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Full Body vs. Split Routine Workouts - Which One is Best?

Hate to break it to you, but you should probably stop doing bicep curls if you only have a couple of hours per week to work out. They're kind of useless if you're time-limited and want to improve your fitness. Quadricep extensions, calf raises, tricep push-downs and other isolation exercises also won't do much for you if you don't have time to dedicate to functional movements like squats, deadlifts, push-ups and shoulder presses.

There's no skirting the fact that functional, full-body movements provide the most value for time and effort. Exercises like lunges and push-ups will always be more effective than exercises that isolate a single muscle -- and for those of us with limited time, we owe it to ourselves to get the most out of each and every workout.

Full-body vs. split workouts

A full-body workout engages all of your muscle groups during one session, and takes many forms -- HIIT, high-intensity resistance training (HIRT), bodyweight workouts or conventional weightlifting.

Split workout plans, on the other hand, are designed to separate muscle groups from one another. People partake in split workout programs to maximize muscle growth and reduce the number of rest days they need to take. By dedicating an entire day to one muscle group, such as your chest, you can fully fatigue the muscles and target them from a variety of angles, ensuring you develop a muscle to its full extent.

The problem is split plans lose effectiveness if you don't have five or six days to work out each week. Take the common bodybuilding "push-pull-legs" plan as an example.

On this split plan, you rotate pushing movements, pulling movements and leg movements with a rest day after completing all three. Pushing movements isolate your chest and triceps, while pulling movements isolate your back and biceps. And leg movements, well, you know.

You could also simply rotate upper- and lower-body days or dedicate entire days to smaller muscle groups. For example, I once knew someone who followed this split plan:

  • Monday: Chest and triceps

  • Tuesday: Legs

  • Wednesday: Back and biceps

  • Thursday: Shoulders

  • Friday: Legs

  • Saturday: Core

  • Sunday: Rest

So, this person dedicated an entire day to shoulders and an entire day to abs, which worked for him but is excessive for most people. This simply doesn't work for people who can't exercise six days a week. If you miss one workout on this plan, you neglect an entire muscle group that week.

Split workout plans also work best if you can dedicate at least 45 minutes each day to your workout -- working your arms for 20 minutes won't benefit you nearly as much as working your whole body for 20 minutes.

Full-body workouts work best for most people

There are a few reasons for this, but the main reason most people should do full-body workouts over split workouts is time. Most people don't have enough time to dedicate an hour a day to exercising in the first place, let alone spend that much time on a single muscle group.

Full-body workouts maximize your time, and instead of spending your one hour (or less) pumping up your biceps, you could be chasing real gains like whole-body strength, core stabilization, functional mobility and endurance.

Other reasons for choosing full-body workouts instead of split workouts include:

  • Full-body workouts generally yield a higher total energy expenditure per session (i.e., you burn more calories).

  • It's no big deal if you miss a workout. If you train three times per week and miss one workout, you've already worked all of your muscle groups twice. On the contrary, missing a workout on a split plan means you neglected a certain muscle group for that week.

  • Full-body workouts force you to focus on functional movements, which you need for longevity and a high quality of life.

  • Full-body workouts tend to include more movements that improve core stabilization and posture.

Now you can incorporate both into your routine however, it is best to work with a Personal Trainer or health professional to ensure your routine is balanced.

Whether you are trying to lose body fat or trying to increase muscle mass, your ability to recover and avoid injury is critical to reaching your goals, so it is important to ensure you aren't over training.

If you want to review your current routine, come and see us to schedule a free consult.

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