When looking for, or designing, an exercise program, you should always have a few 'golden rules' you should incorporate, especially when the goal is gaining muscle mass. An example of this would be having more pulling movements than pushing movements, to help trainees get into proper spine position.
When it comes to designing routines with the focus on building muscle mass, you should always find a way to incorporate some variation of a few movements that provide the biggest 'bang for your buck.' Without these, you are limiting progress on yourself or your trainee.
Chances are this probably won't be shocking news to you. That isn't the intent of this article. Instead, we hope to educate or remind you that these movements should be included in your routine AT ALL TIMES if your goal is to gain muscle.
Now, with that out of the way, let's take a look at what the best exercises are, and why they have earned their way on to this list:
The Barbell Squat
While many fitness professionals will undoubtedly argue about the best exercises, this one is #1 on probably all of the lists.
Why? Because this movement requires so much effort from your entire body, and it can be easy to build up to heavy loads. Of course, with the heavier the load is, the more stress you are placing on the muscles. Because of the ability to load high amounts of weight onto the body, this exercise is always going to claim the top spot.
Believe it or not, this one is actually widely debated.
You see, you often here the deadlift coined as the 'king of all exercises.' This is because it is, like the squat, a common movement pattern we use every day. At some point during the day, everyone has to drop down and pick something up. Now, it may not be heavy, but the deadlift teaches you how to properly brace your body and set up so that you can protect your body when lifting heavy things off the ground. Pretty important, right?
Well, the deadlift doesn't incorporate an eccentric movement at any point during the lift, which is a problem when trying to build size. It also offers very little time under tension, which is key in producing size gains.
So why is it on this list? Well, simply put, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
The deadlift fights for the top spot when it comes to building strength. Much like the squat, it is a full body movement that is excellent at recruiting many muscle fibres, and is also a movement that many can use with relatively heavy weight. Size gains come as a by-product of strength gains, and the deadlift is among the best at producing strength. With the results it has given to countless numbers of individuals, it is easy to see why you fill also find this movement among many coaches' lists.
I almost put dumbbell chest press here.
But I didn't. I stuck with the barbell bench press because you won't find anyone who can bench press 225 pounds with a small chest. It's just not possible. It is also an excellent exercise at building overall strength as well, and is among the most respected of the lifts today.
But the dumbbell chest press does at least deserve to be discussed. This is because it requires more stabilization, and is more isolated, thus putting a larger emphasis on the chest. But, it is important to remember that the dumbbell chest press is just a variation of a chest pressing movement, so they both serve the same goal.
Standing Military Press
To close out the 'Big 4' movements comes the military press, another staple in almost any training program. It is another movement that challenges your body to stabilize, and really hits the shoulders hard, as well as a few other areas.
This full body exercise will be more a challenge to your ego than any of the others previously mentioned. Your weight isn't going to be as high, and it is far more challenging as the weights increase. But once you can press a good amount of weight over your head, there is no doubt that your physique will show proof of that.
After the big 4 exercises, choosing the 5th becomes a bit more difficult. This one was a toss-up between a few other exercises, such as straight legged deadlifts (which I didn't choose, as they are a variation of the deadlift), and push-ups.
But pull ups earn their way on to this list because they are difficult to do for so many people, and yet they are so important! Not only that, but they also target the muscles differently depending on your grip, allowing you to focus on the weaker areas of your body just by a slight change in grip style.
But, regardless of which grip you choose, this exercise will build your back. It is a challenge for almost anyone to even hit 7-8 repetitions with full range of motion, and a startling amount of individuals can't even perform one pull up.
When choosing your next exercise routine to pack on some serious lean muscle, you need to make sure that it includes these five movements. By doing so, you are guaranteeing that you are placing great amounts of stress on the body, and leaving yourself the opportunity for fantastic gains in muscle. It also helps that these movements are very functional, and all of them will help you in your day to day life.