If you’re on a mission to gain as much muscle as you can in the shortest time possible, should you choose a full body workout or a split routine? Which works best?
In general, someone who’s relatively new to lifting weights, and wants to train 2-3 days per week, would be better off with a full body workout.
But if you’ve moved past the beginner stages of training, and you’ve got both the time and motivation to train 4-6 days a week, some kind of split routine would be the way to go.
Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of both approaches, so you can choose a training program that’s right for you.
What’s a Full Body Workout?
A full body workout means training all the major body parts — chest, back, shoulders, arms and legs — in a single workout.
Most training programs that use full body workouts are done 2-3 times a week, with each workout typically separated by at least one full day of rest.
What’s a Split Routine?
With a split routine, rather than hitting all the major muscle groups in a single workout, you work different areas of the body on different days.
On day one, you might train your chest, shoulders and triceps, day two is back and biceps, with day three reserved for legs.
A split routine is usually performed 4-6 days a week, with the body separated into two or more different regions.
Full Body Workout vs Split Routine: Which is Better?
Because there are so many different ways to set up a split routine, it’s impossible to say that a full body workout is better than a split routine, or vice versa.
The suitability of any given training routine for you, be it one based on full-body workouts or some kind of split routine, depends on a number of factors. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
How often can you train?
A training program is only effective if you actually do it. There’s no point starting out on a split routine that involves lifting weights six days a week, if you only have the time (or the inclination) to train three times a week.
How much time can you spend in the gym?
If you can train four days per week, your workouts are going to take longer than they would do if you were lifting weights 5 or 6 times per week.
If you’re training 5 days a week, for example, you might be able to get each training session done in 45 minutes.
Compressing the same amount of work into three training sessions means that each one is going to take 75 minutes, which may not fit your schedule.
Some people find it easier to stick to a training program that involves shorter, more frequent workouts. Others prefer longer, less frequent training sessions.
How much work do you need in each of those workouts to stimulate muscle growth?
If you’re new to lifting weights, muscle growth tends to happen relatively quickly, and it;’s often possible to generate significant gains in muscle mass with a relatively low volume of strength training.
But as the weeks and months go by, the rate at which additional muscle tissue is acquired tends to slow down.
That is, training your whole body three days a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday may have been an effective way to build muscle when you were starting out.
But there’ll come a point when the gains slow down, or even grind to a halt completely. Once you get to that point, chances are you’ll need to ramp up the amount of training you’re doing if you want to continue making progress.
What’s more, not everyone responds to an identical training program in the same predictable way. Person A may need a greater volume of training than person B to stimulate the same amount of muscle growth.
In practical terms, this means longer and/or more frequent workouts, to make similar gains.
How Often Should You Train Each Muscle?
You want to hit each muscle group at least twice every seven days, which you can do with both whole body workouts and split routines.
However, if you want to hit each muscle group twice a week, you can do that with just two full-body workouts. A split routine, on the other hand, requires at least four.
That’s all well and good if you can train four days a week on a regular basis, but not everyone is in that position.
If time constraints mean you can make it to the gym on a consistent basis 2-3 days a week, then go with a full-body workout. But if you’re able to train 4-6 days a week, then some kind of split routine will likely give you better results.
How Many Sets Per Muscle Group?
To maximize your rate of muscular growth, aim for somewhere between 10 and 20 hard sets per muscle group per week.
Again, you can achieve that with both a split routine and a full-body workout. But with a split routine, the potential is there to do more sets, as the work is spread across 4-6 workouts rather than 2-3.
Overall, there are pros and cons to both full-body workouts and split routines. Both have their place at different times and for different people.
In general, someone who’s relatively new to lifting weights, and wants to train 2-3 days per week, would be better off with a routine incorporating full-body workouts.
But if you’re able to train 3-6 times a week, the number of effective training routines on the menu becomes that much larger.
Training more often means that you can divide your body into two or more separate compartments, and still hit each muscle group at least twice a week
For someone that’s moved beyond the beginner stages of training, and has both the time and motivation to train 4-6 days a week, some kind of split routine would be the way to go.
As long as your workout routine hits each muscle group with the right frequency and volume (total number of hard sets per muscle group in both a single training session and over a 7-day period), then it’s going to be an effective one.