Full Body Training vs. Split Training

Nowadays, fitness enjoys more and more popularity. According to Statista, there are 11,7 million fitness visitors in Germany (2019) and according to Bodymedia, there are 64,2 million members in American fitness centers (2020). Which both is a huge number of people who visit a fitness center and that for many different reasons. Some of them only want to do something for their health. Another one wants to get more muscles to look athletic. But in the end, strength training shows whether you are at a recreational and functional level, that it can help to improve the health and quality of life while decreasing the risk of certain diseases and medical conditions (2). But how do I need to train and how often? Let me say this: It always depends on your goal. In this article I want you to present the most common strength training methods: full-body workout and split training. And I will show you the benefits of both methods and for which goals which one is the best. Also at the end of the article, I present you the most common tips for strength training.


Various studies have demonstrated that both split and full-body routines are effective at improving strength levels (2). It has not been established which of these is most useful in achieving certain adjustments (2). Choosing a specific training structure often responds to such factors as the personal objectives of each subject, the number of weekly training sessions devoted to strength training, the length of those sessions, and personal preferences (2). But firstly, what are the main difference between a full-body workout and a split workout?


Figure 1: Strength training options (Source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/9O8mOtdKr44/maxresdefault.jpg, Retrieved from 10.06.2021)


Three ways of structuring strength training sessions

  • Full-body workouts: exercises that stimulate the body’s main muscle groups in the same training session. Normally, one exercise is carried out for each major muscle group.

  • Upper-/lower-body split workouts: the muscles of the upper body are stimulated in one session and those of the lower body in the next.

  • Muscle-group split workouts: exercises aimed at strengthening specific muscle groups are performed in each session. Bodybuilders, and generally those seeking a certain degree.

To compare split training vs. full-body training, I want to present to you one study by González et al. who wanted to evaluate if a split or a full-body workout leads to better results in muscle mass and force production. Therefore they use 28 male university students without previous strength training experience. They were randomly assigned to two different training groups: The full-body workout group (GECC) and the split-body routine group (GERD). After the two groups trained for an 8 week intervention period. The conclusion of this study is that both split and full-body routines are useful to improve strength levels and kinanthropometric parameters in college students with no previous experience in strength training. However, neither of the two structures is significantly more effective than the other one when it comes to improving body fat percentage, levels of muscular strength on the upper body and on the lower body.


So, of course, you will gain more muscles when you train every day and do a split training than when you train only 2 - 3 times per week a full-body workout. But the full-body workout is definitely more time-efficient than the split training. This means you need to train less often during the week and so save a lot of time which is for most of us very important. Not everybody has the time to go 5 or more times of the week in a gym. So, the full-body workout is here a really good alternative.


So, what does that mean for me in the end? If you want to increase your strength and muscle mass in a short time, you need to train more often and intensely during the week. Therefore, split training will be the best choice, because you can train more frequently and more intense every specific muscle group. This will increase your overall training volume which is the most important variable for muscle hypertrophy. But, this will need a lot of your time. So, if you only want to stay healthy and increase your strength from time to time, full-body training will be the best for you. Here, you need not train as much as the person with a split training, but also intense if you want to get stronger. In the end, it always depends on you: what are your goals and in which time frame do you want to achieve them?! But I think most of us only want to stay healthy and maintain or increase muscle mass from time to time. Therefore, I will give you at the end of the article the most important tips for your full-body workout. If someone here, who wants to know more about split training and wants further information about that, let me know in the comments. Then I will write an article also about tips for split training.


Tips for a full-body workout:

  • Training the whole body 2 - 4 times per week with 4 - 7 basic lifts as an untrained individual - at least one exercise for one major muscle (1)

  • Progression: add more weight to the bar every workout (1)

  • Individualize your training plan always to your goals

  • Use mainly multi-joint exercises (only just a few single-joint exercises - depends on your goal) (3)

  • Combine free movements (e.g., pull-ups, bench press, ...) and guided movements (e.g., leg press, shoulder press, ...)

  • Intensity methods; pre-and post-fatigue, drop sets, supersets, pyramid sets

  • Take a break between your training sessions to regenerate (at least 48h)

In Figure 2, you will see all parameters which you need to consider by planning your training sessions. Each parameter always depends on your training goal. So, if you also want that I present more information about these parameters, let me know in the comments. But, the Literature from Kraemer & Ratamess will give you a first overview of these topics.

Figure 2: Training program design (Source, Simon Walker, University Jyväskylä Finland)


To summarize the main finding is that it is very important that volume, intensity, frequency, and load have to be adjusted according to each person’s needs. And if you have only a few times per week time for training then do a full-body workout. Otherwise, if you want to achieve fast benefits and have more time then do a split training.


On Friday, you will get a full-body workout with the main exercises to gain muscles. So, don´t forget to check it out on Friday!


Literature

(1) Garnas, E. What are the Benefits of Full Body Workouts vs Split?.


(2) González, P. P., Zabala, E. L., & Brahim, M. B. (2020, March). Split versus full-body strength training workouts in untrained people. A randomised study. In Camp (p. 78).


(3) Kraemer, W. J., & Ratamess, N. A. (2004). Fundamentals of resistance training: progression and exercise prescription. Medicine & science in sports & exercise, 36(4), 674-688.


Additional Literature

Schoenfeld, B. J., Ratamess, N. A., Peterson, M. D., Contreras, B., & Tiryaki-Sonmez, G. (2015). Influence of resistance training frequency on muscular adaptations in well-trained men. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(7), 1821-1829.

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