I’ve spent years of my life experimenting with various full body workouts and split routines.
I understand how confusing and frustrating this question can be!
After 20-years of experimentation and thousands of hours training clients 1-on-1, I believe there is a clear winner for most people.
Full body workouts are vastly superior to body part splits in the long term.
See my article The Functional Fitness Approach To Get Lean & Strong for more information on how I shifted from body part splits to a full body approach.
Just so we’re on the same page, a full body workout means you complete upper and lower body exercises on the same day. For a split routine (aka training split, or body part split), you target certain muscles on certain days.
For example, if you are working out 3 days in a week, you may complete chest and back exercises on one day, legs on another day, and shoulders and arms on the third day, which is a type of body part split.
The following will teach you about the pros and cons of full body workouts and split routines so you can decide which type of routine is right for you.
Full Body Workout: Pros & Cons
- Balanced Body – You will be able to build a well balanced body by training the entire body as one muscle, which is more natural and more closely mimics real life. Many physiologists think of the body as one muscle because all muscles are connected to each other, so splitting up the body each workout arguably does not make functional sense.
- Efficiency – If you are strapped for time, full body workouts can help you build strength, cardio, and flexibility relatively quickly. Just 20 to 30-minutes is plenty to train your entire body and get the blood flowing.
- Maximize Calorie Burn – When someone has 30lb to lose, I like to keep them on their feet with their legs moving, so full body workouts can work very well. Most smart trainers out there train their overweight clients with full body workouts 2-3x per week.
- Difficult To Focus On A Given Muscle Group – It’s hard to hit a given muscle group with several sets. I don’t see this as a problem because doing 9 sets of chest press is not going to transfer over to real life.
- Can Lead To Overtraining – If you like lifting weights 3x per week, doing full body workouts each workout can lead to overtraining if not structured properly. A muscle that has been worked with heavy weights thoroughly (6+ sets) can take a good 5-6 days to recover.
- Intensity Can Be Hard To Handle – Intensity of full body workouts multiple times per week can be tough to sustain, especially as you become more advanced and start lifting more weight. In his prime, Arnold Schwarzenegger tried High Intensity Training (HIT), which is a very intense type of full body workout. He said he would rather retire to Austria and become a ski instructor than do those workouts.
Who Should Use a Full Body Workout Routine?
- Enjoy Cardio– If you love doing cardio, but don’t love strength training, definitely do full body workouts, preferably circuit training workouts. Just a couple of times a week will go a long way.
- Mostly Sedentary – If you are a beginner or are mostly sedentary with little outside exercise, stick to full body workouts so you get strength & cardio benefits in one workout efficiently.
- Enjoy Intense Workouts – While full body workouts are great for beginners, they are also fantastic if you are more advanced and love pushing yourself to the max every workout. A full body workout is much more metabolically challenging than a body part split workout.
Body Part Split Routine: Pros & Cons
- Better For Body Shaping – You have more control over how your physique develops. So if you want to spend a little extra time on increasing the size of your front deltoids, then you can do that. As a warning, focusing on body shaping can open up a can of worms with body image issues. After lifting for 20+ years, my body is much healthier – and even looks better – by improving my natural strength and mobility. See The Functional Fitness Approach To Get Lean & Strong for more info.
- Split Workouts Are Easier – Lifting weights should never be easy, but if you like lifting heavy, it’s more manageable to focus on 2-3 muscle groups at a time, or less. It’s less metabolically challenging.
- Easy to Switch Up Workouts – Switching up your workout routine can be as easy as changing your body part split so you focus on different body parts on different days, or simply substituting different exercises for a given split.
- Lower Calorie Burn – If you are doing an arm workout, the calorie burn will be a lot less than a full body workout. Yes, you can add a finisher to the end of the split workout to burn more calories, but full body workouts still burn more calories.
- Muscle & Strength Imbalances – Ever see the guy who has arms that are 4x as big as his calves? My guess is that guy is not doing full body workouts, but a body part split routine. If your workout routine is not structured properly, it’s pretty easy to overdevelop certain muscle groups at the expense of others and develop muscle imbalances from both from an aesthetic and strength perspective.
- Can’t Skip A Workout – Well you can skip a workout, but it’s problematic. With most training split routines, you are going to hit each muscle group once per week, so if you miss a workout, two weeks will go by before you hit that muscle group again.
Who Should Use a Split Routine?
- Fitness Models & Bodybuilders – If you like (1) lifting heavy, (2) hitting a muscle hard while (3) having direct control over shaping of your body, then do split routines, or training splits.
- Advanced Lifter – If you’ve been lifting for a long time, religiously hit the gym, and love the muscle pump, then body part splits may work the best. Many advanced lifters make the gym their primary activity above recreation and other forms of exercise.
- Get Nauseous With Full Body Workouts – Some people after a full body workout will get nauseous, their lips will turn white, and they will want to hurl. This can happen if someone is out of cardiovascular/lifting shape, but it also happens to some people who can’t handle the metabolic intensity of a full body workout.
So Which Routine Is Best For You?
Hopefully by this point, you have a stronger sense whether full body workouts or body part splits are for you.
As I mentioned in the intro, I strongly prefer full body workouts.
The cons of full body workouts can be mitigated by simply adjusting the workout.
For example, you can dial down the intensity of the workout or the types of exercises if it’s too metabolically challenging.
If you want to focus on a lagging body part, you can still focus on it within the context of a full body workout.
For a follow along full body workout video, check out this 30-Minute Full Body Workout.
At the end of the day, like most of these intractable fitness questions, a full body workout vs. split routine really depends on your goals and what you enjoy.
Most importantly, consistency is the name of the game, so you must actually do the workouts!
We’re all different. You can effectively build muscle, or lose fat with both types of workouts if you train hard, have a sensible routine, and focus on nutrition.
Great article!! This is how I train my clients too. If you want to be a fitness model or have a weakness then we can split up the workout. For the rest of us, a total body workout is a great way to get the metabolic benefits and efficiency of every other day workouts without being at the gym everyday for hours.
@reedrickr – Sounds like a smart plan. Thanks for sharing!
For me i prefer a full body workout , im not looking for mass but want to look better and improve my body and abs. A full body workout makes me lose the weight and also gets me in better shape. But the problem is that you cant do the same program 3 or 4 times a week as this will be boring . so i used to combine three different workout programs (p90x, insanity and p90x+) sorry it mention this program i just want to share my experience
@Ahmad – I do agree doing full body workouts 3x or more per week can be tough, but I do believe doing lighter circuits can make it easier to do full body workouts more frequently to get better results.
As usual great post! As I’ve got more serious with my workouts (5 months in, lost the fat I needed) iv’e recently switched from full body to and upper lower split. The curve ball that I’m dealing with is one of my legs is much weaker then the other (old injury). Would a third workout day focusing on this be a viable option? Ie. Full upper, full lower, full upper, focused lower then repeat?
Don’t know if I can post links but here is my progress:
Thanks for all the help!
@Noah – Thanks for the comment! For some reason I didn’t catch it a few days ago. Interestingly enough, the workout split you are describing is exactly what I’ve been doing the past month. I do an upper/lower body split, so let’s say Monday is upper, Wednesday is lower, than on Friday is kind of miscellaneous. I may do full body, but usually I will focus on my weaknesses (whether they be muscle/strength related, or flexibility). I would try to separate your leg workout from your 3rd workout by 3-4 days if possible.
I checked out your before/after photos. Impressive! That’s a great transformation. Congrats.
I’m 66 years old. In fair shape, but starting from scratch again because I was not satisfied with my trainer at fitness 19. I bought the builtlean program but have not quite started the exercises yet. I walk in the morning 1 mile with a backpack, then do 7 flights of stairs, then stretch 20 minutes. In the evening 2 to 3 times a week I work out at fitness 19 currently with a 7 minute warmup on the eliptic machine, then I do light weights. At my age what do I need to keep in mind?
@Tom – First off, thanks for purchasing my BuiltLean Program. I’m excited for you to give it a try soon. I am also happy to hear you are taking your health and exercise regimen so seriously.
To properly answer your questions would take many, many posts. In the spirit of brevity and keeping the answer short and sweet, I offer you the following advice:
1) Functional Strength/Power – Complete the 5 basic movements (squat, lunge, push, pull, and twist) 1-2x per week. I know you have heard me talk about the 5 basic movements before, but they are very important to helping you stay strong. Strength is the foundation upon which all other aspects of fitness are based. Our cardiovascular system supports our muscular system.
2) Balance – Do balancing exercises (I have a Balance Test Video) to help you maintain your kinesthetic awareness and balance.
3) Cardiovascular health – get your heart rate up and a good sweat at least a few times per week. Great for your body.
4) Flexibility/MyoFascial Relesae – I’m just starting to teach my dad about myofascial release and how to do it, but in a perfect world, you would do it in your problem areas at the very least (IT band etc.). This will help improve posture in combination with everything else you are doing. Maintaining flexibility is critical. Be sure not to neglect any areas, but cover everything (hips, quads, calves, groin, psoas, shoulders, chest. etc.).
5) Nutrition – unprocessed, nutrient dense foods should be your focus. Easier said than done, but that’s a great guideline.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, enjoy the fitness journey! Learn to adapt the exercises to your body and do what feels right. Listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it!
Again, I think it’s great you are taking action to improve your fitness/health!
Hello Marc. I go along with either the “full body workout” or the “split routine” is better, depending on the individual and the proper guidelines. For now, I find that I need to “split routine” to build muscles in my flabby upper arms. I am working on when to start a routine. Thanks for posting.
Good article. Thanks for writing this! This is a fairly comprehensive pro and con discussion on full body vs split routine. I personally do a split–can’t handle full body. I will definitely be posting the link to this on my facebook page.
@Alex Miller – Thanks for sharing the article with your followers. Just checked out your website and it looks like you have a lot of solid info on it!
Excellent info. Straight to the point. Also picked up built lean. The way you rationalize nutrition has been of a HUGE help ! I have train both over the years. I prefer full body- 3x’s a week. I also train in JKD.
@Walt Conklin – Really happy you have picked up the BuiltLean Program and you found it useful, particularly the nutrition section. Thanks for your participation!
If I posted my routine would anybody be willing to review it for me? I do need to shorten it but I’m not sure what I can drop and still have it be effective. It is a full body routine but it takes way too long to complete especially if I’m a little tired.
@Ian – I hope some people will chime in. Might as well post your routine. I recommend including your stats, your specific goals, and and how many times/how much time you want to spend strength training etc. each week.
I do the following exercises with various reps and set amounts just to switch things up a bit.
Monday and Friday
Bench Press, Dead Lift, Pull Ups, Sit Ups, Chin Ups, Leg Extentions, Leg Curls, Squats, Bent Over Dumbbell Rows, Bicep Curls, Wrist Curls, Clean and Press, Flys and Push Ups.
Chin Ups, Pull Ups, Leg Extentions, Sit Ups, Leg Curls, Push Ups.
Immediately followed by 1/2 an hour of stepping with ankle weights and holding a weight in each hand.
1/2 an hour in the morning riding an exercise bike
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
Some form of interval running.
This is what I did to get in shape to get into police training and now there will be a lot of fitness in the class so I want to cut it back especially with the weights. Cardio will likely be enough in class.
I’ve done well with strength gains. I went from a max bench press of 180 lbs to 255lbs. My goal was strictly for strength and not for mass gain. I don’t want to chase a guy and have more bulk than I need to. I already weigh 215lbs. Ideally I would work out with weights for about 45 minutes 2-3 times per week with a full body workout. That is why I want to know the best compound exercises to do. I have to keep doing push ups, pull ups, chin ups and sit ups because that is a class requirement but as far as other exercises go I am open to any advice people are willing to give me. I also have a life outside of the weights so I am serious about sticking to a full body workout and having some free time for other things. If I could do a few heavy lifts and stay in shape that would be awesome.
@Ian – Thanks for your questions. Those are some impressive strength increases so kudos to you for putting in the hard work.
I’m going to be writing more about the “Top 5 Shoulder Exercises Etc.” in the next several months, but until then, there are a handful of exercises that are a must:
Deadlifts (just be careful, usually don’t have people do this unless they have perfect form)
DB Row/Tbar row
DB/Barbell Shoulder Press
Then abs/lower back exercises. The best workouts I have are when I choose only a 3-5 exercises (excluding core) and hit the weight hard. For example, doing a triset of a lunge, DB bench, and pull up for 4-5 rounds is a solid, intense workout that is full body. Don’t have to be in the gym for an hour doing 20 exercises. It’s all about intensity. Something to consider are the 5 basic movements (squat, lunge, push, pull, twist). Do each of these movements at least once per week. You can also further split it up into horizontal and vertical push/pull.
Hope this is helpful!
very thoughtful article, thx
Your articles and research once again are not only very topical, infomative and interesting but thought inspiring. I wonder what would result by rotating a full body work out for two weeks and then going to a split routine for two weeks? Keep up the good work.
@Vic Virzera – My guess is it would be ok for fat loss to switch things up. Only challenge is if someone is trying to build muscle, he/she would need to make sure to build progression into the workouts so more and more weight is lifted. Thanks for the comment!
The one I usually ends up with is a 2 split routine.
It doesn’t matter how many days per week you can workout, just do every other each time.
Works well for me.
I read one article that said doing the Bench Press, Squat, Deadlift, Shoulder Press and Pull Ups would be a good workout.
I was thinking of doing that but substituting the Shoulder press with the Clean and Press and adding chin ups, push ups and sit ups.
@Ian – I would definitely use caution when doing too many structural exercises in one workout (i.e. hang clean, deadlift, and squats). If you do, you really need to warm up thoroughly and by VERY careful with your lower back. This type of workout is extremely metabolically intense and could require days of recovery. In addition, I know from experience (unfortunately) it only takes one rep, one second of losing your focus to cause serious damage, or injury when lifting heavy weights with structural exercises. Big reward, but big risk. With all that said, I think you should give my suggestions I wrote in my comment a try to help create a well balanced exercise routine.
I messed with split workouts for years, I’m doing Stronglifts 5×5 right now and it’s great. No recovery issues at all, even cheating on deads doing 5×5 instead of 1×5. As Marc says, regardless of the theory, there is always the “what works best for you” factor to keep in mind.
@David – Thanks for sharing your insights.
Great article. I agree, I like the hybrid approach, I’ve been doing 3 day splits and 1 day full body for a while now and it’s great. But everyone keeps trying to tell me that full body workouts are the way to go. Hitting the gym isn’t an issue for me, I can make time for it, so if time isn’t an issue, would you recommend sticking with the 3 day split and 1 day full body?
@Turan – Thanks for the comment. Don’t worry what everyone else tells you, do what’s right for you. That’s really the point I was trying to make in the post. For example, doing a quick push up/pull up workout can be killer effective, but it’s not full body. If you are motivated to make it to the gym, do whatever it is that you enjoy the most and gives you the best workout. The 3 day body part split and one full body exercise regimen sounds like it can be a sensible routine.
I have gone through a few book programs in the last year or so and have seen great fat loss, dropped a couple of dress sizes and am maintaining a very good BMI. Not necessarily looking to get smaller anymore, just to maintain and maybe get stronger (I still have to work to eek out 10-12 push ups). I am going to try to follow the 5 basic movements you recommend and design my own workouts (Do to time/schedule issues I do full body, 3x/week so I would do 2 separate workouts and rotate A-B on alternate days). But how do I build in progression? I am not sure how to change reps/sets throughout a workout phase proprly. Is there a formula to follow?
Also, is your BuiltLean program appropriate for women as well? Thanks!
@Jenny – Congrats on the fat loss so far. I think your plan sounds sensible. Progression is a fairly big topic, but I wrote an article about it which goes into more depth about the 3 primary ways to add progression to your strength training program: https://www.builtlean.com/2010/11/19/progression-the-best-way-to-lose-fat-and-build-muscle/.
Regarding my BuiltLean Program, yes, it definitely can be used by women and has been used by women very successfully. From a marketing perspective, it’s hard to appeal to both men and women at the same time, so I opted to focus on men, but YES, it does work for women too. Especially if you want to focus on building strength, the progression I have built into the program is very solid. And one more thing, the creator of the program, your’s truly, will answer any questions you have a long the way. Not many program can offer you that!
Thanks for the comment!
I want to ask about Full Body Workout ( i have read your article : split training vs total body workout). for example, if i train my body with : squat, Flat bench press, pull up on monday, is it ok if i train lunge, incline bench press, dumbbell over row on Tuesday ? how about the time does muscle need to get the recovery, is it enough ? thank you
I want to ask about Total Body Workout. for example, if i train my body with : squat, Flat bench press, pull up on monday, is it ok if i train lunge, incline bench press, dumbbell over row on Tuesday ? how about the recovery time does muscle need to get the recovery, is it enough ? thank you
@Novan – That routine sounds reasonable. As you can see below, the movement patters are similar, but different.
