First, they involve big muscle groups. The more muscles involved simultaneously in an exercise the higher the anabolic effect of the movement, which causes overall muscle growth. Second, they are relatively easy on your joints, minimizing the risk of soft tissue injury. Unlike muscle, the soft tissue around the joints (tendons and ligaments) has limited blood supply and therefore it takes more time to heal. Muscle recovers faster than joints, therefore performing low impact exercises that do not overstress the joints favors recovery and speeds up muscle growth. Of course, weight lifting is a big stress for the neuromuscular system, anyway. But, choosing exercises that do not overstress the joints can make a difference in how fast you develop these muscles. In light of this, here are 25 faster muscle building exercises. For more exercise tips, check out Steadystrength.com Photo credit: www.BodyBuilding.com
The deadlift is regarded by many as the king of mass builders. And for a good reason since it works more muscles simultaneously than any other strength training weight lifting exercise. It effectively adds slabs of muscle to the lower and upper body. When properly executed it is risk free. It employs and strengthens over 25 major muscles including those of the entire back (lower, middle, upper), the shoulders, abdominals, forearms, hips (gluteal muscles) and the legs (hamstrings and quadriceps). The deadlift is a true measure of somebody’s strength. The deadlift world record is 1,015 lb by Benedict Magnusson.
Bent Over Row
It’s been called “Back Thickener” because it stimulates the growth of the entire back. It employs 8 major muscles in the lower, middle, and upper back. The bent over position also calls for the involvement of your abs (rectus abdominis and obliques) to stabilize your core region. It’s relatively difficult to perform bent over rows, which is why it is an overlooked exercise. To avoid injury you must keep the back straight, not rounded, and your trunk tight. A pronated (ovehand) grip increases the activation of the shoulder muscles while a supinated (underhand) grip places the emphasis on the lats and biceps. The problem with the bent over row is that while your back may be strong enough to row the weight, you may not be able to lift it because you just can’t stay balanced. The weight pulls you forward.
Barbell squats are excellent for increasing muscle size not only in the legs but in the whole body. Doing heavy squats triggers a systemic anabolic effect that promotes overall muscle growth. The squat employs mainly the quadriceps (quads), hamstrings and the gluteus maximus. It also involves the hip adductor (inner thigh) and other stabilizer muscles. There is some injury risk involved though, even if you do the exercise the right way. Placing a heavy barbell on your shoulders creates an unhealthy vertical compression on the spine. Moreover, in the lower part of the motion, knee injuries are common. To avoid knee injury, make sure your knees do not move beyond your toes. Other than that, heavy squatting guarantees rapid muscle growth.
Barbell lunges are an excellent, safer, alternative to barbell squats. Lunges work each leg separately but fully. When performing lunges, a big part of the resistance comes from your own body weight. Therefore the exercise requires relatively little weight on the barbell. If you do barbell squats with 240lb, it is unlikely you can lift more than 150lb on a barbell lunge. That means lunges are less taxing on your spine. In addition, since your knee does not travel beyond your toes, lunges are safer for your knees than squats.
When compared to squats, the leg press is a less compound movement. The leg press is performed from a seated position and therefore it employs fewer muscles than the squat. It’s easier and safer, too, because it is performed in a fixed pane of motion which requires minimal core stabilization. That means, your abs and back muscles are not that much involved. The relatively short hip Range of Motion (ROM) decreases the involvement of the hamstrings and glutes thus placing the emphasis on the quads. Still, the leg press is superior to the squat in that it can more directly target the quads. With the hip adductor (inner thigh) and stabilizer muscles less involved, and the seat support, the leg press allows you to focus all your energy on your quads and hit them really hard with a tremendous load.
Chin ups (Pull ups)
Chinups are very effective boosters of upper body growth. They workout the muscles of the upper back (latissimus dorsi), shoulders (posterior deltoid), arms (biceps), and forearms (brachialis). Chest muscles get activated a little bit, too. In chinups the palms face you, while in pull ups the palm face away from you. Pull ups employ teres minor (one of the four rotator cuff muscles) more than chin ups do, therefore, if your rotator cuff is hurting do only chin ups—you don’t want to injure rotator cuff muscles and their tendons.
