Top 5 Muscle Building Exercises

Here is a list of the top 5 exercises everyone should be doing to get stronger and build muscle mass.  If you aren’t doing them, you better start!  These are not an option, no excuses.  Get it done.

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#1: Deadlift

Nothing makes you feel manlier than stepping over a huge amount of weight and muscling it up off the floor.

In the earlier stages of my training, I made the rookie mistake of ignoring this.  Don’t be like me.

Deadlifting is the best total body exercise you can do.  Most new lifters are weak in the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, back), so immediately putting this into your routine will help bring up your weaknesses.

If you look at some of the strongest and most impressive physiques around, you will notice the size of their upper back.  Deadlifting will build mass on your traps unlike anything else, and having strong glutes and hamstrings will improve your ability in a lot of other areas; jumping, sprinting, squatting, etc.

Another often overlooked benefit of deadlifting is the improvement it will have on your grip strength.  Getting over the bar and picking up heavy sh*t will improve your grip strength exponentially.

muscle building women

#2: Squats

You know how I tell the difference between serious lifters and “pretenders” at the gym?  The size
of their legs and whether or not I ever see them squat.

You want to be strong, you gotta squat.  Quads, abs, glutes, hamstrings, I can’t think of a better lower body exercise to do.

Squatting is an essential part of your routine.  The beauty of squats is the versatility of the exercise. Bodyweight squats, front squats, back squats, zercher squats, jump squats, the list goes on and on.

But we train for strength here, so start with back squats.  Using a box is a good way to get your form down correctly before you progress to free form squatting.

#3: Bench Press

Want to build a big chest?  Get off the pec dec machine, put down the dumbbells and step away from doing flys.

Get under the bar and move some heavy weight.  Bench pressing is king.  And lets face it.  If you are trying to be an alpha male and impress some people, what’s the first thing most people will ask?

“What do you bench?”muscle building

If you have a choice, set the bench to an incline of about 30 degrees.  It’s a bit easier on the shoulders, and helps incorporate more upper chest into the exercise.  A big upper chest is what most people look for in their physique.

Bench pressing is a great upper body exercise, not only because it builds your chest, but also your triceps, shoulders, and forearms.  I never do direct forearm work and I attribute my growth there to doing rep after rep of heavy bench.

Keep adding weight to the bar and improving this lift.  Aim to bench press 1.5x your bodyweight; that’s an honorable accomplishment.

#4: Overhead Press

Picking up heavy weight and pressing it over your head doesn’t get any more Primal than that.

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Shoulders, upper back, triceps, and core strength are just a few of the areas worked by this classic exercise.  If you perform these standing (which you should be), or progress to a full clean and press, you are talking about an awesome total body exercise.

This press is a great example of an exercise you can do with anything, anywhere.  You name it, you can press it.  Odd objects like kegs, sandbags, stones are awesome tools,
or just your standard barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells.

Regardless of how you are performing the exercise, incorporating heavy military presses in your routine will build some serious upper body strength.

**Note**  NEVER perform these presses behind your head.  I know you’ve seen people do it, doesn’t mean you should.  It’s just an injury waiting to happen, unless you are rigidly strict with your form.

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#5 Farmers Carry

Farmer carries will crush you.  If you want to build some serious mental toughness, start performing these.

The beauty of farmer carries is, like the military press, you can do them anywhere, with anything.  Sandbags, jerry cans, kettlebells, dumbells, stones; just pick up something heavy and walk around with it.

Grip strength, your entire back, forearms; they all get worked over doing this exercise.  If you perform these while only carrying an object in one hand, you will work your obliques and core.

At Primal Strength Camp, we try to emphasize this lift because it’s simplicity and versatility yield great benefits for any kind of lifter.

Honorable Mention

“Only 5 exercises?  These possibly can’t be all you need to do!”

Yep, you are right.  There are a number of exercises you should be doing that aren’t on here.  Maybe one day I’ll expand this to a top 10.

So what didn’t make the cut?

  • Pull-ups — You can argue for these over military press.  Either way, you need to be doing these.
  • Pushups — An oldie but a goodie.
  • Snatches — A great power exercise and overall strength builder.
  • High-Pulls — I’m big on building an impressive back.  These will add meat on your traps.
  • Power cleans — Awesome exercise leading up to incorporating the full clean and press into your routine.

Now What??

Start doing these NOW!  If you want to get bigger and stronger, you have to do these on a regular basis.  If you don’t, you will be missing out on some serious gains and you won’t be meeting your potential in the gym.  There is a reason these have been around forever; it’s because they work!



7 thoughts on “Top 5 Muscle Building Exercises”

  1. Yeah man, I agree with #5. I shrugged for years and nothing happened. Then I got some plastic water jugs, filled them with as much sand and water as they would hold, and started carrying them around the yard. Holy crap, my traps and forearms caught on fire and I’ve never been more sore. I was a believer from then on! Also, IMHO pullups are a must. I definitely believe this should be a top 10 list. 😀 Great article, once again!

    1. Thanks John!

      I agree, pullups are awesome. It was hard narrowing this down to a top 5! You gotta make the sacrifice, ya know? 🙂

  2. Hey Tank,

    Like the info and agree but am worrying. I read a lot of stuff about people being uncertain about overhead press. Wouldn’t handstand pushups be just as good, if not better? I’m asking this because a lot of men end up with shoulder issues and from what I’ve read the typical form for overhead press impinges upon the shoulder joint. Am I wrong or what? Just wondering on someone else’s take because BP, deadlift and squats are clearly unable to be argued.

    As a non sequitur, wouldn’t pullups be better than rows, too. For the same reasons as the overhead press and because that exercise actually increases your strength-to-bodyweight ratio. Again, am I wrong here?

    1. There is no substitute for the overhead press. Handstand pushups are great and all, but it’s an entirely different movement. There is no grip strength involved and your range of motion is much less just to name a couple of things (not to mention the different stresses on your core, etc.)

      With that being said, I don’t ever advocate pressing behind your head. When I shoulder press, the bar is always in front of my body.

      As far as pull-ups go, sure you could argue that they are better than rows. I love pull-ups. They are called the upper-body squat for a reason. But with the different row variations, you are improving not only your strength, but your ability to perform the other lifts like deadlifting. Grip strength comes into play here too, as you will improve your much more by doing single arm dumbbell rows versus pull-ups.

      Good comments, and all the exercises have their merits, but some of the time it’s not like comparing apples to apples.

      — Tank

  3. Started doing upper lower after reading your article ditch the bodypart split and I love it. Just have to get over the mentality of having to be sore all the time. I trained bodyparts once a week for years and i finally realize upper lower is better.

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