If your goal right now is to just PURELY put on muscle, there are 7 EXERCISES that you should be focusing on every week and my choices just might surprise you.
Exercise #1 – The Dumbbell Bench Press
Yes, the Barbell Bench Press is a great exercise too, but when using dumbbells, you can not only train in a greater range of motion, but the adduction of your arms as you press the weight up creates more chest engagement as well.
And if you combine those two things with that fact that you can safely FAIL on this exercise without a spotter, you’ll be more likely to push yourself harder when training alone.
But don’t just run to the flat bench. If you remember, I did a series called 67% more growth a while ago. It was a GREAT series poking fun at clickbait titles, but the 67% more CHEST growth was a real eye opener for a lot of you. In that video I talked about splitting the difference between the flat bench and incline bench by adding a plate or two under the back of the bench so you have just a VERY SLIGHT incline.
This way you can achieve a more balanced approach to activating your entire chest if you are only doing one variation.
Exercise #2 – The Chin-Up
This exercise is an absolute MUST. Traditional pull-ups are great, obviously. But with Chin-Ups we can HEAVILY engage not only your back, but your biceps as well.
Also, because of this most people can usually perform 2 – 3x more Chin-Ups when compared to Pull-Ups which means a lot of you will most likely already be able to do them, but even add some weight as well.
But if you can’t add weight or even get a solid set of 8 – 10 reps, you can easily add some assistance with a spotter or by attaching a band to the chin-up bar.
Jumping negatives work great too and it’s not cheating. Remember, you are 40% stronger in the negative so CONTROLLING the decent will help you build the strength you need to eventually complete the FULL RANGE OF MOTION reps on your own.
Exercise #3 – The Front Squat
And again, you might be wondering why not the back squat? Well, it’s because our goal here is PURELY muscle gain and I want you to have an exercise that HAMMERS the quads as hard as possible.
Also, due to the positioning of the barbell, you’ll have the added benefit of working more on your posture because you’ll have to extend through the thoracic spine to maintain that upright position during your reps.
Now, as with any squats, I recommend going as deep as possible and if you find that your ankle flexion is poor and prevents you from breaking 90 degrees you can use a couple small plates, but you might want to pick up a pair of squat wedges.
Squat shoes are great, but I don’t like wearing them all the time or changing my shoes. So, I keep a pair in my gym bag and these ones from IronBullStrength are great because you have enough space to change the angle and find the perfect position based on your flexibility.
Exercise #4 – The T-Bar Row
I’ve demonstrated A LOT of different kinds of rows in the past but the T-Bar Row is by far the greatest variation to put some meat on your back, especially when it comes to DEPTH or thickness.
I’ve also found that the T-Bar Row is much easier on the lower back when going heavy when compared to a bent-over barbell row and could be something that helps a lot of you REALLY load up the weight on your sets.
And this is very important because overloading your back with weight is KEY when it comes to growth. You might get away with lighter weights when it comes to training chest by adjusting overall volume, time under tension or other techniques, but there’s no avoiding heavy weights if you’re pursuing a thick back.
Now, if your gym has a T-Bar Row attachment available, that’s great.
If it doesn’t, don’t worry. All you need to do is anchor the end of a bar and go grab the close-grip handle from the cable machine. It should fit around the barbell easily and then from here just make you’re pulling towards your belly button.
Remember that the higher up you pull, the more your upper back muscles will start engaging. Now, that’s not a “mistake”, just not the area we are trying to target right now. It’s also ok to let the weight rest on the floor after each rep if you are going REALLY HEAVY and want to focus on an explosive movement for the concentric phase.
Exercise #5 – The Overhead Barbell Press
I REALLY HATE this exercise. I don’t know why, but I just hate everything about it. However, I still do it every week because of its muscle building potential.
In fact, I think it’s a MUST-DO exercise when it comes to growing your delts, traps, triceps, and even your chest because the strength you gain here will transition over to being able to bench heavier as well.
As for which variation, you can do seated or standing, but I prefer standing and for a few different reasons.
- The standing variation will actually help you bring more rear delts into the movement because you have no choice but to stand upright, versus falling into a deep arch when doing the seated version.
- If you get stuck, you can self-spot with a little momentum and then focus on controlling the negative.
- I actually enjoy BEHIND THE HEAD presses a lot more. People will say THIS IS BAD because they are struggling for content to create on YouTube. But at the end of the day, this variation comes down to your FLEXIBILITY. If doing it this way hurts, then you’ve got some shoulder mobility and flexibility to address. But if you can do it pain free, this variation will bring more of your posterior chain into the movement.
Exercise #6 – The Barbell Reverse Lunge
A few minutes ago we talked about the Front Squat being THE BEST lower body exercise you can do when it comes to building quads. So, now we need something to light up those glutes and hamstrings. In fact, when I injured my hamstrings on my left leg, this was the only exercise that really worked for me when I was trying to re-teach those muscles how to work together.
Exercises like hamstring curls and prone curls are great for the hamstrings, but they ISOLATE them. Over time, this can teach your hamstrings to work a bit more independently of your glutes when squatting or deadlifting which is something you definitely don’t want.
As for dumbbells or a barbell, it’s really up to you. Just make sure your form consists of stepping back and leaning over your front leg getting as close to it as you can. This will place all the tension in the hamstrings and glutes.
Exercise #7 – The Dip
And last but not least, don’t forget about dips!
This exercise is going to be the holy grail for your triceps, chest and shoulders. Just like the chin-ups, you CAN use a BAND here for assistance or, if you’re tall enough, you can even do a little push off your toes. This is actually something I like to do toward the end of a set when I want more reps to really burn out my triceps.
But the end goal is ADDING WEIGHT, even if just 5lbs to start. You’ll find that you will progress quite quickly with dips the more you do them and in no time you should be able to add 25 – 45lbs for 6 – 9 reps.
Bonus Exercise – SIT DOWN AND EAT!! Caloric Surplus!
Remember, none of the hard work in the gym will EVER pay off if you are not eating enough food. It’s as simple as that. So, if you need some help figuring out how much Protein, carbs and fat you should be eating to build muscle, use the calculator on my website.
But before I let you go, I’m sure you’re wondering “How do I utilize these exercises to build muscle?” Well, the easiest way would be to build your program AROUND these exercises. So for example, if you train CHEST and TRICEPS on Monday, make sure you include this variation of the bench press as well as dips and go from there.
However, keeping in mind that THESE 7 EXERCISES are going to be the best for building muscle. I would make sure you treat them as such and allocate MORE time to them. For example, instead of a traditional 3 sets per exercise… Hit (5 – 8 sets) of (6 – 8 reps) for these movements.