Full Body Basics for the Recreational Trainer : two days to a strong, aesthetically pleasing body

Many recreational trainers have limited time or motivation for lengthy and frequent gym sessions.  The premise of this plan is minimal application in terms of time allotted to training yet maximum results for the dedicated trainer.


‘More is better’,’ No pain, no gain’ and ‘Feel the burn’ are all clichés synonymous with uneducated weight trainers and glossy magazines.  All of these media myths can be kicked into touch and replaced with a simple two day plan of full body routines in order to promote both hypertrophy (increase in muscle size and girth) and strength.


Each session will last around 45 minutes to 1 hour and will focus on stimulating the whole body as opposed to many conventional ‘splits’ where specific muscle groups are chosen for each day. Cardiovascular work can be incorporated in the plan but the details of such sessions are beyond the scope of this article.  For those looking to increase muscle size whilst dropping body fat, cardiovascular exercise along with a calorie controlled diet are generally required.


Basic compound moves; multi-joint exercises such as deadlift and bench press, will form the basis of the plan, accompanied by one or two isolation exercises; single joint movements such as bicep curls and calf raises. There is no specific requirement to train solely with isolation exercises and it can be strongly argued that it’s actually detrimental when training is limited to only two days per week.


Compound movements are shown to increase strength, muscular size and ensure postural balances are eliminated compared to isolation exercises alone.  Stabilising muscles are recruited far more in compound work compared to isolations and systemic stimulus occurs over local isolation. Core strength is promoted with exercises such as deadlifts and squats and eliminates the requirement for specific abdominal and lower back work.  This is something the recreational trainer initially finds hard to appreciate, until of course they start deadlifting and squatting substantial poundage!


The factors above, amongst many others, make compounds far more effective at building muscular size and strength for a trainer on a limited time allowance. Again, the compound versus isolation debate is beyond the scope of this article but, in short, compounds are far superior in this 2 day full body environment.


Do not be tempted to add your own isolation movements in an attempt to ‘feel you have done something on your arms’.  The exercises stated below will provide adequate stimulation for growth in the secondary muscle groups such as biceps, triceps and the abdominals.  The progression of this plan can be a 3 day split or full body routine, a 4 day split or a 4 day upper lower program or even a 5 day routine.  The scope for progression is endless.


Specific core training will be incorporated in later programs as not to focus solely on abdominals and neglect lower back in the initial stages of the plan. This is something many trainers are guilty of, too many abs exercises yet very few lower back movements.


The two days of training are listed below. 2-3 days rest between each session is advised and as stated, the sessions can be punctuated with cardio work outs on ‘off days’.  Many trainers will choose Monday and Thursday for example or Tuesday and Friday to complete their 2 days.  As long as there is adequate rest between the sessions the days are flexible to suit the lifestyle and job commitments of the trainer.


The Training:


Day 1


  • Flat Bench Press Barbell 3 x 8 repetitions
  • Weighted Chin Ups (overhand) 3 x 8 repetitions
  • Barbell Squats 3 x 8 repetitions
  • Standing Military Press Barbell 3 x 8 repetitions
  • Stiff-Legged Deadlift 3 x 3 x 8 repetitions


Day 2


  • Deadlifts 3 x 8 repetitions
  • Weighted Wide Dips 3 x 8 repetitions
  • Bent Over Barbell Row Standing Bicep Curl 3 x 8 repetitions
  • Dumbbell Lunges 3 x 8 repetitions
  • Standing Bicep Curl 3 x 8 repetitions


The repetitions stated are 8 clean reps with full range of motion.  Repetitions refer to the amount of times the weight is lifted through the full range of motion within the set.  The set is the completion of the 8 repetitions. Learn the movement with a training partner on a low weight.  Perfect the technique and then increase the load over the subsequent weeks.


The trainer will document all weights lifted and periodically increase the weight in relation to strength gains.  The ‘8 rep’ range will promote both hypertrophy (increase in muscular size and girth) whilst producing an increase in the strength.  Lower repetition ranges can be adopted by those purely looking to build strength.  5 x 5 repetitions can be employed although the number of exercises will be cut to 4 for each of the 2 days.  If you do decide to use this method, drop stiff-legged deallifts (SLDLs) from day 1 and bicep curls from day 2.  The plan is predominantly aimed at hypertrophy and aesthetics over pure power and strength, hence 3 x 8 on 5 exercises.


For those unfamiliar with the exercises listed above there are numerous online sites providing video and picture descriptions of the movements.  A personal trainer at your gym will be able to aid you with ‘real time’ help when you train.  Home trainers are advised to have a training partner or study the movements thoroughly to ensure optimum performance and safety.  If you are training at home ensure all safety facilities are in place and you have fully maintained, serviced equipment. A training partner will be beneficial in terms of guidance, motivation and safety as they can spot you on the exercises listed.


Due to the ‘systemic’ nature of the compound exercises, periods of 2-3 minutes between sets for recovery are advised.  Do not start the next set until you feel 100% refreshed and recovered.  This is advised for both performance and safety.  The feeling after completing a compound set is very different to that of an isolation exercise and recovery times are generally longer.  Heavier breathing and an ‘overall’ feeling of fatigue is more likely opposed to a specific ‘burn’ often associated with isolation work.


The exercise order and choice are to be adhered to and all movements are to be carried out with free weights as opposed to the Smith machine or any fixed resistance machines. Please do not reinvent the wheel with some form of square or rectangular shape.  This works, leave it as it is!


Hypertrophy only occurs when there is an increase in stimulation and overload.  This means all weights are to be increased and documented as stated above.  ‘Homeostasis Hinders Hypertrophy’; remember this!  Do not stay stagnant on a weight and do not make massive jumps in the weights lifted.  Shock the body into lifting new weights whilst maintaining strict form and the full range of motion and you will increase strength and muscular girth.


If no additional work load is applied to the body it will not adapt and grow in response.  Limited gains will be made regardless of stimulation by the new trainer but these gains will slow and ultimately stop if the stimulus remains unchanged throughout the following weeks and months.


Whilst this is the case, sloppy form and ‘cheat’ repetitions do not constitute as progression.  You must lift with good form and avoid swinging, bouncing or cheating in any manner.  The last repetition of a set is the only place where this can be excused. A pen and pad is your new best friend as ‘nerdy’ as it seems.  There is no way you will remember all the weights lifted and where you failed in the last session.






An example of progression is as follows:


Barbell Squat


Week 1 – 3 x 8 reps at 50kg

Week 2 – 3 x 8 reps at 52.5kg

Week 3 – 3 x 8 reps at 55kg

Week 4 – 3 x 8 reps at 57.5kg

Week 5 – 3 x 8 reps at 60kg

Week 6 – 3 x 8 reps at 65kg?


The body may actually respond far more efficiently than the guidelines stated.  Do not hold back but at the same time do not make massive jumps only to stagnate on a weight for weeks on end.

The feeling of near failure should only be evident on the last set and towards the latter repetitions.  If you are struggling with form, technique and the weight on other sets you must reassess your limitations and reset the starting point in order to progress and stimulate hypertrophy. There is no requirement to hit failure on each set.


All trainers must be cleared by their GP or doctor and have had a gym induction before starting this routine. Water should be consumed throughout weight training sessions and adequate nutritional strategies, like some of our meals should be employed to aid performance.  Sport specific clothing should be worn and all equipment should be maintained to the highest standard.


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