We get it, you’re busy. You don’t have time to work your back, your chest and your biceps and triceps twice a week. Don't worry, we've got your, ever-so-muscular, back. Welcome to our go-to guide to full-body workouts.
Here, you'll find four workouts — including two plans from with Josh Silverman, head of education at top London gym Third Space and two do-anywhere sessions — that are guaranteed to build muscle, burn fat and fit into your busy schedule.
But there's more to these workouts than just being time-efficient. There's real strength to be had. As Silverman says: “What a lot of people get wrong is someone builds up their legs or builds up their upper body, and they don't realise that the other muscles in the body will actually contract at the same time, so if you don't strengthen those or if you don't get to grips with how to control them you may find that your strength goes down elsewhere.”
If you want to build true strength, you need to work out all of your major muscle groups, and full-body workouts are the most efficient way to do it.
The Benefits of Full-Body Workouts
It sounds pretty obvious, right? Working your whole body is going to mean that you're not prioritising one muscle group over another and will also mean you're building a well-rounded physique. But it's not just us saying that, there's a body of scientific research that's reached that conclusion too. For example, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that full-body workouts resulted in a superior hypertrophic effect, when compared with a traditional bodybuilding split where each muscle is trained once per week. In other words, if you want big muscles, full body workouts are how you build them.
Who Are Our Full-body Workouts For?
Looking to lose weight? These workouts will help you retain lean muscle so will be good for you. Looking to build strength? These workouts will help you to build full-body strength. New to the gym? These workouts will provide a platform from which you can hone your skills and learn about your body’s mechanics.
“Anybody can get something from it,” says Silverman. “It'd just now be down to the weight selection, a more experienced person obviously hits a heavier weight, but it's a good foundation exercise for anyone, even if they've been training for years. You don't want a weight to begin with that's going to literally ruin you."
Our advice: you want to have about two reps left in the tank, because you are working hard enough to cause an adaptation, but not to the point of exhaustion.
The Best Full-body Exercises
When it comes to piecing together a workout, or knowing what to look out for in a programme, the best full-body workouts will include compound exercises — moves that involve multiple muscle groups. Exercises such as deadlifts, kettlebell swings, thrusters and burpees all use at least three moves to work through the range of motion. Here are a cluster of our recommendations to include in your next session, with coaching cues and tips:
Squat down and grasp a barbell with your hands roughly shoulder-width apart.
Keep your chest up, pull your shoulders back and look straight ahead as you lift the bar.
Focus on taking the weight back onto your heels and keep the bar as close as possible to your body at all times.
Lift to thigh level, pause, then return under control to the start position.
Expert tip: Vary your grip between overhand, underhand and hook (one over, one under) to avoid your forearms giving out before your legs do
Place a kettlebell a couple of feet in front of you.
Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and bend your knees to lean forward and grab the handle with both hands.
With your back flat, engage your lats to pull the weight between your legs (be careful with how deep you swing) then drive your hips forward and explosively pull the kettlebell up to shoulder height with your arms straight in front of you.
Return to the start position and repeat without pauses.
Expert tip: Don't be tempted to squat. Your knees should bend slightly but most of the movement is driven by your hips.
Hold two dumbbells by their handles but so the back of the weight is resting above the back of your shoulder.
Slightly bend your knees and squat down, keeping your legs in line with your shoulders.
Drive through your legs and straighten them, extending your arms as you do so to raise the dumbbells above your head.
Squat down and repeat.
From a standing position squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor and place your palms on the floor.
From there kick your feet back as far as you can while keeping your arms extended.
As soon as your feet land jump them back in towards your hands, then jump up into the air.
Land and immediately squat down to go into the next rep.
Expert tip: A solid core is key to avoiding sagging hips when you kick your feet back.
Get into a press-up position with your hands on the handles of two dumbbells.
Keeping your core tensed, row the right dumbbell up to your abs then return to the start position.
Repeat with the left dumbbell to complete one rep.
Expert tip: Set up with your feet wider than a normal press-up to help you balance.
Assume a press-up position with your knees bent at 90-degree angles and directly underneath your hips. Your knees should be elevated.
- Without allowing your lower back to rise or round, brace your abs as if you were about to punched in the gut. Hold this contraction the entire time. This is your starting position.
"Walk" your right hand and left foot forward a few inches. Pause, and then return to the starting position.
How Long Should You Follow the Full-body Workout Programmes For?
Below, we've put two workout plans that aren’t designed to be picked up and put down. For best results, follow the programmes for a minimum of a month and a maximum of three. However, we've also included a bodyweight workout and a dumbbell workout at the bottom of this page, which are ideal if you're looking for a quick workout or short on time.
3-Day Full Body Workout
For your 3-day workout, your week will be split into three sessions: push, pull and supersets. The idea is that you target each muscle group twice per week, while the third session encourages you to push harder with what Silverman refers to as an "antagonistic superset session".
In the first two workouts of the week, sessions are broken down into a number of sections. You'll start the session with a warm-up, so rather than working out on a treadmill in order to warm up for a weights session, you'll use bands and bodyweight to get you fully prepared. Next you'll work on strength, and we'd encourage you to try and increase the weights you're using by a little bit each week. "Even if you can only manage a 1kg increase, it’s still progress," says Silverman.
