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July 13, 2021 10 min read

Full-body workouts are fantastic for targeting all the muscle groups in your body at one time. They’re a big time saver and can also help prevent overtraining any muscle groups with inadvertent crossovers in your leg day, chest day, and arm day routine. 

But getting in a full-body workout involves more than just compound exercises.

Because you have so many different targets, you have to craft a more balanced plan. As long as you understand each exercise in your workout routine, though, you should be able to superset your way to a body that’s both ripped and functionally strong.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about full-body exercises and how you can alternate between muscle targets and counteractive movements to build strength and tone muscles all over your body.

Muscular Man Doing Heavy Deadlift Exercise

Principles of the Full-Body Workout

Many of the most popular exercises already incorporate muscle groups throughout the body.

Compound exercises like deadlifts, squats, pull-ups and kettlebell swings require cooperation and strength from multiple muscle groups throughout the body.

That’s great because you can build a more time-efficient workout and train your muscles to work together the way they would during normal use. That efficiency is one of the clearest advantages of full-body workouts. As opposed to targeting specific muscles with isolation exercises or training your upper body and lower body on separate days, you can train your whole body in a single day.

It’s the perfect solution for people who aren’t able to hit the gym for several hours a day or more than three days a week. As with any other kind of workout programming, your full-body workout should alternate between sides of the body, motion direction, and some degree of stabilizer exercises to prevent injury.

Gear your routine toward conditioning your body for long-term physical activity like sports or building functional strength. Because you’re working out most of your muscle groups in one session, you don’t have to work out as often. That means your muscles can get longer rest periods in between sessions, so you can exhaust them further and give them the supplements they need to heal and build strength through hypertrophy. 

The most important principle to keep in mind as you plan and execute your full-body workout plan is not to overdo it. These exercises are more intense but they also pump you up more, which means you might not feel your body telling you to stop. This can cause serious injury and place a huge damper on your fitness plan.

Lastly, make sure your routine is made out of compound exercises that target or at least incidentally activate many muscle groups at one time. Running through tons of isolation exercises that technically hit most of your body’s muscles doesn’t quite have the same effect as getting your muscles to work together so that they increase their functional strength.

Building Muscle With Supersets

A superset is the combination of two strength training exercises with minimal rest in between. You might grab a fast drink of water or catch your breath but you aren’t going to have a true rest period.

Generally speaking, supersets are used to target the same muscle group with both exercises or two opposing muscle groups. For example, you might work out your biceps in the first exercise and then your triceps in the second.

Much like total body workouts, supersets are really time-efficient.

You can build muscle mass with the higher intensity of supersets when you don’t have time to hit the gym and your home gym setup doesn’t feature heavy enough weight. The lack of true rest time also keeps your heart rate up.

When you design your supersets to train opposing major muscle groups, it helps develop balance. Staying upright requires muscles working on both sides of the skeletal muscle frame, so building muscles with functional relationships is one of the smartest ways you can include supersets in your routine.

Bodybuilding experts and home workout aficionados alike use supersets. Although they might sound like they require barbells and other heavy equipment, you can use supersets in a bodyweight workout routine just as well as you could use them with tons of weight plates and exercise machines.

Another way you can build a superset is to pair two similar movements together. For example, you could do squats to get your legs bending and then incorporate more hip motion in the second exercise of the superset.

Can You Burn Fat With Total Body Workouts?

If weight loss is your goal, full-body exercises will fit your routine perfectly. All that cardio and the lack of rest time will burn fat like nobody’s business. The more muscle groups you activate with your exercises, the more calories you will burn. Of course, some resistance exercises and strength training exercises are better than others when you want to burn fat. 

Although great for building muscle mass and functional strength, weightlifting usually doesn’t burn as many calories as cardio exercise over the long term. That’s why so many bodybuilders and weightlifting experts who want to build tons of muscle mass stay away from long-distance running and other extensive cardio exercises in their workout routines.

But if you’re in a cutting phase or just focused on losing weight before you begin to build muscle mass, you can use total body exercises that strain your muscles for extended periods rather than push them to their limits for 10 or 20 reps.

Bodyweight exercises work for this purpose as well. The most well-known bodyweight moves like push-ups, lunges, and squats are perfectly suited for meeting weight loss goals and building lean muscle.

How to Program Full-Body Workouts

Bearing in mind the principles we mentioned earlier such as balancing opposing motion and working out complimentary muscle groups, you should also take a holistic look at your fitness goals and then work backward from there. Follow these steps to program an effective total body workout routine:

  • Set Goals

  • Whether it’s weight loss or building muscle mass, you have to know what you’re aiming for so you can choose the right kind of lift and also measure progress over time.

    Setting a highly specific goal for weight loss or muscle strength can get discouraging, especially if you overestimate how easy it will be to get where you want to go. It’s also quite likely that you could hit a plateau if you aren’t using enough exercise variations and your muscles adapt.

    Goals should be definite as far as their aims and broad as far as milestones. For example, you might not want to set a weight loss goal with a hard time and weight loss limit but rather a pace goal. You can have a final goal without a definite timeline to get there as well.

  • Select a Base Move

  • Whether it’s a lift or a bodyweight exercise, you should choose which move hits the muscle groups you want. Although the overall workout will be a total body workout, that doesn’t mean every single move will hit every muscle group.

    Of course, you can choose to use a compound move that targets all or many muscle groups as your central move. Just beware that organizing a routine around such a move could exhaust your fast-twitch muscle fibers early on and prevent you from using isolation exercises to fully exhaust muscles and spur more hypertrophy.

    You should also be careful not to exhaust individual muscles or muscle groups before going through the compound moves lest one muscle fail and rob the rest of a good workout.

