Although most people opt for split body workouts, it is still possible to maximize results with a full body routine. The split body workout entails focusing on different muscle groups, exercising one or two per session (for instance, chest with biceps, back with triceps). This approach is based on Weider principles, and it is used by professional bodybuilders and weightlifters.
However, other types of routines involve training several muscle groups in one session. When working the whole body on the same day, athletes can still maximize gains. From experience, I can say that this type of workout routine comes with pros and cons, which makes it worthwhile to evaluate the two approaches in line with specific goals.
Full Body and Split Routines: Understanding the Basics
Both full body and split routines have strengths and weaknesses. It is always important to match your specific goals, age and training level with the right workout routine. If your goal is to increase muscle mass, it is beneficial to divide the training into several sessions. This allows you to train different muscle groups and have a greater capacity for recovery between sessions.
The internal organs (heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs) work independently of the individual trained muscle group. Every workout can be considered as overwork for these organs. Full body routines allow you to perform fewer weekly workouts, thus subject these organs to less work.
Another good reason to train the whole body is that even if you skip a training session, you will have trained all the muscle groups for that week anyway. The exercises for neighboring muscle groups often overlap and weigh on individual joints.
For instance, you train the pectorals on one day and then train the deltoids the following day. On both days, you will have engaged the shoulder girdle.
If you opt for a full body workout, you train various joints and muscles at the same time. On the other hand, the muscles and joints will rest for the latter part of the week since you perform fewer weekly workouts.
Background of the Split Body Workout Routines
In the early 1960s, Joe Weider began promoting workout routines with higher volumes that are focused on muscle isolation. His approach differed from the old-fashioned full body routines with lower volume that were promoted by the York barbell courses.
It was in the early 1960s that bodybuilders started using steroids as an aid to the pre-competition preparation and this allowed them to increase training volume further.
In this context, the split workouts were used, albeit with higher volumes than in the past. During the off-season, athletes switched back to the full body routines.
As bodybuilders realized that steroids could be used effectively even in the muscle building phase, their use was extended for the whole year of training. As a result, the split workouts were promoted as a viable model for the off-season.
It was natural for aspiring bodybuilders and weightlifters to start adopting such routines and practices, but they were generally kept in the dark about the use of steroids.
Until about 50 years ago, every weightlifter or bodybuilder used to train the whole body three times a week every other day (usually Monday, Wednesday, Friday). These routines were complemented with a handful of multi-joint exercises and a small number of sessions per muscle group without ever getting to failure.
At that time, the split workouts played a marginal role since they were used only a few months, if not a few weeks before competitions. The athletes progressively increased the workload, performing more exercises and sessions per muscle group.
After the competitions, everyone returned to the usual three-day workout with fewer and less intensive exercises. The weightlifters and bodybuilders believed that this strategy enables maximum recovery (both muscular and systemic), thus ensuring optimal growth.
However, in the 1960s Joe Weider began to sponsor a new training system based on split workouts, which was characterized by the multiple exercises and sessions per muscle group.
The majority of the sessions were carried out with light or medium weights, which according to Weider favored maximum growth. This revolution was accompanied by the progressive spread of anabolic steroids.
As a result, bodybuilders realized that thanks to the drugs they could afford much higher workloads and still recover in a short time. They began to use the split workouts when they were not preparing for competitions.
Nowadays, few weightlifters and bodybuilders know the existence of full body workouts. A limited number of athletes use them mainly for reconditioning or in the first weeks of training.
Everyone believes that it is necessary to train various muscles from every possible angle and with high volumes to achieve maximum growth. According to scientific studies, protein synthesis remains elevated for 36 to 48 hours after training before it returns to baseline levels.
If an athlete skips one or two workouts, the whole body will have already been trained. The only disadvantages of the full body workouts can be linked to the excessive duration of sessions (a full body workout can take up to two hours or even three).
The athletes are not worried about the cortisol that will be easily lowered since the routine do not allow the body to reach the failure stage. On the other hand, the body can restore carbohydrate stocks easily.
