Most guys start working out to get bigger and gain more confidence in their bodies. Starting off though a lot of people go into the gym and don’t really know what they’re doing. I was the same way. I started off thinking I had to do a lot of isolation exercises like bicep curls, chest flies and leg extensions to make myself grow. The mindset I had was that I had to focus on each individual muscle group and give it lots of attention so I could get bigger overall. Now that I’ve been working out for a while I know what exercises my body responds best to and that’s compound exercises.
Now I always base my workouts around compound movements because I always get the best results with them. Compound movements recruit the most amount of muscle possible so you can lift the most amount of weight possible. They also mimic natural movement pattern so the body responds to them very well. Isolation exercises just don’t cut it for getting overall size. The best exercises to use are the all the basic movements that all the greatest bodybuilders and fitness models have been using for years. They are squats, dead lifts, bench press, overhead press, chin ups, dips and barbell rows. These are the exercises a good size building workout program should be based around.
If you are just a beginner I would recommend just focusing on building up your compound exercises for now. This will give you a good foundation for strength, mobility, functionality and size as long as you’re stretching as well. Here is a sample workout that is good for building both size and strength.
Monday: Push Day
Squats – 5×5
Bench press – 5×5
Overhead press 5×5
Dips or weighted dips – 5×5
Tuesday: Pull Day
Dead lifts – 5×5
Barbell rows – 5×5
Chin ups or weighted chin ups – 5×5
Farmers walks – 5 sets 30 sec to 1 min (If there’s not enough room in your gym for these just stand in place and hold the weights for the same amount of time. If you want a better idea of how to do these take a look at my post on Exercises For Bigger Traps.)
Wednesday: Rest Day
Thursday: Push Day
Friday: Pull Day
This workout does not have to be done strictly with 5 sets of 5 this is just if you’re more focused on getting stronger. That’s not to say that using these rep and set ranges won’t also make you bigger but the focus is just on getting stronger. You can experiment with different rep and set ranges such as 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps or 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps for more focus on hypertrophy (size). The days can be alternated as well each week if you want. Just be sure to include good warm ups and stretches to so your form isn’t compromised.
It’s surprising how many people don’t realize the benefits of dead lifts. A dead lift in its most basic form is simply just picking something up off the floor. Humans have always had to pick things up off the floor or ground and we always will so it makes sense to train for that movement. Besides being one of the most basic movements of the human body, the dead lift is especially useful in this day in age for improving posture. When a dead lift is performed correctly the muscles of the upper back should all be engaged to keep the shoulders back and keep the shoulder blades down and together. This means if you have poor posture in your upper back then you’ll have to do corrective stretches and exercises to improve that before you do the actual movement. So you’re already going to be improving your body before you even do the dead lift. That’s how good dead lifts are. Continuing to perform proper dead lifts over time will further improve your posture as well.
Another thing that a number of gym goers are missing out on is the overall increase in strength that you get from dead lifts. A lot of people think that you do dead lifts if you want to work your back or legs but a heavy set of dead lifts will hit every muscle group. A heavy dead lift performed with good form requires not only proper engagement of the hips, legs and back but it also requires a ridiculous amount of stabilization from the muscles surrounding your shoulders, in your upper back, in your arms and especially your core. Needless to say doing heavy dead lifts will get you all around strength pretty quickly. What’s great about it too is this strength will carry over into pretty much every other lift.
There are so many workout programs out there to choose from. It can often be overwhelming trying to sort through them all to find which ones will benefit you and which ones won’t. Sometimes it’s just better to make up your own workout routine and experiment to find out what changes to make to optimize it. When it comes to making up your own workout routine there are a few things you have to base it around.
First of all your goals. Now your goals can change which means your workout routine can change. Whatever your goal is right now, whether it be to get stronger, get bigger, or shed some fat your current workout routine will be based around that. If you’re purely looking to build up your strength the best kind of workout routine to do would involve a lot of heavy lifting. It should consist of mostly compound exercises and the reps should be in the 1 to 6 range. If you go higher you’ll still be able to increase your strength but not as quickly as lifting as much weight as you can for a few reps. If you’re trying to focus only on strength don’t worry about isolation exercises or even body part splits just focus the exercises that allow you to lift as much weight as possible.
Another factor of your routine is the order of your exercises. A good workout routine will have the exercises most taxing on the nervous system at the beginning of the workout. These would be things such as olympic lifts, box jumps, broad jumps and so on. The beginning exercises should be the ones that require a lot of power and explosiveness. The next exercises should be your big power movements like the squat and dead lifts. These don’t require as much explosiveness as say a power clean or power snatch would but they are still more taxing on the nervous system than most other exercises. Next on the list would be most of your other exercises like lateral raises, curls, tricep push downs and so on. Basically all of your more isolation exercises would be next. Next would be your cardio exercises and any sort of stretching or cool down exercises would obviously be last. You should still incorporate some warm up and stretching exercises before you start your workout.
So this is the exercise order your workout routine should have:
1 – power/explosive movement (power cleans)
2 – power/strength movement (front squats)
3 – hypertrophy/isolation movement (lateral raises)
4 – cario/cool down (treadmill or ab exercises)
Now not all workout routines will look like this, this is more of a general guideline. Your workout routine might only have one or two types of exercises. For example a routine focused on strength will have mostly power/strength movements and a routine focused on explosiveness will have mostly power/explosive movements. Also the exercises in power/strength and exercises in hypertrophy/isolation can kind of mix together. What I mean is squats could be used more for hypertrophy by doing more reps per set even though they are still considered a power/strength movement. Also some isolation exercises like bicep curls can be used for strength by doing less reps per set.
