Is it better to do workouts that target every muscle or just focus on building one at a time?
How do you decide what workout to do? If you don’t follow a strict plan, you might simply walk into the gym and decide to do the exercises that most challenge you – or on the flip side, the workout that will let you take it a little bit slower. Maybe you simply opt for any body parts that aren’t suffering from DOMS. If it’s been a few days since your last workout, you might prefer to work through every inch of your body.
All of these sound like valid training sessions. But, for me, the best workouts come from focusing on just one body part at a time. That means I divide my training into upper and lower workouts, and sometimes get even more niche: one day I might focus solely on my back, others I might aim to target my glutes and hamstrings.
There are many touted benefits to following this sort of workout split. For starters, they tend to increase muscle growth, as each muscle will be put under more load. You’ll be able to focus your entire workout, made up of five, six or more exercises on just one muscle group alone. That’s probably more than if you did a few full-body sessions throughout the week.
It’s also helpful for me to be able to maintain the quantity of training that I enjoy: I try to move most days of the week, and being sore in every muscle group from a full-body workout isn’t conducive to that. I might have stiff chest and triceps the day after, but I only have stiff chest and triceps. It means there’s plenty of other parts of my body that can be comfortably worked until I’m ready to hit the bench press again.
More importantly for me, it’s about the mental aspect of my training. I find it easier to focus on just one thing at a time. This starts before I even walk into the gym: deciding which exercises to line up is infinitely easier when I only have to plan for one body part.
During my actual training, my mind is exactly where it needs to be – on the muscle I’m working. I find it easier to engage this brain-to-body connection when I’m honing in on just one area. That means I don’t fly through the reps and risk rubbish technique but concentrate on loading the muscle I want to take the majority of the weight, squeezing it as I move.
And the bit I love the most? It’s the burn. There’s something that makes me feel accomplished about knowing I’ve really pushed my body, and there’s nothing like muscle fatigue to prove that. While it may only be a small part of my body that’s shaking, it’s satisfying for me to feel completely done in that one area. Of course, when I do choose a full-body workout it’s exhausting, but the general fatigue doesn’t seem to scratch the same itch. As someone who finds joy in getting stronger, I like to feel the physical sensation of one muscle group getting broken down and ready to rebuild.
Body-part splits aren’t for everyone, and I see why some people – such as Olympic lifters – prefer to work on full-body moves like snatches and jerks. But, for me, concentrating on one thing at a time is a great way to stay focused on my workouts and motivated to train.
Images: Getty / Chloe Gray
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).