Upper Lower vs Full Body: Differences, Pros, Cons

differences between full body and upper lower

For lifters just getting started, two great ways to break up your workouts are with the full body split and the upper lower split. 

Each has its advantages, and each has its drawbacks, so it’s important to know the differences when deciding which split will be best for you and your goals. 

So, what are the differences between a Full Body vs Upper Lower split? The full body split hits muscles all over your body within one workout, targeting 3-4 muscle groups per workout. The upper-lower split breaks your muscles into two groups, allowing the lifter to focus on just the upper or lower body within a single workout. An upper or lower day will involve 2-3 muscle groups.  

At the end of this article, you’ll be able to decide whether Full Body or Upper Lower is best for you.  

Here’s what we’ll cover: 

  • What the Full Body and Upper Lower split is
  • 3 differences between Full Body and Upper Lower
  • Pros and cons of Full Body and Upper Lower 
  • How to choose the right split for you
  • Workout examples of each split

What Is A Full Body Split?

a full body split trains muscles throughout your body in a single workout

A Full Body split trains muscles throughout your body in a single workout.  

The Full Body split allows the lifter to train a little bit of everything each time they train. While it doesn’t require that you train every possible muscle in your body each workout, it pushes the lifter to select exercises that cover as much of the body as possible. 

Because you are trying to hit as many muscles as possible, the Full Body split usually relies on compound movements, like the squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and pull-ups, which incorporate several muscles to perform the movement. 

A deadlift, for example, not only works your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, but also your abs, lower, mid, and upper back muscles. 

The Full Body split is generally applied three times a week, with a rest day in between each workout to allow your body to recover from the previous workout. 

However, it does offer the flexibility to do it as little as once a week or as frequently as you can sustain. 

Since you are training similar muscles across each workout, a full body split is typically not sustainable for several consecutive days (i.e. 5 days in a row).  Alternatively, training only once per week is not enough total volume to really make an impact, so three or four workouts per week is ideal. 

A common week on the Full Body split might look like this: 

  • Monday – Full Body 
  • Tuesday – Rest
  • Wednesday – Full Body 
  • Thursday – Rest
  • Friday – Full Body 
  • Saturday – Rest
  • Sunday – Rest

What Is The Upper Lower Split?

the upper lower split trains 2-3 muscle groups per workout in either the upper or lower body

The Upper Lower split trains 2-3 muscle groups per workout in either the upper or lower body.  By splitting up your body into two groups, you can push your muscles harder in each workout than you would be able to if you had to divide your time trying to hit a little of everything. 

Typically, a lifter following the Upper Lower split would train four times a week, with two workouts addressing each group.

For example, in an upper-lower split, you could perform 4-6 different leg and/or glute exercises. 

In this split, your legs will be far more fatigued compared with a full body split, but you have several days to rest before you train those muscle groups again.  This is because your next workout would consist of the upper body.

In practice, the Upper Lower split might look like this

  • Monday – Upper
  • Tuesday – Lower
  • Wednesday – Rest
  • Thursday – Upper
  • Friday – Lower
  • Saturday – Rest
  • Sunday – Rest

If you find yourself with limited days to effectively train, you might try doing just one upper and one lower session per week for a total of two weekly workouts. 

I would only recommend this as a short term scenario, as two workouts per week are unlikely to provide enough total volume to make a change in your body (for intermediate and advanced lifters).

Check out our articles on how many times per week you should do the powerlifting movements: 

Want to get advice on programming, technique, or competing? Speak with one of our coaches.

Full Body vs Upper Lower: 3 Differences

3 main differences between full body and upper lower splits

There are 3 main differences between Full Body and Upper Lower splits: 

  • The total volume performed per muscle group
  • The ability to train consecutive days 
  • The effectiveness of the split based on your lifting tenure

1.  The Total Volume Performed per Muscle Group

The Upper Lower split will allow a lifter to accumulate more training volume each week than the full body split. 

The factor to consider here is your time and energy per workout. 

When you train full body, let’s say you have 60 minutes for a workout. You’ve got to get 4-5 exercises done, 3-4 sets each to cover your whole body in that time. 

You can work fast, but as you get stronger, you’ll need to do heavier sets, and those will be more taxing, making your workouts longer. Or if you don’t have time, limiting the amount of work you can get done in the same amount of time. By the end of your third workout, you’ve likely done 9-20 total sets of lower body work.

When you break up your body into splits, you can spend that full hour just hitting legs in five or six different exercises. By performing lower body workouts twice per week, you’ve done 10-12 exercises on your lower body, likely for 3-4 sets each, accumulating more volume than a lifter who’s trying to do lifts that hit a little of everything. 

By the end of the week, you’ve likely done 30-48 total lower body sets. 

2.  The Ability To Train Consecutive Days

The Full Body split will generally require more rest days, meaning the Upper Lower split allows you to train back to back days and get more total volume. 

Think about sore muscles after a workout. If you want to train those muscles again when they’re still sore, it’s not as effective as when you train them fresh. 