As I said these are just guidelines. The bottom line is you need to experiment with different workout routines to figure out what works best for you and your goals.
Chin ups and pull ups are both great exercises to work the back, biceps and shoulders. They are also very functional exercises as well. Being able to pull your body up to something has been a very useful ability for us humans since we’ve been around. Such tasks as climbing trees or cliffs to get food required the ability to pull the body up. Nowadays however most people aren’t doing these things, our food is more easily obtainable. A lot of people though would like to be able to do more chin ups. There a few things that can help with that.
One way to be able to do more chin ups is to simply do more chin ups. What I mean is do more total chin ups whether it’s in a number of sets in your workout or just throughout the day. That will most certainly increase the number of chin ups you can do. If you can’t even do one chin up though, you can use assisted chin ups or negative chin ups. Assisted chin ups would using a chair or resistance band to allow you to hold up some of your body weight with one leg or both legs. Don’t use too much legs to get yourself up or you’re ability to do a chin up will barely improve at all. Put as much of your weight as possible on your arms. Now, negative chin ups are just what they’re name implies, the negative part of the chin up or the part where you’re going down. This is also know as the eccentric part of the exercise and it’s always the easier part to do. To do this for chin ups use jump up or use a chair to get up to the top of the chin up so your chin is over the bar. Then slowly let yourself down until your arms are fully extended. The goal here is to let yourself down as slow as possible and again try to accumulate a lot of reps.
Some exercises you can do besides chin ups to improve your chin up strength are bent over rows and dead lifts. If you’re only focusing on chin ups (so your palms are facing you) you’ll want to use the same grip for bent over rows. Theses two exercises will increase your back strength tremendously and combining them with actual chin ups or variations will have you banging out lots of chin ups in no time.
Good grip strength is important for pretty much any lift so it makes sense to also train those muscles. In most cases during a set of a particular exercise you’ll be gripping the bar for the entire set. When your grip fails it’s probably going to be from lack of endurance. Based on this it makes the most sense to train your grip for endurance. The best way to do this is to hold on to something heavy for as long as you can. This could be in the form of dead hangs or the you do the opposite which would be just hanging from a chin up bar for as long as you can. A dead hang is simply just performing a dead lift and once you lock out at the top stay there and hold on to the bar for as long as you can. You could also do this with some heavy dumbbells as well.
One thing you would probably want to avoid if you’re new to lifting is relying on lifting straps. Lifting straps can be great for getting some more reps when your grip would have failed, but using them right from the get go would not allow your grip strength to increase proportionally with the rest of your muscles. It would be best to hold off on them until you’ve built up some decent grip strength.
Your shoulders are used in almost every single lift so it makes sense to stretch them and keep them mobile often. However, when stretching the shoulders you shouldn’t just focus on the muscles of the shoulder like the deltoids and muscles of the rotator cuffs. You have to consider all of the muscles surrounding the shoulder as well because they can also contribute to tightness and imbalances in the shoulders. These muscles include muscles of the neck, chest, back and upper arms. Let’s take a look at some stretches that’ll help loosen up these areas.
Probably the most trained muscle groups are chest and biceps but they are often neglected when it comes to stretching. A great way to stretch the chest is to find a corner (one that is pointing outwards) and start by putting the inside of your arm against one wall of the corner. Position your arm so your upper arm is parallel to the floor and your forearm makes a 90 degree angle with your upper arm. Now try to turn your body away from that arm until you feel a stretch in your pec. A great stretch for your biceps is to start by taking one arm and placing the palm of your hand on a wall so your fingers are pointing down to the floor. Extend your arm all the way and again turn your body away from your arm. Try to spread your fingers out as well. There is another stretch you can try that will actually stretch both muscle groups at the same time. First start by facing the wall with one arm extended away from you and your hand against the wall so your palm is facing away from it. Now with your whole arm against the wall turn your body away from your arm until you can feel a good stretch in both your biceps and pec.
Now while some people make sure to do enough stretching for those muscle groups, they often forget about the muscles surrounding the neck. The muscles on the the back of the neck often become tight from holding the head upright while sitting hunched over all the time. To stretch these muscles first start off standing with good posture while trying to push your arms down to the floor. Your shoulders should be pulled down as low as possible. Tip your head down towards one shoulder until you feel a good stretch in the opposite side of your neck. Do the same on the opposite side and then tip your head down in to the front to stretch the back of your neck. Make sure to keep your arms pushing down to the floor the whole time and maintain good posture.
Another muscle group that should be stretched is the lats. A good way to stretch those is to sit down with your legs straightened out and spread out. Now try to touch the toes of your left food with your right hand and hold it. Then do the same with your right foot and left hand. You should feel a nice stretch in the lats.
When performing these stretches hold them for around 20 seconds and do a couple of sets per stretch. Doing these stretches on a regular basis combined with exercises to strengthen weak muscles around the shoulders should improve your shoulder flexibility and mobility. For some to help bring up weak muscles in your upper back take a look at my post on Exercises For Bigger Traps.