Dead Lift: To do these properly and take the focus off your lower back, push your hips back as far as you can until you feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings. Keep your feet positioned in a close stance or make them sumo—feet wider than shoulder-width apart and slightly pointed out—to switch things up. Keep your back straight and the bar as close to your legs as you can. Go down as low as you can while feeling a deep stretch and then come back up.
Weighted Walking Lunges: These elevate your heart rate and are the king of lower-body exercises because they work almost every muscle in your legs while strengthening your core, hips and lower back. With a back squat, stopping at parallel or just barely below puts most of the emphasis on your quads, leaving your glutes less engaged. Squatting until you’re below parallel—the lower the better—puts the emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings. The narrower your stance, the more focus you put on your quads. When squatting, be sure to maintain proper form: Keep your legs shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed slightly out. With your arms at your sides and a dumbbell in each hand, step forward. Lunge low and alternate legs with each step. Make sure your front knee never extends past your toes.
Stiff Legged Dead Lift: The knees should be slightly bent and stay that way. When you bend over, your hips will move back only a little bit. Bend around the hips, letting the shoulders go forward.
Lying Leg Curls: The leg curl is a classic bodybuilding movement to isolate the hamstrings from the rest of the posterior chain. Unless your machine has a CAM system on it, your leverage usually improves, which makes the movement easier during peak contraction.
Barbell Step Ups: To set this exercise up, use a barbell or dumbbells across your shoulders, similar to a squat. Step forward onto a small box or bench at a low height. Make sure the item you’re stepping up to can support the weight. When you step up, use your forward leg to propel yourself up. Bring your back foot forward and raise your knee up as high as you can. Step that foot back down while maintaining tension on the leg you first stepped forward onto the box with.
Barbell Lunges: Your goal is to work through a set of lunges, just like you would normally do them, while maintaining a weighted barbell on your shoulders or with dumbbells at your sides. When you lunge, you want one foot forward and one foot back with both knees bent. Your forward thigh should be parallel to the floor in order to achieve an optimal lunge without your back knee touching the ground.
Barbell Squats: When performing the squat, it’s important to keep the back straight and lower the body slowly under tension to a point where the thigh is parallel to the floor. Raise yourself back to a standing position and repeat. Squats are the king of lower-body exercises because they work almost every muscle in your legs while strengthening your core, hips and lower back. With a back squat, stopping at parallel or just barely below puts most of the emphasis on your quads, leaving your glutes less engaged. Squatting until you’re below parallel—the lower the better—puts the emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings. The narrower your stance, the more focus you put on your quads. When squatting, be sure to maintain proper form: keep your legs shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed slightly out.
45 Degree Leg Press: Set up for this leg press by loading the weight plates you want to use on the leg press machine. Sit down on the leg press machine and position your feet at about shoulder width apart, in the middle of the foot plate. Extend your legs to take the weight off the racks and release the safety. Your knees should be slightly bent at the start of the movement, as this will ensure the weight is on your quads. Slowly lower the weight down until your legs are just past a 45 degree angle. Push through your heels and extend your legs to move the weight back up to the starting position. Repeat movement for desired reps.
Leg Extensions: You will need to use a leg extension machine for this exercise. Select your weight and sit on the machine with your legs under the pad (feet pointed forward) and the hands holding the side bars. Adjust the pad so that it falls on top of your lower leg, just above your feet. Also, make sure that your legs form a 90-degree angle between the lower and upper leg. If the angle is less than 90-degrees then that means the knee is over the toes, which in turn creates undue stress at the knee joint. If the machine is designed that way, either look for another machine or make sure that when you start executing the exercise you stop going down once you hit the 90-degree angle. Using your quadriceps, extend your legs to the maximum as you exhale. Ensure that the rest of the body remains stationary on the seat. Pause a second on the contracted position. Slowly lower the weight back to the original position as you inhale, ensuring that you do not go past the 90-degree angle limit.
Seated Calf Raise: Sit on the seat of the machine and adjust the pads so they fit snugly on your lower thighs. Place the balls of your feet and toes on the platform so your heels are suspended. Release the safety catch and begin with your heels below the level of the platform so that you feel a stretch in your calves. Extend your ankles to push the pads up as high as you can; you should be almost on your tiptoes at the top. Squeeze your calves and then lower back down.
