The best exercises to build muscle and strength. The honest truth.
The holy grail of building muscle and strength. A lot of beginners are asking for this and no wonder. People don’t want to be wasting their time with anything that doesn’t yield results. And something as time requiring as building muscle it is important to know what are the best exercises available.
There is a reason why these movement patterns are so efficient when building muscle and strength is the main objective. All of these movements are based on our primal moving patterns, meaning the moving patterns we are DESIGNED to move in order to stay alive. You have to be able to pick stuff from the ground, squat to take a dump (yes the way we sit on the toilet nowadays isn’t natural) or press things overhead.
So basically our bodies have been designed in a way that ensures us to complete these everyday tasks. And so the body also WANTS to build the most muscle when performed these patterns or their variations since it ensures a better rate of survival.
Remember that free weights are the best since they train also your core and stabilizers. Stay away from “machines”.
So enough with the history slash anatomy lessons, lets get into the exercises.
The king of all exercises. Whether you perform the Convenctional or Sumo style you won’t be wasting your time. To be honest it would be benefical to do both of them. It is also the simplest of all exercises, just pick the barbell up from floor and put it back down. But it isn’t that simple.
It is an exercise which demands your whole budy to move in a fluent pattern all through your feet positioning, hip movement and back extension. To learn how to deadlift correctly should be one of your major focuses in gym.
I’ll list the common deadlift variations here:
– Conventional deadlift (My main deadlift since it serves my body type and mechanics)
– Sumo deadlift
– Romanian deadlift
– Stiff-legged deadlift
Quite common belief is that deadlift should be done only in a so called “power” rep range which varies generally from 3-6 reps per set. I believe that you should throw in also higher repetition work, something in between 10-15 reps per set to really stimulate that hypertophy and provide different variation of strain to the muscles.
Another primal pattern. Sounds easy right? Just sit down and up. But there is truth to be told here. Squat training is probably the most grueling of all the exercises, especially when performed in the 12-15 rep range or even higher. Different variation of squats are an absolute must for packing serious size to your legs and core.
Here is the common squat variations:
– Basic back squat (with high- or low bar position)
– Front squat (My favorite since it puts heavy emphasize to your whole body)
– Lunges (with barbell or dumbbells)
Squats should be performed to atleast 90 degree angle between your hamstrings and calves. Half squats where the range of motion is shorter have their place in training also but more in an advanced stage of lifting. Same thing here as the deadlift, I like to spend my time in rep ranges between 4 per set and even sometimes 20 reps per set. Remember cycling and variance is the key to muscle growth and strength.
Yeah I bet you saw this one coming eh? This is the bad boy everyone likes to talk about. THE BENCH. In my opinion the most overrated movement. I really don’t understand why this exercise enjoys such a glorified reputation within teenagers and young adults (mostly). Heavy deadlifters and squatters are many times stronger and faster in sports than heavy benchers and require a lot more functional strength and muscle than bench.
But that said I’m not taking anything away from bench as a upper body developer. It is a great exercise for developing those bulky triceps, shoulders and pecs.
These are the most useful bench exercise:
– Flat bench press (Barbell and Dumbbell)
– Decline bench press (Barbell and Dumbbell, My favourite for chest development. Promotes natural range of motion of shoulders probably the best choice for folks suffering with bad shoulders)
– Incline bench press (Barbell and Dumbbell)
These exercise are for sure enough to develop your upper body mass and strength. As before the ideal rep range lies between 4-15 reps per set.
I personally believe this movement is superior when compared to bench press but it still amazes me how little people do it. To have a solid overhead press you need a strong core and good posture because if you lack in those areas you simply cannot perform this movement.
Here is a couple of options for good overheadpressing:
– Overhead press with barbell (my favourite)
– Overhead press with dumbbells
– Push press with barbell (generating also explosive power)
This is one of my favourite movements since it really requires you to have a strong core, otherwise you just will wobble with the bar or dumbbells and cannot perform the movement. Rep ranges in this one I’d suggest to keep between 6-15 reps per set.
Really good mass and strength builder for your whole back. With chinups there is a room for creativity. They can be performed in so many different ways to target a bit different sections of the back or arms. If you’ve never heard about http://barstarzz.com/ you should definately check their stuff out. They are simply amazing and taking bodyweight exercising to a whole another level.
For chinups here are some basic ideas:
– Regular chinups with different grips (Palms down, palms facing you or palms facing each other)
– Regular chinups with extra weight (my favourites)
– Close grip chinups
– Wide grip chinups
I’ve heard somebody say that chinups are like a upper bodys squat. It is a bit weird way to put it but I think it makes sense somewhat. Many beginners struggle with chin ups since they require quite a lot of strength to start with. There is many ways to counter this. You could use bands to aid you or you could do only negatives (jump up to the bar and then ascend as slowly as you can). Rep range could be anything between 0-15.
Different kind of rows are excellent in building mass to your back and arms. They also assist developing your core since when performing rows you have to keep your core tight and posture correct (well this is actually required in any of the exercises) since if you don’t you’ll stress your body in a wrong fashion. Rows are definately my favourite exercise after deadlifts.
Here is some of my favourites:
– Barbell bent over rows
– One hand dumbbell bent over rows
– Yates rows (google this one, a bit more unorthodox so to say)
– Lat pulldown (Yay the first “machine” in my list besides free weights)
These are really good for developing that strong back. Rep range varies between 5-15 reps per set.
Here I’ll add some smaller movements I think play a role more in an aesthetic sense. These should be the movements what you perform after putting the main emphasize to the ones I listed above. I think these as “an icing on the cake”.
Here are some of the movements I implement to my programs after heavy compound exercises:
– Bicep curls (Barbell or Dumbbell)
– Differnt kinds of ab crunches
– Tricep movements (push downs, skull crushers)
– Calf raises
As you can see these movements don’t require big muscle groups they are relatively small in nature and they actually get a lot of strain when performing the heavy compounds! I like to work these in quite high rep ranges after my heavy compound work usually reps stay between 10-15 reps.
So to wrap this all up you can build an amazing looking, strong and healthy body with BASIC HEAVY COMPOUND exercises. Your workout programs should put the biggest emphasize on those movements to ensure the maximum muscle growth. I know guys who’ve been lifting for 10-20 years and they still structure their workouts around these movements. And those guys are big and strong and haven’t used any illegal substances. Just hard work and perseverance.
You should not be monitoring your progress in days, weeks or even months. The realistic approach would be 6 months to 12 months to see any progress.
Another huge part of this is diet and rest. Without diet and rest all your hard work in the gym will go to waste and you will not make any progress. To get the information about those check HERE and HERE.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I would love to hear if you have some opinions or suggestions so drop a line to the comment box below and I’ll get back to you!
Cheers! -Jesse 🙂