There are two main ways to organize your strength training workouts: Full body or split routines. While both options offer an effective way to arrange your weekly training plan, you might find that your fitness goals, work schedule or time available for exercise means one method will work better for you.
Full body workouts involve exercising all of your major muscles in a single workout, whereas split routines divide your body into areas that are trained on different days throughout the week. While whole body workouts are favored by general fitness enthusiasts and those training for muscular endurance, split routines are generally used by bodybuilders and experienced trainers looking to develop maximal muscular fitness, size and/or strength.
Most full body workouts take around an hour to complete and are repeated two or three times per week. This low volume and frequency of exercise is ideal if you have limited time available for exercise. In addition to exercises for your major muscles, a full body workout also might include elements of cardiovascular fitness such as jogging or rowing. Adopting a split routine means you will be performing exercises for different body parts on different days. This allows you time to perform extra exercises, sets and reps for each muscle group. Split routines also allow you to spend more time on areas you want to concentrate on, and some people enjoy being able to train more frequently than what full body workouts permit.
Full body workouts allow only enough time to perform one or two exercises per muscles group. While this is sufficient for developing a good level of general fitness and muscular conditioning, it is not enough time to develop higher levels of muscle strength and/or size. Split routines require good planning and increased workout frequency. If you adopt a split routine and miss a workout, you can unbalance your whole training week; if you miss workouts repeatedly, you can develop muscle imbalances.
All workouts, whether based on a full body template or split routine, should follow the same basic format. Workouts should begin with a thorough warm-up specific to the exercises that will follow. This helps prepare your body and mind for exercise and minimizes your risk of injury. Exercises should be ordered so that the most complex and demanding ones are performed early in the program while your energy is at its highest, and easier exercises should be left to last, when you are likely to have become more tired. In full body workouts, you should ensure that for every pushing exercise you have a pulling exercise in the same anatomical plane. Balance between planes of movements is equally important when designing split routines, but balance can be established within the workout week as opposed to a single workout.
Progressing From Full Body Workouts to Split Routines
To progress from a full body workout to a split routine can seem daunting, but there are a number of simple steps to make this transition simple and painless. First, split your current full body workout into upper body and lower body workouts. Include your core work with your lower body exercises. Perform these workouts alternately on non-consecutive days, such as Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Once you have become comfortable with this routine, you might want to consider a body part split routine. For example, exercise your chest and back on one day, your legs and core the next and your shoulders and arms on day three. At a later date, you might consider splitting your body into four or even five smaller parts spread throughout the week. (
- "Designing Resistance Training Programs"; Steven Fleck and William Kraemer; 2003
- "ACSM's Resources for the Personal Trainer"; American College of Sports Medicine; 2009
- "Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning"; National Strength and Conditioning Association; 2008