Full Body Workouts vs. Individual Muscle Group Splits…Which is Right For YOU?

How to properly organize your workout is entirely dependent on you and what goals you have set for yourself. The fitness industry is an ever-evolving entity that is still very young relative to other industries. One of the most common debates among Fitness Professionals is the proper way to break up workout splits. (Anytime I use the word “split,” it is in reference to what muscle groups are trained on certain days) Should the workouts be Full Body? Or should individual muscles be grouped together? The latter of the two options is significantly more common- most (especially men) go to the gym and are hitting “Chest Day, Back Day, Leg Day” etc. This option most certainly has its merit- it’s tried and true and will yield results over time. The only issue with the Body Split method is: it doesn’t align with everyone’s goals. Therefore, the Full Body workout breakdown may in fact be the “more bang for your buck” option, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. This is another example of having to put blinders on, ignore what everyone else is doing, and make your workout routine what’s best for you.

How To Create a Body Split Routine

Generally Body Split Workouts can be arranged as any of the following:

Synergist style– assisting muscle groups working on the same day. This is a ‘golden age’ Body Split routine that is great from a recovery standpoint. By working the assisting muscles to your Chest and Back on the same day, you’re allowing for full recovery from one workout to the next. To keep these workouts efficient, the main focus would be the big muscle groups (Chest, Back and Shoulders) with less focus being placed on the Tri’s and Bi’s with the understanding that you’ve already indirectly trained them when you were working the big muscles. For example, if you had 6 different exercises you were doing for Chest, then you may only do 3 or 4 for triceps afterwards because that’s really all you’d need- especially if you’re not looking to spend 2 hours in the gym.

Sample Split:

Day 1- Chest & Tri’s

Day 2- Back & Bi’s

Day 3- Legs

Day 4- Shoulders & Abs


Antagonist Style– Opposing Muscle Groups working on the same day. This is probably the most common split used by gym goers across the country. It provides the easiest supersets, therefore making for the most efficient Body Split workout. It’s also easily repeated within the week so you can hit the gym 6 days without having to alter muscle groupings. If you’re short on time this option is great because rest time is minimized by training opposite muscle groups- the bulk of your rest happens when you’re working the opposing muscle or you’re changing the weight.

Sample Split:

Day 1- Chest & Back

Day 2- Bi’s & Tri’s

Day 3- Shoulders & Legs

Day 4- Chest & Back

Day 5- Bi’s & Tri’s

Day 6- Shoulders & Legs


Isolation Style– Hitting only one muscle group per day. This option is where you will see your most isolation moves. The idea is you hit enough volume and do enough damage to your muscle fibers that you need an entire week to recover before you train them again.

Sample Split:

Day 1- Legs

Day 2- Chest

Day 3- Back

Day 4- Arms

Day 5- Shoulders

Who is Body Split Training For???

Training individualized muscle groups together is best for those seeking muscle growth, but who are also going to the gym minimally 4 times per week. When you are performing resistance training 4-6 times per week, you would need to either do a Body Split breakdown or have “accessory”/mobility days to ensure proper muscle recovery. 

The biggest difference between muscle grouped workouts versus full body workouts is the emphasis on isolation moves. When you’re dedicating an entire day to your Back muscles, for example, you can hit the back from multiple angles, with different modalities (dumbbells, barbells, cables, bands, Hammer Strength machines etc.). Due to the fact you’re only focusing on 1 or maybe 2 muscle groups in that workout, you can afford the time spent on isolation moves. Isolation moves should still happen later in the workout and be secondary to your compound moves though. Which, in the case of the Back musculature would be: Conventional Deadlifts, BB Rows and Pull Ups.

