When you are brand new to the “weight training game” it can be both exciting and overwhelming to first walk into a well-equipped, commercial gym. You take a look around and there are BB’s, DB’s, benches, cables and fancy machines from front to back – left to right. Its quite easy for a beginner to get lost amongst so much iron, especially if one has no training background, nor a mentor to help guide him/her. And that is precisely why I am writing this article – to provide the novice lifter with a list of 6 vital (basic) exercises that need to be mastered well before proceeding to those cables or any chrome covered contraptions.
BB Bent Row: This movement is one of the best back builders available to us. It helps to build mass throughout the entire back, from lats to traps, rhomboids to erectors! And because you must keep your knees slightly bent throughout each set, your quads, hams and glutes will also be positively affected.
Bonus Tip – This exercise can be performed with both an overhand and underhand grip, each of which stimulates the back musculature in a unique manner.
Dips: Every lifter I know who includes dips regularly in his routine owns an upper body filled with muscle mass! This very basic movement builds significant size in the pecs, delts and triceps, while also creating true functional strength. Exercises, like dips, where you are forced to “move your body through space,” have been shown to stimulate the nervous system (and muscle fiber firing) to a great degree.
Bonus Tip – Perform dips with your torso held upright to target the triceps. Force greater pectoral recruitment by leaning your torso forward at about a 45-degree angle.
BB Squats: The biggest and strongest thighs in the world have primarily been created via squats. When you think of huge quads, men like Tom Platz, Ronnie Coleman and Kai Green come to mind – and each of them were “monster squatters.” Proper technique on this movement involves proper bar placement, torso angle, head position, and depth, as well as adequate balance and coordination. Take your time to learn and master this movement, as it will provide gains in overall size unmatched by few other exercises.
Bonus Tip: Some lifters find that squatting with the heels elevated by 10 lb. weight plates provides a more natural movement pattern, and targets the muscle of the quads to a greater degree.
BB Bench Press: This is perhaps the most well known exercise in the world, even among those who have never set foot in a gym. If you are a pretty big guy, chances are that you have been asked by a random person more than once – “Hey, how much can you bench?” But, it is very important for a beginner to understand from the outset that how you bench is more vital than what you bench – that is if your main interest lies in building an big, thick, impressive chest. Done with proper form, range of motion and rep tempo, the bench press will rapidly stimulate size gains in the pecs (primarily), shoulders and triceps. However, when performed with the only goal being to get the bar from point A to point B, you are more likely to get injured than build a massive chest.
Bonus Tip: Set your torso correctly to get the most out of the bench press! This involves lying down; raising the rib cage high; slightly arching the low back and shrugging the shoulders down into the bench.
Seated Military Press: This is the most basic movement for the shoulders, but also one of the most effective! While this exercise primarily works the anterior (front) head of the deltoid, there will also be some activation of the lateral and rear heads as well. Additionally, the upper chest and traps will also get some work. The keys to doing military presses correctly are (1) Making sure you are sitting straight up and down – not leaning back to any great degree, and (2) Being carful to only lower bar to a level just under your chin.
Bonus Tip: On some training days you can also do this movement behind the head, lowering the bar to a point just below your ears. This will activate more of the lateral shoulder along with the anterior heads.
DB Pullover: While this movement was once a mainstay in gyms throughout the world, these days very few lifters still dig into this awesome exercise. Personally, I think that this is a shame, as pullovers are tremendously valuable to anyone seeking an impressively massive upper body. Not only do pullovers help thicken the chest, but they also help build the outer lats, giving the torso a greater “V-taper.” Arnold himself used to train chest and back on the same day, using pullovers as a transition exercise between the two body parts.
Bonus Tip: I have found that if I wish to target the lats more so than the chest with pullovers, I can do so by keeping my arms a bit more straight while lowering the DB both down and back. When looking for more intense activation in my pecs, I will keep a greater bend in my arms and lower the DB straight down behind my head, but not back.
While there are many other essential exercises that belong on this “must master” list, these 6 will get you off to a great start towards becoming a true gym veteran.