When it comes to selecting the best exercise for each muscle group you may want to read the following articles first to understand the best exercise (s) for each muscle group:
Free weights over machines. Find out why.
Compound lifts over isolation lifts. Find out why.
Obviously, this does not mean that machines and isolation lifts have no place in one’s workout routine.
Lat pulldown is a great exercise machine to work out your lats, and so are cables especially for elderly adults.
But when it comes to strength training for adults, they should prioritize compound lifts using barbells and dumbbells which in my opinion are a necessity if you want a fabulous physique.
With that being said, let me list the best exercises one should include in their workouts for best results i.e. to build muscle and lose fat in the most effective and efficient manner.
For shoulders, the military press is the name of the game. It’s the ultimate mass builder for shoulders.
However, you can do many variations. You can do them standing or seated (to give your lower back a break from all the squats and trap bar deadlifts), and instead of a barbell, you can use dumbbells.
Military presses are simple a variation of overhead press and is typically done with feet/heels pressed together to resemble how the military stands at attention, hence the name.
Overhead presses which is an umbrella term for all shoulder presses are typically performed with feet staggered or apart and one can use a little bit of hip movement to lift more weights. As I mentioned earlier, they can be done with dumbbells and also while seated.
Overhead pressed train the frontal and medial head of the deltoid and does not cover your entire shoulder muscle (posterior deltoid still needs isolation work).
Lateral raise and the posterior raises are isolation exercises that directly target the medial and posterior deltoid respectively.
They definitely have a place in a good overall shoulder workout and gives the 3-D look that you so desire!
Shrugs are a good addition to a shoulder workout routine but try not to overdo them. As when you do deadlifts, they get a good workout too!
And too much of trap development makes your shoulder looks smaller and gives you more of a bodybuilder look as opposed to a fitness model look.
Decide which look you prefer and proceed accordingly. Just to give you an idea of what I mean:
Best Exercises for Shoulders
Standing Overhead (or military) Press (barbell or dumbbells)
Seated Overhead Press (barbell or dumbbells)
Dumbbell Lateral Raise (or w/t cables; seated or standing)
Dumbbell Posterior Raise (seated or standing)
Barbell (or Dumbbells) Shrug
Cable (or Dumbbell) Internal Rotation
Cable (or Dumbbell) External Rotation
Initially, they may seem tough and intimidating, but once you start doing them, you will love them, and when you start getting stronger doing them, you will love them even more.
Yes, they are addictive, as they have decades of history of building ultimate male physiques behind them. However, there are barriers, myths, and common concerns that come up for a weight lifter when these exercises are discussed.
- I have a weak lower back and I may hurt myself if I perform squats/trap bar deadlifts. The beauty about progressive weight training is that it is for the weak and for the strong. Squats and trap bar deadlifts actually make your lower back strong—very strong. If you have a weak lower back, you have even more reason to include squats and trap bar deadlifts in your workouts!
- Squats and trap bar deadlifts are too tough for me. Honestly, if you think you cannot bear the discomfort of heavy weights and compound exercises like these, please choose moderate activities like yoga, swimming, or any sport—they are good enough to keep you in shape. But if you want to build a lean, admirable physique that people stop to admire, you need to pay the price, and that price comes in the form of some discomfort.
- I am not flexible enough to perform these movements. Performing squats and trap bar deadlifts will make you flexible. Weight training in general makes you flexible; if you exercise with good technique and with a complete range of motion you will become as flexible as you need to be [Study]
- I can get good results without doing squats and trap bar deadlifts. Squats and trap bar deadlifts are the core movements of any strength training program, and if any program excludes these exercises, it is missing tons and tons of benefits. Squats and p.g deadlifts are like the engine of my program; without them, the FBX training system will not be complete.
Note: In a few cases where individuals have slipped discs and other clinical lower back issues, there are alternatives to these exercises that I recommend. However, if you simply suffer from lower back pain, its main cause is likely chronic sitting; this should not be used as an excuse not to do these exercises.
I have written long articles backed by scientific studies done on these exercises. You can read them here:
(Be particularly sure to read this article, as trap bar deadlifts are a great functional exercise and could be a good solution for individuals with long limbs in relation to their torso for whom squatting with a good range of motion is an issue.)
Read and study the articles, then apply them, starting light and building up the correct technique, and I promise you squats and trap bar deadlifts will become your best friends in the gym.
Exercises for Thighs
Trap Bar Deadlift
For anyone who is suffering from clinical lower back problems:
Note: We generally believe, that barbell squats and trap bar deadlifts are meant to train your thighs.
Yes, it’s true that both squats and trap bar deadlifts directly target your leg muscles, but they also train your lower back and core muscles. Since leg muscles are the largest in the body, there is a huge hormonal burst after doing these exercises that helps in gaining tremendous amounts of muscles in the fastest time possible.
Compound Vs Isolated Exercises: Which is better?
Beautifully developed calves give the whole body (especially your lower half) a complete look. Still, they are the most neglected body part, and they can easily be covered by not wearing shorts, so the vanity muscles (chest and arms) get the most attention.
Calves are usually an afterthought, and one usually perform one or two sets of halfhearted sets of calf exercise.
Lucky ones with good genetics don’t really feel the need to work out the calves.
