All things training and nutrition - all backed by science
How should you structure your workout for best muscle gains?
Body-part Split or full-body Workout?
When I first got into lifting weights everything was all about the body-part split.
What do I mean by that?
Each body part got it’s own workout. There was Chest day, Back day and Leg day etc.
Then, when I got into the Strength and Conditioning world, everything was about whole body workouts.
So which is the best?
There is a boring answer and a more interesting one.
We’ll start with the boring answer: it depends on your goal.
If your goal is to throw faster, jump higher or swing harder then you are definitely better off using a whole body workout routine featuring primarily compound movements (that’s movements that use more than one joint). Bonus points if you use compound exercises that mimic movements in your chosen sport.
For football that would be stuff like squats and presses.
For jumpers athletes that would be a lot of squats, step-ups, and lunges.
But what about building lean muscle?
In other words, what's the best type of routine to look better naked?
It all comes down to stimulating your muscles.
You see, when you do a set of bicep curls you create tension in your biceps muscle. This is a stimulus for the muscle to grow.
If you do 2 sets of bicep curls instead of 1 then they are stimulated a little more but eventually you reach the point of diminishing returns.
Doing 12 sets of bicep curls in a workout isn’t any better than doing 3 or 4. You see a muscle reaches a point of being maximally stimulated to grow after 3-4 sets of an exercise.
That signal or stimulus to grow lasts about 24-48 hours. Then, the muscle stops growing. It stops responding to that workout.
Why is all this important?
It’s important because it provides the key to answering our question: which is better? body-part splits or full-body workouts?
Just for reference, a typical body-part split workout may look something like this:
On each day you might do 4-6 exercises for 3-4 sets, each targeting that one muscle group.
My opinion...that’s overkill!
Remember, your chest isn’t going to be anymore stimulated to grow by doing 6 exercises than it will from doing 2 exercises for 3 sets. It’s already maxed out.
Your chest will grow for 2 days and then nothing...no more gains until next week when it’s chest day again.
That’s 5 days of nothing!
Now what about a whole body workout?
What if you did 4 workouts per week. With 1, maybe 2, exercises each for your chest, back, shoulders, legs, arms, and abs. You could do each exercise for 2-3 sets.
It may look something like this:
Monday: Chest, Back, Shoulders, Legs, Arms, and Abs
Wednesday: Chest, Back, Shoulders, Legs, Arms, and Abs
Friday: Chest, Back, Shoulders, Legs, Arms, and Abs
Sunday Chest, Back, Shoulders, Legs, Arms, and Abs
Remember, your muscles only grow in response to your workout for 24-48 hours afterwards. Using this approach, there would never be a day where your muscles were not growing.
SIDE NOTES: This isn’t my main point but did you see how we went from 6 workouts a week to 4 a week?
I know what you might be thinking
Alex, this sounds awesome and makes complete sense...but what about the big guy at the gym (could also be a friend or neighbor) that says to build muscle you should do Chest day on Mondays and Back on Tuesdays etc...
Well, he’s not wrong. You can definitely build muscle on body part-splits but it’s just not optimal.
Body-part splits have been used by old school gym-rats forever and old school gym-rats tend to be big because they’ve been doing it forever.
Just because someone has achieved something doesn’t mean that their methods are optimal for you.
It’s not true in business and it’s not true in fitness.
Doing cold calling works amazingly well for some businesses but it’s completely sub-optimal for other businesses.
Body-part splits CAN work (especially if you’re using anabolic help) but more than likely, they’re not the best option for you.