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Full Body Workout vs. Split: How to Decide

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Full Body Workout vs. Split: How to Decide

If you are beginning your fitness journey, you'll likely be wondering what the best way to exercise is. Should you focus on your entire body every time you go to the gym, or is it best to target specific muscle groups?

Take a look with us at split workout routines and whole-body exercises. Let us help you to decide on the best option!

What is a full-body workout?

A full-body workout is pretty self-explanatory! It requires exercising your entire body in one workout session. You may first perform some arm exercises such as bicep curls, followed by chest movements, and finish with some squats.

Many full-body workout sessions also incorporate cardio activity. These workouts are diverse and can be adapted depending on what exercise you want or need to do on a particular day.

Advantages and disadvantages to full-body workouts

Full-body workouts are a better way to exercise if you're usually on a time crunch. If you work full time and can't go to the gym at least three days a week, splits are not an ideal option. Focusing on full-body workouts instead will enable you to efficiently train without neglecting any muscles.

However, one of the core drawbacks of a full-body workout is that the volume you use on particular muscles may be limited. You won't have the time to create a strong focus on any specific muscle, so your strength in a particular area will be limited. If your goal is to bulk up, this might not be the right strength training program for you.

Full-body workouts also mean that your entire body will be in recovery after exercise. You don't want to do a full-body workout every day as it won't allow for much-needed recovery time! And since this is when your muscles do the most growing, it would be counter-productive. So, if you like going to the gym six days a week, you will probably find splits more effective.

However, for general toning, strengthening, and fitness, full-body workouts certainly do have their place.

Who do full-body workouts benefit?

Full-body workouts are great for beginners who want to improve their overall fitness or lose body fat.

That being said, they are beneficial for intermediate and advanced athletes, too, especially if they are short on time.

What is a split workout?

A split workout focuses on training just one or two muscle groups per day. Typically, people who do split workouts tend to go to the gym a few days per week and dedicate one day to a specific muscle group or set of muscles. For example, Monday might be leg day, Tuesday chest day, and Wednesday arm day. This is the classic bro split routine, although some people may prefer other variations of workout splits.

  • The upper-lower split routine focuses on the upper body (chest, arms, shoulders, back) one day and the lower body (abs, glutes, legs) the following day.
  • Push-pull leg splits strengthen just the leg muscles, incorporating different exercises involving pushing and pulling.

There are, of course, multiple ways to format a workout split. When designing your training program, it's essential to consider how many days you have and what muscle groups are beneficial to work out together. Here are some ideas:

  • 6-day workout split: separate your exercises into two groups and focus on them each day. Dedicate Monday and Thursday to back and shoulders, Tuesday and Friday chest and arms, and Wednesday and Saturday legs. Dedicate at least one day off each week.
  • 5-day workout routine: focus on back muscles on Monday, shoulders on Tuesday, chest on Wednesday, arms on Thursday, and legs on Friday. Of course, you could have a rest day in the middle and work out on Saturday instead.
  • 4-day workout split: it's crucial to know which muscle groups work together for this split. We recommend putting back and biceps together, focus one day on chest and triceps, shoulders and forearms as another muscle group, and then spending an entire day focused on legs.
  • 3-day workout split: focus on the groups mentioned in the 6-day workout split; back and shoulders on day one, chest and arms on day two, and legs on day three.

The most important aspect of a split workout is commitment. If you are new to splits or training in general, you might not want to go straight into a 6-day workout split. Starting with a shorter split is an effective way to build up.

Advantages and disadvantages to split workouts

One of the main advantages of doing splits instead of full-body workouts is the amount of time you can focus on one particular muscle or muscle group. With this focus, you can significantly build on a muscle by overloading. Some muscles, including the pectoral muscle, respond well to overloading and then a few days rest. Therefore, it can be a really effective way to work out.

There is also the opportunity to focus on a much more comprehensive range of exercises. When you do a split workout, you can isolate the muscle groups, do various extra exercises, including pulses, and generally focus on building the mass up in this area.

However, there are a few disadvantages to this type of training. If you don't have much time to go to the gym, and can't commit to going a few times each week, then a split training program might not be for you. You'll have fewer opportunities to target specific muscle groups and may find that some become neglected.

Who can benefit from a split workout?

Most people think that split workouts are the program of hardcore gym enthusiasts, but in reality, they can be great for anyone who has a little extra time to spend in the gym. If you can work out four, five, or six times during a week, muscle group splits may be better for you.

Full-body or split; which is better?

This largely depends on what type of athlete you are. Your goals and how often you can get to the gym are large determining factors for making this decision. However, there is no universal policy when considering full body vs. split workouts.

Some things to consider:

  • What are your goals?

Choose split routines if you want to bulk up, where you can increase weight volume gradually. However, if you wish to improve your general fitness, full-body workouts are probably a better idea.

  • How often can you commit to your workout?

As we've discussed, you need to set aside at least three days a week to make splits worthwhile. If there are some weeks where you will be only able to go twice, then full-body workouts may be better for you.

  • How much time throughout the day do you have to work out?

Full-body workouts can extend for any amount of time, although if you are regularly using different muscles, you might not be able to train them effectively. However, splits require at least 30-45 minutes of concentrated effort during that day's targetted muscle group.

It's also key to remember that you don't necessarily need to go to the gym for split workouts - and it's not even mandatory to have free weights. Effectively train different areas of the body with a resistance band, such as the pull up assist band, or even with bodyweight. If you are new to muscle work and splits, this may be a great way to start.

Full body workout vs. split for mass

If building mass is your goal, you should be looking at splits. This regime will help you focus on each group individually and gradually build up mass in each area. A full-body workout for mass will eventually produce results but will most likely take longer.

Full body workout vs. split for weight loss

If weight loss is your goal, a full-body workout with cardio is the best method. Using all of your muscle groups simultaneously means they will work together for maximum calorie burn. Furthermore, while building mass is beneficial for fat loss, a vigorous workout that gets your heart rate pumping is far more effective.

Should I switch from full body to splits?

Switching from full-body workouts to targeted muscle group workouts is not something that everybody does. You might want to make the switch at some point - or you might decide that your goals, physique, and lifestyle are much more naturally suited to full body workouts!

Some things could trigger a decision to switch from one type of workout to the other.

  • A goal change.

Your goal may have been losing weight at first. But after some time, you might decide to tone up and increase mass. In this case, you should switch when you have achieved your initial goal.

  • More time.

If you are only doing full-body workouts because you didn't have the time to incorporate a split into your routine, then you should make the switch whenever you find more time.

  • More experience.

If you want to do splits but want more knowledge about the movements before committing to them, switch from full-body workouts when they become less challenging.

Choosing between full-body and a split workout routine

There are some apparent differences between full-body workouts and splits, and both have advantages and disadvantages. There's certainly no single answer for whether full-body workouts or splits are better - assess your unique situation and devise a workout program that's perfect for you.

Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

Katherine is a CrossFit expert with humble origins. Starting out on a ranch, ever since she was nine, she spent most of her life roping and competing in team roping. After finding bodyweight exercises interesting she sought after a career in CrossFit and dedicated her life towards achieving the body of her dreams. Today Katherine is a personal trainer that loves to travel the world and change the lives of her clients.

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