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Full-Body Workout for Fat Loss

Maximize fat-burning while also possibly getting a boost in strength and size by rethinking your training split.

Jim Stoppani doing a barbell hack squat

It's a "split decision" every muscle-minded guy and girl has to take into consideration: Should I do full-body workouts or split up my training and work only 1-3 muscle groups at a time?

If you've done any of my Daily Grind programs, you know just how beneficial full-body split training can be for fat loss while simultaneously building muscle mass. And science concurs – a recent study from New Zealand shows just how much more effective full-body split training can be for fat loss, and potentially muscle gains, as compared to a split-training routine.

The researchers had weight-trained New Zealand male rugby union players follow either a full-body training split done three times per week or a three-day training split (where the full body is trained over the course of three workouts). Both workouts were done three times a week for four weeks total, and the same total volume on all exercises was performed each week. The exercises performed were squats, leg curls, leg press, bench press, bent-over rows, lat pulldowns, shoulder press, biceps curls and calf raises.

The researchers reported in a 2016 issue of the journal Biology of Sport that the full-body workouts burned significantly more body fat (subjects had a 6% drop in body fat) than the split-body workouts (subjects only had a 2% drop in body fat) while also increasing testosterone to a greater degree and improving the testosterone-to-cortisol ratios in the subjects. The testosterone-to-cortisol ratio is often used to indicate whether or not the athlete is in an anabolic state. The higher this ratio, the more anabolic the athlete is assumed to be. Being more anabolic following workouts can help to improve muscle recovery and growth.

Take-Home Points From the Study

This study confirms what my Daily Grind program has already shown via thousands of subjects completing the program: that a full-body split is highly effective for fat loss and may even be more effective over time for fat loss than a typical split program. This is likely due to the fact that with full-body training, you activate more muscle fibers throughout the body. This leads to greater activation of genes that create proteins, which will enable more fat to be burned away for fuel.

Training every major muscle group more frequently will also lead to greater activation of genes that may lead to greater muscle growth. In the New Zealand study, the group using the full-body training split saw a slightly greater increase in lean muscle-mass gain as compared to the split-training group. Although this wasn't statistically significant, it's worth noting. This also could be due to the higher testosterone and lower cortisol levels (higher testosterone-to-cortisol ratio) that the full-body group experienced. This would suggest that the subjects were in a more anabolic state.

Also worth noting is that the strength gains were similar between the two groups regardless of the training split. However, when they split the groups up further into a "stronger" group (individuals who could squat more than two times their body weight) and a "weaker" group (those who could not squat two times body weight), they noticed that those in the stronger group who had experienced higher testosterone levels with full-body training experienced greater gains in strength. This might suggest that an experienced lifter with several years under his or her belt may benefit from switching to a full-body training program (such as Daily Grind) from time to time – not only for better fat loss, but better strength and muscle-mass gains.

Another great full-body workout to consider is my 7 Station Shred. Or, if you have a set of JYM Bands and are traveling or stuck at home, try my On the Road Band Workout.

Full Recovery with Full-Body Training

One concern people often have regarding my full-body programs is this: Will my muscles be able to recover when they’re trained every day? Don’t individual bodyparts need more rest days?

The first thing to realize when discussing my full-body routines (including all of my Full-Split programs) is that, generally speaking, the total weekly volume per muscle group isn’t any greater than it is for my bodypart-split routines like Super Shredded 8, HIIT 100, Down and Up Mass, or any others. I’m increasing training frequency for each muscle group, not volume.

For example, consider a full-body program where each muscle group is trained five days a week with one exercise per workout and 3 sets per exercise. The weekly volume for each muscle group in this case is 15 total sets (5 exercises x 3 sets). If I were designing a split routine where each muscle group was only trained once a week (ie, a 4-day or 5-day split), I would program at least 15 sets per week per muscle group, and likely more than that for larger bodyparts like legs, chest, back, and shoulders.

The volume is essentially the same, and the intensity remains high. All I’m changing here is frequency. This is one way I’m able to spark new results and avoid plateaus without changing the training volume: by altering other variables, like intensity techniques, rep ranges, tempo (rep speed), rest periods, exercise selection, periodization models, and yes, frequency. There’s only so much you can change volume. I’m not going to keep increasing the total number of sets I do every week; I’d be doing thousands of sets weekly by now if I did!

As for rest days, whether you need to give a muscle group one or more days off after training it depends on how hard and with how much volume you trained it. You see a lot of “experts” making hard and fast rules like, “A muscle needs 72 hours of rest before training it again.” If you train that muscle with 16-20 intense sets, then sure, 72 hours of rest (or more) is probably a good idea to let it recover and grow.

But if I’m only training a muscle with 3 or 4 sets, and I’m a trained lifter (meaning, I’m in shape and well-conditioned), why does that muscle need 72 hours of rest?! It doesn’t! That muscle will recover adequately with 24 hours of rest, which is what it’s getting in every one of my full-body (or Full-Split) routines. If it’s a 5-days-a-week program and you’re taking the weekend off from lifting, you’re getting a full 72 hours of rest before starting the next week of training.

More Rest, More Strength? Not So Fast!

The 72-hour rule actually comes from powerlifters. Seventy-two hours of recovery is traditionally believed to be more important for gaining strength than increasing hypertrophy (muscle building); with the latter, the additional stimulus from subsequent daily training sessions is actually beneficial.

Yet, the 72-hour rule isn’t even set in stone for maximizing strength. In one Norwegian study, researchers split a team of powerlifters into two different groups. The first group continued trained each major big lift (squat, deadlift, bench press) three times weekly, per their normal routine. The second group performed the same number of total sets per week as the first group, but they increased their training frequency for each big lift/muscle group to six times per week – using double the frequency for the week, but half the volume in each training session.

The researchers reported that over the course of 12 weeks, the group training six times per week increased muscle strength roughly twice as much and boosted muscle mass 10% more than the group training three times per week. Let me repeat that: Strength gains were about DOUBLE in the higher frequency group! Just further evidence that rules were meant to be broken, or at least taken with a grain of salt.

Full-Split Recovery

With my Full-Split routines, “focus” muscle groups in a given workout get more volume than all other bodyparts, but then they go back to lower volume (one exercise per muscle group) the next day. And each muscle group only gets one or two focus days per week with higher volume. The total volume per muscle group in Full-Split programs may hit 20-24 sets, but again, that’s no higher than my typical bodypart-split programs.

The point is, how much rest you need is tied to volume. It’s nonsense to think that any amount of training requires 72 hours of rest for recovery. As if 3 sets is going to do the same amount of damage (and thus require the same time length for recovery) as 20 sets. Not even close! When I hit a muscle group with 3-4 sets on Monday, it’s ready for more work on Tuesday.

Again, this assumes that I’m not just getting back into training; if you haven’t hit the gym for months, or years, then yes, 3-4 sets for a muscle group will probably require more than 24 hours of rest.



Crewther, B. T., et al. The effects of two equal-volume training protocols upon strength, body composition and salivary hormones in male rugby union players. Biol. Sport 33: 111-116, 2016.

Raastad, T., et al. Powerlifters improved strength and muscular adaptations to a greater extent when equal total training volume was divided into 6 compared to 3 training sessions per week. Book of abstracts, 17th annual conference of the ECSS, 2012.


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