Standing Calf Raise: Position yourself in a standing calf raise machine so that only your toes and the balls of your feet are on the foot plate and your shoulders fit snugly against the upper pads. Start with your heels below the foot plate so that you can feel a stretch in the calves, your body upright and your knees slightly bent. Press your heels straight up as high as possible to raise up onto your toes. Squeeze the contraction and then lower back to the start position.
Standing Barbell Biceps Curl: This exercise primarily hits the biceps brachii (the big muscle you flex), but also does a fantastic job of hitting the entire biceps region all at once. Keep your elbows tucked in against your torso, keep your back straight, and squeeze your biceps at the top of the movement. Do not rock your body and use momentum during the lift. Space your hands about a shoulder width apart, directly outside of your thighs.
Chin Ups: These work your back, specifically your lats, but they also do a great job of blasting all three parts of the biceps, as well as the forearms. Make sure that you lower all the way down so that your arms are fully extended, and raise yourself all the way up until your biceps are fully contracted. Once you’re able to do 12 chin ups in a set, start adding weight plates (using a chain weight belt) to up the intensity and difficulty. Space your hands about a shoulder width apart.
Bar Biceps Preacher Curls: Sit on the bench so that your armpits rest comfortably on top of the pad. First do two sets with your hands spaced widely apart, and then two do sets with your hands spaced with a narrow grip. By changing up the spacing you effectively hit both “heads” of the biceps brachii. Make sure to lower all the way down.
Bar Reverse Preacher Curls Version Two: This uses the same setup as above, but instead of using an underhand grip you use an overhand grip. After you’re done with the sets of regular EZ bar biceps preacher curls, flip your hands over. The reverse variety emphasizes mainly the brachioradialis and forearms. They’re much more difficult, so make sure to use less weight.
Incline Biceps Dumbbell Curls: Incline biceps dumbbell curls are fantastic for emphasizing the lower part of the biceps brachii, giving the biceps a really full, long, sleeve-busting look. Set the bench to a 60 degree angle initially (if you’re feeling really strong and want to make it more difficult, set the bench to 45 degrees) and supinate during the motion–at the bottom of the motion start with your palms facing in towards your legs, and gradually throughout the motion rotate your palm so that it faces forward. The twisting motion makes sure that the motion not only hits the biceps brachii, but also the brachialis.
Triceps Dips: Dips are fantastic for hitting all three heads at once, and they’re one of the only exercises that effectively blasts all three heads simultaneously. Also, unlike cable exercises and a lot of other isolation triceps exercises, dips allow you to overload your triceps with a significant amount of weight. More weight lifted equals more muscle gained.
Closed-Grip Bench Press: Your hands should be spaced close together at the middle of the bar, about one foot apart. Your elbows should be tucked in close to your torso throughout the movement and should not stick out to the sides at all. Slowly lower the weight down until your triceps are parallel to the ground, hold for one second at the bottom and accelerate back upwards.
Skull Crushers: Load an EZ bar with weight plates, lie down on a flat bench and extend your arms straight overhead. Without moving your upper arms at all, slowly bend your arms at the elbow and lower the EZ bar back beyond your head until your arms hit a 90 degree angle. Forcefully extend your arms upwards and hold the contraction at the top for one second.
Bench Press, Barbell: Position yourself on a regular free weight flat bench press. Lie flat on your back and grab the barbell above you with a grip about shoulder width apart. Lift the barbell off of the rack and slowly lower it down to your chest and then press the bar back up to the top position. If you have shoulder issues, lower the bar down to about three inches above your chest. Do not touch the bar to your chest when you lower it down as this causes unneeded stress on your shoulder joints. Be sure that when you are lowering the bar that you do so in a slow and controlled fashion. Conversely, when you press the bar upward, you want to do so in an explosive fashion. Repeat this movement for as many repetitions as you can. Remember to always use a spotter when performing this and almost every other free weight exercise.
Incline Barbell Bench Press: This exercise is very similar to the regular barbell bench press except that you will be using an incline free weight bench and your upper chest will be the muscle group targeted. Lift the barbell off of the rack and slowly lower it to about three inches above your clavicle (top of the chest) and then press the bar back up to the start position. Be sure that when you are lowering the bar that you do so in a slow and controlled fashion. Conversely, when you press the bar upward, you want to do so in an explosive fashion. Repeat this movement for as many repetitions as you can. Remember to always use a spotter when performing this exercise.
