If you're trying to juggle a career, children and some sort of social life, it's easy to let your workout program slip. It can get to the point that, when you look in a mirror, you end up identifying every single body part -- except for the tip of your nose and your little toe -- as a problem area. A total-body workout is an efficient way to shape and strengthen all your major muscle groups without having to spend your entire life in the gym.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you do two strength-training sessions and 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity cardio each week for basic fitness. If you want to lose weight or train for specific sports, you might add an additional strength session or longer cardio workouts. Don't do strength training on consecutive days as your muscles need 48 hours to fully recover from a weight-lifting session.
Sets and Repetitions
Challenge your muscles to gain strength. Use a weight that you can lift no more than 12 to 15 times with correct form for all exercises. If you're not struggling on the last repetition, you should increase the resistance. According to the Mayo Clinic, for basic fitness you should perform one set of eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise. While additional sets may be useful for sports-specific training, beginners don't gain substantial benefits from doing additional sets.
For a total body workout, you need to use all major muscle groups in both pushing and pulling directions. Do this at home using body weight or resistance bands or at the gym using exercise machines. Although advanced weightlifters prefer free weights, they are difficult for beginners to use safely and effectively. To use your time effectively, choose compound exercises that work several muscles simultaneously rather than isolation exercises that only work one muscle at a time.
Upper Body Exercises
To work chest and arm muscles in a pushing direction, use a bench or chest press machine or do pushups. Work the opposing or pulling muscles with seated or bent-over rows. Develop your shoulder, arm and back muscles in a pushing direction with an overhead press and in a pulling direction with pulldowns or pullups. If you have time for a third set of upper body exercises, add either flyes and reverse flyes for the chest and shoulders or bicep curls and triceps pushdowns for the arms.
Back and Abdominals
According to a study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise, the three most effective exercise for the abdominal muscles are the Captain's Chair bent-leg lift, the bicycle maneuver and stability ball crunches. Add back extensions to work your lower back, glutes and hamstrings simultaneously.
You can work all your major leg muscles with a combination of lunges, side lunges and calf raises, holding dumbbells for extra resistance. If you prefer machines, do a total leg workout using a combination of leg press, calf raise, thigh abductor and thigh adductor machines.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight
- MayoClinic.com: Fitness Training: Elements of a Well-rounded Routine
- MayoClinic.com: What's Better for Strength Training — One Set or Multiple Sets?
- BodyBuilding.com: How Many Sets and Reps Should You Do?
- BodyBuilding.com: What Is The Best Full-Body Workout For Muscle Gain?
- Exrx.net: Physical Overtraining
- Georgia State University: The Exercise and Fitness Page: Upper Body Strength Training Exercises
- American Council on Exercise: American Council on Exercise (ACE)-sponsored Study Reveals Best and Worst Abdominal Exercises
- Exrx.net: Thigh Exercise Menu
Carol Poster began writing professionally in 1974. Her articles have appeared in "Outdoor Woman," "Paddler," "Ski Magazine," "Women's Sports & Fitness," "Dance News," "Show Business," "The Athenian," "PC Resource" and "Utah Holiday," among other publications. Poster holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Eastern Washington University, as well as a Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri.