• Alex Parry

Your Guide to Full Body Strength Training

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Bodybuilders drastically OVERESTIMATE the amount of time it takes a muscle to recover. They target one muscle group per day and destroy it, meaning it takes way too long to recover. Now whilst this might be okay for bodybuilders, it’s not exactly ideal for getting stronger. That’s where full body strength training comes in.

What is it?

Full Body Strength training is exactly what the name suggests; it’s training that works your entire body (or at least a good portion of it) in a single session.

So instead of doing:

  • Monday – Chest and Triceps

  • Wednesday – Back and Biceps

  • Friday – Legs and Shoulders

A full body workout would look something like this:

  • Monday – Legs, Chest, Triceps, Back

  • Wednesday – Legs, Shoulders, Back, Biceps

  • Friday – legs, Chest, Shoulders

How does it work?

There’s a saying in the world of strength training, “stimulate don’t annihilate.” This basically means that instead of working a muscle to the point where it’s destroyed, we work it much less (stimulate it) so that it still gets trained but recovers MUCH quicker.

So for example, a bodybuilding type programme might have 1 ‘leg day’ per week which leaves whoever does it sore for about 4 days. Whereas a good strength programme might 2, 3 or even 4 lower body exercises spread throughout the week.

Alex, do you train like this?

Yes, 100%. I’m currently running the Catalyst Athletics 4 Week Leg Strength Block as part of a 12 week Olympic Lifting Cycle. The programme has me training 5 days per week, and on three of those days I’m squatting more than 70% of my 1 rep max, as well as deadlifting and Olympic lifting being mixed across those 5 days.

What about the specific sets and reps?

Well since you’ll be covering more of your body you won’t be able to do quite as many sets per body part. A bodybuilder targeting one body part might choose 3 exercises for legs, and for each exercise do 4 sets of 12 reps. On a full body programme though you’ll be doing only 1 exercise per body part and you’ll only be doing five or less sets.

When you do the Maths, the bodybuilding programme does a total of 12 sets for legs in one session.

A full body workout, however, would only do 5 sets for legs.

BUT, over the course of a week, the full body training system would allow you to perform 3 sessions that included legs, meaning that over a total week:

  • The bodybuilding programme does a total of 12 sets

  • The full body workout programme does 15 sets. Which is MORE than the traditional body part split. Plus you get the advantage of ACTUALLY being able to walk for most of the week

An Example of a great Full Body Strength Training Programme:

As you probably know by now I’m a big fan of Stronglifts 5x5 and of Starting Strength, both of which are full body workout programmes.

The workout below is a Stronglifts 5x5 variation that both me and my clients have had great success with.

Workout A:

  • Squats 5x5

  • Chest Presses 5x5

  • Barbell Rows 5x5

Workout B:

  • Lunges 3x8

  • Pull-ups 5x5

  • Deadlifts 3x5

Structure & Progression

Basically you’ll alter between workout A and workout B on non-consecutive days. So you could do:

Monday A, Wednesday B, Friday A one week. Then the next week you could do Monday B, Wednesday A, Friday B. And repeat from there.

For progression you’ll be trying to add weight every single session. For lower body movements like squats and deadlifts you can aim to add 2.5kg each session. For upper body movements (and lunges) you can aim to add 1.25kg per session.

This means that in 8 weeks you can add 20kg to your squat and deadlift and 10kg to your chest and shoulder presses!

Don’t get me wrong, you can’t make progress like this forever, but for a few months this is one of the best programmes you can do.

Can I do this at home?

Now, in an ideal world the majority of these exercises would be done at a gym with a barbell. However we don’t all have access to a gym, so here are some easy ways to do this at home.

1. If you can, check craigslist, gumtree, ebay, used sports shops etc and try to find some old dumbbells or barbells. When I started out I managed to get a fairly good selection of weights for less than £60. Once you’ve done this you can just follow the programme as normal.

2. If you can’t get any weights or don’t have the room then maybe try to buy a weighted vest. I bought one of these for £30 and it came with up to 15kg of weights that I could add or take off if needed. It’s a great way to make your workout harder but save money and space.

3. Get Creative, if you can’t get any of the kit above then you’ll have to find ways of using your own bodyweight to make exercises harder.

  • Two chairs can become a tricep dip stand

  • Handstands can be used to train your shoulders etc.

  • Instead of a barbell chest press you can use push ups, clapping push-ups, one arm push-ups.

  • If squats get too easy you can try a single leg squat.

There’s always a way, in fact I recommend googling Convict Conditioning for a great resource on bodyweight variations of exercises. There’s a book you can buy, or you can just try to download the pdf online.

That’s it then, my guide on HOW and WHY you should start using Full Body Strength Training Programmes.

If you’ve got any questions or comments you can either leave a message in the comments section or shoot me an email, alex@characterstrength.co.uk

Until next time, keep getting stronger

Your Coach


PS: If you’re not on my mailing list what on earth are you waiting for? You’ll get the exclusive strength training content, tips and advice every week direct to your inbox.

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PPS: Shout-out to Ines for suggesting that I write this article. Thanks very much. Let’s keep those suggestions coming in!

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