Most weight trainers are looking to pack muscle onto their frames - to improve their physical performance and their appearance. But with so many new exercises popping up, how do you know where best to spend your time and effort - do you go for a bicep curl or a one-legged Swiss-ball lunge (yes, we made that up)?
These five exercises are time-tested, tried and true that every weight trainer should be doing to build muscle. Studies have shown that these exercises stimulate the most muscle activation, and therefore give you the best bang for your buck. Combine them with a solid diet, supplement and rest program, and you should see some excellent results!
Alternatives: Front squat, hack squat
The squat trains the power-base of the body - the hips, core and legs - and arguably recruits more muscle fibres than any other exercise you can do. There are a whole heap of variations of the squat, and by tweaking your positioning and rep ranges, you can effectively train for power, size or both.
For maximum muscle-building ability, we recommend training within the 6-10 rep range - this gives you a good balance between the weights you can use and the amount of reps you can achieve. Whatever the variation or rep range you choose, just make sure you do them!
Alternatives: Lat pulldown, Assisted chin-up
One of the biggest upper-body builders is the chin-up - the first choice for anyone who doesn't have gym equipment at their disposal (prison inmates for instance). Chin ups utilise all the muscles in your upper body, from the core right up to biceps, traps, shoulders and everything in between.
For rep ranges, it's fairly easy - do as many as you can! For those who can't perform five unassisted chin ups, go for assisted or for lat pulldowns, and for those who can perform 15 or more, weighted chins are a great choice.
Alternatives: Dumbbell bench press, Machine chest press
Another powerful upper body builder, the bench press trains those all-important mirror muscles - the pecs, front delts and triceps, as well as quite a few others. A big, barrel chest is a sign of someone who has mastered the bench press, and it's no coincidence that it's usually the first exercise you learn when you step into the gym.
The barbell bench press works well at all different rep ranges, but for maximal muscle building, somewhere in the 8-10 rep range is about the sweetspot.
Standing Overhead Press
Alternatives: Seated overhead press, Machine overhead press
The original measure of strength for many years was the standing barbell overhead press - a true test of your upper body muscles. After all, what could be a stronger movement than picking something up off the ground and lifting it over your head? The overhead press utilises a whole host of stabiliser muscles just to hold the weight in place, as well as the major muscle groups - shoulders, back and triceps - to actually move the weight.
For overhead presses, a 6-10 rep range works well. This ensures that your stabilisers don't give out before your lifting muscles, reducing injury risk.
Alternatives: Stiff-legged deadlift, Rack pulls
Another true mass builder, the deadlift is one of the most hotly debated exercises in the gym. Performed correctly, there is no more risk of injury than with any other lift (and far less than bench press, for example). Deadlifts utilise the entire body to move the weight, much like squats, and are responsible for better lower back, glute and trap development than any other exercise!
While many trainers like to perform high rep deadlifts, we believe this is where the majority of injuries occur - where fatigue forces form to suffer. We much prefer multiple sets of lower reps, somewhere in the 3-6 rep range, depending on the weights you're using. Either way, you'll feel it the next day!
Well, those are our choices for the top five muscle building exercises you can do. To maximise your training results, try and incorporate as many of these into your training as possible!
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