T Nation

Full Body vs Splits


I am not trying to start an argument on which one is better but rather when is best to us each method.


In my opinion...

Full body allows you to hit everything more frequently than if you used an upper/lower split (e.g., 3 day/week full body means your whole body gets trained three times/week).

Upper/lower split allows you to use more intensity/volume than if you did full body (e.g., 4 day/week upper/lower split means your whole body gets trained twice a week).

Body part splits allows you to use even more intensity/volume than if you did an upper/lower split due (e.g., 5 day/week chest/back/shoulders/arms/legs split means your whole body gets trained once a week).

Again... IMO,

Full body is best utilized by either beginners or people who can only train infrequently. Beginners lack the ability to train with sufficient weight to truly challenge their recovery and they should take advantage of this by training as frequently as possible. Conversely, while an intermediate can train with sufficient weight to challenge his recovery, if he can only train two days/week he's getting sufficient rest days between workouts to adequately recover. Further, if he can only train twice a week he'd be better off getting in two full body workouts than doing one full body workout split over two days.

  • e.g., 5/3/1 3 day full body
    -- Squat/Bench/Row
    -- Squat/Bench/Chin
    -- Squat/Press/Deadlift,

Once a beginner can no longer adequately recover between full body workouts he should switch to an upper/lower split. Reducing the frequency will enable him to continue increasing the intensity/volume while giving him enough time between sessions for adequate recovery.

  • e.g., 5/3/1 4 day upper/lower split
    -- Squat 5/3/1, Deadlift BBB, Abs
    -- Bench 5/3/1, Press BBB, Row
    -- Deadlift 5/3/1, Squat BBB, Abs
    -- Press 5/3/1, Bench BBB, Chin.

Body part splits basically take this one step further... reducing frequency yet again so that even more intensity/volume can be applied with sufficient recovery time inserted between body parts.

  • e.g., 5/3/1 4 day upper/lower split
    -- Squat 5/3/1 + FSL, Leg Press 4x10, GHR 4x10, Hanging Leg Raise 4x10
    -- Bench 5/3/1 + FSL, DB Bench 5x10, Chest Supported Row 5x10, Blast Strap Pushups 3 sets to fail, Facepull x100
    -- Deadlift 5/3/1, Good Morning 4x10, BB Row 4x10, Leg Curl 4x12, Ab Wheel 4x10
    -- Press 5/3/1 + FSL, DB Shoulder Press 5x10, BB Curls 5x10, DB Rear Delt Raise 3x10, DB Lateral Raise 3x10.

Long story short... the weaker you are the more frequently you should train. The stronger you get the more recovery you'll need.


Thanks for your insight. Pretty much what I thought, but just wanted some clarification.


Some Dudes answer pretty much "cleaned the table". This is something I have thought a lot, and tried both ways.

I personally prefer to use different fullbody-routines instead of splits. I just like them, frequency seems to be the key for me, at least in mental sense.

Big factor is of course the amount of training days per week. I have made room for 3 gym days/week, so fullbody training fits to this better. One thing fullbody training might lack is volume, but thats does not have to be the case.

After I hit the full 5 cycles in my current routine. I'm going to start learning Oly lifts (this have been in my mind at least a year now). I did not found in the books anything that would fit me perfectly, so I made up this:

3 days/week -> 5 weeks cycles inc. deload.

D1 Hang p. clean (light)
Squat 3/5/1 + jokers/last set multiple times (depends on month/week)
Bench volume

D2 Hang p. snatch (light)
DL 3/5/1 + jokers/last set multiple times (depends on month/week)
Press volume

D3 Hang p. Clean (work up to 3rm, 5rm or 1rm)
Bench 3/5/1 + jokers/last set multiple times (depends on month/week)
Squat volume

D4 Hang p. Snatch (work up to 3rm, 5rm or 1rm)
Press 3/5/1 + jokers/last set multiple times (depends on month/week)
Dl volume or paused front squats

As assistance I'm doing just upper back, ab and posterior chain work.

This is not the typical fullbody (which I have been doing this fall), but gives more room for volume and olympic lifts while training your whole body in each training session.

What I'm trying to say here (got little OT) is that even thought I agree with Some_Dude, I recommend doing what feels best. You can have progress with both ways, no matter what your strength levels are.

I have gained most of my muscle mass and strength with fullbody routines, I don't know if I would have had better gains with splits. Actually I don't even care, fullbody seems to be working, and keeps me motivated/fits my training philosophy.


Great answer by some_dude. And I agree with Rattus, I like the full body routine much better. To me it's just more fun. It feels more like moving around, or like sports practice than just doing "work." When I lift on full body routines I feel like I get stronger in a general sense (like moving a refrigerator or picking up a rock) and I move around better.

On a lift specific, or body part split I feel like I can really "target" parts of my body. Push Press/Power Clean/Squat three days a week doesn't really do much for my biceps or upper chest. I need some specific work to isolate, and pump up those muscles. On the other hand, 5 weeks of cable upright rows, lateral delt raises and tricep kickbacks won't help my clean and press at all.

In my experience I tend to get bulky, strong and explosive on a full body routine. But my showy beach muscles don't look as big and I look softer. It's hard to fit all the curls and pec dec into the full body day. On a body part split the parts I like to train grow and look good, but I just don't feel as strong in my hips and back.

