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ADVANTAGE OF SPLIT WORKOUTS

Mike Lipowski

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In the Advantage of Full-Body Workouts article I laid out the reasons for choosing full-body workouts over split workouts. Based on the strength of these advantages you might wonder why anyone would ever use splits!

However as indicated by research as well as the overwhelming number of bodybuilders who use splits (In a web based survey of 127 male bodybuilders, ALL indicated they use a split workout) they too have certain benefits that make them an attractive training option.

Fundamentally speaking split workouts focus on training just one or a few muscles in a single workout. Each muscle is typically trained once a week, at most twice. The most discernible difference between split and full-body workouts is the volume of work each muscle receives. So as the advantages go let’s start with this.

VOLUME

Despite my deep roots in High Intensity Training the fact is, volume matters. It matters just as much as intensity and they both matter just as much as frequency.

How much volume is necessary for muscle hypertrophy and strength development is debatable but there is at least some research that points us in a direction. A meta-analysis carried out by Schoenfeld, Krieger, and Ogborn in which volumes of <5, 5-9, and 10+ sets performed per muscle group each week showed a graded response favoring higher weekly volume.

It’s still unclear what the upper limit of volume per muscle per week is, and it’s likely a matter of individual differences. In this same regard 10+ sets per muscle may represent a volume that is too high for some individuals—exceeding their recovery ability.

But I digress. From a practical standpoint split workouts make it easier to perform a higher volume of exercise per muscle compared to full-body. For example, at PURE PHYSIQUE our training sessions are 30 minutes. If doing a full-body workout we may only get to perform 2-3 sets for say, back. But if the back was given its own day or done in combination with one—at most two—other muscles we could easily perform 8-12 sets (possibly more) in that same 30 minutes.

RECOVERY


As stated in the previous article, full-body workouts undoubtedly burn more calories which makes them attractive from a fat-burning standpoint. They burn more calories because you’re working more muscles and depleting more of your body’s energetic resources. However this is a negative stress on your body and like any stress it takes time to recover from. This might not pose a problem if you’re training 2-3 times a week but then again you may not getting enough volume per muscle group to maximize hypertrophy.

Conversely, split workouts are not as systemically draining and allow enough time between bouts for the same muscle to ensure the muscle is fully recovered by the next session. The less fatiguing nature of split workouts makes it less likely that one will overtrain, given they are not doing marathon-type workouts 5-7 days a week.

ATTENTION TO DETAIL


Have a muscle group that you want to prioritize? Split workouts offer a far better opportunity to hone in on that area, putting more energy and resources into training it.

With full-body training something will always suffer. The fatiguing nature of full-body workouts means that the muscles trained later in the workout will never have their full capacity of strength and energy available. Whereas all the strength and energy you want to put into a particular muscle is there right from the start when using a split routine.

Add to this the multitude of angles and single-joint movements that can be employed to ensure every part of the muscle is fully stimulated. Attempting this with a full-body workout would be foolish and extremely time inefficient.

THE VERDICT


As your goals go so should your choice of split or full-body workouts.

As can be seen from both this and the Advantage of Full-Body Workouts article, each holds advantages and disadvantages over the other. Ultimately, for the most well rounded development as well as balancing training demands and recovery I recommend utilizing both at various times throughout the year.

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