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Lifting Programs: Full Body vs Bro Split

There are constantly debates in the fitness world concerning which type of exercise program is the best. Everyone involved in lifting strives to discover the most beneficial training methodology to meet their goals.  In this article I’m going to highlight two of these methods, with the intention of highlighting another two down the road. The first two methods I consider to be more for beginners, or for those that haven’t had a solid structure in their workouts before. I will go into detail on each method, and describe the pros and cons, as well as give an example of each type of workout.  Finally, I’ll give my personal recommendations as to which method is the one you should choose.

Full Body Training

Full body training obviously references training the full body, but refers to workouts that train the entire body each session.  The idea is to hit every group once or twice during the course of your workout.  Generally when doing this you will exercise three to four times during the week, resting or doing cardio/core on off days.

The main pro for a full body plan is that you’ll be using each muscle group frequently. If you work out 4 times a week, you workout each muscle group 4 times a week.  The main con with this plan goes hand in hand with the main pro. Many argue that even though you’ll be hitting all muscle groups each workout, the muscles will be underworked due to a lack of focus.  If you’re doing 4-6 exercises during a workout, you are probably only hitting each muscle group once fully and maybe a second time in an auxiliary fashion, so overall intensity isn’t there.  Additionally, working the whole body each session can lead to joint pains and problems from constantly utilizing the full body.

Now let’s look at a typical full body workout. A session could include all of the following:

Bench Press
Front Squats
Machine Rows
Shoulder Press
Lat Pull Downs
Calf Raises

Here you are hitting legs, chest, back, and arms all in one workout. Each session would then continue to utilize the full body, but be manipulated slightly to provide variety.
This method has diminished over the years, but there are still plenty of advocates for the full body workout. It has been used by well-known bodybuilders such as Reg Park and Vince Gironda.  Park is known for his 5×5 full body training, which means he does all of his exercises using the baseline of 5 sets of 5 reps. Gironda goes with an 8×8 program.  Arnold Schwarzenegger also used full body exercises during the early stages of his career.  He would later transition to splits, but understood the benefits of full body, especially for new lifters.

As Arnold believed, full body is a great method for new lifters, or for those who’ve found themselves taking a long break from lifting.  When you first start lifting, you generally see rapid strength and growth gains. These are often referred to as “noob gain.” Your body has not been under this type of muscular stress, and is able to quickly adapt and give you that initial muscle development. This makes full body workouts ideal for beginners, because you are hitting the entire body and allowing these beginner gains to take over in all of your muscle groups.

Split Training

Our next program we’re going to look at is split training. Split training, often called the Bro Split, splits each day into one or two muscle groups or body parts. The goal of split training is to focus on each muscle group and hit them hard with high intensity.  You’ll be partaking in 4-6 exercises during each day’s muscle group, as opposed to only one or two exercises per muscle group during a full body workout.  Again, there are cons to split training as well. The main negative to split training is that you are only training each muscle group one time during the week. Critics of the bro split argue that because you’re only hitting each muscle group a single time in 7 days, you’re not maximizing the muscle-building potential of those muscles.

Now, with that in mind it’s important to know that you are technically using more than one muscle group on a lot of your lifts.  Secondary muscle groups are activated during main muscle group days.  Triceps and shoulders will be activated and utilized during chest days, as there aren’t many pure chest exercises that don’t at least partially affect the aforementioned auxiliary groups.  The same goes for back day. Biceps will be activated in most back exercises.

Alright so let’s examine how a week of the bro split looks. Here is a typical weekly workout schedule:

Monday: Chest
Tuesday: Back
Wednesday: Legs
Thursday: REST
Friday: Shoulders
Saturday: Arms
Sunday: REST

Now if you’re so inclined, you can tweak this typical schedule to fit your needs or to hit muscle groups slightly more often. Many people combine shoulders with arms, and in doing so you have the potential for a 6-day schedule instead of 7. Others take only one rest day to lower their schedule further.  Typically, however, those that do pure split training like this tend to enjoy lifting the same muscle groups on the same days of the week out of either habit or comfort.

What Should I Do?

We always have to keep in mind that different people respond differently to the various methods of training. All programs have their pros and cons so one method cannot be definitely better than another. That being the case, opinions still exist, so I will give mind.

For those just getting into lifting, or for those that maybe have been undisciplined in their fitness for maybe a year or so, the full body program may be how you want to get started. This will offer your body the chance to get itself accustomed to weightlifting and the strain that the muscles will be undergoing. Doing a full body workout every other day for a month or two is a great way to get started.

Once you make some initial strength gains, I’d recommend switching to the bro split. That way you’re training your muscles to withstand a full, focused training session and really allowing the different groups of muscles to take full intensity during workouts. Four to six exercises for each muscle is enough that you’ll be feeling a very focused burn you may not have experienced during the full body method.

Are these the only two methods out there? No, definitely not. They are, in my opinion, the building blocks of a successful start to weightlifting and bodybuilding. There are hybrid programs that you can go into once you have these building blocks down, and I’ll go into detail on those two methods next week.

For now, whatever your program of choice may be, have a great week of fitness!

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