Full Body Training Splits for Lean Muscle Growth

By Luke Cafferty
February 2017

Most of us who hit the gym regularly tend to opt to use those body part training splits that are routinely recommended in the more popular fitness magazines and websites. While these types of training splits can be a great way to build and develop new muscle tissue, while also allowing us to target those specific muscle groups (weak spots, anyone?) that we deem need the extra training volume, they do also have downfalls.

Firstly, they are incredibly time intensive. To use a body part training split effectively, we need to be training between 4 and 6 times per week. If we can't manage this, certain muscle groups miss out on the necessary training volume to promote a high amount of quality muscle growth.

Secondly, they are incredibly restrictive. If we miss even a single session (god forbid…) it will seriously affect our entire training week. This can genuinely limit our ability to stick to the program, reducing its effectiveness, while negatively impacting our motivation and limiting our results significantly.

These two factors render body part training splits completely useless for people who have busy work life schedules (practically anyone who isn't a pro body builder – AKA someone who gets paid to train).

Fortunately, there is a both a viable and effective alternative: full body training splits.

Full body training splits are one of the most time efficient ways of organising our training, which makes them absolutely ideal for those of us with busy schedules who can only get in the gym 2-3 times per week.

Unfortunately, despite their effectiveness, full body training regimes are rarely used. Often considered as mere novice training programs, they are frequently used to introduce an individual to the gym. And I say that this is unfortunate because when used correctly, full body training splits offer a fantastic way to build muscle, increase strength, and even promote fat loss.

What a Full Body Training Split Looks Like

Full body training splits are exercise programs that are often performed 2-3 times per week (although can be used 4 times per week to great effect). During each session, each major muscle group is trained using 1-2 exercises for a total of 6-8 sets.

This ensures that each training session lasts between 60 and 90minutes, while also ensuring adequate recovery for each individual muscle group so you are ready to train for the next session (where they will obviously be trained again).

When using full body training splits it is very important to prioritise large, compound, barbell based movements, such as squats, deadlifts, presses, rows and split squats. As these exercises require movement at multiple joints, they require the integration of the most muscle mass, while also allowing us to use the most amount of load (both of which contribute to the amount of work done per session, increasing muscle growth and fat loss).

Finally, full body splits are often comprised of supersets, in which we work between antagonist muscle groups. This has two key benefits: firstly, it reduces the amount of time required to perform the session by making good use of our rest periods, and secondly, using supersets have shown to influence hormone levels positively, in which it causes an acute increase in growth hormone secretion (which plays an important role in the development of muscle tissue and the mobilisation of stored fats – AKA more muscle less fat).

Full Body Splits, Muscle Mass and Strength

Using a full body training split causes an inherent and unavoidable increase in training frequency.

Training frequency ultimately describes the amount of times we train a given movement or muscle group in a particular amount of time. So using a body part split as an example, out training frequency would be only once per week, as we only hit each muscle group once per week.

Now, given that it is commonly accepted that muscle tissue only needs between 24 and 72 hours to recover completely from a training session (which is somewhat dependant on the intensity and volume of that workout), an increased training frequency offers a great way to provide muscle tissue with the additional stimulus required to stimulate further muscle growth and strength gains.

Full body training provides us with the opportunity to increase our training frequency to 2, 3 or even 4 times in a single training week. This increased training frequency causes a huge jump in the amount of training volume that a given muscle group receive. This increase in muscle volume can lead to HUGE increases in muscle growth.

Furthermore (as previously mentioned), full body training splits require the prioritisation of compound movements, using barbells, kettlebells and dumbbells. These movements allow us to use the greatest amount of load, which causes a substantial increase in the mechanical stress our muscle tissue receives – this increased mechanical stress has been shown to cause large increases in muscle growth, while also providing the necessary stimulus to promote strength increases.

Full Body Splits and Fat Loss

Now, while it could be argued that full body training splits are best used for development of strength and muscle mass, they can also contribute to fat loss considerably.

When opting for a full body training split, we almost only use compound movements. This, combined with the fact that we train every single muscle group each session, results in an absolutely massive amount of work done each and every session.

This huge amount of work places a great demand on the tissues of the body, which causes vast increases in not only the energy used during the session, but also the amount required to recover from that session.

Moreover, as we alternate between upper body and lower body movements, and agonist antagonist muscle groups, throughout the session, there is also a large cardiovascular demand placed on the body, which causes further increases in energy expenditure. The massive increases in energy expenditure caused by these two key factors can lead to considerable fat loss over time!

How to Program Full Body Training Splits

Now, while the benefits of using a full body training program are somewhat apparent, they do need to be programmed effectively to produce maximum results. The first thing that is essential to note is that full body sessions need to be designed around movements, rather than muscles. Secondly, as previously mentioned, those movement need to be large compound movements. By movements, I am referring to squatting movements (squats and their single leg variations), hinging movements (deadlifts and their single leg variations), presses (bench press, overhead press etc.) and rows (single arm dumbbell rows, chin ups etc.).

By selecting a couple of these movements, and organising them in supersets, we can create a very effective full body training session. An example of which may look something like this:

1A: Back Squat4x5
1B: Weighted Chin Ups4x5
2A: Romanian Deadlift 3x8
2B: Bench Press3x10
3A: Reverse Lunges3x10/side
3B: Seated Rows3x10
4A: Seated Shoulder Press3x10
4B: Lat pull down3x10
5A: Incline DB Press3x12
5B: Single Arm DB Row3x10

Organising training in the above manner is arguably the best way to implement a full body training split. It will allow us to maximise training frequency, increase weekly volume and superset effectively – all in a manner that will increase muscle growth and promote fat loss.

And the bonus?

We don't need to be training 6 times per week, making it perfect for those with limited time!

Luke Cafferty is a fitness junkie, personal trainer, and blogger. He’s passionate about living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a strong and well-rounded physique. Check out more of his work at Strength Authority or follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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