When you're working out to become your fittest self, you want to make every moment count. Unless you've got hours to spend on fitness, that probably means focusing on full-body workouts.
Consider this your guide to all things full-body workouts and weight loss — from why whole-body routines can help get you to your goals faster to what an effective full-body session looks like.
Your Body on a Full-Body Workout
Compared to cardio and strength workouts that focus on one particular part of the body (like your back or arms), full-body workouts involve all of your major muscle groups.
"When done at a moderate intensity, a full-body strength-training workout simultaneously engages both the muscular system and the cardiovascular system," explains Florida-based personal trainer Lisa Reed, CSCS.
The result: You burn more calories during your workout — and your metabolism stays elevated for the next couple of days as your body recovers, Reed says. (Really! Exercise results in a metabolism boost that can last for up to 48 hours, according to older research published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society.)
Plus, strength training (especially full-body training) triggers your production of testosterone and growth hormones, which signal your body to build muscle, says David Chesworth, CPT, director of fitness at Hilton Head Health. This muscle tissue itself then burns more calories (even when you're not working out).
Why Full-Body Workouts Work for Weight Loss
Though other exercise — like cardio workouts — can get your heart rate up and burn calories, full-body training — particularly full-body muscle-building — better supports weight loss, Reed says.
The more muscle you build through any type of strength-training plan, the more calories you burn at rest and the easier it is to shed body fat, per a July/August 2012 review in Current Sports Medicine Reports. And full-body workouts trigger — what else? — full-body muscle growth.
Case in point: Male athletes who did full-body training lost more body fat in four weeks than men who did split-body training (think: legs one day, back another), according to a March 2016 Biology of Sport study.
Even better news: Your full-body workouts don't need to be at an all-out intensity to yield results. Since both moderate-intensity and high-intensity training can be effective for weight loss, it's most important to exercise at an intensity that you enjoy and can maintain in the long run, according to a November 2013 report in Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases.
But that doesn't mean you should do full-body workouts every day to shed body fat.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults do two full-body strength-training sessions per week (plus at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio). The reason: Your muscles typically need 24 to 48 hours to recover from a workout, Chesworth says. And since proper recovery is what determines your actual muscle gains, it's arguably the most important factor in your progress.
To keep your recovery, workout performance and weight-loss progress on track, never do full-body workouts on back-to-back days.
How to Structure a Full-Body Workout for Weight Loss
To get the most out of all-over exercise, Reed recommends breaking down your time as follows:
- 10 to 15 minutes to warm up
- up to 35 minutes of full-body work
- 10 minutes of core work, stretching and foam rolling
If you're new to using dumbbells, kettlebells or other weights, shoot for 2 or 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions with a lighter weight, Reed says. More experienced lifters should aim for 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps with a moderate weight.
Your goal: to fatigue your muscles by the end of each set, without sacrificing form. This gets you more calorie-torching, muscle-building benefits, Reed says.
Try This Weight Loss-Friendly Full-Body Workout
Ready to burn calories, build fat-fighting muscle and sweat your way one step closer to your weight-loss goals? Get started with the following workout, courtesy of Chesworth. It's a great way to work all of your muscles when you're crunched for time — and requires zero equipment.
Do: as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) in 20 minutes of the following:
- 20 jumping jacks
- 15 squats
- 10 push-ups
- 5 supermans
Move 1: Jumping Jack
- Start standing with a slight bend in your knees, feet together, arms by your sides.
- Simultaneously jump both feet apart and swing your arms out to the sides and then up overhead.
- Hop both feet together and swing your arms back down to the starting position.
Move 2: Squat
- Extend your arms out in front of you and slowly bend your knees as you push your hips back to squat down. Focus on lowering your body as if you were going to sit on a chair.
- Squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor, or as low as you can go comfortably while maintaining good form. Your knees should be over your toes and your gaze should be straight ahead.
- Pause for a moment at the bottom of your squat.
- On an exhale, reverse the motion by pressing through your heels to return to standing. As you stand, lower your arms back to your sides.
Move 3: Push-Up
- Begin in a high plank with your core and glutes engaged. Your shoulders should be stacked over your wrists and your hips should be in line with your head and heels.
- Bend at the elbows at about a 45-degree angle from your torso and lower your body toward the ground. On the way down, squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- When your chest hovers just above the ground (or however far down you can go), press into your palms and push your shoulder blades apart to return to the starting position.
Move 4: Superman
- Lie on your stomach with your legs and arms extended. Your feet should be about hip-width apart and your biceps should be alongside your ears.
- Squeeze your glutes and engage your back to raise your legs, torso and arms off the floor. Keep your legs straight and reach your fingertips away from you.
- Hold at the top of the exercise for five counts.
- Lower back down with control.
Don't Ignore Nutrition
Helpful as full-body workouts can be in reaching your weight-loss goals, they're not the only piece of the puzzle.
"Nutrition is typically about 80 percent of the weight-loss game," Chesworth says. "However, those who are more physically active tend to keep weight off better than those who are not." Indeed, regular physical activity is key in maintaining weight loss, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, even at lower intensities.
To make sure your nutrition doesn't sabotage your full-body workout efforts, focus on making all-around healthier food choices rather than "dieting," Reed says. "'Dieting' means you are restricting. Healthy eating is not about perfection; it's about the small changes you can make each day."
- Biology of Sport: "The effects of two equal-volume training protocols upon strength, body composition and salivary hormones in male rugby union players"
- ACSM Guidelines for Strength Training
- Proceedings of the Nutrition Society: "Physical Activity and Resting Metabolic Rate"
- Current Sports Medicine Reports: "Resistance Training is Medicine: Effects of Strength Training on Health"
- Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases: "Is High-Intensity Exercise Better Than Moderate-Intensity Exercise for Weight Loss?"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Maintaining Weight Loss"