The Perfect Full Body Workout Plan for Beginners
A full body workout plan is perfect for beginners who are just getting started at the gym and want to see the best possible results.
What beginners do in the gym can be the difference between making gains, and making RAPID gains!
Before we get into this I just want to say there are a lot of different ways to split up your training across 2, 3, 4, 5 or even 6 days.
There is no “correct” training frequency – so the below guide can definitely be adapted.
If you want 10 different programs that would be good for beginners, with various options for number of training sessions per week, then click here to get my 10 free workout programs and a template for tracking progress that you can edit and use!
However, a full body plan across 2 or 3 days can be ideal for beginners, providing the right mix of frequency and volume per muscle group per week.
So what would the ideal full body workout plan for beginners look like?
Pretty much any approach to strength training is probably going to result in muscle gain for a complete beginner if done consistently.
But that does not mean it is optimal, well balanced or without other problems. You’ll get far better results if you do things properly.
This post will give you an example of a good full body routine for a beginner to follow to see good progress whilst avoiding issues like over developing certain muscle groups, training too frequently and hampering progress, or doing too much volume and cutting into recovery.
You may have the following questions:
- What is the ideal workout frequency?
- How much volume should I be doing?
- What is the ideal lifting intensity?
- How many times per week should I be training each muscle group?
- What are the best exercises?
- How many rest days should I have?
- How do I progress as a beginner?
Read on to find out how to devise your own full body workout program that is perfect for beginners!
Beginners should keep things SIMPLE
First point – no workout program will work to build muscle if you get everything else wrong! You need to apply certain principles to this (or ANY) program in order for it to actually work. Those principles are usually not mentioned in workout programs. Growing muscle requires certain ingredients to be present. What you do in the gym is just one ingredient in the recipe. You also need to be getting your nutrition and recovery right.
DO NOT copy workouts from magazines, mainstream fitness websites or advanced bodybuilders!
Many workout programs recommended by fellow gym-goers, popular websites and magazines, will result in muscle groups being worked once per week – usually for an insane amount of volume on one specific day of the week.
This is not ideal for a beginner. You are potentially leaving a lot of gains on the table by waiting a whole week to train a body part again.
I do not recommend the following types of programs for beginners:
Tuesday: Biceps and calves
Wednesday: Triceps and abs
Thursday: Quads and shoulders
Friday: Hamstrings and Back
These programs can be found all over the internet, and they’re usually much better suited to more advanced lifters than beginners. They’re often put together by pro body builders who are at a completely different stage of their muscle building journey and therefore are more likely to require 20 sets of different biceps exercises to stimulate a muscle building response. There’s a reason why they might be doing a weird split that sees them training forearms directly, or working shoulders 3 times a week. That might be their only weak points. They also are more likely to have some “extra help”.
It’s also not optimal to wait a whole week to train a muscle group again, when it’s likely recovered and ready to go again after 2-3 days.
You Don’t Need to BLAST a Muscle Group In One Session!
For a beginner (and even intermediate and experienced trainees) this way of training is likely going to take you well past the required volume to stimulate a muscle building response for each muscle group. 25-30 sets on one muscle group in one session is completely unnecessary for almost everyone. You’re probably not doing much except eating into your recovery with at least half of those sets.
A better way to train would be to cut down the volume within individual sessions, but keep the same, or similar, volume throughout the week by combining muscle groups within a session and training each one more than once per week.
That way you end up with something like this:
Monday: Upper body (chest, back and indirect shoulders and arms work)
Tuesday: Lower body (various compounds hitting quads, hamstrings, glutes)
Thursday: Upper body (Back, shoulders and indirect chest & arms work)
Friday: Lower body (various compounds hitting quads, hamstrings, glutes)
This set up could result in the same overall volume per muscle group as the first plan where body parts are trained once per week. The key difference is you split the training up across the week, so you do a greater amount of useful work. The sets in the second half of the week come when you are fresh and recovered, and can elicit a new muscle building response. This is much better than sloppy work done in the second half of a training session that amounts to flogging a dead horse.
Do this every week with 2 weeks off and you’ll end up with 100 useful training sessions per muscle group that promote a muscle building response, rather than 50.
Full Body Programs Give the Most Bang for Buck for Beginners
For beginners, I usually recommend a 3x per week full body program utilising two different alternating workouts.
This is because beginners don’t need as much stimulus (weight training) to see a muscle building response. Too big a stimulus (doing lots of exercises and sets) will just hamper recovery without speeding up results, so it makes more sense to do a little for each muscle group, but do it more frequently. This is why full body workouts are great. You can hit every muscle group with one or two exercises.
Just make sure you allow enough time for recovery (48 hours). Don’t be tempted to hammer each muscle group with lots of sets and exercises as it won’t improve the muscle building response at the beginner level, but it will mean you’ll need longer for recovery.
These workouts focus on compound movements that hit multiple muscle groups at once so the whole body is worked more efficiently.
Beginners are going to see their biceps grow from barbell rows and chinups, even though these primarily target the back. Beginners’ triceps are going to grow from bench press and overhead press, even though these primarily target the chest and shoulders. Your traps, abs, forearms, hamstrings etc. are going to grow from deadlifts, and your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, abs etc. are going to develop from squats.
