Ask The Trainer #49 – Full Body vs. Split Routines

Ask The Trainer #49 - Full Body vs. Split Routines

QUESTION:

Hi Chad. I was wondering if doing full body workouts where you train all of your muscle groups together at the same time can be just as effective as doing a split weight lifting routine where you only focus on 1 or 2 muscle groups at a time? I had 1 trainer tell me that it doesn’t matter, either the way the results would be pretty much the same. Then I had a different trainer tell me that I would get better results if I followed a split routine, training 1 or 2 muscle groups per workout. What do you think is better? Thanks,

Ryan


ANSWER:

Hello, Ryan. That’s a very good question! I’ve received this exact question regarding a full body vs. split routine from countless individuals. Of course, this isn’t all that surprising considering your experience proves how different personal trainers can have varying opinions about this topic.

I will tell you the opinions of both personal trainers you spoke to were right in their own way.

Now before I say which strategy I think is superior, I will first say my answer will strictly depend on the individual, their goals, and their unique lifestyle.

If you’re not a stranger to the weight room, and your goal is to develop maximum muscle mass, strength, and power, then I feel following a split routine, one where you train 1 or 2 muscle groups per lifting session, would be superior to a full body routine.

For example, a split routine could be done where you train Arms and Shoulders on Monday, Legs on Wednesday, then Back and Chest on Friday.

Stimulation and Intensity

The first prerequisite to making a muscle grow is effectively stimulating that muscle. The more stress you can place on a target muscle during an exercise, the more productive the exercise will be.

In other words, greater muscle stimulation equals greater muscle growth.

If you’ve ever gone through a lengthy weightlifting workout, you’ve probably noticed your energy and enthusiasm is highest during your first 2 or 3 exercises. However, you can feel your fire fading more and more as you advance further into your workout.

By the time you get to your very last exercise, your momentum is fried to the point you’re pretty much going through the motions.

In other words, because you’re exhausted halfway through your workout, you’re unable to generate the level of intensity necessary to stimulate target muscles maximally throughout the remainder of your workout.

This happens because as your workout drags on, your muscles begin to run out of glycogen, your blood sugar levels begin to drop, your central nervous system begins to fatigue, and your cortisol-to-growth hormone and testosterone ratio begins to shift to an unfavorable balance.

Full Body Routines Are More Draining

Chad ShawObviously, training every muscle in your body within 1 session is going to take longer and burn more energy than training only 1 or 2 muscle groups at a time. Especially considering the fact you’d be training all of your largest muscle groups together, which is incredibly depleting.

Let’s just say there’s a reason you typically won’t see advanced bodybuilders training back and legs together in the same session.

In other words, if you’re looking to take your muscularity or strength to an extraordinary level, and you carry out all of your exercises with brutal intensity by taking each set to a point of momentary muscle failure, there is a very good chance you will overtrain.

Therefore, your results won’t be as productive following a full body weight lifting routine.

Lifestyle Matters

By now I’m sure I’ve given you the impression I believe full body routines totally suck and are a waste of time. Not at all! There’s also another side to this topic. Again, it all boils down to your personal goals and lifestyle.

For example, let’s say you’re married, have children, and a job that occupies 60+ hours of your precious time each week. You’re not looking to compete in physique competitions. However, you just want to put on a little muscle, get in better overall condition. And your schedule will only allow around 1 free hour to work out maybe once or twice per week.

In this situation, a full body routine would be ideal. This way you are guaranteed to train ALL of your muscle groups. Should you ever miss a workout, it isn’t the end of the world. You’ll still able to train every muscle in your body that week.

I don’t believe full body routines are best for maximum muscle stimulation. But, that isn’t to say they aren’t advantageous at all.

If someone is just looking to build a little more muscle and get into better shape, it’s unlikely they’ll use the same degree of brutal intensity as someone looking to enter a bodybuilding competition. Therefore, it’s unlikely this individual would overtrain with full body workouts.

There are other circumstances where I think full body workouts can be ideal. Back in 2014, I found myself in a situation that involved me needing emergency surgery to remove sections of both my large and small intestines.

During the surgery, doctors had to slice through my abdominal wall. They severed my abs completely, So, it took a long time to heal.


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When I went back to try and begin working out again, my abdominal muscles were very sore from the surgery. Sadly, I couldn’t perform 1 single exercise with any significant degree of intensity. When I did try, I experienced crippling pain throughout my abdomen.

For one, I was at risk of sustaining a hernia by pushing myself too hard. So I decided to do several full body workouts each week, as I knew I couldn’t overtrain. For the record, I did make progress following this full body weight lifting routine.

Then, my body became more tolerant to heavier resistance. So, after a couple of months, I went back to my split routine. Thankfully, this allowed me to achieve my previous muscularity and strength levels pretty quickly.

In addition, I also think full body weightlifting routines are great for the elderly. They will help them maintain strength, keep their joints limber, and prevent osteoporosis.

Finally, I think full body routines are excellent for beginners. This way, they can learn proper lifting form. Plus, how to establish the type of mind/muscle connection necessary for advanced bodybuilding techniques.

Prove ‘Em Wrong,
Chad Shaw

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