Why a Full-Body Workout Routine Is the Best Way to Build Muscle
Use Full-Body Workouts to Build Muscle Mass
If you want to build muscle mass, there are hundreds of different training programs you could choose from to help you achieve that goal. And although many of them will give you decent results, at least for a while, if you want to build the maximum amount of muscle in the shortest possible time, you really can’t beat a full-body workout routine.
This is especially true for those who are just starting out. So if you are in your first year or two of training, or you haven't had much in the way of results from your efforts so far, this article is of particular relevence for you.
How to Build Muscle Naturally
If you go to the gym regularly you’ll know that body part splits (where you train say chest on Monday, back on Tuesday, legs on Wednesday, shoulders on Thursday, and arms on Friday), are very popular.
But the only real reason for this is that this is what all the top bodybuilders do. However, what works for top bodybuilders may not work for the rest of us. This is because competitive bodybuilders take a lot of steroids to enhance their muscle growth. They also have really great genetics. And on top of this, they are very near their limits in terms of how much muscle they can put on. So they need a very large amount of volume and intensity in order to stimulate further growth. And the only way they can achieve this is to use body part splits.
But if you are natural, genetically average, and simply want to put on 20-30 pounds of muscle as quickly as possible, a full-body workout is the best way to go.
Full-body workouts are the best way to build muscle because they allow you to train all your major muscle groups more often. This, of course, means you get more frequent growth stimulation, which leads to greater muscle growth over time - provided you can recover from it.
Another reason this type of training works so well is that the focus of your workouts tends to be on compound exercises. This is because compound exercises enable you to train more total muscle tissue in less time, so you can work your whole body quickly and efficiently. Compound exercises also produce a much higher level of hormonal response than isolation exercises. And this again causes more muscle growth.
So a full-body workout routine can pack on muscle more quickly than anything else, provided that you know how to structure it in the right way.
The Best Full-Body Workout
All you really need is a squat, lunge or deadlift variation, an upper-body push, and an upper-body pull. Do 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps.
Leroy Colbert Explains Why Full-Body Workouts Are Superior to Body Part Splits
How to Structure a Full-Body Workout Routine
- Train three times per week, but don't do exactly the same workout every time, as this will soon lead to recovery issues. Instead, alternate two (or even three, if you are more advanced) different routines over the course of the week.
- Your workouts should not be too long. A big mistake many people make is doing too many exercises. You can work your whole body very well with just three or four exercises. And six is the most you should do. Doing more than this will only make it more difficult for you to recover, and this will limit your gains.
- All you really need for an effective full-body workout is a squat, lunge or deadlift variation, an upper-body push, and an upper-body pull. You can add in some additional arm work at the end if you wish, but that’s about it. By simply alternating between two different workouts over your three weekly visits to the gym you'll get all the growth stimulation you need to ensure maximum progress.
As an example, a simple, but highly effective routine might look something like this:
A Full-Body Workout Routine for Rapid Muscle Growth
Parallel Bar Dips
Stick With Two for a Few Months
If you are a complete beginner, stick with alternating between the two workouts above for at least a few months. After that, you can move on to doing three different workouts if you wish.
After a few months on the above routine you may wish to move on to doing three different workouts. So now each exercise will be worked just once per week, but each body part is still being worked three times per week. This will further help with recovery, enabling better consistent long-term progress to be made.
An example of a three-day full body workout program might look like this:
Three-Day Full-Body Workout Program
Incline Bench Press
Parallel Bar Dips
Leroy Gives More Information on Full-Body Training
When to Increase the Weight
Increase the weight when you can do 8 reps on all 3 sets. If you do 8 on your first set, you should be able to do it on all of them, as you should be stopping your first set a rep or two short of failure. The only reason to go below 8 on subsequent sets is if you push your first set too hard, or if your rest periods are too short. If you push to your max on all your sets, your progress will grind to a halt more quickly than if you hold back a little.
What About Sets and Reps?
Another important factor to consider is your training volume. That is the number of sets and reps you perform. Most people will find they’ll get the best results by working in the 5 – 8 rep range most of the time (a little higher for your arm work). This builds hard, dense muscle, and is also great for making gains in strength.
Occasionally, however, you could use higher reps (10 – 12) to create additional growth through sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. That is an expansion of the non-contractile components of the muscle cells. And going down to 2 or 3 reps for a while will help build more strength. This is important as it will mean you will then be able to use more weight for your higher rep sets, which will result in even more gains in muscle size.
So most of the time your training should consist of around 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps (after a couple of warm-up sets) per exercise.
At a later date, you can switch to 3 sets of 10-12 reps for a month or two. And after that do 4-8 sets of doubles or triples for a while.
Vary Your Workouts
It may also be a good idea to change some of your exercises occasionally too, as this will prevent your body from getting too accustomed to them. However, the principle of "muscle confusion," which states you should be changing your exercises on a regular basis, is a myth. Think of powerlifters and Olympic lifters. They use the same exercises all the time yet still manage to build enormous strength and massive muscle size.
So whilst body part splits can have their role to play for more advanced trainees, if you want to pack on as much muscle size to your frame as quickly as possible, do a full body workout routine in the way described here. Combine this with a good muscle-building diet, and get sufficient rest and sleep, and you’ll be certain to make the best gains of your life.
Which method of training do you prefer?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
What should you be doing on your non-weightlifting days? Steady state cardio, HIIT, or just rest?
You can rest if you wish, but if you are not doing any cardio on your lifting days, it would be a good idea to do some on your off days. Just go for a brisk 20 - 30 minute walk each day and/or do a HIIT workout twice per week. That should be enough to keep you fit and lean if your diet is also on track.Helpful 25
I see your workout examples don’t include calf exercises. Should I add calves to this workout at some time?
You can add calf work into your routine whenever you wish. I tend not to bother with them in my beginner routines, but do include them in all my intermediate programs.Helpful 5
I’m a female who weight lifts 4/5 days a week doing a bro split. Will this work for me too? I have been mainly working in 10-12 rep range, but recently lowered it to 6-8. I have mobility issues, so I can't do squats and deadlifts, but I can do rdl to the knees, split squats and lunges. Just wanted to clarify it was ok for women too.
Yes, this is perfectly ok for women and will work well. However, I prefer a slightly higher rep range for females, so I would not go below 6 reps. And do 10 - 12 reps for your arm work. For more information on how women should train, see my article on weight training for women. But it's not much different than how men should train really.Helpful 1
"And going down to 2 or 3 reps for a while will help build more strength." I suppose that in this case you should increase the weight, right?
Yes, that's right. The weights you use should always be challenging, but you should not go to actual failure very often. And you should never do this when training with low reps/heavy weight.Helpful 1
What direct shoulder, ab and calf exercises can I do for full bodyweight training?
It's not easy to train shoulders directly if you are doing just bodyweight exercises. Handstand push-ups are excellent of course, but most people can't do them. So the only real alternative is to get a set of dumbbells and do overhead presses or lateral raises with them.
Calves and abs are easy though. For calves, just stand on a step or a book and do heel raises. When it gets too easy to do them on both feet, do them on just one foot at a time. And there are lots of good exercises for abs. Weighted crunches, isometric crunch, reverse crunches, hanging leg raises, ab-wheel rollouts, planks, and side planks to name a few. Just pick one or two and do them for a few weeks. Then swap them around if you wish.Helpful 16
© 2012 David