This week my respected colleague and fellow bro, Brad Schoenfeld published a research paper titled, Influence of Resistance Training Frequency on Muscular Adaptations in Well-Trained Men. The study concluded that full body workouts performed three times per week produced significantly greater increases in forearm flexor muscle (biceps and brachialis) thickness than the body part split routine.
What I love about studies like this, is that it provides a moment to pause and reflect on my own training. The result of this study won’t cause me to abandon body part split routines. It won’t cause me to get all defensive in the name of bros who love their arm day. It simply piques my interest. It encourages me to think outside of the box and experiment with a new training protocol, which will add even more structured variety to my yearly periodized plan.
Close-Minded Lifters Provide Great Entertainment
What I find entertaining is seeing how some coaches and lifters are interpreting the data and responding to the findings. Some bros are up in arms and outraged that the study authors could conclude that full body workouts are better than body part split routines. They try to pick apart the data and expose any flaws… all for the sake of protecting their identity as a bro who loves body part split routines. This type of closed-minded thinking will surely hold them back.
On the other side of the conversation we have the lifters and coaches who are vocal proponents of full body workouts. They were happier than an IIFYM’er at a Pop Tart factory when they saw the results this study produced. They were all over social media gloating about how they always knew that their full body workouts were more effective than body part split routines. Again, it’s this type of close-minded thinking that will hold them back.
How Do You Interpret “Significant Gains”?
Some of these full body workout proponents completely misinterpret the term “significant”, and in turn, mislead their fans into believing that full body workouts will produce massive amounts of muscle beyond what a body part split routine would produce.
But if they were to actually read the entire study they would have noticed that there was only a 1.1mm difference in forearm flexor (biceps and brachialis) thickness gained between the full body workout group and the body part split group. 1.1 millimetres! Statistically speaking and for research terminology 1.1 millimetres is significant, but in practical bro speak 1.1mm would have me squinting my eyes to see if there was any difference in size between the two groups. I’m not trying to downplay the results of the study. It is a significant difference. It’s just not as significant as some coaches and lifters are making it out to be.
The study also resulted in 1.3mm greater gains for triceps and 2.4mm greater gains for the vastus lateralis with the full body workout group. Yet, this was determined to be insignificant for absolute relative change between groups.
A Deeper Look Into The Study
As intriguing and insightful as the study is, Brad has no qualms about stating the limitations of the study. First of all, there were only 19 young, trained men in the study (10 in the full body workout group and 9 in the body part split group). As mentioned in the paper, “A high degree of inter-individual variability was noted between subjects, which limited the ability to detect significant differences in several outcome measures. Despite this limitation, analysis of effect sizes and statistical trends provide a good basis for drawing inferential conclusions from the results.”
One of the limitations stated in the study is VERY insightful. Brad labeled it as the ‘novelty factor of changing programs’. 16 of the 19 participants reported that they were following a body part split routine prior to the study. The full body workout group may have experienced greater gains, simply because it was a style of training they weren’t accustomed to. The result of this study may not be that full body workouts are better than body part split routines, it may actually mean that programming various splits into your yearly periodized plan is what leads to greater gains. That’s exactly what I do with the Aesthetic Muscle Plan. I have all kinds of splits, and even full body routines strategically programmed into the yearly plan.
Body Part Split Routines Are Not All Created The Same
This was not your typical body part split routine used in the study. Many people picture the 5 day high volume splits that you see in the muscle mags. The splits where you’re ‘destroying’ one body part per day. Based on some of the conversations I was seeing across social media, many of the full body proponents appear to have only read the headline and didn’t bother to read the entire study, because they were assuming that the full body workout beat out this type of high volume body part split. But that’s not the case.
Volume is one of the most important factors when it comes to building muscle, so in order to determine if full body workouts were better than body part splits, they had to keep volume the same between the two groups. Each group trained three times per week. 21 exercises were performed by each group throughout the three workouts; 6 leg exercises, 3 chest exercises, 3 back exercises, 3 shoulder exercises, 3 biceps exercises, and 3 triceps exercises.
For the full body routine, the exercises were evenly distributed between 3 workouts. For the body part split routine the chest and back exercises were paired together for the first workout, the leg exercises were paired together for the second workout, and the shoulder and arm exercises were paired together for the third workout. To see the exercises used see Table 1 in the study.
Because volume needed to be equated in this study, the body part split routine was pretty basic in terms of what you’ll see from most body part split programs out there. If I were to personally follow this body part split I would do all 3 workouts in a row, take a day off and repeat it. The 3 on 1 off approach would make this a fantastic body part split routine and would be more inline with what you would see from a bodybuilding program. The trouble is, this approach would throw off the results of the study, because it doubles the volume of what the full body workout group performed. And that there is the beauty of body part splits. It allows you to increase the volume of your training.
