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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 grass roots 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 in to your training plans alongside more selective isolation movements.
So without further ado, our top three exercises for gaining overall mass are (just remember to read our bulking guide next for further tips to achieve your goals):
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 round 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 power lifter 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.
Tips for squatting:
- Sit in to the movement as if sitting in a chair
- Drive your heels in to the floor and squeeze your glutes hard to stand up
- Keep your back as straight as possible
- If 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 everyday 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 variation of progressive weights at lower reps but get your reps in somewhere, even if it means using drop sets.
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 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
#3: 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.
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!