This article will discuss full body workouts versus split routines for goals of maximizing muscle growth. There are many possible ways for you to lay out a weekly training routine for muscle building.
You could do full body workouts multiple times per week, do various 3, 4, and 5 day split routines, or you could simply alternate days between upper body and lower body workouts. But which approach is going to be superior for gaining muscle at the fastest rate while building a well-rounded, well proportioned physique?
Full Body vs. Split Routines
There seems to be a bit of a push recently in favor of a full body routine, especially for beginners. Since muscle protein synthesis is only elevated in a given muscle for around three days after it’s been trained, more and more people seem to be in favor of higher training frequencies as a way to maximize growth.
Also, it it’s a fact that muscles do seem to adapt to higher training frequencies by recovering at an increasingly efficient pace over repeated sessions. Therefore, it would seem to make sense that just hammering every single muscle three days per week would be the best way to go. Now this does look good on paper, but in the real world it’s really not that simple. Split routines are quite a bit better than full body workouts if your primary goal is optimized muscular hypertrophy, and to build a complete well-balanced physique.
So before we outline the specific reasons why we think this is the case:
First off, we’re not saying that a full body approach doesn’t work. All we’re saying is that it’s probably not the very best option available. Any workout routine that allows for progressive overload over time is going to produce no worthy sized gains. A full body workout can obviously accomplish that.
Secondly, based on the goal of maximizing muscle growth for the serious trainee. Full body workouts are definitely a viable option in a variety of cases, especially if you’re interested in gaining muscle, but not necessarily at a maximum level.
Full body workouts are suitable if you’re just looking to improve your overall health and fitness, and you want to include a resistance training program in your plan. Additionally, it would be recommended if your goal is fat loss, and you want to employ a faster-paced circuit training style workout to maximize calorie burning, while still providing decent stimulation to your muscles. Or if hypertrophy is not your main concern, and you’re more focused on developing total body strength and functionality. For example, if you are a power lifter or athlete.
Reasons why a full body workout is actually inferior to a split routine from a muscle-building perspective.
A full body workout does not allow for complete focused development of each individual muscle group. If you truly want to optimize your total body gains, you usually need to perform at least a couple of different exercises for each muscle group in order to target the various functions of that muscle. Now a full body workout is usually not going to allow for this.
There’s no way that you can enter the gym, and fully cover all the necessary movements that are needed for your chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and your back, because they are made up of many individual muscle groups. Also your quads, hamstrings, calves, and abs all in one workout session is just not going to happen. Unless you want to be at the gym for many hours.
A full body routine will likely make your workout too long. It won’t allow you to maintain peak mental focus and strength from the start of your session all the way to the end. Even if you were able to train your entire body in a single workout, it would likely require you to be in the gym for an unreasonable amount of time, like in excess of 2 hours. Even if that specific time frame is not an issue for you, the necessary mental focus and energy that would be required to make sure that every single muscle is training with equal intensity is just not going to be there for the overwhelming majority of trainees. Which ever muscle groups are being trained toward the latter half of your session would inevitably suffer, and so would their resulting development.
Disadvantages of a full body workout (from a bodybuilding perspective)
A full body workout may prevent you from utilizing enough total training volume per muscle group. Not only will a full body routine likely prevent you from including all the necessary movements that are needed in the order to maximize your total body gains, but it will also probably prevent you from performing enough total training volume as well. Your muscles need to be overloaded in the gym by training with weights that are either at or beyond their total capacity.
They also need to be put through enough overall metabolic fatigue (reduced ability of the muscle fiber to contract), which is largely a function of the total number of sets that you perform. Even if you performed just four total sets for each of the major muscle groups that was previously listed, that alone would be a workout that totals around 32 sets.
The risk of overtraining with a full body workout
A full body workout is going to increase the chances of burn out from overtraining. Yes, the concept of overtraining was probably exaggerated in the past, and we now know that most hard training bodybuilders and athletes can recover much more effectively than was once thought. Nonetheless, let’s assume that you are able to hit every single muscle group using all the necessary exercises and sets. Throughout multiple hour sessions several days per week, this is still going to be very taxing for most people, and in addition to this, training the same muscle group three times a week will also likely put your joints under an excessive amount of stress as well.
Additional accessory work
Finally, a full body workout is going to make it a lot more difficult to include additional accessory work if necessary. Things like external rotations for the rotator cuff, or specific core work that you need to do or stay focused for. A basic full body workout is going to be hard enough to execute on its own, without even considering additional accessory work.
What split routine will achieve that a full body workout will not:
#1 It’s going to allow for complete balanced development of all your body’s major muscle groups.
#2 It will limit your workouts to a reasonable time frame, and allow you to maintain peak focus and energy throughout the entire session.
#3 It’s going to allow you to utilize total volume per muscle group in order to maximize overall metabolic fatigue and overload.
#4 It’s going to prevent you from burning out in over training, and allow you to easily include additional accessory work in your program if necessary.
Not to mention that a split routine is just downright more fun to execute for most people. Not only is an enjoyable training session a good thing in itself, it’s also going to make it more likely that you’ll stick to your program over the long run.
So what type of split routine should I choose?
Well, there’s no end to the number of different ways you can figure this out. We personally prefer to split the muscles up over three different sessions. As a quick recommendation, here’s one good way to go about this: a legs-push-pull structure is a good solid way to do things. Legs on day one, chest, shoulders, triceps on day two, back and biceps on day three. Just perform the workout four to five days per week, rotating through each muscle group as you go. This is a more realistic, sustainable, enjoyable, and effective approach to gaining muscle over the long run, compared to performing a full body workout multiple days per week.
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