Over the course of one to three months we also want you to try and maximise volume. To do this, each week you'll add an extra rep. Finally, we have included some accessory work. This is where we add in exercises for muscle groups that are generally lacking or which help with major lifts.
The 3-day Full Body Workout
Day One: Push Workout
Banded Pull Apart
Goblet Squat 4x5
Floor Press 4x5
Leg Press 3x8 to 12
Landmine Press 3x8 to 12
Leg extension 3x12
Pallof press 3x12
Day Two: Pull Workout
Standing banded hip thrusts
Banded glute bridge
Banded pull downs
Pull-ups (assisted if necessary) 3x5
Rack pulls 3x5
Hip thrusts 3x8 to 12
Close-grip lat pulldown 3x8 to 12
Lying hamstring curl 3x12
Cable rotations 3x12
Day Three: Supersets
These supersets should be completed back to back, without a rest in between.
Hack squat 3x8 to 12
Kettlebell deadlift 3x8 to 12
Dumbbell incline press 3x8 to 12
Bent-over row 3x8 to 12
Single-arm kneeling dumbbell press 3x12
Single-arm row 3x8 to 12
4-day Full Body Workout
The 4-day workout works in much the same way as the 3-day version, except this time each day will be devoted to either lower body or upper body exercises.
The 4-day Full Body Workout
Day One: Lower Body
Kettlebell rack squats 4x5
Leg press 3x6
Rack RDL 3x6
Lying hamstring curl 3x8 to 12
Seated leg extension 3x8 to 12
Day Two: Upper Body
Bench press 4x5
Dumbbell press 3x6
Seated row 3x6
Incline bicep curl 3x8 to 12
Triceps push down 3x8 to 12
Day Three: Lower Body
Barbell glute bridge 3x8 to 12
Hack squat 3x8 to 12
Split squat 3x8 to 12
SL RDL 3x8 to 12
Leg curl 3x8 to 12
Abs roll out 3x5 to 9
Day Four: Upper Body
Landmine press 3x8 to 12
Pendlay row 3x8 to 12
Close-grip lat pulldown 3x8 to 12
Incline dumbbell press 3x8 to 12
Skull crusher 3x8 to 12
Cable curl 3x8 to 12
Pallof press 3x8 to 12
Bodyweight Full-Body Workout
If you're used to home workouts, don't have access to a gym or want a workout that you can take on holiday with you, a bodyweight full-body workout can't be beaten when it comes to getting bang-for-your-buck.
In the video above, Locksmith gives you a follow-along session that you can grind through where ever you are — you won't even need much space. All you need to do is work through each exercise for 40 seconds and rest for 20 seconds. Then go onto the next exercise. Rest for 90 seconds at the end of each round and run through the workout for a total of four rounds.
Squats into a jumping lunge
Press-up (work out to the beat)
Dumbbell Full-Body Workout
If you've got a pair of dumbbells, that's more than enough to hit a full-body workout. You'll be able to hit your chest, back, shoulders, core, legs and glutes — all major muscle groups, essentially — without any other kit. Here's how to do it.
“You’re going from the most metabolically difficult movement to the least, but the reps go up, so prepare to be pushed all the way to bitter end,” says Men’s Health fitness editor Andrew Tracey. “Moving from total body movements, into an alternating upper/lower pattern means you’ll be able to keep your working muscles reasonably fresh, while your heart and lungs are still doing overtime, giving your metabolism a huge punch."
In this full-body workout, you’re going to be working in a ‘chipper’ format, working your way through ('chipping' at) all of the workout reps of each individual movement, before moving on to the next, resting only as necessary to keep your form sharp, but not a single second more. For example, you can't start the 40 dumbbell thrusters until you've got through 20 devil's presses.
1) 20 x Devil’s Press
Drop down into a press-up position holding your dumbbells, and perform a burpee. As you begin to stand back up, use the momentum to swing the weights between your legs, then directly overhead. Lower under control and repeat.
2) 40 x Dumbbell Thrusters
Raise your dumbbells up to your shoulders and squat down, keeping your back straight and your chest up, until your thighs are beyond parallel to the ground. Stand back up explosively and, in one motion, press both of the dumbbells overhead to full lockout. Now, reverse the movement and repeat. Quickly.
3) 60 x Renegade rows
After your final thruster, drop into a strong plank with both hands on your dumbbells. Shifting your weight onto your left hand, row the right dumbbell towards your hip. Pause briefly, then lower the weight under control. Repeat on your left side. Each row equals 1 rep.
4) 80 x Goblet squats
Drop one dumbbell and hold the other close to your chest. Sink your hips back and descend into a squat. Your elbows should come in between your knees at the bottom. Drive back up, tensing your glutes at the top
5) 100 x Press-ups
Finally, drop your remaining dumbbell and assume a long arm plank position, with your core tight and your hands below your shoulders, bend your elbows to bring your chest to the floor. Keep your elbows close to your body as you push back up explosively.
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