Squat = Hip dominant leg exercise
Flat Bench = Horizontal Push
Pull-Up = Vertical Pull
Lunge = knee dominant leg exercise
Incline Bench = vertical/horizontal push (I would recommend considering vertical push like shoulder press)
DB Row = Horizontal Row
What also is important is the total volume. For example, if your doing 10 sets of each exercise, that would be a lot of volume. But if you are doing let’s say 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps, than it’s not too much volume. In addition, if you are not feeling sore before your next workout, that’s another indication the volume is fine.
Another option to consider is if you just want to lift 2 days a week to choose a Monday/Thursday, or Tuesday/Friday, or any combination of days spread apart by 2-3 days.
thanks for your answer, so the key related to full body workout is the volume of each exercise, right ? and it will be wrong if i do squat on monday and do the same exercise (squat) on tuesday. because it will give stress to the hip muscle (the same muscle).
after we get the ideal body fat, should we change the method, from full body workout to split training to gain more muscle ?
@Novan – Volume is one variable to consider along with movement patterns for sure when completing full body workout. I agree I don’t think squatting twice per week with only 1 day of rest in between is a very good idea. It’s far too metabolically challenging of an exercise.
Remember that you can reach your body fat percentage goals using either full body workout, or body part splits. It’s up to you. In terms of maintenance, again, it’s up to you what you enjoy the most and you think is sustainable. That’s the key.
i understand, thank you so much marc!
I am an older guy(50) who switched to full body workouts twice a week in the form of a circuit doing 10-12 exercises once for 20-25 reps(except abs ,2 sets).The whole workout takes approx 30-35 mins and I am fit to drop by the end of it. I already have mass but I find doing this gives me good tone and maintains the muscle I have.I also do cardio 2-3 times a week but I am going to do more HIIT than I did before. I just need to take care of my diet more!
Does this make good sense?.
@Drew – Sounds like you have a solid exercise routine. The 2x full body strength training workouts and 2-3x cardio sounds excellent. The one thing I would consider changing is the number of repetitions lower. One thing you can consider doing is that each week you can focus on let’s say 10-12 reps, then the next week do 12-15 reps, then the next do 15-20. This way, you will be getting both strength and endurance benefits and changing up the rep ranges to keep your body guessing. Above 20 reps and it’s tougher to get the significant strength training benefits you probably want.
Marc comments on reps duly noted.Makes sense.thank you
i was an unusually fit 70 year old, however i have undertaken three spinal operations over the past 4 years (first two unsuccessful) .
The periods of inactivity (whilst recuperation) have had an undesirable effect inasmuch as gained belly. which i find difficult to move
! spend 2 hours exercising per day at the local public swimming pool and find myself pretty pooped when finished.
Now ! at my age I’m not wanting too look like like Arnie, but would like to retain my original fitness.
I come from a line of longevity from both sides of the family and have always looked much younger than my true age.
@don – Very sorry to hear you had to undrego those surgeries. Surgery is always a difficult process. I am happy to hear though that you are back on track. I do believe full body workouts can be beneficial for you in addition to swimming. Just be careful of course. May be a good idea to hire a knowledgeable trainer, or choose exercises that provide very little compression on your discs. Good luck and keep strong.
Very nice article. I’m looking to lose a little bit of fat. As your article suggests, I think I will adhere to a full body work out with an hour of swimming on off days. I’m still a little confused as to how I should eat, though. Should I create a calorie deficit? Or is it possible to eat a lot and lose fat while building muscle?
@Luc – I think this article should answer your question: https://www.builtlean.com/2011/08/04/can-you-lose-fat-and-build-muscle-at-the-same-time/.
I’m trying to make my own full body program to do 3x a week.
My idea was 1day 2-6reps , 1 day 16-20 reps and a 3rd day 8-12 reps.
I would be using reverse piramid to do so.
So max weigh reps 2/6/8 with lowering the weigh slightly each set. I would do the same on the other days but with ajusted wait so i can handle te reps.
Is it a good idea to cycle reps like that?
Also i was wondering if i could implement post exhaustion in that full body shedule. So a compound followed by a isolation move. Like db press supersetted with a db fly?
the result would be something like
Superset1: db press -> db fly
Superset2: Military press -> lateral raise
Superset3: Barbell bend over rows -> chin ups
Superset4: Reverse crunch -> windshield whipers
Superset5: Deadlift -> legcurl
Superset6: Full barbel squat -> calve raise -> leg extentions
Superset7: dumbell curls -> tricep pulldown
What do you think about this?
@Thurnsten – I’m not really following your plan. If you list out the specific days/exercises/sets/reps, I could hopefully offer some advice.
A&B exercises indicate supersets:
1) DB Bench Press, 3 sets (8, 6, 4)
2) Pushups to failure, 1 set (burnout set)
3A) Pullups 3 sets (8, 6, 4)
3B) Shoulder Press, 3 sets (8, 6, 4)
monday: 3 sets consisting of: 2 reps max weight / 4 reps 95% of max / 6 reps 90% max
wednesday: 3 sets consisting of: 16 reps 50% max / 18 reps 45% max / 20 reps 40% max
Friday: 3 sets consisting of: 8 reps 80% max / 10 reps 75% max / 12 reps 70% max
setup for training would be:
1a: db press
1b: db fly
2a: Military press
2b: lateral raise
3a: Barbell bend over rows
3b: chin ups
4a: Reverse crunch
4b: windshield whipers
6a: Full barbel squat
6b: calve raise
6c: leg extentions
7a: dumbell curls
7b: tricep pulldown
@Thurnsten – If I’m reading your workout routine correctly, you are doing 45 sets in one workout? Again, I may not be reading that correctly, but if I am, I think the volume is far too high. Around 20 sets in a workout is a solid amount. I actually only do around 12-15 sets for my workouts. In addition, doing this same full body workout 3x per week would lead to pretty serious over-training. My philosophy is the exact opposite of too much volume in that I would rather do less sets and recover properly. The muscles only grow during recovery. My guess is you are striving for muscle/strength increases with this type of workout regimen.
