Although aerobic exercise can do wonders for your cardiovascular health and general fitness, strength training is equally as essential in reducing body fat, increasing muscle mass, and staying healthy. Strength training generally refers to any fitness routine that incorporates weights, or resistance training. More specifically, this type of fitness activity is linked to growing and maintaining strong bones over time, helping to manage chronic conditions such as arthritis, and helps reduce the muscle mass that naturally diminishes with age, according to the Mayo Clinic.
While anyone can do resistance training using their own body weight (by doing pull-ups, crunches, standing squats), or using resistance rubber tubing that gets harder as you pull, the best options for building mass and increasing overall muscle composition are incorporating free weights and weight machines into one’s routine. But what are the top strength training workouts that utilize the most muscles in a single group? Here are the Top 10 Strength Training Workouts for Building Mass.
(As a general rule, we suggest trying for 3 sets of 12 reps for each exercise, aiming to “max out” when the last two reps of the last two sets of each exercise are reached.)
1. The Squat
If you have read any of our other weight training/fitness posts, it is probably pretty clear that we love the squat. This move incorporates the calves, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles (especially if you are using a freeweight barbell). This workout is also considered to be a compound movement, meaning that it uses more than just one joint to complete (hip and knee joints). While we do not suggest you squat with heavy resistance every day of the week, 2-3x is a good weekly target, giving your muscles time to recover between leg days.
2. Shoulder Press
Similar to the bench press, this movement can incorporate either two dumbbells or a barbell. The difference is that the weight is lifted directly over the individual’s shoulders while sitting in an upright 90-degree position. While the main muscle groups worked are the shoulders, this workout also incorporates the triceps as well. If using a barbell, the chest oftentimes can be indirectly targeted.
3. The Deadlift
Second to the squat is the deadlift. This exercise also incorporates a group of muscles, including the hamstrings, calves, glutes, and lower back. The starting position is similar to a squat, however the barbell is placed on the floor to be raised up to the individual’s knees. This workout is especially useful for building core, lower back, and gluteal mass. We most often work this exercise into our back days, however it is also appropriate to perform on leg days as well.
4. The Bench Press
When focusing on the upper body, the bench press is very often considered the workout that incorporates the most muscles simultaneously. This movement can be performed with a barbell, or two dumbbells. Although this workout directly targets the pectoral muscles, it also incorporates the shoulders and triceps as well.
5. Dumbbell Row
This exercise requires the individual to alternate arms as they are pulling a dumbbell from arm’s length to their hip during this movement. This workout primarily targets the middle back, but also incorporates the biceps, lats, and shoulders. While doing this exercise it is important to focus on keeping your back level to the bench, only moving the dumbbell up to your hip, while keeping the rest of the body stationary.
6. Bent Over Barbell Row
Like many of the other movements listed here, this exercise is a compound workout designed to involve multiple muscle groups. Although the main targeted group is the middle back, the biceps, lats, and shoulders are also incorporated when performed correctly. It is important to ensure that the back remains stationary through the entire movement in order to target the intended muscle groups.
7. Side Lateral Raises
This exercise utilizes two dumbbells to involve the arm and shoulder muscle groups, requiring both be lifted from the hip position to a 90-degree angle parallel to the shoulders, keeping the back and hips stationary. Unlike many of the other movements on this list, this exercise actually isolates the shoulders when performed with correct form.
8. Dumbbell Lunge
Another compound exercise favorite, the dumbbell lunge is intended to target the quadriceps, but also incorporates the calves, glutes, and hamstring muscles. We count every other lunge, totalling 24 lunges for each full set, focusing on lowering the knee to a full 90-degree angle. We also recommend that users perform these walking, rather than stationary, to promote good form.
9. Lying Close-Grip Tricep Extension
Also known as “skull-crushers,” this is a perfect example of another isolation movement, specifically targeting the triceps. While these can also be performed standing with a dumbbell, we favor the lying barbell version for better weight grip.
10. Bicep Curl
Fairly self-explanatory, although we personally recommend alternating dumbbell bicep curls to the traditional barbell curl. This isolation movement targets the biceps, while it is important to keep the back straight and hips motionless to ensure good form and isolation.