The Ultimate Total-Body Workout to Build Maximum Muscle

Need an all-in-one workout or just starting out wondering what exercises to do? Here’s the answer.

Total-body workouts sound like they would take a long time. But when you boil down the exercises you need to perform to cover every area, there are only three you need to be concerned with—a push, a pull, and a squat. This is the ultimate in minimalism and works superbly for beginners or people who are short on time.

How It Works

Any kind of pressing exercise will train your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Any pulling movement (a row or chinup variation) recruits your back, rear delts, biceps, and forearms. Squatting movements (and deadlifts, which aren’t quite a squat but require all the same muscles) take care of the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Even your calves get some stimulation as they help to stabilise your squat. Your abs, of course, get worked on all these movement patterns, provided they’re done with free weights rather than machines, and work to brace your spine throughout. 

This workout contains everything you need to put on size fast—a squat, press, and pullup—done with heavy weights, and you should be able to wrap it up within 45 minutes.

The Workout [Option A]

Complete all five sets for the squat and then perform the overhead press and weighted pullup in alternating fashion. That is, complete a set of the press, rest, then do a set of the pullup, rest again, and repeat until you’ve finished all five sets for each.

1. Squat
Sets: 5 Reps: 5 Rest: 120 sec.
Set up in a squat rack or cage. Grasp the bar as far apart as is comfortable and step under it. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and nudge the bar out of the rack. Step back and stand with your feet shoulder width and your toes turned slightly outward. Take a deep breath and bend your hips back and then bend your knees to lower your body as far as you can without losing the arch in your lower back. Push your knees outward as you descend. Extend your hips to come back up, continuing to push your knees outward.

2A. Overhead Press
Sets: 5 Reps: 5 Rest: 60 sec.
Set the bar up in a squat rack or cage and grasp it just outside shoulder width. Take the bar off the rack and hold it at shoulderlevel with your forearms perpendicular to the floor. Squeeze the bar and brace your abs. Press the bar overhead, pushing your head forward and shrugging your traps as the bar passes your face.

2B. Weighted Pullup
Sets: 5 Reps: 5 Rest: 90 sec.
Attach a weighted belt to your waist, hold a dumbbell between your feet, or if you can’t complete your reps with weight, use body weight alone. Hang from a pullup bar with hands just outside shoulder width. Pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar.

The Workout [Option B]

Applying the same principle as the previous workout, here we offer three different push, pull, and lower-body exercises with some additional ab and calf work thrown in. This routine is ideal if you find yourself with a bit more time to train than you did when choosing Option A. It can also be alternated with Option A, to add some variety to your training. The different exercise and rep ranges will switch up the muscle-building stimulus.


Alternate sets of the bench press and seated cable row. So you’ll do one set of 1A, rest, then one set of 1B, rest again, and repeat until all sets are complete. Perform the remaining exercises as normal straight sets.

1A. Bench Press
Sets: 4 Reps: 10 Rest: 60 sec.
Grasp the bar just outside shoulder width and arch your back so there’s space between your lower back and the bench. Pull the bar out of the rack and lower it to your sternum, tucking your elbows about 45 degrees to your sides. When the bar touches your body, drive your feet hard into the floor and press the bar back up.

1B. Seated Cable Row
Sets: 4 Reps:10 Rest: 60 sec.
Attach a straight or lat-pulldown bar to the pulley of a seated row station. Sit on the bench or floor with your feet against the foot plate and knees slightly bent. Keeping your lower back flat, bend forward at the hips to grasp the bar and row it to your sternum, squeezing your shoulder blades together in the end position. Extend your arms and feel the stretch in your back before beginning the next rep.

2. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
Sets: 4 Reps: 10 Rest: 90 sec.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with feet hip width. Push your hips back and, keeping your lower back in its natural arch, bend your torso forward, lowering until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, bending slightly at the knees as needed. Squeeze your glutes as you come back up.

3. Pallof Press Iso Hold
Sets: 3 Reps: Hold for 30 sec. (each side) Rest: 30 sec.
Attach a single-grip handle to a cable pulley and set it at about shoulder height. (You can also use a band.) Grasp the handle with one hand over the other and step away from the machine to put tension on the cable; turn to your left 90 degrees so your right side is now facing the machine. Stand with feet shoulder width and extend your arms in front of you. The cable will try to twist your body toward it—resist.

4.  Standing Calf Raise
Sets: 4 Reps: 10 Rest: 60 sec.
Use a standing calf raise machine, or hold onto a sturdy object and stand on a block as shown. Lower your heels toward the floor until you feel a stretch in your calves. Drive the balls of your feet into the foot plate and contract your calves, raising your heels as high as possible. Control the descent on each rep.

The Workout [Option C]

Here, we continue the theme of pushing, pulling, and lower-body movements making up the core of the workout and add in some direct arm work. The high-rep approach (sets of 15) works well in conjunction with the previous two sessions, and you may rotate through all three of them. For instance, perform Option A on Monday, Option B on Wednesday, and Option C on Friday.


Perform the exercise pairs (marked “A” and “B”) in alternating fashion. So you’ll do one set of A, rest, then one set of B, rest again, and repeat until all sets are completed for the pair. The remaining exercises are done conventionally.

1. Trap-Bar Deadlift (shown)
Sets: 3 Reps: 15 Rest: 120 sec.
Use a trap bar and stand with feet hip width. Bend your hips back and grasp the handles. Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, drive through your heels to stand up straight and extend your hips and knees.

2A. Incline Dumbbell Row
Sets: 3 Reps: 15 Rest: 60 sec.
Set an adjustable bench to a 30- to 45-degree incline and lie on it chest-down. Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and draw your shoulder blades back and together as you row the weights to your sides.

2B. Incline Dumbbell Press
Sets: 3 Reps: 15 Rest: 60 sec.
Lie back on the incline bench holding a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level. Press the weights over your chest.

3A. EZ-Bar Curl
Sets: 3 Reps: 15 Rest: 60 sec.
Grasp an EZ-curl bar at shoulder width. Keeping your upper arms stationary, curl the bar.

3B. Decline EZ-Bar Lying Triceps Extension
Sets: 3 Reps: 15 Rest: 60 sec.
Set an adjustable bench to a slight decline and lie back on it holding an EZ-curl bar at shoulder width. Press the bar over your chest and then let your upper arms drift back to about a 45-degree angle, wh
ich becomes your starting position. Bend your elbows to lower the bar behind your head, and then extend them to return to the starting position for the next rep.

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