There’s a lot of conflicting info in the fitness world around the best way to structure your workout plan each week. Should you do full-body workouts? Or should you “split” your workouts into lower body and upper body moves? Some people even take it a step further and break down their strength training sessions into legs, shoulders and arms, and back and biceps days because they feel that builds the most muscle mass over time. But for other people, that approach is too overwhelming, so they default to full-body workouts. So the question is: are split workouts or full-body workouts better? And the truth is: it depends. *cue eye roll*
Okay, but you guys, it really does depend! (Fitness experts and research also agree.) Your workout routine should be based on the goals you’re trying to accomplish in the gym—that’s always been a fact. If you’re looking to build strength and muscle mass, then you should consider split workouts. Otherwise if you’re looking to get in shape while you build muscle and burn body fat, then full-body workouts may be for you! Here are a few other reasons why we love total body workouts:
They promote muscle balance
Because you’re working out all of the muscles in your entire body in one session, you don’t need to worry about things like giving equal attention to each muscle or muscle group as you would in split workouts every week. Plus, full-body workouts incorporate a lot of compound movements, which are moves that work several muscles at the same time like squats, the bench press, and push-ups do. Win!
They burn more calories
Like we just mentioned, total body workouts involve compound exercises, which means more muscles are working at once. You can probably guess where we’re going next, but if not: the more muscles working, the more energy you’re expending, which means you’re burning more fat and calories! Research and studies back this up, too. And who wouldn’t want to burn an extra calorie or two? Definitely not us!
They’re less of a time commitment
This may seem slightly contradictory… but hear us out. Not everyone has time to fit 4-5 strength training workouts into their schedule each week—and that’s OK! But if you commit to the split approach and only make it to the gym twice in a week, then you’re skipping over at least an entire muscle group, whereas had you done two full-body workouts, then you would have worked each muscle group twice. Make sense? And not only that, but total body workouts are often times made up of bodyweight exercises, which means you can do them anytime, anywhere! Plus, focusing a few workouts a week on strength training is good, but it’s also important to make time for cardio, flexibility, and mobility moves, too!
Sounds pretty great, right? But we should call out that doing only full-body workouts can lead to overtraining. The best thing you can do for yourself is to switch up your training routine so that your body is always guessing what’s next. It’s also important to give yourself rest days so your body can recover properly in order to keep making progress towards your goals. If you have questions, talk to a coach—they’ll be happy to help!
Now let’s get to the full-body workout!
Full-Body Circuit Workout
Equipment needed: kettlebell, dumbbell, resistance band, cable machines (optional)
Get ready for this full-body workout that will build muscle and burn body fat all at the same time! Circuit training has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to increase heart rate, burn fat and calories, while still increasing muscle mass.
This full-body circuit workout requires little to no equipment, and you can turn up or down the intensity with the amount of weight you use. For beginners or those who are just starting out, use light weights or consider completing each movement as bodyweight exercises. If you’re looking for a challenge, use heavy weights—but not too heavy that your form is compromised.
We did mention that this was a full-body circuit workout, so yes, you will be completing four short mini-circuits. This circuit training will be a mixture of unilateral movements (single-leg or single-arm, like a biceps curl) and compound exercises that engage muscles throughout your entire body. You will complete one set of each movement one time through, taking minimal rest in between stations, and you’ll finish the designated number of rounds for each circuit.
With circuit training, the goal is to rest as little as possible in between stations to keep the intensity up, although it will differ for each person. If you can, aim for your rest period to be 20-30 seconds or less in between stations, and then rest 60-90 seconds again after each round. These short rest periods will allow your heart rate to stay up while refueling your muscles. Plus, it acts as a sneaky form of cardio!
Note: while you are completing back-to-back exercises, it’s important to remember that it is not a race. To get the most out of this workout (and to not get an injury), complete each movement with control and proper form, while still having high intensity.
Let’s do it, #AFfamily!
Circuit 1: 4 Rounds
12 Single Arm Rows with cable machine (each arm)
1. Switch the setting on the cable machine, so that it is on one of its lowest notches near the ground.
2. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and step your right leg back, similar to a lunge. Your left foot should be on the ground with your knee up.
3. Grab the handle with your right hand (like an ice cream cone) and let your left arm hang or rest on your hip.
4. Engage your core and row the handle into your chest, pulling in a straight line from your biceps.
5. Return to starting position and repeat all reps before switching to your left hand. Don’t forget to switch feet!
Additional information: if you don’t have access to a cable machine, substitute for a dumbbell and complete the same motion.
