By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 8 November 2016)
This debate has been going on for a long time. Many experts recommend full-body routines for beginners and split routines (working different muscle groups on different days) for more advanced strength trainers, but there hasn’t been a lot of research conducted to examine the relative effectiveness of the two strategies. However, I did find a couple studies that provide some insights:
- Heke (2011) found that doing full-body or split routines significantly increased strength and decreased body fat percentage, and there were no significant differences between the two groups in strength gains or body composition changes.
- Crewther et al. (2016) found that full-body and split routines produced similar gains in strength, though the full-body routine also resulted in greater fat loss.
Both full-body routines and split routines have unique advantages.
Full-body strength training advantages
- Full-body programs save time because you only need to train 2-3 times per week (though you’ll need to work hard during these sessions to see the same benefits as split routines).
- Research suggests that full-body strength training may result in greater fat loss.
- Muscles don’t work in isolation when doing things out in the real world, so full-body workouts are probably better for building functional fitness (fitness that helps with sports and the physical requirements of life in general) because they include all muscle groups and usually incorporate compound exercises.
Split-routine strength training advantages
- Split routines allow you to work out more frequently, which is useful if you’re aiming for extreme hypertrophy (getting really big). With a split routine, you can train 6 days a week.
- You can do shorter individual workouts with a split routine, which reduces the risk that you’ll get too tired to do exercises properly or lift sufficiently heavy weights during the second half of your workout.
- Split routines ensure that you vary your exercise routines regularly so that you’re not doing the same exercises during every workout (mixing things up usually gets better results than sticking with a set routine, but you can also mix things up with full-body workouts).
You don’t have to choose between the two strategies. Both get results. If you want to hedge your bets, you could do one or two full-body routine days and a couple of days of splits. As long as you work every muscle group a couple of times a week and increase the weight you lift whenever you can do 8-10 reps comfortably, you should see results regardless of whether you prefer full-body or split training.
- Barnham, T. (2014). Should I do a split or full-body workout? Men’s Health.
- Crewther, B. T., Heke, T. O. L., & Keogh, J. W. L. (2016). The effects of two equal-volume training protocols upon strength, body composition and salivary hormones in male rugby union players. Biology of Sport, 33(2), 111-116.
- Heke, T. O. (2011). The effect of two-equal volume training protocols upon strength, body composition and salivary hormones in strength trained males. (Doctoral dissertation, Auckland University of Technology).
- Smith, B. (n.d.). Ask Men’s Fitness: is it better to do full-body workouts or body-part focused routines? Men’s Fitness.