How to Program a Full-Body Workout, Plus 2 Sample Workouts
A full-body workout taxes the entire body.
Unlike body part split workout programs that focus on specific muscle groups on different days (such as leg day, back day, or chest and arms day), a full-body workout targets the upper body, lower body, and core during each training session.
Of the many benefits to full-body workouts, saving time is at the top of the list. Full-body workouts are an efficient method to get stronger, increase your heart rate, and burn a lot of calories. If you only have 40 minutes to an hour to workout each day, or can only squeeze 1–3 workouts in per week, full-body workouts are the best use of your time.
Below, we explain how to set up a full-body workout program, debunk the myths behind full-body workouts, and outline two full-body home workouts you can do on your own.
Please note: This post is meant for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. Before beginning a new workout routine, consult your physician or a licensed personal trainer.
The Misconceptions of Full-Body Workouts
In bodybuilding and other fitness communities, many athletes avoid full-body workouts.
They believe total-body workouts don't allow enough time for muscles to recover, thereby hindering muscle growth. Instead, they choose to focus on 1–2 body parts per strength training workout (such as bicep and back exercises). Body part-split routines certainly have merit, but they also have drawbacks, particularly for athletes and gym-goers who want to build muscle and make the most of their time.
Here's the truth: If you follow a proper full-body workout routine, it’s very difficult to overtrain your muscles.
1. You Can Plan for Recovery Time
As long as you rest adequately between each workout (e.g. no less than 24 hours), your muscles will have enough time to recover. If you only work out 3–5 days per week, you'll be able to give your muscles more rest.
2. Full-Body Exercises Avoid Straining a Single Muscle Group
There are 650 muscles in the human body. If you do an hour-long full-body workout, there simply isn't enough time to over-exert a single muscle. This is unlike an arm training day, where you overload your biceps and triceps until you physically can't do another rep.
To ensure you allow enough recovery time for each muscle, think about the muscles you target during each full-body workout.
For example, if you do leg extensions on Monday to target your quads, you might opt for dumbbell lunges or hack squats during the next workout.).
3. Many Exercises Are Already Full-Body Exercises
Whether you realize it or not, many of your favorite exercises are full-body movements that recruit multiple muscle groups (also called "compound exercises").
You might think of a push-up as a chest exercise, but it also taxes your delts, core, back muscles, and even your quads. Squats work nearly every major muscle in the body, including your back, chest, core, quads, and glutes. Even a bench press works your pecs (chest), triceps, shoulders, biceps, lats, and traps.
How to Set up a Full-Body Workout in 5 Steps
To get the maximum benefit from total-body workouts, you'll want to follow a proper routine.
A well-programmed full-body workout should cater to your individual fitness goals. Whether you're looking to build overall body strength, burn fat, or add lean muscle mass, a full-body workout plan can be highly effective.
With that being said, here are a few simple steps to help you program your own full-body workouts:
1. Select Your Primary Lift
Begin your full-body workout with a primary lift.
The best exercises to choose for your primary lift are full-body exercises. In other words, choose a compound exercise that requires more muscle recruitment than any other exercise in your workout. These could include goblet squats, shoulder/bench press, kettlebell swings, barbell deadlifts, or a dumbbell squat to press.
These exercises are full-body exercises, taxing major muscle groups like your chest, lats, quads, glutes, delts, and core. Since they require the most effort, it's important to do them first while your body has energy.
Example: Goblet squats
2. Pair Your Primary Lift With a Counteractive Movement
Next, pair (or superset) your primary lift with an exercise that counteracts it. This will often be a core, plyometric, or explosive exercise.
For example, if you chose a goblet squat (a strength exercise) as your primary lift, pair it with an explosive exercise such as a medicine ball slam, broad jump, or box jump.
However, if you choose a kettlebell swing as your primary lift (which is already an explosive movement), pair it with a core exercise such as a hollow body hold.
Example: Squat jump
3. Create a Three-Exercise Circuit
To target all muscle groups, you should include an upper-body exercise, lower-body exercise, and core exercise.
The first exercise within your circuit should have the same muscle focus as your primary lift. For example, a goblet squat primary lift would coincide with a focus on glute/posterior chain muscles. Therefore, choose another exercise that primarily works your glutes and posterior chain, such as a deadlift.
Since deadlifts are a lower-body exercise, choose an upper-body and core exercise for your final two movements.
Try to vary your exercises as much as possible. For example, since deadlifts are a double-legged exercise, you might try a single-arm row for your upper body exercise. For your core exercise, you might try to target your obliques through a full-arm plank with a shoulder tap (since deadlifts already worked your abdominal muscles).
4. Build a Second Circuit (If Necessary)
Looking for an added challenge, or a longer workout? Add a second circuit, using the same logic as your first.
For example, you could start with a reverse lunge (again, this taxes your glutes). Since a reverse lunge is a unilateral leg exercise, try pairing it with a bilateral upper-body exercise such as a lat pulldown. Finally, finish with a slow bear crawl or mountain climbers as your core exercise.
5. Finish With Cardio
A finisher is meant to burn you out.
To truly create a full-body workout, end your workout by working one of the most important muscle groups in your body: your heart.
Example: Interval sprints
Please note: These tips above offer a simplified approach to programming workouts. If you are a beginner, we highly recommend consulting a personal trainer to tailor a workout plan to your goals.
Two Full-Body Workouts to Work Into Your Routine
Following the same five-step process listed above, you can build different full-body workouts. These can be programmed with bodyweight exercises or heavier weights.
Instructions: Perform each circuit three times. Perform each circuit in its entirety before moving to the next circuit. Rest 15–20 seconds between each exercise within each circuit. Rest 1–2 minutes between circuits.
You can perform the same warm-up routine for both workouts:
- 3x bike sprints (20 seconds)
- 8 barbell bench presses
- 5 windshield wipers (10 each side)
- 3x sprints (15 seconds)
The Best Full-Body Workout Is Tailored to Your Goals
Full-body workout routines are an efficient way to work the whole body in a single hour. If you run a busy schedule and want to gain muscle, build strength, or tackle weight loss, full-body workouts can do the trick.
While many bodybuilders believe full-body workouts overload certain muscle groups and hinder muscle growth, this is actually not the case. A properly-programmed workout will work all major muscle groups throughout the week, even with daily upper- and lower-body exercises.
To help your muscles recover and rebuild, science shows you need to consume protein after any resistance training workout. Consuming protein — like the 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate found in your Muscle Building Essentials Stack — helps boost your performance, recover your muscles, and ultimately build muscle post-workout.