Full-body workout vs split: What’s your preference?
It’s a passionate debate you may have heard in the gym, but what does it all mean? And more importantly, which one will get you to your goals faster?
Full-body and body part splits are different styles of strength training. With a full-body workout, you are exercising your whole body, stimulating all muscle groups – from your arms to your core and down to your glutes and legs. With body part split training, you separate muscle groups or body parts to work out on different days. For instance, your body part workout schedule may be back and biceps on Monday, chest and triceps on Tuesday, then shoulders on Thursday.
On Emily Skye FIT, we’ve got programs that cover both styles of training. You can follow a body party split to carve out defined abs with the Abs to the Core Challenge, power up your booty with the Booty Challenge or get sculpted arms, shoulders and a strong back with the Upper Body Blast. You can also use full-body workouts to achieve your full-body goals with the Body Sculpt Challenge, Start Strong and my planner workouts.
We asked FIT expert Dr. Jessica your burning questions about full-body vs body part split workouts to help you understand the benefits of each style of training, so you can get busy maximising your results.
Two things to consider: what are your goals and how much time do you really have to commit to your training?
I recommend full-body training for people who only have 2–3 days per week to commit and are looking to stay functionally mobile and strong. This encourages you to focus on bigger muscle groups and dynamic lifts and provides enough time for recovery between sessions.
When you only have a few days a week to train, prioritise full-body workouts that use compound moves like front squats.
A body part split routine works for those people who can train at least 4 days a week, and who want to work on aesthetics or developing a specific body part. This type of training will work best if you can keep a consistent schedule, to ensure you get enough stimulus to the muscle groups you’re wanting to grow and to schedule adequate recovery time between sessions.
Generally with full-body training, you do fewer isolation exercises (which target specific muscles, e.g. biceps) – so if that’s important to you, split training may be better.
Any time you have a particular goal to grow one body part, it has to be exercised at least 2 times a week, or even consistently 3 or 4 times a week for faster adaptation changes.
If you want strong arms, I always recommend you keep training other body parts because our body works as one – everything should be trained to help keep it healthy and moving functionally. Working your bigger muscle groups helps to stimulate your central nervous system and can enhance growth hormone effects that feed into smaller muscle groups such as your arms.
If strong arms are important for aesthetics or function (such as holding your child), you have to work your back and shoulders effectively to see true results. since the arms are stabilised by your scapular muscles, pecs and lats. These muscles also work to stabilise many lower body movements such as deadlifts, lunges or step-ups when you’re training with weights. So even though you may not be directly lifting with your arms on leg day, the stabilisation that occurs allows your arms to get an isometric contraction and be stimulated for growth.
Now, if you are feeling really sore after arm day, then doing a leg day without arm involvement (e.g. no weights) is beneficial as it allows you to rest your arms, while still getting your heart rate up and increasing circulation to assist with full-body recovery.
If you’re doing a body part split routine, be sure to use unilateral (one sided) exercises to avoid imbalances.
One of the best ways to reduce imbalance is to use unilateral movements – working one side at a time. This allows you to recognise any compensation patterns you may have, then work on reducing these so that your stronger side doesn’t take over when you’re working both sides together.
It’s also important to train with good technique, through a full range of motion, and in all planes of movement. Often we tend to train by moving up and down (squats) or forward/backward (lunges), but forget to train side to side or with rotation. The sideways and rotational movements are impactful for full-body stabilisation and help prevent injuries, while enhancing your strength and helping you achieve functional goals.
SLEEP! Sleep is crucial for muscle recovery. It’s recommended that adults aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night. In addition, eating enough calories and getting enough protein will help your muscle growth, energy levels, recovery, and overall wellbeing.
When you’re lifting weights, your body burns calories both during the workout and up to 72 hours after due to muscle protein synthesis, so this means you have to ensure you’re fuelling it with enough nutrients and water to keep up with the demands of training.
Serious training demands serious shut-eye. Get yours with these 8 tips to help you sleep better tonight.
From a physical standpoint, prioritising a warm up AND cool down with your workouts not only helps with recovery but can prevent injuries. It doesn’t take much, just 5 minutes of dynamic movement before your workout is enough to prime your muscles, joints and nerves, and enhance the range you can move through and the loads you can lift. Stretching for 5–10 minutes after training can help reduce stiffness and muscle soreness so you’re ready for your next workout.
Some people are just generally disciplined and enjoy the process of regular workouts focused on certain body parts. If you don’t get bored, you can continue doing this – but you will have to adjust some components of your workouts at least monthly to see continued adaptations and changes. It may be the type of muscle contraction you perform, specific exercises, intensity, or your number of sets and reps.
If you don’t adjust your routine, you’re not really “training”, you’re just showing up for a workout. By doing this indefinitely, there is a higher likelihood of overtraining, injury, burnout or boredom. For almost everything in life, having set goals is super valuable to ensure some form of progress is occurring. With exercise, goals also help with longevity, motivation, habit formation and enjoyment.
Overtraining can occur more often than one would suspect. Feeling sluggish, difficulty sleeping, getting injured, increased stiffness or pain, and intense food cravings can all be signs that your body is not recovering well. You may also be holding onto abdominal fat or not losing (perhaps even gaining) weight. As a female, changes in menstruation, hormone levels and emotions can also be signs of overtraining.
We definitely want to prevent overtraining, which is why the guidance provided on FIT for meals and exercise routines, periodisation of training, rest and recovery, as well as listening to your body, is highly important.
When trying to figure out what to do for your physical health and exercise regimen, it’s important to focus on what you CAN do. What you choose to do and how you do it will depend on you as an individual: What do you like doing? How much time do you have to commit to these goals and with what equipment?
The joy of exploring your physical fitness is that it’s adaptable and can be targeted so you not only can feel physically better but also stay mentally well.
Target your arms with Upper Body Blast
Want sculpted arms, sleek shoulders and a strong back? Upper Body Blast on Emily Skye FIT is the only workout program you need!
This 6-week program gets real results with 5 workouts per week, including body part splits to build strong and defined arms, shoulders, back, chest and core, plus a lower-body workout for balance, and a full-body HIRT session. (Yes, Emily has done all the hard work on which body parts to work out together, so you don’t have to!) Plus there’s a weekly recovery session to ensure you’re not overtraining.
Start today with 7 days free at emilyskyefit.com/join-us
Dr. Jessica Warnecke is a physical therapist based in Austin, TX, who is dedicated to keeping you moving at your best in every stage of life – from pregnancy to peak fitness and strength. As well as holding a BS in Exercise Science and a Doctorate Degree, Jessica is a Board Certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist and a certified Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist.
Get results you can see and confidence you can feel with internationally renowned trainer Emily Skye.