Best split training routines
Always try to combine full body exercises with split training to work the muscles from all angles. To achieve your goals, you can use both free weights and machines.
Exercises for the chest
In the world of fitness, the bench press is exercise par excellence. Many athletes measure their manliness by checking how much they raise on the bench press. “I raise more than you” is a typical phrase in this world and it can be a reason to motivate weightlifters.
The bench press is a good exercise to work the breastplate in its entirety. Performing three types of bench press exercises that will engage three areas of the chest is ideal. These areas include the upper, middle and lower chest. Working with a barbell or dumbbells will also change the way you perform the exercise and the results.
For example, when working with bars, you can lift more weight and achieve greater volume during training. Conversely, when working with dumbbells, you will activate the stabilizing muscles, which benefits your body differently.
The flat bench press works the whole pectoral, particularly the middle part. The incline bench press hits the upper part of the chest due to the inclination of the exercise. The declining bench press has an impact on the lower chest area.
Parallel dips are one of the best exercises since practically the entire upper body is worked in a single exercise. The dips engage the arms, shoulders, chest, back, abdomen and more. They can be performed using both bars and machines.
You must not forget the most neglected exercise when joining the gym, the push-ups. They also work the upper body and are an exercise that you should not stop doing.
The best exercise for the back that you can perform and achieve the best results is the barbell deadlift. You can do both free weight and machine-assisted routines.
If you are a beginner, it is best to start with the machines and progress until you transition to the bar. The wide grip pull-up is another good exercise that works the width of the back. You must combine these exercises in your routine to get good results.
Exercises for the legs
The star exercise for the legs is squatting. It is unusual to spend time in the gym and not see someone doing squats. Squatting helps build the thighs and shape the buttocks. The deadlift is the other star exercise of the leg routine, which works synergistically with the squats.
The latter works on the back of the legs with more emphasis on the gluteus and hamstrings. The best isolation exercises for the legs are the quadriceps extensions and the femoral curls.
Exercises for the shoulders
The best exercise for the shoulder is undoubtedly the military press in all its variants: standing, sitting, with bar, dumbbell, multipower and more. Be that as it may, it is very effective and will help you build your shoulders in a short time.
You should also add isolation exercises for the shoulders, including the elevations, frontal, lateral or rear. You can do them with a bar, dumbbells, pulleys or machines. Add variety to your routine and enjoy the path to broader shoulders.
Biceps and triceps
Exercises for the arm (biceps and triceps) are much easier and more intuitive. They include barbell or dumbbell curls and back extensions. Parallel dips are an excellent exercise to work the triceps. Do not forget to add them to your tricep routine.
At the end of each session, you will notice how the muscles you have trained are fatigued and swollen. You should give them time to recover before training the same muscle group. This is one of the critical aspects of split training.
Advantages of the Split (Weider) Routine
– Significantly increased work is performed per muscle group in the allotted workout time.
– Provides variety to a training program
– Weightlifters and bodybuilders can have shorter workouts, which can boost motivation
– The workouts are more focused, intensive and efficient
– Increased recovery time
Disadvantages of Split Training
– Muscle groups receive less attention every week
– Missing training days may leave some muscle groups untouched for an entire week
The Full Body Workout
Full body routines are known to increase the frequency of training for each muscle group. With these routines, you can achieve good results by training only three days per week. They allow you to achieve greater intensity levels by combining the best exercises in the same session.
The main idea is to exercise the whole body with a few basic exercises performed using a lot of weight. This is aimed at developing strength and muscle mass. No more than three effective sets will be performed per exercise or muscle group. Additional exercises whose purpose is to improve strength or develop specific muscle groups less can also be included.
The training frequency varies between people and routines. As a general rule, beginners can train up to three times a week while experienced weightlifters who train with real intensity should perform the exercises twice a week. The training will not take place on consecutive days.
