How To Build A Complete Full Body Workout
I've seen it countless times
It's arrive at the gym, and hop straight onto a cardio machine. You stay on there for maybe 30-40 minutes.
Hop off the cardio machine, do a little bit of arms, a couple ab exercises, and that's it. Time to head home.
You come in the gym, completely destroy one body part, and do it all again the next day.
Is this you?
Alot of people have completely no clue or are confused on how to put a simple, yet solid workout together.
This post is going to provide you with a framework to create efficient, full body workouts and how to progress over a long period of time.
At the very end of this post, you'll find two complete workout templates - for both men and women, with a home and gym option for you to follow.
Let's get right into it.
Your Main Exercise Selection
Your workout should be built on four of the six foundational patterns of human movement:
1. Upper body pressing or pushing - exercise where the weight (or load) is moving away from your body. The primary movers (muscles) for these exercises are a combination of your chest, shoulders and triceps.
2. Upper body pulling - these exercises move the load towards your body. The primary movers for pulling movements are the back muscles, your rear delts and biceps.
3. Knee dominant exercises - this is an exercise where the main movement happens at the knee. The primary movers for these exercise are the quads and glutes. A lot knee dominant exercises are also considered "triple extension exercises".
4. Hip dominant exercises - A hip dominant exercises can also be called a "hinge" exercise. The main movement happens at the hip and the primary movers for these exercises are the glutes and hamstrings.
The other two foundational movement patterns are the "lunge" and "carry" but let's not worry about theses for now.
Here's a quick sample workout:
- Flat Dumbbell Bench Press (upper body pushing).
- Cable Seated Row (upper body pulling).
- Barbell Back Squats (lower body knee dominant or triple extension).
- Back Extension (lower body hip dominant).
From here, you want to add your core exercises. Sprinkle in one or two core exercise - Mountain Climbers & Russian Twists.
That's it. You now have a full body workout.
You're hitting your quads, hamstrings, glutes, chest, shoulders, biceps & triceps, all in one workout.
This is highly effective because you're focused on large compound movements. These large compound movements help you build all around full body strength and muscle.
If your goal is to burn fat and lose weight, these same compound movements will burn more calories in one workout rather than doing endless bicep curls.
If you don't know how to do the big exercises like the deadlift, it's not an excuse to stay away from them. You can watch videos on YouTube or, apply for my one on one coaching program here. I'll teach you how to lift properly.
Have you thought about the exercises you want to work on? Do this now.
Once you've picked your four main exercises, you now have to think about your rep ranges.
Pick Your Reps: The DUP Method
For starters (less than one year of training), I'd highly recommend you pick and stick to the same four exercises for a good three to four weeks, using the DUP method.
It'll help you get into a routine and build familiarity with the same exercises.
For the ones with more lifting experience, I will show you how to program your workouts a little further down.
With the DUP method, what you want to do, is play with the rep ranges.
It stands for "Daily Undulating Periodization".
The idea of DUP is not to change the exercise but to add volume every week. This can be done in one of two ways.
- Add weight to your exercises every week.
- Add more sets and reps.
We'll take the Barbell Squat from above and show you how the DUP method works (the changes are highlighted in bold):
- Week 1: 3x8 @ 135lbs
- Week 2: 3x8 @ 145lbs
- Week 3: 4x8 @ 155lbs
- Week 4: 4x10 @ 145lbs
Do you want to get stronger on your bench? Build bigger, stronger glutes? Increase the number of chin ups you can do?
Pick a goal for each exercise and try to build on the previous week, for up to four weeks.
Do your heaviest lift first and move on to lighter loads and the exercises with more reps later on throughout your workouts.
You don't want to leave your 3x5's or 6x3's at the end of the workout, it just doesn't make sense.
You'll have a lot less energy available to perform the lift with maximum force and do so safely. When you're tired, your form has the possibility to breakdown and we don't want that.
Here's a two week workout sample of the same previous four exercises mentioned earlier (changes are highlighted in bold):
- Barbell Back Squats - Power - 3x5 165lbs
- Cable Seated Row - Hypertrophy - 3x12 @ 80lbs
- Flat Dumbbell Bench Press - Strength - 3x8 @ 35lbs
- Bodyweight Back Extension - Endurance 3x15
- Barbell Back Squats - Power - 3x3 @ 185lbs
- Cable Seated Row - Hypertrophy - 4x10 @ 85lbs
- Flat Dumbbell Bench Press - Strength - 4x8 @ 35lbs
- Bodyweight Back Extension - Endurance - 3x20
The other way to apply the DUP method, is to completely switch your rep range every workout, targeting a different physiological variable. while nonetheless attempting to add a little bit of weight every week.
