The Full Body Workout Routine for Rapid Muscle Growth

Robby Robinson wcIf you want to build muscle and/or increase your strength, there are a huge number of training programs that you could choose from to help you achieve those goals.

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 the maximum amount of muscle, in the shortest possible time, 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, and I’ll also give you what’s probably the best routine there is to get started with, as well as a slightly more advanced one for those who’ve been training a bit longer.

What Is a Full Body Workout Routine?

As its name suggests, a full body workout is one in which you train your entire body (directly or indirectly) in the one workout. This could mean doing one or two exercises 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 workout is a squat or deadlift variation, together with an upper body push and an upper body pull. You could add in 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 over the course of the week. However, if you do the same workout every time you train, you will soon run into recovery issues. So the best plan is to start off with two different workouts, and alternate them.

Then, after several months, when you have build up a decent amount of size and strength, you could switch to doing three different workouts. So that 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 extremely well for intermediate level trainees too.

Beginners are in the enviable 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 have a focus 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 tissue when you perform them, and also because they give a much stronger growth stimulus than the smaller isolation exercises, due to the fact that you can use a lot more weight on them.

So, if you are a beginner, a full body workout plan 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, if you apply yourself to it diligently and consistently. Don’t be fooled by its simplicity – the simple programs are often the best. You don’t need lots of different exercises, or a large amount of training volume, at the beginner stage. Just follow this as it is, and you’ll be amazed by the results.

Workout A

  • Squats 3 x 5–7
  • Bench Press 3 x 5–7
  • Bent-over Row 3 x 5–7

Workout B

  • Deadlift 2 x 5
  • Overhead Press 3 x 5–7
  • Pull-Ups 3 x 8–10

(3 x 5–7 = 3 sets of 5–7 reps)

The sets listed above are your work sets, but always make sure you warm up properly before you do these. For the bigger exercises (squat, bench press and deadlift) do a light set, perhaps with just the empty bar (a bit more for deadlifts), first. Then do at least two further warm-up sets, 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 155lb, start by using the empty bar (45lb), and do 10 reps. Then increase the weight to 95lb, and do 7 reps. Then move up to 125lb, and do 5 reps. And finally increase it to your working weight of 155lb, and do 3 sets of 5–7 reps.

For the other exercises, one or two warm-up sets may be enough.

Alternate these two workouts over your three weekly visits to the gym (say Monday, Wednesday and Friday – always ensuring you have at least one day off between workouts). So in week 1 you’ll do workout A, followed by B, followed by A. Then, in week 2, you’ll do workout B, followed by A, followed by B – and so on.

After you’ve been training for 3 or 4 months, you could add an extra exercise to the end of each workout if you wish. Add barbell curls to workout A, and parallel bar dips to workout B. Do both of these for 2 sets of 8–10 reps.

Note: If you can’t do pull-ups, just do partial pull-ups, and gradually increase your range of motion over time. Or, failing that, just do lat pulldowns instead.

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 rep ranges specified above for each of your sets (e.g. for squats, do 3 sets of 7), and then simply add a little weight to each exercise every time you do it.

Add 10lbs to your squat and deadlift, and 5lb to all your other exercises, until you reach the point where it becomes difficult to do this number of reps on all your sets of a particular exercise. At this point, reduce the number of reps to the lower end of the rep range (e.g. 3 sets of 5 for your squats), and simply aim to increase your rep count each workout. Then, again, when you reach the top end of the rep range for all your sets, increase the weight next time.

At some point you will reach the stage where you fail to make progress from workout to workout. When that happens, just stay on the same weight/rep count. But when you fail to make any progress on an exercise for three workouts in a row, you’ll need to take a couple of steps back, and then build back up again. So reduce your weights by 15–20% (only on the exercises you have stalled on), and then continue to progress as before.

The Three Day Full-Body Workout Program

The full body workout routine described above is probably the most effective and result producing workout regimen you will ever find for someone who is new to weight training. But, if you’ve been training correctly for several months, and made some good “newbie” gains, you will probably find you’ll recover better, and continue to make gains for longer, if you switch to doing three different full body workouts over the course of the week. So, your routine will now look something like this:

Workout 1

  • Squats 3 x 5–7
  • Incline Bench Press 3 x 8–10
  • Bent-Over Row 3 x 5–7
  • Barbell Curl 2 x 8–10
  • Calf Raise 3 x 8–10

Workout 2

  • Deadlift 2 x 5
  • Overhead Press 3 x 5–7
  • Pull-Ups 3 x 8–10
  • Parallel Bar Dips 2 x 8–10
  • Cable Crunch 2 x 12–15

Workout 3

  • Leg Press 3 x 10–12
  • Bench Press 3 x 5–7
  • Dumbbell Row 3 x 8–10
  • Hammer Curl 2 x 10–12
  • Seated Calf Raise 3 x 10–12

This 3-day full body workout routine will probably keep you progressing for quite some time, provided you combine it with a good muscle-building diet, some proven supplements (not essential but certainly useful), and sufficient rest and sleep. But at some stage you’ll likely find a slightly different approach will work better for you. And the ideal routine for the more experienced trainee is the upper/lower split routine; and that is the subject of my next post.

Photo credit: RRWM (own work), CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

14 Replies to “The Full Body Workout Routine for Rapid Muscle Growth”

  1. I’m looking to start building some muscle again after being away from the gym for years. I like the look of this routine but is the smaller volume really enough to simulate muscle growth for the first 6 or so months?

    Thanks for the great content!

    • Yes, it’s just what you need when you first start back. You can add some more volume in later on.

      • Fantastic. I look forward to making some gains on this program then!

  2. Rack is always taken in my gym and there is only one, is it possible to switch the barbell row with DB row and the standing press for DB overhead press?
    thank you

    • Yes, those are perfectly acceptable alternatives, although you don’t really need a rack for either barbell rows or standing presses. You do need one for squats though.

  3. Why is it done 3 times per week and not 4 times with 3 days off? Thank you

    • Because it’s a full body routine, so you are training each body part (at least to some degree) every workout. So any more than three times per week would be too much. If you have been training a while and are looking for a good 4 day plan check out my upper/lower body routine.

  4. Hi David. First of all I want to thank you. I was very reluctant to do this full body routine. But I am very glad I did. The change in my lifts and my body has been amazing. Everybody around me has noticed a big difference and keeps talking about it.

    Now my question. How do you feel about a deloading period? And what do you recommend would be a good deloading routine?

    • Glad to hear you are doing well with this JP. Yes, once you are past the beginner stage having a deload week, or even a week off, every 2 – 4 months is definitely a good idea, and will only improve your long term gains. If you want to deload with this routine, just train twice that week (so each workout is done just once), and reduce your weights by about 30% (but do the same number of reps). Or you could keep the weights the same but just do one set of each exercise.

  5. Hello David. I’ve been having some shoulder pain from bench press. Any suggestions on what would be a good way to replace bench press to a more shoulder friendly exercise?

    Thank you

    • Yes, if you tuck your elbows (rather than flaring them out to the side as many people do) it makes the bench press more shoulder friendly. But if you are doing that and still having problems you could try bench pressing at a slight incline, or use dumbbells instead of a barbell. Or you could simply shorten the range of motion a little by placing a board on your chest.

  6. I have access to a real gym three times per week. Two of those days MUST be consecutive since I work four, ten hour days. Is it safe to a three day, full body routine if I have to go two of those days back to back?

    • It is if the workouts are very dissimilar. But personally, I still wouldn’t. Better to do a lower body routine followed by an upper routine (or vice versa). Your third workout could be full body, or you could just alternate upper, lower, upper etc.

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