Weight Training: Split or Full Body?

Weight Training: Split or Full Body?

Here at At Home Fitness, we are often asked numerous questions about the pros and cons of weight training; the best exercises to do, how often should someone lift weights? Etc, etc… These are all excellent questions, some of which have been discussed in previous blogs and others will no doubt be answered in the future. Today I want to look into perhaps the most common question I get asked, mainly by males looking to either bulk up, or get in shape; ‘Should I do split weight training or a full body workout?’

Fantastic question. Tough question!

In order to answer it we need to first look at what each method means.

Split Training

Split training is when you effectively split your weight training days into separate body parts. For example over the course of a week you might do arms one day, chest and back another, legs and shoulders another. Body parts can be divided up however you want in reality as long as all parts are accounted for each week.

Full Body Weight Training

Full body weight training is exactly what it says on the tin; weight training encompassing all parts of the body during each training session. This can of course be done in a number of ways. The main 2 are;

1)      Compound moves throughout the whole session to work numerous muscle groups during 1 particular exercise, for example a pull up incorporates back (latissimus dorsi), arms (biceps), stomach (abdominals) and shoulders (deltoids). Using compound moves obviously means that you can theoretically do a fewer number of different exercises, while still hitting all the relevant muscles

2)      Separate muscle groups throughout the training session, starting with the bigger muscle groups. A standard session plan for this type of workout would be something like; leg extensions for quadriceps (front of legs), hamstring curls for hamstrings (back of legs), prone flyes for latissimus dorsi and rhomboids (back), chest flyes for pectoralis major (chest), bicep curls for biceps (front of arms), tricep kickbacks for triceps (back of arms), lateral raises for deltoids (shoulders) and crunches for abdominals (stomach).

Now we know what each method is made up of, we might all have an idea as to which we instinctively prefer (don’t worry if you don’t). I’d be willing to bet that not everyone reading this has the same preference. This is good. Variety is the spice of life. And having a preference is an interesting point in itself. I’ve always been of the opinion that if we enjoy something we are more likely to do it, and vice versa. My fiancé hates jogging, but loves pole dancing. She’s unlikely to go jogging by choice (I have to essentially drag her out), but goes every week to a pole dancing fitness class without fail. I myself have limited rhythm, so dislike dancing and will never be seen at a dance class of any description. On the other hand, I enjoy boxing (see How To Achieve A Knockout Body) and can often be seen outside in my back garden hitting a punch bag, even in the cold and rain. So there lies the point I’m trying to make. If you understand and enjoy one particular type of weights training, then certainly to begin with, that is likely to be the best for you.

Another variable to consider is time. Time is a massive factor in life today. We all have commitments, whether it be family, work, kids, charity, etc. So my question to you would be this; how much time are you putting aside for weight training each week? 1 day? 2 days? 5 days? The answer is important. I’m not going to go into how many hours a week a person should be doing weight training because it depends completely on the individual, what their goals (be patient and scroll down) are and what other forms of accompanying exercises they are also doing.

The amount of time that you have available for weights training will largely dictate which training method is recommended.

Once a week. If you are weights training once a week, common sense will denote that you cannot split train! Split training is separating muscle groups, so it would mean ignoring the majority of your body each week, creating weaknesses and unbalance. Therefore, realistically the only method I can recommend in this case is full body training. No-one likes that guy in the gym with chicken legs and massive arms!

Twice a week. Training twice a week can open itself up to both split and full body. If you only have time to do weights training on weekends, you might therefore be doing Saturday and Sundays. In this case, it is actually advisable to split train. This is because muscles need time to repair and grow after a workout, so training muscle groups on back to back days can be counter effective. Personally I would advise splitting upper body and lower body, but other options are available too of course.

If you are not training back to back days, then split training is still an option, but full body training comes into play too. With at least a day’s rest in between workouts, your muscles should have had time to repair and recover, so hitting the same group a day or two after is not a problem.

Three times a week. Again, this can open itself up to both, but the days you train become a bigger factor. Given that our muscles need at least a day to recover; full body workouts have to be sensibly scheduled. Monday, Wednesday, Friday works great, as it gives the weekend to recover fully before hitting the next week.  Split training can obviously be achieved even simpler. There are several ways to split muscle groups. My preference is legs and shoulders, back and biceps, chest and triceps. Interestingly you could also be even more inventive and do both! Yes, you could, in fact, split upper body and lower body over 2 days, and hit a full body workout the 3rd day.

More than 3 times a week. Yes you’ve guessed it; I’ve grouped the 3+ days a week together because it’s basically the opposite from training one day a week. I wouldn’t advise doing full body weight training workouts in this case to anyone unless they are an experienced athlete.

Goals are essential when constructing any exercise programme. Knowing what you want to achieve not only gives you a clear vision as to where you want to get, it also helps continue to motivate you. We all have those frustrating periods when we feel we’ve maybe hit a brick wall. In this case I like to reflect back on what I’ve accomplished already and reassess what I where I want to get to again.

Weight training isn’t just for men looking to look like The Rock. According to research by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/growingstronger/why/) states that people of all shapes, sex and sizes should be doing at least basic strength training for numerous health benefits.

There are too many goals for me to go through today, so if I don’t cover your particular 1 today please contact At Home Fitness on either facebook for Adam (Personal Trainer Wolverhampton) and Hyde’s (Personal Trainer Sutton Coldfield) weekly ask AHF, or tweet me @homefitnessnews.

1)      Bulk up and build muscle. Part of this is going to come down to time. But I would suggest if you are really serious about gaining muscle mass, you need to be weight training regularly. As a beginner, start sensibly and build up. As a beginner, At Home Fitness recommends starting full body by concentrating on compound moves. As you progress, split training has a big appeal as you are able to push each muscle group harder in the time allocated. Just remember legs legs legs. Don’t forget legs!

2)      Build lean muscle. We all probably have a different opinion as to what lean muscle looks like. I’m my view picture a 400m runner. This is more the physique I aspire towards. It is arguably the best goal for someone who loves variety. A mixture of cardiovascular work and muscular endurance is necessary here. Focusing on what we need to do weight training wise is again variety and intensity. Both split training and full body training can work brilliantly! As does circuit based workouts.

3)      Improving cardiovascular fitness or training for running (see Fartlek For Fat Burning). In the case of improving running performance, doing weights training more than 3 times a week could be counterproductive. While it is true, building lean muscle will help running performance, bulking up will likely hinder. Split training is an option. A better option is full body training. If you are serious about improving running performance a large portion of training schedule should be cardiovascular focused. With this being said, split training can be a more risky option as again you run the risk of ignoring weight training days in favour of a jog because the sun has made a pleasant appearance.

You may have noticed I have omitted discussing sets and reps, which is of course of paramount importance when constructing a weight training programme. I will be covering this in an upcoming blog, so keep an eye out for that. But to give you a very simple guideline; heavy weights lower reps build bulkier muscle. Increasing the reps is more lean muscular endurance focused.

In conclusion, personal preference, time available and goals are the 3 main factors to consider when deciding which weight training method to work to. Hopefully I’ve given at least some idea as to the fact that both have their merits, and considering the variables, neither is right or wrong. For what it’s worth, my preference is full body weight training. My reasoning behind this is simple; I like doing other forms of exercise as well as doing weights (boxing, jogging, tennis…), so I cannot commit to just doing weight training more than 3 times a week. Simple.

Which do you prefer? And how do you train? Let us know on facebook or twitter.

Author: Darran Law