My favorite workouts are centered around total body exercises. In case you aren’t familiar, total body exercises are movements you perform with a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell that train 2 or more large muscle groups (legs, back, chest, shoulders) with each repetition. I performed them at every work out when I was in high school and college but, like many people, eventually bought into doing bodybuilding style workouts based on isolation exercises and training 1-2 muscle groups per session. As a result my progress in the gym came to a grinding halt. Unfortunately I was convinced this was the best way to train. After all, it’s what the bodybuilding and fitness magazines promoted.
A few years ago after reading Chad Waterbury and Josh Henkin’s articles espousing the benefits of total body exercises and workouts I decided to start training this way again. The benefits were immediate. I lost more fat and built muscle faster in a month than I had in the last several. My endurance and recovery went through the roof as well, to the point I didn’t need to do cardio anymore. That’s why I’ve worked out this way every since.
This article shows you how total body exercises will benefit you too. I also list and show you how to perform the 5 best. They can be performed with a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell. I also like to do them with the Ultimate Sandbag for a real challenge.
The Benefits Of Total Body Exercises
- You’ll Build Muscle And Strength Faster. Since these exercises work the largest muscles in your body you will be able to use heavier weights than when you perform an isolation exercise like leg curls. Studies show that doing total body exercises with heavy weights is a key factor in getting the muscle building process started.
- You’ll Burn More Calories. You’ll work much harder when doing a kettlebell swing than you will a biceps curl. The harder your muscles work, the more calories you will burn. Over time, this will help you become leaner, faster.
- You’ll Become A Better Athlete. Doing a total body exercise requires you move your entire body in a coordinated manner. The also require you to ‘explode’ powerfully as you do when you kick, jump, sprint, and throw. Doing these exercises will improve you ability to perform similar movements in your favorite sport. I’ve seen these movements benefits athletes from nearly every sport including basketball, golf, soccer, and tennis.
Even if you don’t play sports you will find that that you are better able to complete life’s daily tasks easier after mastering these exercises.
- You’ll Have More Fun. Last but not least, doing these exercises are a lot of fun! Jumping, lifting, and throwing heavy stuff is much more fun than doing curls, extensions, and laterals for endless sets.
The 5 Best Total Body Exercises
1. Dumbbell Or Kettlebell Squat To Shoulder Press
This exercise combines 2 of the best lower and upper body movements to make a great total body builder. Every rep trains every muscle in your legs, your abs and lower back, shoulders, and triceps. As you will see in the video below, this exercise involves performing a squat and then after returning to the standing position immediately doing a shoulder press.
Start with 2-3 sets of 5 reps until your technique is mastered. Work up to being able to do 5 sets of 5-8 repetitions. You can do this exercise using a weight in 1 or 2 hands.
Squat To Shoulder Press Combination Video Demonstration
2. Floor Press With Rotation
I learned of this exercise from strength coach Chad Waterbury’s blog. It’s similar to the bench press but different enough to become a total body exercise. This exercise primarily trains your chest, shoulders, triceps. Your abs, glutes, hamstrings, lats and lower back get a good workout too. Instead of using a bench to do the exercise you lay on the ground. You also press with your feet and abs while pushing the weight up to make it a total body movement.
When you perform this exercise, push with the foot that’s on the same side as the arm you’re using to press the weight. Rotate your hips and shoulder to push the weight across your chest instead of only moving it straight up and down like you do when performing the bench press.
Start with a weight that you can use for 2-3 sets of 5 reps per arm. Add sets and reps as your strength increases.
Floor Press With Rotation Video
3. Kettlebell Snatches
This is an exercise that works your body from head to toe. Each rep exercises your calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, upper back, shoulders, and arms. Through in a couple of sets of plyometric push-ups and you’ll have worked almost every muscle in your body.
In addition to being great at building muscle and strength throughout your body, the kettlebell snatch is also great for increasing your vertical leap and explosive power. Snatches are also great for improving flexibility throughout your shoulder joint.
Start with sets of 2-3 reps until your technique is perfected. Then work up to being able to do 5-8 sets of 3-5 reps. Don’t do more than 5 reps per set to ensure your technique remains correct. Make sure you start with a light weight and focus on exploding throughout the lift.
Video Demonstration Of Kettlebell Snatches
4. Kettlebell Swings
This is one of the most effective and easiest total body exercises to learn. Doing them will work your legs, core, back, and shoulders. Even your arms will get a good workout. The explosive component of the movement will help you sprint, jump, and throw better too.
Do them for several sets of 8-10 reps and you’ve got a great calorie burning and conditioning exercise. When you have mastered to 2 handed version you can move onto more advanced variations like the 1 handed and alternating kettlebell swings.
Video Demonstration Of Kettlebell Swings
5. Overhead Lunge
Here’s an exercise that will simultaneously build your legs, abs/lower back, and shoulders. They’ll improve your lower body and shoulder flexibility too. Doing overhead lunges are pretty simple. It’s done the same way you perform a regular lunge. The key difference is that you are holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in 1 or 2 hands throughout.
Start with a relatively light weight until you have mastered the proper technique. Keep the reps low (2-3 each leg) until your strength and balance improve too. Once you have it down, increase the weight and work to being able to perform 5 sets of 5 reps with each leg.
Overhead Lunge Video Demonstration
Now you know several exercises that train almost every muscle group with every rep you perform. Add them to your regular workouts or perform them along with a few sets of farmer’s walks or hill sprints for the workout of your life.
If you’re looking for a complete workout program that uses total body exercises and other tips and tricks to help you lose fat, build muscle, and get into great shape fast you should try the Fat Hackers diet and workout plan. It’s the total body workout plan I used to lose 70 pounds in 6 months.