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Full body workout vs bodybuilding split for muscle mass

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by Yuan

Most bodybuilding resources talk about ‘splits’, where you train different body parts on different days of the week. While it can be an effective way to train, it is not the best way for beginners to gain muscle mass as fast as possible. For the first 3-5 months of training, beginners can grow at an incredible speed. During this time, your body needs very little training stimulus to grow as fast as possible. The most vital thing is to eat enough food (a lot of food).

For beginners, bodybuilding splits are very time inefficient because their muscles can grow rapidly from indirect stimulation. Doing a bunch of different exercises to target one muscle can also create excessive damage. To achieve the fastest level of growth, your body needs to use all of its resources for growing, not repairing unnecessary damage. If you have trouble walking or putting on a shirt the next day, you’re missing out on optimized growth as a beginner.

Full body routines focus on the basic barbell exercises and they work just about every muscle in the body. Heavy compound exercises are best done at a moderate rep range for beginners. Throughout the history of modern strength training, 5 reps per set has been a magic number.

5 repetitions makes it possible to sustain fast long term growth, but it falls short of muscle fatigue and this prevents your technique from breaking down. If you go to any commercial gym, it’s full of beginners using a high rep range where their technique breaks down near the end of the set. It creates a bad habit that leads to injury once the weight gets heavy.

If you watch elite powerlifters train, their technique does not break under a heavy weight. This has to be cultivated early on by avoiding the point where your technique breaks down and fixing any weaknesses.

How do you know if you’re a beginner?

A male intermediate trainee should be able to:

Bench press: body weight x 1.2

Squat: body weight x 1.5

Deadlift: bodyweight x 1.8

These numbers are for a raw single repetition using the full range of motion. No straps or knee wraps.

If you haven’t hit these numbers, you’re still a beginner. My favourite beginner program is Starting Strength because of the incredibly fast results it produces.

The best time to use a split routine

Full body routines are great for putting on overall mass, but you have to use a split routine to create specific proportions if your goal is aesthetics. If you are happy with the amount of overall mass, switch to a split routine to bring out better proportions. At this point, you’re just trying to bring out the ‘show muscles’ more (arms, shoulders, chest).

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