My Favorite Top Ten Exercises For Building Muscle and Power
After 35 plus years of working out and exercising, you know that I do have my favorite, top ten exercises, right! So, without further ado, here they are, in no particular order:
- Incline Dumbbell Presses. Nothing sweeter. Set the bench at about a 30 degree angle. Get the dumbbells up and start with the inside bells touching where your pecs and delts meet. Hold the outside bells a little higher. Arch your back a little, so that your chest is high. Press the bells upward; bringing them together so the dumbbells touch at top. There is no arc, just press straight up and in, as you go up. Inside bells touch gently at top and then you lower. Bring it down to where you began with the inside bells touching where the pecs and delts meet. Throughout the whole movement, outside bells (your pinkie) are slightly higher and your back is arched. The stretch at the bottom, the contraction at top, nothing beats it for the chest. At around 80 to 90lbs dumbbells, get a spotter. Past a 100lbs bells, definitely get a spotter. And be careful, movement has to be slow and steady, under control. If you can’t do it right, it’s a dangerous movement, so do not.
- Front squats. Okay, no finer movement for working the entire length of the quadriceps, gluts, hips, and everything connecting it, with all due respects to deep squats, etc. Assuming you have access to power rack, step up and rest the barbell across your chest and shoulders. Keep your chest high and barbell right where your neck and collar bone are. Bring your arms up and under the bar, crisscrossing your hands. Right hand grabbing the bar by your left shoulder and vice versa. Elbows are up, higher than your shoulders. Under control, step back and step onto a 2X4 under your heels. Start position is with heels up about 2 inches, elbows high, back straight, eye straight ahead. Descend slowly. Eyes stay on the same point. So, as you descend you are looking up – this will help keep your back straight. Go full squat. At bottom, do not stop, just come right back up. If this movement seems awkward, practice with empty bar until the movement seems comfortable. It is worthwhile, done right, the pump, ache – just beautiful.
- Stiff Legged Dead lifts. Not straight leg. Man, back when, we used to grab a barbell, get up on bench, lock our legs out, and just bent forward and stretched until the barbell hit our toes. Crazy. This dead lift is different. Start like a regular dead lift. Hand grip, over – under – whatever, does not matter. With hips down, head up, dead lift the weight in a smooth motion. Standing straight up, bend your knees a few degrees – maybe 5 degrees. Looking straight ahead, with a slight arch in your back, bend forward, keeping your knees stiff. You will feel a stretch in your hamstrings, gluts that is just awesome. Done right, you will only be able to lower the weight just past your knees. Do about 10 to 12 reps, and then gently lower to the ground on last rep by bending your knees.
- Bent over rows (Dorian Yates Style). Easy, you can build up to a lot of weights quickly on this one. But on that same note, be careful with form. Start position. Knees bent, hips down. Back arched and angle at about 70 degrees (okay, okay, I have never used a protractor to check what my angle was – guestimate). Imagine yourself a plane taking off. That’s the angle. Hang your arms straight down; your hands should be at about your knee area. Adjust your back angle and/or butt position accordingly. Start position okay – reach down and grab the barbell, bring it to your start position. With your body tight, flexed, and immovable – pull the weight to your waist with POWER. Your grip can be overhand, or for an extra inch of movement, underhand. Alternate. Do not; I repeat do not go weight crazy and start heaving the weight up. If you cannot hold the weight for a sec in the top position, flexing your lats like crazy, the weight is too heavy. Drop the poundage and do it right. Your lats, traps, lower back, hips, gluts, hams, grip; biceps all will thank you for it.
- Alternating Dumbbell Curls. Really simple. Stand with dumbbells at your side. Curl one side. Let it down. Curl your other side. Let it down. Repeat. Me, I like to bring my elbows forward as I curl, so my top position, the dumbbells end up being slightly higher than my delts and elbow forward of my body. I know a lot of articles talk about keeping the upper arm glued to your side and that is good advice. I just like the feel of the contraction and power my way.
- Dips on a V bar. Not really crazy about doing dips on regular straight bars (i.e. parallel bars) but on a V bar. Oh, Oh, Oh – the stretch at the bottom is so sweet and the contraction is phenomenal. I think it is due to how the elbows travel. With the regular parallel bars, the elbows stay close the body in the up and down plane. With the V bar, the elbows travel out and in the down position the arms are straight out from the body. The Stretch is just brutal in a good way. Between this exercise and the incline dumbbell presses, do you really need anymore? I did not think so!
- Power Cleans. Have you noticed most of my favorite exercises are compound movements that really affect the whole body (even the curls to an extent)? Dead lift the barbell up. Standing straight up, with back slightly arched with eyes straight ahead – bend the knees until the barbell is at knee level. Almost as low, but not quite, as the start position for the bent over rows. From the position with barbell right above the knees, in a smooth movement, pull the weight up and as the barbell clears the chest, flip your hands and finish with the barbell across your shoulders, as though you were about to do a military press. But instead, lower it to your knees and do about 10 to 12 reps. It is just a whole body movement, strength builder!
- Barbell Lunges. The abductors, the gluts, hams, calves, and everything connecting it. Your posture, lower back, shoulders, chest. This is a just wreck your whole body with one movement exercise (wreck in a good way). So for a while, I only did lunges and front squats. I am not a competitive bodybuilder, I am just some lawn mowing guy next door beating back the hands of time. Two exercises per body part works for me. Easy exercise to do. Stand with barbell across your back. Step forward. If it is your first time, lunge out no more than about 3 feet. Make sure your knee travels directly over your foot as you lower yourself. So step out with your right foot, as you do so, bend your right knee and drop your left knee. As your left knee comes close to hitting the floor (do not let it), push back with your right knee back into the standing position. Repeat with left knee. Practice without weights first until you are very comfortable with the movement.
- Standing Military Presses. I do not know why they call it military presses? Easy. Barbell on a power rack. Step up, pick the weight off the rack and step back. Standing straight up with back slight arched, step one leg back about a foot for balance and stability. Press straight up. Love it. It is all about power. Keeping your feet staggered, away 2 feet apart with one foot about a foot behind with knees slight bent eliminates any inadvertent attempt at cheating.
- Lastly, Dumbbell shrugs. Nothing says power to me like a set of huge traps. And traps are really easy to build. Plus this exercise is so easy to do and get strong. Pick up a couple dumbbells, stand with back straight and knees slightly bent. Touch your delts to your ears. Be forewarned, get wrist straps. You will get strong quickly, maybe even to where your trap strength will completely outpace your grip strength.