This post is all about the unique benefits of total body training, and why more women should embrace it. Of course, the benefits I’ll be talking about can also be applied to men– but I find that women are much more likely to be averse to this style of training. Which is why I’ve tailored some of my talking points specifically for us girls! But know that total body training and full body workouts are beneficial to anyone and everyone.
Before I dive into this topic, I’d like to share a quick story about my own fitness journey, and how I stumbled upon total body training. Growing up I was never really interested in fitness or sports. I was born into a family of musicians, and so playing in bands and practicing my instruments dominated a lot of my free time. It wasn’t until college that I started to have thoughts like, “…I should probably exercise more often. You know, take care of my heart, go for a run once in awhile, yada yada.”
But the truth is, I dreaded the thought of it! I hated working out, I didn’t like to “breath heavy” (lol), I didn’t like being sweaty, etc. etc. To me, working out = cardio. So I tried getting into a running habit, but that failed because I despise running. I tried getting into a biking habit, and that was actually moderately successful. But I kind of super hate doing cardio, so that didn’t stick for long either. Plus when winter came my biking completely stopped.
After college for about a year or two my fitness tapered off and then stopped once again. It was around that time when I started getting those nagging thoughts once more “…you know, you should probably workout more Natalie…”
Enter: weight lifting.
My boyfriend at the time (now husband) graduated with a degree in Kinesiology, aka Exercise Science. So I trusted his advice when it came to this sort of thing. I asked him to put together a beginner’s gym routine for me to get started with working out more consistently. For the first time in my life I was doing things like pull-ups, squats, deadlifts, bench presses, rows, and so much more. It was exciting! It wasn’t steady-state cardio for 60+ minutes straight. I was doing interesting moves with my body I’d never done before, getting sore, feeling DOMS, getting my heart rate super elevated, getting stronger.
It was a world of fitness that I had no idea women could be a part of. Whenever I went to the gym I always saw men over by the free weights, and women on the cardio machines. Exploring weight lifting was a new concept for me, but an exciting one.
Since that time many years ago, I’ve remained enthusiastic and passionate about weight/resistance training. I’ve read an incredible amount on the topic, and experimented with many training styles: I’ve practiced traditional weight lifting, lifting for strength, lifting for hypertrophy, split programs, body weight resistance routines, plyometrics, calisthenics, gymnastics, martial arts, gym workouts, home workouts, and all sorts of other ways to challenge myself.
Which finally brings us to total body training. Out of everything I’ve learned over the years, I’ve adopted total body training and resistance-based full body workouts as my strategy for optimum fitness, body maintenance, and health.
My hope is that this post can be a source of inspiration for anyone looking to switch up their current routine, or for a beginner looking to get started. I’ve personally seen a lot of success with total body training, so I’m excited to share what I’ve learned over the years about working out with you. Why start a total body training routine? What are the benefits? Why should women especially consider starting a full body workout plan? I’ll be addressing all of these questions and more, so let’s dive in!
What is Total Body Training
First, I want to quickly go over the basic philosophy behind full body workouts. This is how I define total body training: An overall workout plan that emphasizes resistance movements that work all muscles in the body equally– with cardio and flexibility not forgotten but also given equal importance.
It’s the trifecta– resistance training + cardio + flexibility. For the sake of this blog post though, I’m going to be focusing primarily on the first aspect of it all– the unique benefits of resistance training for women.
And for quick clarification, by “resistance training” or “strength training” I mean exercises that work your muscles through weight lifting, or using your body’s own weight against you. For example: lunges, squats, rows, pull ups, dips, push ups, planks, deadlifts, L-sits, jumping movements, etc. I’m personally a big fan of body weight resistance workouts that require little or no equipment. But I have nothing against traditional style weightlifting in a gym either!
Why do I love this style of working out so much? I like it because it’s all encompassing. I think of total body training as “total body care.” Unlike isolation workouts or split programs, that place higher importance on some body areas over others, total body training gives you well rounded fitness that addresses the health of the whole body.
In short, Total body training attempts to work the entire body in a workout, every workout.
Total Body Training Is Good For Your Bones
Let’s get into the serious reasons why I recommend resistance-based training.
You may already know this, but as we age our bones become more brittle. It sucks, but it’s just a fact of life. Our bones become less dense, we become more susceptible to fractures, and women especially are more likely to develop Osteoporosis in old age (an estimated eight million women and two million men in the United States have Osteoporosis).
Hip fractures are usually the most severe. Six out of 10 people who break a hip never fully regain their former level of independence.
BUT, did you know that regular weight training has been proven to help prevent bone loss, and increase bone density? In one study, postmenopausal women who participated in a strength training program for a year saw significant increases in their bone density in the spine and hips– areas most affected by Osteoporosis in older women.
Bone density isn’t the only thing we lose in old age though. We also lose a lot of our muscles. In fact, we lose so much muscle as we age that by the time we’re 70, we only have about 50% to 55% of our muscle mass left. This helps explain why we feel weak and tired as we age.
