A workout routine is undeniably a commitment — one that can feel even more challenging to stick with when it seems like there aren't enough hours in the day. If exercise always feels like the lowest priority on your to-do list, you're going to want to make the most of every moment you spend breaking a sweat.
Full-body workouts are one of the best ways to maximize that time. Rather than dividing your regimen into back-and-biceps days, chest-and-triceps days and legs-and-shoulders days, you hit everything at once so that instead of five or six sessions per week, you end up with two or three.
Efficient and endlessly variable, full-body workouts are also easy to do just about anywhere, without a gym or even any special equipment — and they have unique cardio- and strength-building benefits, too.
Here, you'll learn all about the convincing reasons to try whole-body training and how to get started with the best exercises for you.
The Many Benefits of Full-Body Workouts
"A good full-body workout targets the upper body, the core and the lower body, and it also elevates your heart rate," says Connecticut-based exercise physiologist Tom Holland, CSCS.
And combining strength and cardio is a smart move for your health. In a January 2019 PLOS One study, for example, overweight adults who did both cardio and resistance training reduced their risk factors for heart problems more than people who only did one or the other, even when the total amount of exercise was the same.
The one-two punch of strength and cardio you'll get from your full-body sessions also means you'll burn more calories, minimize your risk of injuries and still have plenty of time in the week to schedule a couple of rest days.
Find out how full-body workouts can help you achieve your goals — whether you want to lose weight, get ripped or just feel stronger and healthier.
How Beginners Can Ease Into Full-Body Workouts
New exercisers may shy away from full-body workouts; after all, it can feel simpler to do some biceps curls, triceps extensions and push-ups and call it an upper-body day. But it might surprise you to learn just how beginner-friendly whole-body routines really are.
"Full-body workouts are fantastic for beginners because, unless you are a bodybuilder, you don't need to obsessively focus on building up specific body parts in full sessions," says personal trainer Rachel MacPherson, CPT.
Plus, you might also avoid one major deterrent to exercise: soreness. "Many beginners complain about being sore or in pain after a workout, especially if they focus the entire training session on just one area," says fitness coach Mike Kneuer, NFPT.
By spreading the effort over your entire body, Kneuer says, you'll be less likely to feel debilitating soreness in any one muscle — and more likely to stick to your exercise plan.
Discover exactly where to start — and a full-body workout for beginners you can do anywhere, no equipment necessary.
Build Total-Body Strength
To get stronger all over in just a handful of training days per week, you're going to need to have a strategic plan — but you don't have to spend hours on each pump.
Fitness professionals recommend following a specific (totally manageable) rep and set structure, for starters: 2 to 3 sets per exercise with 8 to 12 reps per set.
You can see serious gains following this kind of total-body strength protocol — especially if you have access to a few key pieces of gear, like kettlebells or dumbbells. We tapped the experts for routines you can do at home or at the gym with as little as four moves.
Make the most of your next strength session with these full-body exercises.
Full-Body Workouts for Weight Loss
Challenging your muscles from head to toe means you'll burn more calories during your workout — and afterward. Full-body workouts result in a metabolism lift that can last for hours after exercise, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Better still: Your full-body workouts don't need to be at an all-out intensity to yield results on the scale.
Both moderate-intensity and high-intensity training can be effective for weight loss, meaning it's most important to exercise at an intensity that you enjoy and can maintain, 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. Your muscles typically need 24 to 48 hours to recover, says personal trainer David Chesworth, CPT, director of fitness at Hilton Head Health.
Learn how to create a full-body workout plan for weight loss and the best exercises to include.
- 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?"
- PLOS One: "Comparative effectiveness of aerobic, resistance, and combined training on cardiovascular disease risk factors: A randomized controlled trial"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Vigorous exercise produces 'afterburn' bonus"