Illustration of a bodybuilder's full body split into three pieces.

Full-Body Workouts vs Splits: Which Builds More Muscle?

A new meta-analysis by Ramos-Campo gathered together all fourteen studies comparing full-body workout routines against split workout routines. This is the latest study, and it includes all of the previous ones, so it’s the best evidence we have.

  • Full-body workouts train most of your muscles every workout. They’re usually done three days per week, but they can be done as many as five days per week. People like them because they’re more efficient. The downside is that they’re harder. It’s harder to train more muscles per workout.
  • Split workouts “split” your body up into different muscle groups. They’re usually done four, five, or six days per week. You could have a Push Day, Pull Day, and Leg Day (Push/Pull/Legs). Maybe you add an Arm Day and Shoulder Day (Bro Split). Or maybe you alternate between upper-body workouts and lower-body workouts (Upper/Lower). People like these splits because you get to train more often without needing to train sore muscles. The workouts are also easier. The downside is that they’re less efficient.

The results show that full-body and split routines both stimulate the same amount of muscle growth (and strength gains). Sometimes, the results lean one way, flirting with statistical significance, but that wasn’t the case here. It really didn’t seem to make any difference at all. Sort of. There’s a catch.

Training Volume Matters

Doing more sets per muscle tends to stimulate more muscle growth, at least to a point. That point seems to be about 9–22 sets per muscle per week. We have a full article on that here. That means whichever split allows you to work your muscles harder will give you better results, at least to a point.

Twelve of the fourteen studies in the meta-analysis matched training volume between groups. The participants did the same exercises and the same amount of work, just split up in different ways. That’s why the routines were equally effective.

You might think that doing a workout split lets you train more often, do more work, and thus stimulate more muscle growth. That can be true, but it isn’t always.

Should You Do a Full-Body or Split Routine?

Full-body and split workout routines are equally good overall, but they probably aren’t equally good for you. Here’s how to decide:

  • If you have less time to train, full-body workout routines are a much more efficient way to get there. For example, you can keep your workouts short by doing supersets, alternating between deadlifts and push-ups, squats and chin-ups. You can get a tremendous amount of work done with just three workouts per week.
  • If you have more time but less energy, split routines can make your workouts much easier. For example, instead of doing deadlifts, push-ups, squats, and chin-ups as your first four exercises, you could do dips, incline bench presses, overhead presses, and triceps extensions. Much easier. But you’d need to train more days per week.
  • If you’re a novice, thin, or weak, then full-body workout routines are usually better. You get more practice with the big compound lifts, your workout routine is more efficient, you get more full rest days, and your muscles aren’t so big and strong that the effort is too fatiguing. That’s why our Bony to Beastly Program uses a 3-day full-body workout routine.
  • If you’re more advanced, big, and muscular, then split routines become more appealing. You don’t ever need to switch, but you may want to. The bigger and stronger you get, the heavier the weights get, and the more energy it takes to challenge your muscles. It can help to divide that effort up. That’s why our Outlift Intermediate Hypertrophy Program lets you pick between 3-day, 4-day, and 5-day workout splits.
  • If you do cardio, you might prefer consolidating your lifting workouts into full-body workouts. That way, you could alternate between hypertrophy training and rucking (or whatever type of cardio you like), devoting three days to each, reaping the health and performance benefits of both.
  • You can also mix the two together. For example, in our arm specialization program, Call to Arms, we have two Arm Days and one full-body day, giving you three workouts per week. The two Arm Days give you much faster arm growth, and the full-body workout is enough to maintain the size and strength of the rest of your muscles.


Most beginners do better with full-body workout routines. Their workouts are more efficient, they get more practice with the compound lifts, they get more rest days, and they build just as much muscle.

Most intermediates eventually want to try split workout routines, especially if they’re passionate about lifting or bodybuilding. Many of them prefer it.

Cover illustration of the Outlift intermediate bulking program for naturally skinny guys.

Alright, that’s it for now. If you’re eager to gain your first 20–30 pounds of muscle, check out our Bony to Beastly (men’s) program or Bony to Bombshell (women’s) program. Both use full-body workout routines. If you’re an intermediate lifter, check out our Outlift Intermediate Bulking Program. It includes 3-day, 4-day, and 5-day workout routines. Both programs include online coaching.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell. He's a certified conditioning coach with a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained 70 pounds and has over a decade of experience helping over 10,000 skinny people bulk up.

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  1. Kxf on June 3, 2024 at 5:44 pm

    another great read!

    I find a full (or 75%) workout day happens when I need to smash in as much as I can before going out on a week-long trip to the field (yes, silly of me to worry about atrophy from just a week or so away from the gym). Sometimes full or split is a circumstantial thing about planning for time away… or when one returns and feels guilty for missing the iron game.

    • Shane Duquette on June 3, 2024 at 11:04 pm

      I do the same thing! I’ll do a couple sets of my favourite exercise for each movement pattern/muscle group if I’m heading away or coming back.

  2. Amir Hassan on June 8, 2024 at 2:18 pm

    Great article as always, I personally prefer to do splits, I do about 8-10 sets for each muscle and hit it again after 5 days, this method works for me.

    • Shane Duquette on June 9, 2024 at 12:11 pm

      Thank you, Amir!

      I loved full-body workouts during my first few years of lifting weights. Now I’m usually a bigger fan of splits, though I still go back to full-body sometimes.

      Your approach sounds great 🙂

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