T Nation

Debate-Full Body Vs Specialization Part 2


Part One was a while back and it seems there have been some new developments.
The basic concept is this:with Full Body workouts you can achieve more volume per body part per week. With Specialization, you can achieve a higher degree of damage and intensity per muscle per week.

Possible points of thought-with FBW(full body workouts) is there is somewhat of a mental block from pushing it too hard.
With Specialized workouts(one or two body parts a workout) you limit yourself on the body part the following days(chest+tris/shoulders+tris).
Assuming you dont overtrain with either method, which style of training is most effective? Thoughts and opinion welcome.


I would think effectiveness would depend on the person and what their ultimate goals are. However, both have their strong and weak points.

I, personally, would lean towards full body workouts though (works for me, so why screw with a good thing). You can work all muscle groups 2-3 times (good frequency) per week depending on recovery (or more if you're a mutant), you can always switch each rep range up (so monday is heavy, wednesday is light, and friday is moderate for example) to help deliver a differt kind of stimulus throughout the week and stave off getting "stale" and promoting active recovery, maximal strength, and hypertrophy (strength-endurance I guess) all at once.

With the specialized plans, you can probably fit more isolation stuff in with some good compounds to "tweak" and "refine" your target area IMO (and as you said, really focus on that target and devote pretty much all your energy and resources to it as opposed to "budgeting" with FBW).

Like I said before, I tend to favor the full body thing (usually inc. bench, deadlift, and front squats with some odds n' ends thrown in there like one isolation per muscle if I'm up to it, or maybe more iso's for one muscle than another if I feel it's lagging) as it has just been easier and more comfortable for me, but both are useful, and depending on your goals (or just personal preference), one may be more ideal over the other. Neither is the end-all-be-all. Just tools in the tool box is how I look at it.


It's a dabate I have often thought about. On a true 3 or 4 way split, I never got good results, but I also wasn't using ideal exercises, reps, sets, loads and form. When I did each muscle 1x/week, I always felt like I had passed my peak by at least 2 days. When I trained more frequenty, the heavy weights started to feel lighter. I think its because your tendons stay primed for heavy loads for 4-5 days max, however, the main thing was that with more frequency, added reps usually came as a result of more speed-I could do 5 reps in the time frame it had taken me to do 3 before-so, I think that for pure muscle, more time off is better.

Total body was just too much for me to focus on. You get your blood flowing every which way. I could not squat, bench and row heavy in the same workout.

Probably the best results came from a simple 2 way split: basically upper lower and training 6x/week but in different rep ranges: Lighter (60%), medium (70-80%), heavy (80-95%), however as I got stronger, this was too much.

Now, I would recommend a 4-5 day split of specialization, followed by 2 days of heavy work with just an upper/lower split like this:

1) Leg specialization: Quads hams and calves. I don't split quads and hams because I really only need 1 exercise for each one-1 leg squats, straight leg deads and standing or seated calves. 10, 8 and 6 reps for quads, 4 x 5 for hams, 5 x 10 for calves.

2) Chest and biceps: 1-2 chest exercises, 1-2 bicep exercises, possible forearms.

3) Shoulders and triceps-2 shoulder, 1-2 tricep

4) Back: 3-4 back exercises including at least 1 pull to the chest, and 1 pull to the waist.

5) Heavy squat-power style

6) Heavy bench-power style

7) Off


both are good. and can be great. Like AC's tip today its the work you put in. I use the all sometimes full body. Sometimes upper lower, sometimes a body part split. change it up keep the body guessing fit your schedule and have some damn fun and work hard not matter what you chose and the results will come.

That my take,


So one idea is that for the newbie full body is prefered and for advanced specialization is better? When does a newbie become an intermediate and advanced trainer?


I've been using a split bodypart program since I first started. I designed it myself knowing my body's recovery ability and perfect stimilus zone. Thats what seperates an advanced trainee from the newbie in my opinion is when you become instinctive to your body's abilities. Training a bodypart every 7 days was plenty for the first 1-2 years but after that I needed more frequency and I knew about how long it took for each bodypart to recover completely before thrashing it again. For me it's like this-

quads- 6 days. 3-4 exercises 3-4 sets per exercise.
hams- 5-6 days. 3 exercises 3-4 sets each
back/chest- 5 days. 3-4 exercises, 4 sets each
shoulders/triceps- 4 days, 3-4 exercises, 3 sets each
biceps- 3 days, 2-3 exercises 3-4 sets each
calf/traps/forearm/abs- 2 days, 2-3 exercises, 3 sets each.

