For better or worse, the sport of bodybuilding has always had some type of influence on how athletes have trained. Similar to how bodybuilding has gone through various periods of training routine popularity, so has strength and conditioning. For example, full-body training and body part split training have both been popular routines at one point or another in each field. Full-body routines allow individuals to stimulate multiple muscle groups each session, allowing for a greater training frequency. Body part splits allow for a greater volume of work to be accomplished on a given muscle group per session, but requires a longer recovery period and thus limits training frequency. This has led coaches to debate which method is more effective for increasing strength, muscle size and body composition variables in athletes.
A new study published in Biology of Sport compared full-body training to body part split training in a sample of 24 adult male rugby players. The subjects were matched for baseline strength and size characteristics and divided into two groups based on training method (i.e., full-body [FB] and split). In a randomized cross-over design, each group performed both routines separated by an 8-week washout period. The routines were equated for volume and involved 3 sessions per week for 4 weeks. The training took place during the in-season where the athletes were also participating in rugby practices twice per week plus a competition once per week. Before and after each 4-week program, 1RM squat and bench press were measured. In addition, body fat via skin fold assessment and salivary testosterone and cortisol were also obtained.
Significant improvements in 1RM strength were observed following both training protocols with increases ranging from 5.4-7.4% with no difference between groups. Body fat (-0.9% vs. -0.4%) and fat mass (-5.7% vs. -2.1%) significantly decreased for both groups, however the improvements were greater in the FB group. When the entire group was split into stronger and weaker categories, a significant positive correlation between testosterone and 1RM strength was observed only in the stronger group. This study showed that in trained athletes, both protocols can improve strength and body composition. However, the FB routine may be preferable if reducing fat mass and body fat percent is a priority.
Crewther, BT., et al. (2016) The effects of two equal-volume training protocols upon strength, body composition and salivary hormones in male rugby union players. Biology of Sport, 33:111-116