Best Muscle Building Exercises (Which Exercises And Why)

When it comes to exercise selection, there are thousands upon thousands you could choose from.  But just because you have free reign of the candy shop, it doesn’t mean any good, will come from stuffing your face with every sweet you can find.  You want to put most of your focus on doing only the best muscle building exercises out there, and in truth, this is only actually a select few.

It may not make sense, but certain exercises are far superior to all most all others.  And it’s these exercises that are responsible for most of the muscle you build in the gym.

Being armed with this kind of knowledge means there isn’t any excuse for you to dedicate large portions of your time to exercises that will have little impact on your results.

Lifting weights is great.  There is nothing more satisfying than knocking your previous week’s numbers out of the park.

Being in the gym is also great.  But this is where problems arise.

I’ve personally been guilty in the past of spending hours upon hours every day in the gym.  And where did it get me?  Absolutely nowhere.

Results were mediocre at best, and it just left me frustrated.

The point I am trying to make is, as much as we all love training and being in the gym, you want to aim to achieve maximal overload of the muscle in as short a time as possible.

Achieving maximum overload in the shortest time possible should be a huge focus of yours.

What I mean by this is, if you could achieve full muscle fiber stimulation in 35 minutes compared to 60 minutes, then that would be a much more efficient approach right.

As you are probably well aware of now, only a certain few exercises will achieve maximum overload and full muscle fiber stimulation much more efficiently than others.

And focusing on these exercises is your first step to building muscle at a much faster rate than ever before.

So many of these inferior exercises that you see people do religiously in gyms, will force you to lift light weights.  Light weights will not create a maximum overload.  Yes, of course, they will create some overload but nowhere near a sufficient amount for maximal growth.

And as we already know, maximum overload is the main trigger that will force your muscles to grow.

Only heavy weights will do this, and the select few exercises you will learn about in this article are the very best at allowing you to lift heavy weight.

So the bottom line is simple.  If you want to build more mass faster then you ever have before.  You need to pick the right exercises and avoid the wrong ones.

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The Power Of Compound Exercises

So what are these so-called magical exercises I’m going on about?

Unfortunately, you’re not going to be impressed with the answer.  These exercises are some of the most basic ones you will find, which 99% of gym goes already know about.

To put it simply, most of your training should rely heavily on compound movements.

Below is a list of the very best.

  • Barbell Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bench Press
  • Pull-Ups
  • Barbell Bent Over Rows
  • Military Presses

It’s a short list I know, but these exercises outweigh all others in terms of creating maximum overload and building muscle as efficiently as possible.

Now I’m not saying these 6 exercises are all you should be doing.  There are lots of variations and some fantastic ones at that.  But build your training around these and your results will be amazing.

Let’s take a look at some variations of the above exercises plus other effective compound exercises.

  • Decline Bench Press
  • Incline Bench Press
  • Flat Dumbbell Press
  • Incline Dumbbell Press
  • Leg Pressing
  • Romanian Deadlifts
  • Power Lunges
  • Cable Rows (Varied Grips)
  • Lat Pull Downs (Varied Grips)
  • Single Arm Dumbbell Rows
  • Overhead Dumbbell Presses

There are more variations then this, but these are the ones you should be focusing on.

It’s now time to take a proper look at each exercise.  I have included a tutorial video with each one showing the best and most efficient way to perform the exercise to achieve maximum overload.

I’m going to split the exercises up into body parts listing the most effective exercise for each one.

Chest

Flat Barbell Bench Press

Male body builder doing flat barbell bench press exercise

If you had to choose just one chest exercise, then this would be it.

There is no doubt about it.  This is a huge upper body compound exercise.  And although there are many other muscles involved, no other exercise will create as much overload on the chest as the flat barbell bench press.

Major Muscles Involved

Pectorals (Mide, Upper, and Lower)

Assisting Muscles Involved

Posterior delts, Traps, Triceps, lower and upper back

Video Tutorial

One of the most common things I hear in the gym is “It doesn’t matter what I do or how heavy I lift, I can’t seem to grow my chest”

This is a common problem for so many, and back in the day, I had the same issues.

Below is a video showing why your chest probably isn’t growing and how to fix it.

Click the link to learn about all the other best muscle building chest variations 

Upper Back

When talking about the back muscles, we are normally referring to the upper back, lower back, and lats.

Most of us are looking for that impressive V shape look.

No set of muscles contribute to the V shape better than a wide set of lats.

But it would be foolish to only focus on the lats.  The back is made up of many other muscles, which all contribute to gaining a strong, muscular and powerful looking back.

To start with you have three very important upper back muscles located right across your shoulder blades.  These are the rhomboids major, infraspinatus and the teres minor and major muscles.

All most all lat exercises will stimulate these muscles as well.

And last but not least you have serratus anterior muscles located below your armpits.

Just for reference, when I talk about the upper back, I am also including the lats as part of it.

A well developed upper back should not only have width but thickness as well.

To achieve this, you need to make sure each movement you do involves not just a full contraction but also a maximum stretch.

