Full-Body Workouts vs. Split Training: Complete Pros and Cons

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You hear both side,s and one is as convincing as the other. In one camp are the full-body believers who feel that simplicity and minimalism is best; that often criticize split training programs and harken back to the old days of lifting styles from the 50s and 60s.

In the other camp is the split routine army who feel they have experience on their side. They believe smashing a body part with unwavering focus is the path to a bigger, more muscular physique. Why split your focus on numerous body parts each workout when you can concentrate on only one at a time?

Related: The Huge Gainer Full Body Workout Routine

Let’s open this issue to debate, break down the pros and cons and come to some sort of verdict on which is the better way to go. Although this argument may never go away, at least we can make a little headway into understanding the reason behind both.

Bench Press

Opening Arguments – Full Body Workouts vs. Splits

Full-body training: Full-body training is, to some, seen as an ancient practice performed by bodybuilders of yesteryear. In the modern-day perspective this type of training is believed to be reserved for those who just want to “get in shape” with no real aspirations to pack on the muscle mass.

However, recently full-body programs have made a bit of a resurgence touting the benefits, advantages and pure logic of this type of training. It makes no sense to split the body into tiny pieces, some will say. Simpler is better and this isn’t rocket science; we simply must progress in strength while effectively regulating rest and recovery.

Split-training: As the modern-day front-runner, spilt-training has seemingly and surprisingly been around for just as long. Roughly gaining popularity starting in the 60s, this type of training gives much more focus on each body part trained in order to give full and complete attention to the task at hand without the frustration of training the entire body in one session.

Much like the trends with full-body training, the trends have shifted lately away from split routines and more toward full-body training. But this is here the water is a bit murky. With so many training goals, how are you to discern which is the right way to go?

Let’s peel back the layers even further and break down the pros and cons of each. Of course this isn’t an exhaustive list but most of the main points (the important ones, anyway) are covered.

Split Training Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Can focus completely on a single or couple (max) body parts per training session.
  • Allows full recovery for each body part since traditional splits have you training each body part once per week.
  • Can increase the volume for each body part drastically allowing for more angles and greater pumps.
  • BodybuilderLess equipment needed since you aren’t required to train the entire body.
  • Less drained each workout since only a relatively small area of the body is trained each session.

Cons:

  • Each body part is trained less frequently.
  • Psychologically you will become impatient since you have to wait an entire week to train a body part again.
  • Some body parts may recover faster than others creating a one-step-forward-one-step-back effect.
  • You will tend to favor one body part over other and perform more intensity and volume for that area.
  • If one or two days of training are missed during the week it takes longer to “catch-up” since your training is planned for each day.

Full-Body Training Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Are able to train the whole body more frequently per week therefore stimulating muscle growth more often per week, per month and ultimately per year.
  • Some say the body gets stronger and functions better when more of the body is trained each session.
  • If a day or two is missed you are practically “caught up” within a day since each session covers all the bases.
  • Create more of an athletic and functional physique since training everything forces the body to work in more of a complete and synergistic way.
  • Each body part is less taxed individually and is coaxed into recovering faster.

Cons:

  • Tough to give any one area complete focus or extra work if needed.
  • Must utilize more equipment in each session if available.
  • For some shifting from one body part to another can be a bit tough mentally since focus is constantly changing.
  • Less focus on each body part means less blood volume pump feeling.
  • Tough to perform heavy personal record lifts especially for those short on time.

The Verdict: Which Workout is Best for You?

It’s a huge challenge to make an educated decision based just on the handful of pros and cons listed above so let’s make it personal. Everyone in gym has different goals; build muscle, lose fat, be more athletic, gain strength, create more power, increase endurance or any combination.

Here’s the verdict: It completely depends on what your goal is. With that said, let’s list-out a few goals as they relate to each training program.

Full-body training

If your goal includes starting a beginning weight training program, general fitness, building general athleticism, muscular endurance training, developing power, increasing plyometric power or if you desire to complement an aerobic training program with resistance training then full-body is best.

Split-training

If your goal includes developing maximum amounts of muscle mass, continuing an intermediate or advanced weight training program, developing maximum strength or simply want to maintain your current levels of muscle mass and strength then a split routine is best.

A side note on split training

It bears mentioning that there are several significantly different forms of split training. For example, there is a huge difference between an upper/lower split which may have you training each body part twice per week and another training program which has you train each body part once per week.

Don’t think there’s much of a difference? In a year’s time you will have trained everything 104 times with an upper/lower split versus only 52 times with a once-per-week split.

For the purposes of this article and the sake of argument, we are comparing full-body with once per week with the goal of building muscle mass and developing some strength. The answer is somewhere in the middle for most gym-goers. Full-body training doesn’t allow for enough flexibility for specializing and/or adding volume to develop weak areas and once-per-week training allows for too much flexibility and not enough frequency.

Below is a program designed for both camps to meet in the middle. With enough frequency, volume and rest it will provide any level gym-goer with just the right amount of stimulation. Remember, simpler is better and your efforts should be steered more toward progressing in amount of weight used or increasing reps each session. As long as you’re training toward those goals and recovering properly, you’re on the right track.

Sample Progressive Training Program

For the following program perform Session 1 on Mondays and Thursdays and Session 2 on Tuesdays and Fridays with Wednesdays and the weekends off or reserved for light cardio or other activity. You can substitute one day for a weekend day if needed.

Try the program for 6 weeks attempting to increase either reps or weight each week. Feel free to sub out exercises and increase or decrease reps slightly, but keep the frequency and volume relatively unchanged.

Session 1
Monday and Thursday
Exercise Sets Reps
Incline bench barbell or dumbbell press – Warm-up sets  2  12
Incline bench barbell or dumbbell press – 60 sec rest between sets  4  8-12
Flat bench dumbbell press – 60 sec rest between sets  4  8-12
Lat Pull Downs – Warm-up sets  2  12
Medium or wide-grip pull-up – 60 sec rest between sets  4  AMAP*
Barbell or dumbbell row – 60 sec rest between sets  4  8-12
Seated dumbbell shoulder press – Warm-up sets  1  12
Seated dumbbell shoulder press – 45 sec rest between sets  3  8-12
Standing dumbbell side lateral raise – 45 sec rest between sets  3  8-12
Floor crunch – 30 sec rest between sets  3  15-20
Hanging leg lift – 30 sec rest between sets  3  15-20

*AMAP = As many as possible

Session 2
Tuesday and Friday
Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell or dumbbell curl – Warm-up  2  12
Barbell or dumbbell curl – 45 sec rest between sets  4  8-12
Parallel bar dip or close-grip bench press – Warm-up  2  12
Parallel bar dip or close-grip bench press – 45 sec rest between sets  4  8-12
Standing or seated calf raise – Warm-up  2  12
Standing or seated calf raise – 45 sec rest between sets  4  10-15
Barbell back squat – Warm-up  2  12
Barbell back squat – 90 sec rest between sets  4  8-12
Bulgarian split squat or leg press – 60 sec rest between sets  3  8-12
Barbell or dumbbell Romanian deadlift or lying leg curl – 60 sec rest between sets  3  8-12
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Name: Brad Borland

Bio: Starting out as a scrawny 125 pound kid at 6’ 2” I took up weight training at the tender age of 14 and ended up a 220 pound competitive drug-free, natural bodybuilder several years later. Now armed with both knowledge and muscle I have helped countless individuals domestically and abroad.