Full Body vs. Split Training

Is One Really Better Than the Other?

Yeah, I know, boring title. But it got you to click on the article, didn't it? The truth is, I feel so strongly about this topic that I just couldn't risk any one person scrolling past the link because of some ambiguous, abstract title. So, let's get right to it!

Why in the hell is anyone even debating this issue?

For decades we've been simultaneously bangin' two strength training beauties: full body programs and split routines. But now, all within the last year, coaches everywhere are getting all "monogamous" - telling us we have to choose either one or the other.

Huh? What in the hell has gotten into this field? Honestly, how this has become a hot topic of discussion, I really don't know. It's about as elementary as the low-reps vs. high-reps for hypertrophy debate. Both approaches have benefit!

"Well, if you could only choose one..."

Listen, I don't know what kind of hypothetical bullshit world you live in, but in the real world, I don't have to choose just one. So that completely moot question, Confucius Jr., has approximately zero value as far as edifying strength training discussion is concerned.

In fact, I can use however many efficacious practices within the realm of strength training that I want. Given that, I'm certainly not going to limit myself by picking and choosing between methods that offer unique benefits. The reality is that full body training and split-based routines are two differing methods each offering unique benefits. And get this radical concept: you can experience them all by utilizing both within your training!

Let's take a look at the benefits each approach has to offer.

4 Benefits of Full Body Training

1 – Greater Frequency Per Muscle Group

The more frequently you stimulate a muscle to grow, the more it'll grow (provided you're training fresh and are hitting the muscle with a variety of stimuli through varying rep ranges, etc.).

With full body workouts, you can expect to hit each major muscle group 3-4 times weekly. That's a tremendous amount of stimulation! Try doing this with a split-based setup and you'll likely be conducting, at minimum, 3-4 weight training sessions daily. Not only would this be impractical, improbable, implausible, and every other word beginning with "im," but at that point, it's no longer a split routine!

2 – Greater Energy Expenditure Per Workout

Full body workouts will yield a greater energy expenditure per workout when compared to split routines because of the large amount of muscle mass being taxed in each session.

Think about it; what requires more energy, a biceps/triceps session or a workout beginning with squats and followed up with dips, good mornings, and chins? If you selected the latter option, you're correct. If, however, you went with the former, please go join the personal training team of your local fitness club. You'll fit right in.

That said, full body workouts will allow you to either:

  1. Eat more without gaining additional fat.
  2. Skip that 15 minutes of boring cardio after your weight training session.
  3. Gain mass with little to no fat gain or even slight fat loss.

Personally, I'd go with option 1, but ultimately, it's up to you.

3 – Greater Depletion Leading to Greater Supercompensation

A full body workout basically leaves your body saying "WTF?" A ton of microtrauma, protein degradation, and glycogen depletion has just occurred, leaving the body in an extremely primed state for nutrient uptake and anabolism to take place. Provided you give the body what it's asking for nutritionally, a superior supercompensatory effect will result.

4 – Greater Anabolic Hormone Stimulation

Taxing a large amount of muscle mass in a given session results in a greater acute increase in plasma anabolic hormone concentrations. Because this increase is so short lived, it's been debated as to whether or not it has any real impact on the muscle growth process. Having said that, I'd guess that even a brief increase in anabolic hormones is of value since the increase is occurring at such a sensitive time (when the body is primed for anabolism and massive amounts of nutrients are being consumed).

Mike Menzter

Mike Menzter: Full body fan

Okay, now let's look at split-based routines.

3 Benefits of Split-Based Routines

1 – Less Fatigue = Greater Loads

The reasoning behind this is twofold. First, because of their demanding nature, full body workouts, despite having the positive attribute of being more calorically expensive than split-based routines, are a hell of a lot more fatiguing, which isn't necessarily a good thing for lifts conducted in the latter part of the workout. By the time you reach compound movement three or four, loads are suffering simply from general fatigue.

Then consider the specific fatigue caused to each muscle group when performing multiple compound movements recruiting similar muscle groups. Conduct a military press after your shoulders have already been hammered with dumbbell bench presses and dips, and the weight you'll have to select will be considerably lower than you'd typically use during a military press/pull-up workout.

With split-based routines, there's much less general fatigue occurring, and specific fatigue (when set up appropriately) doesn't even exist. In fact, with an antagonistic approach to split design, performance will actually be heightened. In the end, taxing each muscle group with the greatest load possible will quicken overload and adaptation, which will in turn have an obvious positive effect on strength and size.

2 – Greater Attention Per Muscle Group

Needless to say, if you only have two muscle groups instead of the entire body to worry about in a given workout, those two muscle groups are going to receive concentrated attention, which will probably result in more specific microtrauma and adaptation. It's almost as if split-based routines prioritize everything, while full-body training prioritizes nothing.

That may be a little extreme, but it's really not too far off. Yes, full body workouts have plenty of unique benefits, but it's virtually impossible to give each muscle group the concentrated attention of a split-based workout when attempting to work the entire body in a single session. Not only that, being able to concentrate all effort on one or two things as opposed to "everything" often leads to a higher quality of work.

Think of your work week and everything that needs to get done by Friday. Will you accomplish more by concentrating on one or two of those things at a time (and then move on to the next one or two), or will you accomplish more by attempting to complete every project simultaneously? I'm going to guess you'll be more motivated and will accomplish more with the former approach.

Similarly, many times, full body workouts are "half-assed" simply because there's just too much going on. When this happens, the benefits associated with full body workouts really aren't going to be experienced.

3 – Less Apt to Overtrain

Full body workouts are long and fatiguing. Despite their many benefits, most trainees just can't keep up with this type of demand for extended periods of time.

With a split-based routine, you can get an intense, extremely high quality workout in as little as a half-hour. You leave the gym feeling fresh, motivated, and with a feeling of accomplishment. Don't underestimate the importance of this benefit. The more you look forward to going to the gym, the better your workouts are going to be and the more you're going to accomplish with respect to your goals.

Once you start loathing the thought of your next workout, you can be sure that your CNS has had its fill and overtraining has begun to set in. At this point, any work done in the gym is going to be far less productive than it would be when training motivated with a fresh CNS.


Again, I'm not sure where or how this trend in strength training started, but hopefully this article will serve as the catalyst to a return to polygamy within the field, particularly concerning this topic. Both full body training and split-based routines offer unique benefits.

You're a strength training Hugh Hefner; violate as many programming bunnies as possible!