How to Plan Your Total Gym Exercise Program

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Deconstructing the Total Gym Workout

As you plan your Total Gym exercise program, keep a few key points in mind:

  • You sit, lie or kneel on a padded glideboard that rolls on inclined, parallel rails. The higher you set the incline, the more of your body weight you lift.
  • Using the pulleys on your Total Gym introduces a 2:1 mechanical advantage, reducing the resistance by half. The most an adult can reasonably expect to lift at the highest setting, with the pulleys, is about 25 percent of her body weight. But you can lift up to about 50 percent of your body weight by using attachments like the squat stand, dip bars or wing attachment without the pulleys.
  • Aim for 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise for developing strength; 15 to 25 reps for endurance.
  • Adjust the resistance as necessary so that your muscles are fatigued by the end of each set.

Designing Your Total Gym Workout Program

Divide your Total Gym exercise program into six major muscle groups: chest, back, triceps, biceps, quads and hamstrings. Aim for at least two workouts a week, with a full day of rest between workouts. The rest time gives your muscles time to recover. If you’re struggling to find motivation, these hints and tips for overcoming common exercise obstacles may help.

Chest/Back Exercises

Pick at least one exercise from each group for your Total Gym Exercise program:


  • Chest press: Sit facing downslope. Press both pulley handles out in front of your chest.
  • Flyes: Sit facing downslope. Swing both arms together in front of your chest, arms barely bent, palms facing in.
  • Punches: Same as chest press, but one arm at a time. Your other arm holds steady in the bent position.


  • Row: Straddle the glideboard facing upslope. Pull back on the pulley handles, at about belly-button height.
  • Pulldowns: Lie faceup on the glideboard and pull both handles down to chest level in front of you, elbows bent.
  • Pullups: Place the wing attachment at the top of the rails. Lie facedown, grasp the attachment and pull yourself up.

Chest/Back Together:

  • Iron Cross: Lie faceup. Extend both arms straight out to the side, palms down. Swing both arms, still straight, down beside your body.
  • Pullover: Lie faceup, both arms straight overhead. Swing your arms, still straight, in an arc toward your feet.

Triceps/Biceps Exercises

If you’re in a rush, these are the first exercises you should eliminate from your Total Gym exercise program. They’re somewhat redundant because your triceps work during most chest exercises, and your biceps (and other pulling arm muscles) work during most back exercises.


  • Supine Triceps Extension: Lie faceup, both arms extended straight over your chest. Bend and straighten your elbows.
  • Prone Triceps Extension: Perform the same exercise, lying facedown on the glideboard.


  • Biceps Curls: Kneel facing upslope. Extend both arms down and forward, palms facing up. Bend and straighten your elbows.
  • Hammer Curls: Same as biceps curls, but palms facing in instead of up.

Quads/Hamstrings Exercises

Because the Total Gym limits you to lifting no more than 50 percent of your body weight, doing full-bodyweight leg exercises like lunges or squats off the Total Gym is a more efficient workout. But you can still include a few leg exercises in your Total Gym exercise program to target specific muscles:


  • Leg Curl: Mount the wing attachment at the top of the rails. Lie faceup, feet pointing toward the wing attachment. Hook your heels in the wing attachment and bend your knees to move the glideboard up the rails.

Quads (and glutes):

  • Sprint Starts: You need a squat stand accessory for this exercise. Kneel facing upslope, place one foot on the squat stand behind you, and push away.

Avoiding Plateaus

Create at least two Total Gym exercise programs and switch between them every few weeks. This helps keep you from hitting a plateau. You’ll gradually increase resistance settings as you get stronger. If the maximum resistance setting is no longer a challenge, you can wear a weight vest to create extra resistance. Some Total Gym models also have an optional weight bar for adding free weight plates to the glideboard.

Additional Reading

Total Gym: Corporate Information and History

Total Gym Direct: Exercise List

American Council on Exercise Fit Facts: Strength Training 101 Weight Training: Improve Your Muscular Fitness