When you train the full body split, your whole body gets fatigued with each workout. That means you’ll have a harder time training consecutive days, which limits how many total workouts you can complete in a week. 

By training the Upper Lower split, you can exhaust  one muscle group, then show up again the next day and train an entirely different region of your body without too many setbacks to your ability to train this new muscle group. 

Since you can train consecutive days over a long period of time in this split, you can get more training days in each week, giving you more opportunity to train and grow than the Full Body split.

3. The Effectiveness of the Split Based on Your Lifting Tenure

Newbies will benefit more from the Full Body split than adapted or intermediate lifters will. Over time, the effectiveness of the Full Body workout diminishes, whether you like it or not. 

It’s a scientific fact that beginners make progress at a rate much higher than those who have been doing it for a while. 

This is due to the Rate of Adaptation, which explains that new lifters adapt very quickly to new stimulus on their body. 

By beginning to train in resistance training, the body responds quickly and visibly to the new stimulus, leading to fast muscle growth and strength progress. Bodies that adapt quickly can also rest and recover quickly, allowing them to show up and train the same muscles over and over and still make progress. 

Because of this, it is particularly effective for new lifters to train a little bit of their whole body each time they train. Their body adapts quickly to the weights, they recover quickly, and can get a lot of progress out of a little start. 

As you advance, your rate of adaptation drops off exponentially. The more you train, the harder it is to get your body to adapt to the stimulus you’re introducing. You have to introduce heavier loads, higher reps, and more total volume (reps x weight) to get your muscles to change as a result. 

For that reason, lifters who once saw great benefits from the Full Body split will need to make changes to keep seeing those benefits grow..  

Full Body vs Upper Lower: Pros & Cons

pros and cons of full body and upper lower

Full Body Pros

Full Body Splits Allow for Flexible Scheduling 

A full body split allows you to train your muscles often without worrying about missing a muscle group for missing a day. Every time you show up to train, your program has you covering all the bases, whether you show up twice a week or four times a week. 

By training everything every time you train, all you have to worry about is showing up consistently and putting in the work, and the program will take care of the rest. Now you can train whatever days you want each week without worrying about getting everything done. 

It Trains Muscles Twice per Week

Studies have been conducted to determine how often muscles need to be trained for maximal growth results. The answer was found conclusively that training a muscle twice per week is ideal

With this in mind, the Full Body split is a great approach to growing your muscles. In fact, if you train hard and effectively, you could train just two times per week on the full body split and see amazing results if you’re a beginner. 

Full Body Cons

It Loses Efficacy Over Time

Your rate of adaptation drops off, it becomes harder and harder to get your body to change. It takes a serious stimulus to keep growing a muscle, and you just can’t give it the stimulus it needs if you’re training the same muscles every time you train, and you aren’t giving it enough volume.  

For this reason, you’ll likely only be able to enjoy the benefits of a full body split for a short period of time before you outgrow it. 

It Requires More Rest Days

A key stage of building muscle is letting your muscle recover. While it’s possible to do consecutive training days here and there on the same muscle groups, it’s not sustainable in the long term. And long term success is the name of the game in resistance training. 

Since you train your whole body each time you train, you have to let yourself rest before your next workout. 

Upper Lower Pros

It Trains Your Muscles Twice per Week

We have the same benefit here as we did with the Full Body Split. Training a muscle group twice a week is more effective than once a week.  So the Upper Lower split can absolutely tick that box for you. 

It Accumulates More Total Volume

With the Upper Lower split, we remove half of our body from our focus and just hit the other half hard. If you follow the math I outlined above, you wind up with way more total volume each week when you break up your body into splits than if you try to do it all every time. 

Again, for beginners, you don’t need as much volume, so the Full Body works great. But once you get over that initial phase, it’s time to break things up, and the Upper Lower split is a great way to get more volume each week. 

Upper Lower Cons

The Training Schedule Is More Rigid

You really shouldn’t skip a workout when you’re following the Upper Lower split. In order to get the necessary two training sessions per muscle per week, you need to show up four times a week on this split. 

Think of it this way. If you’re training Full Body and you miss a day, it’s no big deal, because you train your whole body every time you train, so nothing gets left behind. As long as you still train two or three times that week, you’ll be alright. 

With a split like Upper Lower, if you miss an Upper day, you missed half of your upper body volume for a whole week.  That would be like skipping arms, back, chest, and abs for two of your four Full Body workouts. 

It Requires Broader Knowledge of Exercises

When you train Full Body, you can kind of get away with just knowing a handful of compound exercises and doing those over and over each time you train. 

When you make the switch to the Upper Lower split, now you have to hit five or six different exercises in two separate workouts each week. Suddenly, you need to have a larger library of exercises to make the most of those workouts. 

Should You Do A Full Body Split or Upper Lower Split?

should you do a full body split or upper lower split

Whatever you choose, I’m happy to make a couple of recommendations. 

Do A Full Body Split If

You Are Pressed for Time

The Full Body split allows much more flexibility than many other splits. Because every muscle gets trained every time you train, all you need to worry about is showing up 3-4 times a week and putting in the work. 

