Before you kick me in the nuts for hating on full body routines, hear me out:
If your goal is to build muscle and build a strong physique, the full body routine is the least most recommended routine I would ever give to someone.
The reason is simple: spending 3-4 days per week hitting the same muscle groups over and over again doesn’t give your body enough ample time to recover.
Yes, full body routines are very popular for beginners because it makes you feel good about working out.
And, you can definitely lose weight and burn fat with this type of training. After all, it’s your diet that burns fat and not your training.
But, if your goal is to build strength and develop the best physique possible, working your full body multiple times per week is the least effective way to go about it.
Let’s dive into the specifics, and I’ll convince you to drop the full body routine by the time you’re finished reading.
Structure of the Full Body Routine
If you’re new to training, this first section is for you. What exactly is a full body routine? Why do some fitness professionals recommend it to beginner and intermediate lifters?
The full body routine is exactly what it sounds like: you are hitting the same upper and lower body muscles each time you visit the gym.
This means you will be doing workouts that target your legs, chest, back, shoulders and arms every single time you hit the gym.
Most full body routines will have you do 3-4 sets per muscle group. Any more than this and you’d be in the gym for 3 hours. Nobody has time for that.
Thus is the issue I have with full body routines. If you want to gain strength, you need at minimum 6-8 sets of heavy lifting per muscle group. Can you see how this would be difficult time wise with a full body routine?
Therefore, if your goal is to build dense muscle and strength, the full body routine is inefficient.
For one, you would need 2-3 hours every single gym session to get the required number of sets in order to develop strength.
Second, you’re not giving your muscles enough days to recover so you can hit those heavy weights. This is another huge flaw with full body routines IF your goal is to get strong and build dense muscle.
It’s nice as a beginner to have a set number of exercises that you can hit every time you hit the gym. It keeps your training simple which is a great mentality to have.
Most full body routines will have you hitting the gym every other day. This gives your body 1 full day of rest between sets.
There’s nothing wrong with that. After hitting your entire body, a day off from the gym is exactly what’s needed.
So, full body routines have their place. I would recommend them to the elderly and to someone who’s new to the gym who’s trying to lose weight and burn fat.
Why Full Body Routines Are Popular
Full body routines are definitely popular these days. There’s a good reason why Starting Strength programs continue to attract millions of fans every year.
Starting Strength has you hitting the heavy weights three times per week. You squat, bench press, shoulder press and deadlift every single workout. You perform 5 sets for 5 reps in each of these workouts.
It’s a training system that’s 100% focused on getting you stronger in these key lifts. It’s power lifting. And, that’s the issue I have with this style of training.
The goal with this website is to develop you into a Lean Warrior. You do not need to be a power lifter to build a strong, lean physique. That’s simply the truth.
You can still be strong and athletic without a focus on power lifting. Plus, I’ve seen too many injuries due to power lifting over the years. I’m not interested in breaking your body.
I’m in my 30’s and can train like a teenager due to the fact that I don’t squat or deadlift hundreds of pounds. It might look awesome, but you’ll rarely find a power lifter who hasn’t been sidelined due to injuries. Plus, their bodies suffer when they hit their 30’s.
So, leave the power lifting alone. All of the heavy lifting I recommend is limited to a few select exercises that causes the least amount of injuries. Follow what I teach and you’ll be able to train injury free for decades.
These strength-focused full body routines are popular because it’s really motivating to see your strength improve week after week, especially if you’re new to training.
However, once the weight gets quite heavy, you begin to risk injury. This is why I believe that full body routines are best for beginners until they reach a foundational level of strength in the basic compound exercises.
They’re also great for learning the correct form in these lifts. Make sure you’re keeping the weight light enough so that you complete each and every rep with great form.
Injuries happen when the weight is too heavy and you lift with broken form. When you’re deadlifting 325 pounds with terrible form, it’s only a matter of time before your spine pays the price.
And yes, full body routines will build muscle. After all, building muscle is dependent on your diet. If you eat enough protein and calories week after week, your body will put on size.
As you get stronger and stronger, the full body routine becomes less effective in my opinion. Here’s a few reasons why:
1) You Cannot Maximize Strength Gains
As you begin to grow stronger and stronger, your muscles and your CNS will not have enough time to recover. One day simply isn’t enough.
When you’re able to bench press 225, do you really think you should be lifting weight this heavy 3 times per week?
I definitely don’t think so. Not if you’re a natural lifter. I know for my body that I need at least 3-4 days off between heavy lifting sessions.
If I have a heavy chest day on Monday, the earliest I’ll hit the chest again would be Friday. This gives my chest enough time to recover and be ready for another heavy day of lifting.
Hitting my chest with heavy weight every other day doesn’t give it enough time to recover and rebuild, making me stronger. And, because bench pressing also hits the front shoulders, my shoulder presses will suffer as well.
