For a lot of people who are starting out with resistance training, using a typical bodybuilder split program is often not the best way to achieve optimum results. In my experience, my clients have found that using a full-body routine works better for hypertrophy training for beginners.
So, first I'll start with my definition of a full-body training session, how I implement it and the standard definition of a typical bodybuilder split program.
A method I would usually use with my clients is one lower-body compound exercise, one upper-body compound exercise, and an accessory exercise for each of these, which I will explain in this article. I would typically program these exercises for three days per week, with a rest day in between.
A typical and common bodybuilder split program would generally focus on one muscle group at a time. For example, leg day, chest day, arm day etc., for usually five days a week. However, this is not ideal for a lot of people.
So, I think people who would benefit from full-body workouts are those who are new to resistance training, anyone who has had a long layoff from resistance training, and those who play a sport or engage in some other activity outside of the gym.
The reason I think a full-body workout would benefit these individuals is because of the level of muscle damage, also known as metabolic stress, that can occur. When it comes to muscular hypertrophy, a muscle needs to be stimulated then rested and fueled before it can grow to its full potential. That potential is different for each individual, and there is the law of diminishing returns that needs to be considered. More muscle damage does not always equal more muscle growth.
What we need to aim for is the minimum effective dose. This means we need to stimulate the muscle enough so that it will grow to its full potential – and no more.
At this point you might be thinking, “What's the harm in creating more muscle damage? Surely it's better to do more than not enough.” Well that can make sense on the surface, but taking this approach could do more harm than good.
The reason is that, the more stress that occurs, the longer it will take to recover. Remember, I said the muscle needs to rest before it can grow.
After muscle breakdown occurs the body then tries to rebuild the muscle, this is called protein synthesis. In order for the muscles to get bigger, the synthesis must exceed the breakdown. So if you have a limited potential of protein synthesis then you must ration your metabolic breakdown. Failing to do this could mean that you're causing more damage than you are repairing.
An analogy that can help you understand this is getting a suntan. If I were, hypothetically speaking, to go out into the sun and tan my legs for only an hour, they would probably get burned (Irish skin). If I hadn't been out in the sun in a long time it would be a pretty severe burn.
My recovery will take some time, and I would be in discomfort the whole time. If I did this repeatedly for a year, the chances are I would end up with skin damage rather than a nice tan. Conversely, if I were to, hypothetically, expose my legs for 20 minutes, my chest for 20 minutes and my arms for 20 minutes, I wouldn't get burnt, but there would still be enough stress applied for a change to occur without requiring a long recovery period.
Doing this on a more consistent basis would help my body get used to the stimulation without causing any unnecessary damage, resulting in a nice tan.
For inexperienced lifters, another advantage for doing a full-body routine in this manner is that they have more time for their central nervous system to recover between sessions.
So, one way you could plan these workouts is to use compound and isolation exercises, with the isolation acting as accessory exercises to the compound.
An example of this type of program could be: on day one you do squats and pull-ups, with accessory exercises being leg extensions and lying pullovers.
Then on the next training day you can do deadlifts and bench presses, with a cable fly and hamstring curl as accessory exercises.
The third training day can be lunges and heavy carries. Accessory exercises can be leg presses and lateral raises.
After a few months
Depending on your ultimate goals and how big you want to get, you will probably need to adjust this after a few months. Over time you could start to work more towards the bodybuilder split, but if you are one of the people mentioned above, this could be the ideal way for you to start, especially if you're feeling constantly battered and worn out from your training, and you don't seem to be getting results for your hard work.