I would seriously reconsider your workout program by cutting the sets/exercises in half and paying close attention to how your body feels. I also am not the biggest fan of doing deadlifts and squats the same workout, but if you must, wouldn’t do them much more than a couple times per week. These are very intense exercises that tax the metabolic/neuromuscular systems and require lower back strength and stability. Your body needs time to recover.
I’m certainly impressed that you are willing to work out so hard. My thinking is that if you apply your energy more strategically with a lower volume program that is more effective and combine that with solid nutrition, you will attain the goals you seek..
Mark, can you please help me out? I’m 54 years old and i’ve been lifting since i was 14 and still no luck i’m ready to just give up. If i give you a copy of my workout routine that i’m doing now can you tell me how to fix it so it will work for me, i would really apreciate it. These workouts are done on MON-WED-FRI. Warm-up on stationary bike for 5 minutes. MON- Dead-lift 226lbs. 6 sets 6 reps. Pull-ups 6 sets 6 reps. cool down jogging in place then i do my stretching exercises. WED- Bench press 146lbs. 6 sets 6 reps. Reg military press 91lbs. 6 sets 6 reps then same warm-up, same cool downs and same stretches. Fri- Squats 176lbs. 6 sets 6 reps. Calf raises 286lbs. 6 sets 6 reps, same warm-up, same cool down and same stretches. Rest TUE-THUR-SAT-SUN. PLEASE HELP! THANK’S MUCH…!!!
@jeff – what are your fitness goals? why are you about to give up?
Hey Marc, iv’e just received your PDF workout file of the Get-Lean-Guide, i have also been reading a lot of your stuff, specifically your conversation about the after burn effect with Dr. Chris Scott, its pretty interesting stuff. I have been swimming for competition for the last 6 to 7 months, and my body fat is already at a relatively low level (around 10 – 12%) without any weight workouts to supplement my swimming. I have already seen some small muscle gains throughout my swimming season (i now weigh 145 from 138, as an ectomorph i am a hard gainer) but now as competition is done i have different goals. I’d like to definitely put on some muscle and look good, but am unsure if i can achieve the muscle mass i want while doing the cardio and slightly less muscle intensity which comes with a full body workout. I have been curious as what would be best for me, i was considering a full body workout intense enough to see muscle gains, but somehow working in a split exercise as well? and i would still like to do cardio such as swimming with paddles, or circuit workouts to look cut and lean, but if it compromises my muscle gains then i really don’t mind cutting the fat after a few months of gains as i have protien and creatine supplements. I’m really excited to start, i’m just not sure what would be the best routine for me! i’d love your feedback on my situation, as i’m a little lost of what would be the best way to start up and maximize my gains.
@Bas Kahn – I think taking down the cardio would definitely help you eat more calories than you burn, which is a prerequisite for gaining muscle. With that said, I think you can build muscle with either full body, or a body part split. If I were you, I would probably do a body part split to hit each muscle/movement pattern with extra volume, which I’ve found can help spur muscle growth, in combination with lifting heavier over time. I give you this advice because it sounds like you are already burning a ton of calories and a full body workout will simply add to that. My own preference is body part splits for muscle gain as well.
Marc, I have been following this article along with your website in general and I’m hoping you can clear something up for me. I get ‘fat loss’ vs. ‘muscle gain’ and that one requires eating less calories than you burn, the other eating more than you burn. But can you define ‘strength gain’ for me? Is there a difference between that and the other 2 typical goals? My size/scale weight/body fat percentage are all numbers I’m happy with, and calorically speaking I break even – I do monitor what I burn but I eat that back so I’m not really going for a deficit or a surplus. And again, scale weight has stayed the same, which is my goal. But I would like to simply get ‘stronger.’ (i.e. Goals are to do unassisted chin-ups, more push-ups reps, lift heavier weights, etc. Is it possible to get simply stronger without worrying about a gain in muscle size necessarily or fat loss? And is there a specific approach to working out that I should change (I do full body 3x weekly, plus running and metabolic) for simply wanting to get stronger, other than general weight progression?
@Jenny – Great question. I absolutely have to write an introductory article on How to Get Stronger, but also need to set aside 5-10 hours, which is how long it will take me. I’m going to give you the ultra light version of the article:
There are two ways to get stronger (1) neuromuscular adaptation and (2) increasing the size of your muscle. Given you don’t want to change your weight, you should focus on increasing neuromuscular adaptation, which is basically the connection between your brain and muscles. How do you do this?
Well, strength is a skill. Think about 150lb Powerlifters that can lift more than a 300lb bodybuilder. They have incredibly efficient nueromuscular adaptations from practicing certain weights over and over again. Putting theory into practice, you need to create progression in your exercise program so you lift more weight over time. For example, you can start out lifting a certain weight for 5×5 (5 sets of 5 reps), then a couple weeks later go to 4×6, then go to 3×8 with the same weight. Another option is simply adding a little more weight for a given number of reps each week.
I would strongly consider lifting in lower rep ranges (6-10), and once you become more advanced, even lower (college and professional athelets lift as low as 1-6 reps going to failure). This really helps increase that neuromuscular adaptation.
Again, I plan on tackling this subject in MUCH greater depth, but I do appreciate your question!
