The first thing one might feel upon hearing the term “full-body workout” is anxiety – it sounds intense. In fact, it is. It refers to any exercise that effectively engages more than one muscle group at once. Full-body workout movements are usually more complicated and physically rigorous than normal one-muscle activities such as bicep curls.
However, it turns out that the benefits may really outweigh the pain, in several different ways. Full-body workout movements are more effective in burning calories and building muscle, all while requiring less gym equipment and less time. They also may improve athletic performance, reduce pain and injury, and enhance confidence and cognition. There are so many full-body workout options, one should never become bored or under-challenged.
A November 2014 Huffington Post article reported that full-body exercises burn calories at a higher rate than one-muscle exercises, for the simple reason that multiple muscle groups are working at once. The same article pointed out that many exercisers will target a different area of the body each day of the week that they exercise, but that one day per week is not sufficient frequency for muscle-building. Rather, doing a full-body workout several days a week will provide the frequency needed to build muscle.
The article also noted that full-body workouts provide greater “flexibility” in exercise schedules. This could be seen as ironic, considering the greater rigor of these workouts; however, this just demonstrates what a good deal full-body workouts are: greater efficiency with less time (and possibly less money and equipment).
So how does one do a full-body workout? It turns out there are almost infinitely many movements and difficulty levels. Despite the rigor of multiple muscles being engaged at once, it is possible to vary the difficulty by adding or subtracting repetitions, allowing more or less rest time between exercise sets, or doing more or less advanced versions of a given movement.
For example, the burpee jump (infamous among athletes) is a tough full-body exercise that involves getting into a crouched position, jumping the legs back into push-up position, doing a push-up, jumping legs back to crouch, and finally jumping up to standing position to finish the movement before repeating.
However, one might find it better to start with just push-ups, lunges, vertical jumps, or holding a push-up position for a few seconds. Doing this “easier” preparation for the burpee is still very much a full-body workout.
The abdominals (and the back and shoulder muscles) are critical to supporting the core during the push-up position, the arm and shoulder muscles are obviously necessary for the push-up itself, and the leg muscles are engaged during the crouch, lunge, and jump movements.
In fact, one can be inventive about full-body exercises, as long as one keeps a few key items in mind. First, prevent back strain by keeping abdominal muscles engaged and maintaining good posture. (Poor posture also can be the culprit in cases where there are apparent balance problems or other sensations of awkwardness when trying to perform a complicated exercise movement.)
If lack of muscular flexibility (usually in the thighs) is a serious impediment to performing an exercise, it probably is better to use bent legs and otherwise perform the exercise as intended; this especially comes into play with yoga and Pilates.
One of the special benefits of the full-body workout is the opportunity to work important muscles that normally get little attention. For example, the triceps (muscle group at the back of the arm, opposite the biceps) almost always take a backseat to the biceps – everyone knows about the famous bicep curl. Similarly, despite the fact that strong back muscles may reduce the risk of back pain and contribute to an overall toned core, muscles like the trapezius (upper back), latissimus dorci (sides of middle back), and erector spinae (lower back) almost always take a backseat to the abs.
Trying new exercises that require attention to multiple muscles at once is also a mental challenge. Attention must be paid to posture, position, and direction of movement. Willpower to get the exercise correct and to keep it up is essential. Walking away from a workout knowing that this mind-body challenge was conquered is sure to enhance general self-confidence; it could help you tackle tough life decisions, anxiety problems, and much more.