  • Do the Opposite

  • The point with this next step is to balance out your workout with exercises that will push opposing muscles to those used in your base move. If you’re doing squats or a squat variation for your main exercise, you could select a plyometric move or push-ups to build explosive power or work on your core.

    When you go through the opposing movement, put it in a superset to give your body more cardio benefits and push your muscles to their limits. You should also take care to get a new area of your body involved - if you were working your lower body, you should bring in the arms and/or core.

    You don’t have to get your entire body working in the first two workouts, but you should be able to cover them in three exercises.

  • Choose Your Third Exercise

  • The three exercises in this routine should be complementary or opposing and they should cover all the major muscle groups in your body. Incorporate lower body muscle groups like the hamstrings and glutes as well as back muscles, chest muscles, arm muscles, and all the various muscle groups in your core.

    You don’t have to keep the same three exercise lineup for your whole routine. Varying the base exercise and the two supporting ones are vital for getting a full-body workout throughout the weeks and months. But you can attack the same muscle groups from day to day, especially since you’ll have more rest days than you would if you stuck to repeated isolation exercises.

    The third exercise is ideally one with lots of variations like a squat. You could also add in exercises that use the plank position, such as push-ups or supermans, just to make sure your core is getting the attention it needs.

  • Exhaust Yourself

  • There’s a pretty heated debate raging over whether people lifting weights should train to failure. Training to failure is a method whereby lifters continue with an exercise until their muscles literally cannot bear to hold any more weight. This can be dangerous because the weight that is in hand could fall or be dropped.

    While you don’t have to completely exhaust your muscles if you don’t want to, finishing your routine with some quality cardio that will wear out your energy levels is a great way to make sure you use everything in the tank and promote hypertrophy in your body on the rest day that follows a full-body workout.

    We already touched on how cardio can eat away at your gains. You don’t have to run five miles if your main fitness goal is to bulk up and build tons of muscle mass. There are other cardio exercises like burpees that will get you to the point of exhaustion you need without burning so many calories that your body begins to consume muscle tissue.

    You could also use HIIT routine training to get the cardio you need. It’s similar to supersets and will be all the more effective if you include explosive plyometric exercises within the routine itself.

    man doing barbell squats in a gym

    Best Exercises for a Full-Body Workout Routine

    There are so many exercises to choose from when you’re trying to work out your entire body over the course of a week or so. Check out some of these exercises and research all their variants when you’re making your total-body workout routine. 

    1. Arm Exercises

    When you need to balance out lower-body moves like squats and deadlifts, you can turn to the bench press and bent-over row. Pretty much anything you do with a dumbbell will help you build arm strength, but those two exercises, in particular, are great for building strength beyond just the triceps and biceps.

    The bench press builds chest strength, much like its bodyweight cousin the push-up. Bent-over rows are fantastic for making the elbow and shoulder joint stronger in addition to helping the pectoralis major muscles grow in size and strength.

    The bent-over row can also be done with a resistance band instead of a dumbbell or another kind of weight. As long as you keep your back straight and have the proper form, you can use this resistance training exercise as a warm-up or as part of the main exercise routine.

    2. Lower-Body Exercises

    The squat is famous for being one of the best bodyweight exercises out there and it primarily targets muscle groups in the legs such as the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. Variations like split squats allow you to put more weight on a single leg at a time, thus giving them both a greater workout.

    As long as you remember to work each leg out the same, unilateral movements like the split squat can build bigger muscles and may even help you surmount a training plateau. Simple moves like the calf raise can also be used to get your legs into shape.

    Many people assume compound exercises will take care of things like that, but it isn’t always the case. That being said, bigger lifts like the deadlift will build massive amounts of lower body strength. Glute kicks and high knees are also effective for building lower body strength during a full-body workout routine.

    They’re simple and you might be able to combine them with upper body lifts like biceps curls to keep building strength throughout your body rather than restricting yourself to one place or muscle group.

    3. Chest Exercises

    We all love the push-up for its bodyweight utility, but there are some other exercises you should include in your routine to keep getting a full-body workout without allowing your muscles to get used to the challenge and stopping hypertrophy altogether.

    Single-arm push-up variants are highly successful for the same reason split squats are effective for building strength and mass in your legs. You can also use kettlebell swings to build chest strength.

    Incline and decline push-ups are also great ways to build chest strength. Mix them in with traditional push-ups and other chest exercises to get a ripped chest.

    4. Back Exercises

    If you want to develop highly detailed wing muscles, you should be doing lat pulldowns, tricep dips, straight arm planks with shoulder touches, and press-ups. Lat pulldowns have long been a favorite of bodyweight training enthusiasts and it’s about time full-body workout fans started including them in the weekly routine as well.

    They work well as a warm-up or as part of the workout routine. You can do them at home with nothing more than a resistance band and a high hook or a doorframe to use as an anchor point.

    Back exercises seem more limited than those for other parts of the body but that’s just because the back is worked out incidentally in many upper body exercises. Make sure you know how you can target different parts of the back during your full-body workout routine so that you don’t have an underdeveloped back.


    Full-body workouts are more efficient than those that move from one muscle group to another. They help prevent overtraining because there simply isn’t enough time to overwork one muscle group over another. Best of all, they’re great at building functional strength because compound moves tend to mimic real-life movement better than isolation exercises do.

    Programming a full-body workout takes a bit more planning than a standard routine does. That’s because you have to consider things like coordinated movement, opposing muscle groups, and how to build balance with fewer exercises than you might use in a standard routine.

    Use the tips in this guide to make the best full-body workout possible. Keep at it for long enough and you’ll have tons of functional strength and huge toned muscles to match.