Free weights are a way to train on full-body days.
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A full-body workout means you hit all the major muscle groups in one workout, rather than splitting up the muscle groups over several days of training. Both strength-training approaches can help you increase muscle mass, burn calories and look more toned. Which type of workout you choose depends on your goals and the time you have to devote to training.
A full-body workout involves strength training two to four times weekly on alternating days. In one workout, you target all the major muscle groups, including the hips, legs, back, chest, shoulders, arms and abdominals. A total-body workout may include isolation exercises that target a specific muscle or compound movements that work multiple muscle groups in a single exercise. Your total-body routine usually consists of at least one set of eight to 12 repetitions. The weight you use should feel heavy by the last couple of reps in the set.
A muscle-group training routine, sometimes called a split routine, has you train just one or two muscle groups per day. For example, you might train your back and shoulders on Monday, the legs and abdominals on Tuesday and the arms and chest on Wednesday. During a split routine, you often include three or more exercises for each muscle group in an attempt to fatigue those muscles and encourage an increase in size and definition. If you choose a muscle-group-specific routine, leave 48 hours between training each muscle group so that each has a chance to repair, recover and grow stronger.
Why a Total-Body Routine?
If you have limited time to get to the gym, a total-body workout enables you to keep your visits to a minimum. Two total-body strength-training sessions weekly are sufficient to improve your health, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you have time to hit the gym multiple times per week and want to build overall strength, a total-body routine enables you to train each muscle group three or more times per week, while a split routine limits you to once or twice. Total-body workouts tend to involve more compound exercises, which train multiple muscle groups at once. For example, a total-body routine may include deadlifts, squats, cleans, presses and pulls, which teach your muscles to work in coordination and may help create greater overall strength over time.
If you are sculpting your physique for a bodybuilding or figure competition, body-part workouts may be the way to go. By focusing on just one or two muscle groups at a time with multiple exercises, you hit each group from multiple angles -- creating symmetry and correcting imbalances. Body-part workouts require you to devote more days and time to the gym.
Including both types of training in your strength-training plans can help you keep your muscles guessing so that you can see continued results. You may follow a total-body routine for four to six weeks and then switch to a muscle-group routine for four to six weeks. By training your muscles differently every several weeks, you force them to adapt to new training stimuli so that you avoid a training plateau.
Because proper form is essential to prevent injury, consult a certified personal trainer for guidance on proper form for free-weight exercises. Use a spotter when lifting weights that are very heavy for you. Always warm up with light cardiovascular activity and dynamic stretches, such as joint rotations and body-weight squats, before strength training.