Full-body workouts are the best way to burn maximum calories, claims Rachel Cosgrove, author of "The Female Body Breakthrough." As the name suggests, full-body workouts involve working your entire body in each workout you do. They're usually performed on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, weekend day schedule, so you leave 48 hours between sessions. This rest time is necessary to relieve muscle soreness and prevent injury, according to the American Council on Exercise. While there isn't necessarily one single best full-body workout, there are guidelines you should follow to make your training as effective as possible.
Base your routine around compound exercises. These are movements that work multiple joints and muscle groups at the same time as opposed to isolation exercises that focus on one specific area. Not only do compounds hit more muscle fibers to increase your strength, they also burn a higher number of calories, leading to increased fat loss, writes strength coach Cassandra Forsythe in "The New Rules of Lifting for Women." For example, when it comes to training your legs, pick moves that work the quads, hamstrings and calves, such as squats, lunges or leg presses rather than leg extensions, leg curls or calf raises.
Chances are your gym has a huge range of equipment -- resistance machines, barbells, dumbbells, cable pulleys and maybe even more unconventional tools like kettlebells, sandbags and medicine balls. All of these can be used in a full-body workout, but on the whole you're better off using free weights and body-weight exercises. When using free weights your stabilizing muscles are called into play to help balance the weight, which again increases muscle fiber recruitment and increases calorie burn and strength gains. Machines also force you to lift in a fixed plane of motion, which can lead to injury, adds Forsythe. If you're not sure of the correct free-weight techniques, ask a qualified trainer at your gym.
Sets, Reps and Progression
Repetitions are the number of times you lift the weight before you put it down and a set is one block of repetitions. There's much debate over what the best set and rep scheme to use is, with the traditional advice being to stick to three sets of 15 to 20 reps, as this supposedly burns more fat. However, this is untrue -- light training for high reps burns no more fat than heavy training for low reps. In fact, the set and rep scheme you use is largely unimportant, according to Sally Moss, personal trainer at Ultimate Performance in London. The real key to improving is progressing either by adding weight or performing extra reps and sets. Each session aim to make a small improvement on the last.
There's no need to try and hit every single muscle group individually in your full-body session -- five or six compound exercises should cover everything. Start with a lower-body pushing exercise such as a squat with a barbell or dumbbells or a lunge variation. Move to a hip-dominant exercise like a deadlift and then perform one push exercise and one pull exercise for your upper body. These could be pushups and chinups, bench presses and cable rows or dumbbell shoulder presses and barbell rows. If you have the time or energy, add in one or two more exercises for body parts you want to target or that need improvement. Start with three sets of eight to 12 reps on each in week one and stick to the progression guidelines.
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