T Nation

The Advantage of Splits Over Full-Body

Hi all I’m new to the forum and this is my first post, but I have been a lurker for almost 2 years.

I registered and posted this because I have never been as confused as I am now, suddenly there’s an heated debated with controversial view about whether it’s better to train with a full-body routine whether or a split whether intermediate or beginner

I have heard people claiming that training with a full-body would make you look like a spider with a giant butt and others saying that a split won’t provide much mass gains and will take twice as much times and the heaviest weights with more chances of injuring yourself and so on.

Since I don’t care about powerlifting and bodybuilding is all about aesthetics, I wonder what type of training would be better for easthetic.

Does full-body training pack more muscle at the expense of proportions and aesthethics?

Full body for a few months just to get base strength built up and to learn the movements. Then when a base level has been built in my opinion switch to a more specialized program

full body is reputed to neglect certain areas of your body. Typically, routines like Starting Strength or Madcow or whatever have very little accessory work in them, so areas like your rear delts, upper arms, calves etc that don’t get fully worked from compound moves can lag behind. There’s no reason why this would have to be the case, as you could do moves for these body parts as part of a full body routine, it’s just not very practical to do so (after squats, bench, deads and chins all in the same workout you may not have energy to do face pulls or whatever).

A body part split lets you give body parts a lot more focus, and you may find it cuts down on the time you need to spend in the gym (although leg days may still take a while depending on whether you do hammies and quads in the same day). A potential problem with splits though is that most beginners can get away with training a body part more than once a week, and so by only having one day per week for a body part you are missing out on another day you could train it. More advanced lifters need the full week’s recovery though.

If aesthetics are your goal then the split is probably a better choice, but you should still try and train body parts more than once a week as a beginner. I think an upper/lower split is a happy medium between the two but not everyone likes it. It does allow for everything to be trained multiple times a week but your workouts, particularly your upper body workouts, will be long as hell.

It all just comes down to what will fit your schedule the best, and what you can stick to. If you only have 3 days a week to train, then do full body. If you can train 7 days a week, twice a day, then do a split.

hope that helps

I know everyone says this, and if you’re worried about your arms not gaining size doing full body…I feel like my arms were at their biggest when I was pressing/rowing 3x per week.

[quote]Reed wrote:
Full body for a few months just to get base strength built up and to learn the movements. Then when a base level has been built in my opinion switch to a more specialized program [/quote]

What he said.

Full body is great for beginners and also for advanced after a lay off (i.e. vacation) of 3 weeks or more.

As a beginner, once you have built up a foundation and your progress begins to taper off, then switch to a split.

There is no way you can train, say, legs, to their max if you have to conserve energy to train all the rest of your body. If you train your legs (or deadlift/back) correctly then you will be a weeping mass of jelly. No way you can go to back and do chest and arms and back etc as well.

Dats it. End of story. Logic prevails.

A deciding factor is your life, plus so much more. I do well upper/lower split, i have small muscles, i focus mainly on compounds, WO 6 days 40 min gym, 20 home. So without details we can only guess what you will enjoy, what might work well…
Just remember some are paid to fill space articles/books much is fad/not that important.
You might do about 6 weeks upper/lower, 6 weeks pull, push, legs. Eventually 4 or 5 days then repeat.
All the best !

One point of confusion you may have come across. Some people interpret “split” to mean “no compound movements, all isolation movements”, which is an incorrect way of looking at it. From an aesthetics standpoint, I think you’ll find that most people agree that both compound movements and isolation movements are necessary, even on a bodybuilding split. While there’s some debate whether to do the compounds first or last, nobody’s actually saying “do only isolation movements”.

That out of the way, I’d look at it this way. You only have so much energy to put into any given workout. So on a day that you’re training your shoulders (whether it be a dedicated shoulder day, an upper body day, or whatever), your shoulders can get more stimulation from a split than they can with a full-body workout, just on the basis of having more energy to focus on them.

(This is exactly what triceptaurus said above.)

There’s also the issue of frequency. With most full-body routines, you’ll be working out the same body part 2-3x a week. With many splits, you’ll only hit that body part 1x a week; it’ll receive more stimulation at a given time, but only once over the course of the week. However, with an upper/lower split, you can potentially hit that body part 3x a week too, if you’re willing to be in the gym 6 days a week.

So, as other posters hit on, the other factor is really lifestyle. How many days are you willing to lift? How often are you going to end up skipping a day or two?

In the end, it mostly comes down to manipulating energy, recovery, training stimulus, and frequency. Full-body routines and splits just approach that differently. You can get great results with either, but in my experience, a simple split gives you a bit more flexibility to make adjustments.

My personal split is:

  • Chest/Shoulders/Triceps
  • Back/Biceps
  • Legs

And I just keep rotating through it; that gives me a minimum of 72hrs recovery time. Sometimes I’ll skip a day or two and just pick up where I left off. If I want to try a specific training protocol, I can phase that in and out without messing up anything else. Say, for instance, that I want to try an 8x8 routine for my chest, or try out a John Meadow’s routine for my shoulders. I can do that without changing my split, my schedule, or the way I train any other part of my body.

Apparently I was feeling wordy.

[quote]jared.cinque wrote:
I have heard people claiming that training with a full-body would make you look like a spider with a giant butt and others saying that a split won’t provide much mass gains and will take twice as much times and the heaviest weights with more chances of injuring yourself and so on.[/quote]
A poorly designed program will give crappy results whether it’s full body or a bodypart split.

Tim Henriques has written some great articles discussing the pros and cons to different splits:


A few years ago, there was also a two-part roundtable discussing training splits with Alwyn Cosgrove, Chad Waterbury, and Thibaudeau:



(Worth noting: Professional coaches learn and often adapt as they progress. I’m fairly certain Thibaudeau’s current training methods don’t reflect his thoughts presented here. That doesn’t negate them, however.)

With all that said, you can find people who saw good results with full body programs and people who saw good results with all sorts of bodypart splits. You can also find people who had terrible progress on either.

The key is going balls-out when you do train, experimenting with different methods as you go, and learning what works best for you depending on your goals, experience, and schedule.

[quote]LoRez wrote:
Some people interpret “split” to mean “no compound movements, all isolation movements”, which is an incorrect way of looking at it.[/quote]
The flip side of this that’s also worth pointing out is the presumption that a “full body workout” is necessarily ‘all compound movements, no isolation exercises.’ That’s equally false.

Waterbury is one of the most vocal advocates of full body workouts and he’s laid out a few solid programs that absolutely do incorporate isolation exercises for shoulders, arms, legs, and calves. This concept pretty much pulls the rug out from under the “full body training guarantees imbalances”-crowd.