Whole Body Training More Effective Than Split Training
by: Robbie Durand
Casey Viator was a beast, yet he trained three times a week, working the whole body in one workout lasting about 2 to 2½ hours. Who trains like that these days? Nobody in the current bodybuilding circles follow whole body workouts anymore. Regular resistance training has consistently been shown to produce rapid and marked increases in both muscle strength and hypertrophy across a wide variety of populations. Optimization of muscular adaptations is influenced by the prescription of resistance training variables including load, volume, and interset rest interval. There has always been a debate among bodybuilders as to how many days per week is optimal for muscle growth and strength. For years bodybuilders did workouts 3 days per week, whole body training. Then, gradually in the 80’s and especially the 90’s people started to move into body part splits and training a muscle once per week. A recent survey of 127 competitive male bodybuilders found that more than two- thirds of respondents trained each muscle group only once per week . Compared to full body routines, it is believed that a split routine allows total weekly training volume per muscle group to be maintained with fewer sets performed per training session and greater recovery afforded between sessions.
Now, the pendulum has swung back in the other direction and high frequency training is more popular. In 2011, researchers compared training 3 vs. 4 times per week on strength and body composition in middle-aged women. One group trained 3 times per week doing 3 sets of 8 exercises while the other group trained 4 times per week on an upper/lower split doing 3 sets of 6 upper body exercises or 6 sets of 3 lower body exercises (i.e. both groups did 72 sets per week – same volume). After 8 weeks, there was no significant difference in strength or lean muscle gained.
A new study published ahead of print in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research sought to compare traditional hypertrophy training (body part split, muscles trained once per week) to a higher frequency training protocol (full-body workouts, muscles trained 3 times per week). a split body routine (SPLIT) where multiple exercises were performed for a specific muscle group in a session with 2-3 muscle groups trained per session, or; a total-body routine (TOTAL), where 1 exercise was performed per muscle group in a session with all muscle groups trained in each session. Twenty well trained college-aged males were split into one of the two training programs. The training program lasted 8 weeks and involved 3 training sessions per week on non-consecutive days. The groups were matched for baseline strength and body mass. Before and after the training program, the researchers evaluated muscle thickness of the forearm and of the vastus lateralis (i.e. quadriceps) in addition to 1 rep max in the bench press and parallel back squat. Volume was equated and nutrition was monitored to control for confounding variables.
After the 8 week training period the results tended to favor the higher frequency training group. 1RM bench press improved by 10.6% in the high frequency group (3 days per week training) compared to a 6.3% increase in the body part split group. Improvements in 1RM squat strength did not differ between groups (~11% increase in both). Though not all reached significance, muscle thickness measures were greater in the high frequency training relative to the body part split group. Collectively, these results suggest that training muscles three times per week is likely superior to training them once per week for strength and hypertrophy gains. The authors suggest periodizing training by varying training frequency to maintain the effectiveness of the stimulus.
In sum, the researchers found that training muscle more frequently resulted in greater gains in strength and muscle hypertrophy.