Whether performed with a dumbbell or a barbell, the bent over raw is very effective for working the lats—the largest muscles of the back that run along each side of your torso connecting your upper arm to the middle and lower back. There is a difference between barbell and dumbbell bent over rows as far as the muscles involved. Due to the bench support in the dumbbell rows, the lower back (erector spinae—a group of muscles that run along each side of your spine from the pelvis all the way up) is not targeted almost at all. Moreover, in dumbbell rows, the torso is parallel to the floor activating mostly the lats whereas in barbell rows the torso is bent 45 degrees which places the emphasis on rear delts and traps (upper back). Finally, the one-arm dumbell row works each side separately which allows you to focus on the side that is less developed.
Barbell Shoulder Press
The barbell shoulder press is a great muscle builder for the whole shoulder cage. The weight is pressed from the shoulders straight upwards until it is locked out above the head. It is a compound exercise that involves the shoulders, chest, and triceps. It can be performed either from a seated or standing position. The latter allows you to lift more weight due to the leg drive involved. If you rest your upper back on a wall or bench you increase the involvement of your upper chest.
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
The dumbbell shoulder press targets specifically the shoulders. Unlike the barbell press, the dumbbell press does not involve as much the triceps and chest, allowing you to focus on your shoulders. Many people prefer the barbell over the dumbbell press because they can lift more weight with the barbell. But what they fail to understand is that the barbell actually works, to a significant degree, their upper chest and triceps, not their shoulders. I saw a significant increase in my shoulders size when I switched from barbell to dumbbell presses.
The dip exercise activates primarily the triceps. It’s a basic movement that works all three parts of this muscle group. It also targets the anterior deltoid, the chest muscles and the rhomboids in the back. The dip allows you to load your triceps as no other exercise. The problem with the dip is that it overstresses the shoulder muscles, the pecs, and the elbows. If you have troublesome shoulders, you should skip this exercise. The injury risk can be minimized if one limits the range of motion.
Standing Barbell Curl
Doing barbell curls is probably the fastest way to grow the most famous muscle in the human body— the biceps brachii muscle. Other exercises, such as the dumbbell curls, hammer curls, cable curls, concentration curls, supinated bent rows, and chin ups, do not target the biceps as directly as the barbell curl. The barbell curl is the most “compound” bicep movement of all employing all bicep muscles. When performing this exercise do not swing your torso, otherwise you are allowing momentum, not your biceps, to lift the weight for you.
Stiff Legged Deadlifts
One of the best exercises for your hamstrings, the stiff legged deadlift, is a modification of the deadlift. It is designed to eliminate the involvement of the quads and place the tension on the glutes and hamstrigs. It activates the lower back, too. To avoid injury in your hamstrings, do not lower your torso beyond mild stress; that means the bar doesn’t go lower than the knee caps.
Bent Over Long Bar Row
The bent over long bar row is a great back builder and many prefer it over the barbell row. The difference between the two is that the range of motion is shorter in the long bar row, allowing you to lift more weight. Another difference lies in the grip (close or wide). Different grip involves different back muscles. The close grip in the long bar row does not allow the back muscles to fully contract as in the bent over row. Yet, many find it more effective as a mass builder compared to the barbell row because the weight moves on a more even plane and offers better spine stability.
Close Grip Bench Press
The close grip bench press is the safest and more effective triceps exercise you can do as it activates the whole tricep muscle. It involves the chest and shoulder muscles in addition to the triceps. Unlike the dips, it does not pose a threat for the shoulders. Use a narrow grip but do not grasp the bar with your hands less than 4 inches apart otherwise you could hyper-adduct the wrist joint. Load the bar and press hard.
Standing Dumbbell Calf Raise
The dumbbell calf raise allows you to fully workout your calves at home without machines. To build good calves you need to get a good flex on top and a controlled stretch at the bottom. All three calf muscles will get activated. Calf raises can be performed in various ways targeting the two calf muscles (gastrocnemius, and soleus) from different angles. For example, when calf raises are performed from a seated position (seated calf raise) the gastrocnemius is stretched less.