How many reps should beginners do in each set?
There’s really no need to lift heavy as a beginner, especially if your reasons for training are for health and aesthetic benefits rather than competing in strength sports.
If your goal is to gain muscle, you will do this with any load, heavy or light, provided sets are taken close to failure.
There is NO benefit for building more muscle based on lifting with heavy weights (weights you can lift for fewer reps) vs. light weights (weights you can lift for more reps.).
Numerous scientific studies have found this, like this one. Both high load and low load training led to similar improvements in muscle size. Training with high loads (weights the trainees could manage for fewer reps) led to greater increases in absolute strength, however (1 rep max). This is because lifting heavy weights is a combination of strength and skill. Training with lighter weights improves strength but doesn’t help to practise the skill. If you’re interested in lifting as much weight as possible at some point, then you should also train with heavy weights. However, I don’t recommend you do this as a beginner. It is better to start out with light weights, build some muscle and learn proper technique before diving into the heavier weights.
As a beginner, you should avoid heavy weights as it’s highly likely you’ll have some issues with your lifting form that will be more likely to give you injuries if you’re using heavier weights.
Full Body Workouts for Beginners:
Beginners Full Body Workout A:
- Barbell back squats, 3 sets of 8 – 12
- Pull-ups/chin-ups (use assistance if necessary – machine or bands) – 3 sets of 8 – 12
- Overhead Press (seated or standing, dumbbell or barbell), 3 sets of 8 – 12
- Dumbbell single arm row, 3 sets of 8 – 12
- Bench press (dumbbell or barbell), 3 sets of 8 – 12
Beginners Full Body Workout B:
- Romanian deadlift, 3 sets of 8 – 12
- Barbell bent over row, 3 sets of 8 – 12
- Dumbbell walking lunges (or barbell reverse lunges), 3 sets of 8 – 12
- Lat pulldown, 3 sets of 8 – 12
- Incline bench press (dumbbell or barbell), 3 sets of 8 – 12
A few things to note:
- There is a deliberate lack of emphasis on chest. Chest is only worked with one exercise per workout. This is because beginners usually focus too much on chest, and end up building up the anterior deltoids too much. This causes the shoulders to overdevelop on the front, pulling them forward. Not only does this look bad, giving a slouched, round shouldered look, it will cause shoulder problems down the line.
- Arms are not a focus. As previously mentioned, they’ll get enough work from the rows and presses. If you REALLY want to, you can add ONE biceps exercise to workout A, and one triceps exercise to workout B, to be done at the end.
- There are no ab exercises. These will be worked enough from squats, deadlifts, pull-ups and military press. To see them, you don’t need to work them, you need to lose fat from your midsection by being in a calorie deficit.
- Every exercise is performed for 3 sets of 8-12 reps. You do not gain muscle by trying to hit new 1 rep maxes, you gain it by being in a calorie surplus with sufficient protein and by lifting progressively more over time (reps and load), and recovering properly.
- At least the last of each of these sets should be taken near failure (to the point where the weight starts to slow down to about 50% the speed of the first rep, or to the point where you think you could only manage maybe 1 more rep).
- Perform these workouts in an alternating fashion – with always at least 1 day between workouts. Perform 3 total workouts per week. One week you will perform Workout A twice, with Workout B sandwiched between. The next week you will perform Workout B twice, with Workout A sandwiched between.
You might do:
Then the next week you should do:
You could also do Monday, Thursday, Saturday as your workout days, or Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday. It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re putting a rest day in between each workout day!
This next one is really important!
- TRACK WHAT YOU LIFT. Pick a weight you can do 8 good reps with for 3 sets. Write down what you did or record it in your phone. Next time, pick the same weight but try to do 3 sets of 9. If you can’t, try to do 2 sets of 8, and one set of 9. Keep increasing the reps like this until you’re doing that weight for 3 sets of 12. Then up the weight and go back to 3 sets of 8. This shouldn’t take too long at the beginning because your nervous system adapts first as you learn how to do the movements. If the weights aren’t going up fast at the start, you’re probably not eating enough or not sleeping enough.
- Pull-ups/chin-ups can be done assisted if needed (you probably will need to if you’re a beginner). Your gym should have a machine that has a platform that supports your knees while you do these exercises. This connects to adjustable weights that mean you lift less than your own bodyweight.
What if I can’t do the exercises in the program?
I understand not everyone starts with the same starting level of strength, level of general fitness, ease of movement, proficiency, etc.
Some people may not be able to bench press the bar, or feel comfortable trying to do back squats. Others are unable to do pullups (see image and video below for help with that).
How to do Pullups and Chinups if You’re Not Strong Enough for them Yet
Some gyms have assisted chinup/pullup/dip machines. If you have one of those, these work great. This is like a pullup station with a platform you rest your knees on, which moves up and down as you do pullups, chinups or dips. You choose how much assistance it gives you by selecting weight plates in a stack. The more weight you choose, the more it helps you by offsetting your own weight. I used one of these to get my first unassisted pullups. Over weeks and months I progressively reduced the weight that was assisting me, until I could do them with no weight.
