Arnold Split vs PPL – What’s The Best for Your Goals?

Arnold split vs PPL split

In bodybuilding (and general strength training plans), the term “split” refers to how you divide your training through the week.

Following a relevant training split can help you reach your fitness goals more efficiently, by influencing how you’re activating your muscles through the week.

Two popular training splits are the Arnold split and the PPL (push, pull, legs) split.

In this guide, we outline what the differences are between them, pros and cons of each and who each split is best suited to.

At a Glance – Arnold Split Vs PPL Split

The Arnold Split and PPL are both 3 day splits (often repeated twice a week), but the difference is in how you train your upper body. With the Arnold split, one day is allocated to your chest and back, and the other day is allocated to shoulders and arms. With the PPL split, one day is allocated to pushing exercises and the other day is allocated to pulling exercises. Both splits train the legs (and core) for the remaining day.

Arnold Split

What is an Arnold Split?

An Arnold Split involves dividing your upper body workouts into exercises that are opposing – i.e. you are including both pushing and pulling movements in the same workout. The third day of training is focused on the lower body, i.e. your glutes and legs. We would also include core exercises with legs too.

This is a form of agonist/antagonist training, whereby you’re ensuring you’re training the complementary muscles during the workout.

The Arnold split was popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger and was a common approach to bodybuilding during the 1970s.

This training split means you’re, in essence, training 3 days a week but most who follow this training plan will repeat it twice, so they are actually training 6 days a week.

If you’re a beginner, it’s probably best to stick with 3 days, so you have enough time for recovery and rest, or follow a less intense training program. 6 days involves lifting a lot of volume, and if you’re not experienced, you’ll struggle to keep up.

Arnold Split Workout Plan

The table below illustrates the sorts of muscles associated with each day.

Day 1Day 2Day 3
ChestShoulders Glutes
BackBicepsHamstrings
TricepsQuads
Calves
Core

Pros

  • Great if you want to prioritize arms.
  • Great for agonist/antagonist supersets – muscular balance.
  • Great for aesthetics and a muscular upper body.
  • Popular for hypertrophy and bodybuilding.

Cons

  • Training shoulders after chest can lead to fatigue and sub-par performance.
  • Chest and Back day covers a lot of big lifts so the order of these exercises has a greater impact on performance.
  • You could argue there is too much emphasis on arms, considering the size of these muscles.

What is a PPL Split?

A PPL split involves dividing upper body workouts based on exercises that share the same fundamental purpose – i.e. are they pulling movements or pushing movements. The third day of training is focused on the lower body, i.e. your glutes and legs. We would also include core exercises with legs too.

This training split means you’re, in essence, training 3 days a week but like the Arnold split, some people may decide to do this twice, so it becomes a 6 day training plan.

PPL Workout Plan

The table below illustrates the sorts of muscles associated with each day.

PushPullLegs and Core
ChestBackGlutes
Shoulders BicepsHamstrings
TricepsQuads
Calves
Core

Does the workout order matter with PPL?

The order you train will impact your workouts, so depending on what exercises you’re doing, you may want to change the order to see if that helps with your progress. This is probably more important if you’re doubling up and training 6 days a week.

Pros

  • Each day separates exercises very clearly.
  • Great for strength training.
  • Focus on big compound lifts.

Cons

  • Push days are often much longer.
  • It can be harder to focus on smaller muscle groups/weaknesses.

Who is Arnold and PPL Split Best Suited To?

When it comes to an Arnold split Vs PPL split, ultimately, both these training splits are quite similar in structure, but the Arnold split puts more emphasis on your shoulders and arms.

In a push/pull workout split, you’ll probably train your triceps and biceps towards the end of the workout, so they are fresh for big lifts like the bench press (doing a bench press with tired triceps will be difficult!) Whereas with the Arnold split, they get a dedicated day along with shoulders, so you’ll be training them fresh.

These smaller muscle groups will also be getting engaged during the chest/back workout as well… so, if you want to put more emphasis on your arms, the Arnold split is your better option.

If you naturally have big arms or want to focus more on your major muscle groups, like your chest and back, a PPL split will likely be better suited.

A PPL split is often more common with strength programs and those looking to include specific compound lifts during their workouts.

Your goals and personal preferences will likely be the defining factor as to whether the Arnold or PPL split is your best option. We would recommend giving them both a go and seeing how you feel.

Both are best suited to using gym equipment like barbells and dumbbells (as opposed to say bodyweight) and both are better suited to experienced lifters and gym-goers.

If you are focused on aesthetics and muscle development, the Arnold split is definitely worth considering… but if you’re more interested in more all-round strength and perfecting your big compound lifts, a PPL split may be a better choice.

Exercises, Intensity and Volume

The exercises you select, along with the intensity and total volume (reps/sets), will largely have a greater impact on your fitness than the choice between an Arnold or PPL split. Whatever program you pick, ensure you are also doing the right amount of reps/weight for your goals (strength, hypertrophy, etc).

Bottom Line

Both the Arnold split and PPL split are effective ways at building strength and muscle. They have long been popular methods of training, particularly in bodybuilding circles for hypertrophy.

There is no right or wrong answer in terms of which split is best… both can certainly provide good structure for building muscle and strength.

If you do these splits twice a week, you are lifting a lot of volume and factors like diet/rest will be paramount to avoid injuries or setbacks. This also doesn’t leave much time to do anything else. So unless you’re very experienced, we’d recommend sticking with just 3 strength-based workouts a week and increasing this over time as you look to progress.

Related Articles

3 Day Split Barbell Workout Plan

Quick 5 Minute Ab Workout

Shoulder and Bicep Workout