Both have their pros and cons.
Total body workouts tend to get more muscles involved at one time, thus burning more calories.
However, focusing on certain muscle groups in a day provides a more intense workout to those muscles.
The most important part for whichever one you choose is to ensure that you are working each muscle group evenly, and that each group is getting enough rest to rebuild before they are reworked again. For example, if you do a full body work-out on one day, it’s best to rest the next day so that all of your muscles can recouperate. On the other hand, if you work your upperbody on one day, it is okay to work your lower body the next day.
The question depends upon your specific fitness goals. If you’re trying to lose weight, cardiovascular exercise should be an emphatic focus, but also take into account the fact that lifting weights burns more calories per time spent than running on a treadmill. If your goal is more generally to improve muscle tone and sustain good health, then a full-body workout can be a convenient solution, as long as you give your muscles adequate time to recover before your next full body workout, and in the days between, you could incorporate aerobic activities such as walking, jogging or bicycling. Different muscle groups have differing tolerances for frequency of stimulus. For instance, larger muscles like your chest and thighs need more time to rest and rebuilt, whereas your abdominal muscles can be worked daily. If your intent is to build muscle mass, then it’s best to isolate just a couple muscle groups per gym visit, and then give that muscle at least three days to recuperate before training it again. For instance, a typical bodybuilding routine might be Day 1: back and biceps, Day 2: Chest and Triceps, Day 3: Shoulders, Day 4: Legs and Abs, Day 5: rest, repeat cycle. The general rule of thumb most athletic trainers will tell you is that your workout should never last more than an hour, whether it’s a strength training routine, an aerobics routine or what have you – spend an hour tops at the gym (with a few exceptions for sports like distance bicycling or cross-country running that involve long duration activity).
The best total-body exercise is probably cardiovascular exercise, rather than weight-lifting or targeting one area repetitiously. Cardio exercise includes jogging, swimming, and bicylcing, and these exercises will help you lose weight or gain strength all over your body. It’s excellent to weight-lift, if you intend to build muscle mass and strength in certain areas, and I think that you should spread such a workout over the course of your week. I wouldn’t exercise every muscle group on the same day, as this will increase your likelihood of fatigue and injury.
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