For years people have tried their best to crack the secret to muscle growth.
Thousand of theories were publicized and millions of people followed them with hopes and dreams of growth.
I am not saying that all of the information out there is completely wrong but rather implying that what has become mainstream (and followed by many) is complete and utter bullsh*t, excuse my french.
The problem with these fads is that we’ve all forgotten about the two most important elements that bring the best results – train hard and train smart.
The Oak, also known as Arnold Schwarzenegger, is one of the people who advocated this
“To get big, you have to get strong”, he wrote.
“Beginning and intermediate bodybuilders shouldn’t be as concerned with refinement as with growth.”
What this means is that anyone who’s aim is to improve muscle mass growth needs to focus less on single-joint movements (isolation exercises) and more on multi-joint movements.
These exercises should form the foundation of your training plan, or in other words, these exercises MUST be included in your workout programs.
These exercises are beneficial in many ways:
Help you build overall strength – the stronger you get the more weight you can push and the more weight you can push the more muscle you can grow;
Work on multiple muscle simultaneously ensuring a more well-balanced and well-structured body frame;
Increases metabolic rate – the lower body fat percentage you have the better (this means higher testosterone levels) plus your metabolism is an enzyme-catalyzed reaction allowing organisms to grow and reproduce;
READ MORE: 11 WAYS TO INCREASE TESTOSTERONE NATURALLY
Increases testosterone and growth hormone production – both hormones play a fundamental role in muscle recuperation, bone strengthening, and muscle growth.
Arnold believed that executing these moves and challenging yourself both mentally and physically with heavy weights was the most critical component of gaining strength and size.
*Worth noting that the exercises are arranged on random.There is no hierarchical order that I’ve followed or anything of that sort. The first one is the the best one and the last one is not the least important. As a matter of fact, in this article, all exercises are extremely important!*
This is why I decided to share with you…
THE 9 BEST EXERCISES FOR MUSCLE GROWTH
Deadlifts are a great total-body movement that allows you activate about 8 muscle groups simultaneously.
This exercise has been considered as the ‘king of mass building’ by many for a good reason, it carries a lot of benefits.
Core stability – Deadlifts, if done correctly, directly targets all of the major muscle groups responsible for correct posture and core strength.
The exercise will also help strengthen all the supporting muscles of the waist, hips, backside and of course lower back.
More muscles being worked – as mentioned above deadlifts activate approximately 8 muscle groups at once.
This forces your whole body to grow symmetrically because there is an equal amount of physical strength going through all of your muscles for the proper execution of the exercise.
Gripping strength – If done without the help of any external equipment such as wraps, the deadlift will strengthen your grip like no other movement due to the sheer weight involved.
This will benefit your performance during other exercises such as pull-ups, back rolls, biceps curls, flyes, etc.
Boosts testosterone product – Biologically speaking this makes perfect sense.
Think about it, testosterone production is activated by the brain only when the brain believes that your body requires more testosterone;
Testosterone is responsible for strength development and bone density improvements. Your body’s reaction to deadlifts is not as an exercise, but rather as an obstacle which activates your survival instincts.
As you increase the weight max of your deadlifts so does your testosterone production increase; this is your brain saying “WE NEED MORE POWER!”
How to perform: commence a shoulder-width stance and grip the barbell so that the inner forearms touch the outside thighs, and your shins are lightly touching the bar.
You can use whatever grip you believe is more convenient for you – overhand; over/underhand (one hand over and the other hand under) grip. The under/overhead grip helps you rack up more weight on this exercise.
Spine should be held in a neutral position (neither up nor down), straight as an arrow. Shoulder should be held back and positioned over the bar (never rounded forward).
Chest need to be pointed forward, never down. Before engaging in lifting the weight make sure you’ve tightened the shoulders and squeeze the glutes together to help generate power.
READ MORE: 14 TIPS TO STIMULATE FAST MUSCLE GROWTH
Grip hold of the bar, tight, and push with the feet. The legs must power the weight up. Maintain a straight back through the whole process.
Do not use your shoulder to lift the weight, your arms are to remain in a neutral position (they are literally used as hooks for the weight).
As you reach the top of the movement you would want to pull back your shoulder blades to fully activate your back muscles and push your hips towards by tightening your glutes together.
Try to look forward through the whole process as it will help you maintain proper posture during the execution!
Pay attention here because here is where most people make the most mistakes. The whole idea of a deadlift is the explosiveness, i.e. the process of lifting the weight.
When lowering the weight you don’t want to slowly lower it down but rather “drop the weight”.
Don’t be confused, though, I don’t literally mean that you drop the weight with 0 control of the weight, but rather you apply little control so that your lower back and abdominals are ever-so-slightly activated.
The biggest mistake is to start lowering the bar slowly, you lose your strength during the lowering, and you are increasing the risk of injury!
2. Shoulder Presses
Here’s the thing:
Multi-joint movements like presses engage the greatest degree of deltoid musculature, which is why they are the best muss builders for shoulders.
These movements need to be integrated in the start of your shoulder workout as that’s when you’ll have the most energy and will be able to push heavier weights.
Developing strong shoulders is something that you must aim for as it will help you perform much better during exercises such as bench presses, dips, push-ups, back rolls, etc.
The shoulder consists of three heads – anterior deltoids (front), lateral deltoid (side/middle), and posterior deltoids (rear).
Shoulder presses allows you train all three heads at the same time and thus achieving greater deltoid development and improved shoulder strength.
It also activates, to a great extent, your traps helping you develop a more balanced upper body frame.
There are different ways that this exercise can be done – with a barbell, with dumbbells, Arnold presses (which is done with dumbbells again but with a bit of a twist so that there is even more stress coming down on your shoulders and thus better development), behind the neck, palms facing inwards, etc.
These small variations in the exercise stress the shoulder heads slightly differently, but it’s exactly those small changes that you implement to your exercises that drives growth.
READ MORE: TOP 10 MUSCLE BUILDING MISTAKES
How to perform: Sit in a military bench press or a utility bench that has back support. Grab the barbell/dumbbells at shoulder width.
Make sure that your feet are strong to the ground. Raise the weight over the head without locking your elbows out (this takes away a massive chunk of the weight pressure that should be falling on your shoulders and places it on your elbows, this can lead to serious injuries to your elbows).
On the way down you would want to apply maximum control over the weight so that you’re lowering the bar/dumbbells in a slow control fashion.
3. Classic Push-ups
Push-ups is another exercise that activates a chain of muscles – particularly in your chest, arms, shoulders, back and abdominals. It’s a great exercise for developing essential upper body strength that will prove useful when executing other exercises.
Push-ups are also an amazing way to add on muscle mass to your pectoral area. Not to mention how mobile it is as an exercise because it requires little to no equipment and can be done virtually anywhere that is going to be comfortable for you.
The reason why the push-up is far better than the bench press for improving upper body strength is because the push-up does not take out your abdominals, legs and back out of the movement.
It’s also a great exercise for developing overall core strength due to the fact that you are maintaining a plank position throughout the execution of the exercise.
How to: Stand in a plank position by holding the spine neutral (not arched upward, nor bent downward). Push your chest towards and your keep your shoulders joints stabilized by pulling your shoulder blades towards your heels.
Place your palms in a fashion that is comfortable for you and does not cause too much strain on your wrist joints (a lot of people prefer doing push ups on their knuckles) and make sure that you keep your palms and nipple level.
Do not outspread your elbows and make sure that you keep them tucked in to your body (never maintain a 90% angle of your arms because this will necessary strain on your shoulders and take it off your chest and triceps; as well as make the whole exercise much harder to perform with proper form).
When doing push-ups your aim is to keep your whole body straight as an arrow. You would want to make sure that you do not raise your butt in the air or sag it down. This in turn will really put a lot of stress on your abs.
As soon as you start noticing that the exercise is becoming too easy for you and you can pull off 15-30 reps then thats when you need to start adding plates on your back to increase the difficulty of the push-up.
There are a ton of ways in which a push-up can be executed (diamond, wide grip, decline, incline, one foot in the air, clapping, battle rope push-ups, shoulder tap push-up, etc) all of which help you hit different parts of your upper body.
Check out this video to fill your arsenal with 25 variations of the push-up exercise.
A lot of people believe that pull-ups is an exercises that only helps you grow your back, which isn’t far from the truth, this exercise is great for developing the width of your back, working on those wings.
However, everybody seems to forget about the immense impact that it has on your pulling strength (which will help you perform better in any exercise that requires a pulling motion) and how much they help you develop bigger arms, helps you work your chest from a different angle (it genuinely works your chest, a bit, but it still does), core strength which you use to balance your body so that you don’t swing forward and backward, and, of course, make those guns pop.
How to: Grab on to a pull-up bar with your palms facing away forward (away from your body). Stabilize your shoulder blades and make sure that you do not shrug them. Bring your chin above the bar and bring yourself down in a controlled matter.
Try to avoid swinging! In the beginning you can use negative sets and cheat reps to develop the necessary strength to execute this exercise perfectly.
But after you’ve worked long and hard enough and you’ve gathered the necessary power to do everything the way it was meant to be, that’s when you need to start thinking about maintaining your form.
This does not mean that you should jiggle around from the get-go, but you are allowed to do those swings more at the start ’till you’re still teaching yourself how to perform the exercise. Try your best to maintain proper form throughout.
Some people swing themselves so that they can perform the kipping pull-ups, which target the middle back a bit more, but we don’t want that now, our aim with these exercises so to develop our upper body strength and achieve balanced growth in our back, arms, shoulders, and even chest area.
The cool thing about the exercise is that there are hundred variations of it (remember, start with the classical pull-up so that you build up the necessary strength and then start spicing things up so that you start challenging your body more with variations of the same exercise):
- Wide grip pull ups – so that you are working more on the width of your back, focusing stress on your lats.
- Palms facing inwards – you are focusing more on your biceps contracting and your Infraspinatus (which is the upper section of your lats.
- Kipping pull-ups – activating more your middle back
- Muscle ups – activating more muscles simultaneously (your chest and triceps)
- Diamond pull-ups – to work more on your back’s thickness and width
- Towel grip pull-ups – to work more on your forearms and grip strength
- Paralel pull-ups (with our without V handle) – focus more on your arms’ brachialis (a muscle located between the biceps and triceps that once worked on helps you get bigger arms).
And there are many, many more ways to do this exercise! And what is furthermore you can add more weigh by using a belt or a weighted vest to make the exercise more challenging as you progress.
If you believe that you cannot do pull-ups because of your lack of strength *coughs, pussy* then you need to check out this video by the legendary “Buff Dudes” about 3 easy exercises that will help you build up the necessary power to pull of a pull-up.
5. Barbell Curls
We’ve always tried our best to uncover the secret to well developed biceps muscles when it was sitting, or should I say standing, in front of us all this time – the standing barbell curl.
As if you’ve probably noticed the formula for improved muscle growth is using exercises that allow you to use heavy weight.
The standing barbell curl is no different.
It’s a perfect way to start your workout as you can use your untapped energy to curl that heavy weight and really stress the crap out of your biceps, pushing it to grow.
This movement is also a perfect way to work on your grip strength and, again, helps you improve your core strength (because you are maintaining your balance constantly with the use of your abdominals and lower back to ensure that you do not fall over; the location of the barbell (being at the upper axis of the body) only makes the whole balance game even harder).
This is also one of the few exercises that allows you to go heavy and yet benefit from the full range of motion (FRM). It’s also a great exercise to work on your pulling strength to further benefit you when executing other exercises.
In other words, if you want to see good results in your arms’ growth then you need to integrate this exercise into your workout plan.
How to: Grab the barbell with your arms shoulder width apart. Keep your back straight, chest pointing towards, keep your legs slightly bent with your feet firmly pressed against the ground (to maintain your balance) and your shoulder blades pushed back.
When lifting the weight upward you would want to make sure that your body remains static throughout the whole range of movement. If you start jerking your body you automatically take away the point of pressure away from your biceps and place it on your spine and other parts of the body.
Your aim is move ONLY your elbows to control the weight when lifting it up and lowering it down.
Make sure that you do not curl the weight way too high (to the point where your elbows start to move towards) because you start taking away the weight pressure from your biceps and letting them rest.
The same goes when lowering the weight, you want to keep your biceps under constant pressure, if you lower the weight or raise it to the point where you don’t feel that pressure anymore, then that means that you are giving your biceps a small rest and putting the weight somewhere else.
Do not pull the weight towards your body and do not push your elbows backwards!
There is nothing wrong with doing that, but what you’re doing is you are taking away the pressure from your short head of the biceps and placing it only on your long head. The main reason why the standing barbell curl is such a good mass building exercise is because it trains both the long and short head of the biceps at the same time, ensuring even growth.
This is also why you are capable of curling much heavier, you are using your bicep’s full capacity.
Just keep your arms at body level.
*giggles* This video should serve as proof of how NOT to do barbell curls! Seriously, though, unless you want an injured back, never do that type of movement!
I love dips! Dips is the best form of movement that will help you develop your shoulders, chest, triceps and even your back’s thickness. And most importantly it’s a great way to improve your pushing strength.
This is another exercise where you can go super heavy, which will not only help you improve your performance when bench pressing, but will also impact your pectoral and arm growth greatly.
