T Nation

Whole-Body Training vs Splits


I know this was one of the more incendiary topics in TNation's past. Because of that, I don't really feel like reading through all the bickering that occurred over hundreds of threads.

Was anyone around then and following all of that?

I'm interested in a basic summary of what the whole argument was about, and what the major points were.

I know, for beginners and some intermediates, that the body can recover well enough to keep progressing pretty steadily with a whole-body routine. I also know that whole-body training definitely has a role for those people focused on athletic and "functional" muscle, and just general conditioning.

There's also been a few people that have said that whole-body routines (especially 20rep squat programs) are very good at adding size without much additional fat. I saw a comment like that fairly recently, but many posts from years ago said the same things.

So I'm trying to figure out how whole-body training vs splits fits in with this whole "getting bigger and stronger while still staying lean".


I just don't see anyone having the energy to fully fatigue all muscles in the body for a full body training. You have to slightly fatigue all muscles and do this many times a week.

I have found it much more beneficial to destroy a muscle group and hit it a week later, using a conventional split. It ensures full recovery of the muscle and allows for full stimulation. There is a reason why bodybuilders use a split.


Although there's also a reason why bodybuilders have traditionally thought in terms of "bulk and cut" too, rather than focusing on lean gains. They may or may not be related.

Two points:
For someone like, say, Alpha, a traditional BB split doesn't seem to fit into his schedule, nor does it seem like a traditional "bulk and cut" would work in his line of work. However, he's successfully achieved "big, strong, and lean" as far as I can tell. Not a bodybuilder, powerlifter, or strongman... but definitely big and strong and pretty lean. I'm basing this entirely on what I've read so far in Alpha's Work 2, so I could be misinterpreting.

For those in a split, specializing in a bodypart often seems to come down to "hit the target muscle more frequently".

In this case, it actually sounds like frequency is more important than "destroying the muscle".

I'm reading through John McCallum's Keys to Progress right now, and what I see is pretty much to destroy the whole body regularly, push the cardiorespiratory system, work to failure or near failure on every set, and take as much rest as you need. He routinely says "if you don't need a 10 minute break after the squats, you're not working hard enough."

His routines seem to be both high-frequency and high-fatigue.

But McCallum wrote for Hoffman, and a lot of split-based training was written for Weider. Weider was definitely the more aggressive businessman, so more people were reading Weider's stuff than Hoffman's. I'm wondering if that had something to do with the popularity of split-based training today as compared to whole-body training.


After a workout, MPS (muscle protein synthesis) is increased over baseline for a period of 24-48 hours, before going back to baseline. DOMS have no scientifical link with increased MPS, so ''destroying'' a muscle only impacts recovery, not actual growth. Therefor, it seems logical to think that frequency is the key (In natural athletes, as gear changes recovery and MPS length).

With this scientifically proven fact (easily found by google searches), it would seem logical to believe that a 2-3x a week frequency per muscle group would be superior to a bodypart split. So a variation of fullbody 3-4 times a week, upper/lower 4x a week, or pull-push-legs-off repeat would be superior to just chest on monday, and then on next monday, which ''wastes'' several days where MPS is not elevated in this particular muscle group, so gains are not maximized.

There you have it fellas, thats my opinion. I'm actually doing a pull-push-off-legs-pull-off-push-legs-off-... cycle, and that frequency is giving me good gains and frequent enough training to satisfy my needs for Iron!


Keep in mind that different muscles recover at different rates, thus requiring different frequency.


True. All depends on goals and volume used in different sessions. Some many variables that we can tweak.


For me at least upper/lower split>full body for everything. Strength, speed, size, recovery, how much I enjoy it, ect.


When I first started working out I hired a trainer at a local "old school" gym. He trained TBT with added sprints, strong man work, agility work etc. usually 6-7 days a week, sometimes multiple times a day. He placed 1st in men's physique short at the 2012 Jay Cutler Baltimore Classic, so safe to say that he had a pretty well developed physique within his goals which also included staying fast and athletic.

Just one anecdote, and it doesn't prove anything - but over the years I've met other guys like him. Also know plenty who do their best on a once a week body part split. Like most things I think the answer is probably one of individual preference and affinities.


While it definitely varies person to person, based on needs, history, and other factors, if the goal is simply to get bigger and stronger while staying lean, whole body training can absolutely be an effective option. It's a matter of proper programing and recovery.