So I guess the question is… Is it really fair to equate volume in a study comparing full body workouts to body part split routines, when in reality it’s not a split most of us bros would follow because it’s pretty basic. If you’re going to compare full body workouts to body part split routines, I think you should compare actual body part splits that us bros would use… because our goal is to increase the volume.
Trouble is, this would lead to a boat load of studies, because there’s such a huge variety in body part split routines. Some splits have you training a muscle group once every 3 days, some every 4 days, some every 5 days. We don’t necessarily follow a calendar week. Some bros even enjoy throwing two-a-day training into their yearly periodized plan. Many of the full body workout proponents scoff at this two-a-day approach and say that only bros on steroids can handle that type of routine. Yet it’s ok for them to train each muscle 5 days per week on a full body workout program???
Are Full Body Workouts Better Than Body Part Split Routines?
There’s no doubt about it… I LOVE body part split routines. When I began this body sculpting journey five years ago, I built my physique hitting each body part 1 time per week for the first year. Here’s the transformation that I experienced during that time…
Not too shabby for natural bodybuilder following a bro-split at age 35 eh?
I then began to experiment with a variety of body part split and full body routines in order to continuously progress. Because of my open-minded approach to Physique Training, several of my colleagues have asked me if I noticed that any type of routine was more effective than others or if a certain training frequency was more effective than others. The bottom line is that they are all effective. What it really boils down to is that you get what you put into a workout program. When you are following programs that you enjoy, you’re more likely to put your very best effort into your workouts.
I believe the “novelty factor of changing programs” as Brad mentions in the paper, is one of the keys to your ongoing success. Instead of trying to find the best split routine, I advise you to program a variety of splits into your strategically structured yearly plan.
I also advise you to have an open-mind when it comes to training frequency. It’s a variable that many lifters get stuck on and don’t manipulate. Lately there has been a lot of talk about the benefits of training a muscle more frequently (even up to 5-6 days per week), especially in experienced lifters. It sounded absurd to me, but hey, I’ve got an open mind so I thought I’d put it to the test, first with an Upper/Lower split, hitting the gym six days per week and now a full body routine 5 days per week. To our surprise, my workout partners and I are really enjoying it. Again, I really think it has a lot to do with the novelty factor. It’s something new and fresh. It’s still too early to tell if my n=3 experiment will produce more muscle gains than the splits I’m used to, but what matters most to me is that I now have even more structured variety within my yearly periodized plan.
I hope you found value in my insights into Brad’s paper as well as my insights into my experience from following a variety of body part split routines and full body workouts. I’d love to hear your feedback. Don’t be shy about sharing your thoughts. We’re all growing together and learning from each others experiences.
Be on the lookout for more incredible hypertrophy studies from Brad Schoenfeld and his team. He’s a research producing machine right now and he’s shedding some much needed light on the mechanisms for building an impressive physique. The data from many of his studies along with the papers he’s collaborated on, have made a very positive impact on my body sculpting results. He’s always providing me with food for thought and providing me with insights into building my best physique possible as I strive for my true potential.
Last, but not least I encourage you to not jump to conclusions when you read a study… and please don’t cherry pick data and use it to suit your own agenda, and please be sure to read more than the headline and abstract if you are going to form an opinion based on a study.
NOTE: If you want to take the guesswork out of your training and follow a strategically structured periodized program, the Aesthetic Muscle Plan includes a variety of split routines and full body workouts to carve your physique into a chiseled work of art.
Sculpt a Masterpiece,
PS If you want to hear me discus my insights into full body workouts vs body part split routines, be sure to watch this video…
About The Author
Scott Tousignant, BHK is a Physique Coach and Elite Natural Bodybuilder with the UFE.
Scott specializes in helping regular men and women sculpt their body into a chiseled work of art.
Viewing training as an art form and your body as a sculpture is a simple shift in mindset that brings out the beauty in your ongoing body transformation.
The art of molding and chiseling an aesthetically pleasing physique with spectacular symmetry, proportions, and carved out detail is one of life’s most rewarding and fulfilling experiences…
…It’s an opportunity for self growth and self discovery that will impact every area of your life.
Learn more about Scott’s physique-focused training programs:
AMPlify Aesthetic Muscle Gains and Strip Away Stubborn Sacks Of Fat with AMP – Aesthetic Muscle Plan
Get a taste of Scott’s hardcore physique training programs with Physique Phreak
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