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Top Exercises For Building Muscle

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Author: Thomas Calkins

You have set your goals, you have an idea of the results you are trying to achieve, and now you want to implement a successful training regime to get the physique of a proper bodybuilder. Exercises are divided up into core exercises, which will always be included in your training plan, and various other optional exercises which you can pepper your routine with.

Altering the exercises you do will help shock the body, and increase muscle mass in your different muscle groups. There is a distinct difference between working towards mass, and generally exercising your body. To increase your mass, you need to use heavy weights, and only do three sets containing eight repetitions each. If your aim is to lose body fat, you will use lighter weights, and do more sets and repetitions. One of the fallacies amongst new gym users aiming to gain mass is that more is better. Well, they are half right! More weight is better, but more sets and reps will actually be detrimental to your efforts.

Bench presses, squats, and deadlifts will be a core part of your workout. The other exercises mentioned can be used to add variability to your plan.

Bench Press

Though this is going to be a fundamental part of your plan, do not devote so much time this exercise that you wind up with a disproportionately large chest and skinny legs!

Body Position - Lie in a firm, balanced way on the bench with the bar directly resting above your nose. Place your feet on the ground comfortably, and ensure your back is in contact with the bench all the way to your buttocks.

Movement - Take hold of the bar, and in a controlled way, bring it down to your mid-chest. Be very sure not to drop the weight on yourself, as this could cause a painful injury. Inhale deeply throughout.

Completion - Using fully extended arms, lock your elbows, and press the bar upwards towards the starting position. The whole exercise should be done at a constant speed to keep your muscles under continuous strain.


This is an effective way to exercise several muscles at one time. It will build your lower body, and eliminate the possibility of chicken legs!

Body Position - Stand with your back to the bar. Try to position your feet a little wider apart than your shoulders. Place your hands comfortably on the bar. Your bar should be located around mid-trapezius height.

Movement - Hold the bar steady, and squat using your hips and the bend of your knees to help you. Your focus should be forward at all times to prevent you falling.

Remember to keep your torso straight to avoid putting strain on your back.

Completion - Rise back up to your starting position using your knees and hips.

Keep exhaling to increase the oxygen levels in your blood. Control your movement carefully throughout.


This will combine your upper and lower body in one solid exercise.

Body Position - Your feet should be slightly wider apart than your shoulders. The bar should rest across the top of your feet. Keep your focus forward, bend your knees, and grab the bar. Your back should be perfectly rigid.

Movement - Maintaining the rigidity of your back, raise the bar. Your arms should be fully extended. If you are tempted to bend your back, you are faced with the strong possibility that you will damage your disks. Power should be coming from the lower body.

Completion - Carefully move the bar through the same motion back to the starting position.


Incline Press

Body Position - Sit in a reclined seat. Whether the seat is adjustable or fixed, your back should be firmly pressed against it. Your feet need to be in full contact with the ground.

Movement - Lower the bar towards the top of your chest at a controlled rate. Be very sure not to drop the weight on yourself, as this could cause a painful injury.

Completion - Lock your elbows, extend your arms, and move the weight back to its starting position. You should feel the muscles in your upper chest working hard.

Decline Press

Body Position - Lie on the bench and secure your feet on the pads provided. Your head will be at a lower angle than your body. Whether you are using a fixed bench or an adjustable one, your back should be making contact with it at all points.

Movement - Lower the bar towards the top of your chest at a controlled rate. You should feel your lower chest muscles straining.

Completion - Move the bar back to the starting position by extending your arms and locking your elbows. The bar should always be perpendicular to the floor. A good spotter will help you perfect this technique.


Bicep Curls

Body position - There are many variations of this exercise you can use, but a curl bar comes highly recommended. Using the grips, clutch the bar in an underhanded manner. Your arms will naturally find the right position this way. Your arms need to be near to full extension with the bar on its rest around thigh height.

Movement - Keeping your elbows in a constant position, raise the bar toward your chest. Your muscles should be squeezed tightly. If your elbows move, this will hinder the impact of the exercise.

Completion - Without letting the bar drop vertically, return the bar to the starting position. It should travel exactly the same path as when you lifted it.

Rope Pulldown

Body Position - Your feet need to be the same distance apart as your shoulders as you face the cable machine. The rope handle should be at a height where when you hold it your arms are still pressed tightly to your sides.

Movement - With your arms tight to your sides, hold the rope handle and pull it directly downwards. Your hands will separate slightly as you complete your movement.

Keep your back and torso rigid, and do not bend over your hands. If you use your body weight to push the weight down, you arms will not get a thorough workout.

Completion - Resist and control the return of the weight to the starting position.

This control is what will increase your muscle mass.


Lateral Pull Down

Body Position - Sit firmly on the chair attached to the overhead cable machine.

Your knees should be comfortably sitting beneath the restraining pad. Grip the handles attached to the lateral bar.

Movement - You can either pull the bar behind or in front of the head. Behind the head is more beneficial as far as the muscles are concerned, but it also increases the likelihood of pulling your shoulder socket.

Completion - In a careful, controlled, steady way, return the bar to the starting position.

Bent over Row

Body Position - Stand sideways on to the bench. Leaving the outer leg on the floor, bend your inner leg and place the knee on the bench. Put your outer hand on the bench, so your body is situated directly over the bench. Use your free hand to pick up the dumbbell which should be on the free side of the bench.

Movement - Pick the weight up from the floor and pull it straight up. This movement should leave it around hip height and slightly in front of your body.

Completion - Control the descent of the weight until it is a few inches from floor level. Do not allow it to bang on the ground.



Body Position - Take a normal stride, freeze, and then extend the stride a little more. One foot should be in front of the other. The knee of the leading foot should rest directly above its accompanying foot. Depending on your level, you can also do this exercise holding a free weight in each palm.

Movement - Keep your focus forward, and use your front knee to lower the trailing knee towards the ground. Do not lean and cause a deficiency in the exercise.

Completion - Straighten both legs to raise your body. Your abdominal muscles and lower back muscles should be utilized to maintain the rigidity of your upper body.

Leg Press

Body Position - Seat your self comfortably on the leg press machine. Your feet should be evenly spaced in the middle of the footpad, and the angle of your knees should slightly exceed 95 degrees.

Movement - Extend your legs slowly, to the point where they almost lock (but don't!) using pressure from your heels. If you use your toes to push, the exercise will not work as you intend it to.

Completion - Carefully, and at a slow pace, return the weight to the starting point.

It should not slam back; you should be resisting it all the way.

This list of different exercises is certainly not exhaustive. However, these are some of the simplest and most effective exercises you can include in your routine. It will be useful to have a variety of options when you become more advanced in your planning, and want to target specific areas to work on.

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