There are literally hundreds of different workout routines, created by fitness magazines, fitness professionals, intermediate & advanced weight lifters & athletes and even complete novices. Out of the hundreds of variations there are generally a few popular types of workout routine: Full Body workouts, Split Body workouts and Upper/Lower workouts.
There is continuing debate on which routine is best, some say that a full body routine is best, some say it’s a split routine, others say upper/lower split.
I am an advocate of the full body routine because it allows you to target the same muscle group two or three times per week, whereas the other workout types you would be lucky if you could fit in the same muscle group twice in one week. By working the same muscle group 2-3 times per weeks allows for optimal strength and size gains.
For the purpose of this document I am of course explaining the benefits of a full body workout in comparison to other workout routines. Below are the basic rules you should follow if you wish to perform a full body workout effectively.
1. Workout 2-3 Times per Week
There are several benefits to a full body workout, the first is training frequency, which is recommended at 2-3 times per week, great for those short of time. Because a full body workout is so intense and demanding on the body you should train 2 to 3 times per week maximum, any more than this and it could result in overtraining.
You must also make sure you have at least 24-48 hours rest between full body workouts, for example if you worked out on Monday you should not do another workout until Wednesday, the days in between your full body workouts can be used for light cardio work.
A full body workout is tough, I have been doing it for over 3 months and have only just started training 3 times per week, it’s taken me almost 3 months to increase my metabolism & energy levels to train 3 times a week, up until this point I was training twice per week every Monday and Thursday, but now I train every Monday, Wednesday & Friday.
2. Diet & Recovery
When I first read about full body workouts I didn’t realise how demanding they would be, before full body workouts I used to train with upper/lower split workouts 4 times per week, before this I did a split body workout routine 3 days per week.
Then I moved onto full body workouts training only 2 times a week, I must admit full body workouts takes a lot more out of me compared to all of the other workouts I have ever done.
To combat this I had to increase my caloric intake by 150-200 calories per day and also made sure I was getting enough rest (8-9 hours sleep every night). These 2 changes allowed me to perform a full body workout 3 times per week and have enough energy to complete each workout to the best of my ability.
3. Perform one Exercise per Muscle Group
A full body workout routine should comprise of compound moves, when you do compound moves a lot of secondary muscles are used to move the weight. Because of this you will not need to perform more than one exercise per body part during the workout.
I strongly recommend you perform one exercise for each muscle group (the exceptions to these are legs and abdominals), personally I stick to heavy compound movements for around 80% of my full body workout, it’s tough but I love it and can see the results of my hard labor in a matter of weeks.
Example of a full body workout routine (Note: you wouldn’t do all of these in one workout)
Chest: Barbell Bench Press
Upper Back: Wide Grip Pull Ups
Middle Back: Dumbbell Rows
Lower back: Deadlift
Triceps: Triceps Dips
Biceps: Barbell Biceps Curl
Shoulders: Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Quads, hamstrings & glutes: Full Barbell Squats
Quads: Barbell Lunges
Calves: Standing Calf Raises
Abdominals: sit-ups, leg raises & Crunches
4. Low Sets, Medium Reps
Depending on the exercises you perform depends on the number of sets you do, you should aim between 6-10 repetitions of any given exercise and a maximum of 5 sets. On compound movements such as the Barbell Bench Press, Barbell Squat or Deadlift I perform 1 working set of 6-8 repetitions. On normal isolation exercises such as Barbell Biceps Curls, I perform 2-3 sets of 6-10 repetitions.
5. Heavy Lifting
Some people assume that a full body workout consists of circuits and lifting light weights, but they couldn’t be more wrong!
Full body workouts require heavy lifting and like all workout routines you should aim to progressively increase the weight or number of repetitions every week, especially if you want to build muscle or get stronger as quickly as possible.
A full body workout is tough and a lot of energy is required to complete all the compound moves in one workout and then repeat it 2 or 3 times per week, every week, which is the sole reason I mention good diet & recovery as part of this routine!
6. Compound Movements
Any workout routine must consist of compound moves and a full body workout routine is no exception, in fact 80% of my full body routine consists of compound movements, and yours should as well.
Compound movements such as barbell bench press or barbell squat should be performed near the start of the workout, because you have the most energy at this point, as you become tired you can workout smaller muscle groups such as the biceps and triceps. Compound movements have shown to increase natural levels of testosterone, which means you build muscle faster doing these types of exercises, in comparison to load of isolation exercises.
7. Keep it Short
A full body workout should last about 60-90 minutes, whilst this may seem like an unachievable amount of time (and for the first couple of months it might be) keeping your workouts to under 90 minutes will vastly improve your cardio vascular levels and endurance, but don’t try and rush your workouts, take as much rest as you need, especially when you first start doing them.
If you want to start improving cardiovascular then the best thing to do is reduce your rest time between sets and making sure you know the order of exercises when you walk into the gym, I find quickly reading through my workout routine before I enter the gym helps refresh my memory and prepare me for the workout.