Benefits of a Full Body Routine
There are many advantages to performing a full body routine. These include:
– Better core development
– Less time in the gym
– Recovery intervals are improved
– The risk of overtraining is reduced
– The frequency of training by muscle group is optimized
– Increased energy expenditure during and after training
– Improved stimulation of the growth hormone
– Full body workouts are highly customizable: you can train for strength, for volume or a combination of the two
– Improved muscle development and symmetry
Opting for full body routines greatly reduces the risk of developing muscular imbalances. Athletes can also leverage secondary cardiovascular benefits. The approach is appropriate for all ages and levels of experience, from beginners to advanced.
Disadvantages of the Full Body Workout
– Difficult to isolate individual muscle groups
– Constancy shifting from one muscle group to the next can be challenging for some athletes
Top Training Tips
You want to build muscle and gain strength but wonder how you can achieve this objective? You need to follow tips that have shown to yield impressive results. Many studies have proven that the weight you can perform a maximum of 10 to 12 repetitions causes the greatest muscle gain.
Depending on the exercise and your fitness level, this is about 60 to 80 percent of the maximum performance you can achieve in a single repetition. Many people often mistakenly think that the only way to activate muscle growth is to lift the heaviest weights possible.
Light weightlifting exercises are a great way to start building your body. You will need to add extra weights to maximize muscle gain after you have reached a certain level of strength.
Muscle growth is mainly caused by an increase in the size of muscle fibers. The number of sets per exercise that is ideal for an efficiency gain is a controversial subject in the bodybuilding industry. Big differences are depending on your level of fitness. In the first weeks of training, beginners usually show the same muscle gain with minimum workouts.
The more advanced athletes will get better results with intensive sessions because the training stimulus caused by a single session approach is to push the muscles to begin their adaptation process. It is therefore recommended for beginners to perform between two to three sets and between three to five, or more for the more advanced weightlifters.
Rest time between each set should be between 90 seconds and three minutes. Be sure to perform all exercises slowly and correctly to avoid muscle tearing. As a general rule, you should always give your muscles at least 48 hours of rest between sessions to give them time to recuperate. If you are a novice, two sessions per week are enough. However, ensure that during these sessions you work for all major muscle groups.
More experienced people can train three to four times a week. Split training provides a good way to give the muscles enough time to rest. For instance, by performing split training on two parts of the body four days a week, each large muscle group will be engaged twice a week.
The classic split routine variants consist of dividing your workout between the upper and lower body or between pulling and pushing exercises.
If you are a beginner, you will quickly improve your strength, but your muscles will not necessarily grow. Why? Simply because the gain in strength you achieve at the beginning is caused by a better intro- and inter-muscular coordination. This contributes to an optimized activation and a better interaction between your muscles. Your weight training cycle should last between eight and twelve weeks.
The most important factor is to adapt the training programs to your muscles. If you notice after a few weeks that you can safely do more than 12 repetitions of a given exercise, consider adding weights or opting for a harder exercise for that muscle group. Thus, you are sure that the stimulus is strong enough to cause the desired physiological adaptation.
The most crucial aspect when aiming to gain muscle (and the same goes for all other training goals) is to train regularly and continuously. Only by being consistent will your efforts be rewarded and you will achieve visible results.
Introduction to the 5×5 Weight Training Program
The 5×5 training program is designed to maximize strength and muscle mass gains. If you want to increase your strength and muscle volume and even burn your excess fat, the 5×5 weight training program is one of the best solutions. This program has been used for several decades and is one of the most popular for the simple reason that it is effective.
Nowadays bodybuilding programs are for the most part very complicated and not motivating. It takes longer to understand and assimilate some of the programs than to achieve them. The advantage of the 5×5 weight training program is that it is simple and makes it easier to progress.
However, simple does not mean easy because this program requires you to lift heavy. You will need to develop a perfect technique in parallel with your strength. Forget the series of 12 or 15 repetitions with relatively low loads. With the 5×5, you will have to leave your comfort zone to build a mountain of muscles and functional strength.
This is the program that many professionals use because it allows them to improve athletic performance and physique constantly and quickly. Whether you are a beginner, an advanced or even a bodybuilding expert, the 5×5 bodybuilding program will benefit you in developing both strength and muscle mass.
