Full Body vs. Body Part Split Routines

Everyone seems to lift differently. Some of us do HIIT training. Some of us do full body routines. And some do body part splits. I’m sure you’ve read routines where one day it’s chest and back or chest and biceps, another day it’s legs and triceps, etc. But what is the reasoning behind this? And is there a “best” way?

Full body vs. body part split routinesPhoto Credit: Nick in exsilio via Compfight cc

Well, I personally like body part split routines because it allows me to do more exercises for certain body parts, and allows me to strengthen my weak points. For example, one of my weaknesses is chest presses. During chest and back day, I’m doing various chest exercises that are helping me to get stronger. If I were doing a full body routine, I’d probably only be doing 1-2 chest exercises in the whole routine. Moral of the story: it all depends on your goals.

Here are a few body split routines I have done:

  • Chest & back
  • Legs & shoulders
  • Chest & Biceps
  • Back & Triceps
  • Leg day on its own day, shoulder day on its own, biceps & triceps on its own.

But what type of routine is better? 


Full body routine has it’s place and a lot of benefits. For runners, a full body routine is probably the best, since you probably want to spend less time lifting (so you can do this 2-3x a week), and you want to strengthen your whole body in order to be a strong runner. Here are a few other benefits:

  • Burn more calories since you’re working multiple muscle groups at once.
  • Great for beginners because they can learn different lifts, and only do 1-2 exercises per body part (less soreness).
  • You can create circuit style routines to combine strength and cardio.
  • Can take less time.
  • If you miss a workout, it’s not a big deal because you have another full body workout scheduled later in the week. (If you miss chest and back day, you probably won’t be able to make it up).
  • Easier to do at home.

I probably will switch to full body routines soon once I start really getting into half marathon and marathon training, simply because I can schedule it two times a week. I also do like that you get more of a cardio component from it. On the days where I was only doing arms or shoulders, I felt like I was barely sweating. Though I do really like chest/back and leg days…


  • You can focus on each body part and will definitely get stronger.
  • Ideal if you are looking to build a bit more muscle. Ladies, you won’t get bulky so that’s not what I mean ;) 
  • You will do more exercises per body part, so if you’re looking to strengthen your legs (or arms, or shoulders), this will definitely help!
  • Less fatigue. For example, if you pair chest and back, you are doing a chest press then a pull-up. You’re using opposite muscle groups which means less fatigue. In a full body routine, you’re using all muscle groups. You may go from a chest press to shoulder press…well, you were just using your shoulders in the chest press too, which means you may put up less weight.

Honestly, I love body part split routines. I recently completed a 16 week program that was all body part split, and I loved it! I ended up hitting PRs (personal records) for bench press, military press, leg press, barbell squats and more. I have never felt stronger. I just wish it was easier to incorporate with a running schedule.

So who should do which routines? It all depends on your goals. If you’re a beginner or looking to lose fat as opposed to getting stronger, then I’d say go with full body routines. You’ll burn more calories overall, and it’s easier to schedule. If you want to gain a bit of muscle or get stronger, then try a body split routine. Either way, no matter what you choose, lift heavy! :) You should be struggling by the last few reps, and if you’re not, up your weight a little bit.

Which type of routine do you prefer?

Are you able to balance lifting and running?


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  1. oh girl, i am all about this!! pinning and trying out the full body first
    lindsay recently posted…Are You a Health Blog Junkie?My Profile

  2. I usually prefer split routines while occasionally switching to full-body every couple months. Since it has been hard for me to get to the gym lately, I’ve been doing more full-body stuff at home.
    Tiff @ Love, Sweat,& Beers recently posted…Marvelous in My Mother’s DayMy Profile

  3. I usually do full body routines, since I only do weights 2-3 x/week, and workout at home. I can see the value of the splits, but never figured out a good schedule.
    Coco (@Got2Run4Me) recently posted…How Can You Be Afraid Of Running?My Profile

    • Yeah when I have to workout at home I do a full body routine since I only really have dumbbells. A good split schedule for me was Mon, Tues, and Thurs, Fri.

  4. It depends on how my week will be, but I prefer split routines. I don’t always feel like you can be fair, or do equal work, on each body part during a full routine.

  5. I have only ever done full body routines. I would like to do body split to work on individual muscles but now I’m about to start marathon training, so like you said, I need less often full body strength workouts.
    Jen @ Pretty Little Grub recently posted…Calgary Marathon and 30 Days of SummerMy Profile

    • Let me know if you try body part splits! I like it better when marathon training because the days you only do upper body are such a nice break for your legs :)


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