Some of you will think this is a huge volume of training especially when you consider almost all of those exercises are heavy compound exercises taken to absolute failure and I'm a natural trainee but I've tried it all and this suits me best for hypertrophy. Also my lifestyle is suited for maxium recovery and it works well. My complete routine is much more complicated as far as maintaince phases every 5 weeks that allows for full recovery and other mesocycles but that is always the base.

Point is find what works for you. Sure following someone else's workout is good when you're a beginner but as you advance you should become very intune with you body and individualize your training.


I prefer a mix of everything out there. As it was previously said, another tool in the box. For size, I will do one group a day, I.e chest (including front delt and tri) or back (including bicep, forearm and rear delt) For overall fuctionality I will use whole body workouts.

I am a firm believer that if you want a change in a part of the body or a lift that you should devote all your energy into said body part, i.e. bring up a lagging body part, or getting a bigger bench by benching etc.. However for overall body function and athleticism you can't take away the full body.

Ideally you need to try it all out and see what works for you, and do it. You can have 2 athletes with the same abilities and strengths and they could have gotten there two completely different ways.

So I guess my answer to the question is there is no right way except to get into the gym, work hard, and experience for youself. There is no instant quick answer. No miracle workout.


Your muscles that require a longer recovery period also have more overall work being performed. You think that if you only did 2-3 exercises for 3 sets each that your quads or hams would only need 2-3 days to recover versus 5-6?


As far as which is better, I'll agree that it's trainee dependent. Some people based on recovery ability, biological and training age, and type of work being performed need different programs. I used to do a three day split (chest/back/legs) twice during the week with Sundays off. This worked great for about three months. After getting stale I switched it up to a five day split (chest, back, legs, shoulders, arms) performed each week. This worked for a while too. Next was full body workouts four times per week. This, too, worked for a while. There isn't much of a debate to be had on various split training unless there's a specific case study to examine.



I don't agree with this generalization.

I flat out believe that most people need training frequency higher than 1x/week per bodypart.

Actually a beginner can probably get by fine with 1x/week. Then you start to need more frequency, 2x/week then 3x/week, but cutting volume per bodypart each time.

Then, at a certain level of strength you start to reach the point where you can't recover from 3x/week with heavy weights and intensity, and have start to bring the frequency down slightly, or have a light day, or do something to cut the heavy load intensity like have a slow tempo day, or a rep-out day, or an 80% day (80% of the weight of the last workout for the same reps), or do sled dragging or ramp and then drop your volume. You still could use 3x/week, but you can't recover from it, as you may gradually build up micro trauma.

The best way to avoid the build up is to vary the movement pattern, but you will still end up with stressed areas like the shoulders or back.


Personally I think the whole thing is kind of silly really. There is no such thing as a full body workout that you can do in one hour with proper parameters. There are just different forms of splits. What is normally called a full body workout is just a split where you didn't group all the related exercises together.


I disagree with you.

It really depends on the person, how heavy they train, and what they do when they train.

I know guys are looking for the perfect workout, but the only way to find that workout is depending on your body an how you know your body. It takes a lot of hours in the gym before you find this.

Not all prefer the total body split routines, ect.

Me personally, I train legs everyday light, 2 different exercises, then the next day 2 other exercises, ect. I do abs the same way.

I train my upperbody at one bodypart a day - very heavy until failure:

1 chest
2 arms
3 shoulders
4 back
5 off
6 repeat

By the time day 6 comes around my chest has recooped and I start again.

Like I said it took some time before I found what worked for me.

You will have to do the same. IMO.

Lift heavy,



Yea, your right, there is a lot of variability. My main issues with the post I responded to were:

A) The generalization that as you become more advanced, you need to progress to more split routines and

B) My experience that I started to make progress when I increased my frequency of bodypart training (with different exercises and rep schemes) but that as my heavy lifts rose I was accumulating microtrauma in some of the muscles associated with the exercise, while others were good to go.

As an example, my chest, legs and upper back benefit from some kind of stimulation 2-3 times/week, but if I benched, squatted or did heavy chins 3x/week, I would get an accumulation of soreness in the delts, wrists, elbow or lower back and so if I did these bid exercises too much I could tweak a small area and be forced to back off.

As a result, I will squat heavy, and then have another day when I do 1-leg squats to take the strain off the back, or I will bench heavy and then have a day where I do a pec exercise that does not stress the shoulders so much.


I feel you Mertdawg.

Good luck,