Full body vs Split training. Which is better? Featured Image

The age old debate!

Before the introduction of steroids and competitive bodybuildings massive growth in popularity, full body training regimes were the norm. From the ancient Greek olympic athletes to the early 1900’s bodybuilders like Eugene Sandow, it was for the most part, full body training programs that did the job.

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So what is a full body training program?

It’s where you will aim to train your entire body in one training session.

What is a split training program?

It’s where you’ll train certain body parts per day (arms, legs etc)

Why did the the split routine take centre stage in recent times?

Various reasons but predominantly, it was when the top bodybuilders of the 60’s (when steroids were becoming popular among them) started posting their routines in the popular magazines of the day. Many readers took notice and of course copied their routines. Lets face it, if you have Arnold looking like a greek god telling you the training regime to look like him, you’ll do it.

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A few things Arnold didn’t tell you was that genetics play a massive factor as well as the testosterone ‘supplements’.

So the question is, why did the bodybuilders of the 50’s and 60’s start these split routines when the vast majority before were doing full body workouts?

1. Because you can do more sets in one session on one body part and thus, get more muscle damage and then growth.

2. Because when you’re taking steroids, you can recover faster. This allows you to blast the chest with a hard training routine as much as 3\4 times a week with a high volume of sets. Allowing the help of the steroids to help you recover much faster than without.

For the reasons above you can get bigger than you would using a full body routine.

Benefits of a split routine:

  • It’s not as exhausting. Training one body part at a time will have less energy expenditure and so will be better for those that can’t cope with a more demanding multi joint workout.
  • It’s easier to spend less time in the gym per workout. Simply because you can train a specific muscle group, simpler in your approach and quicker, especially as a beginner.
  • You can get bigger muscles as a beginner. Split routine exercises tend to be less neurologically demanding than full body routines and so many beginners can exhaust the muscle without the extra danger of coping with a complex multi joint exercise.
  • You’ll have enough time to train specific muscles in isolation. This will enable beginners to more effectively target weak points in the body.

Benefits of a full body routine:

  • Neurological adaptions will take place faster because of a higher demand on the nervous system with bigger compound lifting.
  • You can spend less time in the gym per week overall. With only 3 full body sessions per week, it’s possible to get significant results as you’ll be hitting each muscle 3 times per week within each session.
  • If you miss a day of training, it won’t screw your whole routine up. Because you’d be aiming for 3/4 times per week, if you miss a day due to other commitments, it’s easy to just do it the next day. On a split routine, this will mess your entire schedule up.
  • It could be more fun. Variations on tempos, dexterity, dynamic, explosive and olympic lifting all need the body to engage as one unit. Depending on your personal preference, this is a lot more fun than bench pressing for 8 sets, 4 sets of incline bench followed by 4 sets of pec flys!

Do body types influence whether you should train split or full?

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Yes. There are generally 3 body types; Ectomorph (thin), mesomorph (muscular) and endomorph (chunky) and although we are all a mix of the three, everyone leans toward one type. Each type needs to take into consideration reps, loads, tempos and set differences… not only that but in my opinion, whether you should be doing split or full body training methods for hypertrophy!

Each body types needs are different and in my experience many ectomorphs don’t do as well as mesomorphs on split training routines and endomorphs don’t do as well as ectomorphs on low reps, they generally need higher rep ranges.

Does activity outside the gym influence split or full training methods? Absolutely!

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If you play tennis twice a week for 3 hour matches but want to do a full body hypertrophy routine in the gym 4 times a week, you’ll have no cartilage left in either knee by the end of the week! Your legs will be overtrained and then some. If you’re a cage fighter who relies on every muscle when jujitsu training and you performed 20 sets on your back muscles a day or two before, the only grappling you’ll be doing is on your back!

Its not as simple as people think and this is where there is a lot of confusion. All areas of activity need to be put into the equation for your exercise program or it wont give you the optimal result. A skilled personal trainer can do this for you of course but not a cookie cutter one size fits all approach from a magazine.

Which method wins? Neither. They are both amazing methods of training that both have their place.

It all comes down to personal preference, goals, genetics and activity.

Personally I prefer a combination of both but lean towards full body or upper and lower training. I’ve tried just about every training method there is and so know my body well. Being more ectomorphic and although my goals differ depending on what time of year it is, I get stronger with full body training methods. I tend to recover fast and so would have to spend half my life in the gym training if using the full split routine. Couple that with my various sports that I like and how I prefer to be dynamic with complex movements, it suits me.

Best exercises you need in a full body conditioning program:

Squats

Bench press

Deadlifts

Military press

Bent over row

Chin ups

Best exercises for a split routine: The same!

Enjoy your training ??

Rupert Hambly