Most muscles will benefit from stretching under tension but the upper back especially does.  I see far too many people stopping a pulling exercise short of the stretch.  If this is you, then you are seriously doing your upper back a disservice.

Doing this will reduce the intensity, therefore reducing muscle growth.

Remember what you learned at the beginning of this article.  We are looking to create as much overload and muscle fiber stimulation as possible.

By allowing a muscle to fully stretch during an exercise, you going to increase the intensity and recruit many more muscle fibres along the way.

Doing partial reps will cost you some serious muscle growth.

I read something many years ago, that has stuck with me ever since. Stretching a muscle will make it longer, meaning when flexed, it will bunch up much bigger.

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lower Back

Other then calves, the lower back is probably one of the most poorly treated and neglected muscle groups there is.

I agree there isn’t really anything fun about training the lower back which usually means many don’t give it a second thought.

However, we need to change this mindset, because for so many reasons the lower back should get the attention it deserves and needs.

The lower back plays a huge role in almost all the exercises you do in the gym.

Along with your abs, it plays a vital role in connecting the lower body and upper body together.

Regardless of what muscle group you are training, a weak and un-developed lower back will eventually lead to injury.

This is both injuries of other muscles and the lower back itself.  And trust me, if you injure your lower back, then all other training sessions will come to a sudden halt.

Deadlift

Strong female athlete doing a deadlift

Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the best exercise you can do for overall back development.

There is a strong focus on your lower back, but it also works your upper back incredibly hard as well.

In fact, the deadlift works nearly the entire body.  In my opinion, this makes it the king of not only back exercises but all exercises you can do in the gym.  Although maybe squats may have something to say about this.

I have written a whole article on how to do the deadlift properly and it’s vital you learn, master and include this movement in your training plan.

Major Muscles Involved

Lower back (Erector Spinae)

Assisting Muscles Involved

Upper back, Traps, Hamstrings, Glutes, firearms, biceps, shoulders

Video Tutorial

Click the link to learn about all the other best muscle building back exercises

Legs

Squats

Muscular bodybuilder barbell squating

When it comes to the major players for effectively building muscle, squats are probably the one exercise that is missed out the most.

I have lost count of the amount of different excuses I have heard for someone leaving squats out of leg day.

If this is you, then you need to stop it now and avoid this bad habit.

If there was only one exercise you could do for the rest of your life, then squats should be your number one choice.  Narrowly beating out deadlifts.

Although squats place a huge focus on overloading the leg muscles, they actually work nearly every single muscle in your body.

Are squats easy?  No, they are incredibly taxing on the body but the respiratory system as well.  And this is the main reason people ignore them.

Major Muscles Involved

Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Lower back (Erector Spinae)

Assisting Muscles Involved

Pretty much every other muscle in your body

Video Tutorial

Click the link to learn about all the other best muscle building leg exercises

Shoulders

Shoulders are not the largest of muscle groups in the body but are probably the most eye-catching and create the greatest impact on your physique.

There is nothing like a set of full, wide and 3 D looking shoulders.

Responsible for overhead pressing, moving the arms to the side and to the front, they really are a simple muscle group to train.

Everyone always has a muscle group that can be slow to respond and grow.  However, shoulders is rarely one of them.

I’m not sure I have had a single client who’s shoulders don’t quickly increase in strength and size when trained properly.

Although they are simple to train and respond very quickly to stimulus, the actual shoulder joint is very complex due to the mobility and movement it provides.

Because of the range of mobility the joint provides, it also makes them very fragile and prone to injury.

Although most shoulder injuries are not actually caused when training the shoulder themselves but when training other muscles in the body like the upper back.

Training your shoulders properly will actually help with preventing injuries caused when training other muscles.

There is only one negative to building strong and powerful looking shoulders.  And that is, trying to find shirts that fit properly.

Barbell Military Press

Muscular male doing an over head shoulder press with barbell

When executed properly, the military press is easily the most effective exercise for building a full and wide set of shoulders.

The standing variation is tough, and it will find you out if you have neglected your lower back and core muscles.

One of the keys to performing this exercise properly is avoiding leaning back to far.

Major Muscles Involved

Deltoids

Assisting Muscles Involved

Triceps, Traps, Upper Chest, Forearms

Video Tutorial

Click the link to learn about all the other best muscle building shoulder exercises

Best Muscle Building Exercises Key Takeaway

  • Growth occurs when maximally overloading the muscle.
  • For muscle growth, compound exercises should make up the majority of your training as these provide the most overload to the muscles.
  • The best exercises for creating maximum overload are the squat, bench press, deadlift, military press, barbell bent over rows and pull ups
  • Other compound exercises which are also great for creating maximum overload are – incline bench press, flat dumbbell press, incline dumbbell press, lat pulldowns, cable rows, single-arm dumbbell rows, dumbbell overhead presses, Romanian deadlifts, power lunges.
  • Do not neglect your lower back.  A strong lower back prevents injury and make you stronger at everything else.

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