Years ago, when I first got into weight lifting, I remember how aimlessly I would wander around the gym trying to figure out what the heck I should be doing. I knew I wanted to get stronger, and I had a great working knowledge of most of the equipment, but it was putting it all together that was giving me the most trouble. I found myself just doing things haphazardly — a few bicep curls here, some walking lunges there, and then calling it a day.
Sure, I was beginning my journey of building muscle and getting stronger, but I definitely wasn’t maximizing my time in the gym. And I certainly wasn’t getting the most out of my fitness experience that I could have.
Since then, I find that this is true for many people who are just starting to explore the world of strength training. Maybe they have been shown how to do a few lifts with good form, but without a program, what does that matter? Many women, especially, who are new to the weight room might be scared off because of this (maybe leading to the lack of women in the weights area, as discussed in this recent post). Even if they’re not totally scared off though, they might just do a couple of things and then go back to what they are used to. A few exercises are better than none, but what would be even better would be to go in there with a plan, lift like a boss, and know that you’re getting the best work in.
Today’s full body lift is for the person (man or woman) who has a basic understanding of movement patterns but isn’t quite sure yet what to do with them. As I’m a believer that beginners should start with full body days before moving on to upper/lower body splits, this will target the whole body and hit the major movement patterns that form the base for all of our daily movements.
One important thing to remember is that this shouldn’t take you very long! When I first gave one of my clients her first program, one of her early questions was “These workouts are only taking me about 45 minutes, shouldn’t I be doing more?” And the answer is no! At least at the beginning, many highly effective workouts can be done in an hour or less. There is no need for everyone to be spending two hours in the gym every day, and frankly many of us just don’t have time for that. As long as you’re working hard and doing the work you need to do, the time is really the least of your concerns.
Goblet Squat – Hold a dumbbell, upright, at your chest. It should be right against your chest, not out in front of you which can strain your shoulders and upper back. Starting with your legs at about shoulder width apart, sit your hips back into your squat, imagining that you’re squatting between your hips — not pushing your knees forward like many people want to do. Keep your core engaged and back flat during the entire movement.
DB Bench Press – DB = Dumbbell. Choose two dumbbells that you know you can lift. Start out on the lighter side for your first set to get the movement down and to warm your shoulders up a little bit. After this warm up set, then go into your 3 work sets. Lying flat on your back, feet flat on the floor, engage your core and squeeze your glutes. Begin with dumbbells at chest height with palms facing in front of you. Raise up over your chest at an even pace, then lower carefully just to chest height — not below.
DB Romanian Deadlift – Again, this is for someone who has been shown the proper movement patterns, i.e. hip hinging. If this is not familiar to you, work with someone to practice this movement before trying to load it with weight. Standing with feet hip width apart and “soft” knees (not bent but not locked), hold 2 dumbbells in front of your thighs. Keeping your core engaged and shoulders pulled back (lats turned “on”), push your hips back until your torso bends forward. Dumbbells should be traveling right along your thighs, not farther out in front of you. Keep pushing hips back until your dumbbells reach about knee level or you feel a tightness in your hamstrings. Allow your knees to bend slightly with this motion. Squeeze your glutes and return to the top position, being careful to not over arch your back at the top.
Bent Over Single Arm Row – For this you will be at a bench with one knee and corresponding hand resting on the bench. The other leg will have your foot on the floor, and you will be holding the dumbbell at that side. Bend so that your back is flat, and DB is down by the side of your down foot. Keeping palm facing in and elbow tucked towards your body, raise elbow so that dumbbell ends up next to your side. Squeeze your back muscles between your shoulder blades, then return to bottom position. It is extremely important to keep your back flat during this entire exercise.
Dumbbell Rear Lunge – Holding a dumbbell in each hand, step one foot back into a lunge. Make sure that you step back and then straight down, instead of letting your front knee fall forward over your foot. Alternate feet to complete set.
Standing Cable Row – Set the cable machine so that it is at about waist height. Holding the handles so that your palms are facing each other, stand with your core braced and knees slightly bent. Squeezing those back muscles between your shoulder blades, pull arms back, elbows bent, until hands are about at your sides. Slowly return to start.
Standing Pallof Press – Check out this post for explanation if you missed it!
Side Plank –Pretty self explanatory, no? For more of a challenge with this, stack your feet one on top of the other. For a little bit of an easier exercise, stagger your feet one in front of the other.
- Know your abilities. If any of these are foreign to you, consider working with a professional in person to learn the specific movement patterns of the squat, hip hinge, push and pull.
- Always begin with a dynamic warmup to get your body moving properly before you load any movements. This is not optional! For a dynamic warmup, click here.
- When working with weights, be conscious of form at all times. Yes, this includes when you’re picking up your weights from the floor — never let that back round out, especially when there is weight on the other end.
- Take your time! Don’t rush through these. Make each movement slow, deliberate, and take care of your form. Rest in between sets and in between exercises.
- Challenge yourself! If you go through this and don’t feel like you did a whole heck of a lot, that means you need heavier weight. Don’t go too far too soon, but use weights that are challenging, that you can’t just fly through each exercise without thinking about it.
- Enjoy! You’re getting stronger today!