The age old debate of whether you should train each body part individually, or whether you should train your whole body in every session. What is best?
The answer is it depends. Sorry to be vague, but it really does. The traditional wisdom says that if you are a beginner to intermediate, then full body training is the way to go. Then the story goes that if you are beginning to stall out in your progress, you should switch over to a body part split. This may be an oversimplification. The issue really is to do with circumstances and goals. Let’s first list the traditional pros and cons of these types of training, then talk about how to apply these into real world scenarios.
Full Body Routines
- Hitting body parts with high frequency
- Greater hormone stimulation per session
- More compound work
- High total bodily demand
- Sessions are more grueling
- Over training certain areas is higher risk
- No focus on weak or lagging body parts
Body Part Splits
- Higher volume on muscles
- More recovery between sessions
- Focus on lagging body parts
- Less emphasis on compound, more isolation
- Can’t train as heavy due to muscle fatigue
- More training is needed to ensure a balanced body
What Does It All Mean
There are plenty of pros and cons out there, and we can talk about their merits all day. The problem really is that what we need to do is look at your circumstances and goals to see what will suit you best. Let’s see some common scenarios and talk about what would suit you best.
If you have just started training, you have two main priorities.
- Learning the movement patterns properly
- Getting stronger under the bar
Since a beginner will have to adapt to many new bodily patterns, plus they will be relatively weak in the gym, a full body workout is best.
By practicing the same moves frequently, they are being ingrained onto the central nervous system, thus putting down a blueprint for future success. A full body workout (like 5×5 for instance) will focus mainly on bringing up the strength of your lifts. A body part split, if done while being weak will not be useful. If you cannot use heavy weights, then doing a million reps with tiny weights will result in limited hypertrophy in your muscles. So to recap, beginners do full body to learn how to lift, and get stronger. You will get bigger due to frequency of training.
This generally means that you have been training for around 1-2 years regularly. Numbers that are usually thrown around as to where you should be are around, are as follows:
Squat. Male – 1.5x bodyweight. Female 0.75x bodyweight
Deadlift. Male – 1.5x bodyweight. Female 0.5x bodyweight
So this means you have been training long enough to get some fairly respectable numbers on the big lifts. So what is best for you? This is the juncture where you should continue growing stronger, focusing on getting your lifts up even higher. For this, full body routines are probably better. However, there might be things about your physique you are hoping to change. This would mean that you can include some isolation work for your lagging body parts. However, at the core, focusing on full body workouts will boost your lifts to respectable numbers.
For veterans of the iron game, it all depends on your goals. If you are already very strong, it can vary as to what will work best for you. Let’s take a few scenarios.
Athletes should train their body as a whole. Depending on your sport, there will be some specialization, however, splitting up your body into different parts is very unlikely to create the sufficient full body power that most sports require.
If you are looking at maximal hypertrophy, there comes a point whereby full body routines won’t deliver them. Your battle hardened muscles will require some specialized focus, that will only be managed by intense focus for a whole session. Bodybuilders invented the body splits for a reason, they work.
What if you are just a casual lifter, who isn’t competing in anything, and just want to know what will work best? If this is your situation, then trying both types of training will be a great idea for you. If you are a busy person, full body routines can be done with less time in the gym, fewer times per week.
If you enjoy training more frequently, then a split can be of benefit also. It will enable you to focus on growing some areas on your body that you are deficient in.
What is the best routine for you? Well, like we’ve just covered it simply depends on your circumstances. There are merits to both methods, they will both make you bigger and stronger. The best advice is to test things, keep shocking your body. As long as your routines are based around a strong set of compound lifts, you can’t go wrong.