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Full Body vs. Split Workouts

By Sammy Cusimano

Is it better to train the entire body in one workout or focus on specific muscle groups each day to achieve maximum results? This is a question that fitness enthusiasts have debated for quite some time.

Many trainers and athletes have specific preferences. Many athletes and sports performance trainers believe that, exclusively, full body workouts are the most effective method of training.

In contrast to this standpoint, many bodybuilders and physique competitors swear by split training. Split training entails focusing on one or two specific muscle groups that are only trained once per week.

So which method is best? They each have pros and cons. Why not have the best of both worlds and combine the two for a fusion-training program that will bring your workouts to a whole new level?

The basic full body workout covers all the major muscle groups in a series of exercises, each performed for a number of sets. The same basic workout is repeated 3-4 times that week with at least one day of rest in between each session. This allows for the muscles and joints to fully recover before the next session of training. The advantage to full body training is that the repeated workouts increase strength at a much faster rate.

The muscle-building hormonal response of the body adapting to the physical demands of the workout will increase the efficiency of the training. Increased efficiency means increased results. The disadvantage to full body training is that there is less time to focus on each individual muscle. More compound movements, such as presses and rows, are better suited for full body workouts because these exercises recruit more muscle fibers. Isolation movements, such as extensions, are limited in the amount of muscle fibers that are engaged. They can still be implemented into a full body workout, but the foundation of a full body workout is a solid series of presses and rows.

Here is an example of a basic full body workout:

Monday, Wednesday, Friday-

Dumbbell Lunges x 3 sets               Squats x 3 sets             Calf Raises x 3 sets

Incline Bench Press x 3 sets     Overhead Press x 3 sets   Lying Triceps Extensions x 3 sets

One Arm Dumbbell Row x 3 sets Upright Rows x 3 sets       Incline Dumbbell Curls x 3 sets

The other side of the coin is the split workout. A basic split workout consists of focusing on one or two specific muscle groups in each workout.

Those same muscles are not trained directly for up to an entire week later. The advantage to split workouts is that there is more time to devote to specific parts of each muscle using isolation exercises. For example, all three heads of the triceps can be worked out individually in a split training routine.

The disadvantage to split training is that the muscles are built and toned well, but not strengthened as well as a full body workout. Because the muscles are trained so hard for one particular day each week, they need time to recover. This makes split training not as conducive to athletic performance. Muscles are typically sorer during split training.

If a person is running a 10k on a Saturday morning, a Thursday or Friday leg workout on a split routine is not recommended. Split training is great for building and shaping muscle, but there are some limitations to performance, particularly strength, sports, and outdoor activities.

Here is an example of a basic split workout:

Monday- Legs

Tuesday- Chest, Biceps

Wednesday- Off

Thursday- Back, Triceps

Friday- Shoulders

Which workout is more effective? If you are an athlete looking to get an edge on the competition, then full body workouts will be the best choice. If you are a bodybuilder/physique competitor training for a show, then split workouts will be the way to go. If you are a person who wants to make gains in strength but also develop nice muscle tone simultaneously, then combine the best of both worlds and fuse the two methods.

For larger muscle groups, such as chest, back and legs, utilize a three-day per week full body routine. For the smaller muscle groups, such as biceps, triceps, deltoids and traps, train on a split routine. This will ensure that strength increases on a regular basis right alongside muscle building and toning.

Here is a hybrid of both full body and split workout routines:

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday-   Full Body- Chest, Back, Legs

Tuesday- Biceps, Traps                 

Thursday- Triceps, Deltoids

Weight training is all about finding what works best for you. Experiment with full body and split workouts to find the right combination of techniques that best fits your fitness goals and lifestyle. Your workout program should be an extension of who you are and what you are far beyond driven to achieve.

Sammy Cusimano has been a fitness professional and personal trainer since 2001 and is the founder of Genesys Training based out of New Orleans, LA.

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