12-15 Tricep Dips with bench
1. Sit on a bench with your hands by your sides.
2. Slide your butt off the bench so that your legs are extended straight in front of you. Your palms should be on the edge of the bench with your fingers pointing towards your feet. Place your feet hip-width apart.
3. Lower your butt towards the floor by bending the elbows into a 45- or 90-degree angle. Your elbows shouldn’t “fly” out to the sides, they should stay pointing straight behind you.
4. Push yourself up to the starting position.
Additional information: to make this more challenging, straighten your legs so that you’re on your heels to force yourself to lift more of your body weight. To make it easier, bend your knees and bring your feet closer to the bench.
10 Goblet Split Squats with kettlebell (each leg)
1. Get into a pre-lunge position with your right leg in front of you and your left leg back. Hold the kettlebell in front of your chest.
2. Squat straight down as you maintain an upright torso—no leaning forward! Your back knee should lightly tap the ground.
3. Push up through the heel of your front foot and come to standing position.
4. Repeat all reps on one leg before switching to your left foot in front.
Additional information: if you don’t have a kettlebell on hand, you can substitute for a dumbbell.
Circuit 2: 4 Rounds
10 Single Arm Kettlebell Swings (each arm)
1. Place your feet somewhere between hip-width and shoulder-width apart and push your hips back as you slightly bend your knees to grab the kettlebell. Be sure to keep your head looking forward.
2. Start the movement by swinging your right hand back between your legs.
3. Snap your hips and glutes forward and use the momentum to raise the kettlebell up in front of you. At its highest point and the end of the movement, it should be out in front of your chest.
4. Slowly lower the kettlebell back between your thighs, being sure to keep good posture in your upper body and repeat the same movement for all reps before switching to your left hand.
Additional information: if you’ve never performed a kettlebell swing before, we recommend getting in-person training from a coach.
15 Band Anti-Rotation Reverse Lunge with cable machine (each side)
1. Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart.
2. Place the cable machine at chest height and stand so it’s on your right side. Grip the handle with each hand, so that your palms are touching.
3. Straighten your arms out in front of you as you step back into a reverse lunge with your left leg—your right foot should be flat on the ground. Tighten your core to help keep your head, torso, and feet pointing ahead in a straight line.
4. Push up through the heel of your front foot and return to starting position as you bring your hands into your chest.
5. Repeat all reps on this side before facing the opposite direction and stepping your right foot back.
Additional information: if you don’t have access to a cable machine, substitute for a resistance band.
Circuit 3: 3 Rounds
15 Plank with Hip Touch (each side)
1. Get into a normal plank position (not a push-up position) with feet hip-width apart. Your forearms and toes should be on the ground.
2. Squeeze your core and rotate your torso and lower body so that your left hip is facing the floor. It’s OK if you don’t touch the ground, but aim to get as close as possible. You should stay up on your toes.
3. Come back to a neutral position over your forearms and repeat the same movement, just to the right now. That is two reps.
Additional information: to make this easier, place your feet shoulder-width apart for extra stability.
15-30 Squat Jumps
1. Place feet shoulder-width apart and bend your knees to lower your glutes into a squat, being sure to keep your upper body upright as you sink your heels into the ground.
2. At the bottom of the squat, jump straight up off the floor with as much power as you can. Use your arms to help gain momentum.
3. As soon as your feet land on the floor, drop right back into the squat position.
Circuit 4: 3 Rounds
15 Lateral Shoulder Raises with dumbbells
1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them at your sides as you place your feet shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in your knees.
2. Engage your core as you lift both weights up and out to the sides with your palms facing the floor. You should keep a slight bend in the elbows.
3. Lower back down to your sides slowly.
Additional information: if you feel like you’re “shrugging” your shoulders to lift your arms, the weight is too heavy. Drop five or ten pounds in weight of your dumbbells.
15 Front Shoulder Raises with dumbbells
1. Hold a pair of dumbbells in front of your thighs with your feet shoulder-width apart.
2. Engage your core and lift both weights up in front of you with a slight bend in your arms. Your palms should be towards the ground.
3. Finish by slowly lowering the weights back down.
And that’s the full-body circuit workout! Great job!