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Resistance Training: Body Part Splits or Full-Body Sessions?

Strength training, or resistance training (RT) is all but a staple in the programs of most athletic/fitness-minded people, and we 50+ers are no exception. In fact, for our community, RT’s popularity has never been greater. That makes sense when you consider that RT is singular in its countering effects on physical deteriorations that were considered unavoidable by previous generations. Maladies like hip fractures, back pain, knee dysfunction and shoulder impingement syndrome were more probable than not for our age group and beyond not all that long ago. Consider that improved bone density and strength retention (and even growth), as well as improved balance, coordination, anaerobic (short, high-intensity effort) capacity and a host of less obvious benefits (lowered blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk) also come with RT. It’s no surprise that RT is becoming increasingly prevalent in our segment of the population.

But which of the many ways should you engage in RT? There are countless variations. But the most basic classifications for how to approach your program in terms of volume and frequency (two of the three fundamental exercise variables, intensity being the third) are body part splits or full-body workouts (WO).

A typical body part split, although there are several, for most non-competitive bodybuilders, is a three consecutive days per week rotation of push muscles (chest, triceps and anterior deltoids, or, front of the shoulder), pull muscles (upper back, biceps and posterior deltoids, or, back of the shoulder) and, finally, lower body muscles. An example of this structure on a weekly basis might be push on Mon and Fri, pull on Tue and Sat and lower body on Wed and Sun, with Thu as a rest day. Competitive bodybuilders might work only one or two body parts per day and double or triple up on their set totals to cause more muscle breakdown and responsive growth.

Conversely, full-body three times weekly is another common approach to RT. Mon/Wed/Fri with a 48-hour window for all muscles to recover is a simple, intuitive method of dividing weekly RT work and spreading recovery evenly across the week.

Here are specific advantages and drawbacks of both:


·       Allows for more volume per muscle group in a set amount of time.

·       Higher volume per muscle requires more recovery time, which BPS allows.

·       Most likely ideal for hypertrophy (muscle cross-sectional growth) due to more concentrated volume per WO

·       Muscles recover sequentially, rather than simultaneously, which can interfere with sports activity.


·       Muscles recover simultaneously, which is easier to integrate with most sports activities.

·       One can employ a simple, repeatable exercise sequence template.


·       Less risk of over-training muscles or overloading joints because of a more modest load/volume relationship.


·       Likely less effective if the primary goal is muscle hypertrophy.

Can you alternate formats? Of course. You can switch back and forth from week-to-week, and you can follow just about any sequence you like. But it’s worthwhile considering what your primary objectives are. For example, if you want to get as big as possible, BPS will allow you to accumulate more volume per session for a given muscle group, so that’s probably best for you. If you engage in other athletic pursuits, especially those that require anaerobic power, agility and reflex responsiveness (basketball, soccer, racquetball, martial arts), then FB is the better approach.

What’s most important in RT is that your efforts support, rather than jeopardize, your overall sport, recreational and functional goals.

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