Dr. Jim Stoppani on the Differences Between Full-Body and Full-Split Training

The final episode of the interview with Jim Stoppani is a look at how the 54-year-old currently trains.

The final episode of the interview with exercise physiologist Jim Stoppani by Generation Iron and BarBend aired on May 2, 2022. In it, the 11th episode of the series, Stoppani explains to moderator Vlad Yudin the differences between full-body and full-split training.

Stoppani prefaces his views on the values of each with a recounting of a decade-plus-old quad injury that compelled him to learn how to adapt his training around his recovery needs. Check out the final episode of the interview with Stoppani in the video below, courtesy of Generation Iron‘s YouTube channel:

[Related: Everything You Need to Know About Endurance Training for Strength Athletes]

Full Body Training

The episode opens with Stoppani sharing a story of how he tore his quad in early 2007 after jumping over a structure and slipping while wearing sneakers. It required four surgeries in four consecutive months to repair, only for him to accidentally re-injure it during the recovery process.

Once your muscles learn how to contract with power and force, it’s hard to stop them from doing that.

Due to that injury, Stoppani suggested that he only got back to deadlifting and squatting in 2022 — 15 years later. However, Stoppani didn’t linger on how unfortunate his injury was but instead on what he’ll be able to teach others from enduring it. The takeaway: understanding how to adapt one’s training.

Stoppani shifted to full-body training to compensate for the fact that he couldn’t do cardio while recouping from his injury. He defined typical full-body training as one exercise per muscle group per session. Since his overall physical activity dropped while he was confined to crutches, performing full-body workouts filled in some gaps in his routine. While he couldn’t train the injured leg, he still employed contralateral training by working his healthy leg in the gym. The result of his switch to full-body training was that Stoppani did not gain any body fat.

The downside of full-body training (i.e., one exercise per muscle group) is the lack of a sufficient pump. While the overall training volume per muscle group at the end of a week may remain equal (e.g., four sets each day for five days versus 20 sets on one day), Stoppani suggests stimulation to failure is lacking in the acute workout for full-body training. He says that could leave growth-factor and hormone responses generated by fatigue on the table. 

Fatigue is important.

A benefit of full-body training, in Stoppani’s view, is fat loss because “it keeps your metabolic machinery turned on” due to muscles constantly being in a state of recovery, which is an intense calorie-consuming process. Since full-body workouts as defined above may not be ideal for muscle growth, Stoppani conceived a “full split.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Jim Stoppani, PhD (@jimstoppani)

[Related: What is a Butt Wink Squat? And How Do You Fix It?]

Full Split Training

A full split training routine is similar to a full-body training routine in that the sets per day each week are the same, except one day per week is a “full bodybuilding-style workout” for one particular muscle group. For example, rather than only performing four sets of one exercise for each muscle group as you would for a full-body day, you’d start with anywhere from 15 to 20 sets of chest exercises on chest day, working to fatigue, and then continuing with four sets of one exercise for the other muscle groups. The next day might have the focus on legs or shoulders, and so on.

You’re getting acute stimulation from both worlds.

Achieving a pump while training, physiologically speaking, is the literal stretching of the muscle, according to Stoppani. Stretch receptors in the muscles recognize the muscled being stretched and that they need to grow to cater to that stimulus. That’s what triggers muscle protein synthesis — the process by which hypertrophy happens.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Jim Stoppani, PhD (@jimstoppani)

[Related: Dr. Jim Stoppani on the Pros and Cons of Caffeine, Coffee, and Alcohol]

Aging vs. Muscle Growth

Yudin closes out the interview by inquiring about how age affects one’s capacity for muscle growth and recovery. It’s met by laughter from the 54-year-old Stoppani, who says he can speak from experience:

There’s no way around it. As you get older, you’re degenerating.

That degenerative process means that muscle protein synthesis isn’t as receptive as you age. For example, a 50-year-old athlete will need to consume far more protein than a 20-year-old to achieve similar muscle protein synthesis. Stoppani suggests that evolutionarily, humans “were not designed to live this long,” though he didn’t specify how many years “this long” meant. His sentiment was clear, though, that older persons’ training should aspire to be more well-rounded, meaning they should include flexibility and cardiovascular work, among other things, in addition to resistance training.

Once you lose it, it’s hard to get it back.

Stoppani is a follower of his advice, expressing that his current training regimen is much more well-rounded than it used to be. His focus is just as much on maintaining the muscle he has as it is on building upon it.

Featured image: @jimstoppani on Instagram