During the Golden Era of Bodybuilding there were specific exercises all men did without question. These were the most essential exercises in their training routine and there was no way around it. The basics are your best ally in life and lifting. The lessons of the iron can always be used in life.
You don’t need any fancy machines to do these exercises. Hell you don’t even need a gym, it can’t get better than that. If you just work on these exercises, you will see results. Without focusing on the basic movements there is no room for the fancy stuff. So if you were excited to get on that bicep isolation machine, work on the contraction and feel the muscle. I hate to burst your bubble but you will have to make a detour on your journey.
Here’s the short list of the best muscle building exercises:
1. Deadlift – “If you aren’t bending, you aren’t lifting”. Lifters like Arnold Schwarzenegger would bend the rod on the deadlift. Nowdays, I rarely see anyone deadlifting. It makes me cry. Use a double overhand grip as long as it dosent start slipping. When the weight gets heavy use an underhand – overhand grip. Few sets with few reps work very well. 5 sets of 2-5 reps works great on the deadlift.
2. Squat – King of all leg exercises. No smith machine needed. You become the machine. Stay tight by squeezing your entire body. When you perform the squat, you need to go parallel or a little below parallel. Squatting all the way down is much better. 5 sets of 5 work great as a blend of strength and muscle. A high rep set of 15-20 reps can also benefit you greatly.
3. Bench Press – Possibly your favorite exercise on a Monday. Take a grip slightly more than your shoulder width. Avoid going too wide and flaring your elbows. Keep the elbows tucked in and the lats engaged. Anchor the shoulder down, squeeze your back against the bench, push your feet on the ground and squeeze the bar tightly.
4. Military Press – Often seen doing sitting. Try power clean the weight and do them standing. Your legs will not assist in anyway and will help you push more weight. Lock out completely and pause on the top for atleast one second.
5. Pull Ups – Use the pull ups to challenge yourself to become stronger. You can add weight by using a weighted vest, chains or plates. Avoid using any strap and work the grip. Your chin should touch the bar on every rep. When you feel you are grinding and not reaching the bar, stop and attack it after a pause. You don’t want to ingrain the motor pattern for grinding. In competition is perfectly fine but in practice each rep should be executed perfectly. Avoid swinging or using any momentum.
6. Farmers Carry – Any form of carry work is excellent. If you don’t have access to strong man equipment or tires, just take a heavy dumbbell and go for a walk in the gym. It can also be done with kettlebells or a heavy stone.
7. Sprinting – If your goal is to burn fat, then reading a magazine or seeing a movie while doing cardio is not the solution. The days of sitting on a stationary bike are over. Sprinting along with biking, running and swimming after your training or on your off days is great.
You must be wondering how many sets and reps per exercise? In which order to perform?
It will be different for everyone depending upon the fitness level and goals. But the main point of this article is to go hard and incorporate these exercises in your routine if you haven’t.
Strength lessons I have learnt that apply to every person and situation:
1. Stick to the big movements, compound lifts. A barbell is all you are ever going to need to transform yourself.
Till you can’t lift your body weight in the given lifts below, your training program should have 80-85% compound lifts.
2. Record everything. You cannot make progress and change unless you measure thoroughly all along the way.
If you think you can remember all your lifting numbers and how many reps you did. You are mistaken, it won’t happen. You need to pen them down or use some fitness app. I’ll suggest writing them down and keeping that phone away while training.
3. Increase your load by no more than 5-pounds a week on any given movement. That’s not a universal truth, and certainly changes with training experience, but you’re always better off being patient.
Don’t try to PR every week and lift at your one rep max. Lift at 70-90% of your one rep max. There are other ways to check strength growth. If you can do more reps of the same weight as done the previous week or be more explosive and move the bar faster. Your strength is increasing
Your program can only comprise of these five lifts and still see increase in strength and muscle.
Training routine example:
Day 1 – Deadlifts and Over Head Press
Day 3 – Bench and Squats
Day 5 – Pulls Ups, Carry Work with Deadlifts or Squats
This is just an example as to how you can add these lifts into your routine.
If you have questions, I have answers. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org