How To Create a Full Body Workout

A proper full body workout should have the following components in a single workout:

  • Squat (Any squat variation on 1 or 2 feet would fall under this category)
  • Hip Hinge (some sort of deadlift or hip extension)
  • Horizontal Press (As simple as a push-up variation or complex as a bench press)
  • Horizontal Row (BB Row, Single Arm DB Row, Incline DB Row, etc.)
  • Vertical Press (Overhead pressing- my preference with clients is almost all overhead pressing should be done in neutral grip for less stress on the shoulders)
  • Vertical Pull (Pull Ups/Lat Pulldowns)
  • Bracing (Plank) & Rotational Core (Some sort of Chop)
  • Weighted Carry (Farmers Walk)

These are just the basic parameters and can be tweaked depending on your individual needs. For example, I add in a lot of lunges to my full body work particularly in the Frontal Plane (side to side) because it is arguably the most undertrained plane of motion (I would argue that the lack of frontal plane movement goes hand in hand with the growing epidemic of ACL tears happening in young athletes across the country).

I also lean towards Single Leg and Single Arm movements with most of my clients. There are many reasons for Uni-lateral training benefits however, my top reason is the metabolic benefit of squatting on one leg or pressing with one arm. Secondarily, you are able to completely identify muscle imbalances and train to improve them, rather than continue to hide them.

A common theme for all my workouts is bang for your buck exercises, therefore, I’m trying to engage as many muscles as possible in one exercise. For example, if you’re doing a Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat with a suitcase hold (DB in one hand) the ability to not fall right over means your core is fully engaged. Then you’re not only working on your quad/glute strength but you’ve also got a huge core, balance and coordination component happening as well.

(Much more to come on the full breakdown of unilateral vs. bilateral training)

Who Is Full Body Training For???

Hitting a full-body workout is ideal for those seeking athletic improvements, fat loss, general health enhancements and overall strength gains. Again, choosing this split would depend on your resistance training frequency. You can’t come into the gym Monday through Friday and Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Row, Overhead Press and Vertically Pull all 5 of those days- you’d be asking for an extreme breakdown of the body.

Conversely, just because Full Body Training aligns best for your goals DOES NOT mean you only need to go to the gym 2 or 3 days per week though. You can still go to the gym 6 days, it just means in between your resistance days you need to do different workouts to supplement your resistance work.

Those workouts could be sprints, kettle bell training or simply mobility- each would supplement your Full Body Split perfectly. OR, those in between days would be a great time to hit accessory muscles like Bi’s and Tri’s- exercises that don’t necessarily fit in a Full Body Split.

Which Routine is Right For Me?

In order to determine which training split is the right one for you, it is imperative to be extremely honest with yourself. The first two questions that need to be answered are:

  1. What is my medium-term training goal?
  2. How many days per week can I honestly commit to setting foot in the gym?

If your mid-term goal is to drop weight for example, but you can only whole heartedly commit to coming to the gym 3 days per week, you need to maximize the metabolic efficiency of each workout- therefore a Full Body Split would be your best bet.

Conversely, if your mid-term goal is to strictly put on muscle, and you are dead set on resistance training 6 days every week, then for proper muscle recovery, a Body-Split breakdown would align well with your goals.

Regardless of which split you choose, keep in mind that after your warm up is completed the workouts should always begin with a compound movement. Regardless of whether your goal is to lose weight, gain muscle or just maintain overall strength, a Squat, Deadlift, Press or Row variation should all be done well before any accessory muscle group is trained.

Final Thoughts

Under the pretense of ‘some movement is better than no movement,’ there is technically no “bad workouts.” However, there are certainly efficient and inefficient workouts. If you only have 3 days per week where you can spend 30-45 minutes in the gym- and especially if your goal is fat loss- I implore you to consider a Full Body Training split. Don’t be afraid to break conformity, get off the machines, go down by the dumbbell rack and perform full body moves that will vastly enhance the metabolic efficiency of your workouts.

For those of you that truly have 60-90 minutes, 6 days per week, to spend in the gym and your goal is to increase your muscle mass, then body split training may in fact be a better option for you. The key is though: this split will only work for you if you’re truly hitting the volume that requires the recovery that occurs in muscle grouped splits. Otherwise you are just inefficiently working out and making it more difficult for you to attain your goals.

Be honest with yourself and learn to walk the fine line between what exercises are best for your goals versus what exercises you like to perform. Keep in mind, the exercises we enjoy doing most are not always the best for us.

Yours in Fitness and Health,


Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass.

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