Generally speaking, new lifters can benefit more from a full-body routine done multiple times per week, and based around compound movements. Advanced lifters, who have the strength, intensity, and mind-muscle connection to handle higher workloads need more recovery time and so will benefit from a multi-day split. Try this as a starting point:
0-18 months lifting: Full-body routine done 3 times per week based around compound movements.
18-36 months lifting: Upper Body / Lower Body or Push / Pull split done twice per week (4 lifting days)
36+ months lifting: 3 or 4 day split routine
Full Body Benefits
The guy it benefits: Total-body routines benefit guys who are just targeting strength and aren’t really preoccupied with mass, as well as those who are really trying to shred body fat. When you’re engaged in a total-body strength and conditioning routine that’s either focused on lifting heavy or quick, interval-like metabolic moves, you get a better bang for your buck.
More efficient use of time
“Getting to the gym more than 3x/week is not always in everyone’s schedule,” Krajewski says. Full-body routines can help cut down some of the hours you spend in the gym per week without skipping a major muscle group. “Workouts that incorporate lower and upper body parts all mashed into one kick ass workout can allow you to get the anabolic response from your muscles that you need, while saving you from spending hours in the weight room,” he adds.
Greater hormonal response
Full-body movements work far more muscle fibers, which release greater amounts of testosterone, growth hormone, and IGF-1 hormones, which lead to more muscle and less fat. So arguably, total-body workouts can create a better hormonal response.
Better for weight loss/fat loss
“Intense full-body workouts that have you wobbly legged and gasping for air are known to leave your muscles beat up,” Krajewski says. Circuit training, metabolic intervals, and compound lifts engage more muscle groups, skyrocket your heart rate, and burn more calories. “Hitting your full body all the time from a conditioning aspect is great; it’s the model CrossFit follows,” Arent notes.
The full-body CrossFit workout
Build strength and endurance with these functional moves.
Body Part Split Benefits
The guy it benefits: Specific upper and lower body splits are excellent for guys looking to bulk muscle mass in certain areas of their body, gain a PR in a major lift, or sustain a training program for the long haul. These are generally less exhausting and are ideal for major bulk-ups.
More focused strength gains
“Body part-specific training sessions (ie. chest day, back day, leg day, etc.), while less time efficient, can definitely dial in the specificity of the goals of your training program,” Krajewski says. “If your goal is to deadlift 450lbs or bench 300lbs, you have to train accordingly,” he adds. “If you weigh 165lbs and have a current bench PR of 225lbs I can guarantee you that full body workouts 3x/week won’t get you there.” Getting in your major lifts and accessory work catered to that muscle group will. Just be careful you don’t over-emphasize one muscle group over the others; that’s when muscle imbalances and weaknesses can occur.
Better for building mass
“If you’re looking to build mass, I really see little benefit to constantly doing full-body workouts,” Arent says. “Not to say it couldn’t work, but in terms of the volume you can accomplish and the ability to focus on certain muscle groups, I tend to prefer upper-lower body part splits.” The upside is these focused workouts let you rotate your heavy versus light days more consistently; you don’t want every day to be heavy and/or hard. That’s important for progression and it’s part of the periodization model.
“When programmed properly, the split workout routine results in considerably less overall fatigue since the focus is only on one or two body parts—max,” Krajewski says. Full-body routines torch more calories and tire your body out faster, which can compromise your strength-specific training focus. “This isn’t implying that after an intense leg day your stems won’t be rendered useless for the remainder of the day,” he explains. But you’re at a lower risk for overtraining and overloading your whole body because your legs have time to recover.
Pros and Cons of Full-Body Routines and Splits
Main pros of full-body routines:
whole body stimulation, obviously. The more muscles we stimulate in workout the more effective it should be.
greater frequency of stimulation. The more we practice, the faster we will get good at something.
no “fluff”. You have limited amount of time, so you choose almost only big compound lifts.
Main cons of full-body routines:
some people just can’t tolerate them. No matter how you structure everything, some people just won’t be able to progress on full-body routines.
some body parts will lag in development. Yes, full-body routines give you freedom from “fluff” exercises but some body parts will grow faster than others (which shouldn’t bother you if your primary goals are strength and performance).
Main pros of splits:
lots of recovery. You just work some body part to total exhaustion and rest for a week or so.
allow more volume. You’ll definitely can do more work sets in split routines which can be better for building muscle.
allow more variety. This can be important for bodybuilding.
Main cons of splits:
sometimes not enough frequency. This is especially true for beginners who need more frequent stimulation to progress faster.
many people end up doing ton of isolation exercises instead of compound lifts. This is totally wrong.
I may forget something but it doesn’t matter. The point is that either of them have its own usage. Implement one or the other in wrong situation and you may not get any training results (except bad).