Should You Train 1 Body Part Per Day or Full Body Workouts?

The question of how to split your workouts out across the week is a common one. Should you have a ‘chest day’, ‘leg day’, etc. or do full body workouts every time?
What about somewhere in the middle, like ‘push day’, ‘pull day’, or ‘upper body’, ‘lower body’.
There are plenty of ways to split up a workout over the week.
Like most things, there is no definitive right answer. There are principles you can follow, but it ultimately comes down to what works for you.
The workout you can schedule and complete is more effective than the best ‘on paper’ plan that isn’t being implemented for whatever reason.
Let’s look at some of the considerations you need to think about when designing your workout plan.

What is your goal?

The one body part per day – ‘legs day’, ‘shoulders day’, etc. – comes from bodybuilding programs.
It’s designed that way because the primary goal of a bodybuilder is to create as much muscle growth in the specific body part as possible. This is achieved by fully exhausting all the muscle tissues in that area.
If your goal is bodybuilding, this is a good way to lay out your workouts.
If you’re looking to lose fat and get leaner, then the purpose of your workout is to create metabolic disruption and set your body up to burn more energy.
This is best achieved with full body workouts and keeping the intensity high. You might have 2-3 different full body workouts that you rotate through, so you’re not doing the exact same thing every day, but you want your whole body working as often as possible.
If you have a strength or performance goal, then training is more movement specific. Powerlifters will have days dedicated to the primary lifts and their assistance exercises (squat day, bench day, deadlift day).
While a triathlete might be looking to build general strength, so a full body workout is again appropriate for general conditioning.
What is your goal?
Which of the above most closely aligns with what you’re trying to achieve?

How much time do you have?

Along with what you’re trying to achieve, you also need to look at what is practical for you.
Ideally, you want to work each body part at least every 5-7 days. If you can only get to the gym 3 times per week, then you need to train every part of the body in those 3 days.
Along with frequency, you should consider how much time you have per workout.
If you can only get 45 minutes in the gym, you might set things up differently than if you had 90 minutes in the gym.
The less time you have per workout, the more you’ll edge towards doing full body workouts, to ensure you’re creating enough stress on the body for it to grow stronger.
If you are spending less time per session, you want to focus on keeping intensity high and getting as much work done in the short time frame as you can. That is best achieved with full body or circuit style workouts.

Examples of how to split up your workouts

Below are some examples of how to split up your workouts. These are not definitive, just a couple of examples so you can visualize how to do it.

Bodybuilding

5 x per week; body part split
Day 1: Chest
Day 2: Legs
Day 3: Back
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Shoulders
Day 6: Arms
Day 7: Rest

Fat loss

3 x per week full body
Day 1: Full body workout 1
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: Full body workout 2
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Full body workout 1
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest
Rotate between workout 1 and workout 2 every session. In week 2, the order would be reversed, etc.

4 x per week, upper/lower split

Day 1: Upper body 1
Day 2: Lower body 1
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Upper body 2
Day 5: Lower body 2
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest

Performance

3 x per week full body
Day 1: Full body 1
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: Full body 2
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Full body 1
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest
Rotate between workout 1 and workout 2 every session. In week 2, the order would be reversed, etc.

4 x per week movement pattern split

Day 1: Squat pattern
Day 2: Upper body press
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Hinge pattern
Day 5: Upper body pull
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest

These example workouts are just to illustrate how you could split your training week up. You don’t have to use a 7-day cycle. You can use a 5-day cycle if that works for you.
A lot of people work on a 7-day cycle because their life situation is different at the weekends or on specific days.
If you’re flexible with when you are able to workout, you could use a 5 day cycle, or a simple 1 day on, 1 day off cycle.
As you can see, there is no ‘right answer’. You just need to make sure all of your bases are covered – you’re not missing out any important areas, and that you’re not leaving it too long between sessions where you are training the same movement or body part.