Very helpful artilcle. Sometimes you need to revisit what you already know. Thank you.
@Debbie – Happy you liked the article. I do agree it can be very helpful revisiting info you already know, or that is presented in a different fashion.
Hi Marc, I’m 19 and only have time to workout 2x a week, and have been working out for around a 6 months without any huge results. I do upper body only and spend around 50 mins in the gym doing about 9 workouts. I’m mainly focusing on building mass, and gaining weight right now. Would you recommend I stay with “full body” routines or switch to split?
Jake , i dont claim to be an expert but 2 full body work outs a week will work if you are not looking for massive hypertrophy but you need to train your legs this will help your weight gain…infact training your legs will boost weight gain significantly. I’m sure Marc will back this up.
@Jake – I would do either an upper body/lower body split, or two full body workouts per week. I would try both and see what works better for you. The idea is you need to increase the amount of weight you are lifting over time on all your lifts. So if you are benching 155lb for 10 reps, you should be working up to 175lb for 10 reps. Just takes time, but need to force your body to grow. Working legs is absolutely essential as Drew rightly points out. If you are only working half your body, you can only get 50% of the results!
i think splits are better. full body workout is just an extension of aerobics. body will not have time to recover. i know. i got soft muscles doing them. strength is sacrifised. now im doing push-pull- leg/abs splits . on other days i do HIIT. i feel strong and relaxed at the same time. look forward to tarining too. i do what the hodgetwins advocate . do every 6 days
Hey Marc! I am in the bulking phase, and I do this workout routine every week:
Day 1: Upper Body Workout
Day 2: Cardio (HIIT)
Day 3: Lower Body Workout
Day 4: Cardio (HIIT)
Day 5: Full Body Workout
Day 6: Cardio
Day 7: Rest
Is it okay to do a full body workout once a week during the bulking phase? Will it do any help? Thanks, man! 🙂
@Jack – Sorry for the very late response. Things have been getting really crazy! I have done a very similar workout routine in terms of body part splits etc. that you are doing and it certainly can work. Just remember you are going to have to eat A LOT of calories with the amount of cardio you are doing. I significantly decrease my cardio when I’m trying to bulk up.
Not a problem! I visit your site once in a while and also to check whether or not you have responded. Keep up the good work, man! And will certainly decrease my cardio. I’ve noticed that too just recently. Thanks again!!!
hi Marc, I’m 32, started doing work up for past 4 months, for muscle gain and weight… I’m a hard gainer, underweight.. previously my trainer split my routine into 3 days per week: day 1 chest & shoulder, day 2 biceps triceps back, day 3 lower body and abs.. warm up stretching, then running on treadmill for 15-20 min, 120-150 calories burnt (I have passion running on treadmill).. I took myofusion daily and post-workout.. I’ve been practicing moderate high-protein diet.. good result on posture now, my biceps hardened, but hardly gaining weight.. but that doesnt demotivate me.. I’m progressing from 5lb to 8lb dumbbell.. lately I only do 2times workout at home (bought home gym set), day 1 chest /shoulder /lower body/abdomen, day 2 biceps/triceps/lower body/abdomen.. 3days apart workout.. i simply enjoyed sweating.. need your opinion, what suited me best.. Thanks in advance!
hey marc! ok, first of all i work a crazy schedual, i work 12 hr shifts from 6:00 pm until 6:am. i work three days on one week and 4 days the next week, basicly 2,2,3 kinda thing. i work mon , off tue and wed, work thur, fri, off sat, sun and mon, work tues and wed, off thurs and fri, then work sat, sun, and mon. yea its crazy i know not the avarage work week. so how can i workout around this crazy schedual. right now im doing 5×5 twice per week my gym is at my work 30 miles away( no gym in my area) and i car pool to save on gas. and after 12 hrs to tired to work out after work( federal law enforcment). i want to build muscle and gain strength, but would sacifice strength over muscle a little. lol! havnt seen any articles anywhere on this, the 2,2,3 shift work thing. its driving me out of my mind. i get so frustrated sometimes trying to work around this. just want to be normal! any help on this will be greatly appreciated. thanks so much.
I’m a 27 year-old female, 5’6″, and went down from 162 lbs. last year to 134. I’ve been going to the gym religiously since January of 2011, and thanks to a personal trainer friend, I’ve had great guidance. Throughout the past year and three months, I’ve cycled through different full body routines and have been successful at maintaining my weight while toning. Currently, I do a full body workout three times a week with two cardio days – MWF: Weights, T/Th: Cardio. Since I’m at my goal weight and simply want to sculpt now, I’ve been thinking about moving to a split routine. I know that with split routines, the calorie burn can decrease as much as 1/2 of what a full body routine will do. The new routine I’m planning on getting into is: Day 1: Chest/Shoulders, Day 2: Back, Day 3: Legs, Day 4: Biceps/Triceps and Day 5: cardio. My cardio day is going to be a spin day like I now. I’ve done the math and switching routines could shave off about 800 calories of what I burn now per week, will this make it more difficult to maintain or will the gain of muscle mass make up for the loss? Thanks!
@Jenna – It’s really tough to figure out calories in/out with so much precision, so the only way to really know is validate your theory with actual results. I do think a body part split can certainly make sense and the one you are proposing sounds reasonable. It’s very similar to the standard fitness model routine except you are adding shoulders with chest, which is fine. Good luck with the new routine! Also when you are maintaining/building muscle, you can eat a lot more calories than when you are dieting down.
Great article, I have always been in favor of full body workouts, my reason for this is because you have to perform compound exercises to cover all muscle groups in the shortest amount of time.
Hi there! I just want to give a huge thumbs up for the great information you have got right here on this post. I shall be coming back to your weblog for more soon.
