This is one of the more frequent questions for those who get into calisthenics, especially if you are coming from a weight-lifting background. For weightlifters, working out different muscle groups on different days (like legs on Monday, chest on Tuesday, shoulders/triceps on Thursday and back/biceps on Friday) is the accepted norm. So should you also do this for calisthenics?

Yes and No. Generally speaking, full-body routines are best for beginners and intermediate-level users, because your body still requires that basic level of conditioning when you are relatively new. But beyond that, whole-body routines will begin to lose their effectiveness, because you simply won’t be stressing a particular muscle group that much.

For example, a typical whole-body routine may have 20 squats  in it along with exercises for other muscle groups, which by itself is a great leg workout for a beginner, but won’t really do much if you are intermediate or advanced. In this case, a split day just for your legs would allow you to continue getting stronger. Doing something like 20 lunges, 20 jump squats, 5 assisted pistol squats for each leg, 20 jump overs and 20 one-leg calf raises on a leg day would train your legs really well.

However having said that, one of the biggest differences between Calisthenics and Weightlifting is that Calisthenics is all about compound movements - the majority of bodyweight exercises use multiple muscle groups. For example, f you’re doing push-ups, you’re not just working out your arms and chest – you are also using your abs to stabilize, your back is involved, and even your legs to a small degree.

And as you go up in difficulty to exercises like the Muscle up, you are recruiting even more of your body’s muscles all in the same movement. So this is sort of contradictory – although full body routines lose their effectiveness as you progress past the beginner stage, the more difficult exercises that you start to do will be recruiting more and more muscle groups in the same exercise.

So the take away idea is here is that you should stick to full-body workouts only for as long as they are actually effective for you. Once you get to about intermediate-level, you may start to notice that when you are doing a fully-body program, some of your muscles won’t be getting tired like they used to. This is a good signal for you to start splitting your workouts to different areas – like doing upper body on one day, and lower body on another. Or doing Upper body on one day, abs on another, and legs on a third day. There are many different ways to do splits, but the main point is that if you notice a particular muscle area no longer getting a solid workout – like your abs, or your back – then this is a good time to try out a split workout.

But do remember that everyone is different. You may find that full-body routines are still effective for you even after a year of training. Or you may find that you notice some really big gains in the size and strength of particular muscles when you do split workouts. In the end, the best answer to the question of which you should do – full body or split – is to try out both yourself, and keep in mind the GENERAL IDEA that full-body workouts will benefit beginners more, while splits are better suited for advanced users.



4 thoughts on “Split Routine vs. Whole-body Routine

  • October 1, 2015 at 10:35 pm

    hey, I’m new to Calisthenics, I’ve been training bodyweight for about 6 weeks, before that I have been lifting regularly.
    I have decided to start working towards, the front and back lever, planche, manna, flag and the muscle up, also adding in weight lifting for lower body, this to me seems like a full body routine but I’m interested to hear your opinion on whether I’m likely to get strength imbalances or any other issues that I might run into. And whether I should organise these progressions in to some kind of split routine. Thanks in advance.

    • October 7, 2015 at 2:06 am

      Hey Kevin, since you’re weight lifting for lower body, that’s a perfect way to split your workout into upper/lower body; so you could be doing something like Upper Body – Rest Day -Lower Body – Rest Day for a total 3 workouts a week. Doing both lifting for lower body and bodyweight in the same workout would probably be too much.

      Also as you just started with calisthenics, I would definitely stick all of your upper body progressions into one workout. Just don’t do more than 6 exercises. Then after a couple months you can try splitting your upper body further into push/pull exercises, so that would be a 3 way split total (push/pull/lower body).

      Good luck on your goals, I’m getting close to the front and back lever right now myself.

  • October 25, 2015 at 8:45 am

    My question is since exercises start using more than one muscle group how do you break down what day to put it in a split routine?

  • November 15, 2015 at 8:49 am


    Thanks a lot for the info.

    I was working out at a gym six times a week and used to work on two different muscle groups a day. now I want to train by myself but im not sure about the number of exercises that I should perform per routine. should I grab say two madbarz routines a day (i.e chest/biceps) and combine them into one routine or should i perform all the exercises per routine?

    i really dont want to decrease the number of training days.

    thanks in advance.


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