In a fitness world dominated by quick-fix workouts, fasting jibber-jabber and supplements that do virtually nothing this might be an unpopular opinion; Full body workouts are the best bang for your buck.
If you’re looking to get serious gains with the least amount of time in the gym, a full body workout is definitely your best shot.
Full body workouts help to stimulate the biggest muscles in the body.
It’s no wonder why some of the biggest lifters in the gym all have common workout routines that are based around the 5 big lifts (squat, bench, deadlift, bent-over row, overhead press).
Although full body workouts are great for developing size and strength there are many considerations you should take before you get started. Sometimes it’s not as easy as getting under the barbell and pressing as much weight as possible.
Ensuring you have a goal, understand the purpose behind your workout and are ready to take the necessary steps to recover after your workout is very important. In this detailed expert guide, we will walk you through everything you need to know about full-body workouts – and include 5 killer full-body workouts for serious gains.
Breaking down a Full Body Workout
Let’s begin by understanding, on a very basic level what a full body workout is.
Traditionally, bodybuilders will train a certain muscle group in each workout. Mondays are national chest day, Tuesdays are recovery and back attack, and the middle of the week is designed to hit the legs.
A full-body workout throws this idea of training out the window and instead looks to train big movements that hit multiple muscles each workout.
The main purpose of a full-body workout should always be to train the big muscles of the legs, back and core, while building your body closer towards your end goals – whether that be strength, fat loss, improved conditioning, etc.
Now that you understand that a full-body workout is designed to hit as many muscles as possible in one workout lets take a look at the most effective styles of training that can help you to excel under the barbell.
Types of Training
Workouts are not as simple as showing up at the gym, riding the elliptical and lifting heavier weights every week. Okay, to a certain degree any training can help – but the moment you decide on a particular goal and style of training you grow stronger and faster.
Specific goal setting and following a type of training will take your physical performance further and take you closer to those serious full body gains you have been looking for.
Training Type #1: Traditional Strength Training
You can never go wrong with traditional strength training. The workouts that many of the greats like Arnold, Frank Zane, Kai Greene (just to name a few) all start with sets and reps that attack the big muscles first.
The goal with strength training should always be to create the most effective and efficient movements during a workout. Squats are not about how many reps you can do, or heavy you can lift – but rather how efficient you are during a set weight.
When completing a strength training workout for full body gains you should focus on clean movements with optimal form and a full range of motion.
Training Type #2: High-Intensity Interval Training
HIIT, for short, is a style of training where your goal is to maintain an elevated heart rate throughout the workout. The workouts are generally shorter than strength training, the rest periods are shorter and your goal is to train as hard as possible within the time limit.
Research will show that high-intensity interval training helps promote weight loss.
This could be because of the metabolic advantages you obtain training at such a high heart rate value. Either way, HIIT training workouts should be on your full body workout regime.
Training Type #3: Tempo Training
A personal favourite of mine. Tempo training is the fine art of training your muscles with a specific rep speed. When performing a big movement like a squat you break the exercise into four specific rep speeds. The idea here is that you are training the muscle to perform specific to an activity that you are training for.
For more information on tempo training, be sure to check out our detailed breakdown here.
Training Type #4: Brazilian Training Workouts
Most people have never heard of this style of training – but it is very popular in the track and field world.
Brazilian workouts combine speed based movements like jump squats and burpees with running to boost metabolism and train the entire body.
Do not confuse these workouts with HIIT workouts. HIIT workouts are designed to be completed within a given time – Brazilians are designed to be completed with the purpose of speed and effective training.
If you have a big space outside, like a local workout park or even a soccer field, Brazilian workouts are hands down the best way to get in shape while only working out 1-2x a week.
Confused about how to perform this style of training? We’ve included a detailed Brazilian workout below.
Training Type #5: Calisthenics
The last and perhaps most forgotten aspect of fitness is calisthenics. For whatever reason, calisthenics is generally disregarded in the main strength world. If you’re serious about gains and want to put on pure strength, calisthenics needs to be a concrete part of your workout program.
Calisthenics is designed to train your body through a complete range of motion while always emphasizing control and balance.
TRAINER TIP: Use calisthenic exercises as activation movements for your bigger lifts. Box jumps, glute bridges and calf raises are a great way to prime your body for heavy squats and deadlifts.
How to Create a Full Body Workout
The next step in your evolution to serious gains is understanding how you can create your own workouts. It’s not rocket science, but you do need to make some necessary changes to the way you think about workouts and performance.
Step 1: Balance Upper and Lower Body
Always ensure that you have balance in the upper and lower body. Full body workouts are designed for strength development but many people who workout emphasize the upper body. Look, we get it, a big chest looks awesome at the beach or club, but the guys who are serious about their gains will always balance the upper and lower body.
