Stick to the Basic Exercises for Muscle and Strength

(Last Updated On: December 27, 2016)

You are looking to add some strength and muscle but aren’t too sure how to go about it. Well, you have come to the right place.

This article will get you headed in the right direction for all kinds of gains.

The problem is nowadays many people have gotten too far off track from what they really should be doing in the gym. They either follow some new fad or some new machine that is going to build strength and muscle way faster and easier than the old ways.

I have some bad news for you though, those new ways are almost never as good as the old ways.

Those old exercises that your dad and even grandpa did back in the day and that people are still using because they are effective fall into a group we like to call the basics.

The basics are not that exciting or glamorous, they have been around too long for that.

What are the basic lifts?

Maximal Effort Method back squat

This can be a somewhat subjective question, but the basics are usually the tried and true exercises that people have done for years and had good results.

Here are what I would consider the basics for each body part:


Whole body exercises – Deadlifts, cleans, Olympic lifts, farmer’s walk, kettlebell swing

Leg exercises: Squats, leg press, Romanian deadlift, hamstring curls

Chest exercises: Bench press, incline press, dips

Back exercises: Rows, chin-ups, pull-ups

Bicep exercises: Barbell curls, dumbbell curls, seated dumbbell curls, preacher curls

Triceps exercises: Lying tricep extensions, tricep dips, overhead extensions, close-grip bench press

Shoulder exercises: Overhead presses, lateral raises

Trap exercises: Shrugs

Butt exercises: Glute bridge, squats, lunges

Calf exercises: Calf raises


Why use the basics?

As I have said earlier the basics are tried and true and they get results. That is why they are still around. These are what should be the meat and potatoes of your workout, not the pec deck machine or the leg extension machine. Those machines are ok to use on occasion but they are not going to build much usable strength or much muscle.

This is important to remember especially if you are a newbie. The basics are what works if you are trying to build strength or muscle. 

Most of your exercises should involve either a barbell, dumbbells or your own bodyweight, these are where it’s at. The machines are ok on occasion; Hammer Strength type machines are preferred over the traditional weight stack with the pin type machines.

Think about it, when they are doing tests of strength do they ever test how strong you are on the cable crossover? Of course not, they use the bench press and basic exercises.

Other exercises have there place, but that should just be to supplement the basic exercises, not use them as your main exercises. The basics will take you way farther than those other exercises will even come close to.


Go compound




To take it even further if you are looking to build muscle and strength your best bang for your buck will be with compound exercises, these exercises use more than one muscle group during the exercise. Some of the best compound muscle building exercises include: Deadlifts, squats, bench press, rows, pull ups, Olympic lifts, and overhead press. That is where most of the gains come from, then add in your basics for body parts like arms and calves and you are golden.


Let’s wrap this thing up

There you have it. Some of the best and easiest advice you can get especially if you are just starting out. Weightlifting is simple and straightforward, don’t try and over complicate it with a bunch of weird exercises.

I like to follow the KISS (keep it simple stupid) method, stick to what works and put the work in. Newer exercises are usually not better than the old ones, in fact they are usually worse.

Use the tried and true exercises and you will have much more luck with your size and strength gains.


Ryan Douglas