Anyone who is a regular attendee at a gym will probably have a set program to follow each week. Some choose to break things up by muscle group: chest; arms; back; legs, for example. Others follow a slightly broader push, pull, legs, full body workout routine.
While some industry experts will claim the push/pull split is the most effective because it groups various muscle groups together and will allow for more effective recovery, breaking things down into more specific groups can still be just as good.
But when you want to torch your entire body in one hit, only a full body workout will do. A full body workout is a great option for the last gym session of the week, following a couple of upper body workouts and a serious leg session, with some core and abs work thrown in to each one.
Looking for further workout inspiration? Check out our complete guide to workouts for men here.
Table of contents
What Is A Full Body Workout?
Full body workouts, as their name literally implies, work your entire body. Not only does this make them a time saver, but they’re documented as being more beneficial for building strength and muscle.
This is because when you workout just your upper body, for example, you’re not building up the muscle in your lower body. The lower body may eventually become too weak to support the extra muscular weight of the upper body, potentially causing injury.
Full body workouts negate this problem, working all major muscle groups equally. They can also be used as excellent body fat burners at the same time. Put simply, you need to be adding full body workouts into your routine.
Full Body Workout Tips
As with anything gym-related, you don’t want to cause injury to yourself. And the best way to avoid injury is to forget about seeing how much weight you can lift and instead focus on lifting a lighter weight correctly. The right form and technique applied to your full body workout is going to get you far further in your strength-building journey, compared to if you try to lift too much, cause yourself an injury and you can’t attend the gym for several weeks.
You don’t necessarily need to perform all of these full body workout exercises every single time you go to the gym, but aim to include them in your workout routine throughout your week, as they are essential for effective muscle building.
It’s always said that if you’re looking to build muscle, you should aim to complete a higher number of reps of each full body workout movement to enter a hypertrophy state. This means performing 10-12 reps of each exercise for 3-4 sets, maybe even 5. If you go down this route, it’s perfectly fine to keep the weight a little lighter.
If you’re looking to build strength, you’re free to increase the weight (while still keeping it manageable) but perform fewer reps. Anything from 5 – 8 reps is perfectly valid, and you only need to perform 3-4 sets.
Best Full Body Workouts & Exercises
Rather than provide example workout sessions, we’re going to round-up the best exercises and movements that you can include and bundle together into an effective full body workout routine. Naturally, we’ve included compound exercises – the ones that work multiple muscle groups at the same time – along with some others that either work a few muscle groups at once, or complement others and can be worked into a superset.
Deadlifts are the daddy of weightlifting moves. They target several muscles at the same time, including your quads, glutes, calves and hamstrings in your legs, your mid-back and upper-back and even the traps. They’ve also been documented to burn more fat and calories than cardio workouts, because they require an incredible amount of energy to perform.
It’s this extra level of effort required that reinforces the notion of not lifting too heavy, too quickly. Try to lift too much and you really do risk causing yourself a nasty injury, so start off light to get the technique right before progressing.
How to perform this full body workout: To perform a deadlift, get yourself into a squat position and grab the barbell (or dumbbells or kettlebells, depending on what you choose to lift) with your hands around shoulder-width apart. Stand with your feet underneath the bar and try to keep your shins as straight as possible. It’s ok to bend your knees a little, but too much will end up engaging the quads more, and this movement is more about glutes and hamstrings. Brace your upper body by locking down your shoulder blades.
Once you feel secure and stable, it’s time to lift. Push through your feet and raise your upper body from the hip joint, as opposed to using your back to bring you up. Keep the bar as close to your body at all times during the lift. You can even have it physically touch you so you’re sliding it up and down your legs to make it easier.
Make sure to keep the tempo slow and controlled throughout the entire duration of the movement. With regards to grip, you ideally want to be using an overhand grip as much as you can. If you find the weight becomes a little too much on your third or fourth set, for example, you can switch to an overhand-underhand grip to help with the load.
Barbell Back Squat
While the barbell back squat can definitely be considered a fundamental lower body movement, it requires the use of some upper body muscles too, so can certainly fit into any well-rounded full body workout routine.
As with deadlifts, there is plenty that could go wrong with the back squat if performed incorrectly or with too much weight loaded onto the bar, so ensure you have the technique nailed before you think about progressing.
How to perform this full body workout: Start with the barbell set just below shoulder height on the squat rack. Step under it and have it rest on your shoulders. Lift up and take a couple of steps back. Bring your pelvis in and brace your core. You want to keep this same solid core throughout the duration of the movement.
Take a deep breath in and squat down. To squat effectively, ensure your knees push outwards and almost imagine you’re just sitting down. Sit into the squat until your hips are just below your knees. If this feels too deep to push back up from, you at least want to bend your knees to a 90-degree angle.
Keeping the breath held in – it helps with stability – push up through your heels until you’re back at your starting position, where you can exhale (you can exhale as you lift up if you find it helps you more).
Throughout the duration of the movement, you want to keep your chest as upright as possible. It helps to remain looking forward at a point on the wall or in the gym in front of you, as opposed to looking down at your feet.