@Grant – Happy you found the info helpful!
I have a question regarding diet. Will eating meat frequently diminish the potential of great results when it comes to bodybuilding?
I eat 2-3 different meats a day. That’s how I have eaten all the time. I am however, noticing, once i increased my calorie intake (and my meat intake along with it) i am gaining unnecessary fat on sides of my waist. Would meat be the problem there, or the fact that i am eating a lot more carbs than i did before.
@John – My guess is it’s a combination of the total calories from the extra meat and carbs that increase the fat on your body. See if you take down the carbs if you still gain fat. Bodybuilders are known for the large amount of meat they eat so they can try to stay anabolic.
Fantastic article! I too, have a couple questions… I very recently accepted the fact that I was severely overtraining, whole body workout 4 times x week, two different cardio classes back to back 5 days x week, yoga/pilates 3 times x week, and only one day of rest. That was approx 3 hours of combined weights and cardio everyday. In the beginning I saw great results, but after a year and only 20Ibs lost, I had to seek help. I found a trainer who tried to get me to understand that I was hurting myself and she has since given me a new routine. I want to get into fitness modelling, so this program is based on that goal.
Monday chest biceps
Wenesday back triceps
Saturday whole body bootcamp
My problem is that I am gaining weight from the lack of cardio. I want so so badly to build muscle and tone, but I am sacrificing my weight to do so… and Im not actually toning up at all to be honest. I have also found it much harder to maintain this schedule than my old one, believe it or not. I think it’s because I’m bored doing only one or two muscle groups at a time. I dont sweat much with it, or find myself out of breath which to me is a sign of a solid workout. I feel like Im not doing enough. I’m wondering what I can do to boost my fat loss while still forming my physique. Is it safe to do cardio after every weight training session? Will that lead to overtraining again? What would you suggest?
Thanks in advance!
@Lindsay – I would recommend upper/lower body split with a full body workout thrown in here and there. On your upper body days, you can emphasize 1-2 muscle groups more than others, but by working more muscle groups, you will get less bored. You can also develop a world class physique this way. You don’t have to follow a fitness model workout routine to look like a fitness model – See 7 Reasons NOT To Use A Fitness Model Workout Routine. Getting leaner is 90% nutrition, especially if you are looking to get serious about modeling. Check out this article to see what i mean – How to Get Ripped. Good luck!
After read the comments I’ve realized that I must be an alien!
I do a full body exercise regimen that last for 3 1/2 hours!!
42 exercise movements in all.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
I’m 6’0″ 235lb. what I’m afraid about this routine is this, if I continue, I’m bound to reach 300lb. by Dec.2012! That’s more at 300lb. of blubber! lol
@Dreas – I personally prefer around 8-10 exercise movements per workout with around 18-24 total sets. I think for most exercisers who have a busy schedule, that’s doable and the volume is high enough to get results, but not too high so as to create an over-training response. What I preach on this website is short, intense workouts are better than long less intense workouts.
Holy crap… 3 1/2 hrs of full body training? I thought I was overtraining…
YEP! 3 1/2 hours of training in the gym. It doesn’t feel like over-training or doing too much.
I’ve been training this way since 1977 going from 155lbs to 215 lb. in two years and I decided to continue with this regimen. It’s really simple when there is AAS in the system.
Would you like to see the 42 exercise routine program?
One guy said,”I’ve never seen anyone in the gym that workout like like you”.
He said, “You are incredible” and that why I say, “I MUST BE AN ALIEN!”
AAS is the factor.
Dreas in my humble opinion you are over doing it big time.You must have great genes not to be over training never mind not injury prone! I used to do 2-3 sessions a week for 90 mins. I got bored with this as I have often over the years when weight training.I now use weights twice a week for only 30-40 mins doing a max of 12 exercises in a circuit style training.So i am at the opposite of your training regime plus I do 1hr of cardio 2-3x a week at present I have been training this way for 16 months and thoroughly enjoy it. I have maintained my muscle mass and slimmed down a little.Currently approx 266lbs(6’4”).
I started at 12 exercises and gradually increased the number. Taking creatine and BCAA’s mixed in my water bottle doing the workout helps tremendously. I began this crazy routine back in the ’70’s in the Marine Corps along with martial arts training daily. After work, I would go to the recreation center every other day and exercise from 6:30pm to 9:30pm head back to the barracks for a shower and have a few beers at the E-club, hopefully wake up by 5:30AM the next morning. My initial weight was 155lb, my best body weight was 242lb., I slacked off a bit going to reach 300lb real soon. I like my routine.
I must admit the “genetic thing” has me quite amazed. Folks in my family are pretty big, or should I say obese! 250- 350lb. males and females. I don’t know how I happened to turn out to be the “skinny guy” me and a younger brother. Two injuries to date, Achilles’s tendon strain when doing 450lb. standing and 45 degree angled calf raises and pulled right triceps muscles. The AAS makes the workout that much easier.
im trying to get some serious functional strength but want to bulk and lose some excess hip fat while im at it , im 17 at the moment so no real experience of training but ive put together a fully body workout to try to stimulate growth hormone and but fat , would you mind telling me if i need to improve it or im going the right way about it becuase im getting improvments but no real size , strength or fat loss. im doing the workout 2 times per week as i ache in certain areas 2-4 days after workouts.
@Jack – I had to take out the workout you listed as the comment was far too long to publish, by about 500%. With that said, I did check it out and I think you could probably teach me a thing or two about functional strength! If you want to gain muscle, are you lifting more/heavier over time and eating ample calories and protein (my guess is somewhere around the 3000-5000 calorie range) without knowing much about your body size etc. Your body will not grow unless you fuel it properly with enough calories and force your muscles to grow by lifting more/heavier. My guess is you are not eating nearly enough calories to help support the intense training you are doing. Finally, I think it’s admirable you are creating your own lifting program, but just be careful. Think in terms of movement patterns so that you don’t injure yourself – i.e. squats/lunges/push (vertical + horizontal), pull (vertical + horizontal), bend, twist.
