Between 1940 and the early 1970's, bodybuilders such as Steve Reeves, Reg Park, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dave Draper and Casey Viator built their muscular physiques with full-body workouts. Full-body routines became less popular from the late 1970's with bodybuilders switching to split routines that involve working specific muscle groups each workout. But in 2014, bodybuilders such as Dexter Jackson still include full-body workouts in their routines. Full-body and split routines have specific advantages and disadvantages. But whichever one you choose, don't overtrain by spending too long in the gym, and ensure you get enough rest between workouts to allow your muscles time to recover and grow.
Looking at Full-body Routines
Three-day-a-week full-body workouts stimulate your muscles more frequently; this induces more muscle-growth. Full-body workouts expend more energy because of the number of muscle groups you exercise each session. This helps you burn more fat. On the flip side, full-body workouts may mean spending too long in the gym and overtraining. You may also tire toward the end of your workout, and unable to hit latter muscle groups with the same intensity you did earlier muscle groups.
The 5x5 Full-body Routine
Englishman Reg Park used the 5x5 full-body workout system to win the Mr. Universe title in 1951,1958 and 1965. This is the basis for Mehdi Hadim's Stronglifts system. Park's routine evolves around using heavy weights for compound multi-joint exercises, doing five sets of five reps. Do two warm-up sets and three heavy sets. Increase your weight once you can complete five reps for each heavy set. Rest two minutes between sets, and work out three times a week, ideally on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Exercises include the bench press for your chest, barbell squats for legs, military presses for shoulders, bent-over rows for upper back, deadlifts for lower back and trapezius, barbell curls for biceps, lying triceps extension for triceps and standing calf raises for your calves. Park's workouts lasted two to three hours. Modify the system to avoid overtraining and reduce fatigue. Hit your chest and shoulders on different days. Do squats and deadlifts on different days.
Selecting Your Split Routine
With the variety of split routines available, choose the one that fits your lifestyle, suits your capabilities, and helps you gain the most muscle. Examples include the three-day split workout, four-day split workout, and the push, pull and legs workout. For a three-day split, hit your chest and back on Monday, your legs on Tuesday and shoulders and arms on Wednesday. Rest for a day or two, and repeat the sequence over the next three days. For a four-day split, do your chest and triceps on Monday, back and biceps on Tuesday, quadriceps and hamstrings on Wednesday and your shoulders and calves on Thursday. Rest for a day or two and repeat the sequence over the next four days. For the push, pull and legs workout, do pushing exercises that hit your chest, shoulders and triceps on Monday, hit your legs on Tuesday, and do pulling exercises for your back and biceps on Wednesday. Rest for a day or two and repeat the sequence.
Specifics of A Split Routine
For your split routine, do two exercises per muscle group. For example, hit your chest with three to five sets of the barbell bench press and three sets of bench flys. Work your upper back with three to five sets of bent-over rows and three sets of lat pulldowns. Hit your shoulders with three to five sets of the military press, three sets of lateral raises, three sets of bent-over laterals, and three sets of dumbbell shrugs. Work your biceps with three sets of barbell curls, and three sets of alternate dumbbell curls. Target your triceps with three sets of triceps dips, and three sets of triceps pushdowns. For your legs, do three to five sets of barbell squats, three sets of leg curls, and three sets of calf raises.
As you are working fewer muscle groups each workout you are less likely to fatigue with a split routine. This enables you to use heavy weights for each exercise, maintain intensity, and fully tax each muscle. Provided you avoid doing too many exercises, or sets per exercise, you are less likely to overtrain by spending too long in the gym. On the negative side, split routines don't target your muscles with the same frequency as full-body workouts.