How do you structure your workouts? The most popular way to structure strength-training is doing a full-body workout several times per week or splitting workouts up by muscle groups. Full body training means working all muscle groups during one session. With a split routine, you work certain muscle groups on particular days. For example, you might train your upper body during one session, your lower body during another and focus on your back and core during another.
With split training, each session has a singular focus. Some people restrict their training do 1 or 2 muscles groups per session, meaning they have to train most days of the week to cover all of their muscles. Some people even train five days per week and train a different muscle group each session. Not everyone has that much time! If you have less time to devote to training, you might consider a full body training where you get it all done in one session. Let’s look at the pros and cons of the full body approach.
The Pros of Full-Body Training
One pro’s of training your whole body in one session is it can improve how your muscles function together. With a total body approach, you don’t isolate muscle groups and work them independently of each other. Instead, you work them as a unit. In this way, muscle groups “learn” how to work together rather than in isolation. With greater functionality, your muscles are more efficient. The functionality boost you get from full-body training can help you carry out your daily activities in a safer more efficient manner. It can also help if you play sports.
Total body workouts also improve proprioception, the ability to tell where your body is in space. Better proprioceptive abilities improve balance and help prevent falls. With full-body training, you aren’t just strengthening and hypertrophying muscles, you’re training them in an integrated manner. Such an approach pays off with additional dividends you don’t get from focusing on one muscle group at a time.
Another benefit of doing full-body workouts is you’re less likely to over-train particular muscle groups. When you focus on only one or two muscle groups during a training session, those muscles are doing a lot of work, as your entire session is devoted to them. Plus, there’s overlap from sessions to session. When you focus on a primary mover, you’re also hitting the assisting muscles. When you train your deltoids, you also work, for example, your triceps. After an exhaustive deltoid workout, you again hit your triceps in the next session. Hitting your triceps that hard may actually interfere with gains because you’re not giving the muscles enough rest.
Total-body training is a time expedient way to train as you don’t need as many weekly sessions to train all of the muscle groups. For example, you could train on Tuesday and Thursday and do exercises that work every muscle group. Also, full-body training works better if you’re trying to get leaner. With full-body training, you focus more on multi-joint exercises, like deadlifts, squats, and presses, and these exercises burn more calories and elicit a slight metabolic boost.
The Cons of Full-Body Training
As you might expect, full-body workouts have a few disadvantages too. Some of the advantages they offer can be disadvantages. For example, with a total body approach, you don’t focus with precision on particular muscle groups and hit them hard several times per week. Sometimes muscles need more stimulation to grow. Once you’re past the beginning stages of training, this approach may limit the amount of hypertrophy and strength you can build in a particular muscle group. If you have lagging muscle groups that need more work, only doing full-body training makes it hard to bring the laggards up to speed. If you need more focused work for certain muscle groups that won’t seem to grow, a split routine may work better.
If you do full-body training too often, you can push your body too hard. Split routines that focus on particular muscle groups include more isolation exercises that don’t tax the nervous system as much. In contrast, you’re doing more exercises that work multiple muscle groups with full-body workouts. Therefore, you need more recovery time.
Split Routines vs. Full-Body Workouts
Beyond convenience, you might wonder whether one approach gives better results. In other words, does training structure matter? When you do a study that looks at this issue, training volume must be the same. Let’s look at what studies show.
In one study, researchers divided subjects into two groups. One group did a split routine where they trained 2-3 muscle groups 3 times weekly. The other did a full-body workout 3 times per week where they worked all of their muscle groups during each session. The volume was similar between the two groups. At the end of the 8-week study, the researchers looked at changes in muscle size and one-rep max. The result showed no difference in one-rep maxes between the two groups. There was a minor difference in muscle size in the biceps and triceps. The split training group developed slightly more mass in these muscles, although the difference was insignificant.
What can we conclude? Based on this study, whether you train your whole body during a single session or split up your routine, it likely won’t significantly impact strength or hypertrophy gains. What matters is the total training volume. If one training split allows you to do more volume than it would have an advantage for building strength and muscle size. But, if you choose full-body training and need to maintain the same volume, your training sessions will be long, especially if you can only train a few days per week.
What’s the Best Approach?
The way you structure your workouts should depend on your goals and how much time you have to train. If you can only train twice per week, a total-body workout lets you hit all of your muscle groups in only two sessions. Full-body workouts are also ideal when you’re first starting out. This approach to training helps you build up a baseline level of fitness while helping you lean down.
However, you might discover after you’ve trained for six months that your gains have slowed down. Plus, you might want to focus on hypertrophying a specific muscle group. For example, your triceps may be lagging. In that case, switching to a split routine where you spend more focused time on your triceps might work in your favor. With a split routine, you can add more isolation exercises that specifically target the lagging muscle group.
· ACE Fitness. “What is Functional Strength Training?”
· CatalystHouston.com. “Science Summary: Full Body vs Split Routines”
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