If your work schedule is always changing and you don’t know when you’ll be able to train, follow the Full Body split and don’t sweat it! If you’re traveling often, but still want to stay in shape, the full body split will let you move all around and never worry about whether or not you trained all your muscle groups. 

Finally, by training compound movements to hit as many muscles as possible, you can get a lot of work done in less time, making the Full Body split a great option for those who don’t have more than 45-60 minutes to train at a time. 

You Are Just Getting Started

There’s no denying it – the Full Body split is best suited for beginners. It only takes a little stimulus to make some big initial changes in beginners, and the Full Body split captures all those benefits. 

You can show up often (3-4 days a week), work hard, hit every muscle, and see progress in every muscle initially. 

Take advantage of the stage you are in and get the most out of it with the Full Body split if you’re a true beginner. 

Do A Upper Lower Split If

You Have Been Lifting for a While

That rate of adaptation we talked about drops off quickly. You’ll likely notice it 3-6 months in that you just aren’t dropping pounds or adding size or getting stronger as fast as you did at first. If you’re at this stage and you haven’t adjusted your split, give it a hard look. 

The Upper Lower split is the first split I’d recommend to change up your program. It’s simple, but effective in helping lifters get more work done in each workout, and in each week overall. 

Eventually, you’ll probably find your leg days aren’t as effective, and you’ll need to break it up into quad days and hamstring days. When that’s the case, check out the other splits we’ve discussed to find your next move. 

You Have More Time To Train

If you have a solid 4 or 6 days a week that you can train, I’d definitely recommend the Upper Lower split (or any other split) over the Full Body split. 

There’s just so much more you can get done by focusing on one muscle group at a time, and then repeating it again later in the week.

Additionally, if you have more than an hour to train on the days that you do train, a split like Upper Lower will allow you to work the day’s muscle group harder and longer to really get the volume you need to make a change. 

Full Body Example

Here’s an example of what a Full Body workout could look like: 

Monday – Full Body Workout

  • Barbell Squat – 3 sets of 8
  • Pull-ups – 3 sets of 10
  • BB Shoulder Press – 3 sets of 10
  • Bench Press – 3 sets of 8
  • DB Biceps Curls – 3 sets of 12
  • DB Floor Press – 3 sets of 12
  • Planks – 4 rounds
  • DB Romanian Deadlifts – 3 sets of 8

Wednesday – Full Body Workout

  • Sumo Deadlift – 3 sets of 8
  • Underhand BB Rows – 3 sets of 10
  • BB Overhead Press – 3 sets of 8
  • Decline Chest Press – 3 sets of 10
  • EZ Bar BB Curls – 3 sets of 10
  • Skull Crushers – 3 sets of 10
  • Decline Sit Ups – 3 sets of AMRAP
  • Calf Raises – 3 sets of 15

Friday – Full Body Workout

  • Leg Press Machine – 3 sets of 10
  • Incline Bench Press – 3 sets of 8
  • Close grip bench press – 3 sets of 10
  • Single Arm Cable curls – 3 sets of 10
  • Lat Pull Downs – 3 sets of 10
  • Leg Raises – 3 sets of 12-15
  • DB Stiff Leg Deadlifts – 3 sets of 10

Upper Lower Example

Here’s an example of what a PPL workout might look like for a week: 

Monday – Upper 

  • Bench Press – 4 sets of 10
  • DB Overhead Press – 4 sets of 10
  • Lat Pull Down – 4 sets of 10
  • Bent Over BB Row – 4 sets of 8
  • DB Curls – 4 sets of 10
  • Overhead Rope Extension – 4 sets of 10

Tuesday – Lower 

  • Squats – 4 sets of 8
  • BB Lunges – 4 sets of 10
  • Good Mornings – 4 sets of 10
  • Leg Press – 4 sets of 10
  • Seated Leg Extensions – 4 sets of 10
  • Calf Raises – 4 sets of 12

Wednesday – Rest 

Thursday – Upper 

  • Incline Bench Press – 4 sets of 8
  • Incline DB Fly – 4 sets of 10
  • BB Upright Row – 4 sets of 10
  • Plate Front Raise – 4 sets of 10
  • Seated Cable Rows – 4 sets of 10
  • BB Shrugs – 4 sets of 12

Friday – Lower 

  • Deadlifts – 4 sets of 8
  • DB Stiff Leg Deadlifts – 4 sets of 10
  • Good Mornings – 4 sets of 10
  • Lying Hamstring Curls – 4 sets of 10
  • Seated Adductor Machine – 4 sets of 12
  • Seated Abductor Machine – 4 sets of 12

Saturday – Rest

Sunday – Rest

Check Out Our Other Training Split Articles

About The Author

Adam Gardner

Adam Gardner is a proud resident of Utah, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He has been competing in powerlifting since 2016 in both the USPA and the APF. For the past three years, he and his wife, Merrili, have coached beginning lifters to learn the fundamentals of powerlifting and compete in their first powerlifting competitions.