Whether you’re an amateur or a serious lifter, the benefits of full-body workouts are many. They maximize your time, stimulate muscle growth in various muscle groups and burn more calories than isolated exercises.
The following exercises are quick compound movements that can be performed anywhere without equipment and can be scaled to any fitness level. They are also excellent to use as a pre-workout warmup.
1. Chest Press
The chest press is one of the most popular and effective exercises for building pectoral muscles. It can be done in a variety of ways, either with a machine at the gym or using free weights on the bench.
The machine version is a great choice for beginners because it provides a controlled movement path and reduces the risk of injury due to poor technique. It is also easy to adjust the amount of weight and target different muscle groups.
When doing chest exercises, it’s important to focus on form and posture. Otherwise, you could pull a muscle or develop a more serious injury. If you’re not ready to use weights, try doing a bodyweight push-up instead. This will still work your chest muscles, but also engages the triceps and shoulders. It can be done with hands placed directly under your shoulders or on the sides of the room.
2. Tricep Dips
Dips are one of the most effective exercises for building strength in your arms and shoulders. They also build muscle in your triceps. To perform this exercise, sit on a bench and place your hands shoulder-width apart on the edge of the bench. Slowly lower your body, hinging at the elbows, until your upper arm and forearm form a 90-degree angle. Then push your body back up to the starting position.
Studies show that compared to a push-up, tricep dips activate the triceps muscles more effectively. However, they do not activate the pectoral muscles as much.
Common mistakes to avoid when performing tricep dips include not lowering down far enough and going too low into the movement. The latter will put unnecessary stress and pressure on the shoulders and increase your risk for injury. Lower your body until your triceps are parallel to the floor or slightly below it.
Lunges are an excellent full body exercise because they build muscle mass while also burning a ton of calories. They also help to strengthen the core and hips, which is beneficial for posture and lower back pain.
Another great thing about lunges is that they can be performed using just your own bodyweight. This makes them a good exercise for beginners to start with and then eventually add in weights as they get more confident with the movement.
They are also a unilateral exercise, which means that you train one side at a time. This reduces muscle imbalance and improves bilateral lifting technique, as well as increasing your ability to stabilize under a heavy load. Lunges also build large lower-body muscles, like the quads, gluteal muscles, and hamstrings. There are many different lunge variations, so you can choose the ones that work best for your fitness level.
4. Shoulder Press
One of the best exercises for a full body workout is the shoulder press, which builds muscle in your chest, shoulders (particularly your front deltoids) and triceps. It also works your core and requires a lot of stability to perform. Getting stronger at this movement pattern helps you move your arms around your body and overhead for everyday activities, says Kristie Larson, an NASM-certified personal trainer and body-neutral strength coach.
The exercise is a good choice for beginners because it’s easier than a traditional barbell bench press, which can lead to rotator cuff or back injuries if done incorrectly. Start by using a lower weight to learn proper technique and only increase your weight as you become more comfortable.
The thruster combines a squat with a push press, so it works your entire upper body, including your arms and shoulders. For an added challenge, use a medicine ball, which increases the load and intensity of the exercise.
Squats are one of the best exercises for a full body workout because they strengthen many lower body and core muscles at once. They also improve mobility, balance and posture and reduce the risk of injury.
Performing squats with good form increases muscle tone, which can help burn more calories. For every pound of muscle you build, your body burns an additional 50-70 calories per day.
When performing squats, focus on driving through your heels on the way up to engage your glutes. This will prevent you from arching your back and putting too much strain on the low back. In addition, make sure to keep your feet firmly planted to avoid the pitfalls of high knee lifts, which can cause injuries to the knees and ankles. This is especially important when performing the exercise with a barbell.
The deadlift is one of the most important and powerful exercises for a full body workout. It recruits the glute (butt) muscles, hamstrings in the back of your legs, and the entire upper back (erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, trapezius, and rhomboids).
This exercise also strengthens your grip and core. It’s one of the best ways to train your shoulders and arms, too.
This is another great example of a functional exercise, as it mimics the movement pattern you use when bending over to pick up your grocery bags. Plus, when done correctly, it can be much more challenging than a regular squat or bench press.
Rowing is a great exercise to do when you need to work a variety of muscle groups at once. It builds strength, burns calories and helps improve posture and balance.
Rows and pullups are also essential for improving flexibility. Keeping your back muscles flexible reduces the risk of a hunched over posture and lower back pain.
If you’re looking to advance the rowing exercise with a more challenging movement, try the inverted row. This advanced pulling move focuses on the same muscle groups as the pullup, but requires a high level of relative bodyweight strength, control and stability. Stand with your feet a bit wider than hip-width apart and raise your arms in front of you either with a palm facing down or prayer position (whichever is more comfortable). Pushup plank with row is another compound movement that works the chest, shoulders, triceps and back muscles.
As a compound exercise, the Pullup targets multiple muscles at once. Unlike most exercises, you can do it anywhere without any special equipment.
Performing the full range of motion for each rep is the most effective way to build strength and muscle in your back and arms. A common mistake is flaring the elbows out to either side, which significantly reduces the amount of time under tension and can also lead to joint injuries.
For those who struggle to do Pullups, try gripping the bar with your palms facing up. This is called a Chinup and is easier to do. Both are still effective for building a strong, powerful back and arm muscles. Another option is to perform a Rear Lunge with a Double-Arm Row, which is a great exercise for the lower body as well.
While lifting free weights is the best way to build muscle, bodyweight exercises — also known as calisthenic exercises — can help you tone and strengthen your entire body. While they may not cause the same amount of muscular growth as weight lifting, they are effective for preventing injury, developing strength for athletic activity, and improving overall health.
Pushups like the dumbbell push are simple yet effective upper-body exercises. Position yourself on a mat with hands beneath your shoulders and knees underneath your hips, forming a straight line from head to heels. Then, start lowering your body to the floor until your chest grazes the mat, then raise back up to starting position. Perform this movement for as many reps as you can manage.
A good rule of thumb is to aim for 20 reps per set. Then rest and repeat.
10. Lunges with a Double-Arm Row
This movement is a complex one and requires physical strength and stability. It targets multiple muscle groups and is a great way to add variety and challenge to your workouts.
Start in a standing position holding a weight in each hand. Take a step forward with the left leg into a lunge. Bend the knee to move into a plank and then pull the left arm into a single-arm row. Return to the upright row and repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps.
The double-arm row is an excellent compound exercise that works many muscles in the upper and lower body. It targets the back muscles (latissimus dorsi, trapezius and erector spinae) as well as the shoulders, core, and arms. It is also great for increasing your heart rate and improving your cardio health. It is important to not let the elbows flare out during the row as this will shift the focus away from the target muscles.