This is the training split I use the most with athletes and strength-focused clients. Think of it as a classic full-body split with the addition of a “bonus” workout.
Whole-body training is the oldest type of training split. It was the dominant way to train up until the 1960s, when body part splits became more popular. Some will even bring up the correlation with the beginning of the “steroid era” with the popularization of body part splits.
Back in the earlier days of resistance training, the typical approach was to train the whole body three days a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This approach is optimal for people who simply want to get bigger, stronger, more powerful, and better conditioned.
While there are several ways of doing whole-body training, I use a minimalist approach of relying almost exclusively on big, compound movements. Some will take a very detailed approach and include one (or more) exercises for each muscle group. This means 8-10 movements per session, which is too much for most.
I normally use 4-5 exercises per workout:
- A squat
- A press
- A pull
- A hinge
I’ll sometimes add a unilateral lower-body exercise or a loaded carry. Using these exercises will hit everything to some extent. Sure, you don’t have any biceps, triceps, or delt exercises, but these muscles are involved in the big basic movements.
The Benefits of Whole-Body Training
- Hitting each muscle and key movement pattern three times a week, while yielding better overall strength gains, may also provide a muscle growth advantage.
- It allows you to use several different training methods, intensity zones, and contraction types for each muscle. For example, I like to use an eccentric-focus (slow eccentrics/negatives or eccentric overloads) on Monday, and stato-dynamic (including isometric holds during a set or the reps) on Wednesday, then do normal lifting on Friday.
- But you can also use something like a heavy/light/moderate or a heavy/high-density/volume to reap gains from various angles. I find it more effective to include one form of training per session rather than trying to include several packed into one workout.
- Whole-body training has been found to lower myostatin more than upper and lower-body training. Myostatin is a protein released by the muscles that limits growth. The less you produce, the more growth you get.
- It’s very efficient.
The Gap Workout
If you’re a bodybuilder who wants to exaggerate the development of several body parts, this might not be the split for you. To overcome this limitation, I added a fourth weekly workout – the gap workout. This bonus workout will fill your need for more isolated pump work.
It’s a less stressful workout where you do exclusively “easier” exercises: isolation, machine, or pulley work. The exercises you do in your gap workout are selected to fill out the development gaps left by the whole-body sessions.
Typically, you’d do exercises that hit the biceps, triceps, hamstrings, and rear delts. But you can use this workout to work on any muscle that needs a boost. This allows you to reap the benefits of whole-body training while still getting more typical bodybuilding results.
Here’s what the weekly split would look like:
- Monday: Whole Body 1
- Tuesday: Off
- Wednesday: Whole Body 2
- Thursday: Off
- Friday: Whole Body 3
- Saturday: Gap Workout
- Sunday: Off
The drawbacks of whole-body training? It can be draining with all those compound movements. The workouts may also take longer due to longer warm-ups and rest periods.
But I’ve had two experienced athletes gain 20 pounds in a year with this approach, and they dramatically increased their strength.