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The benefits of a full-body workout

Opinions regarding training are divided.

It is not easy to define what is the best type of training for each person, because there are several factors involved in this definition, such as: goals of each person, body composition, age, sex, level of experience, among others.

In addition to these factors, there is still a wide variety of exercises and methodologies.

When starting training it is common to want to divide the training by 2 types of muscle groups, usually a “large group” and another “small group”. Whether by personal belief, by counseling, or by inspiration (copying someone else’s plan), it is normal to want to do that.

It’s not something that’s completely wrong, that’s for sure. In reality, when the object of study is the human body, there are no absolute truths.

However, there are other options that can be taken into account in this equation: do a full-body workout, or workouts that are divided by groups of muscles, in which it is common to do isolated exercises.

This discussion, about the division of training by muscle groups or full-body training, remains present in the fitness world.

Defenders on each side present valid arguments for their choice.

In any way, you might want to clarify some important factors when it comes time to decide how best to train.

In this article, you’ll be able to learn more about full-body training, what its advantages and disadvantages are and what my recommendations are.

What is a Full-body training?

full body workout

A full-body workout can be understood as a workout in which you train all the body musculature at least once per training session.

The most common ways to do this are by using, for example, the “Stronglift 5×5”, popularized by Reg Park, one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mentors, or by using a newer and more popular methodology like Cross Training, where you are looking for effectiveness of the movement, and do not try to work each muscle in a “secluded” form (if that is possible).

Both methodologies are very effective and very intense.

Examples of full-body workout:

Cross Training

A training of “Stronglift 5×5” is a training that aims to increase strength and enhance muscle construction.

It is divided by 3 trainings per week of 5 series of 5 repetitions for each exercise. As it is done only 3 times a week, this will give the body enough time to recover between training sessions and to promote muscle growth, which happens during recovery periods.

In this type of training, we work primarily with free weights, using multiarticular exercises (in which more than one articulation is involved in the execution of the exercise).

Examples of exercises:

  • Squat

Muscles involved: quadriceps, glutes, hamstring, adductor magnus

  • Bench Chest Press:

Muscles involved: pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, triceps, pectoralis minor

  • Shoulder press:

Muscles involved: anterior and medium deltoid, trapezius, pectoralis major, triceps brachii

  • Low row:

Muscles involved: latissimus dorsi, teres major, trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoid and biceps brachii

  • Deadlift:

Muscles involved: latissimus dorsi, gluteus, quadriceps, adductor, hamstring

Already in the Cross Training methodology are used movements like the “thruster” (Front squat + shoulder press) or the “Squat clean” (upright row + squat).

Normally, in a full-body workout, and as you can see from the examples of exercises presented, the exercises are compound, involve several joints and various muscle groups.

When a workout is divided by “muscle groups”, not all parts of the body are worked and the exercises are alternated between compound and isolated exercises, in which only a muscular group is worked or is involved only one joint.

What are the benefits of full-body training?

This type of training has several advantages:

  • Save training time.
  • Stimulate a greater number of muscle fibers.
  • It is, by standard, a more intense type of training, because the exercises require more of our body, because the more muscles involved, the greater the capacity to move load, soon the greater wear of the central nervous system.
  • Requires a lower training frequency as there is a need for greater rest period between workouts.

Usually, who chooses to train the whole body in the same training session, makes three to four workouts a week so as not to overload the central nervous system and avoid overtraining.

  • Enhances increased muscle recovery, especially if the training example adopted is the “Stronglift 5×5” 3 times a week.
  • Easy to organize and include in the agenda, precisely because it is usually a shorter workout.
  • Ideal for acquiring a good level of fitness, and to maintain a higher body balance, because no specific muscles are worked.

However, this workout also has some disadvantages:

  • It is more difficult to work each muscle individually in relation to the exercises that involve only one muscle group.
  • Less effective for muscle definition, as there is less control over the development of each part of the body.
  • Implies a lower training volume.

According to Salles, Miranda, Novaes e Simão, it is possible to perform a higher volume of training through monoarticular exercises, to the detriment of multiarticular.

That is, it is easier to do more repetitions in a leg extension than in a squat with a bar.

Full body training vs. muscle group training: Studies

isolated and compound exercises

Comparing training routines involving multiarticular exercises, such as the full-body workout, with training routines divided into muscle groups with isolated exercises (where only one joint is involved, such as bicep curls), and according to Gentil et al., there appear to be no significant differences in muscular hypertrophy.

Already Schoenfeld et al. (2015) says that, although there are no significant differences between methodologies, in the study “Influence of Resistance Training Frequency on Muscular Adaptations in Well-trained Men” that he made,  there was greater volume increase in bicipital and quadriceps in individuals who have trained the whole body.

Although these ways of training are different and have their advantages, the differences between the results that can be obtained are not significant. From what you should see with an exercise professional which is the best option for you.

Below you can see my recommendations.

Full-body training: to whom?

group weight training

  • Full-body workouts are effective for beginners because they need a smaller amount of training.
  • They are very effective for people with advanced fitness level who want more strength gains due to the ability they have to train with high intensity.
  • They are very good workouts for those who do not have much time to train, as this type of training requires more rest time between training sessions.
  • They are an excellent choice for the general population, since with this type of training we are stimulating the same muscle group three to four times a week, which, as we have seen in other articles, is a crucial factor to obtain results.

So, before you think about splitting your workouts by the week, give this training methodology a chance and surprise yourself with the results.


The information included in this article concerns the authors opinion only.

About Tiago Sousa

Tiago Sousa
Tiago Sousa has a degree in Sports & Physical Education, he is a Personal Trainer and also a Cross Training L1 Trainer. He is a former competition swimmer with his own outdoor training business. He aims to bring more science to his area, helping people to achieve their goals in a safe way.

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