There are really only a handful of rules to keep in mind for building safe, effective, full-body strength workouts. Despite some fitness jargon, I believe anyone can master them.
Still, the vast majority of workouts you’ll see online lack one or more of these important components.
1. Incorporate all basic compound movements
- Push (chest, shoulders, triceps)
- Pull (back, shoulders, biceps)
- Squat (or any multi-joint exercise for the legs like lunges, step-ups, deadlifts, kettlebell swings…) [see one caveat at bottom]
2. Work within your full active range of motion (ROM) in all three planes of movement (three dimensions)
3. Work muscles in opposing pairs. No anatomy knowledge required; just pick mirror opposite movements.
For a bad example:
✘ Push-up • Pull-up
(Pecs = internal shoulder rotators • Lats = internal shoulder rotators)
Corrective exercise likely indicated: external shoulder rotation
For some good examples:
✓ Shoulder Press • Pull-up
✓ Low One-arm Dumbbell Row • Low Dumbbell Press
✓ Thrusters • Pull-up with a knee tuck
✓ Wood Chop • Hay Baler (or “Golf Swing”)
4. Pick a resistance and volume that elicits fatigue, but not rep failure or pain.
Example: 3-5 sets x 10 reps of every category leaving only three good reps on reserve at the end of each set.
1 minute rest
Push: Dumbbell Low Chest Press x 10 reps
Pull: One Arm Dumbbell Low Row x 10 reps
Done at the right level of resistance, this may produce DOMS one day after, but you should feel fully recovered after 48 hours.
Time to apply what you’ve learned! What does the above workout lack? [Here’s a Hint]
5. Always take an “active rest” day between full-body strength workouts. This means restorative sleep, healthy nutrition, and no heavy stuff until 36-48 hours after lifting.
*One caveat here: imbalances can and should be assessed and addressed. For example, runners and cyclists might have strong quadriceps and relatively weak hamstrings. Consider targeted hip extensor exercises like single-leg deadlift (dumbbells/help from TRX optional), hamstring curls, and others if correction is needed. [Back to Top]