Heather Marr is an NYC-based personal trainer and The Model Trainer Method creator, whose A-list client roster includes some of the world’s most famous supermodels. Ahead, she breaks down total body workouts and split training.
A total body workout is exactly what it sounds like. It's a workout in which you're performing a variety of exercises targeting the muscles in the whole body. Split training is where you spend each workout performing exercises targeting one or two muscle groups only. Both have pros and cons and depend largely on your current fitness level as well as frequency of training and goals.
Total body workouts are an extremely efficient use of gym time. They are ideal for the person who is only able to get to the gym a few times per week. Here you're able to hit all the major muscle groups in one workout. If you choose to perform your exercises circuit style, you're also getting the added benefit of conditioning work at the same time. While this type of training may not be ideal for those looking to add serious lean mass to their physique, it certainly does create a favorable hormonal response.** I highly recommend total body workouts for the person just starting out, or someone who can't get to the gym almost every day. Combining compound moves targeting the upper and lower body in a circuit, is a great way to get a challenging cardiovascular workout. You're able to work more muscle in less time, maximizing energy (calories) being used. This is of course beneficial for fat loss.
Split training is ideal for the person who is in the gym most days of the week. Proper programming is essential here with recovery times in mind. You wouldn't for instance perform two leg days in a row. Assuming you have a solid program plan in place, this type of training split is excellent for someone looking to really dial in on their physique. You are able to hit each body part with more volume this way. For someone looking to bulk up, assuming that their nutrition is supporting those goals, they're able to add substantial lean mass over time. This type of training also allows you to really target muscle/symmetry imbalances and weaknesses with added accessory work and isolation exercises.
Split training is also advantageous for someone looking to hit specific strength goals and personal records (PRs). Again, you’re able to really dial in on the muscle group with your compound exercises as well as added accessory work. If you’re trying to hit a squat PR, for example, strictly doing total body workouts would not be the ideal route for you. Generally, I recommend isolation exercises to those who are more advanced and can get to the gym most days of the week.
Final verdict: Which is better? It depends on your fitness level, schedule availability to train and goals. Whichever type of exercise you decide to use, ensure that you have solid programming with organized training sessions in place. Both require adequate rest to prevent overtraining and to achieve the goals you’re working so hard for in the gym.