READ MORE: IS SORENESS NECESSARY FOR MUSCLE GROWTH?
How powerful are dips for building mass, you ask?
So powerful that all of those guys and girls who practice street fitness (where they only use bodyweight exercises) are capable of developing insanely defined pectoral, shoulder and tricep muscles.
Most importantly, dips allow you to stretch your chest like no other exercise! This is the primary reason why this exercise is such a powerful tool for developing a wider upper body, mainly wider chest.
Furthermore, it’s a great exercise for working your shoulders from all angles and helps you increase shoulder flexibility.
At the bottom of the movement your deltoid muscles are completely stretched, which in return improves their flexibility. Keep in mind that shoulder strength is one of your top priorities if you are trying to improve muscle mass strength because your deltoids are in the center of multiple exercises.
And let’s not forge that it’s training your abdominal muscles as you are doing your best to not swing back and forward.
How to: Dips can be modified so that there is more emphasis falling on your chest (chest dips) or on your horseshoe (triceps dips).
Chest dips – You would want to position yourself on some parallel bars (nowadays referred to as the dipping station).
If you can position the handle bars (which you probably can) make sure that you start off with shoulder width. If you believe you have the necessary strength to pull of wide grip dips then be my guest (wide grip dips will allow you to stretch your chest even more because your arms are more far apart allowing you to go further down and flare out your elbows even more, it does require more strength to pull off, though).
Tuck your legs in (this is not mandatory but it really helps) and try to crunch yourself towards. If you believe that this methodology is uncomfortable, then you don’t have to do it. All you need to remember is that when you are emphasizing on your chest with this exercise you would want to lean forward when you are dropping yourself down so that you achieve that full stretch in your pectoral area.
On your way down make sure that you flare out your elbows a bit, just enough so that you feel a good stretch in your chest.
You would want to keep that muscle mind connection and make sure that as you start pushing yourself upward you use your chest primarily (a lot of people tend to find it hard to understand this and use their triceps’ at full capacity to push the weight upward). The majority of the muscle that will be working on the push will be your triceps, of course, but focus on using your chest as much as you possibly can.
As you reach the top (the starting position) make sure that you flex your chest, so that you achieve the maximum benefit out of the exercise and remember to not lock your elbows at the top because that will transfer the weight from your chest and triceps to your elbow joints increasing chances of injury.
Triceps dips – Here is where you would want to make sure that the bars are set at shoulder width apart. You don’t want to stretch the chest as much as you did during the chest dips and you want to focus more on your pushing strength of your horseshoes.
Instead of flaring out your elbows you would want to retain your elbows close to your body as well as remaining your torso in an upright position (instead of leaning forward). This takes away the stress from your chest and transfers it to your triceps. Your chest and shoulders are still going to be trained during this type of exercise but as secondary muscles.
Here’s Scott Herman’s video for better visualizing the difference between the chest dip and the triceps dip.
If you want to develop a strong upper body you need to start thinking about your lower body as well. Squats is and will always be the best exercise for leg strength and growth. It’s also a remarkable exercise that helps you work on your core strength, skyrockets your metabolic rate and improves testosterone production (this is understandable considering the fact that the exercise trains all of the lower body muscle groups, which are all major muscle groups (quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus) and are about 40% of your body, meaning that with one exercise you are training 40% of your body’s capacity).
How to: Squats is another exercise that can be done in many ways to hit the same muscles from different angles – if your legs are more far apart and your toes are pointing outward then you are putting more strain on your inner thighs; the position of your feet will greatly determine the impact that the exercise will have.
However, for the time being we are focusing our attention toward the neutral/classical squats.
Start off by locating the nearest squat rack and if you don’t know how one looks like then what you need to do is look around and locate the nearest place where somebody is doing standing barbell curls (that was a joke, don’t do that).
Place the barbell on top of your traps. With legs at hip width apart. The chest should be up and head facing forward. Descend by flexing the knees. On the way down focus on keeping the weight on the front of the heel. Lower the weight down to the point where your legs form a a bit smaller than 90 degree angle. Push yourself up by using your quadriceps and make sure that you do not jiggle your knees, keeping them straight. Along with your knees your back needs to be in neutral position, not arched nor sloppy.
8. Barbell Rows
Another great exercise that emphasizes on pulling strength and along with that helps you develop the thickness of your back muscles. It’s also a great exercise for your traps.
