Those in their thirties or forties may remember back to when they were first inspired to hit the gym and train like a bodybuilder. Mesmerized by the impressive physiques of the day (Flex Wheeler, Nasser El Sonbaty, Shawn Ray, Dorian Yates and many more) you joined your first gym with a view to filling your shirtsleeves with grade-A beef, developing perfect abs, and squatting with Platz-like intensity. Chances are, you were placed on a whole body workout program or, if not, you had likely read about this then-common method of maximal muscle fiber recruitment. Like many bodybuilding trends (Clown pants, do rags and Cybergenics included) whole-body training (WBT) has not stood the test of time.
Whole Body Training – In Brief
Though occasionally referenced, and less frequently employed, WBT appears to have lost its mystique. A shame really, since its effectiveness in promoting the systemic recruitment (full activation) of all major muscle groups in one session has produced great results for many. An old school training approach, WBT workouts were popular among bodybuilders of the 80’s and early 90’s but have since been replaced with an almost exclusive reliance on split training methodologies.
Proponents of WBT say it is a more efficient and reliable way to work all muscle groups – because all of our muscles are connected as one structural unit we’re better able to work each of them in the functional way nature indented us to.
Whole body training promotes balance, and its level of intensity will provide trainees with additional performance and endurance benefits.
Detractors of WBT say it can lead to overtraining, minimize the time we may apply to bringing up weak body parts (or indeed focusing on specific areas of our physique in general), and demand an application of intensity beyond the achievement of most trainees (especially beginners).
So, given its potential positives and negatives, might WBT be the best approach for you?
Benefit #1: Maximizes Fat Loss While Building Muscle
Because WBT sessions allow for plenty of time between workouts (up to 2 days depending on how often each muscle groups is worked weekly) muscle growth can be maximized which, in turn, may stimulate the rate at which we burn fat calories at rest. Furthermore, by training all groupings in the same session we can directly burn more calories and place greater metabolic demands on our body, both of which promote increased fat loss.
Training 2-3 muscle groups per workout may also encourage longer rest periods between sets (so we may achieve our 45-60 minutes of training time); by targeting all areas, however, we may need to decrease our rest between sets, thus in the process maintaining a high degree of intensity across the entire workout and greater fat burning benefits. And because of the excessive energy expenditure associated with WBT we may even be able to reduce the amount of cardio we do and eat more calories without gaining unwanted weight.
Benefit #2: Boosts Recovery Between Sessions
With regular spilt training our muscles are worked almost every day; and regardless of whether we may work, for example, chest and shoulders by themselves, other body parts also receive a degree of secondary stimulation (in this instance, back, biceps and triceps will also be forced to work). Most natural lifters find it hard to recover fully between workouts, even though different body parts are worked in each session. By the time these trainees are again ready to blitz, say, the arms, which were worked earlier in the week, they have already, both directly and indirectly, trained this area no fewer than 2-3 times. By employing WBT we may extend our rest days to 3 or even 4 days per week, rather than the usual 1-2.
Note: a regular WBT schedule may have us in the gym twice per week, working the entire body each time. For the purposes of this article I would recommend an extra day of training in which weak muscle groups may be given full attention.
Benefit #3: Encourages Greater Training Frequency
WBT also fits the bill for advanced lifters who require more training volume and greater frequency of effort. Many strength training experts believe that the more we stimulate a muscle, the greater chance this muscle has of growing. With WBT we may hit each muscle up to four times a week – to achieve the same degree of frequency with split training we may need to train 2-3 times per day! However, as mentioned earlier, full recovery is essential for muscle growth so it is suggested that such increased training frequency be utilized only by experienced lifters who require some heavy shock treatment to get their muscles growing again.
