The top five exercises you must be doing to build muscle

If you want to build the kind of muscle which gives you the large, lean, physique you crave, you can’t afford to miss out these tried-and-tested exercises. Incorporate these into your training regime and build solid top-to-toe muscle .

Gym Weights


Well-executed squats build muscle in the lower body – mainly the quads, glutes and hamstrings – but will also hit the core and upper body as your system works to stabilise you and fight against gravity as you power back up from the bottom of the squat. Squats are the ultimate exercise which mimic functional movement (ever seen a toddler squat down to examine something on the ground?) and build muscle size, fitness, power and strength. You can squat with a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells or with no weight at all. You can perform back squats, front squats or squats with a weight held in front of you (goblet) or between your legs (sumo). Vary your stance to work slightly different muscles of the legs.

Beginners squat: bodyweight, goblet or sumo with a single dumbbell

Intermediate squat: low, paused barbell back squat

Advanced squat: barbell front squat, Zercher squat or hack squat



The deadlift is called the King of Exercises for good reason. It works just about every muscle as your body works hard to simply pull a weight off the ground. Sounds simple, but it’s a technical exercise (so make sure someone shows you the ropes) and a tough one. But just because it’s tough, don’t avoid it. Deadlifting builds strength and mass in the hamstrings, glutes, back and arms and will also hit the muscles of the abs and core, traps and quads. Oh and did we mention that deadlifting makes you look pretty impressive in the gym? Serious lifters deadlift.

Three deadlifts to try:

standard deadlift with loaded barbell

straight legged deadlift with a light barbell or dumbbells

low rep sumo deadlift with a loaded barbell


Bench press

Moving on to the upper body, a standard bench press is a good way to build mass and depth in the pecs. Bench pressing will also work the shoulders and, to some extent, the triceps. Get someone experienced to show you how to set up the movement, using your feet to anchor you and your upper body to drive the movement. Once you’ve mastered the flat barbell bench press, include other pressing movements in your programme too in order to prevent plateaus and keep your training effective:

Flat dumbbell presses

Incline barbell press

Incline dumbbell press

Press ups

Cable flys


Pull up

There’s nothing like pull ups to build upper body strength and to develop the wide back and impressive v-taper we all crave. Don’t cheat yourself: aim for overhand (palms facing away), wide grip pull ups rather than underhand chin ups. These are optimal for back size, not bicep strength. Practice makes perfect so perform them regularly and you’ll build strength fast.

Can’t do a pull up? Work up to it…

jump up, catch the bar and control the negative (lowering) portion of the movement

have your training partner support your waist with their hands to give you a push up, then let go as you lower down.


Overhead press

To round off your top exercises for building muscle, you need an overhead press. Not only is the overhead press a big, compound exercise which engages your entire body, but it hits the shoulders hard to give you an enviable shape (in and out of clothes!) Overhead presses can be done with a barbell or barbells, seated or standing and with various tweaks to technique. Here are our favourites:

seated dumbbell overhead press

standing barbell overhead press

seated dumbbell Arnie press

advanced move: sit on the floor within a power rack with your legs out in front of you. Have a loaded barbell at shoulder height. From here, press the bar overhead. This isolated move is challenging and forces you to use your shoulders rather than momentum.

Tags: , ,

About Nicola Joyce

Nicola Joyce is a freelance journalist, features writer and copywriter who has been writing about sport and fitness for magazines, newspapers, books and corporate clients since 2004. Formerly an endurance athlete who has swum the English Channel (twice!) and taken part in long triathlons, running races and cycle sportives, she is now a competitive bodybuilder who has taken part in several British Finals of drug-tested natural bodybuilding federations. When she's not training or writing, she blogs about writing, fitness, sport and training at
No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.