Exercises That Create a Full Body Workout

Canva - Woman Doing Yoga

Most people don't want to spend hours at the gym, six to seven days a week. Unless you're a professionally competitive bodybuilder, you probably don't have the time and ambition to do that. Therefore, you need to build muscle and achieve peak fitness in the most efficient way possible.

Thankfully, an ideal solution to your workout goals exists, and it's called the full body workout.

Forget the ill-advised trend of working different muscle groups on different days of the week. Full body workouts train and strengthen all of your major muscle groups more often and in a shorter amount of time. This allows your muscles to get more frequent growth stimulation with more recovery time in between workouts, leading to more muscle growth long-term.

Full body workouts are so impactful because they involve compound exercises that train more muscle tissue quickly. So, your entire body gets a robust workout, fast, while inducing an additional hormonal response that results in more muscle growth.

So if you're spending hours at the gym and not seeing the results you want, read on to find out how combining exercises for a full body workout routine maximizes your results and minimizes your time spent working out.

Five Benefits of a Full Body Workout

Not only is a full body workout an incredibly efficient way to get into fantastic shape, it has some pretty amazing health benefits. Compound exercises:

Burn more calories, more quickly. Compound exercises use more muscles, requiring more oxygen to execute. And more oxygen use means more calories burned.

Improve how the muscles work together. Since compound exercises involve multi-directional movements around joints, they teach the muscles to work together. This leads to better muscle control and joint stabilization.

Improve cardiovascular health. Compound exercises use more significant amounts of muscle tissue compared to isolated exercises, challenging the heart to pump more blood to fuel more muscles.

Improve flexibility and range of motion. Compound exercises involve an active range of motion in the muscles and joints. These types of movements result in dynamic stretching that dramatically improves flexibility.

Canva - Three Woman Doing an Exercises

Improve the efficiency of movement. Since large groups of muscles coordinate for the actions used in compound exercises, they improve the overall mobility and balance required for everyday life.

Now, let's take a look at how to put together exercises for the ideal full body workout routine.

Creating an Effective Full Body Workout Routine

When putting together a full body workout routine, it's essential to keep in mind how it differs from isolated muscle training. Here are three critical attributes of full body workouts.    

  • Full body training is the most effective way to train.        
  • You can achieve full body fitness with only three workout days per week, saving you time.        
  • You hit all muscle groups more frequently, up to three times per week.        


With those points in mind, let's talk about how to set up a full body workout intelligently. Here are just a few criteria for setting up the best routines.

Vary each workout during the week. With full body workouts, you hit everything in one workout. So if you do the same routine repeatedly, it will lead to overtraining and burnout. Instead, alternate between two or three different routines during the week, with at least one day of recovery in between each. Additionally, it's an excellent idea to change up some of your exercises occasionally to prevent stagnation and encourage muscle growth.

Workouts shouldn't be too lengthy. You can get a full body workout with just three or four exercises, with six being the maximum. Doing more will limit your recovery and muscle gains, so avoid doing too many exercises.

The only movements required for a full body workout is a squat, lunge or deadlift, an upper-body push, and an upper-body pull. Yes, that's it. You may add in a bit of additional arm work as an option. But if you alternate between different workouts over your workout days, and get a recovery day between each, you'll get all the muscle stimulation and growth you need.

Now that you understand the principles of creating the most effective full body exercise routines - let’s talk about setting up your workouts.

Setting Up a Dynamic Full Body Workout Routine

Always set up your full body workout routines with these two elements.       

  • Your workouts should hit most of your body with compound exercises. This is achieved with either direct muscle use or indirectly by using the surrounding muscles that support that motion. For example, cycling or running will hit most of your body because you're using the largest muscle groups. Squats and deadlifts for strength training do the same. Ideally, there should be little to no isolation work in your routine.        
  • Avoid doing too many sets and repetitions of exercises. Recovery is critical for full body workouts. So, keep the repetitions and sets on the low side to allow for adequate muscle repair. Also, this will enable you to get a complete workout without spending hours at the gym.    

How Many Reps and Sets for Full Body Workout Routines?

The number of repetitions and sets that make up your full body workout are just as important as the choice of exercises, so let's address that first.

Most people get the best results by keeping sets low in the 3 to 4 range, with repetitions being in the 5 to 8 range. Occasionally, however, you could use higher reps, like 10 to 12, to create additional growth, like for arm work. But for the most part, your full body workout will be most effective when sets are kept short and sweet.

Now on to the fun part - deciding which compound exercises to include in your full body workouts.

