In this post, I’m going to show you a highly effective 2-day full-body workout routine that you can use to build muscle.
Let’s dive right in…
What is a Full Body Workout?
As the name suggests, a full-body workout involves training your whole body – chest, back, shoulders, arms and legs – in a single training session.
One of the more popular ways of setting up a full-body workout is to base it on movement patterns.
What exactly do I mean by that?
Most of the compound exercises you do can be put into one of these categories:
- Pushing Exercises (e.g. bench press, overhead press)
- Pulling Exercises (e.g. pull-up, dumbbell row)
- Leg Exercises (e.g. squat, deadlift)
All you do is take one exercise from each category, and do 4-6 sets of each one. Here’s an example of how a simple full-body workout might look:
- Bench Press
Even with just those three exercises, you’re covering a surprisingly large number of muscles.
- The bench press hits the chest, shoulders and triceps.
- The pull-up is working your lats, biceps and rear delts.
- The squats take care of your quads, glutes and lower back.
This minimalist approach to training does have its benefits. The workout itself is relatively short and simple to follow. What’s more, you don’t need a lot of equipment to get it done, making it ideal if you’re training at home with a barbell, bench and squat rack.
However, there are some downsides.
For one, exercise selection is limited, so there are various muscles that are missing out on the stimulation required to make them grow. And we know that maximizing the development of a muscle requires the use of several exercises, rather than just one.
Doing the same exercises all the time, especially if you’re lifting heavy weights, can also take a toll on your joints. Throwing some different exercises into the mix will often make things a lot easier on your knees, elbows, wrists and shoulders.
The obvious solution is to choose a different exercise from each category.
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Rather than use the bench press as your only pushing exercise, for example, you’d alternate between the overhead press and bench press. The chin-up would be alternated with some kind of rowing movement, like dumbbell rows or cable rows.
Here’s an example of how it might look:
- Overhead Press
- Seated Cable Row
Again, this type of training program is very simple, and can work well for a lot of people.
However, while you’re now getting more variety in terms of exercise selection, one problem has been replaced with another.
The main limitation here is that the training frequency for some muscle groups has now dropped from twice to once a week.
The chest, for example, is now being trained directly just once a week. And the quads, while they are worked to a degree during the deadlift, aren’t getting the same level of stimulation they were when you were squatting twice a week.
Why is that a problem?
Hitting a muscle group just once a week can and will make that muscle grow. But most people are going to see better results (and by better results, I mean a faster rate of muscle growth) training each muscle group at least twice every seven days.
The solution is to go with something along the lines of the routine I’ve outlined below. If I only had the time, or the inclination, to go to the gym twice a week, this is what I’d do.
The 2-Day Full-Body Workout Routine
Full Body Workout 1
Full Body Workout 2
Incline Dumbbell Press 4 sets x 10-15 reps
Seated Cable Row 4 sets x 15-20 reps
Leg Press 4 sets x 10-15 reps
Romanian Deadlift 4 sets x 10-15 reps
Lateral Raise 3 sets x 15-20 reps
The number of sets listed are the actual work sets only, and don’t include warm-up sets.
It’s always a good idea, especially if you’re using heavy weights, to do several progressively heavier warm-up sets. This will prepare the joints, the muscles and the nervous system that controls those muscles for the heavy work to come.
To keep each workout down to a reasonable length, there’s no direct arm work. However, the biceps and triceps are worked indirectly during all the pushing and pulling exercises included in both workouts.
Exercises like the bench press and incline dumbbell press, for example, will hit the triceps, while the lat pulldown and seated cable row will work the biceps. But if you’ve got time, there’s no reason why you can’t throw in some direct arm work at the end of each workout.
The 2-Day Full-Body Workout Routine: Weekly Schedule
The default version of the 2-day full-body workout routine involves training on Monday and Thursday. This gives your muscles 2-3 days to recover and grow before you train them again. Here’s an example of how it might look:
Monday: Full Body Workout 1
Thursday: Full Body Workout 2
However, the days of the week that you train aren’t set in stone. If you can’t make it to the gym on Monday and Thursday, you could always train on Tuesday and Thursday, Monday and Wednesday, or Thursday and Saturday.
That’s one of the major benefits of lifting weights twice a week. If you miss a workout, you can just push it back to the following day.
The only caveat I would add is that you want to keep each workout separated by at least one day.
While there are solid arguments in favour of doing full-body workouts on consecutive days (AKA high-frequency training), you will need a training program that’s designed specifically for that purpose.
That is, taking a workout that’s designed to be separated by 2-3 days of rest and doing it on consecutive days isn’t a great idea.
Training Twice a Week: The Research
If you’re willing to work hard and push yourself, you can build muscle with a full body workout performed twice a week.
In fact, research shows very similar gains in size and strength whether you train a muscle group twice or three times a week.
In one study, subjects training a muscle group twice per week made around 70% of the strength gains (measured by maximal strength in the squat) compared to subjects training three times per week.
In another, training twice per week led to around 80% of the isometric strength gains achieved by those training three days per week.
Canadian researchers compared the same total training volume divided across two or three weekly workouts. Gains in muscle size and strength were virtually identical with both routines.
Scientists from the University of Memphis compared the effects of a strength-training program performed either twice or three days per week in a group of adults aged over 60. The rate of progress in both groups was almost identical.
A 2018 study shows that distributing the same amount of training across two or four weekly workouts led to roughly the same amount of muscle being gained. Although the group training twice a week spent longer in the gym, they didn’t have to go there as often.
When a team of scientists compared studies that investigated training muscle groups once, twice or three times a week, they concluded that “the major muscle groups should be trained at least twice a week to maximize muscle growth.”
Training Twice a Week: The Pros and Cons
To be clear, you are making compromises with just two workouts a week.
If you’ve got several years of serious training behind you, and want to carry on making gains, chances are you’ll see better results with a training program that involves lifting weights 4-6 days a week, rather than twice.
There’s an upper limit on the amount of stimulation your muscles can respond to in any given training session. Even if you could cram all your training for the week into a couple of workouts, you’re not going to see the same gains had that training been spread across 4-6 sessions.
And the longer your workouts last, the more likely it is that you’ll run out of steam towards the end of a session. The muscles being trained towards the end of the workout aren’t going to receive the same level of effort as the ones trained at the start.
Those are the main downsides. But what about the benefits?
1. The first is obvious. Lifting weights twice a week won’t take up much more than a couple of hours, which is less than 2% of the time available to you over the course of a week.
That gives you plenty of time to get other stuff done.
2. If you’re into a particular sport (e.g. cycling, running, or martial arts) and want to incorporate some strength work in your program, lifting weights twice a week will allow you to do so without interfering with your other training.
3. If you’re in your 40’s, 50’s or beyond, you’ll know that it takes longer for your body, especially your joints, to recover from a hard workout.
Cutting your training frequency back to twice a week is an ideal way to gain size and strength while still giving your body the recovery time it needs.
From best-selling author Dan John:
“What has always amazed me about training twice a week is how good my joints feel and how much energy I seem to have to do all the other important things in life.”
So, there you have it.
If you you want more muscle than you have right now, but you’re busy, and you don’t have much time available to go to the gym and lift weights, a couple of full-body workouts twice a week is still enough to get the job done.
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