Full Body vs Split Workouts

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Full Body Training vs Split Training

Methods of effective training are constantly being debated in the fitness world.  Each individual who partakes in fitness wants to know the most effective way to train their bodies to achieve the goals that they set forth for themselves. Two methods that have survived through time are full body exercise and body part split training.  Much like any debate, each method has its pros, and each method has its cons.  Through analytical research of each method we can understand each technique, and choose for ourselves which is the correct path to take.

Full Body Training

Let's look first at full body training.  Full body training is self-explanatory when looking at the big picture of the method. You're going to work each muscle group every time that you partake in your training. Generally this equates to three or four times per week.  The main pro for this method is that you're going to use each muscle group more frequently.  However, many people will argue that each muscle group doesn't get hit enough.  Additionally, with full body training you can run into joint issues from overuse. 

A typical workout for full body training could include all of the following:

Bench Press
Barbell Rows
Shoulder Press
Romanian Deadlifts
Standing Calf Raises

While you don't see the majority of bodybuilders utilizing this method still, full body exercises have been used by famous bodybuilders, including:

Reg Park: known for his 5x5 full body workouts
Arnold Schwarzenegger:  believe it or not, Arnold used full body training earlier in his lifting career.  He then transitioned to split training as he progressed in his career.
Vince Gironda: known for his 8x8 full body workouts

Full body workouts are well suited for individuals who are just starting out in fitness, as you can see from Arnold's reference earlier.  This helps with beginner muscle development and what are referred to as “noob gains.”  When you start lifting you have the ability to grow more and make quicker strength gains than someone else who has been lifting for a while.  Your body isn't used to training and can adapt quicker to the new stress it's under.  So, full body workouts are beneficial to utilize this adaptation to gain strength and size quickly.

Split Training

Split training, also referred to as the Bro Split, is the workout routine that consists of splitting up each day for a different body part (or 2).  An example of a normal split routine would be:

Monday: Chest
Tuesday: Back
Wednesday: Legs
Thursday: REST
Friday: Shoulders
Saturday: Arms
Sunday: REST

During these workouts you are able to focus on each muscle group and really maximize intensity and hypertrophy.  While you may only do one or two exercises for a muscle group during full body training, you are able to do 4-6 exercises for the muscle group you are training each day.  The negative side to split training is that you only hit each muscle group once per week. In theory this leads to a lot of downtime for each muscle group where they could be trained.

That being said, splits still utilize other muscle groups during each day inadvertently.  For example, on chest day you will be activating your triceps and shoulders on most exercises.  On back day, you're activating biceps in the same manner. 

Which do I choose?

As we've gone over, there are advantages and disadvantages to both exercise styles.  Both have their merits, but which is best? This is where I throw you a bit of a curveball, because in my personal opinion the best method is a hybrid of the two. I would recommend either the Upper/Lower Split or the Push/Pull/Legs Method (or PPL). 

Upper/Lower split is a method where you do upper body on one day and lower body on another, generally with a rest day after completing both.  Since that is a 3 day cycle you have two options.  You can add an additional day for abs and cardio or some other exercise to make a weekly regiment of 2 upper, 2 lower, 2 rest, and 1 additional day. Or, you can just have a six day cycle and not worry about lifting the same muscle group (or resting) on the same day of each week. 

While an Upper/Lower split divides your exercises into two groups, PPL divides into three.  Push day works out your chest, triceps and shoulders. Pull day takes care of back and biceps.  Legs day obviously is for its namesake.  You can take one rest day per week and do two cycles of PPL, or you can have two rest days and turn it into an 8 day regiment. 

Both of these hybrid methods take the benefits of both and try to eradicate the disadvantages.  You are hitting each muscle group more than once, unlike the bro split, and you're getting more exercises each session, unlike the full body workout. 

Remember, however, that every individual's body is different. You may respond better to one method than another, which is why I always recommend trying different methods to see which fits best for you.  Are you doing full body training now? Try a bro split.  Have you been doing PPL for a few months and want to try something new? Do an upper/lower split.  Sometimes the act of mixing it up in itself is great for the body.  So hit the gym and find what works for you, and watch the gains roll in!

About the Author: Nathan Robinson is a former competitive power lifter that has a Bachelor's Degree in Exercise Science and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine. You can view his website here https://elev8onlinepersonaltraining.com

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