Total Body Workout Routine – How To Set Up Full Body Workouts

There are hundreds of different workout routines you can do, and as long as they are set up intelligently and followed correctly, they will work. Even still though, of those hundreds of possible workouts, a few sometimes stand out as being better, more popular, and more proven to work than others.

The total body workout is definitely one of those workouts.

And it’s easy to see why, too. Aside from the total body workout being one of the most tried and true workout routines in existence (because it just flat out works), there’s a few other common reasons that people are drawn to it. Here are the first 3 that come to mind:

  • For beginners, it is widely agreed upon that full body training is the MOST effective way to train.
  • It’s a time saver. If you can only find time to workout 3 days per week, 3 full body workouts is one of the most often recommended (and effective) ways to do it. And if you can only manage to workout 2 times per week, this is literally your only real option.
  • It’s high frequency. The typical “bodybuilder” routine has you hitting each body part once per week. Total body workouts have you hitting each body part up to 3 times per week. Some people prefer that, and some people get better results like that.

Whatever your reason is, you have made a safe choice. This method of training works. Well, assuming you set it up and plan it out properly of course. So, let’s get down to exactly how to do just that…

How Often Should You Do A Total Body Workout?

Before we can get to the actual set up of a total body workout, we first need to go over one very important ground rule of full body training.

This rule has to do with frequency, as in how many times per week you’re supposed to do a total body workout. This is an important question, because the answer is very different with full body training than it is with other common types of workouts and programs.

Why? Simple. Because with most other workouts, you are breaking things up in terms of body parts. Maybe a 3 day split of chest, shoulders and triceps one day, legs another, and back and biceps on another. Maybe a 4 day split of chest and triceps one day, back and biceps another, legs on another, and shoulders on another. Or possibly a 2 day upper/lower split where you hit your upper body one day, and your lower body the next.

Whatever it is, your workouts are split up in terms of body parts and muscle groups. With full body training however, you’re hitting everything all at once, all in the same day, all in the same workout.

For this reason (and for the sake of allowing for adequate recovery), you should do no more than 3 total body workouts per per week, with at least 1 day of rest in between each workout. Meaning, you would have to split it up like this:

Monday: Total Body Workout
Tuesday: off
Wednesday: Total Body Workout
Thursday: off
Friday: Total Body Workout
Saturday: off
Sunday: off

This is by far the most common split for full body training. Obviously the days of the week you personally choose don’t matter at all as long as you keep the basic structure the same… 3 total body workouts per week with 1 day off in between them. Assuming you choose the right exercises, the right volume (sets and reps, etc.), and just set the 3 workouts up properly in general, this split will allow for enough rest and recovery for consistent progress to be made.

And, for those of you who can only find time to workout twice per week, you would have to do something like this:

Monday: Total Body Workout
Tuesday: off
Wednesday: off
Thursday: Total Body Workout
Friday: off
Saturday: off
Sunday: off

This is pretty much the most (and practically ONLY) effective way to train when you can only manage to fit in 2 workouts per week.

With the split out of the way, let’s get down to setting up the actual workouts.

How To Set Up A Total Body Workout Routine

When it comes to setting up a full body workout, there are 2 main guidelines to follow.

  1. First, the workout should hit MOST of your body either directly or indirectly (even though it’s “full body” you don’t actually need to directly hit your entire body every single workout).
  2. And second, you must make that first guideline happen with very little volume (meaning not many total sets per muscle group).

The reason for this goes back to what I mentioned earlier… recovery. Because a total body workout routine has you hitting just about everything in every workout, and because you are typically doing this workout 3 times per week with only 1 day (sometimes 2) off in between, you need to keep the volume low to compensate and still allow for adequate recovery.

And, not to mention, since full body training has you working every muscle group in the same workout, trying to do a lot of sets and a lot of exercises for each body part would require workouts that would last 2 hours or more, which is insane and counterproductive.

In most cases you’ll only need 1 exercise per muscle group, doing between 1-5 sets of between 5-12 reps for that exercise. The more reps you do per set, the fewer sets you need. The less reps you do per set, the more sets you need.

And, more often than not, the bulk of your volume per workout should be dedicated to the more important compound exercises (bench press, rows, shoulder press, squats, etc.), with only a small amount of work being done for the isolation stuff (like arms and calves) if there is any at all.

With those basic guidelines out of the way, let’s actually start setting up a total body workout. The first thing you want to plan out is if you will be doing the same workout 3 times per week, or if you will be doing 3 different workouts over the course of those 3 days. Either option is perfectly fine and definitely doable, but there’s actually a 3rd option here that is quite popular.

And that is what people refer to as an alternating ABA BAB format. Meaning, you put together 2 total body workouts. Nickname the first one “A” and nickname the second one “B.” And, just alternate between them every workout. Here’s what that would look like:

Monday: Workout A
Tuesday: off
Wednesday: Workout B
Thursday: off
Friday: Workout A
Saturday: off
Sunday: off

And then the next week you end up doing:

Monday: Workout B
Tuesday: off
Wednesday: Workout A
Thursday: off
Friday: Workout B
Saturday: off
Sunday: off

See what I mean? That’s the alternating ABA BAB format, and it’s one of the most popular ways of setting up a routine like this. Again, you could have 3 separate workouts, or do the same workout 3 times per week. It’s all fine and will all work. This ABA BAB format is just a popular way of doing it, so that’s how I’ll be doing it throughout the rest of this article.

Now that that’s set up, it’s time to put together an A and a B workout and select what exercises each will contain. In the most basic sense, full body training requires a minimum of 3 exercises… a push exercise (a chest or shoulder exercise), a pull exercise (a back exercise like a row or a pull-up/lat pull down), and a leg exercise (like a squat or deadlift). For example…

Workout A:
Squats
Bench Press
Seated Cable Rows

Workout B:
Deadlifts
Shoulder Press
Pullups (or Lat Pull-downs)

Pretty simple, right? What you’re looking at right here is the most basic type of total body workout you will ever find, and it’s probably the most often recommended beginner’s routine on the planet. Why? Because it’s nothing but the basics, and it works. If you happen to be a beginner (less than 6-12 months of serious/consistent training), this is the ideal program for you.

And if you’re wondering where the arm exercises are, you are missing out on the fact that all push exercises (bench press, shoulder press, etc.) hit your triceps, and all pull exercises (rows and pullups/pull-downs) hit your biceps. This is a fact that is definitely taken in account of when setting up a full body routine like this.

If you happen to be past the beginner stage, you most likely want (and sometimes need) to add a bit more to this basic setup. For example, some direct work (rather than secondary work) for your biceps, triceps, calves and abs. Here’s how you’d do that:

Workout A:
Squats
Bench Press
Seated Cable Rows
Triceps Press-downs
Calf Raises

Workout B:
Romanian Deadlift
Shoulder Press
Pullups (or Lat Pull-downs)
Dumbbell Curls
Weighted Crunches

This is a pretty basic (and effective) total body workout routine for those of you who will be doing 3 workouts per week.

However, if you are one of those people who can only train 2 times per week, you’d probably need to add a little more to each workout. Something like this:

Workout A:
Squats
Leg Curls
Bench Press
Seated Cable Rows
Shoulder Press
Pull Ups (or Lat Pull-downs)
Dumbbell Curls
Weighted Crunches

Workout B:
Romanian Deadlifts
Leg Press
Shoulder Press
Pull Ups (or Lat Pull-downs)
Bench Press
Seated Cable Rows
Triceps Press-downs
Calf Raises

Again, this would only be for if you could only train twice per week (these would be the only 2 workouts you’d do all week), and you’d most likely have to keep the sets per exercise pretty low to keep each workout to a sane length.

So there you have it… the basics of setting up a total body workout. For some people (beginners), it’s the most effective way to train. For others, it’s just their preferred way to train. And for some, it’s their only real option. Whatever it is, it works, and now you know how to make it work.

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