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Anabolic Full Body RoutinesLeave a Reply

Those that read my articles know I've never liked the traditional, 3 days a week full body routines you typically see in the magazines. These routines have you training M-W-F, doing as many as 15 exercises per session and anywhere from 3-6 sets per exercise. Some have you doing a heavy-medium-light approach over Monday-Wednesday-Friday. At the top end, that's as many as 90 sets in one workout. As I've said before, are you kidding me? How can you possibly train hard enough over 90 sets to stimulate growth? On top of that, how can you possibly recover and come back to do it again after just one rest day? If your name is Superman, maybe you can, otherwise, forget it! The lower end puts you at 45 sets, which is better but still quite a bit of work. How can you work every set effectively from start to finish?

That's not to say these routines don't have value. At the low end of the set totals and exercise list, using a moderate weight for easy reps, they are great for beginners learning exercise form and rep performance. To me, this is the best use of a routine of this type.

squatSo, what's an effective full body approach and when would I want to use them? First of all let me make it clear that split system training is the best way to train. You can train so much more effectively with a split. So, then why would I write an article about anabolic full body routines? First of all, when I say anabolic, I'm referring to the effect different exercises have on the bodies natural hormone release, a very important consideration for all bodybuilders, even more for older bodybuilders since hormone output declines as we age. As far as full body routines, every now and then in between your regular training, it makes sense to consider a 4 week full body cycle. Doing a routine like the ones I'll outline shortly involve the whole body all at once and causes a flood of natural hormones to be released while you are training.

I'm a big believer in natural hormone manipulation and it's easy to use a routine that may be a good routine but doesn't do much as far as natural hormone release. The use of a routine like these can solve that problem.

Now, as to the concept of an anabolic routine, there are two important components to this: exercise choice andnutrient/supplement intake. You see, training is a catabolic event, after about an hour to one hour and twenty minutes, cortisol, a catabolic hormone, is released. To prevent that, you can limit workout time to around an hour or less ( 45 min. is ideal) and sip a drink while training consisting of fast carbs, aminos and even creatine and nitric oxide. This keeps you in an anabolic state while you train and also can promote insulin release, a very anabolic hormone at the right times. Choosing the right exercises promotes hormone release, these are the big basics like squats, deads, power cleans. The rep performance is also important, which we'll talk about soon. So, if a full body routine was designed around these exercises, keeping total exercise selection to around 6 or 7, keeping set totals low to allow hard work on all working sets while allowing complete recovery between workouts, well, now we're talking. This in fact was my thought as I put together the routines in this article. I can appreciate a full body if it's done right, if it's done to force overall growth throughout the body. I can see how tackling the entire body in one workout with a brief, hard workout can produce good results, as long as you allow recovery to take place.

Now you may ask, why did I choose the exercises you'll soon see in the routines? My thought was to go with the best compound exercises, the ones that involve the most muscle groups and are most likely to promote natural hormone release. Using the very best exercises, with some consideration given to balance, will produce the best results. Even the arm exercises use exercises that hit more than just arms, making them effective compound exercises. The key is to limit the exercises and the set totals so you can train with enough intensity on each movement for maximum results. If you've never done a full body routine before you will be surprised at how taxing it can be, working the whole body all at once can be draining and you will feel it everywhere.

I therefore suggest you train twice per week: Mon/Thurs or even Mon/Fri. to allow for total recovery.

Here are the routines:

Routine #1

  • Squats – 3 warm up sets, 2 working sets of 8-10 reps
  • Dead lifts – 2 working sets of 8-10 reps
  • Bench press – 1 warm up set, 2 working sets of 8-10 reps
  • Clean and press – 2 sets of 8 reps
  • Wide grip upright rows – 1 set of 8 reps
  • Underhand close grip chins – 1 set of 8 reps
  • Close grip bench press – 1 set of 8 reps

Rep performance: heavy weight for reps in the 8-10 range, use rest pause to promote "the burn" which helps to promote GH release. So you will pick a weight that allows you to fail before 6 reps, say at 4 reps. Then use a rest pause of an 8 count to knock a few more reps, then do it again. Do not take longer than an 8 count! If you do not feel enough of a burn at the end of the set, you can add static holds, where you would stop at the half-way point of the rep and count to 5, do this on all reps (use a power rack and have spotters). This will definitely increase the intensity of the set but you may have to work up to it. This will be an awkward technique, however, on certain movements like deads and cleans, so avoid it on those exercises.

