While everyone who goes to the gym to lift weights has their own set of specific goals, one common thread that runs through most is the desire to get bigger and stronger. Bodybuilders are unique bunch in that they look to build every muscle in the body to the greatest possible degree, while trying to make sure everything remains in perfect proportion and symmetry. Because of this they must utilize a myriad of specific and varied exercises for each body part, so that every muscle fiber and motor unit pool is exhausted at every workout.
It is not uncommon for a bodybuilder to spend 5-7 days per week in the gym, for up to two hours per session, sculpting and refining their physiques. However, not everyone has that kind of time, nor the desire to look like a walking anatomy chart.
That being said, here are my top-10 “best bang for your buck” muscle mass and strength building movements. You’ll still have to work hard on these exercises to add another X (or two) to the L on your t-shirts, but you won’t have to spend hours in the gym each day to be the biggest/baddest “action hero” on your block.
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1. Bench Press
Main Muscles Worked: Pectorals/Anterior Deltoids/Triceps
*Quick Tip: For maximum stimulation of the chest, position your torso on the bench with a slight arch in the lower back; the ribcage held high; and the shoulders shrugged back and downward.
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2. Barbell Pullover
Main Muscles Worked: Upper Pectorals/Lats/Teres Major/Triceps
*Quick Tip: Whether looking to target the chest or lats, get the most out of this movement by using a weight that allows you a full and deep stretch while keeping the hips down.
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3. Bent Over BB Row
Main Muscles Worked: Lats/Rhomboids/Mid-Traps/Rear Delts/Lower Back/Biceps/Brachialis/Forearms
*Quick Tip: Use a wide/overhand grip to work the muscles of the upper back most strongly, and a closer/underhand grip to target the belly of the lats (for more of a V-shape).
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Main Muscles Worked: Lower Back/Quads/Hips/Glutes/Hams/Upper Traps/Forearms
*Quick Tip: Deadlift off the floor if your focus is on sports performance, overall strength, and greater power. Deadlift in a rack or Smith Machine anywhere from mid shin to knee height if the main goal is increased muscle mass in the back.
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Main Muscles Worked: Lats/Rhomboids/Mid-Traps/Rear Delts/Biceps/Brachialis/Forearms
*Quick Tip: Vary grip widths and the angle of the torso when pulling to effectively stimulate all areas of the back musculature.
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Main Muscles Worked: Quads/Hams/Hips/Glutes/Lower Back
*Quick Tip: Do not sacrifice proper range of motion in order to put more weight on the bar. Make sure that every rep is controlled and reaches a depth where the thighs are parallel to the floor, or even a few inches below.
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7. Leg Press
Main Muscles Worked: Quads/Hams/Hips/Glutes
*Quick Tip: Vary your foot width and height on the platform workout to workout (or even set to set) to emphasize different areas of the thighs.
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8. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Main Muscles Worked: Shoulders/Triceps/Upper Pectorals
*Quick Tip: To put the greatest emphasis on the anterior delts, press the DB’s with the palms facing each other. To work the anterior delts but also bring the lateral heads greatly into play, press with the elbows held back in line with the torso and palms facing forward.
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9. Upright Row
Main Muscles Worked: Shoulders/Traps/Biceps/Brachialis/Forearms
*Quick Tip: Utilize a shoulder width (or even wider) grip, while raising the bar to about nipple level to hit the shoulders to a greater degree. To target the traps, keep the hands closer together and raise the bar as high as chin.
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Main Muscles Worked: Pectorals/Triceps/Anterior Deltoids
*Quick Tip: Lean the torso forward during this movement to target the chest. Keep the torso upright to engage more of the triceps.