Full-body workouts are popular for training the upper body, lower body and core in a single session. This allows athletes and others to train more muscles in less time and has multiple benefits for strength and performance.
Here’s everything you need to know to create your own effective full-body workout and to avoid common mistakes.
- Full-Body Workout Benefits
- Full-Body Workout Mistakes
- Best Full-Body Workout Exercises
- How to Build a Full-Body Workout (With 3 Sample Workouts)
Full-Body Workout Benefits
The benefits of full-body workouts are compared to split workouts, which is another popular style of workout where you train only a specific portion of your body in a single session, such as an upper-body workout.
Here are some of the benefits of full-body workouts:
Full-body workouts are better for athletes
At no point are sports played in isolation. Throwing a ball is a full-body movement, as is tackling an opponent and even running. Your lower body, core and upper body work together to help you perform all types of athletic movements and skills.
Advocates of full-body workouts believe that training your entire body in a single workout has a greater transfer to sports performance. However, many strength coaches advocate split routines that often include full-body exercises, and they have great success with that style of training.
So the decision to perform full-body workouts will likely be based on some of the benefits below.
You can do more in less time
By their nature, full-body workouts involve strengthening nearly your entire body in a single training session. It’s impossible to directly target every muscle with an exercise, but your major muscles and joints should be trained during a full-body workout.
This allows you to do fewer workouts per week than if you were following a split routine, which typically requires four or more workouts per week. In fact, you can do two full-body workouts per week and expect decent results, which is why full-body workouts are ideal for in-season training.
Full-body workouts also open the door for a wide variety of supersets by pairing together lower-body and upper-body movements. Upper- and lower-body exercises paired in a superset have minor effect on each other, so you can still perform each exercise at near full capacity and double the amount of actual work you complete in a training session, which leads to . . .
Increased caloric burn and improved conditioning
Full-body workouts are tough and typically far more demanding than split routines, especially ones that feature heavy doses of isolation exercises like Curls. The more (and larger) muscles you work, the more energy your body will burn.
This makes full-body workouts an excellent option for weight loss if that’s one of your training goals. Working more muscles and increasing the amount of work you do in a single training session with supersets are critical components of a successful weight loss program.
For athletes, full-body workouts increase your work capacity, enabling you to do more for longer periods of time. Eventually, you should be able to perform more quality reps and recover faster between exercises (or plays), leading to bigger strength and conditioning gains.
You can train your muscles more frequently
Split workouts are generally considered ideal for building muscle. You can perform several exercises that target a single muscle group to cause fatigue and obtain the coveted muscle pump. However, split workouts often take several days to recover from and can cause significant muscle soreness, especially at the beginning of a training program.
Research shows this approach is more effective for increasing muscle size than a single split workout per muscle group each week.
Full-Body Workout Mistakes
Full-body workouts are highly effective, but they’re a bit more challenging to do—especially if you have prior experience with split workouts. Common mistakes can make full-body workouts a total mess, putting too much stress on your body, which can lead to overtraining if you’re not careful.
Here are the three most common mistakes with tips on how to avoid them.
Mistake 1: Doing too much
If your workout chart looks like an exercise glossary, you’re in for a rough ride. This will be a long and brutal workout. You might start out strong, but your strength and effort will inevitably decrease as fatigue sets in.
Yes, you’re doing a lot of exercises, but what’s the quality of your sets? Not great.
You simply can’t target muscles like you would in a split routine, and you can’t train every single muscle in your body. And that’s OK. You have multiple workouts during the week to train a muscle group.
Rather than cramming a billion exercises into a workout, think quality over quantity. Stick to workouts that last no more than 60 minutes. You will leave some great exercises on the cutting room floor, but they are necessary sacrifices for a sustainable full-body workout and program.
Mistake 2: Over stimulating your nervous system
It’s OK to lift heavy on your first exercise, but no more. Heavy lifts tax your central nervous system, and doing too much can impair recovery and actually make you weaker in subsequent workouts.
A major component of building strength is managing fatigue, not just doing heavy exercise after heavy exercise. Your body can only handle so much.
So after a heavy exercise, back off the load to moderately heavy or even light weights on your next exercises and increase the number of reps. You can still challenge your muscles, just not with weights near your max.