Make sure you get the right type of resistance bands. You’ll also probably want multiple different “weights” or thicknesses, as these provide more/less assistance so you can swap them you as you get stronger. You want the long resistance bands, not the small ones that are meant to go round your legs and are intended for adding resistance to squats and glute exercises.
If you’re using resistance bands to do pullups at home, you’ll obviously need a pullup bar… However, I don’t recommend you get a pullup bar that goes in a doorway. These are better! They won’t damage your door frame, they’re smaller and fold flat for portability (take them away with you in a small bag) and they allow neutral, pronated and supinated grips! You can also use them to do pushups. This link will get you 15% off (applied automatically at checkout), or use code ROB15 if it doesn’t work. Read my full review here!
How to use a Resistance Band to do Pullups and Chinups
Loop your resistance band around the bar and through itself, so it will remain in place. Depending on its length and the amount of space you have, you can put your knee or you foot in the other end. This will mean that the band will be stretched when you’re at the bottom of the pullup or chinup. This tension will help to boost you back up as you perform reps, therefore making them easier.
It looks like this:
Here’s a video that will show you the best way to do pullups and chinups, and also how to use resistance bands to assist you until you can do them unassisted:
You should ensure you’re progressively overloading the work on your muscles by reducing the amount of assistance you are getting from the band. You do this by using lighter and lighter bands, or doing more reps.
It might look like this:
First time: 8 reps with 2 bands (thick and medium). Adding 1 rep per week until:
Next level: Back to 8 reps but now using a thick band and a light band. Adding 1 rep per week until:
Next level: Back to 8 reps but now only using a thick band.
And so on, until you’re using medium and light bands, then eventually just light bands, then no band.
You can buy something called a chinup max, which is essentially 1 piece of equipment with multiple different bands built into it. You can change the amount of assistance without needing a load of bands.
If you’re training at home I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Crossgrips and Ryzeups from Jayflex Fitness (15% off with this link, or use code ROB15 if it’s not automatically applied at checkout). These are way better than a normal doorway pullup bar. You can read my review and find out why here – but in short, they’re much easier to store, they fold flat for easy storage and are small enough to easily take with you, they’ll fit most doors without damaging them, and they allow you multiple types of grips!
Basic Version of the Beginner Full Body Program
You may not have access to a gym, or you may not feel ready to approach some of the more intimidating or technically challenging exercises like barbell back squats. Here’s a regressed version of the beginner full body program that will work just as well, but is at a less advanced level.
Basic Workout A:
- Bodyweight squats, or goblet squats if you can manage them
- Dumbbell walking lunges
- Lat pull downs
- Dumbbell bench press (your gym should have some light dumbbells that you can start with before progressing up)
- Seated cable row
Basic Workout B:
- Kettlebell deadlift
- Dumbbell Walking lunges
- Seated dumbbell shoulder press (use light dumbbells)
- Lat pull downs
- Single arm dumbbell row
What if You’re an Intermediate Lifter?
Past a certain point, lifting “straight sets” isn’t the most effective way to build muscle or strength.
“Straight sets” means you use the same weight and the same number of reps, for all of your sets. For example, 3 sets of 10 reps, all with 225 lbs (100kg).
If you’re able to hit 10 reps with the same weight on all 3 sets, then the first 2 sets weren’t challenging you as much as the last set.
A more effective way to train (for intermediate and advanced lifters) is to utilise something called Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT).
When you use an RPT approach, you start with a heavier weight on your first set and lift lighter weights for the subsequent sets. As the weight comes down, the number of reps per set goes up. All sets are taken close to failure, so every set is challenging, not just the first one.
It might look like this:
- First Set: 225 lbs x 4-6
- Second Set: 200 lbs x 6-8
- Third Set: 180 lbs x 8-10
- Fourth Set: 160 lbs x 10-12
If you’re an intermediate lifter who’s struggling to continue making progress, I highly recommend adopting this approach.
Keep track of everything you do. You don’t need to increase the weight on every set every week. Just stay within the rep ranges for each set. If you only manage to hit 4 reps on the first set, just try to hit 5 the next time OR add 1 rep to one of the other sets.
Try to add a rep on every set, then increase the weight when you reach the top of the range (for example 6 reps on the first set). If you only add 1 rep to just one of the sets every session, that is still progress.
There you go! Two full body programs for beginners, one more basic than the other AND direction to adapt this for intermediate lifters.
Keep that up for 3 to 6 months and eat in a calorie surplus and you should see great muscle gains. You’ll then probably be ready to move on to another program like upper/lower or push/pull/legs.
Remember, to build muscle you need to eat in a calorie surplus, and sleep to recover. If you’ve got fat to lose and you’d rather lose this before focusing on gaining muscle, then you need to eat in a calorie deficit. This will limit how much muscle you gain.
If you have a bit of fat, but not that much, you can focus on building some muscle and it will look like you’ve lost fat. This is because the fat you had now has to cover more of you due to increased muscle size so you’ll look bigger AND leaner!
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