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Full-Body Basics

Definitely worth the time and money!

Did anybody attempt to drive today anywhere between 2 and 4 pm? I did. It was like every time my windshield wipers did their thing, somebody would dump a bucket full of water right back on the windshield. Literally couldn’t see a damn thing.

I was on my way to the UPS store because I needed to send back the discs from the Postural Restoration Institute’s Myokinematic Restoration course. And let me say, this course was A-W-E-S-O-M-E. With a capital A. Due to my background, or lack thereof, I was skeptical at first getting into the PRI stuff, concerned that I might not be able to grasp some of the material. But let me say, I don’t know if any type of corrective exercise education has made more sense than this course did.

At the very least, the course will help you understand some of the basic causes behind asymmetry and imbalance throughout the musculoskeletal system. You can definitely learn the basics online from the likes of Cressey and Neeld, but to get the full effect, you really need to go through the course. Again, it was Awesome and I’d highly recommend it to everyone from personal trainers and strength coaches to PTs and athletic trainers.

The Real Introduction

So here’s the deal, full-body workouts are awesome. I’ve utilized strictly full-body workouts a quite times in my career and have had some tremendous success. The benefits of FB workouts are numerous:

  • Increased frequency
  • Improved hormone response
  • Better recovery and less CNS fatigue
  • Reduced time spent in the gym
  • Reduced boredom!

When you change your workouts to full-body sessions, you can workout more frequently because of the decreased stress accumulated during the sessions. In fact, you could workout anywhere form three to five days per week, and still feel less fatigued. In turn, this allows for better recovery between sessions and less overall CNS fatigue. CNS fatigue often happens when you’ve incorporated too many exercises that are dependent on motor unit recruitment. That could be heavy deadlifts, intense plyometrics, or grip-dependent activities like farmer’s walks.

Additionally, the frequency leads to improved hormone responses throughout the week. Instead of spiking testosterone and growth hormone after your lower body session and only achieving minor  increases after your other workouts, you’ll receive a more moderately-high increase after each of your workouts! Seems easy enough, right?

Furthermore, when you ditch the accessory stuff and simplify your workouts, you may actually find yourself spending less time in the gym. Perfect for somebody with a hectic schedule or somebody that needs to maintain muscle during a particularly busy period of time.

And lastly, full-body workouts can definitely reduce boredom, especially if you don’t have a specific weight-related goal. (For somebody looking to increase their squat or bench press, full-body workouts can still work, but they need to be structured differently.)

I’ve found a few different ways that full-body workouts can be structured and each one is awesome.

Basic Format

The basic format is easy. Push, pull, legs, and core. Pick one for each and just get after it. However, you could probably add a fifth category and call it either hip extension, single-leg, or explosive move.

You can easily transition between strength, hypertrophy, and fat loss-oriented workouts by making minor adjustments:

  • Add in longer rest periods for strength and lower the reps to 3-5 (also adding additional sets)
  • Shorten the rest periods and increase the reps for hypertrophy (perhaps even in a pyramid fashion, such as 12-10-8-10-12)
  • Timing the sets, 30 seconds working and 30 seconds resting for fat-loss (this will keep you moving, but you still need to remember to push the weights!)

That’s about it. Warm-up, do your “push-pull-leg-core-5th accessory move,” and then cool-down or do some conditioning. Do this three times per week and you’re voila!, an easy way to build muscle and torch bodyfat.

However, you could up the ante to five days per week if you’re ambitious, but you’ll need to self-regulate your intensity so that you don’t over-train and subsequently lose all the extra gainz you’ve made on full-body workouts. What do I mean by self-regulation? Quite simply, self-regulation is the ability to know when to push the weight and to know when to back off.

Main Exercises vs. Assistance

You can go either way with this. If you read my first post on strength program analysis, I took a quick look at Even Easier Strength, Power to the People, and Starting Strength as some of the most popular full-body workouts. I’ll also throw Stronglifts 5×5 in this post to round out the group.

