This was originally posted in Shreducation, our monthly e-Zine. However, given the popularity of the article and the accompanying downloadable poster, we thought it a good idea to make it public. We hope you enjoy the article and the poster – it’s printable up to A2 format, so perfect if you wanted to print it off and stick it on the wall of a gym, for example!
This month’s article comes from a question asked by Shreducation member Dalton Franke.
“Full-body workouts and how to ensure you get as much out of them as you can –
I was recently trying to come up with a number of exercises [in the context of full-body training] that would encompass the most amount of benefit to a person for overall health and hypertrophy (non sport specific). It would be interesting to see something on that from you (you guys) and your own justification. Plus a little pros and cons of it all.”
Well, Dalton… you may have gotten a little more than you bargained for with this. Here we have my way of setting up full-body training for the general population.
Full-body training has made somewhat of a resurgence of late; and for good reason. Training your full body each session is incredibly time-effective, and can provide a myriad of benefits for the general population with only 2 or 3 training sessions per week. For the more advanced lifter, it requires a little more planning, but can still be a brutally effective method of training if volume and fatigue are managed correctly.
When setting up a full-body programme, I like to consider the following variables (these are in some order of importance – they’re the order in which I tend to consider them when designing a programme. Although really, they’re all hugely interlinked and should never be considered separately):
- Training Age
- Exercise Selection and Distribution
- Volume Distribution
So, let’s jump straight in.
Adherence is an all-encompassing principle, which will affect all of the other variables I’ve listed. We’re already coming from the standpoint of having decided that full-body training is what this person is going to adhere best to, which tends to lend itself to the following assumptions:
- This person has a select number of days per week that they can train (usually 2-4; if you can train 4+ days per week, then splitting volume up will arguably provide “better” results)
- This person doesn’t have hugely specific goals regarding maximal hypertrophy. From a volume-per-bodypart perspective, full-body training may not provide sufficient volume or scope for exercise variety that maximal hypertrophy might require.
- When this person can train, they can devote upwards of 45 minutes to a training session.
- This person may have a lot of “life” stress due to their limited ability to train.
These are all going to shape the way we design a full-body programme.
Again, this is something that’s going to influence a lot of the nitty-gritty of exercise selection, progression and volume distribution.
Are we really going to give a rank beginner a full-body programme starting with barbell back squats, clean & pressing and Turkish Get Ups? Probably not – those are all pretty complicated movements.
Are we going to give a more advanced trainee a programme in which the instruction is simply to add weight to the bar each session? Likely not – they’ll plateau very quickly at that rate.
You get the point; training age needs to be considered with any programming – designing a full-body programme is no different.
The question that originally sparked this article asked about full-body training in the context of general health and hypertrophy.
This means we have a LOT of flexibility here, but the structure of a general full-body programme should revolve around the training and development of all 3 energy systems:
- The creatine phosphate system, which deals with high-intensity, low duration activity (generally lasting up to 10 seconds)
- The glycolytic system, which deals with moderate-intensity, moderate duration activity (up to a minute or so)
- The aerobic system, which deals with lower-intensity, long-duration activity
Training for the development of all 3 energy systems means that we’re ensuring growth of all muscle fibre types, development of the cardiovascular system, developing our connective tissues and increasing bone density – all major benefits of exercise.
Practically, this means we need:
- Some heavy lifting or explosive work (things in the 1-5 rep range)
- Some higher-rep pump ‘n’ tone work (things in the 6-20 rep range)
- Some things that are going to wind you a bit, in the form of a “finisher” – this could be high-rep supersets or trisets, circuits, cardio-based intervals… the sky really is the limit with these. Our good friend Will Levy has a pair of excellent articles on designing finishers, which are well worth a read. You can read them here and here.
Exercise Selection and Distribution
Now we get to the fun stuff – picking exercises. I consider the following when designing full-body programmes based on the outline above:
- We want to work all major muscle groups
- We want to ensure that the vast majority of their functions are worked (knee flexion and hip extension for the hamstrings, for example)
- We want to ensure that we’re working in multiple planes of motion
- We need to consider how suitable an exercise is for heavy loading and high repetitions
I’ve put together a handy poster that gives a whole bunch of exercises suitable for each category – click here to open it, and then right click and click “Save Image As” to download it.
Read it? Good.
Now we can start to flesh out the bones of our programme.
