Back in the day (which was a Tuesday in case you’re wondering) before Arnold hit the scene and changed the entire fitness universe, everyone who was anyone in the fitness world trained using full-body workouts.
Back in the day (which was a Tuesday in case you’re wondering) before Arnold hit the scene and changed the entire fitness universe, everyone who was anyone in the fitness world trained using full-body workouts. totrongmen, old-school bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts opted to train each bodypart 3 to 4 times per week using full body routines.
I should probably back up for a second and explain the difference between full body and split routines (which are currently the flavor of the day). Full body is hitting each major muscle group with 1 or 2 exercises during one training session. Usually the focus is on basic compound movements with 1 or 2 accessory movements for bigger bodyparts. I’ll show you an example of this at the end of the article. Split routines are what most magazines and fitness celebs promote and it looks like the typical Chest on Monday, Back on Tuesday, Arms on Wednesday routine. The workouts are targeted around one bodypart with higher volume and more exercises for that bodypart.
You’re probably wondering “If total body workouts used to be all the rage - why did they get replaced with split routines?” The brutally honest truth is that performance enhancing drugs (steroids) took over around the time of Arnold and everyone started hammering one to 3 bodyparts per day and then resting that bodypart for 5-7 days before training it again. However, guys like Arnold would train 2-3 body parts in the morning and then 2-3 different body parts at night so he was actually doing somewhat of a full body routine. In fact, Arnold has been quoted saying that full body routines are extremely effective and that he built most of his initial muscle mass doing full body.
The first tremendous benefit of full body routines is that by training your full body 3-4 times per week you send a muscle-building signal more frequently than training each bodypart once per week. However, steroids put the user in a muscle-building state pretty much 24/7 so the need to train more frequently just isn’t there. Some bodybuilders (google Mike Mentzer) have done full body and have had tremendous results. Think about construction workers who perform manual labor each day. They tend to develop incredible strength and muscle density just by stimulating the same muscle groups each day.
The second benefit of full body workouts is that they burn more calories - thus if you’re trying to burn body fat you end up getting more for your investment. Think about it. If you do squats, pull-ups, dips, overhead press and barbell curls for a full body routine versus doing just biceps and triceps on “Arm Day” - you’re going to burn a ton more calories!
Full body routines can also provide more total volume of training each week. Let’s say you have been doing the basic “Chest on Mondays” routine and your chest routine consists of 5 exercises of 4 sets each. That’s 20 total sets. Full body routines performed 4 times per week gives you the chance to break up the volume into 4 different workouts. So instead of hitting chest one time per week for 20 sets - you can do 10 sets (2 exercises of 5 sets) 4 times per week! That’s 40 total sets versus 20. Crazy huh? This means that weak bodyparts can be brought up a lot faster (gainz!).
Finally, full body routines allow you to enjoy more time outside the gym. If you’ve been doing the standard 5 or 6 day split - you could cut back to 3 days of full body and leave yourself plenty of time to do other things related to fitness or increase productivity in other areas of your life. I don’t know about you - but what’s the point of looking awesome if you can’t enjoy life too?
Ok so what would a full body workout look like? Let’s say you wanted to bring up your back and shoulders...well here’s an example of how you could set that up.
Abs can be trained on off days along with cardio! Pretty simple right?
I hope this article at least makes you ponder the idea of full body workouts. I strongly encourage you to start doing your own research to maximize your time spent in the gym. Total body workouts are making a comeback - don’t believe me? Just watch!
I'm a husband and father of 2 who stays fit year round and enjoys LIFE 24/7/365 - so I like to write about that.