The Internet has proven to be a blessing in many ways to many people, but less so in the area of fitness and nutrition. And the ones who find it particularly hard are beginners who are bombarded by all sorts of contradicting information. This time we’ve tried to delve into the training programs area and dissect one of the most controversial debates for beginners and intermediates alike. We are talking about the full body training vs body split training debate. It has been one of the most widely discussed topics when it comes to choosing the appropriate training program and lots of people have waged their Internet wars over it.
That is why we have interviewed the experts in the fitness world to give us their opinion on this subject and put an end to the endless and controversial debate: Full body or split Routine?
Susan Arruda (susanarruda.com)
This is a question that I’ve been asked intermittently over the years; to train the whole body or to choose a split routine?
I believe total body routines are something that you should definitely begin with, or go back to, in the event of a layoff. Hitting the entire body allows you to effectively stimulate the muscles without excessively overloading one particular body part. If you’re just starting a routine, that will be sufficient overload.
Another time I would consider doing a total body routine is if I’m feeling general fatigue. I will choose this option in an effort to keep my muscles and body stimulated without lactic acid overload.
Once you are past your starting point, have been training consistently for several weeks and your body has made adjustments to training, it’s time to move to a split routine. I recommend the initial split to be upper and lower body. This again, should be followed for several weeks before more specific body splitting. Split routines allow you to hyper focus on body parts and enable you to overload muscles that now require more attention for development.
You need to split your routine to allow for the time and energy required in order to target the muscles from different angles and via various exercises. Split routines provide you with the freedom to select the pairing of different body parts and assist you in assessing weaker body parts.
A split routine gives you more freedom to pair and plan body parts according to your individual needs. It gives you the ability to promote optimal symmetry. Splitting body parts can allow you to keep your workouts shorter while maximizing your strength and efforts. This can also make it possible to train twice daily; an optimal scenario when preparing for a fitness competition.
There’s definitely varying opinions about whether to do full body workouts or split up the body parts on specific days… for me and my clients, I tend to recommend whatever brings you closer to achieving your overall lifestyle goals, is the best option for you. This may sound like a cop-out, but truth is told, it’s the best course of action period! Are you training for a Mud-Run, a CrossFit competition, a sport, or a bodybuilding competition? Each one of these requires a specific training regiment. Based on the goal, the program or plan to achieve it will require customization.
It depends on of course the athlete at hand, their goals, and most importantly the frequency of training per week. For people who only have 3 days a week to train, majoring in the compound movements is necessary for progression, so a full body routine would fit best. For people training 4-7 times per week, splits are necessary in order to spread out the volume. I personally program an ideal 5x/week with a movement and body part split that has been popularized in my 12-Week Functional Hypertrophy Training program. This is the holy grail of programming, and is a split, so there you go!
Cristy “Code Red” Nickel (coderedlifestyle.com)
Look, unless you’re a pro athlete, its ridiculous to go into a gym and split up your body parts. Studies have shown that isolating muscle groups vs overall body compound, multi-joint movements does NOT yield better results. WHAT YIELDS RESULTS IS INTENSITY! You’ve got to consider your average recreational gym-goer who is just trying to feel better, look decent and have the energy to play with their kids. The average gym-goer is married, has kids, a full-time job and most are taking care of an elderly parent. They simple HAVEN’T GOT TIME to spent 6 days a week, 2 hours a night in the weight room. Its not feasible. So overall body movements are going to be their best bet. If you execute each movement with enough weight, speed, with short rests and keep your intensity up the entire time youre doing your workout, you’re gonna get the most bang for the buck. You’re gonna get in, get out and not drag out your workouts. There is only a very small percentage of Americans who are trying to compete as bodybuilders or fitness models. They are, most likely, going to isolate muscle groups and devote entire workouts to specific muscles. For the average gym-goer, it’s simply NOT necessary.
Chris Freytag, certified trainer and founder of www.GetHealthyU.com prefers full body workouts for 3 reasons:
“First, myself and most of my clients are not training for a competition; we are training for good health and a strong body. Second, a full body workout program is efficient; can combine cardio and strength in the same workout and can be preformed many times a week. Third, a full body approach gives you options for fun – you can switch up the equipment and format you use throughout the week. For example, I teach a lot of group training classes each week where I switch up the “how” but always take the full body approach. Whether it’s HIIT training, Boot Camp, or Circuit Class, I combine body weight, cardio and resistance tools to “play”, have fun and sweat We do multiple muscle group exercises which not only works on strength but also challenges your mind and your balance. “
Menno Henselmans – Bayesian Bodybuilding
The relevant question is not what your split should be. It’s what the optimal training frequency for a given muscle group is. You should distinguish here between the following:
– Total training frequency, i.e. how often you go to the gym.