I advise you to exploit this program fully; you can even rely on it for several years before changing. You can model it or combine the approach with other programs according to your preferences and objectives. However, you must not abandon it before being one of the strongest in the gym.
If you want steady progress in weightlifting, you should not jump from one program to another as soon as you encounter difficulties. If you stagnate, it is not necessarily that the program is bad, but probably you must improve your technique and better manage your rest periods or diet regime.
Background of the 5×5 Program
As a former powerlifter, Arnold Schwarzenegger used this program to develop strength and an impressive physique before using targeted routines. Reg Park and Arnold are the godfathers of the art of bodybuilding and can be trusted. If they have used this program for many years, it is inevitably effective.
Subsequently, the program was popularized by Bill Starr in the 1970s. As the name suggests, a 5×5 weight training is simply a set of exercises performed for 5 sets of 5 repetitions.
This volume allows you to work at an optimal intensity to develop strength and muscle volume without overtraining. Bill Starr’s program is built around great compound exercises like squat, deadlift, bench press, rowing bar, and military press.
It consists of three training sessions per week covering the full body with a day of rest between the sessions. It is also possible to practice this program by isolating the upper and lower part of the body (split routine). When you become familiar with the program, you can create your routines following specific objectives.
Each session consists of three main exercises, which ensure that each major muscle of the body is exercised. Additional exercises are not necessary when you perform the 5×5 weight training program. However, you can add a few additional support exercises to your program if you want to progress faster and safer on the main exercises.
Assisted exercises should not be 5×5, but rather 3×8, 3×10 or 3×12. You can use these techniques individually for several months, or combine them to vary your programs and stagger your progress.
The first technique involves performing five sets of five repetitions with the same weight after doing a light warm-up. This technique is ideal for beginners because it offers sufficient volume and workload to develop strength and muscle mass while improving technique. If you are new to an exercise, you need to practice a lot to learn and perfect the right technique.
The 5×5 with the same weight is an excellent way to achieve this objective. With the warm-up sets, you can perform more than 40 repetitions of the same exercise during your training. Do not go beyond five repetitions because the technique tends to degrade. At this level, it takes a perfect technique. Otherwise, there is a high risk of injury.
When you start the 5×5 weight training program, you need to use relatively light weights to familiarize yourself with the technique and ensure you continue to progress in the long run.
This is the mistake made by far too many people who primarily listen to their ego and try to lift weights that are too heavy to impress others. Your ego can be your worst enemy if you want to progress in bodybuilding and weightlifting.
Starting with light weights allows you to progress quickly and after a few months, you will surely become one of the strongest people in the gym. You can even start with the 20-kilogram Olympic bar empty, but if you have some experience, it will be low. In this case, try not to start above 2/3 of your max reps.
The ascending ramp method is the second technique that can be used by beginners but is more appropriate for advanced users. The principle is to start with a lightweight and increase in intensity by adding weight during each set and finish with the heaviest weight. To progress, you can add weight on all of your sets or only on the heavier sets.
The partial ascending ramp method is the third technique. The principle is to increase the weight on your first two or three sets and to perform your last two or three sets with the same weight. The partial ascending ramp is an intermediate step between the two techniques presented above. This is a technique that prevents a lack of progression.
When you reach a weight that you are unable to perform five sets of five repetitions with the same weight for at least three workouts in a row, you can reduce to three sets with the same weight and two sets upward at the beginning.
This will allow you to make progress for long. When you cannot perform three sets of five with the same weight, you go down to two sets with the same weight and three sets upward. Towards the end, continue with a total ascending ramp.
How to Progress With the 5×5 Program
To progress with the 5×5 weight training program, add weight to the bar each time you achieve a new threshold using the right technique. When you start with this program and the weights are relatively light, you can add 5 kilograms for squat and deadlift and 2 kilograms for bench press, rowing bar, and military press.
When your weight becomes heavier, you are unlikely to add 5 and 2 kilograms each time, so add 2.5 percent of your maximum weight instead.
The original program involves doing squats three times a week, and by adding 5 kilograms to each training, you can go from 0 to 100 kilograms squat in less than two months, which is a significant increase. If you are already at an advanced level, adding 2.5 percent on your squats each week translates to good progress.
