When it comes to building muscle I like to keep things simple (KISS = keep it simple stupid). It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of hot new products and exercises that promise to be the next best thing in muscle building. These fancy exercises and products with long scientific sounding words & explanations are usually fluff filled nonsense that is meant to do one thing – make some CEO rich.
With these top 5 muscle building exercises in your training regimen you’ll never have to fall for another gimmick again!
In this article we’re getting back to basics. I’m going to show you the five muscle building exercises you can’t afford not to do and why you should be doing them. These five exercises are the God-Fathers of building muscle and are essential for any serious athlete.
All B.S. aside, with these five exercises alone you can pack on a serious amount of muscle. When I plan a muscle building program for a client I typically start with these five basic exercises and build the program around them. They are the core to any successful training program.
The Top 5 Muscle Building Exercises
The squat is one of the best exercises for packing on serious mass. There’s no argument about it. The squat is primarily a leg & core building exercise. You start the exercise with a barbell resting across your shoulders standing straight up. Then, bending at the knees and hips you lower the barbell down until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor(keep your head & chest up. And then push the barbell back to the starting position.
The main muscle groups pulled into action for the squat are your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. Secondary muscle groups include the lower back, adductors and to a certain extent your shoulder muscles. As you can see many muscle groups are recruited for this exercise making it the biggest exercise and biggest potential muscle builder.
Like all the core muscle building exercises, you should make the squat the first exercise you do on your leg training day. Because it’s the biggest exercise you want your legs to be fresh and ready. If muscle building is your goal, aim for about 8-12 reps on the squat. Because you’ll be lifting heavy weights a good warm up is vital. Squatting is very stressful for the lower body, especially the knees, so 5-10 minutes on the treadmill and some lights squats first up are recommended.
The bench press is deemed king of upper body building exercises by many (especially in the west). For years the bench press has been used to measure a lifter’s strength. How many times have you been asked how much do you bench? I bet you’ve never been asked how much do you squat or how many chin ups can you do.
The bench is a simple yet extremely powerful exercise that targets the entire chest (pectorals), front shoulders (deltoids) and triceps. To perform a bench press you must lie on your back on a flat bench, grip the barbell at slightly wider than shoulder grip and press the bar straight down to your chest.
The bench press is the biggest upper body builder because it allows you to move the most amount of weight possible. This is its advantage over the dumbbell press. With the help of a spotter you can also push yourself to lift heavier weights. There are also other advanced bench press techniques like board presses, bench press negatives and chain presses. Check out this link for more details.
The power clean is awesome for several reasons. Two of those reasons are the fact that you pack on lean mass and build highly explosive power.
Cleans are great for enhancing motor unit recruitment and will thicken your traps like no other(including a standard shrug in my experience).
If you’re a first timer this video will assist you in learning a proper technique.
Wide grip Chin Up
If you were only going to do one exercise to work your back this would be it. The wide grip chin up is the ultimate test of a lifters power to weight ratio. This muscle building exercise is very demanding on the body.
The wide grip chin up primarily hits the lats, but also targets the entire upper back, biceps and forearms. To execute this exercise you need a chin up bar or assisted chin up machine. Hold the bar in a wide grip (greater than shoulder width) with your palms facing away from your body. Start in a hanging position with your arms fully extended. Pull yourself up until your can get your chin over the bar and lower back to starting position.
Most people will not be able to do wide grip chin ups without some lat/back training first. You can use the assisted chin up machine or lat pull down machine to strengthen your lats before attempting wide grip chin ups. This is the most demanding back exercise you can do so it must be the first exercise in your session.
The deadlift is the most effective exercise for building the core strength that supports all other major muscle groups. Matter of fatct, the deadlift works more muscles simultaneously than any other movement.
David Robson had it right when he said, “It(the deadlift) has a special appeal. Simply picking a weight off the floor, and engaging all major muscle groups in the process, has a special primordial appeal – sort of like ripping a gigantic tree out of the ground. Standing and holding the massive weight also promotes a feeling of immense power.”
With your feet shoulder width apart, flat on the floor, the bar close to or touching your chins – take hold of the barbell with your hands just outside your legs (just wider than shoulder width apart) with either an overhand or mixed hand grip (one hand with and over hand grip the other with an underhand grip).
Keep your arms straight with your head facing forward (head up) and your chest out. Make sure your back is straight and shoulders back, squat down so your thighs are parallel with the floor. Inhale deeply and lift the bar by pushing your heels into the floor extending your legs and hips, breathing out as you lift. As you reach towards the top of the lift push your hips forward.
Note: When you first engage the lift, DO NOT kick your ass out as the first movement.
Once at the top of the lift hold the weight for a second before slowly starting your descent back to your starting position, do this by pushing your hips back and squatting back to your original position.
When you should be doing these exercises?
Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, these exercises are the biggest muscle builders and the most taxing on your body so they should be done at the beginning of your workout to achieve the maximum benefit. I recommend that you do up to 5 sets on each exercise and work your way up to the 8-15 rep range and vary the way you perform these sets each week. For example, the first week you do ascending pyramid sets, the second week you do descending pyramid and the third week you do straight sets. This keeps your muscles from getting accustomed to your routine. You’re about to pack on some serious lean mass!
To your fitness success!
David “Top 5 Muscle Building Exercises” Aston