The Top Nine Exercises for Full Body Workouts


The best full body workouts are simple and can be done at home or at the gym. All that you need is a few sets of dumbbells, a space to workout, and a little bit of focused workout time.

The following full body exercises are ideal because they hit all muscles groups; the chest, back, shoulders, arms, legs, and abs. Hit all those groups and you can achieve real results in a shorter amount of time.

A few quick tips before you start:    

  • Warm up with at least 5 minutes of light cardio or warm-ups of each exercise.            
  • Beginners can start without weights or use light weights for 1 set of 14-16 reps of each exercise.        
  • Intermediate to Advanced builders can do two to three sets of 8-12 reps with enough weight that you feel you can only complete the desired number of reps.        

Here are some of the most effective compound exercises to include in your full body workout.

Chest Press 

The chest press is simply one of the best ways to work out your chest so it's an excellent way to begin. It not only targets the chest muscles, but it also works the shoulders and triceps.

Lie on a bench and hold dumbbells up over your chest. Bend your elbows to lower the weights until your elbows are at 90-degree angles. Press the weights back up and repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-16.

One-Arm Row 


The next big upper body muscle group to hit is the back. The one-arm row works the lats, the large muscles on either side of your back, plus the biceps.

Place your left foot on a step and rest your left hand or forearm on the upper thigh. With a weight in your right hand, tip forward keeping the back flat and the abs engaged. Hold the weight down towards the floor. Bend the elbow to pull it up in a rowing motion until it is level with your torso or just above it. Lower and repeat for the desired reps before switching sides. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-16.

Overhead Press 

Overhead presses further develop strong and firm shoulder muscles. This exercise works both the mid and front deltoids and engages your core, making it a great compound exercise to include in your routine.

Begin by standing with feet hip-width apart. Hold your weights at ear level with the elbows bent and palms facing forward. Press your weights up overhead while keeping the abdominals engaged and back strong. Lower and repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps.

Hammer Curls Balancing on One Leg 

Hammer curls while balancing on one leg work your biceps and balance. It's very challenging and strengthens multiple muscle groups in the upper and lower body, making it a perfect full body exercise.

Hold your weights in both hands with palms facing in, lift one foot off the ground, holding that position. Curl both weights up to the shoulders while squeezing your biceps. Lower and repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps. Remember to alternate which leg you're balancing on halfway through your sets.


Working the triceps can be a little bit tricky, but when you do kickbacks with both arms at once you save time plus work your core.

With knees gently bent, brace your abs to support your lower back. Bend at the waist, keep the back flat and abs engaged. Holding your weights, pull the elbows up to the torso. Holding that position, straighten your arms and squeeze the triceps and lower. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps.


Deadlifts are challenging but amazing for targeting the glutes and hamstrings. It also strengthens the low back muscles, which is critical for supporting back health.

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding your weights in front of the thighs. Keeping your legs straight with only a slight bend in the knees, hinge forward from the hips and lower the weights towards the floor. Keep your back flat and shoulders back. Using your glutes and low back muscles, slowly come back up. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps.



Squats are one of the most complete full body exercises you can include in your workout. They target all the muscles you use to sit, stand, and walk. In short, squats support all the lower body movements you need to do daily.

With a weight in each hand, stand with feet hip-distance apart. Bend the knees and lower into a squat. Keep your knees behind the toes while going as low as you're able to, then press back up. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps.


Lunges are dynamic exercises that strengthen multiple, large lower body muscles simultaneously. They strengthen all the leg muscles, glutes, and hips.

Begin with your feet about hip-width distance. Step one foot back and drop your back knee towards the ground. Press up, extending the front leg until it's almost straight. Repeat for the desired number of reps before switching sides. Do 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps.

Bicycle Abdominal Crunch

The bicycle crunch works every abdominal muscle, with an additional emphasis on the obliques. So that makes this ab exercise the ideal way to top off your full body workout.

Lay down and bring your knees towards the chest. Straighten your right leg as you twist your upper body to the left, bringing the right elbow towards the left knee. Switch legs and repeat rotating the other direction. Continue in a cycling motion without lowering your upper back to the floor. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps.

Getting Started with a Full Body Workout Routine

The exercises suggested above should get you started on your full body workout routine. Remember to vary the exercises on your workout days with five or six of your favorite compound exercises and with at least one recovery day in between each workout.

Complete your workout routine with dynamic stretching, like yoga sun salutations, to lengthen all the muscle groups. And you'll be on your way to gaining muscle mass and burning fat for peak fitness with your full body workout routines.

Want more ideas for exercises to include in your full body workout routines? Visit the Movements and Drills page to learn a variety of compound exercises for optimum muscle gain and fitness.