Full Body vs Upper/Lower vs Body Part Split Routine: Which Is Best?

The diet and fitness world is filled with countless debates and arguments. This diet vs that diet. This training method vs that training method. This workout routine vs that workout routine. They’re mostly all just silly opinion based debates that will probably never end.

However, there are a few debated topics that really don’t warrant much arguing at all in my opinion. One such example is the “weight training split” debate. As in, which is best:

  • Full body split.
  • Upper/lower split.
  • Body part splits.

It’s something people have been arguing about for years (probably even decades), and it’s a topic you’ve probably had your own internal debate about. Which split should you use? Which is right for you? Which will work best for you?

I think it’s time we end this silly debate once and for all…

Let’s Take A Look At Each Split

Before we get into which one is best, I want to make sure we’re all on the same page in terms of what each split actually is. So, here now is the most common example of each…

The Full Body Split

  1. Monday: Full Body Workout
  2. Tuesday: off
  3. Wednesday: Full Body Workout
  4. Thursday: off
  5. Friday: Full Body Workout
  6. Saturday: off
  7. Sunday: off

While there is also a 2 day version of this split as well as other variations that schedule the workouts a little differently, what you see above is by far the most commonly used version of the full body split.

It’s a higher frequency split that allows for each muscle group, movement pattern and/or exercise to be trained 3 times per week (or once every 2nd or 3rd day).

The Upper Lower Split

  1. Monday: Upper Body Workout
  2. Tuesday: Lower Body Workout
  3. Wednesday: off
  4. Thursday: Upper Body Workout
  5. Friday: Lower Body Workout
  6. Saturday: off
  7. Sunday: off

There are actually quite a few different variations of this split that I like a lot (and I explain the PROS and CONS of each in The Best Workout Routines). But again, the example shown above is BY FAR the most commonly used version of the upper/lower split.

It’s a moderate frequency split that allows each muscle group, movement pattern and/or exercise to be trained 2 times per week (or once every 3-5 days depending on the exact version of the split you use).

The Body Part Split

Now while the full body and upper/lower splits have other slightly modified versions of what is essentially the same thing, there are actually dozens of different types of body part splits that vary significantly from one to the next in terms of everything from the schedule, to the number of days per week, to the body part pairings, to the training frequency.

I want to focus on that last variable for second. See, I think a HUGE part of the reason why “body part splits” are generally looked down upon is that the majority of them use a once-per-week training frequency per muscle group, movement pattern and/or exercise. As I’ve explained before, this is often the LEAST effective way to train for most goals.

The thing is, not all body part splits fit this description. There are actually a handful of them that use a more optimal training frequency, and this greatly levels the playing field when being compared to the full body and upper/lower splits.

So for the purpose of this comparison, THIS is what I’m referring to when I use the term “body part split” (not the much dumber low frequency kind). Here’s an example…

Week 1

  1. Monday: Push (Chest, Shoulders, Triceps)
  2. Tuesday: Pull (Back, Biceps)
  3. Wednesday: off
  4. Thursday: Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Abs)
  5. Friday: off
  6. Saturday: Push (Chest, Shoulders, Triceps)
  7. Sunday: Pull (Back, Biceps)

Week 2

  1. Monday: off
  2. Tuesday: Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Abs)
  3. Wednesday: off
  4. Thursday: Push (Chest, Shoulders, Triceps)
  5. Friday: Pull (Back, Biceps)
  6. Saturday: off
  7. Sunday: Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Abs)

What you see above is what I like to refer to as the rotating push/pull/legs split. Unlike the dumber body part splits I mentioned a second ago that train each body part once every 7th day, a split like this trains each body part once every 5th day. That brings this split from low frequency up into the more optimal moderate frequency range.

And like I said before, there are a handful of other similar intelligently designed body part splits that effectively accomplish the same thing. The Best Workout Routines actually contains most of them.

So… Which Split Is The Best?

Alright, so now that we are all on the same page in terms of what I’m classifying a full body, upper/lower and body part split to be, it’s time to settle the debate once and for all. Which one is the best?

Well, like most aspects weight training, what’s best for you always depends on your exact situation. What I mean is, the answer here depends on your specific goals, your experience level, your available training schedule, your personal preferences, and possibly even more.

Until you have those answers, it’s impossible to definitively say that any of these splits (or other workout schedules) are any better or worse than the other. Anyone who does is an idiot, and you can tell them I said so.

But once you DO know those answers, it’s much easier to decide which split truly is best for you. To show you what I mean, here are the most common examples that come to mind…

Determining Which Split Is Best For YOU…

  • If you’re a beginner with virtually any goal (build muscle, lose fat, get strong, etc.), the full body split is what’s best for you. The higher frequency and the lower volume/higher compound exercise focus that typically accompanies it has been proven (both by science and the real world) to be most ideal for beginners. This is why the most effective beginner workouts on the planet are all built around this split (for example: The Beginner Weight Training Routine).
  • If you’re an intermediate or advanced trainee whose primary goal is increasing strength or improving performance, the full body split or upper/lower split is what’s usually best for you. Research and the real world all show that a higher frequency per exercise/movement pattern works best for strength gains, and these 2 splits allow for that type of frequency to be met along with a balance of exercise selection, volume and intensity that suits these goals. This is why damn near all of the most effective strength oriented routines are built around these splits.
  • If you’re an intermediate or advanced trainee whose primary goal is building muscle or improving the way your body looks, the upper/lower split or body part split is what’s usually best for you. Upper/lower has proven to be as effective for “looks” related goals as it is for strength/performance goals (after all, strength gains are a HUGE part of muscle growth), and body part splits practically exist for the sole purpose of training your body to look good (which is why they are based around training body parts rather than movements). This is why the majority of the most effective muscle building routines around use these splits (for example: The Muscle Building Workout Routine and the many programs included in The Best Workout Routines).

Are there exceptions to these recommendations? Maybe, but they are definitely the minority. And does a person’s individual training preferences and available schedule also play a role? Of course.

But, speaking strictly in terms of what is most likely to work best for you based on your specific goals and experience level (and with all else being equal)… this is it.

Who Really Wins This Debate?

Uh… no one. Actually, if there is any clear cut winner here, it’s the person who isn’t wasting their time debating this nonsense in the first place.

The truth is, regardless of your exact situation, ALL of these splits will work for you to some extent as long as it’s used right. This is another important point people fail to realize. Full body workouts can build muscle just fine, and you can get pretty strong using a body part split. Honestly, as long as it’s all designed and executed properly… everything works.

Of course, this isn’t about what just works… this is about what works best. And in that case, certain splits are indeed better suitedbetter proven, and much more ideal for you than others, but the reason why is NEVER just “this one rules and that one sucks.” It’s because of factors that are specific to you.

Which means, the reason this full body vs upper/lower vs body part split debate is so stupid is because everyone is always right and wrong at the same time. NO single split is universally “the best” in every situation, yet each split IS “the best” in certain situations.

So anyone who just makes outright claims that Split X is the best split in the world and Split Y is the worst split in the world is likely to be one of the most ignorant people in the world… at least when it comes to weight training.

On the other hand, if a person wants to state that Split X is better than Split Y based on a particular set of factors (such as a person’s goal, experience level, etc.)… then they’re on to something.

And that “something” is often the true key to settling most weight training debates.

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