Over the years I have done it all with regards to training protocols.

Split bodypart training – where you train one bodypart each training sessions e.g. chest on Monday, legs on Tuesday, shoulders on Wednesday etc.

CrossFit – google it.

Sport specific training – where I focused my training sessions in order to help me perform better on the pitch as a rugby player.

Marathon training – a focus of running enough miles each week with a few running focused strength training sessions to eventually run the London Marathon.

But I have always come back to full body training. Their are several reasons for this and I am going to explain why I love this training style and why science backs up my reasoning as to why it can be the most effective way to get the best results.

As it says on the tin full body training is where you will train your whole body during each training session. A typical session could look something like this:

1) Back Squats = 4 sets of 10 reps.
2) Bench Press = 4 sets of 10 reps.
3) Barbell Bent Over Row = 4 sets of 8 reps.
4) Barbell Military Press = 4 sets of 10 reps.
5a) Tricep Dips = 4 sets of 10 reps.
5b) Pull Ups = 4 sets of 10 reps.
6) Ab Roll Outs = 4 sets of 15 reps.

As you can see you are working every major muscle group during the above workout. As there is a high amount of work to get through you usually begin the session with the most demanding exercises and then finish with the exercises that are not as hard to perform. This is obviously dependent upon the training ability of the individual under taking the session. You will generally focus on more of the compound lifts as these stimulate a greater amount of muscles worked during each session and allow you to lift the greatest amount of weight for each exercise meaning more bang for your buck.

Now although you may feel that this is not a large amount of work for each individual muscle group to perform each session this is where training FREQUENCY comes into play. Let’s say that you have 3 days a week to train. If you are following a full body training plan then you will be able to hit each muscle group 3 times a week. Research has shown that in order to see the best gains in muscle size and strength you need to train that muscle group more regularly. Research has also shown that a muscle can recover in around a 48 hour period as long as your nutrition and sleep is on point. So, you perform the above session on a Monday and then have Tuesday to recover. As the volume of work being performed by each muscle group during Mondays session is not too high you should not experience too much muscular soreness (as long as your nutrition and sleep is on point). This means you can perform another training session with similar volume for each body part again on Wednesday. You will then rest on Thursday and then repeat the training plan on Friday. During these 3 days you have accumulated a large amount of training stimulus for each body part without over loading it during each session. Soreness has not prevented you from training and you are lifting a good amount of weight during each set every session. You are stimulating each muscle group not annilating it, this will allow adaptation to occur.

If we compare the above scenario but use a typical bodybuilding split routine for our 3 day a week training program. On Monday we are going to work chest and back, Wednesday we are going to work legs and Friday we are going to work shoulders and arms. So we try to annilate each muscle group during the training split as we are only training each muscle group once every 7 days. Let’s look at a chest and back session that we would do on a Monday:

1a) Bench Press = 3 sets of 10 reps.
1b) Barbell Bent Over Row = 3 sets of 10 reps.
2a) Incline Dumbbell Press = 3 sets of 10 reps.
2b) One Arm Dumbbell Row = 3 sets of 10 reps.
3a) Dumbbell Flies = 3 sets of 10 reps.
3b) Lat Pulldown = 3 sets of 10 reps.
4a) Press Ups = 3 sets of as many reps as possible.
4b) Pull Ups = 3 sets of as many reps as possible.

With the above workout you can see that it is quite intense with a large amount of similar exercises for one specific body part. You are more than likely going to be sore from this workout (especially if you are training with the correct focus and intensity) in your chest and back muscles for a few days. Although this soreness might indicate to you that you have had a great session it can actually indicate that the training session was too much for your body to handle. Protein synthesis will still take around 48 hours which means you COULD train that bodypart again BUT due to soreness and/or time available on our split routine we have to focus on our other body parts. This means you are missing out on the training FREQUENCY that you get from the full body program. As you are training the same muscle group during every exercise fatigue will eventually limit you from lifting as heavy weights or performing as many repetitions. This means that your total volume for training that muscle group will actually be LOWER than the total weekly volume for the full body program.

In order to keep progressing you need to increase your training volume over time.

How can you do this?

– Increase the weight you are lifting for the same sets and reps on each exercise.
– Keep the weight the same but increase the reps during each set on every exercise.
– Keep the weight and the reps the same but increase the amount of sets on every exercise.

Your already gruelling bodypart split has now become even harder for you to increase your training volume on that body part. Your split bodypart training routine sessions have become even more time consuming as you have to perform more work.

What is an easier way to accomplish increasing your training volume and getting better results faster?

Split the volume of work into more sessions during the week. Adding an extra repetition to each set of back squats or bench press is a lot easier when it is split over 3 different training sessions. As I have stated before, you will be able to focus all of your energy on every repetition of every set as you know that muscle group only has to work for 4-5 sets before it gets a rest and you move onto the next muscle group. You will also be able to increase the amount of weight that you lift during each session faster as you are not trying to annilate that particular muscle group during the training session.

What if I have more than 3 days a week to train?

Well my advice would be to design a training plan that still focuses on full body training. You could do a 4 day a week weight training split and add in some additional conditioning sessions. For example:

Monday = Push focussed weight training session (Back squats, bench press, military press and dips).
Tuesday = Pull focussed weight training session (Deadlifts, bent over rows, upright rows and pull ups).
Wednesday = Rest.
Thursday = Push fucussed weight training session (Lunges, dumbbell incline chest press, seated shoulder press and dips).
Friday = Pull focussed weight training session (RDLs, dumbbell pull overs, lateral raises and pull ups).
Saturday = conditioning / HIIT training session.
Sunday = Active recovery swim or walk.

Remember that the amount of volume (sets + reps + weight) that you perform each session for each bodypart is determined by your recovery (nutrition and sleep) and training experience – it is very individual. You may need to play around with your training sessions to make the best training plan for you. A good way to start if you are new to training is to go with the classic 3 sets of 10 reps for each exercise. This will allow you to increase volume over the week easily without hampering your recovery between sessions. If you are already doing a bodypart routine then look at splitting your training volume for each bodypart across 3-5 sessions.

If you are hesitant to start with full body training sessions then ask yourself how much progress you have made with your current training plan. If you have been training regularly for a long period of time but have little to show for it then maybe it is time to readdress your training and nutrition. What have you got to lose!?!

In summary the benefits of a full body training routine are:

  • Increase of frequency of training each body part.
  • Easier to increase the volume of your training.
  • Recovery is usually faster between training sessions with less soreness experienced.
  • It is easier to measure your weekly training volume for each muscle group and so you can adapt your training plan according to how you are progressing (e.g. if your arms are lagging in size then you can add additional direct arm exercises into your program).
  • It gives you more flexibility to train when time is sparse. You can split your training volume over less days if needs be. Yes this means you may be working out for longer per session but you will still hit the same weekly volume even on a reduced training schedule.

If you have any questions about anything I have covered in the above article then please do not hesitate to ask.

Written by: Adam Wakefield

I have been working as a personal trainer for over 9 years. I began my career in the fitness industry after completing a degree in Sport Science where I graduated with Upper Class Honours. I have always had a thirst for all things related to health, fitness and nutrition and it wasn’t before long that I owned my own gym.

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