Going back to the Flat Dumbbell Bench press once again:
- Monday: Hypertrophy - 4 sets of 10 reps
- Wednesday: Strength - 3 sets of 6 reps
- Friday: Endurance - 3 sets of 20 reps
Do the same for your other three exercise and again, try to add a little bit of weight to the bar or an extra set every week.
The Additional Lifts: Isolation Exercises Or An Accessory Day
Now is the time to bring back in the bicep curls.
For your isolation exercises, there are two routes you can go:
- Add lower and upper body isolation exercises to start adding a bit more volume to your workouts.
- Add a completely different training day with all of your accessory exercises
Your isolation exercises are the ones you use for additional volume to your workout.
These can be your "feel good" exercises or, exercises used to further enhance strength in one of your compound movements - ex: Tricep Extension to aid in your Shoulder Press
Sprinkle in one upper body isolation exercise and one lower body isolation exercise and you'll have added a solid extra layer to your workout.
Here's your example (changes highlighted in bold):
- Barbell Back Squats
- Cable Seated Row
- Flat Dumbbell Bench Press
- Bodyweight Back Extension
- Alternating DB Bicep Curls 3x8 per arm
- Leg Extension 3x10
The Accessory Day
The accessory day is a completely separate workout day with a variety of exercises used to compliment your full body compound movements.
This workout should be the last workout of the week, and should mostly be comprised of isolation exercises.
Here's a sample workout of an accessory workout:
- DB Alternating Bicep Curl
- Machine Leg Curl
- Lat Pushdown
- Machine Leg Extension
- Overhead Cable Tricep Extension
- BB Hip Thrust
- DB Lateral Raises
- BB Elevated Calf Raises
If you decide to add isolation exercises to your full body workouts during the week, the accessory day is not a necessity.
However, if you're short on time and want to keep your workouts short and sweet, keep all of your isolation exercises for an accessory day.
Time To Progress: Introduce Exercise Rotation
After four weeks, the body tends to plateau and you won't see any more strength progress. Time to pick new exercises
You can either pick a completely new exercise that works .
- Flat Dumbbell Bench Press -> Incline Barbell Bench Press
- Cable Seated Row -> Lat Pulldown
- Barbell Back Squats -> Leg Press
- Back Extensions -> Barbell Deadlift
- Mountain Climbers & Russian Twists -> Hanging Knee Raises & Cable Woodchoppers.
Do the same thing you did the previous month for your sets & reps and repeat that.
When you start to plateau again after a few weeks, pick a brand new set of four exercises for month number three.
If you train 3 times a week, pick four different exercises for each movement pattern and you'll have three different, full body workouts.
If you workout four times per week, pick four exercises of each foundational movement patterns and so on.
A Fully Built Full Body Workout Routine
You will find below complete workout templates for you to follow. Save these pictures for later reference.
Workout Template For Men
Workout Template For Women
Advanced Strategies: Drop Sets, Burnout Sets & Rest Pause Training
Drop sets is the first strategy you can implement to your workouts to add a significant amount of volume to one exercise. If you're looking to grow one specific muscle, adding one or two drop sets instead of doing a traditional set is a solid strategy to implement into your workout.
Ex: Drop Set on Cable Seated Rows
- Set 1: 10 reps @ 120lbs
- Set 2: 10 reps @ 120lbs
- Set 3: 10 reps @ 120lbs
- Set 4: 10 reps @ 120lbs, 10 reps @ 100lbs, 10 reps @ 80lbs
A burnout set is another strategy used to add more volume to your workouts. On your very last set, reduce the amount of weight by ~40% and do as many reps as possible - generally you should be able to do minimum 20 reps before reaching complete failure.
Ex: Burnout Set on Barbell Bench Press
- Set 1: 8 x 185lbs
- Set 2: 8 x 185lbs
- Set 3: 8 x 185lbs
- Set 4: 110lbs to complete failure (20+ reps)
Use burnout sets for your strength and hypertrophy focused exercises, not for an exercise where you're already doing a high number of reps. That would defeat the purpose of a burnout set.
Rest pause training is a very useful technique to recruit the maximum amount of motor units in your muscles to build real strength. It removes the fatigue component brought by a prolonged set. By taking a short break, you allow your muscles just enough time to buffer fatigue and hammer a few more reps.
Ex: Rest Pause Trap Bar Deadlift
- Set 1: 12 reps @ 225lbs
- Set 2: 5 reps @ 225lbs, 15-20s break, 5 reps @ 225lbs, 15-20s break, 5 reps @ 225lbs
- Set 3: 12 reps @ 225lbs
- Set 4: 5 reps @ 225lbs, 15-20s break, 5 reps @ 225lbs, 15-20s break, 5 reps @ 225lbs
That's it. This is how you build and maintain an efficient full body training program.
After a solid 6 months of implementing all of these strategies, it's a good idea to change your workout split from a full body approach to an upper-lower body workout split.
In another post, I'll teach you how to do so.