You’ll hear us say again and again that there’s no one size fits all in bodybuilding and that each individual’s training needs and styles will be different when it comes to new muscle growth.
That said though, there are some basic movements every bodybuilder, including even the most advanced, will use throughout their career right from grassroots lifting newbie through to mass monster status.
These exercises work well because they recruit multiple muscle groups and require multiple joint movements, often referred to as compound movements, except not the ridiculous epileptic fit type compound movements you’ll get taught at your local CrossFit class.
Combined, these movements cover virtually all of the main muscle groups, making them a sure-fire hit when regularly incorporated into your training plans alongside more selective isolation movements.
When performed with the correct ‘form’ and your mechanics through the whole range of motion are seamless; you can then add more weight to the bar. This does translate to an increase in muscle and strength gains .
Let’s not forget that these exercises can also increase your metabolism due to the increase in muscle fibre recruited and the extra energy required to lift the bar . There is evidence to suggest that by performing these movements will trigger the after-burn effect up to 24 hours post-exercise 
So without further ado, our top exercises for gaining overall mass are:
Kicking off with the legs day favourite, or most likely not as recent Instagram trends would suggest as far too many of the new age ‘gym bro’s’ seem to be skipping legs altogether!
Squats work your core, lower back, glutes and primarily your quads and hamstrings if done correctly. This makes them one of the most all-around beneficial lower body moves going.
If you’re looking to upgrade your wheels this should be your first stop. One thing to note with squats is that often, far too much emphasis is put on how much weight you can move.
Just remember why you’re in the gym. Are you training to be a powerlifter or a bodybuilder? If you want to be a bodybuilder, then you’ll need to keep your reps at a decent level each set to ensure hypertrophy.
Typically, most men will find that reps at a moderate weight grow legs faster than heavy weight for 2-3 reps of ego lifting. Legs are big dense muscle groups and need serious intensity to inspire new growth.
How To Squat:
- This exercise is best performed inside a squat rack
- Place the bar at shoulder height and once loaded step under the bar
- Place your hands on the barbell, a little wider than shoulder-width apart
- Step under the barbell and place it behind your head and across the back of your shoulders
- Your legs should be shoulder-width apart with toes pointing forwards
- Lift bar by pushing with your legs and straighten your trunk
- Step away from the rack and keep your head up
- Maintain a straight back throughout
- Lower the bar by bending your knees and hips
- Stop when the angle between your calves and upper legs is around 90 degrees
- Your knees should never go past your toes
- Raise the bar by pushing your body weight through your heels as you straighten your legs
- Breathe out on the way up
Tips For Squatting:
- Sit into the movement as if sitting in a chair
- Drive your heels into the floor and squeeze your glutes hard to stand up
- Keep your back as straight as possible
- If your form is poor, drop the weight and get it right before progressing
- Do not ignore knee pain!
#2: Bench Press
Ok, now this is a favourite. Every guys go-to exercise for a bit of muscle and ego pumping. Just don’t expect to get anywhere near the bench press on international chest day (Monday) during peak hours!
Pecs are on every fella’s list of places they most want to gain mass. It’s a masculine statement and something you see in the mirror every day so it’s no surprise.
Aside from your pecs though, you get front shoulder (anterior delt) work in as well as your triceps. Three great places to add mass for an all-round bigger physique.
As with squats make sure weight doesn’t dominate your approach to the bench. Mix up a variety of progressive weights at lower reps but get your reps in somewhere, even if it means using drop sets.
How To Perform A Bench Press:
- Lie flat on the bench, feet flat firmly on the floor and toes pointing straight ahead
- Your knees should be about 80 degrees and never under the bench
- Place your palms at the back of the bar with a medium grip
- Then without releasing the grip, rotate bar so that palms are directly under the bar
- This helps to lock down the shoulders, then lift torso and slightly pull your shoulder blades together under your torso
- Engage your core muscles
- Inhale a large breath
- Slowly lower bar towards the chest by flexing the elbows
- Avoid letting the back arch and ensure that the back of the head in contact with the bench at all times
- Only lower the bar to the chest and/or as far you can so that it is still under control
- Exhale your breath
- Press the bar back up, extending arms and contracting chest until arms fully extended
- Keep the feet on the floor as they act as stabilisers
- The bar should follow a slight arc as you push it back up moving from lower sternum to over your face
Tips For The Bench Press:
- Start with a grip just wider than shoulder-width and experiment with different hand placement as you progress
- Don’t grip the bar too tight, try to let it sit in your palms to take the tension out of your arms and keep it in your chest
- On the lowering phase, keep the weight under control at a slow speed before driving it back up
- Always have a spotter handy if you’re pushing yourself, don’t end up in a viral video of gym fails like so many others have before you
The deadlift is a whole-body exercise that predominately works the back, glutes, core, shoulders, arms and leg muscles.