For rep performance, I like to use explosive up and slow down on my sets, and I don't like to pause at the top. This type of continuous tension keeps constant tension on the muscle, when you pause at the top, you take tension off the muscle. Add weight on all exercises every workout, even if it's just a few pounds.

Routine #2

  • Power cleans – 3 warm up sets, 2 working sets of 8-10 reps
  • Bent rows – 2 working sets of 8-10 reps
  • Chins – rest pause to 25 reps
  • Bench press - 1 warm up set, 2 working sets of 8-10 reps
  • Pullover/press – 1 workings set of 10 reps
  • Underhand close grip bent rows - 1 working set of 8-10 reps

Do your sets the same as in routine # 1. This routine can be used in a couple of ways: as a new routine after a few weeks on #1, or you can do routine #1 first in your training week, then do routine #2 on your next training day.

Routine #3

No article on a full body approach would be complete unless you talk about the classic 20 rep breathing squat routine. This routine has a lot of history behind it and has produced great results over the years.
Here is a 20 rep squat routine revolving around the "big three":

  • Squat: 1 set of 20 reps, super set with:
  • Pull-Overs: 1x12
  • Rest a few moments, then: Bench Press: 1 warm up set. 2 working sets of 10 reps, super set with:
  • Pull-overs: 1x12, then:
  • Bent-over Rows: 2 sets of 10-12
  • Standing Press: 2 sets of 10-12
  • Dead lift 1 set of 10-12

There are actually several variations on the 20 rep, this one is quite different from the ones I presented in my article on 20 rep squats. Don't worry about using rest pause here, 20 reps are so taxing it'll be all you can do to complete this routine. However, work your remaining sets hard.

Do any of these for a good 4-6 weeks but remember you can't do any routine for to long before results stagnate. Also, full body routines, no matter how well you set them up, have the inherent disadvantage of limiting what you can do per muscle group, in other words, a split allows for a greater range of exercises on any given muscle which allows for more complete development. My use of these routines is to use them for a few weeks and then launch into a power program. I work out with my son who hasn't trained since football started back in July, this approach will be great for him to get back into it again and to allow for some nice gains in strength and size.


You definitely want a high protein intake, at least 1 gram per pound of body weight, even 1.5 grams. Keep carb intake around the same. Watch your intake of fat. I usually advocate a 45 % protein to 35% carb to 20% fat ratio of macro nutrients.

Carb intake is really dependent on your goals. Most older bodybuilders have a slower metabolism and are trying to maintain a reasonably lean build, so keeping carbs in check matters. I like to cycle carbs, I'll take in more on training days ( about 1.3 to 1.5 grams per pound of body weight) and less on off days ( 1 gram per). I also cycle carb intake on off days, I will take one day per week as a low carb day, this will be around .5 grams per pound of body weight.

I keep to a 3 times a week cardio schedule as well to stay lean despite working for size. I do all this because if I don't I will begin to get fat. Why not use a circuit full body routine for fat loss? I'd rather train for size and strength to maintain/build and use cardio for fat loss. This approach allows me to hang on to muscle – as long as I don't go to low carb for to long. Remember more muscle means a faster metabolism which means you need to eat more to maintain it.

Those who have a faster metabolism can eat a little more and limit cardio. For these people I would suggest upping carbs to 2 grams per pound.


Whey protein, creatine, n.o., a multi and a joint product should be staples. There's a lot of good choices here, many people will want to use one of the pre workout products like no-xplode. You can add bcaa's and glutamine. As mentioned above, I like to mix Gatorade) with creatine, bcaas and glutamine for a during the workout drink. There are products for this, this is my own homemade drink. The "inter-training" drink is a great idea, I've tried to take advantage of it since first hearing about it a few years ago. You can credit Milos Sarcev for being the guy to advocate it. I do think older bodybuilders should use a testosterone product of some sort since production declines as we age. While there are some pretty hardcore products out there, something like Vitrix by Nutrex works really well and is more "gentle".

Give these routines a try, you'll be glad you did.

Email me at with questions or comments.

By: Jim Brewster

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