When it comes to strength training, you have a few important decisions to make. Should you work out in a gym or at home? Do you want to use freeweights or machines? And should you follow a full-body workout or a split routine?
With all of these decisions, you need to weigh up the pros and cons to determine the best option. In this article, we’re going to compare full-body workout vs. split routines.
But, why is this important?
The reality is that all types of workout can be beneficial, but the right option for you depends on your personal circumstances, experience, fitness goal, and your preferences. You see, there REALLY isn’t a one-size-fits-all, absolute, perfect solution for everyone. We’re all different, and what works for one person may not work for another.
You may even find that, for a while, you do best will full-body workouts but then need to swap to a split routine. After all, circumstances and preferences change, and your workout should keep pace with those changes.
Full Body vs. Split Body Workouts
So, which is best – full-body or split body workouts? The answer depends on YOU. Let’s take a look at how these training approaches differ so you can choose the right option for you.
As their name suggests, full-body workouts involve training all your major muscles in the same session. This typically means doing 1-2 exercises per muscle group and 2-4 sets of each one. Full-body workouts are often favored by beginners but are just as effective for intermediate and even advanced exercisers. Here’s an example:
- Leg curls
- Chest press machine
- Seated rows
- Lat pulldowns
- Shoulder press
- Biceps curls
- Triceps pushdowns
The PROS for this type of workout include:
Time-efficient – just 2-3 workouts per week are all you need if you follow a full-body workout plan. They’re ideal for exercisers who prefer to work out less often.
Balanced – full-body workouts train your whole body in one go, making them very balanced. Even if you miss a workout, each muscle group is still trained equally.
Increased fat burning – a full-body workout built around compound exercises will burn more calories and fat than a split routine that involves just a couple of muscle groups. You can make full-body workouts even better for fat burning by performing them as back-to-back circuits.
However, there are CONS to full body workouts too…
Not much time per exercise – even if you just do one exercise per muscle group, you won’t have much time for each one. In fact, if you’re going to squeeze your workout into an hour, you’ll probably only be able to do 2-4 sets of each exercise.
Low volume per muscle group – you’ll only have time for 1-2 exercises per muscle group, which may not be enough volume for building muscle, especially for advanced lifters.
Long, tiring workouts – the fitter you are, the harder you’ll be able to push yourself, and the more tiring full-body workouts become. You may find that, after the first few exercises, you are too tired to perform the rest of your workout.
Split Body Routines
Split body routines divide your body down into individual body parts so that you can train different things on different days. This approach is favored by bodybuilders and more advanced exercisers like the Rock and Chris Evans but can be used by beginners too. Here’s an example:
- Monday – chest and triceps
- Tuesday – back and biceps
- Thursday – legs
- Friday – shoulders and abs
There are lots of different split routine configurations to choose from, including upper body/lower body splits, push/pull/legs splits, one muscle group per day splits, powerlifting splits, and a great many others.
It’s important to understand that no one perfect split routine exists, and all versions can work.
The PROS of split body workouts include:
More variety – with split routines, each weekly workout is different. This variety can help boost motivation and ward off boredom.
More volume – with an hour or more to spend on just a couple of muscle groups, you’ll be able to do more exercises and sets for each one. This increase in volume will make your workouts harder and potentially more productive, especially for building muscle.
Train more often – if you love going to the gym, 2-3 full-body workouts may not satisfy your training urges. You can train more frequently with a split routine and even as often as six times a week.
Of course, there are also a few CONS you need to consider…
Increased training frequency – while you can get good results from just 2-3 full-body workouts per week, you’ll need to commit to four or more training sessions if you use a split body routine. This level of commitment may be hard to maintain.
Missed workouts could unbalance your training week – if you miss a full-body workout, you will still be able to train all your muscles 1-2 times per week. But, if you miss a split training workout, it could be a week or more before you can work it again. Missed workouts could unbalance your entire training week.
They allow you to major in the minors – while an hour of chest, back, or leg training can be beneficial, it’s much too long to spend on a smaller muscle group, such as your abs, calves, or biceps. These minor muscle groups don’t need such a high volume of training. In fact, hitting them with too much volume could lead to overtraining and undermine your progress.
When Should I Switch from Full Body to Splits?
A lot of exercisers think that they have to graduate to a split routine after a few months on a full-body program. While this isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s not always needed or beneficial either. Split and full-body routines are tools, and it’s merely a matter of choosing the best one for the job you want to do.
Reasons for switching from a full-body workout to splits include:
- You want to do more exercises per muscle group
- Your workouts are getting too long
- You want to do more bodybuilding-style training
- You want to work out more often
- You are bored of full-body workouts
However, if you are happy doing full-body workouts, and they are giving you the results you want, don’t feel you need to change to split routines. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Whether you want to build muscle, get stronger, tone up, get fit, or lose weight, strength training is a must. You can use full-body AND split body workouts to achieve your goals. The determining factor is YOU.
Even if you are a bodybuilder, if you don’t have time to train four times a week, two full-body workouts are better than even the best-designed split routine. The right choice is the one that works best for you.
Still unsure which approach is best? Try them both! After 4-6 weeks of each, you’ll know which one works. But don’t be surprised if, a few months later, another training method is better. Your personal circumstances will dictate whether full-body workouts or splits work best.