Basically, it engages a whole host of muscles that would be a never-ending list if all written down singularly!
How To Deadlift:
- Your feet should be narrow width hip apart with toes facing forwards
- Your shin should be close to the bar
- Hold your breath, engage your core and ensure a midsection tightness
- Maintain a neutral spine which is not excessively arched or rounded
- Hinge at your hips and not at your knees or lower back
- Grip the barbell with an overhand grip with hands directly under your shoulders
- Pull your shoulder blades together whilst taking the slack out of the bar
- Keep close to the bar and tight throughout whole deadlift motion
- Pull the bar into your body and not upwards
- Visualise driving your feet through the floor
- Once bar leaves the ground, press your feet into ground and move chest upwards
- Keep your back tight, always lead with back and drive hips towards the bar
- Lockout by extending knees and hips fully
- Your shoulders should be tight
- Squeeze your glutes together at the top of the deadlift
- Lower barbell to the floor by hinging hips, then bring the hips back and stop at the knees controlling the bar back down to the starting position.
Tips For Deadlifting:
- Always work on your technique. Poor technique can lead to injury
- You should always warm up with a lighter weight (50% of your 1RM). This will improve performance and reduce the risk of injury
- Use a smaller range of motion by putting the barbell onto some blocks. This can get you used to handling heavier weights and will help build a stronger lockout
- Perform assistance exercises, such as the leg press and kettlebell swing. These will help improve your deadlift
#4: Overhead Press
This is a full-body, compound exercise that works your entire upper body and core, in particular, your shoulders and arms.
When performing the overhead press you should avoid flaring your elbows as this will prevent shoulder impingement.
How To Perform An Overhead Press:
- Sit on a bench with straight back support (on the bench) and place in the squat rack
- Place the barbell on the rack just above head height
- Grab the bar with palms facing forwards and shoulder-width apart
- Lift the bar overhead by extending your arms fully
- Hold the bar about shoulder level and slighting in front of your head
- Lower the bar downwards to shoulders and breath in
- Try not to over flex your elbows and keep the bar under control
Tips For The Overhead Press:
- Wear the correct footwear. This tip applies to most lifts and will help increase stability and balance, which will help increase power. The correct footwear can also reduce the risk of injury
- Perform exercises such as skull crushers and overhead extensions. These exercises will increase tricep strength, which will benefit your overhead press
- Varying your rep ranges can help you push past a plateau
- Avoid the Smith machine, use free weights instead. Free weights will be more beneficial as they will work the smaller stabilizer muscles too
- Improve shoulder mobility and flexibility
#5: Bent Over Row
The bent-over row is arguably one of the best moves for adding mass to the upper back and lats when done correctly. You’ll also work your biceps here so it’s another superb single movement for adding mass to multiple key areas.
Keeping a straight spine and bending forward at the hips is a key point many get wrong early on. This can lead to lower back strain.
Learn the difference between bending with your lower back and flexing your hips.
If you find you can’t keep your spine relatively straight, you might be going too heavy. Drop it down and build up gradually.
Depending on the point of your body you aim to raise the bar to, e.g. the abdomen or sternum, you will target different areas of your back. The back is a very large and complex group of muscle in contrast to the chest (pectorals), and hand placement and the angle of your row will bring different muscles in to play.
How To Perform A Bent Over Row:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
- Bend your knees and lean forward from your waist
- You should bend your knees and keep your back straight. Your neck should be in line with your spine
- Grab the bar with a palm-down grip. Your arms should be just wider than shoulder-width apart, letting your arms hang straight
- Next, brace your core and squeeze your shoulders together before rowing the weight up to your sternum
- Slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position for one rep
Tips For The Bent Over Row:
- Keep a straight spine, ask a spotter to tell you or place a mirror beside you if you’re not sure
- Use different width grip positions to change muscle emphasis of the move
- Keep reps high where possible rather than overloading and potentially using your legs to cheat the movement
- Keep your shoulder blades retracted at the top of the movement and squeeze like hell!
While training is important, if you are not getting adequate nutrients into your body you are not going to see any gains in either muscle mass or strength.
I would highly recommend reading the following article to ensure you are eating correctly for your goals.