Balance the upper and lower body by ensuring you have close to an equal amount of resistance on the muscle during your lifts. If you are doing 3 sets of bench press, make sure you are doing 3-4 sets of squats.
Wait… does this mean the balance emphasizes the lower body? Yes. Here’s why.
Step 2: Emphasize the Largest Muscles
The biggest muscles in the body should always get the most attention. There are a couple of reasons for this.
a) Big Muscles Initiate Movements
In many cases, the large muscles in the legs initiate the full-body exercise you are doing. Even if you are doing a military (overhead) press, the legs initiate the movements and ensure you are balancing your weight evenly on both legs.
b) Large Leg Muscles Require More Stimulation
The bigger the muscle, the more stimulation they require in order to grow. Training a small muscle like the biceps is easy – 4-6 sets per week will be enough to stimulate growth over time. The same might not be said for quads or glute muscles. The larger the muscle, the more stimulation required.
When it comes to full body workouts the balance in the upper and lower body is certainly important for overall strength, but you should emphasize the bigger muscles in the lower body for long-term growth and serious gains.
Step #3: Prioritize Powerful Movements
A powerful movement is any movement you can do where you are moving the body through its range of motion as fast as possible. Exercises like box jumps, trap bar deadlifts and incline bench press are perfect examples of movements that you could do quickly and would emphasize power and strength.
“Why should I prioritize powerful movements?”
Simply put – powerful movements train the body the way it was meant to be trained. The human body is built to be explosive. The glute and hamstring muscles have developed to assist in running and jumping. The chest muscles have developed to throw objects over far distances.
When you prioritize powerful movements you are not only training the muscles to work as they were intended to work, you are also training them to be effective in a workout setting.
Step #4: Don’t Forget about Recovery
The biggest factor that sets the average joe apart from the big weightlifters in the gym is always recovery. If you are serious about your gains you need to take recovery into consideration. Here are the most effective steps you can take to ensure you are ready to make the most of your full-body workouts:
a) Train a MAX of 3x/week
Full-body workouts are hard on the body. In order to maximize your training potential, you must consider the reality that overtraining leads to injury.
Ensuring that you have a periodized training program that emphasizes recovery and strength is essential.
b) Sleep 8-10 hours
This may sound crazy, but the general recommendation for 6-7 hours is just not going to cut it. Recovery from a serious full-body workout will take time. Ensuring that you are getting enough sleep is vital to your performance under the barbell.
c) Record results to Identify Deloading Periods
Deloading is the practice of training at lower volumes during periods of rest. Generally, a strength training coach may develop a program for you that focuses’ on a specific skill. When they see a drop-off in your recorded lifts they will give your body an entire week to recover.
d) Use Modalities
Cold therapy or cryotherapy is the best way to ensure you reduce the inflammation following a workout. Try sitting in an ice bath or simply icing your knees with an ice pack for about twenty minutes following each workout. Over the course of months and years – this makes you fresher for each workout you attempt.
Okay – enough talk. Let’s get to the training. Each workout below is broken into its goal (focus) and which muscles you are hitting.
Main Muscles: Glutes, Hamstrings, Chest, Back, Shoulders
Type of Workout: Strength Training; sets and reps
|Shoulders Elevated Glute Bridge||12||3||2121||2m|
|Incline Barbell Press||8||3||2121||2m|
This full-body workout routine is sure to bring your serious gains! The emphasis here is on traditional strength training that will translate into heavier lifts over time. Your focus should be to ensure each rep feels “easy”. By this, we mean that you are focussing on form over the amount of weight you are using.
- We suggest keeping your rep ranges in the 8-12 scheme – unless you are doing powerful movements like the box jumps.
- If the front squat is too difficult using a barbell try using a lighter front-loaded kettlebell
- Use a supinated grip to get greater muscle activation during the bent-over row
- Slow and controlled is always the focus during an Arnold press. Keep the weight relatively light and maintain a deep range of motion.
Focus: Fat Loss
Main Muscles: Quads, Core, Back, Hamstrings
Type of Workout: High-intensity interval training
|Medicine ball slam||30s||10s|
HIIT workouts are great for increasing your metabolism and building strength. This workout is designed to be performed in a circuit. In other words, you will be performing one exercise after another. For best results be sure to take the 10 seconds of rest after each exercise – this will help to ensure you do not have form breakdown during your training.
- The squat press can be done with a dumbell in each hand, or you can use the medicine ball that you will be using in the next exercise
- 30 seconds of medicine ball slams will be difficult – pace yourself and ensure you are using a hip hinge to generate your strength
- Try using a dumbbell for renegade rows instead of kettlebells as they are easier to balance.
- The 1-minute guideline above for the plank is just a guideline. If you are experiencing any back pain you can switch this exercise to a wall sit or any other major isometric holding exercise.