– Training frequency per exercise, i.e. how often you train a certain exercise.
– Training frequency per muscle group.
The last one is most important from a bodybuilding point of view. To learn how to determine the optimal training frequency, watch this video where I explain it in details.
Rob ( purposefit.co.uk )
“How often will you consistently go to the gym?”If it’s once or twice a week, go with a full body routine because you need to maximise your workouts in the limited time you will be there.If you go 3 or more times a week, split your workouts because it will give your body time to recover while allowing you to train other body parts.If you split your routines and don’t workout enough, you might only be working part of your body once a week and that’s not enough to see gains.Full body workouts are great for building functional strength, mimicking real life movements and having a cardio workout at the same time. Think clean & press and intense circuits. They are ideal for maintenance phases, too. Giving you a quick, all body workout in a short time.Split routines are ideal if you are looking to build muscle, concentrating on particular body parts in each session. You can be specific about the types of movement and therefore the muscles that you work.
Jaime Morocco = jaimemorocco.com
The best program is the one that fits in with your lifestyle and I think that both split routines and full body routines have their place. I personally use full body routines when designing programs for myself. Despite the fact that I am an Online Personal Trainer & Nutrition Coach– I don’t have tons of time to spend in the gym and full body workouts allow me to get in most efficient workout that I can in the least amount of time.
When it comes to program design for my clients, I consider their lifestyle. For the most part, I give my clients 3 full body days with bits of HIIT work thrown in if I feel it’s necessary. If I have clients who absolutely *love* resistance training and have the time for it, I’ll usually prescribe 2 upper body days & 2 lower body days with HIIT sprinkled in if needed. Very rarely do I get as granular as giving specific days for specific body parts as most of my clients come to me for body recomp and/or weight loss and I just don’t think that granularity is necessary.
So to summarize, the best workout routine is the one that fits in with your lifestyle because that is the one you will stick with.
Mike Israetel, PhD
Jennifer Walters, co-founder http://fitbottomedgirls.com/
Either can be awesome! It basically just comes down to your goals, how much time you can dedicate to working out and what you enjoy most. For me, I prefer full-body circuit workouts that can double as cardio and strength training at the same time because they keep me engaged and can be really effective in a short amount of time. It’s the perfect way for me to fit in some exercise during my busy day. But, if you really want to build muscle in specific areas, love to be a gym rat and love lifting, then certainly go for split routines.
Greg Nuckols strengtheory.com
It’s primarily a matter of training frequency. Training each muscle or movement at least twice per week tends to produce better results than a 1x/week frequency.
My name is Amanda Dale and I am an ACE-certified personal trainer, AFAA-certified exercise instructor, ASFA-certified sports nutritionist and wellness coach with two Masters degrees (M.A. Sociology; M.Ed. Education)
I am also the Fitness and Nutrition Director for a private fitness institute called DISCREET, and I manage a personal lifestyle brand called ThisFitBlonde (through which I also maintain a health and wellness blog). I can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/thisfitblonde
You asked whether I prefer full body vs. splitroutines when training clients, and my opinion is that for about 90% of my personaltraining clients, full body workouts are the best option.
If a client is looking to build major muscle,and they can commit 1-2 hours per session, 3-5 days per week, split routines witha focus on heavy weights and low reps can be effective. However, assuming the average personaltraining client, whom I only see 1-2 times per week for 45-60 minutes, fullbody is generally a more efficient use of time with more functional results..
Furthermore, I tend to train my clients infull-body superset circuits – meaning 3-4 exercises addressing the compoundmovements of the major muscle groups (think squat-press, lunge-curl,deadlift-row, etc.) and challenge them to perform the exercises back-to-backwith minimal rest. This also eliminates the need for traditional “cardio” and gives the client a heart-pumping, leanmuscle-building, effective workout.
Brandon – brandon-mentore.strikingly.com
Full body vs. Split routines are both useful but should be implemented based on the individual goals. Full body training is classically considered as performing exercises that include upper body and lower body in the same session. As a general rule of thumb, goals that are centered around conditioning, improved metabolics, and changes in body composition are better achieved through full body training routines. Full body routines typically have an increased metabolic, cardiorespiratory demand, and increased caloric expenditure.
