And although many of these can be useful, especially for more advanced trainees, if you are just starting out (or returning after a long layoff), or if you simply haven’t had much in the way of results from your efforts so far, the very best way to build muscle as fast as possible is with a full body workout routine.
So in this article I’ll explain what a full body workout involves and why this is such an effective way to train; I’ll give you what’s probably the best routine there is to get started with, and I’ll also give you a few tips on how to get the most out of your training.
What Is A Full Body Workout Routine?
As its name suggests a full body workout is one where you train your entire body (directly or indirectly) in the one workout. This could mean doing one exercise for every body part, or (more sensibly) it could mean doing just 3 – 5 exercises which together target all the major muscle groups.
In fact all you really need for an effective full body routine is a squat or deadlift variation together with an upper body push and an upper body pull. You could add some arm work at the end if you wish; but that’s about it.
You also have the option of doing the same workout each time you train (which would normally be three times per week), or you could alternate two or even three different workouts. However doing the same workout each time will soon lead to recovery issues, so the best plan is to start off with two different workouts and alternate them. Then later on you could switch to three different workouts if you wish. So this would mean you’d be doing each workout just once per week, but you’d still be training all your major muscle groups three times per week.
Why Use Full Body Workouts?
A full body workout program allows you to train each body part more frequently, whilst still maintaining a relatively modest overall training frequency (three times per week). This has been shown to be ideal for beginners, and it can also work really well for early intermediates too.
Beginners are in the unusual situation of being able to make consistent progress at a far more rapid rate than intermediate or advanced trainees ever could. And because they can only use relatively light weights they are not placing too much overall stress on their bodies, so they recover more quickly. It therefore makes sense to train in a way that takes full advantage of this – and the full body workout routine does just that.
Also full body workouts tend to be focused on the big compound exercises, as this is the only way you can effectively train your whole body with just a few movements. And compound exercises are the best muscle builders because they work more total muscle when you perform them, they produce more overall metabolic stress and muscle damage, and they also elicit a much greater hormonal response than the smaller exercises do.
So if you are a beginner a full body workout regimen will work better for you than any other method of training. Provided you set it up in the right way of course…
An Effective Full Body Workout Routine
Here’s a great full body routine that will give you rapid gains in muscle size and strength. Don’t be fooled by its simplicity – the simple programs are often the best. You don’t need lots of different exercises or large amounts of training volume at this stage. Just follow this as it is and you’ll be amazed by the results.
Squats 3 X 6 – 8
Bench Press 3 X 5 – 7
Bent-over Row 3 X 5 – 7
Deadlift 2 X 5
Overhead Press 3 X 5 – 7
Pull-Ups 3 X 6 – 8
(3 X 6 – 8 = 3 sets of 6 – 8 reps)
The sets listed above are your work sets. Always do at least two warm-up sets first with around 60% and 80% of your working weight. This will prepare your body for the heavier work, so you’ll be able to handle more weight, and it will also reduce your risk of injury.
So for example if you are going to be squatting with 175 lb, start with 105 lb and do 6 or 7 reps. Then increase to 140 lb and do 5 or 6 reps. And finally move up to 175 lb and do 3 sets of 6 – 8 reps.
Just alternate these two workouts over your three weekly visits to the gym. So in week 1 you’ll do workout’s A, B and A, and then in week 2 you’ll do workout’s B, A and B – and so on.
After you’ve been training for a while and have made some decent gains, you could add an extra exercise to the end of each workout. Add barbell curls to workout A and parallel bar dips to workout B. Do both of these for 2 sets of 8 – 10 reps.
How To Progress
When you first start out the most important thing is to practice your technique and perfect your form on each of the exercises. So start with light weights that you can easily handle. Do the number of reps at the top end of the ranges specified above for each of your sets, and then simply add a little weight to each exercise every time you do it.
Add 10 lbs to your squat and deadlift and 5 lb to all your other exercises until you reach the point where you cannot do this number of reps on all your sets. When that happens stay at the same weight until you can. Then increase as before.
If you get to a point where you fail to make any progress on an exercise for three workouts in a row you’ll need to take a step back and build back up again. So reduce your weights by 10 – 15% (only on the exercise(s) you have stalled on) and then continue to progress as before.
The full body workout routine described here is probably the most effective and result producing workout regimen you will ever find for someone who is new or relatively new to weight training. But if you are a bit more advanced you’ll probably find a slightly different approach will work better for you. And the ideal intermediate routine (the upper/lower split routine) is the subject of my next post.
Photo credit: RRWM (own work), CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons