With so many different workouts and exercises out there today, it can be overwhelming when it comes time to put together a workout program of your own. The key to building muscle is to use compound movements that recruit a large amount of muscle fibers at one time.
Isolation exercises are fun to do and you feel a nice pump, but they are not going to build you big muscles. Unless you are an intermediate to advanced weight lifter, you should be focusing on a handful of core exercises. So what are these 3 best exercises to build muscle? Read on to find out.
When it comes to building upper body muscle, nothing can come close to the bench press. When using proper form, the bench press recruits nearly every upper body muscle including your chest, triceps, shoulders, lats, and all the little stabilizer muscles.
You want bigger arms? Barbell curls and triceps kickbacks aren’t going to do it. Heavy pressing movements are the key to big arms. Your triceps take up two-thirds of your arm. If you want big arms, focus on your triceps through compound pressing movements.
The proper form for the bench press is as follows:
- Lay down on the bench and arch your back. Only your butt and your upper back should be touching the bench.
- Pinch your shoulder blades together. Your shoulder blades will remain in this position even while you are pressing the bar off your chest. You can practice this part just sitting in your chair.
- Place your hands on the bar just a bit wider than shoulder width distance.
- Remove the bar from the rack and lower the bar to your lower chest (about even with your nipple line).
- Keep your elbows tucked into your sides. Do not let your elbows drift out to the sides more than about 45 degrees.
- After touching your chest, press the bar up and back towards the starting position in a slight arc and think about bending the bar with your hands. This motion activates the lats.
Practice this form with light weight, or a broom stick, and you will soon get the hang of it. Proper form will fully activate all the muscle fibers, and will help keep you from injuring yourself.
Nothing comes close to building total body muscle like the squat. The squat is king of all exercises. It recruits muscles from you quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips, and back to name the big ones. And it provides a strong core workout for your abs.
The proper form for the squat is as follows:
- Place the bar on the rack in a position that’s a couple of inches below your shoulders.
- Try not use any foam padding on the bar. The closer the contact the bar to your body, the more stable you will be and the better the force transfer from the ground to the bar.
- Place your hands in a comfortable position so that you can get under the bar. I like to have my index finger on the outside rings.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and rest the bar anywhere from the traps to the rear delts. There should be a nice little groove for it to rest on. Do not place it too high. It should not be up towards your neck.
- Stand up with the bar and take a slightly wider than shoulder width stance.
- Start thinking of the squat as a back and forth movement with your hips instead of an up and down movement with your butt.
- The first movement you make is not down. Bending your knees first tends to create excessive forward knee travel. Either start the movement breaking simultaneously at the knees and hips, or start it with the hips breaking first. You will have to experiment to see what feels better.
- Keep your knees tracking in line with your toes. There might be some forward knee travel. This is OK and will depend on your body’s biomechanics.
- Once you reach the bottom, press up on the bar hard by pressing your midfoot through the floor. The weight from the squat should always be on your midfoot – not on your toes.
- While moving upwards, press out with your knees. Do not let them buckle inwards while you press the weight up.
Again, practice this form over and over again with either a broomstick or your own body weight. Stand up right now. Squat down. Did you just bend at the knees first? Or did you push your butt back? Focus on getting the form right and you will unleash the power of the squat and prevent knee injuries.
The deadlift is one of the scariest exercises that you hear about in the media. Time and time again you hear that you are going to hurt your back. I’m here to tell you that you will hurt your back – if you fail to use the proper form.
The proper form for the deadlift is as follows:
- Take an overhand grip (my preference) on the bar that is shoulder width apart. Your arms should just be hanging straight down or slightly to the side. You may prefer to use lifting straps and/or chalk to get a better grip so that your forearms don’t fail before your back does.
- Place your feet shoulder width apart, or slightly past shoulder width.
- Bring the bar close to you so that it is touching your ankles, or very close to them.
- Bend over by hinging at the hip. When you’re close to the bar you can bend at the knees to bring yourself all the way down to the bar.
- As you start to lift, you need to focus on driving your hips forward. You don’t want to think about pulling the bar up with your back. That’s not what the deadlift is about.
- Keep the bar as close to your shins as possible. It might even skim your legs as you lift it up.
- Push your heels through the floor while you drive your hips forward.
- Once you reach the top, lower the bar back to the ground. Do this in the reverse manner that you got it up there. Push your hips back, and lower it as close to your shins as possible.
The deadlift is another total body exercise. Nothing will build a better back than the deadlift. From the hips, to the glutes, to the back, the whole posterior chain takes a beating.
Once you practice these exercises and get good at them, you can then start to throw in variations of them. Variations would include the close grip bench press, overhead press, front squat, good morning, and stiff-legged deadlift.