Which one is better? First a short story...
I remember when I first started training, I used to want to do the workouts that all the top body builders were doing.
I would read what Arnold was doing and I would want to do his kind of workouts. I would split up all my workouts and train 6 times per week, just like Arnold was doing.
I would do my chest and back on days 1, legs on days 2, shoulders and arms on days 3. I would do about 4 or 5 exercises per body part. With no rest, I would immediately repeat this cycle and would allow one day of rest on Sunday.
On top of that, I was doing 15 to 20 sets per body part! I would train as heavy as I possible could on each and every exercise no matter if it was a compound or isolation exercise. It was all the same to me and my training buddies.
After training like this for 4 months, my body just couldn't take it. I was getting injured and I was losing muscle. It was at about this time, one of the owners of the gym I was training at, took pity on me. He took me aside and said, listen, you can't keep on doing what your doing and expect to grow. Your gonna have to start training smart.
It was at that point that I decided to listen to his advice. Among his most important points was his training philosophy. What he wanted to do was basically rip down the shotty work that was already done to my body and basically build from scratch. Sort of what you would do to a house that was started improperly.
So, he sent me home and told me to take two weeks off and eat a lot of my ma's home cooking. So, I did. After two weeks, I came back to the gym and we started off with a program that was totally foreign to me. Instead of doing split training, he had me doing one of those old fashion workouts. You know, where you train your whole body once per workout.
I couldn't believe it! How was I supposed to grow with this kind of workout? So, I asked him as much and he explained to me that I needed to build a foundation. He explained to me that I needed to teach my body how to work as one.
To do this, he wanted me to only use core, compound exercises such as the dead lift, bench press and squat, that required a system of muscles to do the movement. Only one exercise per body part.
What!? Only one exercise per body part? I was used to doing 4 or 5. On top of that, he wanted me to train my body a maximum of two workouts per week, one on Monday and another on Thursday. I couldn't believe my ears. Reluctantly, I agreed to his workout because he looked like he knew what he was talking about (He was a monster!). So, I said goodbye to the Arnold workouts.
It took me about 2 weeks to get used to the program. I started out with very light weights and he showed me the real way to lift weights. No more arching, jerking and hoisting the weight up. No more crazy, one rep maximum attempts each and every workout. No more nonsense.
I think it was on my fourth week that I started to feel great. My eating habits drastically changed and I was actually starting to gain weight again. After about 3 months, I gained an extra 20 pounds and I was stronger than I ever was.
It was at this time that my trainer decided it was time to change my routine back to a split program. However, this split routine was nothing like the routine I was doing before. The main focus was still on core, compound movements but with added exercises that would further stimulate my muscles.
I did a maximum of 3 exercises per body part, with two working sets per exercise. Now, you might be thinking that two working sets per body part isn't much. However, with each of those working sets, I put forth an all out effort that required huge amounts of energy. I trained each body part once per week
After about 2 months with this routine, I saw some serious muscle gains and growth. I started to look like a body builder/weight lifter.
All in all, it took me about 7 months of smart training to really see some serious growth.
Ok, what's my point?
My point is that each type of training has it's place in weight training. A split routine isn't better or worse than a full body workout routine. Each has a specific purpose in weight training.
For me, I used a full body workout routine to teach my body how to work as one. After my body learned how to lift heavy weights, I was able to target specific muscles with split training, but only after they were already strong.
I feel that a full body workout should be performed by all beginners in order to teach proper technique and how to train properly. Remember, when you're starting out with weight training, you don't need 3 or 4 exercises per body part. All you need is one or two exercises, tops. That's it. A beginner needs to know how to feel the weight and from there, you can experiment with other exercises.
On the other hand, a split routine, will allow a trainer to target specific muscles with more exercises. This is a more advanced technique and one that, I feel, shouldn't be attempted by beginners.
Split training will allow a trainer to add more and more intensity to their programs. You see, as you get more and more advanced in your training, you will need to add more intensity into your programs. As you add more intensity, you will increase the need for more exercises and rest.
This means more time in the gym. So, you will need to split your training up in order to hit targeted muscles with the necessary intensity (and cut down on gym time).
However, I'd like to point out that a full body workout is not strictly for beginners because I still go back to full body workouts when I feel the need. If my training has become stale, I'll go back to my old routine to kick start my training (it never fails).
So there you have it. Each method of training has it's place in weight training and depending on how advanced you are, each can be of benefit to you.
All the best,
As the owner of Building Muscle 101, I am committed to providing you the best practical weight training advice. I've been training for over 24 years (and still train to this day!) and the advice and guidance I provide comes directly from my experience and knowledge.
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