High-Intensity Full-Body Workout Plan

Dumbbell bench press
(Image credit: Getty Images / South_agency)

The key to a great workout is intensity. It doesn’t matter how many half-hearted chest flyes or dumbbell curls you do – if you don’t attack your workout with enough effort, you’re wasting your time. This is because you’re aiming to exhaust your muscles so that your body’s repair and growth system kicks in. Likewise, if you rest for too long between sets and exercises your muscles will recover and you won’t be able to fatigue them properly. This is where muscle-building theory collides with the realities of crowded gyms.
It’s not really the done thing to chuck other gym-users off the squat rack just because your heart rate is dropping.
Fortunately there is a solution. You might not think it possible to get a full-body muscle-building blast from a one-kit workout but we’ve designed a four-week programme that does just that. Simply grab the appropriate weight – one that allows you to complete the required number of reps, but no more – and do the workout with maximum intensity and minimum fuss.

The first two workouts recruit your muscles to lift heavy dumbbells and then barbells to maximise growth. They’ll work your whole body, so leave at least two days’ rest between them. The third workout uses big, whole-body movements to raise your heart rate, burn calories and work every muscle in your body. Leave at least a day between this workout and the next.  

Eat a high-protein meal (20-30g protein) within two hours of working out. In four weeks you’ll have added lean muscle and burnt off body fat.

How To Do This Workout Programme

Do workouts A, B and C once a week each, leaving at least one day’s rest between workouts. Warm up by doing five minutes on a cardio machine, then warm-up sets of press-ups or chin-ups and bodyweight squats to raise your heart rate and get your muscles warmed up. Find the appropriate piece of kit and make sure you have enough space to do all the moves. 

Leave one minute’s rest between sets and two to three minutes between exercises.

High-Intensity Full-Body Dumbbell Workout

1 Dumbbell close-grip bench press

Sets 3  Reps 8  

Target chest, triceps

Keep your palms facing forward throughout and press the weight straight up above your chest.

2 Lying Cuban press

Sets 3  Reps 8  

Target upper back, rear shoulders

Pull your shoulder blades back and keep your wrists in line with your forearms.

3 Dumbbell Romanian deadlift

Sets 3  Reps 8  

Target hamstrings, glutes

Keep your lower back in a neutral position and stand up straight at the top of the movement.

4 Gym ball dumbbell preacher curl

Sets 3 Reps

Target biceps

Lift the weights slowly and don’t bounce your arms off the ball on the way down.

5 Alternating dumbbell step-up

Sets 4 Reps 4 each side 

Target quads, calves, core

Alternate your legs and step up onto a step for a total of eight times in each set.

6 Gym ball dumbbell rotation

Sets 3  Reps 5 each side  

Target abs, core

Lie with your back on the ball, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell above you with straight arms. Rotate left until your left arm is level with the floor then do four more reps before switching sides for another five reps.

High-Intensity Full-Body Barbell Workout

1 Incline bench press

Sets Reps 8  

Target upper chest, front shoulders

Lower the weight to your upper shoulders, then press it back up in a vertical line.

2 Bent-over row

Sets 3  Reps 8  

Target upper back, rear shoulders, biceps

Retract your shoulder blades, brace your core and keep your torso still as you pull the bar up to your chest.

3 Good morning

Sets 3  Reps 8  

Target lower back, hamstrings

Keep your lower back in a neutral position throughout, not too rounded and not over-extended.

4 Push press

Sets 3  Reps 8 each side  

Target shoulders, upper back

Bend your knees slightly and then explode upwards, driving the bar straight overhead.

5 Modified lunge

Sets 3  Reps 4 each side  

Target calves, hamstrings, glutes

Hold the bar directly above your torso and saty on the balls of your feet while you lunge, repeating four reps on one side then swapping sides for another four reps.

6 Barbell roll-out

Sets 3  Reps 10  

Target abs, core

Slowly roll forward as far as you can, keeping your back straight, and then roll back without pausing.

High-Intensity Full-Body Medicine Ball Workout

1 Elevated press-up

Sets 3  Reps 10  

Target chest, triceps

Place your weakest hand on a medicine ball and do one set of ten reps, then swap sides for the next set.

2 Sledgehammer

Sets 3  Reps 10  

Target lats, rear shoulders, quads, hamstrings

Swing the ball over your head then swing it down between your legs. Pause at the bottom before repeating.

3 Medicine ball side lunge and lift

Sets 3  Reps 5 each side  

Target quads, hamstrings, shoulders, core

Step back and turn your body outwards, opening your hips while planting your foot behind you.

4 Medicine ball washing machine

Sets 3  Reps 30 seconds  

Target lower back, abs, obliques

Twist your torso backwards and forwards as quickly as you can for 30 seconds, switching legs at the same time.

5 Double medicine ball leg curl

Sets Reps 10  

Target hamstrings, hips

Keep your hips raised and your body in a straight line from shoulders to ankles.

6 Medicine ball woodchop

Sets Reps 6 each side  

Target whole body

Brace your core, stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold a medicine ball in both hands and keep your arms straight throughout. Drop down slightly, moving the ball to beside your right knee, then drive up through your feet, swinging the ball up and diagonally across your body. Swing it back down again. complete six reps on the right before switching sides.

Nick Hutchings worked for Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Nick worked as digital editor from 2008 to 2011, head of content until 2014, and finally editor-in-chief until 2015.