Mistake 3: Doing too many isolation exercises
A workout of Hammer Curls, Lateral Raises and Calf Raises is technically considered a full-body workout, but your efforts will yield diminished returns. Isolation exercises like these play a role in a full-body routine, but they should play second fiddle to the basic compound exercises, which include Presses, Rows, Squats, etc.
Compound exercises work multiple muscles across multiple joints, and are a far more effective use of your time within the 60 minutes or so that you have to train. Sure, you can do a few isolation exercises toward the end of your workout to address weak points, but you need to ditch the bodybuilder mindset and think like an athlete.
Best Full-Body Exercises
There are many highly effective full-body exercises. Some are obviously full-body moves because they require a distinct lower- and upper-body action, such as a Squat to Press.
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However, the vast majority of full-body exercises are moves you likely regularly perform in your workouts. For example, a Back Squat can be considered a full-body exercise. Although you are targeting your legs, your upper body and core play huge roles in supporting the bar.
The same goes for the Deadlift and even the Bench Press. A proper Bench Press requires leg drive, flexed glutes and a tight core. So instead of focusing on individual exercises, look for moves that involve multiple muscles across multiple joints.
How to Build a Full-Body Workout
Now comes the tricky part—putting all this together. Full-body workouts should be fairly simple, but as we mentioned above, they can quickly become overly complicated.
To help you get started creating your own full-body workout program, we put together a 3-day template that lists the type of exercises included in each workout. We also provided an example variation and set and reps.
This program is designed for athletes who are looking to get stronger and add some size. It’s a fairly basic plan, but it’s a good starting point to learn what a full-body workout should look like.
The hope is that you can take these principles and apply them to your own workouts, which accounts for your goals, needs and available equipment.
Here are the guidelines for creating a full-body workout program:
Do full-body workouts if you plan to lift 1-3 times per week. At 4 days per week, it’s a judgement call on whether you want to do full-body or split workouts. Anything more than 4 days, and you should opt for split workouts.
Each of the workouts below begins with an explosive or plyometric exercise followed by one of the Big 3 compound lifts (Squat, Deadlift and Bench Press) supersetted with an exercise that will improve performance on that lift. It then moves on to either an upper-body or lower-body superset followed by a superset of one upper-body and one lower-body exercise. The workout finishes with a core exercise and optional arm or leg work.
Perform full-body workouts on non-consecutive days. Monday-Wednesday-Friday is a perfect schedule.
Always begin with a dynamic warm-up and finish with a cooldown.
Full-Body Workout – Day 1
1) Explosive/Plyometric: Med Ball Overhead Throws: 4×3
2A) Deadlift Variation: Trap Bar Deadlift – 5×3
2B) Lat Activation: Straight-Arm Pulldown – 5×5
3A) Press Variation: Dumbbell Press – 4×8
3B) Pull Variation: Single-Arm Dumbbell Row – 4×8 each arm
4A) Single-Leg Quad: Step-Ups – 3×10 each leg
4B) Rear Delt Variation: Bent-Over Lateral Raises – 3×20
5) Heavy Carry Variation: Suitcase Carries – 4×20 yards each side
6) Optional: Biceps and Triceps
Full-Body Workout – Day 2
1) Explosive/Plyometric: Box Jumps – 4×3
2A) Press Variation: Bench Press – 5×3
3B) Rear Delt Activation: Band Pull-Aparts – 5×10
3A) Lunge Variation: Reverse Lunge – 4×8 each leg
3B) Hamstring Curl Variation: Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl – 4×12
4A) Pull Variation: Pull-Ups – 3×10
4B) Hinge Variation – Banded Glute Bridge – 3×25
5) Plank Variation: Ab Rollouts – 4×7
6) Optional: Quad Finisher
Full-Body Workout – Day 3
1) Explosive/Plyometric: Med Ball Rotational Throws – 4×3
2A) Squat Variation: Front Squat – 5×3
2B) Chest Stretch Variation: 90/90 Pec Stretch – 5×5 each side
3A) Pull Variation: Inverted Row – 4×8
3B) Press Variation: Half-Kneeling Overhead Press – 4×8 each arm
4A) Single-Leg Glute: Single-Leg RDL – 3×8 each leg
4B) Front or Lateral Delt Variation: Lateral Raises – 3×15
5) Anti-Rotation Variation: Pallof Press – 4×10 each side
6) Optional: Biceps and Triceps