Strength Training: Total Body vs. Splits
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
LifeTime WeightLoss in Corey Grenz, strength training
One of the most common questions I have heard in the 20+ years I’ve been in the fitness industry is, “Should I do total-body workouts or training splits (splits for short)?” It doesn’t matter if it is asked from a fitness enthusiast who has been working out for six months or six-plus years, the question gets asked all the time, so I will answer it in this article.

Before getting into the answer I will first define what full-body and split workouts are. Then I will go over the pros/cons of each and when/why I suggest using them. Finally I will give a few examples of each so you can try them in the future.

Regarding definitions, a full-body workout involves most, if not all, of the major muscles in the body from head to toe. Major muscle groups like chest, back, shoulders, glutes, quads and hamstrings are trained in these workouts. If time permits, sometimes smaller muscle groups like biceps, triceps and calves are included as well.

Splits divide the body into either sections/parts of the body, movement patterns or specific muscle groups. An example of a split dividing the body into sections/parts would be an upper-body/lower-body split. This means the body is split into two different parts (the body is divided into upper and lower halves in this case). On one day you would train only the muscles of the upper body, and then work the muscles of the lower body the other day.  

An example of a movement pattern split would be training upper-body exercises that move in the horizontal direction on one day (rows, chest presses, flies, etc.). The second day, leg exercises could be trained (you can divide these up into hinge movements or squat movements if you lift legs on multiple days). On the third day, exercises that move in the vertical direction (shoulder presses, side raises, pulldowns, etc.) would be used. 

Regarding doing a split workout with muscle groups, it is simply training 1 to 3 muscle groups each session. An example of a muscle group split would be the following: Monday: Chest, Tuesday: Back, Wednesday: Shoulders, Thursday: Legs, Friday: Arms.


The pros of total-body workouts are as follows:  

The cons of total-body workouts are the following:

The pros of training splits are the following:

The cons of training splits are the following:

Over the years I have used total-body workouts, splits and combinations of both with a wide variety of clients. 
 
I have used total-body workouts with people who have limited time to train. As discussed above, if a person struggles to get into the gym 2 to 3 times/week, it makes sense to use total-body workouts. Also, if people have fat loss goals, total-body workouts can be really effective as they burn more calories than splits do. Finally, if someone is new to training, total-body workouts can be really effective as they need more practice on doing basic exercises for neurological reasons (This is a fancy way of saying they need more practice lifting) and don’t need as much training volume initially.

I usually use splits on people who have no trouble getting to the gym more than 4 times/week. These people usually have goals of increasing muscle size, strength or both, so more training volume (either through increased exercises/muscle group or sets/exercise) is needed. Also, these people have usually been lifting for over two years so they do need more volume to continue to see results.

One opportunity that is often missed by many fitness enthusiasts is that they think they can do only one or the other. However, there is no reason why both can’t be used either over 3-5 days Total Body/Split Hybrid). There are examples of this in the table below.

Here are 12 different examples of different ways you can use total-body workouts, training splits or a combination of both over the week. There are MANY examples in addition to the ones below that can be done, so I am just showing you a few:

 

Workout Option

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

2X/Week Total Body

Total Body

 

Total Body

 

 

 

 

3X/Week Total Body

Total Body

 

Total Body

 

Total Body

 

 

*3-Day Training Split

Upper Body

 

Lower Body

 

Upper Body

 

 

**3-Day Training Split

Upper Body (Vertical)

 

Lower Body

 

Lower Body (Horizontal)

 

 

***3-Day Training Split

Back & Biceps

 

Legs

 

Chest, Shoulders & Triceps

 

 

*4-Day Training Split

Lower Body

Upper Body

 

Lower Body

Upper Body

 

 

**4-Day Training Split

Lower Body (Hinge)

Upper Body (Vertical)

 

Lower Body (Squat)

Upper Body (Horizontal)

 

 

***4-Day Training Split

Chest & Triceps

Back

 

Legs

Shoulders & Biceps

 

 

***5-Day Training Split

Chest

Back

Shoulders

Legs

Arms

 

 

3-Day Hybrid

Upper Body

 

Lower Body

 

Total Body

 

 

4-Day Hybrid

Upper Body

Lower Body

 

Total Body

Total Body

 

 

4-Day Hybrid

Upper Body (Vertical)

Lower Body

Upper Body (Horizontal)

 

Total Body

 

 

*Represents a Body Section Training Split

**Represents a Movement Training Plane Split

***Represents a Muscle Group Training Split

 

Hopefully after reading this article you understand the differences between total-body workouts and splits as well as what the pros and cons are. Based on how much time you have to train and what your training goals are, try the above examples of both. In fact, for best results, try each of the 12 examples over the course of the year (one/month) based on how many days you can work out each month. Give them an honest try, and see which one you like the best and which one gets the best results for you!

In health, Corey Grenz — Program Specialist and Master Trainer — Life Time, Chanhassen 

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader. 

Article originally appeared on LifeTime WeightLoss (http://www.lifetime-weightloss.com/).
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