Upper-Body Pull Day Workout

  • Lat pull-down: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Seated cable row: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Barbell rows: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Face pulls: 4 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Dumbbell shrugs: 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Bicep curls (cable) 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Bicep curls (hammer) 3 sets to failure

List of Upper-Body Pulling Movements

Customize your perfect pull day by incorporating these movements:

  • Lat pull-downs
  • Lat pull-overs with a dumbell
  • Rope pull-down
  • Bent-over row
  • Dumbbell row
  • T-bar row
  • Seated cable row
  • Pull-up
  • Chin-up
  • Dumbbell shrug
  • Plate curl
  • TRX bicep curl
  • Zottman curl
  • Band bicep curl 
  • E-Z bar bicep curl

Lower-Body Pulling Movements

Pulling movements aren’t relegated only to the upper body. Deadlifts and associated movements continue to work the upper body while creating a strong posterior chain. 

The standard deadlift most prominently works the quads and hamstrings, but also the extensor muscles in the lower back and the core muscles to stabilize the spine. The upper extremities are also involved as the deadlift requires grip strength and shoulder stabilization. Strong rhomboids and trapezius muscles help the scapula retract to prevent a hunched position. 

Good mornings

Try these as a warm-up (and exercise as your strength progresses) to wake up the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles. Place a barbell in the back rack position, but instead of squatting, keep the knees slightly bent and hinge forward into a 90-degree angle, keeping the back flat, then return to standing and squeeze the glutes.

Conventional Deadlifts vs. Romanian Deadlifts

The starting position is the difference between a conventional deadlift and a Romanian deadlift (RDL). A conventional deadlift starts at the ground, while a Romanian deadlift starts below the waist. The conventional deadlift activates more of the quads and mid-back, while the RDL activates the glutes and posterior chain muscles such as the erector spinae, hamstrings, and adductors.

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Single-leg RDL (with bodyweight or a dumbbell)

This advanced movement requires balance but strengthens stabilizing muscles.

Hip thrusts/Glute bridges

These exercises utilize pushing and pulling as you pull the hips into an extension and push the heels into the ground. Both are great accessory movements as a warm-up before heavy deadlifts or as a movement all by themselves by making them more challenging by adding weights/bands or single-leg variations.

Note: If you’re following the traditional Push/Pull/Legs schedule, reserve lower body pulling specifically for your leg day. 

List of Lower-Body Pulling Movements

  • Barbell deadlift (conventional or Romanian)
  • Sumo deadlift 
  • Rack pulls
  • Glute ham raise (on GHD)
  • Nordic hamstring curls
  • Cable pull-through
  • Reverse hyperextension (on GHD)

Sample Lower-Body Pulling Workout

  • Banded glute bridges: 4 sets of 15 reps
  • Good mornings: 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Conventional deadlift: 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps (depending on weight)
  • Hamstring curls: 3 sets of 8-10 reps  


What is a pull-day workout?

In a “pull workout,” you train the back, biceps, and shoulders of the upper body and the lower back, hamstrings and glutes of the lower body.

How do I structure a pull day?

Start with the largest muscle groups (back and shoulders) and work to the smallest group (biceps).

How many exercises should you do on pull day?

5-8 exercises are effective in a pull day workout, though hitting all the muscle groups is more important than doing multiple different exercises.

How should I warm up for pull day?

Warm up for at least 10 minutes or until you feel warm and your joints are mobile. A few minutes on the assault bike or rowing machine will get you started. Next, stretch wrists and shoulders using light dumbbells or bands to prepare tendons and ligaments to pull weight. 

What’s an example of a pull-day routine?

  • Barbell deadlift of 4 sets at 5 reps of 80% of your one-rep max
  • Chest supported row (to take the stress off the lower back) 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Dumbbell pullover (to target the lats) 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Dumbbell shrugs 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Bicep curls 3 sets to failure


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Jeffreys, Ian. “Warm-up Revisited: The Ramp Method of Optimizing Warm-Ups.” Researchgate, Professional Strength and Conditioning, Jan. 2007, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280945961_Jeffreys_I_2007_Warm-up_revisited_The_ramp_method_of_optimizing_warm-ups_Professional_Strength_and_Conditioning_6_12-18.

Luna, Debbie. “Upper Lower Vs Push Pull Legs (PPL): Differences Explained.” Inspire US, Inspire US, 12 Apr. 2023, https://www.inspireusafoundation.org/upper-lower-vs-push-pull-legs/.

Schoenfeld, Brad J et al. “Longer Interset Rest Periods Enhance Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men.” Journal of strength and conditioning research vol. 30,7 (2016): 1805-12. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001272Schoenfeld, Brad J. “The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application… : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.” LWW, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Oct. 2010, https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2010/10000/the_mechanisms_of_muscle_hypertrophy_and_their.40.aspx.

Author Bio

Maegan Baker, BSN RN CCM, is a nurse with over a decade of healthcare experience. As a medical writer, she creates content to educate audiences and guide healthcare businesses to success.

Maegan has been an avid Crossfitter for the past 5 years and she takes advantage of every opportunity to bring awareness to this growing sport.

Maegan is our resident Crossfit expert at PreWorkout.org