Also, I think it's a false but common presumption that whole body workouts a.k.a. "full body training" automatically means neglected bodyparts. It doesn't. For example, several of Waterbury's "whole body" programs most certainly do include training for the delts, arms, and calves.

Here's an interesting, if not slightly dated*, roundtable with Chad Waterbury, Alwyn Cosgrove, and Christian Thibaudeau discussing splits.
Training Split Roundtable, Part 1:

Part 2:

  • Dated in the sense that it's from 2006, and I believe Thibs' current thoughts on "ideal" training splits may not quite be the same as represented in the articles.


Notable quotes from http://www.T-Nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance_interviews/the_training_split_roundtable

Basically in agreement there.


But why couldn't pre-exhaust and isolation movements still be used in TBT?

I don't see any reason why one couldn't apply some bodybuilding tools to TBT. It's not like compounds can't lead to imbalances in body-part splits too, if you're not actually paying attention to what you're doing.


I find a happy medium between the two works best. Such as push, pull, legs. I have had some decent success with upper body/lower body. For some reason destroying a body part and waiting a week doesn't do anything for me. Doing fewer sets more often seems to work better. You have more frequency and you are focusing on fewer exercises. I do think a week is not a good measurement of time if you want to train more frequently. Lately I have been hitting a muscle every four to five days and have had some good results.


I have always felt that TBT and upper/lower splits work well for athletes, and 5, and 6 day splits work well for BBers. At certain times of the year, and or careers, both can benifit and learn from switching to the other form of training. At the end of the day, athletes need they're body to work as a whole, and BBers need they're body parts to pop individualy. 2cents


Tbt 2 or 3 times a week can mean alternating exercise choices too

Cramming everything in and trying to retain intensity can lead to loss if focus at the end of workouts

That depends too, worth trying out. Those articles are good


This is the biggest issue for me, but I am biased toward a split. Are you really gonna be able to hit squats with 100% effort, after you have already trained back and chest in the same workout? Most likely not.


I had a long thought written out, but I'm not sure it would make sense to anyone but me.

Instead, I'll offer an analogy.

Your body's total work capacity is like a car battery and your workout is an outdoor party at night. You can leave the lights on for a certain amount of time and have silence, or you can play the radio for a certain amount of time in the dark, or you can do both for an even shorter amount of time. Each yields a different experience. The lights and the radio's capabilities don't change...how long they last depends on how much of the car's total energy you put into them.

Similarly, a full-body workout results in a good overall workout, but can't push any particular muscle to its limits. A split pushes an individual muscle to the limit but won't wear you out as much. Like the hypothetical party, the key is finding where your limits are in both respects and pushing them.


I think training several bodyparts/day can be very beneficial if used correctly and in conjunction with an intelligent eating plan.


Whole body training is done training movements or planes of motion while bodypart training trains muscles. Both can be very detrimental to a body if a terrible split is used which is mostly seen to happen on a poorly written WBT ( whole body training) programs.

What I would do now if I could start over would be to go on a WBT system with a push,pull and squat variation in every workout periodized over a 3 week cycle. Workouts would be on a M-W-F with either Sat or Sun would be devoted to weak point training. Like some Bi's or Tri's or more lates etc.

Just my .02 cents


I am in the middle of being a newb here but I feel that I can make a decent observation:

Whole body training is well suited to beginners. It is actually a good idea that a beginner works the whole body without focusing on any one thing to the point of "destroying" the muscle and needing a week to recover.

As training progresses you find your weak spots and will need to spend some time with corresponding isolations. You will also want to get the intensity up to a higher level. This is when you need to make your first simple split. Either "upper lower" or "push pull" with isolations to finish the work.

Once you've addressed your weaknesses and you have spent a lot of time doing work with proper technique, you are ready to really destroy muscle groups. It makes sense that this destruction will be spread out through the week. This is when you do a 3way bodybuilding type split.

I am in the middle phase currently and am looking forward to doing some cool split when I am ready for it and I have all the peripheral shit dialed in.


Says who? I'm training multiple bodyparts per day right now and definitely giving primary focus to MMC and isolation work and all that jazz. Definitely not splitting up in terms of movements, or planes of motion...still by bodypart.