This is why full body training becomes less and less effective the stronger you get. It’s good for starting out and getting your body used to lifting.
But, once you begin to hit strength levels that are taxing on your body, you’re going to want to give your muscles more time to recover.
Not only do you set yourself up for injury, but making progress on your lifts is how you actually build muscle. Progressive overload is the key to gains, even if you’re on a diet. Your body builds more muscle fibers when it feels as if it’s reached it’s limit.
If you’re not giving your body enough time to recover and rebuild, you’ll be stuck lifting the same (or less) weight each time you hit the gym.
This fact applies for all training by the way. If you can’t make progress on your lifts, then you’re not going to build size. That becomes an issue if your goal is to build muscle.
Plus, if you’ve ever hit the squat or deadlift for hundreds of pounds, you’ll find it incredibly difficult to move onto a heavy bench press set. There’s simply no way you’ll be able to bench at your full potential.
Again, you can definitely train this way. But, I guarantee you won’t be training at your best level. This is exactly why I don’t recommend full body routines for intermediate and advanced lifters.
2) Not Enough Sets Per Muscle Group
The next issue I have with full body workouts is that you simply won’t get enough volume per workout. What I mean by volume are the sets and reps in particular.
Quality reps, that is.
If you’re lifting with shit form, then it doesn’t really matter how many reps you get — you’ll end up injuring yourself eventually as you add more weight (addressed in the point before).
In my experience, you want at a minimum 6-8 heavy sets per muscle group. With a full body workout, you simply won’t be able to get this many sets per workout unless you spend 3 hours in the gym for each workout.
And, if you had the time to spend 3 hours in the gym, you wouldn’t get the quality reps you need because your body isn’t getting enough rest time between workouts. One day isn’t enough.
Progressive overload is key to building muscle. You need to give your muscles several days of rest or else you won’t be 100% when you lift. This isn’t possible when you’re lifting heavy every other day with a full body workout.
That’s the problem with full body workouts. They’re great for beginners, but you won’t get the quality reps and volume you need as the weights get heavier. Recovery becomes incredibly important as does the volume.
Full body workouts are meant for low volume. 5 sets per muscle group. As I said, they’re great for beginners. But as you increase the weight, you will physically and mentally need more recovery time.
You will need more volume to build size. Like I said, 6-8 sets of heavy lifting followed by another 4-6 sets of lighter weights. This is ideal for muscle growth as long as your diet is on point.
3) The Importance Of Recovery
This is probably the most overlooked issue of full body routines. When you first start lifting, you’re only going to be able to lift lighter weights. Your body can easily perform presses, squats and deadlifts three times per week.
However, as you begin to grow stronger and stronger week after week, you’ll notice that each workout is becoming progressively harder. While it’s good that you’re making progress, the issue is that you’re not giving yourself enough time to recover.
And it’s not just physical fatigue you’ll experience — mental fatigue is a very real thing as well. As you lift heavier and heavier sets, your CND (centeral nervous sytem) will become exhausted as well.
What happens when you exhaust your CNS?
You risk overtraining. Like I said, this doesn’t have to be a physical issue. When your CNS is overtrained, you’ll experience low energy and mental fog. I personally have problems with motivation and discipline when I overtrain my CNS.
At this point, taking an entire week off from the gym is usually all I need to recover mentally.
From a physical standpoint, your muscles can handle a lot of weight. However, your tendons, joints and other ligaments can take a real beating from lifting heavy every other day. This can lead to serious injuries that will sideline you for months.
Thus, it’s important that you resist the temptation to deadlift and squat heavy weight 3 times per week. Your knees and back will eventually pay the price. Give them ample time to recover and you will still gain muscle and strength.
Slow and steady wins the race in the lifting game.
Full Body Workouts Are Great For Beginners
This is where I draw the line for full body workouts. They’re great if you haven’t been in the gym for years. You can make steady, linear gains in all of your key lifts. They’re great for building a foundational level of strength that will benefit you in the future.
And that’s the key word here: the future.
As you become more and more advanced in your training, heavy weight begins to take a toll. And, I know that I have said you can build muscle with lighter weights. This is definitely true.
However, there will always be a place for heavy lifting. I personally avoid heavy deadlifting because I have seen enough people injure themselves from it.
But, I do enjoy heavy incline presses, dumbbell shoulder presses, and front squats (I don’t do back squats).
As long as your form is great, you can lift heavy. You should always be listening to your body. You should have heavy sets and light sets in your workouts.
Your muscles need ample time to recover. At minimum, you should give a muscle group 5 days of recovery after a heavy lifting session. You’ll feel much more refreshed and ready to hit those weights hard and continue to build on your progress.
This is the best way to build muscle. Full body workouts will only get you so far.
What’s your opinion on full body workouts? It’s okay to disagree with me. After all, this is just my opinion.