The best total body exercises

Some exercises work so many muscles that they can’t be categorised by body parts – they can only be described as total body exercises.

These exercises are either compound movements or combination moves. Compound exercises are when a single action requires the body to move several joints at once and as a result you have to work many different muscle groups at the same time. For example a deadlift seems like a fairly simple action – you’re just picking something up from the floor – yet it requires you to move at the ankles knees and hips simultaneously while supporting the weight with your shoulders and stabilising your spine as you raise the bar. This simple action works all the muscles of your legs your back and shoulders your core muscles and your forearm muscles which are required to grip the bar. It’s a whole-body workout in a single move.

Other total body exercises take the idea of compound movements further by introducing dynamic elements. The hang clean for example requires you to hoist a barbell up in front of you powerfully enough to be able to flip it onto the front of your shoulders. Not only does this use a lot of different muscles but the explosive movement required to raise the bar at speed fires up your fast-twitch muscle fibres – the ones involved in dynamic movements – which have the most potential for growth. (Slow-twitch fibres are the ones made for endurance and have less growth potential. That’s why distance runners tend to be skinnier than sprinters.)

Combination exercises are when you stitch together two or more moves to create a new exercise. We’ve given four examples but you are limited only by your imagination when it comes to creating new combo exercises. There’s no reason you can’t just grab a pair of dumb-bells and perform a squat-to-clean-to-press-to-lunge-to-curl-to-deadlift-to-row combo. By linking exercises like this you keep your work rate high which is great for burning fat saving time and training your body to function as a single unit.

Here are those four exercises we were talking about. We’ve also come up with a few variations of each to stop you from getting bored and fuel your imagination.

Quads glutes hamstrings back core: Deadlift
Hamstrings glutes calves back shoulders: Hang clean
Abs lower back quads shoulders: Woodchop
Quads glutes hamstrings shoulders triceps: Lunge to press

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