Full body makes me "worse" at the goals a split would accomplish. And doing the split makes me worse at the goals the full body routine would accomplish.

This sort of thing makes me crazy! If I do one thing and get better at it, I get worse at the other thing! I believe this is the whole reason for people coming up with periodiation. You have to come up with a plan to address all areas.

Bodybuilders love splits, and feel like they are the best way to grow. But there are some performance coaches who love full body workouts and claim splits don't work. Probably the best way is to come up with some combination.

Like some_dude you can go full body, then upper/lower and finally body part split as you grow more advanced. I would then start the cycle over again, and do a full body routine for awhile, then upper/lower and then body part split again. As you become better at working 1 "piece" you get worse at working your whole body together. As you get better at the full body, you get worse at isolating one part. And on and on and on...

Old school power lifters did high reps for awhile, then medium reps, then low reps.

Periodization coaches do different routines and exercise in blocks or cycles to focus on different qualities at specific times.

My personal choice would be a 3 day per week full body routine. Then, during 1 or 2 extra, shorter sessions I would use a split approach to really target a specif body part or lagging lift. Louis Simmons has a lot to say about using these extra workouts to bring up weak points.


My problem with full body routines is that there's not enough rest time for the body parts. For example, say I squat, bench, and row on Monday and then try to deadlift, press and do pullups on Wednesday. Because my muscles don't recover well in one day, and the muscles used on the Monday and Wednesday exercises overlap, I just dig myself into a recovery hole.

My problem with splits is that there's not enough rest time between workouts. For example, say I deadlift on Monday, bench Tuesday, squat Thursday, and press on Friday. I would tend to train so hard Monday and Tuesday that I would not be recovered by Thursday and Friday, during which I would go deeper into the recovery hole. I'd be somewhat (but not fully) recovered by Monday, but would feel out of sink from being off for two days.

So how I run the program instead is to take every other day off and make it an 8 day cycle:

  1. Deadlift
  2. Off
  3. Bench
  4. Off
  5. Squat
  6. Off
  7. Press
  8. Off

Every session has a rest day both before and after it, I'm always fresh for every workout; and I never dig myself too deeply into a recovery hole and so recover on a systemic level. And since the next workout always uses muscles that weren't used during the previous workout, I stay recovered on a body part level, as well. Plus I get into a nice every-other-day training rythym that keeps me feeling in synch.

One body part that does get overlapped is traps because I do shrugs, cleans, or carries on lower body days. But so far this hasn't been a problem, probably because my traps don't get hammered on upper body days.

Not sure if this is a Wendler-approved variation, but it's been working well for a couple of months.


I was stronger than I've every been doing the full-body template from one of the earlier books. Highest calculated maxes anyway. BW dropped 15lbs during that run too.

365x5 Yoke Bar Squat - Full-body 531
315x5 Bench - Full-body 531
410x8 DL - Full-Body 531
205x4 OHP - Upper/lower split 531. Bad shoulder no benching.

Not going to win any trophies, but wouldn't consider myself a beginner. I wouldn't say a full body template is only good for beginners.

Recovery was not an issue following the template and 3x weekly squatting progressions in the book. I was 37 at the time and doing hill sprints a few times a week, so should be less of a problem for younger guys. My legs and ass felt like they were made out of granite squatting 3x weekly. I should probably go back to that template at some point.


That 8 day template posted above, or any variation of it (taking a day off between each session) is terrific. My dad and I first trained like that. I think people are very limited by the 7 day week and refuse to step out of the box.


I, too, have found that stepping outside the 7 day cycle works better for me.

Orvis, I'm stealing your 8 day setup.


Oh no, help yourself! I'm sure I'm not the first person on here to think of it.

If it's any help to you, for accessory exercises I usually do a dumbell version of whatever movement isn't being trained on 5/3/1 that day. So on Bench day, I do dumbell overhead presses; and on overhead press day, I do dumbell bench presses; squat day, SLDL or KB swings; deadlift day, front squats or RFE split squats. That way each movement gets trained every 4th day.

And I break the 8 day rotation for the deload week so I can start a new 5/3/1 cycle on the 1st of every month, doing the deload workouts on the 25th, 27th, and 29th.


Thing of beauty


I like the way your routine is set up, as I can only go to the gym 3x/week and generally prefer one primary strength move per workout. How has it been going for you?


That was not the best option for me in that time. I also went too much after intensity, but I have had good progress with something similar later.

I’ve simplified my training a bit and follow the new principles/rules of 5/3/1 as close as I can. So if I would do that exactly same template with same movements I would do some things differently. Couple examples: I would split it to leaders/anchors, I would do the oly-lifts with 3 or 5 PRO and I would also increase conditioning.

Currently I’m just using 2-day template, but I use the above split (squat/bench, dead/press 3x week) at times. I still like it very much, but I have not noticed any better/worse progress than with another options (which tells something about the importance of “splits” compared to other stuff, like periodizing).


Rattus - you just make my day. Thank you.


Thank you, glad to know I’ve learned something.


In case people missed this - if you want to learn about training, this will do you wonders. The debate will continue until you see the truth.