Many older lifters past the age of 35 or 40 fondly remember the days when they first started training and were inspired to build a great physique. They were mesmerized at the herculean strength and musculature of old-time bodybuilders who have achieved truly god-like body proportions.
Most of them got a gym membership with the main intention of building big guns filling their sleeves, getting a six-pack and squatting huge weights like Tom Platz himself. And it’s very likely the first program you tried out was a full body program, at the very least, you surely read about this training method which was prevalent in the Golden Era of bodybuilding.
Unfortunately, like many other trends in bodybuilding, full body training has become somewhat neglected by the lifting world, even though it produces excellent results in terms of building a strength base upon which one can build more muscle in the future.
Full body training 101
Even though it is referenced occasionally and employed less frequently, full body training has all but lost its mystery. Which is a shame, because the effectiveness it promotes and the systemic activation of all the major muscle groups in just one training session has provided great results for many people.
Being an old-school workout method, full body training was a popular concept among lifters in the 50’s, 60’s and even 80’s, but has been replaced with training programs relying completely on split body training methods. Full body training proponents say it is a superior method when it comes to stimulating all muscle groups more efficiently since all the muscles in our body are connected into one structural unit and they respond best to a training stimulus which is functional and consists of natural body movements. This type of training promotes balance in all areas and the intensity level will give lifters additional endurance and performance benefits.
Those who are against employing this concept say it quickly leads to overtraining, lacks the training volume we need to apply to stimulate weak body areas or focus on specific areas of our physique and require an intensity which may be a bit too much for the majority of lifters, especially beginners. So, taking into consideration its numerous benefits, as well as its negative aspects, could full body training be the most optimal training method for you? Let’s go over the benefits it offers:
1. Increases fat loss and builds muscle at the same time
Since full body training can be done with plenty of rest between sessions, (normally up to two days depending on how often you train each muscle group per week) you can maximize your muscle gains, which in turn will speed up the fat burning rate while resting. Additionally, when training all muscle groups in the same workout session our bodies burn a lot more calories and we can put increased metabolic demands on the body, thus promoting greater fat loss.
When you’re training two or three muscle groups in a single workout, you may think you need to rest longer between sets and try to achieve a 45-60-minute workout, but by activating all areas, you’ll need to decrease the rest periods between sets, which will enable you to maintain a high level of intensity throughout the workout and increase the fat burning process. And given that full body training makes you expend a lot more energy, you may also be able to decrease the amount of cardio and eat more food without worrying you’ll gain weight.
2. Improves recovery between training sessions
When employing the split body training method we train our muscle almost every day and even when our training session is only dedicated to, for example, back and triceps, other muscle groups also get stimulated at a smaller level, like biceps, chest, and shoulders. The majority of natural lifters will find it very difficult to recover from such training sessions, despite the fact that different body parts are activated in each training session.
When the lifter is again ready to train, for example, shoulders, which he trained earlier in the same week, he has already trained directly and indirectly this muscle group more than two or three times. If the lifter switched to full body training, he could extend his rest days to three, sometimes four days per week, instead of the usual one to two. It’s important to note that some full body training programs rely on training two days per week, training the whole body in each session. But for some people, this may not be enough, so one more day of training is recommended in which weaker muscle groups could be given more stimulus to catch up.
3. Enables you to train more often
Full body training is also very suitable for more advanced lifters who need greater training volume and training frequency. Lots of strength training professionals think that the more we activate a muscle, the more likely this muscle will grow. With full body training we can target each muscle up to 4 times per week.
To get the same level of frequency with split body training we’ll be forced to train two to three times a day. But, as we mentioned earlier, to achieve maximal muscle growth recovering properly is essential, so it’s generally recommended that such an increase in training frequency should be used by experienced lifters only who occasionally need to shock their muscle to get them growing again.
4. It saves time
The majority of people nowadays hardly find the time to commit themselves fully to five to six workout sessions per week. Considering the time it takes to get to the gym, waiting for a machine and all the preparations related to gym training, lots of people are under constant pressure to cram all of their workout sessions in. This additional stress has a direct negative impact on cultivating motivation for training and improving recovery. On the other hand, with two or three full body training sessions per week, which saves up a lot of time, we find ourselves in a much better position to complete all workouts while having enough time to focus on other aspects of our lives, especially to making a proper recovery.
5. It increases the anabolic hormone response
If done correctly, with as much intensity as possible and the right amount of sets and reps to elicit and acute anabolic response, full body training can force muscle growth throughout the whole body in just one training session. One of the underlying mechanisms which are responsible for this effect is the natural manipulation of hormones, i.e. whenever the whole body is trained in a systemic fashion through the activation of large muscle groups in one training session, this results in an acute increase in the plasma concentrations of anabolic hormones, especially testosterone. Exercising large muscle groups like your back and legs, with relatively heavy weight creates a similar result, even though full body training will greatly accentuate the effect.
The final verdict
Even though, as explained above, full body training is an effective training approach to building more muscle, there are some guidelines which have to be followed in order to maximize its benefits:
1. Do at least two full body sessions per week.
2. Schedule an additional day to hit the weak muscle groups.
3. Begin each training session with a different muscle group, to add variety and intensity.
4. Most important, make sure that you train with maximum intensity in every set for all exercises.
To give a definitive answer to the question of what is better, full body or split body training, one can say that both training approaches have equal merit. Both produce results and can be utilized to build an impressive physique. Keeping this in mind and in order to prevent your body from adapting to your program and reaching a training plateau, which significantly slows down the muscle building process, you should try full body training for 3 months, and then follow a split routine for another 3 months. You can repeat this cycle as much as you want. The main thing to remember is to find out what works for your body type and tweak the program in order to continue progressing.