Figuring Out Your Fitness: Full Body Workouts vs. Split Days

“I’ve got a question for AoA– right now I do full body workouts because they’re better for my schedule. My boyfriend and my trainer have both told me not to overdo it. My thought process is that I only have 2-3 days to workout.

How much worse is it to do full body routines since I don’t have time to do a leg day, arm day, cardio day etc. ?

I’m not trying to build a body. I’m just trying to get generally healthy and toned. Is it necessary to isolate one body per day?” – Minichelle (@risheruxo)

Great question! Let’s divvy up full body training and split routines before I give my pick.

Full Body Training

The approach for full body workouts can vary from trainer to person, but typically you’re going to be doing both upper body and lower body work. This means chest, back, and legs are all in the same session. Sometimes cardio is thrown in the mix too.

When I first committed myself to fitness, I did full body workouts each time. Back then, I felt like I had to prove my dedication– and not only was I doing full body, I was hitting the gym  days a week! My workout programming these days are much more minimal and focused on efficiency.

I don’t imagine that Minichelle has an axe to grind, but I do get the desire for efficiency. Full body workouts can be more efficient.

Split Routines

Instead of trying to hit all of the major muscle groups in one session, you can split them up into different days. This doesn’t mean that you have to isolate every single muscle (i.e. bicep day, tricep day, ankle day, etc.)

Typically, you’ll have something like chest day, back day, leg day. You might also see a mixed combination like a “push day” (i.e. squats, bench, shoulder press) and a “pull day” (i.e. deadlifts, pull-ups, and rows).

When you’re on a split routine, you give your body time to rest and recover. For instance, if you do legs on Monday, you don’t have to sweat hitting legs again for the rest of the week. For some people, I know they dread having to hit am muscle group when they’re already sore.

My Pick

I’m going to have to go with split routines, but maybe not for the reason you think. While it’s true the rest and recovery aspect can be a perk, I really don’t think Minichelle will be overdoing it in her full body routines.

I’m actually concerned she might be underdoing it!

We’re all familiar with the term multi-tasking, and I think that mindset can bleed over into fitness. But in order to achieve that split, a lot of people just approach it half-heartedly. The intention to be more efficient gives you a result that’s half-assed.

There’s that good old Chinese proverb: a man who chases two rabbits ends up with none. A man who chases all the women ends up alone. You get the picture.

Even if you’re limited to 2-3 days, I think a split routine is fine. Even if you’re limited on the amount of time you can spend at the gym per session, I think a split approach is effective.

Now, there is a way to make full body workouts work for you if you’re dead set. You need to think in terms of your primary lift.

Let’s use this sample workout as an example:

  • Squats 4 x 8 [Legs]
  • Shoulder Press 3 x 12 [Shoulders, Duh]
  • Lat Pull-Downs 5 x 5 [Back]

Instead of doing the exact same routine with the exact same numbers and weight, I’d want to prioritize one muscle group. If we set the Lat Pull-Downs as the primary lift, the routine might be adjusted to this:

  • Lat Pull-Downs 4 x 8 (weight will also be increased)
  • Shoulder Press 4 x 12 (extra set but lighter weight)
  • Squats 3 x 20 (bodyweight only)

TL;DR – Split Routines are a good pick even if you’re gym time is limited. The reason being that you put more effort and focus on the muscle groups. If you can ensure that you’ll bring that same effort and focus into a full body workout, then go for it.


Do YOU have a question you’d like answered by the Architects? E-mail us at aoabbu (at) gmail.com

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