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Is it better to do full-body workouts or splits?

The debate between full-body (FB) and split routine (SR) workouts has long been a topic of discussion among fitness enthusiasts and professionals. This blog delves deep into the effectiveness of these training splits, especially focusing on their impact on strength and muscle hypertrophy, supported by a recent study by Bartolomei et al. (2021) (1), and complemented by additional research.


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Understanding the training regimens


Full body training

Full Body Training (FB) involves working all major muscle groups in a single session, typically spread out two to three times per week. This approach is praised for its efficiency and ability to increase metabolic stress and hormonal response, which are crucial for muscle growth and strength development. Additionally, it allows the lifter to focus on major muscle groups, further enhancing strength gains.


Split routine training

Split Routine Training (SR), on the other hand, focuses on specific muscle groups per session (like chest and triceps, back and biceps, etc.), allowing for a more concentrated and intense workout for those muscles. Bodybuilders and those aiming for maximum muscle growth often favour this method as it lets them overload specific muscles with more volume, or sets and reps, compared to the full-body split routine.


Study overview by Bartolomei et al. (2021)

The study recruited 21 trained men and assigned them randomly to full-body (FB) or split routine (SR) groups for a 10-week training period. The workouts were designed to be equated for volume but varied in frequency and muscle group focus. Performance was measured through various strength tests and muscle thickness assessments.


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Key findings


Strength development

FB participants saw slightly better gains in maximal strength, suggesting that FB workouts may be more beneficial for improving overall strength.


Muscle hypertrophy

Participants in the SR group experienced greater increases in muscle size, particularly in the thigh muscles, indicating that SR might be better for those focusing on increasing muscle mass.


Additional research and comparative analysis

Several other studies offer insights into this debate:


Schoenfeld et al. (2016) found no significant difference in muscle growth between TB and SR when exercises were equated for volume, but noted that frequency might play a crucial role in maximizing muscle hypertrophy (2).


Rhea et al. (2003) suggested that higher frequency, or more frequent stimulation of muscle groups, could lead to better strength gains, which supports the use of FB for strength-focused athletes (3).


Krieger (2010) conducted a meta-analysis which indicated that while both TB and SR can increase strength effectively, split routines might offer better efficiency for muscle hypertrophy over the long term due to better recovery periods (4).


Practical applications

Based on the findings from these studies, athletes and trainers can optimize their training routines by considering their specific goals.


For maximal strength

FB routines are advisable, leveraging the frequent stimulation of major muscle groups and maximizing the hormone response to larger muscle group activation. For example:

Day

Exercises

Monday

Squat, Bench Press, Bent Over Row, Shoulder Press

Wednesday

Deadlift, Chin-Ups, Leg Press, Military Press, Dips

Friday

Front Squat, Incline Bench Press, T-Bar Row, Arnold Press, Lat Pull-Down


For muscle hypertrophy

SR routines could be more effective, allowing for focused and intense workouts on specific muscle groups, allowing for more volume per muscle group which is cited as an important component for continued muscle hypertrophy. For example:

Day

Exercises

Monday

Chest: Bench Press, Incline Dumbbell Press, Chest Fly, Push Ups

Tuesday

Back: Pull-Ups, Rows, Lat Pull-Down, Facepull

Thursday

Legs: Squat, Leg Press, Deadlift, leg extension

Friday

Shoulders and Arms: Military Press, Arnold Press, Bicep Curls, Tricep Extensions


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Considerations for program design

When designing a training program, consider training experience and goals, recovery and nutrition, as well as lifestyle and preferences to tailor the program to your individual needs.


Training experience and goals

Beginners might benefit more from FB due to the comprehensive stimulation, while advanced athletes could customize SR to target weak points or specific aesthetic goals.


Recovery and nutrition

SR may require more meticulous attention to recovery and nutrition due to the intense workload on specific muscle groups.


Lifestyle and preferences

The choice between FB and SR should also consider an individual's schedule, preferences, and lifestyle for sustainable adherence. Full body (FB) programs typically require less frequency, with research suggesting twice a week is sufficient for results.


In contrast, split routines (SR) require a minimum frequency of three times per week and four to five times per week for advanced lifters.


A personal trainer demonstrates a seated barbell overhead press while in a gym.

Putting it into action

The choice between full body and split routine training should be dictated by an individual's fitness goals, recovery capacity, and personal preferences. Both methods have their benefits and can be equally effective under the right circumstances. By understanding the slight differences of each approach and applying the principles discussed, individuals can make informed decisions that align with their long-term fitness aspirations.


In conclusion, whether aiming for strength or hypertrophy, the key to success lies in consistent application, proper technique, and a well-rounded approach to training and recovery. Engaging in a training split that aligns with one's personal goals and physical condition will yield the best results, supported by both scientific research and practical outcomes.


 

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References

  1. Bartolomei, S., Nigro, F., Malagoli Lanzoni, I., Masina, F., Di Michele, R., & Hoffman, J. R. (2021). A comparison between total body and split routine resistance training programs in trained men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 35(6), 1520-1526.

  2. Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2016). Effects of resistance training frequency on measures of muscle hypertrophy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 46(11), 1689-1697.

  3. Rhea, M. R., Alvar, B. A., Burkett, L. N., & Ball, S. D. (2003). A meta-analysis to determine the dose-response for strength development. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 35(3), 456-464.

  4. Krieger, J. W. (2010). Single vs. multiple sets of resistance exercise for muscle hypertrophy: A meta-analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(4), 1150-1159.

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