Best exercises to build muscle
by Tobias • 8 minutes read
Last updated: 14 Sep, 2023
Any good health and fitness routine has two main goals, the first is to lose fat, the second is to gain muscle. Today we look at the latter.
As with anything else the fitness community is not !! from trends, some exercises are touted by celebrities or endorsed by whichever "fitness influencer" is the flavour of the month. But some exercises should be included in every routine as they do one thing important thing very well, they build muscle!
Building muscle is important for a multitude of reasons. The more muscle a person has the higher their BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate. The BMR is the amount of calories that a person's body burns whilst at rest. The larger the muscle mass the more calories that they need to sustain it. Hence why you see so many bodybuilders and powerlifters eating upwards of 10,000 calories every day!
Here are the best exercises for each part of the body, so you can build up the maximum amount of muscle throughout your body for a healthy and balanced physique.
You may notice that this list doesn't include any bodyweight exercises and this is for good reason, whilst body weight exercises definitely have their place in the fitness world, this article is solely about muscle growth. Hypertrophy pure and simple.
As you are aiming for Hypertrophy you should aim to do 8-12 reps of 60%-80% of your one rep max. As backed up by this study. For strength training you would use fewer reps and a higher weight. For more endurance based training you would decrease the weight but increase the amount of repetitions to 15 reps or 20 reps.
So without further ado, read our list below about how to build the most muscle in each muscle group.
The first and possibly most obvious exercise in this whole list, the bench press. The bench press is unequaled when it comes to muscle activation in the pectorals. The bench press is what's called a "compound exercise" this means that it utilises several different muscle groups. When benching you should be aware of almost every part of your body being used in some way, with your feet pushing into the floor, your abs and glutes tight, so your body is stable as you straighten your arms and lift the bar. The grip varies based on what part of the chest is being targeted, for example a wide grip hits the outside of the chest whereas a narrow grip hits the inside of the chest. For a regular bench press you should aim to have your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart on the bar.
As mentioned earlier, we are excluding all bodyweight exercises from this list, otherwise the pull-up would be a strong contender for the best back exercise. Add a resistance band or weight and it could even be called a resistance exercise.
The best of the true resistance exercises is the lat pull down, which is essentially the reverse of the pull up, instead of pulling yourself up, you are pulling the bar down. Keep the form good and remember this is a back exercise not an arm exercise so make sure to pin your shoulders back and really concentrate in your back doing the work.
The shoulders are actually into three separate areas, the front, side and rear deltoids. These are responsible for different ranges of motion. The front and side delts lifts the hands directly upwards and directly sidewards as you'd expect. The rear delts are responsible for pulling your hands apart, or more specifically your elbows apart. Think of the motion as the opposite of a hug. Therefore the best ways to hit each area is with a dumbell raise on that plane of motion, so front raises for front delts. Side raises for side delts. For rear delt training you will have to lay on your front and row the weight back. Set the back support of a bench to 45 degrees and lay on your front then pull your elbows back and lift the weights directly upwards. This may feel odd at first so start off with light weights until you feel confident with the movement.
This is one area that the girls have the guys beat. In fact it's often said that men should focus more on their lower body and less on their upper body and girls should do the opposite.
The single best way to isolate and target your glutes is with a hip bridge exercise. sit with your back against a bench and have a bar across your lap, with your feet flat on the floor thrust your hips upwards and contract your glutes as tightly as you can. Start off light to avoid injury but don't be afraid to go heavy on this exercise, your posterior chain will thank you. You'll improve your posture, stand taller and build that dump truck your Mumma never gave you.
For the sake of ease I have grouped the Quads and Hamstrings. That's because the entry for this muscle group is SQUATS. There is no other single exercise that utilises as much of your body muscle as the barbell squat. It will torch fat, build strength, grow muscle and leave you feeling like your heart is about to explode. The squat is a full body workout in a single exercise!
This is one exercise where form is everything so take your time to get the technique correct before loading the bar too much. Be patient, the gains will come.
This is an unsurprising entry but to reassure all those chicken-legged newbies who want to build a balanced physique and are probably already doing this exercise, the most effective way to build your calf muscles is to do calf raises. You can either have a heavy weight on a barbell across your shoulders, or use dumbbells in each hand and simply raise up on to the balls of your feet, hold for a second and then slowly lower back down. Remember two key points for this exercise; 1. Don't bounce, use controlled movements up AND DOWN. 2. Use a heavy weight, your calves are used to high loads from constant use whilst walking, want to build your calves? go heavy.
When people think of building arms they normally think of the biceps, but the often overlooked triceps actually make up two-thirds of the total muscle in the upper arm. The single best exercise is the brilliantly named "Skull Crusher". To do the skull crusher, lay on a flat bench, with an EZ bar in hand, then hold it directly above your head with straight arms. Then bend at the elbows, keeping the upper arm still the whole time, lower the bar down to about an inch from your forehead and then slowly straighten your arms out again. You should feel a deep burn and stretch in your triceps.
Last on this list, the bicep. Targeting the bicep with an exercise is almost considered retro in today's fitness world but to be a build a healthy and balanced body then every body part should be paid equal attention. Most biceps exercises are pretty equally effective. The key is correct form. So for this entry I have chosen the preacher EZ bar curl, for two reasons. the preacher curl keeps your arms still and stops any assistance from your shoulders and the EZ bar keeps your hands at a neutral position with palms facing upwards. If you are looking for a single arm alternative, the next best thing would be the concentration curl, which is good for the same reasons as the EZ bar curl.
So there you have it, the most effective single exercise for each muscle group. We wouldn't recommend doing them all in one workout. But instead group a couple on each day, like back and biceps, or chest and triceps. Keep your eyes peeled for more easy to follow workout advice.
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