There are hundred of ways that this exercise can be down – barbell, dumbbell, alternating dumbbell rows, neutral palms, palms facing inward, long bar rows (my favorite), etc.
Even though this is ultimately the same form of an exercise and it still trains the same muscle group, it trains it differently with each variation, allowing you to fully shock the muscles and force them to grow.
It’s also a really good movement that helps you work on your stability/core strength.
How to: All of these variated methods of doing rows are done pretty much the same way, with small tweaks here and there, so by explaining the classical barbell row you will get an initial idea of how every other form of this movement will be executed.
Start by gripping the barbell at shoulder width with your palms facing down. Bend your knees slightly for support and bring your torso forward. Lift the weight up (similar movement to the deadlift) and lower it a bit to the point where you, while keeping your back straight, are almost parallel to the floor. You would want to keep your head up as well.
The bar should hang directly in front of you and your arms will be hanging perpendicular to the floor and torso.
All of this was describing your starting position.
Now, by keeping your torso stationary and your back straight, bring the barbell toward you. Keep your elbows close to your body, not flared out, and focus on flexing your back as you bring the barbell closer to your body and hold for a brief moment.
When lowering the weight you would want to lower it in a controlled fashion.
9. Bench Press
This exercise is so famous that whenever somebody speaks about going to the gym, the first exercise that pops into his/her head is bench press. Without doubt it has earned its place as one of the best measures for crude strength.
The bench press is an amazing exercise for working on your pushing strength and really helps you grow your upper body strength in general. This is due to the fact that it activates the three muscle groups responsible for your sheer strength – chest, triceps, and shoulders.
There are a thousand ways that the bench press can be altered so that there so more stress falling on different parts of your chest (wide grip, incline bench, decline bench, close grip bench, reverse grip, dumbbell, plate close grip, etc) or to emphasize more on your triceps (close grip). It is, again, one of those exercise that allows you pile a lot of weight and is a perfect way to start your chest workout/triceps workout.
The bench press, at least in my opinion, is not as great of an exercise as the dips for improving your muscle mass growth, it doesn’t really help you grow much in size, but it sure as hell boosts your strength, A LOT!
This does not mean that if your aim is to grow bigger you are not suppose to do bench presses, on the contrary, you MUST integrate this exercise into your workout routine if you’re planning to see any good results. It will not help you grow as much as the dips mainly because it does not allow your pectorals to be stretched as much as dips allow you to, nevertheless, bench press is an awesome exercise for working on your chest and gaining crazy amounts of strength.
How to: lie under a bench pressing station. Grab the barbell at shoulder width. Make sure you’ve racked a comfortable weight so that you will be able to pull of at least 6-8 reps. Lower the barbell to the point where the bar is about an inch away from your chest (the reason why you don’t want to touch your chest when doing the exercise is because as soon as you do that you are automatically taking away the stress out of your chest and you’re resting your muscles, but not touching your chest you are maintaining that constant tension on your muscles for maximum results). Make sure that you keep your elbows close to your body and that you flare out your elbows, but not under a 90 degree angle, if you do that, you’ll be targeting your shoulders and not your chest and you might end up damaging your deltoids.
Make sure that when lowering the bar it is at nipple level, push your shoulder blades back a bit and push your chest forward, all of this will ensure that you get a maximum stretch out of the exercise and consequently help you grow those cushions you have on your chest.
This is really important to remember. On your last set a lot of people, what they do is, they bring the weight up and along with the motion of pushing the weight up they place the weight back. The reason why you would want to avoid doing this is because you 1) may damage your shoulder really badly; and 2) you are taking away a huge chunk of the weight pressure from your chest. You would want to push the weight up as you would normally do and then hang the barbell back.
Check out these 5 mistakes that you want to avoid when doing the bench press!
If your aim is to improve your muscle growth then you really need to integrate these 9 exercise and make sure that you execute 2 or 3 exercises at least every week.
They will help you improve your strength, which will help you perform better during other exercises, boost testosterone production because you are targeting multiple muscles at once, improve your metabolic rate for the same reason, and most importantly, because the listed movements allow you to rack up more weight, it will lead to some insane muscle growth and development.
What you can do now is customize your workouts and make sure that you add these babies somewhere in there and most importantly don’t forge to pat yourself on the back as you just read through a 5000+ article!
I hope I have managed to help you in some way and if you have any propositions or any queries don’t forget to write them down in the comment section below!
Also, sharing is caring, guys! It would really help the blog grow if you were to share it around with friends or family. Plus, it’s a really helpful article and the more people know about this type of information, the better!