Once again, numerous studies have shown that strength training can play a role in slowing bone loss, reducing muscle loss, and encouraging the growth of both. The tugging and pushing on bone that occurs during strength training nudges bone-forming cells into action. The result is stronger, denser bones, which is incredibly helpful in offsetting age-related declines in life.
Overall, this is one of the biggest reasons I think it’s important for everyone (but especially women) to incorporate weight training into their fitness routines. Aesthetics aside, it’s an incredibly healthy form of exercise for us!
Total Body Training Is Good For Your Heart
A lot of people think that if you want to build strength, you need to lift weights. If you want good heart health, you need to do cardio. But did you know that resistance training accomplishes both?
Resistance workouts can increase your heart rate just as much as any traditional cardio workout. This is especially true when you focus on compound movements that work multiple areas of the body at the same time. For example, a deadlift works your lower body, core and back all at once. A pull-up works your back, arms, and core all at once. This is in contrast to an isolation move that only works one specific muscle – like a bicep curl or calf raise.
You can also amplify the cardio benefits of a resistance workout by reducing rest time between sets, and doing super sets.
Now, if you’re someone who’s thinking right now that they don’t really care about building strength, you just want to lose weight, I have good news for you! Total body training with resistance can actually burn fat better than traditional forms of cardio. Here’s how:
Yes resistance training builds muscle, but muscle tissue is metabolically more active and burns more calories than fat tissue. Therefore, the more muscles you have, the bigger your resting energy expenditure. Which means that your body burns more calories “while doing nothing.”
So not only does resistance training burn calories during your workout, but you burn more calories when you’re not working out too. Also, for those who perform resistance workouts regularly, when you do perform traditional cardio your body is encouraged to turn to fat for energy during that workout over muscle tissue.
Total Body Training Can Help You Achieve Any Fitness Goal
When I talk to women about their fitness goals, I often hear the same set of goals repeated.
- I want to lose weight
- I want to lose belly fat
- I want abs
- I want a big/rounded/sculpted butt
- I want to get “toned”
I want to be super clear here– I don’t think that any of these goals are bad! In fact, a few on the list are goals of mine too. You’re allowed to have any fitness goal you want, and don’t let anyone else tell you differently.
But when I see fitness plans online that cater to one of these common goals, I can’t help but think that most of them are lacking. My two biggest gripes with fitness programs that are advertised towards women are:
- They emphasize steady-state cardio too much.
- They emphasize isolation workouts too much, and neglect the rest of the body.
Here’s one of the main reasons I love resistance training though, it’s a catch-all approach to fitness that allows you to achieve multiple goals at the same time. We’ve already talked about how it can help build muscles, which crosses off the bottom 2 goals on that list. And we’ve talked about how efficient total body training is at encouraging weight loss and burning calories, which goes hand-in-hand with the top 3 goals on that list.
If total body training really is a catch-all approach to common fitness goals for women (which it is), then why isn’t it more prevalent among women who workout? The answer to that, is caused by one of my top pet-peeve fitness myths.
“As a girl, if I weight lift will I get bulky?”
No, no no!
I absolutely hate this myth. I’ve known girls who absolutely refuse to pick up a dumbbell because they’re afraid they’ll turn into this:
First off, in order to build serious muscle mass from weight training you need to EAT. I’m talking a massive calorie surplus. And even then it’s harder for women to build muscle because we have less natural testosterone in our bodies than men (a key hormone for building muscle).
For a woman to gain serious muscle mass (like in the picture), she would have to be eating a HUGE amount of food, training for multiple hours a day, and also be taking supplements and steroids.
For the average gal into regular fitness, what will actually happen when she starts total body training (in combination with proper nutrition), is that her body composition will slowly start to change over time. Small muscle gains will be made and her body fat will decrease– allowing more lean muscle to show through underneath. This will give her that “toned” and athletic look that is so sought-after these days. Below is a much more accurate representation of what a girl will look like if she starts total body training with some form of weighted resistance:
Full Body Workouts Create A Well Balanced Body
To me, this is one of the more important reasons why total body training is important. Let’s use that common list of fitness goals as an example again. Say you want to “build a booty.” A lot of workout plans online will have you doing glute exercises 3 days a week, and not touching any other area of your body. Or let’s say you “want abs.” Many workout plans will have you doing crunches and sit-ups for days, without ever considering how well your shoulders can move, or if your back muscles are weak.
My point is, it’s important to work the whole body equally, because otherwise you can create muscle imbalances.
Every joint in the body is surrounded by muscles that produce and control movement. If muscles on one side of a joint become too tight from overuse, it can cause the muscles on the other side to become too weak from lack of use. This is what a muscle imbalance is. They can be a cause of soreness, stiffness, and inflexibility throughout the body, as well as potential causes of injury.
So while I think it’s totally ok to want to “build a booty”, it’s important to remember that every muscle in the body is important and deserves attention as well.
Besides creating a well balanced body, full body workouts are also extremely efficient. A common weight lifting strategy is to follow a “split style” program. The idea behind a split program, or full body split, is that you segment your body into different areas, and work those areas on certain days. For example, Monday (lower body), Wednesday (arms/chest), Friday (core/back).
