Fun fact: the best total body workout machine probably isn’t necessarily a machine(!) Sure, something like an elliptical will get your legs moving and will target your lower body along with a little bit of your core, but what about your arms, traps and lats? Those don’t get nearly as good of a workout with a machine like that. However, dumbbells, kettlebells and resistance bands are more versatile you truly can get a total body workout while targeting specific muscle groups if you want to focus on a particular part of your body.
Below are some of your best bets for a total body workout “machine”. Bonus: these are a lot cheaper!
Dumbbells are among the most versatile pieces of gear, and these flexible weights by Bowflex simply add to that versatility. With the turn of a dial, you’ve got access to free weights from 5 to 52.5 lbs. For those starting a new workout routine, this is a great feature which allows you to change your workouts and to keep challenging yourself as you get more powerful, rather than having to buy a new pair of weights every time your biceps outgrow your weights.
There’s also a set that ranges from 5 – 90 lbs. These work just like the lighter ones, but know upfront that the heavier ones are a bit bulkier than what you might be used to with lighter weights. Combine this with an adjustable workout bench or balance ball and you have a serious total body workout set. Read our review for additional details.
This isn’t a piece of equipment you can really use in and of itself, but if you want to get a full-body workout in with your free weights, it’s helpful to have a bench that lets you change the back position while keeping proper form and being adequately supported. An exercise ball can also work here for a lot of your standard exercises requiring a bench. Be aware that the maximum weight you will be able to move while using an exercise ball will likely be less than what it would be if you were using a bench. This is because you will spend some amount of energy stabilizing yourself while moving the dumbbells versus putting all of your energy into moving the weight and getting your maximum ? on.
Resistance bands are a great alternative to dumbbells and allow you to do even more total body exercises with a minimum amount of equipment, space and cost. Picture this – you can do bicep curls, hip extensions, weighted curls, tricep extensions squats and target your glutes with the same piece of exercise equipment. If you want to add some cardio, grab the handle and get in a HIIT session with wood choppers using your resistance bands instead of a cable machine.
For most people, Pin Jian makes a set of resistance bands that’s more than what you will need in terms of total resistance and flexibility for mounting your bands onto different places. For those looking for something more substantial, check our our resistance band review.
These really gained a lot of attention outside of the CrossFit community when Tim Ferriss highlighted them in The 4 Hour Body . One particular move, the kettlebell swing has been called the “one exercise that fixes 99 problems”. This is a compound movement that targets the shoulders, back, hips and glutes and legs. It is guaranteed to have you gasping for air after you do a couple dozen in a row. This one exercise requires a LOT of energy and coordination, and if you don’t do it often you will definitely feel it the next day.
Given the complexity of this move you should start with a light weight and make sure your form is absolutely on point. I have a 52.5 lb kettlebell that I realize I need to dust off after writing this post, but you shouldn’t start with something that heavy if you’ve never done this before. This post on BodyBuilding.com has a good overview of the technique, as does the 4 Hour Body. A dumbbell like the ones mentioned above can also be used if you don’t want to buy a kettlebell.
Finally, the kettlebell swing isn’t the only move you can do with a kettlebell. If you have two, you can start to do things like a two arm kettlebell row, goblet squats, lunge presses and russian twists, to name a few. Here’s a link to a great article with 22 kettlebell exercises – workouts for women. Don’t be fooled by the title – these moves aren’t only for women!