Focus: Increase Big Lifts
Main Muscles: Glutes, Hamstrings, Back, Chest
Type of Workout: Strength Training and Tempo
|Low Bar Back Squat||6||4||2121||2m|
|Flat Bench Press||5||5||2121||2m|
|Bodyweight Glute Bridge Hold||1m||3||hold||2m|
Hitting your big lifts is essential for those that want to put on serious strength over time. Concrete research has shown for some time now that the big lifts like deadlift, bench and squat hit the biggest muscles and force the greatest hypertrophy – essential for your strength. The strength workout above was designed with three main lifts and two accessory movements.
- Most of the exercises above use a 6/4 rep scheme. This means your focus should be on completing relatively heavy reps and taking longer rest times between sets
- When completing your accessory movements you should try to “recreate” the same movement pattern and rep speed as a larger movement
- Switch the order of the first three exercises every week to stimulate different muscle growth
Main Muscles: Glutes, Quads, Calves, Core
Type of Workout: Plyometrics and Strength Training
|Pause-Rep Dumbbell Press||6||3||1111||2m|
|D-Bar Lat Pulldown||6||3||2121||2m|
Power workouts are the most difficult to complete. Your goal here is to generate as much force as possible through the range of motion. Focussing on your glutes and hamstrings will help to influence strength in the lower body while building stability in the core and upper body. Most of the exercises above are built with a 6/3 – and faster tempo speeds. This means you should simulate moving slowly eccentrically, and quickly concentrically.
- The step-up height can be changed to make the exercise more difficult (higher) or less difficult (lower)
- Pausing at the bottom range of motion in your dumbbell press will help you to train the concentric portion of your lift in pushing exercises
- Keep your Bulgarian lunges light – your focus should be on creating a powerful and balanced movement
- Try counting your jump rope reps in 1 minute and challenge yourself to beat your score every workout
Focus: Strength and Conditioning
Main Muscles: Legs, Back, Core, Arms
Type of Workout: Brazilian
|Run 400m||20 Pushups|
|Run 300m||20 Lunges|
|Run 200m||20 Supermans|
|Run 300m||20 Burpees|
|Run 400m||1m Plank|
This workout will require some space. You can use a track, soccer field, baseball diamond, basketball court or you can keep it simple and use a treadmill. During this workout, you will run the described distance and then complete the exercise. There is no rest between the exercises but you can take a 5-minute rest after the set is complete. You should only repeat this workout routine 2-3x in a day.
- Switch your pushup grip on each workout to develop transferable strength
- Lunges can be completed walking, stationary or Bulgarian style
- Don’t skip the supermans – these are great exercises for developing the muscles needed to run without fatigue
- Try to maintain a run speed of about 60% of your sprint speed
Serious Gains Takes Time
Patience and persistence are words that somewhat contradict themselves, but there are crucial elements to your strength development.
Don’t let this article fool you – Full body workouts are some of the most challenging workouts you can complete. They will exhaust your entire body and you will take multiple days to recover from these training sessions. In order to see serious gains, you should maintain a persistent approach to your goal. Here are the final considerations you need to keep persistent with in order to see serious gains:
1. Whole-Food Nutrition
Nothing beats the food you put in your system. Consume rich, whole-foods that are bountiful in complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and wholesome fats. The foods you put in your body is the fuel you have for a workout.
For information on how you can get more from your nutrition be sure to check out our nutrition package here.
2. Record Everything
Record how you felt, what you lifted, what you are the day of and before a workout and how your body has been recovering. When you have data showing the success of a lack of success you have some form of evidence as to why you are achieving or not achieving.
Grab yourself a journal and record every gain or lack of gain that you have during your workout process.
3. Supplement The Good Stuff
If there is one thing every great bodybuilder knows it’s that supplements can take you further. Supplement the good stuff and be sure your body is getting everything it needs in order to grow stronger. Not sure what supplements you should be stacking? Here at anabolicbodies.com, we do most of the heavy lifting for you.
Check out our goal section and start reading about the best supplements for boosting testosterone, building strength or losing body fat.
Enjoyed this article? Have questions about a specific exercise or routine? No stress, comment below so we can help you crush your goals!
CSEP – CPT, Expert in Exercise Physiology
Gabriello is a writer and strength expert best known for his science-based and practical approach to Exercise Physiology, Nutrition and Strength. After serving in a directors position for The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology Gabriello moved towards writing to help more people understand the importance of living a healthy life. Gabriello’s writings have been published in several languages on some of the largest health and fitness websites helping people learn, grow and understand the complex components of optimizing human performance in a simplistic way.
Gabriello also takes on specialized, high-performance athletes who are in need of strength, mobility and conditioning programming to optimize their fitness through his Earned Fitness program.