When you do not progress for three consecutive sessions, regardless of the technique used, you must unload your bar by about 10 percent and start from that weight. If despite the reduction you do not progress anymore, then rest for a full week, and you will come back even stronger. In all cases, you must include seven days of rest every four to six weeks.
How to Use Rest Times to Your Advantage
By controlling the rest periods between your series, you better reach your goals. For example, resting three to five minutes between your sets will focus more on strength and power as you will be able to lift more for longer. By taking only 60 to 90 seconds of rest, you will target more weight gain and muscle endurance.
You can also choose a heavyweight (around 90 percent of your 1 RM) and take 10 seconds of rest between each repetition to develop your strength. By tweaking with your rest times, you can use the 5×5 weight training program to vary your muscle mass cycles.
Neuromuscular and Physiological Aspects of Weightlifting
An individual’s strength refers to the ability to overcome resistance through muscle contraction. It is a function of physiological factors specific to the properties of the muscle itself and nerve factors related to the innervation of the muscle.
The strength of muscle contraction does not depend solely on the number and quality of muscle fibers; it also depends on the ability of the nervous system to activate these fibers effectively.
Depending on the type of training that is carried out, you can focus on work on improving neuromuscular factors (increase strength) or physiological factors (increase muscle mass). On the other hand, in the beginner stage, the body will first improve its capacity to innervate the initial muscle mass before increasing the volume of the muscles.
The nervous system is the first to adapt to the training imposed on it. At the beginning of a training program, beginners progress quickly but without gaining muscle mass thanks to a better innervation of the muscles. These adaptations of the nervous system are carried out on three axes: motor unit recruitment (UM), intermuscular coordination and intramuscular coordination.
We have seen that the more intense the effort, the more UMs are recruited. But even at maximum effort, an athlete can never recruit 100 percent of UM of the same muscle: the nervous system keeps reserves to protect the physical integrity of the body. This reserve is called the force deficit.
For novices, this reserve is essential. About 40 percent of fibers do not contract even with maximum effort. Training makes it possible to increase the number of recruited UMs. Thus the number of fibers contracted and to reduce this reserve to 10 percent. In top athletes, it is always possible to reduce this deficit of strength, but you can never cancel it completely.
An individual can thus, thanks to an adapted training, gain strength without any structural modification of the muscle, teach the muscle groups to use more fibers for exercises. This is a particularly interesting mechanism in weightlifting.
The UMs are recruited according to their size, from the smallest (composed of slow fibers) to the larger ones (composed of fast fibers). It is the small fibers that are recruited first during an exercise.
Type 2 UMs are more difficult to activate because they have a higher stimulation threshold. These are the ones the beginner will have trouble recruiting.
However, they have the greatest potential to grow. For this reason, it is necessary for beginners to wait several weeks before gaining muscular mass. The increase in the number of UMs activated is the first adaptation that takes place at the beginning of a training process. It should be noted that this ability to use a large number of fibers is strongly related to the motivation of an athlete.
To develop as much strength as possible, all the muscle fibers of the same muscle must contract at the same time. Nerve impulses must co-occur in all muscle fibers.
For beginners, the fibers are not recruited simultaneously and are not all active at the same time. This mechanism is vital for explosive actions where all fibers must contract synchronously.
This capacity of the nervous system to simultaneously contract a maximum of fibers is always perfectible. It is even the last factor of progression in a high-level weightlifter. This maximum synchronization can be obtained only by specific training in explosive force because it is not natural that UM of different types can unload at the same time.
Question and Answer (Q&A)
Q: How do I know which workout routine is the best for me?
A: When it comes to full body workout vs. split training, it all depends on your goal. If your goal is developing plyometric strength or general fitness, opt for a whole body routine.
On the other hand, split training is best suited to anyone at an intermediate or advanced level. It helps athletes prepare for competitions. It is vital to experiment with the two to make an informed decision.
Q: Which routine helps me deal with weak areas?
A: Split training is the best for adding volume to develop weak areas.
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