I ´ve been training for some time now using a routine where Day 1 is chest,shoulders,biceps,abs and lower legs.Day 2 is back,triceps,abs,upper legs and couple of sets of forearms.This is done three days a week,Mon,Wen,Fri,
alternating Day 1,Day 2 and Day 1 again.Weekends are off.Next week Day 2 Day 1 and Day 2 again.I believe this way I get variety and keeps things fresh.What do you think?
Cardio warm-up for 5 minutes each time.Do you have any suggestions about this kind of routine.
I think your routine is reasonable, but I personally would choose an upper/lower body split, or a split where you could superset exercises, or put them in a circuit. You get a better workout in less time. I also have a slightly different type of split in my builtlean program, but I think it’s more functional than the split you are using.
well i seem to be stuck where i am, ive been going gym for past 2 years and before that never done excersice. so first 6 months was really getting in shape. Ive tried these 12 weeks programmes and no major changes and now doing all muscle workout 2 and sometimes 3 times aweek if i have time. my routine is normally 2 excersices per muscle 4 sets of 8 to 10 normally to failure, but i dont see a huge change in my body people still ask if i go to the gym ( this pisses me off) .
i eat every 3 hours healthy diet and take protein/creatine on workout days. when i started training i weighed 80kg im now 82kg but less fat except around stomach which seems to be always there.
Question is what could i do to make things get bigger??? also i have a pectus excatavum concave chest which i think hinders my bench pres as i cannot get above 60kg i do find i increase slowly with db bench press but not bb.
any info would be much appreciated.
ps great threads here
@steve – if you are trying to build muscle, the it’s critical to (1) eat more calories than you burn, (2) eat ample protein, (3) and progressively lift heavier weights, which it sounds like you are doing. I do plan on writing a length article on how to build muscle soon, so stay tuned! In the meantime, here’s a Q&A I did with Men’s Fitness on the subject of Bulking – http://www.mensfitness.com/training/pro-tips/the-fit-5-bulking-up.
I do Split Routine 4 x per week, I wanted to start doing full body is well!?
I am not fat at all, i consider my self a bit skinny but my body shape is very good,
I really want to build muscle and get bigger!!
Any suggestions would be great.
By the way your articles and research are very helpful, infomative and interesting.
Thanks a lot, waiting for response.
Myk – I think lifting 4x per week with a split routine is fine, adding an extra full body workout doesn’t seem to me like it would help bring you over the hump. If during your split routine you are not emphasizing the basics (i.e. squats, deadlift – be careful though, bench, rows), that’s the first place i would start. You also need to make sure you are eating plenty of calories, protein, and you are increasing the amount of weight you are lifting over time. It’s easy to get carried away with the hundreds of different exercises you could be doing, but all you need is 5, MAX 10 exercises to help you build up your physique. Track these lifts and get stronger at them while fueling your body with ample protein/calories and your body will respond.
Hi mark, for the full body workout, if I do it 3 times per week, on those off days, do I literally do nothing, coz I find that really hard to do nothing lol, or can I do any type of cardio, like sprints, or ? Also, in the mornings after a workout, would you reccomend to do a very light walk/job for 20 min to burn fat?
Thanks a lot and great article! 🙂
@Joey – Thanks for the kudos regarding the article. I think active recovery on your off days such as swimming, yoga, biking, and other non impact exercises can help you recover and improve performance. Depending on how intense your full body workouts are, you could even do sprints and other anaerobic training on days you are not lifting. My guess is you’ll be in REALLY good shape. Don’t think the extra cardio in the morning will make too much of a difference, but it’s up to you. I prefer mostly anaerobic activity (i.e. sprinting, high intensity exercises) for burning fat, not low intensity cardio. I think low intensity cardio is great for maintenance and for staying active.
I must agree with you Marc. A 3 hour full body workout is too much, yet, I have no problems doing so. The 45 minute or 1 hour full body workout will not work for me. There are quite a bit of other muscle groups that are being neglected when one only concentrates on doing full body workouts that only comprise of large muscle group exercises. My routine is 3 hours long because I usually do 2-3 exercises for each muscle group instead of one exercise. That’s 3 sets at 10 reps for every exercise. From my neck to the tibia, every muscle will be exercised before I leave the gym..
Very informative article but I have a question.
I love straight training but only on my legs. I’m a female and I want to build muscle on the lowest body and tone my stomach. Will full body workout work or do I still have to do a split workout? Thank YOu.
Some genuinely quality content on this web site, saved to fav.
Thanks! Glad you’re enjoying our articles.
-Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor
Hi…I am a skinny guy finding a way to improve my stamina but also don’t want to lose much weight in the process. I have beem doing full body workouts. I do body weight exercises and results are visible but stamina hasn’t improved improved much.
Hi Rishabh – it’s great that you’re doing full-body workouts. That’s going to help you build a balanced physique. To increase your stamina, I would recommend performing your workouts as a circuit where you only rest for a short amount of time between each exercise. This style if workout is more like interval training, and can help you improve both your strength and your cardio.
You’ll also want to pay attention to your diet in order to avoid losing more weight. I recommend either meeting your caloric maintenance needs, or eating a slight excess of calories (about 100-250 per day) in order to maintain your weight or even build lean muscle. Give those two recommendations a try, and let us know how it goes! If you have more questions, feel free to reach out to us at [email protected].
-Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor