Are there any exercises that engage all or almost all(about 50%) of your muscles? If there are any exercise like this what are they called?

  • 4
    Obviously there's no exercise that will engage literally all of your muscles at once. You should be more specific on what you mean by "almost all". Swimming, for example, engages most of the main muscle groups, and is considered a fairly "complete" exercise in some sense.
    – Wood
    Oct 15, 2019 at 14:45
  • 2
    Shovelling snow...
    – C. Lange
    Oct 16, 2019 at 1:25

3 Answers 3


Assuming that you're talking about weight based exercises only, my answer would be no: there is not a single exercise that works every muscle.

My reasoning for this is that your body is made up of agonist/antagonist muscle pairs. Think bicep and tricep. They work together but oppositely. If you flex your bicep and tricep at the same time, you stay static. For this reason, I believe it isn't possible to work out every muscle. At a minimum, I believe you'd need two ridiculous movements to cover every base.

In practical gym workouts, I think the closest you'd get would be with compound exercises. These are multi-joint multi-muscle-group workouts. Things like deadlift, snatch, clean and press, bench press, etc.

  • Are there any exercises that can engage all of your antagonist or agonist muscles, one of them at a time?
    – Zheer
    Oct 16, 2019 at 6:49
  • 1
    All muscles are antagonist muscles to another set of muscles. I'm not sure what you're asking here.
    – Alec
    Oct 16, 2019 at 15:39
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    @Zheer -- the terms interchange. During a bicep curl, the biceps are agonist, the triceps are antagonist. During a tricep extension, the triceps are agonist and the biceps and antagonist. I think I get what you're saying though, an exercise that works half of your muscles; one from each pair? If there were it would still be classified as a compound exercise. Although nothing comes to mind I'm sure you could make up an "exercise" that did -- sort of like barbell man-makers -- or a crazy superset but that feels like cheating.
    – C. Lange
    Oct 16, 2019 at 16:55

Yes*, they're called complexes.

Before I get into complexes, and the caveat, an argument could be made that pretty much any of the power lifts or olympic lifts engage almost all of your muscles (assuming you're training close to your max and using full body tension during the lift).

Think, leg drive in the bench press, driving the elbows up in the front squat, grimacing while pulling a heavy deadlift (engaging the facial muscles). Want big arms? Work up to a 600lbs deadlift or squat.

Now, complexes...

A complex is a series of movements chained together to form a single rep. An example with a barbell would be:

deadlift > bent over row > clean > front squat > overhead press > good morning > behind neck press

A kettlebell complex (double kettlebells) could be:

bent over row > clean > front rack walk > front squat > overhead press > waiter walk > collapse

Bodyweight? Slightly tougher but with a bit of imagination:

laying face down under a chin up bar > press up > burpee (grab the bar) > leg raise > muscle up

*it depends on your definition of an exercise. If you want a single, recognisable movement, then I'd say the Olympic lifts are your best bet. Mind you, you could argue that the bear is a single, recognisable movement.

Some complexes have you perform multiple reps of a movement before moving onto the next in the chain, being pedantic, I wouldn't say they count, but a single movement flowing into the next does. After all, what is a clean and jerk other than an explosive deadlift, front squat and overhead press into split squat :)

  • This is what I was alluding to in my comment about barbell man-makers. A complex could definitely hit every muscle group but I don't really consider them a single recognizable movement. But then you bring up named complexes like Clean and Jerk and the Bear... which I definitely did on Saturday... +1.
    – C. Lange
    Oct 17, 2019 at 14:04
  • What is the difference between a complex and full body workout?
    – Zheer
    Oct 17, 2019 at 14:12
  • @C.Lange I find it's all about terminology. Part of my shoulder warm up is a single kettlebell waiters walk for 20m into front rack carry for 20m into farmer walk for 20m. I consider that a single movement as I don't stop moving and don't put the kettlebell down, but I know others would call it a series of movements, or a complex, or an interesting way to punish myself ;)
    – Dark Hippo
    Oct 17, 2019 at 15:25
  • @Zheer A full body workout is generally a workout session, lasting a period of time that involves a number of exercises performed for sets and reps with rest periods in between. There's normally also a warm up and cool down period. A complex is a series of moves chained together. So, for example, you could carry out the three complexes above in a single workout (which would definitely be a full body workout).
    – Dark Hippo
    Oct 17, 2019 at 15:27

Sprinting will do it, and respects your biology - unlike purely sagittal, dysfunctional exercises like squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, pullups, etc.

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