Creative Total-Body Exercises

by Rodney Corn, MA on Jan 21, 2010

A total-body exercise is an exercise that places emphasis on more than one major body part or region. There are several good reasons to incorporate total-body exercises into a client’s workout: they are rooted in functional anatomy (how our bodies are intended to move); they increase metabolic demand (improving the chances that your client will meet weight loss or fitness goals); and they improve movement and performance (whether in daily living activities or in sports).

When designing a total-body exercise, follow a simple acronym known as M.O.V.E. Developed by PTA Global, M.O.V.E. stands for Movements, Optimal alignment, Variables and Execution. Let’s say your client Bob is 42 years old and apparently healthy, and his goals are to lose a few pounds, tone up a bit and have better overall movement ability. Here’s an example of how you could apply M.O.V.E. to help him progress toward his goals.

M = Movements. What movement(s) do you want to use? Do you want a squat and row or pulling movements? Do you want chest-pressing and biceps curl movements? Calf raises and shoulder shrugs? For Bob, we will choose squatting and chest-pressing movements.

O = Optimal alignment. What position(s) do you want to use, or what will allow for maximal success with the selected movements? Options might include standing only, standing and prone, supine, etc. Choosing the best position(s) will in turn help you determine what type of resistance or equipment you will use. For example, with Bob let’s use both standing and prone alignments. By getting him to move up and down, we address all of his goals. More movement per exercise burns more calories and helps Bob move better.

V = Variables. What equipment will you use? How will the exercise look, or what is driving the motion? If you want to do a squat and chest press and you have chosen a standing-only position, you may now realize that using free weights will probably not be your best option—unless the client is doing an explosive motion. This is because it will be tough to get resistance to the chest region using gravity in a standing position. A better choice might be cables and/or tubing. Next, select what will drive the movements. Will you use bilateral feet and bilateral hands? Will you include any trunk motions (e.g., rotation)? Or will you use bilateral feet but alternate the hand motions? With Bob, we will use dumbbells with his feet in a neutral, parallel stance for the squat and bilateral hands for the chest press. If you combine everything so far to paint a picture, Bob holds the dumbbells at his sides and squats down. He then moves into a push-up position, performs a push-up and returns to standing. If you really want to get fancy, you can have Bob start in a staggered stance, do a split squat, go into a push-up position—only this time with hands also staggered—perform the push-up and return to standing.

E = Execution. How will the client execute the exercise? What will the triangulation be, or in what direction or plane will the client move—sagittal, frontal or transverse? How fast will he move and how far? This will help you determine the direction, speed, path and range of motion (ROM). Depending on Bob’s level of ability, he may benefit from a faster tempo to improve metabolic results. He may also respond well to moving in other planes of motion. For example, if you want to manipulate this exercise to involve more transverse plane or rotational movement, you can have Bob turn his trunk to the left while squatting down and/or perform the push-up with rotation of his head, trunk and/or pelvis.

There are endless combinations with total-body exercises. With so many variations to choose from, it helps to have a simple system for organizing your thoughts. Using the M.O.V.E. system in conjunction with the Total-Body Exercise Development Chart, you can easily mix and match exercises to meet your clients’ goals, wants, needs, abilities and personalities. Follow a basic motor learning continuum to progress your exercises and you will quickly be on your way to developing your own creative total-body exercises.

The Total-Body Exercise Development Chart, along with more information, is available to IDEA members in the full article, “Creative Total-Body Exercises,” through the online IDEA Library or in January 2010 IDEA Fitness Journal.

Rodney Corn will present “Creative Total-Body Exercises Your Clients Will Love” at the IDEA Personal Trainer Institute® in Alexandria, Virginia, February 25–28, 2010. For more information or to register, visit

To purchase the DVD Creative Total-Body Exercises Your Clients Will Love with Rodney Corn, please visit the online IDEA Store.

Want more from Rodney Corn?

IDEA Fit Tips, Volume 8, Issue 2

Find the Perfect Job

More jobs, more applicants and more visits than any other fitness industry job board.

© 2010 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Rodney Corn, MA

Rodney Corn, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Rodney Corn, is a co-founder of PTA Global, an educational company for fitness professionals. He holds a Master's degree in Biomechanics and is an adjunct faculty member at the California University of Pennsylvania and the University of San Francisco.