People may describe muscle-strengthening exercises as being upper body, lower body, or core exercises. However, there are also various exercises that work most of a person’s muscles at once.
A full-body exercise uses a variety of muscle groups in a person’s body, rather than just one. No exercise will work every muscle, but these exercises typically work across the upper body, lower body, and core.
According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), exercise should include aerobic activity as well as muscle-strengthening.
Many muscle-strengthening exercises increase a person’s heart rate and breathing, but a person should ideally do aerobic activity for 20–30 minutes per day. This is longer than muscle-strengthening exercises usually last.
However, by combining a few exercises that work several muscle groups, including both aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening exercises, a person can ensure that they are exercising every part of their body.
Doing full-body exercises
Many muscle-strengthening exercises use reps and sets. A rep, which is short for repetition, is the total motion of an individual exercise. A set is a certain number of reps.
For example, a rep of a pushup is going from having the arms extended, lowering the chest to the floor, then raising the body back to the original position. A set may comprise 10–20 reps of the pushup, or as many as a person can manage.
Each person will be able to do a different number of reps and sets of an exercise in a single workout. As a rule of thumb, a person could do as many reps as they can, rest for a few minutes, then repeat this set.
According to the ODPHP, even small amounts of exercise make a difference to overall health. A person should not feel any discouragement if only a few reps of an exercise tire them out. They will be able to do more as they exercise regularly, and even a small amount of exercise is beneficial.
To do a pushup:
- Place the palms on the floor under the shoulders, arms extended.
- Extend the legs back, resting on the balls of the feet, so the body is a straight line.
- Lower the body, so that the chest or nose is about to touch the floor.
- Push back up.
Repeat this 10 times or as many times as possible before tiring. Take a break, then do this set again.
If this is too difficult, begin by resting on the knees instead of stretching the legs out. Over time, work up to the pushup described above.
Starting from a standing position, crouch down into a squatting position, then rise back up.
Repeat as many times as possible, take a break, then do the set again.
Burpees combine the benefits of a pushup and a squat, so they are an excellent full-body exercise.
To do a burpee:
- From a standing position, drop down into a squat.
- Rather than jumping back up, move into a plank position.
- Do a pushup, then move back to a standing position.
Repeat this as many times as possible, take a break, then do the set again.
To add intensity, try jumping out of the squat into the standing position. To make it easier, remove the pushup stage.
What are the best lower chest exercises?
People can work the lower chest area to strengthen it. Learn more about the best lower chest exercises here.
To do a lunge:
- Start with one leg at a right angle in front of the body.
- Extend the other leg back, so that the knee is just above the floor and the ball of the foot is taking the weight.
- Move up and down, and switch feet so that the legs alternate position.
Repeat as many times as possible, rest, then do the set again.
Running and cycling
Cycling can help strengthen skeletal muscles.
Running and cycling are excellent aerobic activities.
However, according to an article in the journal Exercise and Sport Sciences Review , they can also contribute to increasing strength in a person’s skeletal muscles.
To make them even more effective at building muscle strength, a study paper appearing in the International Journal of Exercise Science suggests incorporating high-intensity interval training into aerobic exercise.
This involves running or cycling at a moderate intensity, interspersed with intervals of very high-intensity anaerobic exercises.
Stair climbing is a beneficial exercise for both muscle-strengthening and aerobic activity.
Climb to the top of a set of stairs, then climb back down. Repeat this for 1 minute, or for as long as possible. Take a break, then repeat.
To maximize the amount of energy a person burns, they should climb stairs one step at a time.
A study of 14 people in the journal PLoS One found that although the action of climbing two steps expended more energy than taking a single step, climbing a staircase one step at a time burned more calories.
Things to remember
Doing exercises or an intense exercise session for the first time can make the muscles ache. A person should make sure to give themselves a rest day to allow their muscles to recover.
When doing an exercise for the first time, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggest beginning slowly and gradually increasing the intensity. This will help prevent injuries.
Many exercises work muscle groups across a person’s body.
Doing a variety of these, as well as combining them with aerobic exercise, can help ensure that the whole of a person’s body stays fit and healthy.