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Are Full Body Workouts Good for Building Muscle?

August 6, 2019

deadlifts full body workout

Many of us do the standard bodybuilding workout, training 4-5 days a week, focusing each workout on a specific body part.

But have you ever considered doing full-body workouts to build muscle?

Alright, before we get started, this is NOT a ‘full-body workouts vs traditional bodybuilding workouts’ contest.

I’d venture to say 95% of the greatest bodybuilders have built their physiques with traditional bodybuilding workouts

I’m only offering the idea of full-body workouts as an alternative (I’ll provide some possible reasons for this below), or if you just want to change up your workout.

Are Full Body Workouts Best for You?

do full body workouts build muscle

This is one of the most debatable topics in bodybuilding and weightlifting. Most workouts with the goal of building muscle size focus training a specific muscle with volume. A full-body workout isn’t going to allow for that. 

But that doesn’t necessarily mean full-body workouts aren’t good for building muscle. It really boils down to your personal goals to determine what type of workouts are best for you.  

It’s important, to be honest with yourself and know what you want. Really, what are your goals?

  • Is your goal to build muscle size?
  • Is your goal to get ripped and shredded?
  • Do you just want to gain strength on compound lifts?
  • Do you just want to get into decent shape without killing yourself in the gym?
  • Have you gotten to a certain point and just want to maintain that look?

Ask yourself these questions. Because just showing up to the gym with no purpose will quickly zap your motivation. Make sense?

On that note, I’m going to give you the reasons I think one would opt for full-body workouts instead of split routines…

Reasons for Full Body Workouts

There are 3 main reasons for doing full-body workouts:

  1. You really don’t have time to train several days a week
  2. You need to change your routine for a while
  3. Your focus is strength training or powerlifting

The Time Factor

I don’t buy the first reason. You have time for what you make time for. If you want something bad enough, you’ll make it happen. If not, you’ll make an excuse (like not having time).

If this really is you and let’s say you only had 2 days a week you can train, I would suggest doing half your body for one session and other the other half the next, like this:

  • Workout 1: Upper Body
  • Workout 2: Lower Body

Change Up Your Routine

If you’ve hit a plateau in muscle growth or strength gains, oftentimes changing up your workout routine is the answer. 

Let’s say you’re training 5 days a week with typical bodybuilding workout for a long time and you gain have been stagnant for the past month. This is an extremely common scenario.

The problem is your muscles have gotten used to those workouts and have stopped responding. Changing up your workout routine is a great way to shock your muscles and get them responding again. 

Strength Training

Now here’s where I can really see the benefits of full-body workouts. If your goal is to get stronger, then you’re going to be focused on compound exercises for the majority of your workouts.

With compound exercises, you’ll end up working your entire body. However, you probably won’t have the time or energy to do any specific work for smaller muscles (like curls…funny thing is my wife bought me a Chuck Norris tank top that read ‘Curls Get the Girls!’ …lol)

Jim Stoppani’s Full Body Workout Routine

Jim Stoppani gives you some additional reasons why full-body workouts may work for you.

Now, I personally don’t agree 100% with everything Jim has to say here – I tend to disagree that full-body workouts are best for building muscle mass, and I’ll talk more on that later. But the other points he makes are valid. 

Full Body Exercises

If you’re considering full-body workouts, it’s important to know what types of exercises are going to be most beneficial for you. You’ve got a lot to cram into that hour in the gym. So you need to ensure you get the most out of your time

There are a number of ways to do full-body workouts. But from my experience, the most effective way is to stick with compound, multi-joint exercises


Because these exercises work several muscles rather than just targeting a specific muscle. Again, you need to make the most of your time here. ​

There are 2 major compound exercises that work the entire body, to some extent. In fact, and this may sound like a stretch, you could build mountains of muscle mass from these 2 exercises alone. 

Squats for Full Body

On the surface, squats are a leg or lower body exercise. So how do squats also make your upper body bigger? 

Squats also help naturally boost your testosterone. For better results, there are specific nutrients you need to make sure your body is getting by taking a reputable (and natural) test booster.

You can read about my recommended test booster here.

squats for full body workout

The amount of stress and force it takes to do squats, especially heavy squats, taxes your central nervous system. This is a ‘huge’ (no pun intended) benefit to doing squats. 

“Remember that when you do weighted squats you are working about 70% of the muscles in your body– with this one move you are hitting your shoulders, back, traps, glutes, hamstrings, calf, and abs.

The squat’s spillover benefits include gaining strength with all your other lifts. As well as building up your endurance and giving your heart a good cardio workout.”

Source: ‘How Do Squats Make Your Upper Body Bigger?’ September 4, 2017, Dark Iron Fitness: https://www.darkironfitness.com/how-do-squats-make-your-upper-body-bigger/

Deadlifts for Full Body

Like squats, deadlifts are another true full-body exercise. 

In fact, deadlifts give you more of a full-body workout than squats. And they also have the same impact on boosting your testosterone levels

deadlifts for full body workout

When you do deadlifts, you’re pulling raw weight off the floor using every ounce of force you have.

Whereas deads will certainly add mass to your lower body, several upper body muscles are also activated like your back, lats, traps, shoulders, and arms.

“Deadlift is the only exercise that stimulates both the lower and upper body. The same cannot be said of squats.

Deadlifts work the butt, upper thighs, hamstrings, lower back, upper-middle back, traps, and gives a kind of “fullness” in the chest (take note guys).”

Source: ‘The Deadlift: King of Exercises’ June 4, 2019, randy Hering, Bodybuilding.com: https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/randy51.htm

Other Exercises Good for Full Body Workouts

incline barbell press chest day chest exercises

There are several more exercises you should consider when doing full-body workouts. And although these exercises target specific body parts, they also incorporate other smaller muscles. 