Split routines are classically considered as exercises that are performed on a grouping of 2 or more bodyparts in a session. As a general rule of thumb, goals that are centered around building strength, increasing muscle mass, shaping and aesthetics (bodybuilding) are better achieved using split routines. Split routines allow you to perform more isolated, concentrated work and add density and volume to the parts being trained.
There are many ways to divide both full body and split routines. Full body can be divided up into PUSH/PULL, ANTERIOR/POSTERIOR. Split routines can be divided up into UPPER, LOWER, CHEST/BACK/SHOULDERS, BICEPS/TRICEPS, etc.
I believe that more people should be, and recent trends show that they are, train not only full body routines but also many full body lifts and compound exercises. I am a bog advocate for any and all barbell movements, and these are the main focus of much of my personal training, both Olympic (the clean, jerk, and snatch) and powerlifting (squat, bench, and deadlift), as well as associated accessory lifts.
Gyms already have barbells and racks, and these movements will not only focus on the major functional muscle groups, the quads, back, and chest, but they utilize so many stabilizing muscles to that no part is neglected. Although the olympic lifts are more technique-intensive, the sheer accessibility to barbells and the amount of helpful information that can be found on the internet really lowers the barrier to entry to barbell exercises.
Both of these styles of training can provide phenomenal results. In trainer speak, it really depends on what your goals are. For a beginner, start out utilizing full body routines for two key reasons. One, you’re going to maximize your caloric burn hitting all muscle groups. If programming is sound, you’ll be on your feet and you’ll be moving throughout the workout. Second, you’ll be able to hit all muscle groups without having to train 4-6 times a week. Starting out it can be difficult getting to the gym so total body workouts will provide an intense and effective way to hit all muscle groups.
I’m a CPY and registered yoga teacher. My blog is www.getitohm.com,
Health-First Fitness Coach
Full Body Strength Training Program – Best option for all beginners and most non-physique athletes and fitness enthusiasts
Upper / Lower Body Split Routine – Best for intermediate bodybuilders and physique athletes
Muscle-Specific Split Routine (e.g. back/biceps, chest/shoulders/triceps, legs/core, etc.) – Best for advanced bodybuilders and physique athletes
Most athletes and fitness enthusiasts would be better served by a full body strength training program rather than a split routine. Where the split routine really shines is for the intermediate to advanced bodybuilder or physique athlete who wants to maximize their hypertrophy potential by training their muscle groups multiple times per week. Outside of that context, I think the vast majority of people would benefit more from a full body routine.
That said, there is a time and a place for isolating individual muscle groups regardless of one’s approach to strength training. For example, to improve a weakness, train around an injury, or maximize your results after all of your bases have been covered. And you don’t have to follow a split routine to do this. You can just supplement your full body program with extra goal-specific assistance exercises.
Founder & CEO
For us it’s full body once a week for 10 minutes using the most advanced exercise equipment on the planet. A lot of people are overtraining and not allowing enough time for recovery. We track every workout using real-time strength tracking software so we can show measurable results for clients doing such a short workout (leg press, chest press, pulldown or row). We are able to provide perfect resistance for each exercise thereby optimally loading the skeletal muscle for the entire range-of-motion, including the negative or eccentric phase of the movement. Due to this loading the muscle so effectively, proper recovery of 4-7 days, and sometimes more, is necessary to give the body time for the necessary adaptations to occur.
These short bursts of optimal loading also provide a high-intensity workout, stimulating the cardiovascular system, and leveraging the benefits referenced by Dr Doug McGuff, “The low resting heart rate and others markers for good health are not really something that’s happened in the cardiovascular system, but because the energy producing part of the body like the mitochondria, and all the enzymes involved in the production of energy, are upregulated (due to quality of mechanical work with muscle) and become more powerful and efficient. Thereby making the cardiovascular system have to work less hard, and that’s born out through the parameters that we measure like heart rate and blood pressure.
Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT
I’ve spent more time than I would care to admit pondering this question and I’ve spent years of my life experimenting with various full body workouts and split routines.
I understand how confusing and frustrating this question can be. For example, tons of smart trainers I know who have great physiques focus their strength training workouts on split routines. But yet they train every one of their clients with full body workouts!
Full Body Workout: Pros & Cons
Body Part Split Routine: Pros & Cons
I’m Jamie Logie a certified personal trainer and I run www.regainedwellness.com
The decision between the two comes down to your goals. If you’re looking for more aesthetics/body building etc a split routine is the way to go as you can divide up body parts and give them enough rest time in between training sessions.
