Workout programs usually aren’t labeled as “full-body” or “body part” routines, but we’ve all heard of “leg days” or “arm days,” versus workouts that do it all. Every program wants you to build muscle, get strong, or lose weight. Choosing between full-body or specific focus routines, however, isn’t easy.
In a full-body routine, you train every major muscle in your body, like your chest, back, arms, hamstrings, and abs, in each workout. They incorporate exercises that engage many of those muscle groups in one movement, like squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses, all of which are also called compound movements. Compound movements demand a lot of energy and burn more calories, but they also beat up your muscles and typically require you to rest more between each set of exercise and whole workouts.
The upside is that when you work out the same muscle groups by doing the same or similar exercises multiple times each week, you improve your overall body strength, rather than just in one area. This is what a typical full-body routine might look like (from Starting Strength):
Monday: Squats, bench press or overhead press, dead-lifts
Wednesday: Squats, overhead press/bench press, dead-lifts
Friday: Squats, overhead press/bench press, dead-lifts
Saturday and Sunday: Off
If you’re just starting to pick up weights, are short on time, or are more interested in shedding some pounds, full-body programs would be your jam.
For the beginner, these programs are more simple, help you learn and constantly practice the major compound exercises, and can lead to major strength and muscle gains because of how often you’re working out the same muscles. In fact, beginner strength programs, like Starting Strength and 5×5, emphasize those full-body movements to help you lay down a solid strength base.
Similarly, compound lifts engage so many muscles that they skyrocket your heart rate and burn more calories, making them more ideal for weight loss goals. For someone who doesn’t have much time to work out, full-body workouts are more efficient, so you don’t have to train as often throughout the week. Each workout in Starting Strength, for example, runs you through three exercises for a couple of sets each, which means you don’t have to spend hours in the gym.