Full-Body Routine Or Split: So What’s Better?

Franco Columbo FlexingIf you remember, approximately 1.5 years ago I wrote a two-part article on why full-body workouts are superior to splits. If you missed them:

Here’s part 1.

And here’s part 2.

So 1.5 years are gone. Many things were learnt during this time, many things were tried (and not only on me but on my clients too). And here’s the question: have I changed my stance on this? So are splits better? Or full-body workouts are still superior? Let’s analyze and find out.

Pros and Cons of Full-Body Routines and Splits

Main pros of full-body routines:

  • whole body stimulation, obviously. The more muscles we stimulate in workout the more effective it should be.
  • greater frequency of stimulation. The more we practice, the faster we will get good at something.
  • no “fluff”. You have limited amount of time, so you choose almost only big compound lifts.

Main cons of full-body routines:

  • some people just can’t tolerate them. No matter how you structure everything, some people just won’t be able to progress on full-body routines.
  • some body parts will lag in development. Yes, full-body routines give you freedom from “fluff” exercises but some body parts will grow faster than others (which shouldn’t bother you if your primary goals are strength and performance).

Main pros of splits:

  • lots of recovery. You just work some body part to total exhaustion and rest for a week or so.
  • allow more volume. You’ll definitely can do more work sets in split routines which can be better for building muscle.
  • allow more variety. This can be important for bodybuilding.

Main cons of splits:

  • sometimes not enough frequency. This is especially true for beginners who need more frequent stimulation to progress faster.
  • many people end up doing ton of isolation exercises instead of compound lifts. This is totally wrong.

I may forget something but it doesn’t matter. The point is that either of them have its own usage. Implement one or the other in wrong situation and you may not get any training results (except bad).

What Shows Experience?

From my today’s experience I can say that I’m not that “anti-split” as I was 1.5 years ago. There are several cases when splits are actually better than full-body routines. Firstly, it’s all about recovery. I always could tolerate full-body routines and progress with them. Well, now I understand why. Because I always try to sleep at least 8 hours per night. Because I eat lots of protein and my diet is right for me. Because I rarely give a fuck about things I can’t control in any way (this is how you have much less stress in your life). Because I don’t waste my time on crap and try to live my life fully. But that’s me. You, on the other hand, can have several kids, work on two jobs you hate, have bad relationship, sleep 4 hours per night, eat junk and despise your life. In this case full-body routines are not for you. In this case your only way out is to start a fight club. You got my point. If you have suboptimal conditions in life, you may not be able to tolerate full-body routines. I work with many people who have very busy schedules and hard lives. The harder their conditions the less they can tolerate.

Full-body routines are best for beginners. The demands of training are pretty low, and they progress much faster, for example, squatting 3 times per week than just one time. But with increasing demands of training you might not be able to train your whole body every training session. This is the right time to try splits. If you done Mon-Wed-Fri full body, try Mon – upper; Tue – lower; Thu – upper; Fri – lower. If that’s too much, try Mon – upper; Wed – lower; Fri – upper; Mon – lower.

Splits work. Let’s take me as example. I trained whole body for a decent period of time. It worked like a clock. I was able to progress every session. If I wasn’t, I just changed exercise to its variation and everything worked again. But now I use some kind of split. Why? Because I have access to barbell for free and I have no reasons to waste such opportunity. However, this barbell is not at my home. And I totally love training at home with my bodyweight and rings. So I decided to work on bodyweight presses and rows 3 times per week at home and to squat and deadlift at the gym on different days. This template works for me. If I had no access to barbell, I would train lower body with sandbag at home so my workouts would be full-body. My point is that splits are alright too.

Also a note on bodybuilding. In this sport you’ll need decent training volume. And if you want to keep intensity pretty high you’ll need to cut frequency. I wrote on the theme in this article. To quote Dave Tate:

It boils down to common sense. Look at the bodybuilders winning shows – whether they’re pros or amateurs or natural competitors – they all follow a basic template: 2-3 exercises per body part, 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps, each set taken just shy of failure, and each body part trained every 3-7 days.

That’s basically what most of them do, so why reinvent the wheel?

Listen to wise man.

With Calisthenics Everything Is Trickier

Why? Because in harder exercises you’ll need to use all your body, not just chest and triceps, or back and biceps. For example, after Straddle Planche Push-Ups I clearly feel pump not only in my chest, shoulders and triceps but also in my biceps, hamstrings, lats, abs and lower back. During One-Arm Push-Ups you should flex quads as much as possible etc. So it’s much harder to program these movements conventionally because when you get to very challenging variations, you should work with your whole body. While, for example, technically it may be a press, you’ll feel it not only in chest, shoulders and triceps, but also in other muscles, that usually not associated with presses.

Closing Thoughts

So what’s better: full-body routines or splits? As you could already get nothing’s better. Either of them has it’s own place in training world. You may prefer one or another. They both work. If you can tolerate full-body routines, then you should go with them. If not, then use splits. Not crappy but reasonable ones. Don’t use split as excuse not to squat. Concentrate on compound lifts, get stronger in them and you’ll get results. Thanks for reading. Do me a favor and share this article with your friends. Feel free to comment and subscribe.

Play rough!


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5 thoughts on “Full-Body Routine Or Split: So What’s Better?

  1. andy

    hi i too mainly train at home & have just switched back to full body routines after doing splits which i switched to after doing full body routines so i have gone full circle.

    I pretty much came up with the same opinions as you. Both work if you are sensible & can read your body.

    I am actually thinking about either ditching one of the full body routines (train 2-3 times a week ATM) or cutting legs outta one of the sessions as i run three times a week as well & don’t think my legs can take the workload.

    Also its nice to see someone honest enough to admit they might have been wrong in their opinion of something (i.e.full body’s definitely the way to go), we live & learn & have the right to change our past opinions & change them again & again.

    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Thanks, Andy. In my opinion legs can take much more work than you think. Running 3 times per week and training legs 2-3 times per week is possible if you work up to this slowly and keep your volume in check.

      – Alex

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