6 Best Full-Body Exercises for Beginners (and how to do them right)

Don’t worry, everyone starts somewhere.

So if you want to start lifting like a pro, start with the 6 core, full-body, time-tested exercises in this article.

Focus on quality and consistency and the weight and physique gains will be sure to follow!

1. Squat 

The squat is a whole-body workout that focuses on building the muscles of the thigh.

This is going to be your main leg workout, as well as building a stronger core, back, and hips.

It is a simple but effective exercise and is key for Weightlifting, Powerlifting, Strongman, and any other strength sports.

Muscles worked

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Core
  • Erector set

How to perform

Get set under the bar with pressure through the whole foot. Keep your core stable and chest high, sit down by moving the hips back and down, bending the knees, and keeping your posture consistent throughout.

Reverse the movement by pushing the floor down with the legs, opening the hips up to stand up tall – as in the starting position.

Variations

  • Cyclist squat: a great way to really emphasize the quads for growth and “pump”
  • Front squat: perfect for upper back strength, posture, core, and hip development
  • Paused back squat: your go-to variation for building control and mobility!

2. Bench Press

The bench press is your main upper body pushing exercise – but it does require a weight bench as well as a rack.

It’s the main option because it develops the chest and shoulder muscles, and is a classic option for building the upper body in ways that fill out a t-shirt!

The bench press is arguably less important than the overhead press – but far more popular.

It’s a great way to overload the arms and shoulders, especially if you slow it down and take your time on the bottom half of the movement.

Muscles worked

  • Chest muscles (pectoralis major and minor)
  • Front delts
  • Triceps

How to perform

Remove the bar from the rack on locked arms, positioning it just above the mid-chest position. Lower the bar to the chest by hinging the shoulder and bending the elbows. Keep your elbows under the barbell throughout.

Touch the bar to the chest lower than the starting position, somewhere near the bottom 1/3 of the sternum.

Keep your upper back tight and maintain tension while the bar pauses on the chest. Reverse the movement, pushing the bar off the chest and back towards your face. Lock out the elbows to complete the rep.

Variations


3. Deadlift

The deadlift is basically a full-body workout by itself!

It’s a huge movement that’s usually the heaviest thing you can do, and is amazing for building strength all over the body in one go.

If you pair deadlifts with a pressing movement in the upper body, you’ve done a whole workout already!

If you’re looking for an “80/20 rule”, Deadlifts do 80% of the work of strengthening the hips, back, and hamstrings for most people.

Variations like the rack pull and Romanian deadlift are the most important variations on this list, especially the RDL – a perfect hip, hamstring, and back exercise.

Muscles worked

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Core
  • Erector set
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Lower traps
  • Forearms

How to perform

Set up with straight arms and a flat back – setting the hips back and down with tension in the legs and hips.

Pull the slack out of the bar with mild pressure, and drive up, keeping the bar backwards throughout (never let it move forwards).

Focus on driving up with the legs and opening the hips. Keep your hips low as you drive, and then open up the hips through the bar. Focus on uppercutting the barbell, rather than just pushing it forwards.

Variations

Check out our guide to the Best Deadlift Platforms.


4. Bent-Over Row

The bent-over row is the opposite of the bench press and balances out your upper body development.

It’s a way to build upper back strength and improve postural positions, pulling the shoulders back and developing the most important muscle groups for shoulder health.

This is an underrated movement and – while it can feel unintuitive for beginners and intermediates – builds up a very important set of skills.

Building upper body pulling strength is key for longevity and sports performance in just about every kind of competitive pursuit!

Muscles worked

  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Lower traps
  • Rhomboids
  • Erector set
  • Biceps
  • Forearms and grip

How to perform

Take the barbell in a mid-width grip, somewhere around shoulder width. Deadlift it up as above, then lower it back down to around knee height, letting it ease forwards away from the body slightly.

From this hanging position, sweep the bar back towards your body as you bend the elbows and pull the shoulder blades down and towards each other, keeping a big chest. Pull the bar all the way into the body, squeezing these “prime mover” muscles in the end position.

Hold this position briefly, before slowly returning the bar to the starting position to complete the exercise.

Variations

  • Pendlay row: a lower-fatigue version for less back stress and more lat focus
  • Yates row: an underhand, supinated type of row for more bicep and rotator cuff gains!

5. Pull-Up

The pull-up is possible on any power rack with a bar or handles – and is one of the best bonus exercises around.

It’s a bodyweight movement that keeps you close to your relative strength, building under-developed muscles while also building a fantastic physique.

The muscles used in the pull-up are crucial for shoulder health, support better posture, and counteract the development of muscles from the overhead and bench press.

This makes it a great choice, while it also builds the V-taper and bigger arms, and it’s a vertical pull, unlike the barbell row, for well-rounded shoulder function.

Muscles worked

  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Lower traps
  • Rhomboids
  • Erector set
  • Biceps
  • Forearms and grip

How to perform

Take a wide grip on a straight or cambered bar overhead, with arms straight and tension in the back of the shoulders. Hang at full length in the starting position.

From here, begin the movement by pulling the shoulder blades down and together, before bending the arms and continuing this downward shoulder tension. This will bring you up, slowly, until you can get your chin over the bar.

Slowly reverse this motion under control until you reach the “dead hang” starting position. This is a very strict pull-up, which produces the best muscle and strength gains.

Variations

  • Chin up: a supinated grip for more bicep and rotator cuff development
  • Banded pull-up: an easier version for beginners to get into the swing of things
  • Pull-up lowers: as above, easier ways to develop strength before you get your pull-ups

6. Overhead Press

The overhead press is a powerful option for strengthening the shoulders and triceps but also building good shoulder balance.

This keeps the shoulders – one of the most common sites for injury and pain – resilient and stronger.

It’s a great choice for building functional strength and also forces you to develop better stabilizer muscles around the shoulders, like the rotator cuff muscles and the traps.

These are important in their own right and a huge overhead press is a great way to get big, strong, and aesthetic.

Muscles worked

  • Shoulder muscles (deltoids)
  • Triceps
  • Traps
  • Rotator cuff muscles (teres minor, subscapularis, infrascapularis, supraspinatus)

How to perform

Remove a bar from the rack above the clavicle, keeping your core tight and chest “through” the bar. Maintain tension in the core and upper back, with the elbows directly beneath the barbell and stiffness through the wrist.

Keep your whole body stable and deliberately tense and initiate the movement by pushing the barbell up (or yourself “down” into the floor). Keep pushing until the bar passes your face then focus on putting it behind your head.

Keep pressing until your elbows lock out and the bar is secure overhead. Reverse this motion under control to complete the rep as the bar reaches the starting position above the clavicle.


Best Full-Body Exercises for Beginners FAQs

6 Best Full-Body Exercises for Beginners (and how to do them right) 1

How to know when to increase the weight you are lifting?

If you can perform a given number of reps with good technique and a reasonable bar speed, you can add more weight for that rep scheme.

Equally, if you can perform a given weight for a given number of reps for multiple sets, you can perform that number of reps with more weight.

You should try to increase the weight regularly. Especially with a power rack, the worst-case scenario is that you have to dump the weight on the safety arms and lower the weight.

What’s most important is focusing on good, basic technical form, and taking small jumps. These allow you to challenge yourself and get better results without drastically increasing your risk of failure, and improving your total training effectiveness.

Adding 5kg to your sets is a good idea – taking a 20kg jump is irresponsible and likely to end badly!

What is the best equipment to get for a full-body workout?

If you want a full-body workout, the power rack and barbell combination is a timeless classic.

It has worked for hundreds of years and is a staple in the fitness world for a reason: it’s the best way to get more results from less money, either at home or at the gym.

With a range of upper and lower body workouts and a few bonus options like pull-up bars, you can hit every major muscle group with a barbell and power rack workout.

Check out our guide on Power Rack Workouts for more information.


Related Workout Resources

Read all the expert workout guides and expert tips.

Final Thoughts

Focusing on the core, full-body lifts is the best way to get a ton of results. As a beginner, your body will respond most rapidly to these high-load full-body workouts.

We’ve discussed some of the best training options and workouts, and how you use them. Try these out and put your focus on quality and consistency
– the weight and physique gains will come with time.

Happy lifting!

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