Getting the most out of your gym time is key to sticking to a strength training routine. That's why performing a full body workout is such a popular method of training. Not only does this method of exercising allow you to hit each muscle group every time you train, but if done as a circuit-style workout, you also increase your heart rate which gives your cardiovascular system a nice boost.
Performing a full body strength training workout every day does not allow for adequate rest and recovery. You need at least one day of rest between sessions that target the same muscle groups. Instead of daily workouts, aim for three days a week with one day off between sessions.
Frequency of Full Body Workout
According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), scheduling sufficient recovery into your strength training program is key. That's why the NSCA recommends taking at least one day between resistance training workouts when you train the same muscle groups. With that in mind, doing a full body workout every day is not in your best interest.
Instead of lifting weights daily, the NSCA guidelines state that beginners should aim for two to three days each week of resistance training workouts that involve all of the major muscle groups. For a three day schedule, consider doing a full body workout on Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. If you're starting with two days, a Tuesday and Thursday schedule works well
While training the major muscle groups in one session is beneficial for all levels of fitness, the NSCA says that people with intermediate and advanced resistance training levels may need to increase the number of days they strength train from three to four or five, and therefore, may benefit more from a split routine that spreads four or more workouts over the week. This results in some back-to-back training days, but the muscles targeted in those days are different, so there is still adequate rest time for each muscle group.
Why You Need Rest
If some exercise is good, then more must be better, right? While the excitement and enthusiasm to improve your health might be the motivation that gets you to the gym, targeting the same muscle groups too often can lead to undesirable results.
"Working out the same area of your body every day puts you at a greater risk for injury and reduces the number of physiological benefits that a workout can provide," Dr. Alex Tauberg, DC, CSCS, CCSP®, EMR, a chiropractor and strength coach at Tauberg Chiropractic & Rehabilitation, tells LIVESTRONG.
Like the NSCA guidelines, Tauberg also says your body needs at least one day to rehabilitate from a strength training workout in order to be prepared for the next workout. While a full body workout four days a week is doable, he says three days of strength training is probably more appropriate for the majority of people.
These recommendations are further supported by a 2017 research review published in the Journal of Applied Physiology that summarizes the importance of resting between resistance training sessions that target the same muscle groups since the damage from inflammation is at its peak somewhere between 24 and 48 hours.
Training Multiple Muscle Groups
Targeting all of the major muscle groups in one strength training workout requires some thought and planning ahead of time to make sure your routine is balanced and efficient. Morgan Rees, B.S., ACE, a certified personal trainer, tells LIVESTRONG that the most efficient way to do these types of workouts is by performing compound movements. "These are multi-joint movements that work several muscle groups or muscles at one time," she explains.
Take, for example, a squat exercise, which works the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes, or a lunge with a biceps curl. For a well-rounded fitness routine, she recommends including exercises for all angles of the legs, core, biceps, triceps, shoulders and back.
If you move through the exercises with little to no rest between sets or perform short cardio bursts such as jumping rope between sets, you will also get your heart pumping. This will help you meet your weekly aerobic exercise goal.
But if you crave longer cardio sessions, Rees says that adding cardio on the non-resistance training days, or before or after your workout is efficient. However, her preference is to do cardio on non-lifting days.
With that in mind, you could schedule your week with a resistance training session on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and cardio sessions on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. This still gives you one full day of rest.
Exercises for Full Body Workout
Most gyms have weight lifting machines that are organized in a circuit so that you can move from one exercise to the next, without having to plan your workout. If your fitness facility has this setup, talk with one of the trainers about the different machines to make sure you are getting a good workout. They often have pre-made strength training circuits you can follow that use this equipment.
But if you're designing your own workout with weights, Elliott Upton, a certified personal trainer at Ultimate Performance, tells LIVESTRONG that to get the most from your exercise sessions, you should prioritize the big compound exercises ahead of smaller isolation exercises. "It makes sense to always perform the exercises that require the highest degree of skill, coordination or muscle mass recruitment first in your workouts," he explains.
Key exercises to focus on, says Upton, include variations of deadlifts, squats, presses and rows, which will give you the most bang for your buck in terms of muscle fiber recruitment and energy expenditure. Then toward the end of the workout, you can target smaller muscles or more specific areas, like shoulders, arms, abs and calves.
Structuring Your Workouts
There are several ways you can structure a full body workout with weights to make it efficient, effective and intense. One way to accomplish this is to pair exercises into supersets or paired sets. The benefit of working out with this method, says Upton, is that pairing exercises together means you can effectively do double the amount of work in less time during your session.
For example, you can pair upper and lower body exercises together, like a bench press followed by a squat. "This works well because there is no interference or crossover between muscle groups, so when one muscle group is working, the other is resting," explains Upton.
Another good way to target opposing muscle groups, says Upton, is to use agonist and antagonist supersets. Good pairings include supersets targeting chest and back, quads and hamstrings or biceps and triceps. On your next workout, try pairing push-ups with lat pulldowns or hammer curls with tricep pushdowns.
- American College of Exercise: "Total Body Dumbbell Workout"
- Tauberg Chiropractic & Rehabilitation: "Dr. Alex Tauberg, NSCA CSCS: Personal Interview"
- Linkedin.com: "Morgan Rees, B.S., ACE: Personal Interview"
- Journal of Applied Physiology: "Muscle Damage and Inflammation During Recovery From Exercise"
- Linkedin.com: "Elliott Upton, CPT: Personal Interview"
- American Council on Exercise: "How to Create a Circuit Workout"
- National Strength and Conditioning Association: "Determination of Resistance Training Frequency"