Benefit #4: Time Saving
Many of us nowadays simply do not have enough time to fully commit to 5-6 weight training sessions per week. With the travel time, waiting for equipment, and preparation associated with gym training, we find ourselves under pressure to cram all of our workouts in. This added stress does nothing to cultivate training energy or enhance recovery. With 2-3 weekly sessions of WBT – a much lower time requirement – we are better positioned to complete all our workouts while leaving enough time to attend to other areas of our life, and to the all-important rest and recovery.
Benefit #5: Boosts Anabolic Hormone Response
If performed correctly, with maximal intensity and just enough sets/reps to facilitate an acute whole-body anabolic response, WBT may force growth through the entire body in just one session. One of the mechanisms of action responsible for this effect is natural hormone manipulation; whenever we train the entire body in a systemic fashion via the targeting of a large amount of muscle in one session, an acute increase in plasma concentrations of anabolic hormones (in particular, testosterone) results. Training larger muscle groups (like legs and back) with heavy weights produces a similar result, though WBT will significantly accentuate this effect.
Full Body Training: Yes or No?
Though, as outlined above, WBT can be an effective way to build more muscle, certain guidelines must be followed to maximize its effectiveness.
- Schedule at least two full body sessions per week.
- Set aside one additional day for exclusive weak point prioritization.
- To promote variation and intensity, begin each WBT session with a different muscle group
- Above all, be sure to apply maximal intensity to each and every set for all movements
So to answer the much debated question (What is best, whole body or split training?) I can only say that both approaches have merit; both work well and can be employed to produce steel-cord muscle development. With this in mind, and to offset general adaptation syndrome (GAS) that has curtailed much progress among many bodybuilding aspirants, adopt WBT for three months followed by one of many split routines for a further three months. Then repeat this cycle. The key is to find the best system that works for your individual body type and modify it accordingly to keep the gains coming.
Sample Whole Body Workout & Sschedule
- Squats: 3 sets of 8-12
- Lying Leg Curls: 3 sets of 8-12
- Chin Ups: 3 sets of 8-12
- DB Shrugs: 3 sets of 8-12
- Incline DB Curl: 3 sets of 8-12
- One Arm Triceps Extension: 3 sets of 8-12
- Incline DB Press: 3 sets of 8-12
- Side Laterals: 3 sets of 8-12
- Standing Calf Raises: 3 sets of 15-20
- Swiss Ball Ab Crunches: 3 sets of 15-20
- DB Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 8-12
- Wide Stance Squat: 3 sets of 8-12
- Barbell Upright Rows: 3 sets of 8-12
- Calf Raise on Leg Press Machine: 3 sets of 15-20
- Bench Press: 3 sets of 8-12
- Barbell Biceps Curls: 3 sets of 8-12
- Bent-over Barbell Rows: 3 sets of 8-12
- Lying Triceps Extension: 3 sets of 8-12
- Hanging Leg Raise: 3 sets of 15-20
Weak point specialization. Pick 2-3 body parts and two movements per grouping for three sets of 8-12 reps per larger group and 15-20 for smaller areas (such as calves, abs and forearms).
Or – Full Body Workout #3
- Triceps Rope Pressdown: 3 sets of 8-12
- One Arm Preacher Curls: 3 sets of 8-12
- Leg Extension: 2 sets of 8-12
- Stiff Legged Deadlift: 3 sets of 8-12
- Flat bench DB Flyes: 3 sets of 8-12
- Seated Calf Raise: 3 sets of 15-20
- Bent Lateral Raise: 3 sets of 8-12
- Deadlifts: 3 sets of 8-12
- Barbell Shrugs: 3 sets of 8-12
- Knee Raise from bench: 3 sets
- Kraemer, W.J., Ratamess, N.A. Fundamentals of Resistance Training: Progression and Exercise Prescription. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2004, 36, 4, 674-688.
- Perry, M. (2011). Built Lean. Full Body Workout Versus Split Routine: Which is Better. [Online] http://www.builtlean.com/2011/09/15/full-body-workout-vs-split-routine-which-is-better/