If you’re looking for more functional training, fitness and athletic improvement I would go with the full body routine. That way you are hitting all the main muscles and ideally, you’re doing compound/functional movements that use as much muscle as possible like squats or burpees. These whole body type workouts are also good if you don’t have a lot of time. I wouldn’t do them everyday though as to not overtrain potentially sore muscles but 2-3 times a week which should be pretty doable for the average person. You can still get good muscle development this way that will lead to a balanced physique as you’ve incorporated pretty much all muscle during the full body workout.
Full body training is excellent for those who only have time to workout 2-3 times per week and looking for overall health improvements. Utilizing all your muscles in one workout is a great way to increase your heart rate, keep or build muscle mass and burn fat in a short period of time. The metabolic nature of full body workouts means they can also be added into your weekly workout routine even if you predominantly focus on body part split workouts.
Split routines can be used when one is trying to add large amounts of muscle or increase muscle mass in one particular area of the body. Typically, split routines are less metabolic, meaning that heart rate doesn’t come up as much and less fat is burned within the workout. However, the hormonal response from focusing on a smaller number of muscles, with less overall stress and taxing of the nervous system, makes split routines a good choice.
Look at the amount of time you have to allot to workouts and your overall physique goals to decide with type of training is right for you.
Choosing whether to split your weight lifting routine amongdifferent body parts, or just do full body workouts depends on your goals…AND howoften you are planning to lift.
If you are able to get to the gym at least 3 times a week, Irecommend a split routine. This allowsyou to really focus on the specific body part for the day instead of justtrying to get everything in at once. Just like in our everyday routine we are more productive if we focus onone task at a time instead of trying to multitask.
Split routines also allow the specific body part to recoverfully before training them again. The split routine enables you to focus onyour weak points and really dedicate time and attention to them. Additionally, with the split routine you caneven train your weak points twice a week.
So if your goal is to gain muscle and build strength…a SPLITroutine is the way to go!
Mike Samuels healthylivingheavylifting.com
“To me, it’s pretty simple – Full bodies *generally* work best for beginners and those who can only train 2 or 3 times per week. Splits are preferable for intermediate to advanced trainers, and people who can train 4+ times. The grey area is beginners who can train 4 times per week plus, or more experienced trainers who can only train 2 or 3. It doesn’t really matter that much though – have a plan, and stick to it with consistency and intensity.”
Either ot choose a full body or split routine depends on at least two primary factors: the trainees training age (i.e. beginner, intermediate, advanced) and goals. Traditionally beginner have been recommended full body routines and there is good reason for this: they don’t usually have the tolerance for a lot of total sets and need more practice at the movemnet. Repeateing the same relatively low volume of training multiple times per week allows them to develop basic fitness and technique. As they move to an intermediate or more advanced range and may benefit from more total sets, a split routine often becomes an issue of practicality. To do 6-8 sets of a full body workout can become too long and exhaustive. Whatever is done later in the workout tends to suffer from general fatigue if the number of sets of earlier movements i done.
This depends strongly on how many movements are done. If a trainee sticks with three main movements (lower body, upper body, pull), it may be workable. But this can lead to very imbalanced workouts. Even that can be addressed by developing three different full body workouts. Typicallly intensity is cycled throughout the workout with some type of heavy, lighter and medium workouts being done. So Monday is squats, Wedneday is Front squats, Friday is leg press. I’d mention that there is a current trend for most strength oriented athletes such as powerlifters to train more full body-ish in that they do a lower volume per workout but perform the same movements mroe frequently. This gives them more practice since there is a neural/technical component to strength.
But by the time someone wants to do say 6-8 sets per body part, it’s usually better to move to a split routine. This wouldn’t be needed until the intermediate and more stage. There are endless options but typically a few bodyparts are chosen and more sets are done, simply less frequently. Most feel that this is superior for growth overall although there is a still a current trend to do more but shorter full body workouts per week. So rather than 6-8 sets twice/week (12-16 sets), 3-4 sets might be done 3-4 days per week. This does allow teh sets to be done at a higher intensity and frequency but we might question if enough volume is being done per workout to stimulate gains. Too much high intensity work for the same muscles or muscle groups in the body can also cause problems with joint strain (the forgotten variable in training) and injuries may occur if a trainee does not move gradually into it.
So basically there are pros and cons to both.