The Top Six Weight Lifting Exercises to Pack on Muscle Mass

When you look at all you can do with the free weights, benches, racks, pulley systems, and machines in even an average gym, you will find an almost endless number of weight lifting exercises to perform. However, not all movements are created equal. While some of the fancy exercises with strange equipment and setups have their place, the heavy, basic exercises will always yield the best results when it comes to building muscle mass. Here are the top six movements that you can use to build maximum muscle mass:

1. Squat

As trainers, coaches, competitive lifters, and just about anyone with significant weight training experience has said for years, the squat is the king of all weight lifting exercises. Religiously performing heavy, deep squats will build massive quads and hamstrings, strengthen the glutes and lower back, and dramatically improve athletic performance. In addition, squats, especially when performed in a higher rep range, will promote an anabolic hormonal response that will lead to greater increases in muscle mass over your entire body. Simply put, if you are not squatting, you are severely limiting your strength and size potential.

2. Deadlift

Second only to the squat in muscle building importance, the deadlift is the exercise that can make or break a physique. It engages nearly every muscle in the body and allows most weight lifters to handle more weight than with any other movement. The hamstrings and quads are engaged during the initial pull from the floor, the lower back is recruited to keep the body in an upright position, and the lats, traps, and rhomboids are heavily stressed to keep the bar moving in the correct path. The deadlift will not only build an enormous upper and lower back, but it will give a physique that “thick” look that only the strongest lifters have.

3. Bench Press

A favorite among both new and veteran weight lifters, the bench press is the standby movement for building upper body strength and muscle mass. Though most lifters treat the bench press as a “chest” exercise and perform it with other horizontal pressing movements, it heavily taxes several other muscle groups, as well. Overall, the exercise will build a massive chest, wide shoulders, and thick triceps. Though many trainers and coaches have been switching to dumbbell and machine substitutes in the last few years, any weight lifter still attempting to gain a large amount of muscle mass should be performing the basic, barbell bench press.

4. Barbell Row

One of the most standout body parts for a weight lifter to have is a big, thick upper back. After the deadlift, no movement produces this result better than the basic barbell row. When done properly, with a 45-degree tilt in the torso, an arched lower back, and retracted shoulder blades, this movement heavily stresses the lats, traps, rhomboids, rear delts, biceps, and forearms. Though personal trainers and bodybuilding gurus are often quick to rant about perfect, slow form, a little bit of cheating is recommended for this exercise. Progressive strength increases on the barbell row will allow a trainee to build a bigger back than he ever thought possible.

5. Dips

Known to be one of the most important weight lifting exercises for the upper body, the dip is often called “the upper body squat.” Like the bench press, this movement primarily works the chest, triceps, and shoulders. However, the dip is different from the bench in that it is a closed-chain movement. This means that the hands remain still while the rest of the body moves through space. Closed-chain exercises, which also include the squat and deadlift, often recruit more muscle fibers and lead to greater gains in muscle mass than their open-chain counterparts.

6. Pull-ups

While the deadlift and barbell row are indispensable for building a big, thick back, pull-ups are the most important weight lifting exercise for widening the lats. Like dips, pull-ups are a closed-chain upper body movement and require a great deal of muscle recruitment to perform. Depending on the grip variation, they will also heavily tax your biceps and forearms. The bodybuilders and other strength athletes who have the biggest backs are often the ones who stick with this exercise, despite the difficulty brought on my muscular weight gain. Overall, a successful trainee will combine regular pull-ups with deadlifts and barbell rows to build the thickest, widest back possible.

In conclusion, the basic weight lifting exercises are almost always your best bet for building strength and packing on muscle mass. The best of these old standby movements are the squat, deadlift, bench press, barbell row, dip, and pull-up.

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