  • Barbell Rows
  • T-bar Rows
  • Dumbbell Rows
  • Bench Press (including incline and decline)
  • Overhead Barbell Press (seated or standing)
  • Dumbbell Press (including include, decline and seated for shoulders)

As you can see these are all basic weightlifting exercises. And that’s just it with full-body workouts – you need to stick to the basics that build (activates) the most muscle. You’re not going to have time for too many isolation exercises. 

5 Full Body Workouts for Muscle Gains

Now the question is how do you use these exercises to create a full-body workout routine?

Well, you’re in luck because I’m going to give you 5 full-body workouts you can do!

These workouts focus on the compound exercises we just discussed. Some workouts will be short, some long. And you’ll do lower reps in some, and higher in others. I wanted to give you a variety to choose from! 

And even better, I encourage you to use any of these as a guide to create your own full-body workout. 

I have an interesting article for you to read later on rep ranges, and what truly works best for building more muscle (the answer may surprise you!): High Reps vs Low Reps: Best Rep Range for Muscle Size

Full Body Workout 1

ExerciseSets x Reps
Squats3 x 8, 6, 4, 
Deadlifts3 x 8, 6, 4
Decline Bench Press3 x 6
Seated Dumbbell Press3 x 8

Full Body Workout 2

ExerciseSets x Reps
T-bar Rows3 x 8, 6, 4
Bench Press3 x 8, 6, 4
Deadlifts3 x 8, 6, 4
Dumbbell Rows3 x , 8, 6, 4

Full Body Workout 3

ExerciseSets x Reps
Squats3 x 12
Barbell Rows3 x 12
Seated Overhead Press3 x 12
Dumbbell Press3 x 12

Full Body Workout 4

ExerciseSets x Reps
Squats5 x 5
Barbell Rows5 x 5
Bench Press5 x 5

This workout is based on the 5 x 5 strength training concept. I have another post that fully explains this method and gives you basic and advanced 5 x 5 workout routines.

You can read the full post here: Advanced 5 x 5 Routines for Muscle and Strength Gains

Full Body Workout 5

ExerciseSets x Reps
Squats3 x 10
Dumbbell Rows3 x 10
Deadlifts3 x 10
Incline Dumbbell Press3 x 10

Full Body Workout Schedule

deadlift platform for strength training and bodybuilding workouts

How often should you do full-body workouts? How many times a week can you really train your entire body?

Many bodybuilders are known to train each muscle just once a week. However, keep in mind that most bodybuilding workouts have you focusing an entire workout on just one muscle.

So you’re essentially training each muscle with more volume, which in theory, you’re exhausting that muscle.

With full-body workouts, it’s going to be difficult to completely exhaust any one muscle. Not to mention these workouts will be tough on the central nervous system if you’re doing several compound exercises each workout

So I recommend doing a full-body workout 2-3 times a week.

I say at least twice because training just 1x a week isn’t going to do much (especially if you don’t do any type of exercise the other 6 days!). And doing full-body workouts any more than 3x a week could be counterproductive and lead to overtraining.

So here are some example full-body training schedules

2x a Week

  • Monday: Full Body Workout
  • Tuesday: Rest (or do cardio)
  • Wednesday: Rest (or do cardio)
  • Thursday: Full Body Workout
  • Friday: Rest (or do cardio)
  • Saturday: Rest (or do cardio)
  • Sunday: Rest (or do cardio)

3x a Week

  • Monday: Full Body Workout
  • Tuesday: Rest (or do cardio)
  • Wednesday: Full Body Workout
  • Thursday: Rest (or do cardio)
  • Friday: Full Body Workout
  • Saturday: Rest (or do cardio)
  • Sunday: Rest (or do cardio)

Pros and Cons of Full Body Workouts

Here’s a list of pros and cons to full body workouts. Much of this is just my opinion based on my many years of experience in the gym and lifting weights.

So you’ll have to take it with a grain of salt (or grain of creatine…lol!).


  • Great for focusing on compound lifts
  • Great for strength gains
  • Great for conditioning and potential fat loss
  • Don’t have to work out as often
  • Great if you need to change your routine


  • No time for isolation exercises
  • Lacks training volume for specific muscles
  • Not so good for getting that pump
  • Could be more time between workouts than you prefer
  • May not be as beneficial for building and shaping muscle

Should You Switch to Full Body Workouts?

If you’re doing the standard bodybuilding workouts and getting results, then there’s no need to switch to full-body workouts. Especially if your goal is to gain muscle mass.

However, if you’ve hit a rut and have stopped making gains, then maybe doing full-body workouts for a few weeks will help. Or just starting a new workout program in general to your routine (do more reps, increase the intensity, back off intensity, incorporate different exercises, etc.). 

Remember, this post is about building muscle, so that’s the goal. And there’s really no better way to build and shape your muscles than doing more volume for each specific muscle. ​

You see, that’s the problem with full-body workouts. For example, there’s just no way you can do 5-6 exercises for back and still do exercises for your other muscles in one workout. Same for legs. Same for chest. 

Again, I’m not knocking full-body workouts. In fact, they’re great for strength gains, or if you just want to get the conditioning benefits. And you will pack on some muscle mass.

But for the long term, nothing is going to beat traditional bodybuilding workouts for building sheer muscle size, because each muscle requires more attention. 

**If you’re ready to start a 12-week training program, check out one of my premium programs below:

Hardcore Muscle Building Program
Lean Muscle Building Program

Train with Passion,


About the author

Jason Stallworth

Hi, I'm Jason Stallworth and I created The Muscle Program in 2010 for the purpose of helping you build muscle. I know first-hand how weight training and being in the gym has shaped my life in more way than one. And here is where I share that experience with you so that you can continue pushing yourself and becoming the best version of yourself each day!