Hammer Grip Incline Dumbbell Press: Position yourself on a free standing incline bench. Have your spotter hand you two dumbbells, one for each hand. Grip each dumbbell with your palms facing inward toward one another. Press the dumbbells upward in an explosive fashion. Conversely, return to the start position in a slow and controlled fashion. Repeat the movement for as many repetitions as you can. Remember to always use a spotter when performing this and almost every other free weight exercise.
Flat Bench Dumbbell Flies: Position yourself on a free standing flat bench, flat on your back. Have your spotter hand you each dumbbell. When you begin this movement, you want your arms to be stretched out wide to your sides with your elbows slightly bent and your palms facing inward, toward one another. When you lift the dumbbells up together, visualize hugging a giant tree trunk. At the peak of the movement, squeeze your pectorals together for a one-count. When returning to the start position, be sure to lower the dumbbells in a slow and controlled fashion. Repeat this movement for as many repetitions as you can. Remember to always use a spotter when performing this and almost every other free weight exercise.
Seated Dumbbell Military Press: Sit on a shoulder press bench. Position dumbbells to each side of your shoulders with elbows below wrists. Press dumbbells upward until arms are extended overhead. Lower to sides of shoulders and repeat.
Seated Side Lateral Raise: Sit on one end of the bench and hold one dumbbell with each hand down the side of your body. Raise both dumbbells sideways until your arms are parallel to the ground and lower them back down slowly after a short pause. Keep your back straight throughout.
Front Lateral Raise: Sit down on a flat bench and hold one dumbbell with each hand in front of your thighs, palms facing your body. Raise the dumbbells forward then up until your arms are close to being parallel to the ground and lower them back down after a short pause. Keep your arms extended throughout.
Traps (Upper Back)
Barbell Shrugs: Stand up straight with feet shoulder width apart while holding barbell straight down at thigh level, palms facing in. Raise your shoulders up as far as you can go and hold for one second. Slowly return to the starting position.
Upright Row: Stand up and hold weighed barbell in front of your thighs. Raise both dumbbells until your arms are parallel to the ground and lower them back down slowly after a short pause. Be careful not to jerk your back in an effort to help you raise the dumbbells.
Pull Up: Grab a bar with a grip slightly wider than shoulder width, with your hands facing away from you. Hang all the way down. Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar and then lower yourself all the way back down. Go back up and concentrate on isolating your back and biceps.
V-Bar Pull-Down: Sit at a lateral pull-down machine with a V-bar attachment. Adjust the height so that your thighs are under the leg pads for stability. Grasp each end of the V-bar so that your palms are facing each other. Lean back 30 degrees, sticking your chest outward. This is your starting position. Exhale as you pull the V-bar straight down to your chest. Hold for a moment and then slowly reverse the position back to the starting position. Repeat for a complete set.
Underhand Cable Pull-Down: Sit down on a pull-down machine with a wide bar attached to the top pulley. Adjust the knee pad of the machine to fit your height. These pads will prevent your body from being raised by the resistance attached to the bar. Grab the pull-down bar with the palms facing your torso. Make sure that the hands are placed closer than the shoulder width. As you have both arms extended in front of you holding the bar at the chosen grip width, bring your torso back around 30 degrees or so while creating a curvature on your lower back and sticking your chest out. This is your starting position. As you breathe out, pull the bar down until it touches your upper chest by drawing the shoulders and the upper arms down and back. Tip: Concentrate on squeezing the back muscles once you reach the fully contracted position and keep the elbows close to your body. The upper torso should remain stationary as you bring the bar to you and only the arms should move. The forearms should do no work other than hold the bar. After a second on the contracted position, while breathing in slowly, bring the bar back to the starting position when your arms are fully extended and the lats are fully stretched.
Seated Row: Sit slightly forward on a seat or bench and grasp cable attachment. Place feet on vertical platform. Slide hips back, positioning knees with slight bend. Pull cable attachment to waist while straightening lower back. Pull shoulders back and push chest forward while arching back. Return until arms are extended, shoulders are stretched forward and lower back is flexed forward. Repeat.
Written by John Lehner