Calves are utterly stubborn muscles, and you need to include a lot of specialization work if you really want to build them up.
Exercises for Calves
Standing Calve Raise
Seated Calve Raise
Donkey Calve Raise
Honestly, I am not a big fan of building too much chest muscle. Overbuilt pectorals makes you look more like a bodybuilder, plus it overshadows the development of your shoulders and makes them look smaller.
Also, note that chest muscles only form part of your chest circumference (CC). The size of your rib box and your latissimus dorsi are part of CC.
In this article, I discussed the golden ratio.
My target has always been a CC at least 1.4 times my waist, which gives it the perfect V shape. That’s a difference of at least 11 inches between my chest circumference and my waist. So for example, if my waist is 30 inches then my chest circumference needs to be 41 inches and beyond. (which I have achieved by the way:))
The best exercises to build your chest are incline dumbbell (barbell) press and/or weighted dips. Dumbbell flyers are to chest what lateral raises are to the shoulders, so focus on your primary compound chest exercises first.
Best Exercises for Chest
Incline Barbell Bench press
Incline Dumbbell Press
Weighed Chest Dip
Flat Dumbbell Bench Press
Flat Barbell Bench Press
Pull-ups are by far the best compound exercise for your upper back. If you are strong enough to pull your body weight at least 10 times, buy a weighed belt and increase resistance as you go along.
However, if you are still not that strong (don’t worry, the majority of men in the gym can’t even lift their bodyweight a few times), you can start with lat pulldowns until you get strong enough to start doing pull-ups.
Also if you are fortunate enough to have a machine (see I told you I am not completely against machines), which is called assisted dips and pull-ups then you are in for major luck.
As this assisted machines allows you to do pull-ups and dips with a pad where you can rest your knees. See picture below.
Idea is to get stronger and stronger until you are able to pull your body weight for more than 5 reps without any assistance.
A band or perhaps even a chair can be handy when trying to build up strength with pull-ups. Don’t avoid this amazing movement which covers your whole lats just because it looks tough. Weight training is suppose to be tough and thats what makes it amazing.
All rowing movements like cable rows and single arm dumbell rows add thickness to your back and target more of your middle back whereas lat pulldown and pull-ups adds width to your lats and drastically increase your chest circumference.
Best Exercises for Back
Front Lat Pulldown [behind the neck can be dangerous]
Single Arm Dumbbell Row
Barbell Row [If you are doing enough deadlifts and squats than avoid this one]
Trap Bar Deadlift
Your lower back will get enough work from squats, deadlifts, and military press (if you perform them standing), still, I would recommend performing stiff leg deadlift once every two weeks to give your lower back a really good dose of training.
Exercises for Lower Back
Stiff Leg Deadlift
Arms [Biceps + Triceps]
The majority of average Joes going to the gym will easily devote a day per week to working out their arms, especially their biceps. They will perform preacher curls, kickbacks, concentrates, and all sorts of fancy but useless exercises to pump their arm muscles.
You look at them after six months, and their arm size is still the same (some of them may even have lost some size).
What they are unaware of is that when they perform shoulder and chest exercises, their triceps get a good workout. When they work their back, their biceps get worked out.
Personally, I have hardly worked out my arms in over a year now, and I think I have gained an inch or so. How? By increasing my lean weight of course.
To increase one inch on your arms you need to increase your muscular weight by 10 pounds, and the way to do that is to perform compound exercises. Still, I have included a few exercises for your arms in FBX workouts.
Exercises for Biceps:
Incline Dumbbell Curls
Seated Dumbbell Curl
Exercises for Triceps:
Single-Arm Triceps Extension
Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press
Again, genetics play a very important role. I have friends who have never done any weight training or any direct neck work, yet they have big necks.
When you wear a suit, your neck is visible, and if you have a pencil neck, no matter how much muscles you have beneath that suit, you are going to look awkward. As an ectomorph, I have always had an underdeveloped neck, and I do a lot of isolation work to bring it in balance with my arms and calves.
Steve Reeves had the most pleasing physique ever. His measurements of neck, arms and calves were all 18 inches!
Again, it’s a personal preference, but I can promise you one thing: If you bring your neck, arms and calves measurement in line, you will dramatically enhance the “pleasing” aspect of your physique. A thick strong neck also signals physical strength and vigor, and it can save you from potential injury. Ask any boxer or rugby player about the importance of a strong neck.
Exercises for Neck
Note: You can use your hand as a form of resistance, however, I would suggest a neck harness (Harbinger has good products) to really build a massive neck.
FBX workouts are built on compound exercises using dumbbells and barbells, which stimulates your abdominals to a T. Still I have included some direct work to strengthen and build them further.
Exercises for Abs
Knee/Hip Raise on Parallel Bar
There are definitely more movements for each muscle group which probably I have not listed here. Maybe there are some compound lifts that I omitted. For example, upright row is one such shoulder exercise, but there is some research which shows that it causes so I don’t recommend it.
Bottomline, compound movements using dumbbells and barbells should comprise of at least 70-80% of your workouts where the rest of 20-30% can comprise of isolation movements.
I hope you’d agree with me on the best exercises for each muscle group. If there is anything you like to comment on or have any doubts/queries let me know in the comments below!
I have created a course which will help you learn the correct form for each exercise I have mentioned in this post, check it out: