March 21, 2024 2 min read

By Shane Robert

Full-body training is the setup commonly used in beginner programs. Don’t, however, think that means it is only for beginners. Very successful lifters have used full-body training to great success over the last 150 or so years. The great versatility available to this type of training has kept it popular and will continue to keep it popular. Whether beginner or advanced, full-body training has always been a great choice for lifters.

Many programs that utilize full-body training, especially those from the first half of the 20th century, do so on a 3-day plan. These plans can vary each day in movements, sets/reps, heavy or light, etc., or use the same exercises each day. It all depends on the lifter and their goals. Though 3 days per week is a great frequency when working the full body, other plans use up to 6 days per week. In most cases, one exercise is done per bodypart/movement per day, but multiple exercises can be completed if the number of sets is low. In general, the greater the frequency, the fewer high-stress compound movements are done each day. For example, you may bench press one day and do a fly the next followed by dumbbell incline bench, dips on the fourth, and so on. Doing 4-6 straight days of bench press is likely not the best plan (though that is not unheard of in certain cases).

If you were a trainee in the 1940s or a current-day trainee under Dr. Michael Yessis, you would get a list of 20 or so exercises to complete for 1 set each. Some of these exercises might repeat, or a different movement will be used to train the same muscle group, but consecutive sets of the same movement were almost never used. This was essentially the first “circuit training.” In modern times, full-body training doesn’t follow this convention. Instead, it tends to be more “bang for your buck” exercises, but fewer movements overall, for more sets. The most famous modern example would be Starting Strength, where the trainee squats, benches or presses, and rows or chins, and sometimes deadlifts, in each training session. The thinking is that doing exercises for specific muscles, abductors and biceps for example, is unnecessary when doing things like squats and rows.

The simplest way to create a full-body training program is to plug in an exercise from each human movement category - push, pull, hinge, squat, lunge - for each day you intend to train. Decide the sets and reps based on your goal and available time.

Advantages of full-body training are:

  1. More stimulus of a muscle for a greater protein synthetic response
  2. Each muscle group/movement is fresher and stronger than doing multiple sets and exercises for the same muscle on one day
  3. More frequent practice of lifts (potentially)
  4. The ability to work within different rep ranges for a muscle group within a week 
  5. Can be quite time-efficient 

Disadvantages include:

  1. More systemically fatiguing and (can) require more recovery  
  2. The latter parts of a workout might suffer due to fatigue. This is especially true for compound movements
  3. Lower total volume within session per muscle group
  4. Not great for quite strong lifters
  5. Can be time consuming


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