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Full Body Workouts Vs. Split Routines

Weight lifting success depends on proper program design. Deciding between a full-body workout or a split routine influences exercise selection and fitness results. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), implementing a split routine too soon may increase injury risk due to increased training volume and dependence on more advanced lifting techniques. Understanding the differences between the two options enables informed schedule design.

Generally, full-body workouts and split routines refer to resistance-training schedules. Full-body workouts train all major muscle groups per exercise session while split routines work different muscle groups per session. Full-body workouts rely on multi-joint exercises, such as squats and bench press, while split routines use numerous isolation exercises – focusing on one muscle per exercise. Each option contains special rest protocols between weight-lifting bouts.

The ACE recommends full-body workouts for novice lifters or those with limited time availability. For example, beginners should implement two full-body workouts per week and progress to three sessions per week after two to three months. Sessions should be evenly spaced apart so that equal rest periods occur between them. Total-body routines require fewer weekly sessions than split routines. For example, a split routine requires a minimum of two sessions to target all major muscle groups while a full-body lifting session requires only one.

ACE recommends split routines for advanced weight lifters – especially those focused on muscle growth, or hypertrophy. A split routine trains different muscle groups on different days. For instance, a lower-body/upper-body split provides an easy-to-follow format while offering increased training volume. For example, a lower-body/upper-body split may entail training your lower body on Monday and Thursday and your upper body on Tuesday and Friday, as defined by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. With a lower-body/upper-body split, your lower-body rests while your upper-body works, and vice versa.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association defines training volume as a product of load lifted, repetitions performed and sets. Volume represents the magnitude of training experienced by your body. Traditionally, increased volume is reserved for experienced weight lifters and supports greater muscular adaptation and enhanced fitness outcomes. According to the NSCA, desire for increased training volume motivates some body builders to resistance train four to six times per week while using a split routine. In contrast, previously sedentary individuals benefit from as little as one full-body training session per week. Consult a doctor before starting a weight-lifting program.

References (2)

  • “American Council on Exercise Personal Trainer Manual”; American Council on Exercise; 2003
  • "Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning"; National Strength and Conditioning Association; 2000

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.