Even though most of my writing on this site has revolved around the human microbiome, disease, weight loss, and nutrition, the fact is that a lot of my practical experience stems from strength training. I just haven’t gotten to the topic until know. Since I’ve been training on my own and coaching clients for so long, I sometimes forget that the basic principles of exercise aren’t common knowledge. However, when I actually take a look around at what people are doing at the gym, I clearly acknowledge that most folks do a lot of weird stuff. So, let’s just start with the basics: Which exercises are best for building muscle and strength?
One of the biggest misconceptions people seem to have when it comes to strength training is that they have to follow a special program and do a bunch of exercises to really see results. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Both optimal strength and muscle gains result from basing your training around a couple of compound lifts that engage large muscle groups. This is common knowledge among strength coaches and experienced strength trainees, but it’s something a lot of regular gym goers seem unaware of.
Compound exercises put resistance on natural human movements, such as squatting, pulling, and pressing
If you learn proper technique in a couple of compound lifts, start relatively easy, and slowly increase the resistance, you really need very few, if any, secondary exercises to see great results. However, I want to emphasise that technique is essential. A lot of lifters (even more experienced ones) don’t show anything that resemble good technique. Getting hold of a good coach to teach you proper technique and prescribe the right mobility and assistance work for your needs is essential. I also can’t stress enough how important it is to actually increase the resistance. One of the basic principles of strength training is progressive overload, and if you keep playing around with the same weight, reps, and sets every workout you won’t get stronger.
It doesn’t matter if you are lean or overweight, young or old, man or women… Everyone can and should strength train. However, some people have an injury or inability that hinders them from doing certain exercises. I also want to make it perfectly clear that a lot of trainees don’t have the necessary mobility, strength and/or technique to start with these lifts before they have worked on their movement pattern with an experienced coach.
Including the 6 exercises below (or some variation of them) in your training program is one of the keys to long-term progress. You don’t have to include all of them at once, but making sure that you keep progressing in the major lifts over months and years is essential if you want to build strength and muscle. Other great compound movements include clean and jerk, but these exercises are more directed towards power than strength.
Note: The pictures are their for illustrative purposes. I don’t necessarily teach the exercises with that type of technique.
Some of the main muscles involved: Erector spinae, adductor magnus, quadriceps, soleus, gluteus maximus, and hamstrings.
Some of the main muscles involved: Quadriceps, gluteus maximus, adductor magnus, soleus, and hamstrings.
Some of the main muscles involved: Deltoids, triceps brachii, and trapezius.
4. Bench press
Some of the main muscles involved: Pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi, triceps brachii, and deltoids.
Some of the main muscles involved: Latissimus dorsi, brachialis, biceps brachii, and trapezius.
Some of the main muscles involved: Pectoralis major, deltoids, and triceps brachii.