In my opinion, the main drawback to this approach is simple. Life happens. We all have the best intentions of working out consistently 3 days a week, or 4 days a week. But unintentionally skipping a day is common when we have busy lives (don’t we all?). When you skip a day, that means you didn’t work a section of your body that week. So you make it up next week, and then your schedule is off, etc. etc.
If all your workouts are a full body workout though, you never have to worry about this! So to me, it’s the most efficient way to workout. Even if I intend to workout 4 days in a week, but only manage 2 days (or 1), if that workout was a challenging total body training session, then I’m good. I can rest easy knowing that every area of my body was worked that week.
How To Start Total Body Training
Do I have you excited about doing push ups yet? Are you ready to ditch the treadmill and run to the free weights area of the gym?!
In all seriousness, I hope I still have your interest! Now that I’ve covered why resistance training is…
- An exceptionally healthy form of exercise
- Important for women, especially, to consider
- An approach for reaching any fitness goal
- The most efficient strategy for working out (IMO)
… Next I’d like to provide some examples for how you can structure your own full body workouts.
Free Full Body Workout Plan
The following routines are just examples. There are countless ways you can implement a total body training session. If you’re looking for a free full body workout plan though, I’ve put together 2 that you can download below! The pink guide is an example full body workout you can do in a gym (with typical equipment I expect any gym to have). The green guide is an example full body workout you can do at home with ZERO equipment.
I’ve said it before, but I personally love home workouts using no equipment, and workouts that use your body’s own weight for resistance. There are a few pieces of equipment I highly recommend for home gyms, but only if you want to take things to the next level.
For now, know that the green guide above is a true no equipment workout. Unless you count a chair and a wall (but I expect most homes to have chairs and walls in them). 🙂
Note: Before attempting any of these movements (especially if they are new to you) I recommend looking up their names on YouTube so you can listen to explanations on proper form. Likewise, if a name I used for a plyometric move is unfamiliar to you, there are countless videos on YouTube that showcase these moves– so I recommend checking some out!
Patterns In The Full Body Workout Plan
If you take a look at them, you should notice there’s a pattern to the workout. In the beginning you’re working with heavy load/resistance, short rep ranges, and resting for minutes between sets.
In the next section of the workout you’re decreasing the load/resistance, increasing the rep ranges, and decreasing the rest times.
In the final portion of these total body training examples, you’re decreasing the load/resistance once again, increasing the rep ranges, and decreasing or eliminating the rest times.
Basically you go from heavy weight to low weight throughout the workout. And you go from long rest periods, to short rest periods throughout the workout. This ensures a total body burn, works all your muscles in multiple ways, encourages growth, gets your heart rate up, and stimulates fat burning all at once.
If you’re in a gym, you’ll have access to lots of different weights for making your moves harder. If you’re working out with zero equipment, you’ll have to rely on jump moves and plyometrics a lot more throughout the workout. But working out with zero equipment doesn’t mean there aren’t still tools around you!
If you’re outside somewhere (park, parking lot, etc.) you can find staircases for doing step-ups. If you’re in your house you can find a chair to do dips from. Anywhere there’s a wall (or tree) you can do decline push-ups, incline push-ups, etc. You’d be surprised what everyday objects around you can be used to help complete a workout!
How To Be Successful With Total Body Training
When it comes to any workout plan, there are 2 key factors that determine success: consistency, and nutrition.
Proper nutrition is absolutely key with any fitness goal. For healthy meal inspiration, feel free to browse the recipes on my blog! All of my recipes are oil free, refined sugar free, processed ingredient free, low in salt, and great to use alongside any fitness plan. So if healthy eating is your aim, please check out some of the stuff I’ve made!
And as for the other key to success, consistency, the only advice I can offer is to be patient and trust the process. As the saying goes, “One bad meal won’t make you fat, just like one good workout won’t make you fit.” It takes consistency over time for our bodies to adapt and change. So whatever your fitness goals may be, try to be patient, eat well, and you’re certain to see results.
One final note– despite how passionate I am about total body training and full body resistance workouts– I know that it’s not the only way to get fit. Maybe weight training just isn’t your thing. That’s ok! At the end of the day, you should be choosing to follow workouts that you enjoy. Because the only workout program you’ll actually follow, is the one you like doing. I hate running, so any workout program that includes a lot of running just isn’t going to be something I can ever stick with long-term.
Maybe you’ll love full body workouts, and maybe you won’t. If you’ve never tried a total body training program though, I think it’s important to give it a shot. The protective health benefits of weight training against Osteoporosis are real, and not something to casually overlook (especially for women). So if you try out a total body training routine and hate it, maybe it’s only something you do a couple of times a month, and not every week. This would still give you a lot of health benefits and be something worth doing!
I think that about wraps this post up. I hope I’ve inspired you to give total body training a try. And if so, I’d love to know what you think in the comments below. If you have other fitness tips or pieces of inspiration to share, I’d love to read those too! As always thanks for reading, and enjoy your workouts. 🙂