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Top 10 Exercises For Adding Muscle

When it comes to working out for gaining lean muscle mass not all exercises are created equal. I’m not talking about toning and firming up, this is if you want to make significant improvements in your physique.

There’s no secret over what it takes to pack on muscle. Lift heavy things, work your muscles to an overload, eat clean, rest and repeat. It’s really that simple.

Making solid gains is just about consistency with the things that work. In this article I’ve put together my top ten best exercises for adding muscle. Use these exercises with intensity, eat clean, rest and repeat. When you do you’ll see the results you desire, I promise you.

When selecting my top ten exercises for adding muscle I took a lot of factors into consideration but the main thing I looked at was how the exercise worked the primary muscle groups. This would include the larger muscle groups like your shoulders, chest, back, and legs.

The best exercises work more than one muscle group at a time and primarily target the larger muscles.

You can spend your time focusing on the major muscle groups and see better overall muscle development compared to isolating specific muscles like with bicep curls, leg extensions, triceps press downs, etc.

While there’s nothing wrong with some isolation exercises thrown into your routines now and then, don’t make the mistake most people make by avoiding the main lifts.

Each of my top ten exercises would fall into the “main lifts” category. These are the exercises you’ll see few people doing in the gym, but the ones who are doing them will probably be the most muscular. Success leaves clues.

If you’re mindset is, “I don’t want to get big, that’s why I don’t do (fill in the blank),” believe me you have nothing to worry about. I hear this one all the time and it makes me laugh. Just because you do compound lifts doesn’t mean you’re going to turn into a bulky power-lifter. But if you want to have some muscle on your frame quit making excuses, talking to the girls, and wandering around in the gym doing nothing.

Get your mind right and go train!

If you’re ready to get serious, do these ten exercises and you won’t be disappointed.

#1 Back Squat

Right there at the top of the list of exercises most people avoid (and there’s all kind of excuses) but you can’t argue with the results for those who take this exercise seriously. If I had to do one movement and one movement only it would be the back squat. There’s something like 67% of total muscle mass recruited during a squat. You put something heavy on your back and start squatting then watch what happens to your heart rate. Nothing works every muscle fiber in your body like good old fashioned free weight, barbell back squats.

#2 Deadlift

Another amazingly effective exercise that you rarely see people doing. Yes, I’ve heard all the excuses and talk about the deadlift being bad for your back. The truth is bad form is bad for your back, not the deadlift. Most people don’t learn how to do this exercise correctly so injuries and low back problems are sure to follow. When done correctly though, it’s hard to beat this old school exercise.

 #3 Bench Press

Compound exercise that when done heavy with proper form can be extremely effective. Bench pressing often gets a bad rap from people who claim the exercise is responsible for shoulder problems. Once again this is a bunch of B.S. The bench press isn’t the problem…the problem is caused by muscle imbalances from too much bench pressing and not enough stabilization, proprioception, and recruitment training with the upper posterior chain.

Doing too much of ANY exercise while avoiding other parts of your kinetic chain will always lead to problems. But to call court on the bench press because some people ignore balance in their training routines is simply foolish. Done correctly and with proper balance of other exercises it’s a top grade muscle builder.

#4 The Clean

Your choice on either the “power clean,” or “hang clean.” Either one of the exercises will help you pack on muscle. Once again it’s important to learn proper form and technique but you can’t argue with the results. There’s no other single exercise I know of that will give you upper back development like the cleans.

#5 Pull-Up’s

What can I say here, how could you leave pull-up’s off the list? Even though you’re only using your bodyweight, that’s all you’ll need! There are plenty of big guys walking around who can’t do a single pull-up. Once again you’ll hear the excuses like, “they’re bad for my shoulders,” etc.

Don’t be fooled, you can’t replace the muscle development and strength building benefits of pull-up’s. I don’t care how much you can lift on seated low rows or the lat pulldown. You’ll show me how strong you are by doing some pull-up’s. Sure the bigger guy won’t be able to crank out as many as the 150 pounder…but you won’t find many guys walking around over 220 lbs that can do 10 or more pull-up’s who don’t have decent back development.

#6 Overhead Barbell Shoulder Press

This is probably the least used, extremely effective, yet forgotten exercises on the planet. Years ago it was a staple of all the lifts used by strongmen and weight-lifters, but today it’s rarely seen performed in the gyms. There’s just no replacing taking something heavy and pressing it over your head.

This exercises takes more than just shoulder strength, it requires an extreme amount of core strength as well. Another reason why you don’t have to do so much “ab work” if you do the core-compound lifts. It was not uncommon to see strongmen of years ago pressing 200 lbs or more over their head. Show me somebody who is pressing their bodyweight over their head today and you’ll have someone to follow.

Don’t neglect doing some heavy overhead pressing. Belt up for your heavy lifts to support your low back, but just go hard.

#7 Bent-Over Barbell Rows

Another lift that’s been replaced by machine pull-down’s, lat rows, and the like. In reality, you won’t find another lift (outside of pull-up’s) that can hold a candle to overall back development like barbell bent-over rows.

#8 Barbell Shoulder Shrugs

If I were to pick the best exercises for your back it would be cleans, pull-up’s, bent-over rows, deadlifts, and shoulder shrugs. If you did these movements you’d never need to use a machine the rest of your life.  Barbell shoulder shrugs are a great exercise for developing the traps and upper back muscles, not to mention grip strength.

You can tell a lot about a guy’s real grip strength by watching him do shrugs. If he’s got to use gloves and straps for anything over 225 lbs it’s for a reason, there’s no grip strength. Put some weight on the bar and go shrug some heavy iron. Forget the gloves and straps and get some calluses on your hands. When the weight gets too heavy, switch your grip to one hand over and one hand under.

#9 Dips

Like pull-up’s this is a hard to beat bodyweight exercise for adding muscle mass. When dips get too easy you can always add weight around your waist. A lot of people think dips are a chest exercise, which they do work the pecs, but they’re mostly a triceps exercise. Nothing will add muscle to your triceps like dips. Best of all you won’t have to wait in line to use the dip bar at the gym.

#10 Barbell Lunges

When it comes to leg exercises that add muscle you can’t leave out the lunge. My favorite is doing heavy barbell lunges with weight on your back. This is a whole different ball game than doing some light dumbbell lunges. Try doing heavy “walking” lunges with a barbell and you’ll experience a challenge you won’t soon forget. Barbell lunges are a great addition to your leg workouts along with deadlifts and squats.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fitness expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. You can receive a free, no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal training programs and experience the difference for yourself.

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Category: Fitness Training.