If you were going to separate main exercises and assistance work in your full body workouts (as when you’re looking to build strength in certain lifts), the main exercises will probably be a bilateral lower body and a horizontal push exercise. These are max effort exercises and should be your heaviest of the workout. They don’t need to be the same exercises each workout, but Stronglifts and SS both include squatting every workout.

As for assistance work, you could include anterior core or rotational core work, hip extension-based exercises, vertical and horizontal pulling, lower back, or some form of loaded carrying.

Stronglifts and SS both only include three exercises in their full-body rotation, the third exercise being either power cleans, barbell rows, or deadlifts, depending on the program.

Now, the thing to keep in mind is these two programs include heavy bilateral lower body training in 4-5 different “spaces” over the course of seven days. So going back to what I mentioned above, 3, 4, 5, or even seven workouts is okay (although I think everyone can agree that a couple of rest days each week probably aren’t a bad thing), but you must regulate your intensity somehow. For Stronglifts and Starting Strength, intensity is regulated by allowing multiple heavy lower body lifts each session and aggressive spinal loading, but rest days in between each and every session.

Stronglifts and SS are easily the most popular and effective beginner powerlifting programs out there.

Comparatively, PTTP and EES include five workout days, but only one heavy lower body lift per day and additional self-regulation of that lift. If you can’t seem to self-regulate, maybe move toward a three day per week program that allows you to push the weight more.

If that doesn’t make sense, think of it this way: when you diet, you can either monitor your carbs each day or cycle your carbohydrates into heavy and light days. The “big” exercises in your program are your carbs. Load them onto 3-4 days in the week or spread them out a bit more evenly, making sure not to over-consume your carbs on any given day.

All Main Lifts

For some exercisers, the focus will be the lower body and horizontal push lifts. For others, however, the primary goal will be fat loss or maybe just to sweat a bit. Or maybe your lifting is in place to simply support heavy aerobic training.

We can easily adjust our accessory work from the section above into main exercise-type work. Here, we go back to our push-pull-legs-core set-up, with the optional fifth movement (hip extension, single-leg, or explosive).

So maybe you go to the gym and perform squats, pushups, chinups, pallof holds, and kettlebell swings. You could do this workout five days a week with some self-regulation on the squats, similar to PTTP and EES.

However, you could also add in some heavier work (and condense it like our carb-cycling examples) like this: squats, deadlifts, bench presses, dumbbell rows, and planks. By only performing this three times per week (and still self-regulating the squats and deadlifts), you could make great progress on all of these lifts.

Substitute workout intensity for carb level and you can cycle in a similar fashion.

Or maybe you’re looking for variation. Take our five-exercise structure, and simply choose a different exercise each time you enter the gym. For the legs, the first day might include a squat pattern while the next two include deadlifts and hip thrusts.

Conclusion

The best thing about full-body workouts is that they allow for almost too much variation. Between 3 and 5 days per week, five exercises each time, plus conditioning, and the option to structure it to achieve powerlifting goals or fat loss.

For templates, try checking out one of the four programs I mentioned: Starting Strength, Stronglifts 5×5, Power To The People, or Even Easier Strength. Another pseudo-full-body workout is the Texas Method of Starting Strength. Of course, this isn’t a post to take credit for the work of great minds like Dan John, Mark Rippetoe, or Pavel Tsatsouline, but rather a statement about the similarity between the programs and how you can put your own program together based around those shared principles.

Whatever you try, just make sure to follow the carb/intensity-cycling rule: either cycle your heavy work onto a few stressful days or perform moderate work at a higher frequency. And remember that full-body workouts do not need to include only “full-body” exercises. You just need to stimulate your entire body over the course of the session!

You DON’T need to do burpees, unless you’d like to use them as an explosive move or conditioning.

Next time you’re getting bored with your workouts or hit a plateau, try switching to a structured full-body workout. It might help you sort out some weak points, save some time in the gym, or rejuvenate your workouts! Also, if you’re extra bored, you should go to the PRI website and immediately take yourself through one of the courses (or all of them). You will not be disappointed!

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