Full-body training is a training modality that is sometimes overlooked for the more common training routines such as push/pull/legs, upper/lower, and other various muscle-group split routines which focus primarily on individual muscle groups utilizing more volume per session. While this may be typical among novice and experienced lifters alike, I will present the case for a 3-day per week, full-body routine for someone who is either a beginner, or a seasoned gym-goer.
A full-body routine has the benefits of improving time-management, putting a focus on linear progression on compound movements, facilitating recovery, focusing on training intensity, stimulating major muscle groups three times in one week, all while being easy to adhere to.
The fact that it can just be a nice change up from your typical routine if you’re feeling stuck cannot be overlooked!
As someone who has a background in powerlifting, I’ve trained in this manner thoroughly over the years as my main goal has been to increase weight on the squat, bench, and deadlift. Along the way I noticed the hypertrophic benefits of such a training approach. When I’m not prepping for a competition I’ll use this type of split from a power-building approach, which basically means doing low-rep barbell work in conjunction with higher-rep assistance movements with a combination of barbell, dumbbell, and machine exercises.
Typical rep-range recommendations when following a full-body routine would be between 4-8 reps on compound barbell movements, and 8-12 reps on assistance exercises
except for sometimes going as high as 12-20 reps per set on isolation moves at the end of a workout. I will elaborate further on the benefits of such a training routine below:
Time-management. This one is obvious but being in the gym 3 days a week is going to save you more time than training 5-6 times a week. The tradeoff is that each individual session is going to have to be longer than it would be when training with a higher frequency.
Linear progression. This is especially important for beginners because utilizing a lower-volume approach when following a full-body split will allow one to focus on adding weight and/or reps to exercises like the squat, bench, and deadlift since you will be doing these exercises more frequently and will have more time to recover going into each session to really push the weight, which leads into the next point.
Recovery. You will have 1-2 days off between each session, allowing more time to recover in between each workout. This is another reason some may like this training approach for a time if they are feeling ‘burned out’ or ‘overtrained’ from a higher-frequency split.
Training intensity. You will only be doing 2-4 working sets per muscle group per workout, so each set must count. Assistance movements must be taken all the way to, or very close to, failure. I usually recommend 0-1 RIR, (reps in reserve), on these exercises, and 1-3 RIR on compound barbell moves like squats and deadlifts that are not conducive to being taken to absolute failure. There is efficacy to utilizing descending sets on each movement to achieve the desired rep-goal and staying in the adequate intensity range.
Stimulation of major muscle groups 3 times in a week. While you are performing a 3-day full-body split, you will by necessity be stimulating each major muscle group 3 times in a week. Training each muscle group multiple times a week compared to once a week has been shown to be superior for muscle growth in most individuals. (McClester et al, 2000).
has been shown to be superior for muscle growth in most individuals. (McClester et al, 2000)
It also appears that after 4-5 working sets of a given exercise, the target muscle has accrued the maximal signal for muscle growth that it can for that training session, and more sets seem to result in diminishing returns. (Buckner et al, 2017). This supports the idea of training a muscle group multiple times in one week with just a few sets each workout. In addition, it provides a different stimulus to grow. If you are using predominantly compound movements in your training routine you will get stronger, which in turn will allow you the ability to perform high-rep work with a heavier weight than you did previously, which can equate to increases in muscle mass.
Adherence. It is far easier to make a 3-day training routine a part of your life than a 6-day routine. This is important for some to stick to training for the long-term, and we are going in for the long-term commitment.
To conclude, full-body training can be beneficial for gym-newbies and seasoned gym-goers alike and is worth considering. The following summarizes why both experienced and new lifters should consider performing full body training:
Wish to increase strength to allow for hypertrophy work to be performed with heavier weight
Feeling the accumulation of fatigue from high-volume, high-frequency training, and wish to follow a routine that promotes recovery.
Promotes a focus on linear progression in training.
Forces the lifter to get strong on compound movements in a relatively short period of time, which is beneficial to create a base-strength that will set them up for success in their fitness journey.
It is easier to implement into their everyday lives and make it a lifestyle.
Below is a sample workout from a full-body training split for size and strength:
Barbell Back Squat: 3 sets of 5-8 reps (Sets across or descending) – 1-3 RIR
Barbell Flat Bench Press: 3 sets of 5-8 reps (Sets across or descending) – 1-3 RIR
T-Bar Rows: 3 sets of 8-10 reps (Descending sets, 5%-10% reduction in weight each set) - 0-1 RIR
Dumbbell Seated Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 10-12 reps (Descending sets, 5%-10% reduction in weight each set) - 0-1 RIR
Skull Crushers: 3 sets of 10-12 reps (Descending sets, 5%-10% reduction in weight each set) - 0-1 RIR
Dumbbell Incline Bench Curl: 3 sets of 10-15 reps (Sets across or descending as needed) – 0-1 RIR
Seated Calf Raise: 3 sets of 15-20 reps – 0-1 RIR
(1) "Frequency: The Overlooked Resistance Training Variable for Inducing Muscle Hypertrophy?"
Dankel SJ, Mattocks KT, Jessee MB, Buckner SL, Mouser JG, Counts BR, Laurentino GC, Loenneke JP. Frequency: The Overlooked Resistance Training Variable for Inducing Muscle Hypertrophy? Sports Med. 2017 May;47(5):799-805. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0640-8. PMID: 27752983.
(2) "Comparison of 1 Day and 3 Days Per Week of Equal-Volume Resistance Training in Experienced Subjects"
McLESTER, JOHN R. JR.1; BISHOP, E1; GUILLIAMS, M. E.2 Comparison of 1 Day and 3 Days Per Week of Equal-Volume Resistance Training in Experienced Subjects, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: August 2000 - Volume 14 - Issue 3 - p 273-281