Any kind of rowing movement is great for your back and biceps, and renegade rows more than fit the bill for both of these muscle groups. But they also target your core muscles because they combine a rowing movement with a plank hold. It sounds tricky – and it is – but add it into your full body workout routine and you’ll be feeling the burn.
All you need to perform renegade rows is a set of dumbbell weights. Start off with a light weight so you can perfect the exercise, before increasing the weight so that you can start building more muscle.
How to perform this full body workout: To perform renegade rows, get yourself into a press up position – body straight from head to heels, with no bend in the back and arms shoulder width apart – and with a hand gripped around each dumbbell. Then, raising one arm at a time – we’d recommend alternating arms, but you’re free to work one arm at a time if you wish – bring your elbow back towards your hip.
For extra points, you can add a push up movement into the mix once you have completed a row with each arm.
You don’t want to raise your arms up by hunching your shoulders, as this won’t put any real tension on your back or core, which are the key muscle groups you’re trying to work with this exercise. Keep the tempo slow and controlled as with the other full body workout exercises, and try to keep your torso and core engaged the whole time, without causing any twisting of the hips.
Called thrusters because you need to physically thrust the dumbbells above your head during the movement, this full body workout exercise can also be described as a squat to shoulder press. It’s a great variation of the traditional squat and brings your shoulders into play, meaning you work multiple muscle groups in one clean movement.
How to perform this full body workout: To perform dumbbell thrusters, take a set of dumbbells, one in each hand in a neutral grip – palms facing each other – and stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold the dumbbells so they are over your shoulders and squat down as you would with a barbell back squat, i.e. core braced and pelvis tucked in.
Then, push up through your feet – dumbbells still held over your shoulders – until you are back to a standing position. From here, thrust, or press, the dumbbells above your head with some explosive force.
Yes, the dreaded burpee makes the cut for being one of the most effective full body workout exercises of all time. They’re fatiguing, for sure, but they are incredibly easy to perform in the fact they require no weights at all, just you and your body. Plus, they’re fantastic for strengthening your body while also blasting fat in the process.
How to perform this full body workout: There’s a good chance you already know how to perform a burpee, but for the uninitiated, start in a standing position. Squat down and place your hands out in front of you and kick your legs back so you’re in a push-up position, but just lower to the ground.
You can choose whether you want to completely lower your chest to the ground after this, but it isn’t essential. The added benefit of dropping your chest to the ground is that it will require greater effort to push yourself back up, thereby targeting the arm and upper body muscle groups further.
Push your body up, tuck your legs back in so that you’re in a squat position and then jump up. As soon as you land, repeat the movement without taking a pause. Burpees are a great finisher exercise that can be added to your program a few times per week.
While not exactly an exercise that could be considered a full body workout, the bench press is an absolute essential in any workout program for strength and muscle building. Primarily focusing on the upper body, the bench press torches your pecs, arms and shoulders and can work wonders for your endurance levels.
There’s a good chance you already include the bench press in your workout program, but there’s also a good chance you’re not performing it as well as possible.
How to perform this full body workout: To perform the perfect bench press, lie back on a weight bench with your eyes directly underneath the bar. You want to have your feet close to the bench so that they can firmly plant into the ground, helping you to lift the weighted barbell.
Lock your shoulders down and brace your core. You can push against the barbell stands to help you move your shoulders into this more effective position.
Lift the bar off the rack, keeping your arms extended. Slowly lower the bar down so that it is roughly inline with your nipples. You don’t need to bring the bar all the way down so that it touches you. Instead, you want to have your elbows go just past 90-degrees, so that you’re exerting the maximum amount of tension on your chest.
Push the bar back up, planting your feet into the floor for extra stability. You want to make sure you don’t arch your back. You almost want to imagine pushing your entire body back into the bench to push the bar up, rather than make the common mistake of using your arms to lift.
Once your arms are fully extended, repeat the movement for several more reps.
The bench press is a prime candidate for progressive overload, meaning you increase the weight or number of reps with each set. If you do increase the weight, you’re free to lower the number of reps, helping to build your strength.
Another thing to remember is to keep your wrists straight. A common mistake is people bending their wrists back, which places a tremendous amount of pressure on them, potentially causing injury.
Bent Over Row
The bent over row, like the bench press, isn’t a workout that will destroy your entire body, but boy is it one you’ll feel the morning after. Focusing primarily on your back muscles, it’s an exercise you’ll want to include in your workout program a couple of times per week.
How to perform this full body workout: Because this workout involves your back, you don’t want to mess it up. Therefore, form is way, way more important than the amount of weight you lift. Start with a light weight on the bar and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
In a similar fashion to the deadlift, you want to bend at the waist, almost as if it were a hinge, keeping your back straight. You’ll want to bend your knees a little, but not too much, as you’ll end up putting more tension on your legs, as opposed to your back.
Grab the bar with an overhand grip, with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Brace your core and lockdown your shoulders. Keep your eyes focused downwards – looking up and straight ahead will put unnecessary tension on your neck – and pull the bar up, forcing your elbows up so they extend beyond your back.
You want to aim to have the bar touch your sternum – the bone in the central part of the chest – before lowering back down slowly. You don’t need to bring the bar back down to the ground, instead, lower it until your arms are fully extended. Repeat for 8 – 10 reps and make sure to never lose the tension you gain from bracing your core.