Step 1 – Number of Sessions Per Microcycle
Over the course of each microcycle (for the sake of simplicity, we can use microcycle and training week interchangeably), we’d like all major movement patterns – a squat, a hip hinge, a push and a pull – to be trained through all of the different energy systems. The minimum number of sessions in which this can be achieved is 2:
Section A – Heavy Work (1-5 Reps per Set): Squat, Pull
Section B – Hypertrophy Work (6-20 Reps per Set): Hip Hinge, Push, Knee Extension, Elbow Extension
Section C – Finisher: Squat-type movements, Pull-type movements
Section A – Heavy Work (1-5 Reps per Set): Hip Hinge, Push
Section B – Hypertrophy Work (6-20 Reps per Set): Squat, Pull, Knee Extension, Elbow Flexion
Section C – Finisher: Hip Hinge-type movements, Push-type movements
Of course, this doesn’t give us a huge amount of scope for variety in exercise selection. For some, this may not be a problem – especially beginners, for whom mastering a select few exercises is far more important; for others, it may be worth increasing the number of sessions per microcycle to allow for slightly greater variety.
Section A – Heavy Work (1-5 Reps per Set): Squat Variation, Horizontal Pull
Section B – Hypertrophy Work (6-20 Reps per Set): Hip Hinge, Horizontal Push, Elbow Flexion, Elbow Extension
Section C – Finisher: Squat-type movements, Vertical Pull-type movements
Section A – Heavy Work (1-5 Reps per Set): Hip Hinge Variation, Horizontal Push
Section B – Hypertrophy Work (6-20 Reps per Set): Squat, Vertical Pull, Knee Flexion, Knee Extension
Section C – Finisher: Hip Hinge-type movements, Horizontal Push-type movements
Section A – Heavy Work (1-5 Reps per Set): Squat Variation (can be same as session 1 or different), Vertical Pull
Section B – Hypertrophy Work (6-20 Reps per Set): Hip Hinge, Vertical Push, Horizontal Adduction, Horizontal Abduction, Ankle Plantarflexion
Section C – Finisher: Squat-type movements, Horizontal Pull-type movements
Section A – Heavy Work (1-5 Reps per Set): Hip Hinge Variation (can be same as session 2 or different), Vertical Push
Section B – Hypertrophy Work (6-20 Reps per Set): Squat, Horizontal Pull, Anti-Extension, Anti-Rotation
Section C – Finisher: Hip Hinge-type movements, Vertical Push-type movements
The selection of specific exercises is going to depend largely on the individual for whom you’re programming; their likes, dislikes, specific wants and needs and their individual anatomy; going into huge detail on that is a little outside the scope of this article, unfortunately.
Step 2 – Decide On A Basic Periodization Scheme
By this, I mean decide on what each “block” of training (3-6 microcycles or training weeks) should aim to achieve, and the order in which that’s going to happen.
The easy way of doing this? Follow this order:
Block 1: Aerobic Capacity
Block 2: Hypertrophy
Block 3: Strength
This order will give you a programme probably somewhere between 9 and 15 weeks in length – 2-4 months of training. After that, you can simply deload and start again with another work capacity block.
The way that the blocks (or mesocycles) change is largely going to be down to 3 variables:
- The amount of relative volume in each of sections A, B and C
- The specific rep ranges in sections A and B
- The exercise selection in section C
Here’s an example for you, with some sample outcome goals for each mesocycle:
Mesocycle 1 – Aerobic Capacity
Section A – 2-5 sets per exercise, 5 reps per set
Section B – 2-4 sets per exercise, 15-20 reps/set, performed in supersets
Section C – Full-body exercises (prowler work, battle ropes, cardio machines), 10-20 minutes of work
Example outcome goals – hit 5×5 squats at 100kg, 4×20 pressups, row 5km in 20 minutes
Mesocycle 2 – Hypertrophy
Section A – 3-6 sets per exercise, 3-5 reps per set
Section B – 2-4 sets per exercise, 8-12 reps per set (scope to include a few more exercises here than in mesocycle 1)
Section C – Low-intensity circuits such as barbell complexes, 3-5 rounds
Example outcome goals: hit 6×3 bench press at 75kg, 4×12 bodyweight pull ups
Mesocycle 3 – Strength
Section A – 4+ sets per exercise, 1-3 reps per set
Section B – 3-5 sets per exercise, 6-8 reps per set
Section C – Isolation exercise supersets/trisets, 2-4 rounds
Example outcome goals: New 3RM deadlift
Step 3 – Decide On Progression Schemes
I’ve covered various progression schemes in various back issues of Shreducation, so I’m not going to recap them in too much detail. Go back through them (if you’re not a member, you’ll need to sign up), and watch this month’s webinar and you should have a much clearer picture of how to apply progression schemes within your training.
To summarise, full-body programmes for the general population are (in my opinion) best designed as follows:
- With the aim of training all major energy systems
- With the aim of training all major muscle groups
- Using exercises appropriate for the loading parameters you need to train the desired energy system
- With a clear progression scheme from week to week and mesocycle to mesocycle