25 Faster Muscle Building Exercises

Posted by on December 5, 2012

Exercises that build muscles fast have two features that set them apart from all other exercises.
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 Squat

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

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.

Leg Press

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.

Dumbbell Row

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.


Jeff offers TRX suspension promotions at his site www.WeightLossTriumph.com. He is an experienced fitness writer and a bodybuilding enthusiast. TRX suspension training is a total body workout system designed by U.S. Navy Seal, Randy Hetrick.

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  • http://fatlossdietreport.com Steve Traffics

    There is so much information available on muscle building and diet nutrition it is becoming confusing. The fact is that most everyone is making things up or talking about what has or is working for them at the moment. The majority of individuals have a hard time relating to or implementing what they learn. The truth is that many of the supplements available do not work and many so called experts including Doctors are lying to us just to keep us paying them. The ultimate fact is that unless you have the same genetic make up as that “hunk” or “brick house” you will never see the same results.

    • http://slrman.wordpress.com James Smith

      Excellent points, Steve. As I pointed out elsewhere. Unless you are mostly a mesomorph body time, you are never going to look like Steve Reeves or “Ahnold”. Genetics does play a very important part in body building.

      Having been in the business for many years, I have to say I have never seen a supplement that did anything but enrich the sellers.

      When they advertise “High Protein” they are ignoring that muscles are 80% water. If you have a decent, healthy diet and are doing proper exercise, you may or may not develop a lot of bulk. As you pointed out, that’s mostly genetics.

      You can become much stronger, better defined or “cut”, vastly improve your endurance and general health. Unless you hope to win body building contests, that should be enough.

  • luke

    The key to building muscle fast is to completely exhaust your muscles.
    You should only finish a set when you absolutely can not do another rep and can’t hold the weight.
    If you stop and suddenly realize, “I could have done another rep” or “I feel good”, you cheated yourself – the end of a set should never feel good.
    You only build muscle during the last few reps when you are really pushing your limits.
    Before that, all you are doing is tiring your muscles out in preparation for your new gains.
    This is where a lot of people fail.

    • James Smith

      Luke, I absolutely agree. When I was receiving my training to own a Nautilus facility, the instructor was explaining the difference between pain failure, where most people stop, and muscle failure, where there are not enough muscle fibers out of resting mode to move the weight.

      He said, “At pain failure, you say you can’t do any more. I pull out a .38 pistol and say to do more. You quickly pump out two or three more reps. At muscle failure, I pull the .38 and you say, Shoot me!”

      Even today, at nearly 71, when I do push ups, sit ups, and squats, I do them to muscle failure. After push ups, I have to lie on the floor for a few seconds before my arms will allow me to get up.

  • dileep

    How can women build muscle is a question that more and more women are trying to learn the answer to these days. You are about to find out the answer to this question so you can begin accomplishing this goal for yourself right away.There are several ways to use for building muscle easily in any woman. The first way is to take control over your diet.

  • Scott W.


    Im a 18 year old male with a heavy build (thick bones). My body weight is 260lbs, i’m also around 6foot 4inches in height. My question is how long will it take for me to see muscle growth if i start weight training, how much muscle i could put on my body in a year. Also can I get some tips on muscle growth thanks!

  • Joseph

    how long does it take for a beginner to develop muscles? thanks

    • James Smith

      That’s a reasonable question, Joseph. If you mean developing bulk, a lot of that depends upon genetics. An ectomorph body time, such as I am, will not develop much bulk. A mesomorph such as Arnold, can develop fairly quickly.

      It also depends upon your age, where you are starting from (have you been exercising?) and the intensity and regularity of your routines.

      I know that isn’t much of an answer, but without knowing more about you, it’s the best I can do.

      The good news is, no matter what your body type, you can grow substantially stronger and improve your endurance and cardio-vascular fitness at any age.

    • Jeff

      Hello Joseph,

      good question. Resistance training gives an immediate growth signal to your muscles. The first 48 hours after resistance training your muscles are in a pure anabolic state. When you train with weights in the range of 8-20 reps to failure, leaving adequate time for recovery between each workout session (i.e you workout your chest twice a week), and (most important) following a diet of caloric surplus (that means, you consume 200-300 calories more than you burn each day), then muscle growth is guaranteed. It will take you a few weeks to see the results in the mirror.

  • James Smith

    Something I did not mention is that, to develop musculature most rapidly, it is better to isolate that muscle so it receives the most exercise. If you involve large groups, they will all assist in overcoming the resistance and development will be slowed. This is a point about using machines such as Nautilus and something I was taught at the Nautilus center in Florida before opening my facility in Tucson.

    I agree that involving more muscles simultaneously does make for a more efficient workout if your goal is over-all fitness and good cardio-vascular training.

    Competitive body-builders need to concentrate effort on specific muscles such as the biceps, quadriceps, or traps. Competitive body-builders are willing to devote the extra time and effort for this while those wanting general fitness and development usually are not.

    I also agree about not over stressing joints. That’s why I always recommended slower movements that do not put large inertial loads upon the joints and their tendons and ligaments.

    Being an ectomorph body type and now 70 years old, I know that I am not going to increase bulk or become significantly stronger. Now, I only use a 5 KG weight for sit-ups and arm curls. My workouts are using my body weight and high repetitions for calorie burn, endurance, and bone strength. I feel the most important exercise for me is climbing the 25 flights of steps each day. It’s a good cardio exercise and keeps my legs and hips in good conditin.

    I didn’t mention that I had a stroke over 20 years ago and have spent years in rehab. I am really still doing that as I concentrate on my weaker left side every day.

    • Matthew

      Hi James,

      I checked your exercise routine. I am amazed of the intensity of your situps and pushups workout. Good job James!

      • James Smith

        Thank you for your very kind words. Remember, what I am doing now is something I have built up to over several years. For example, my stair climbing routine started with my doing only 4 flights of steps or 64 step. I gradually kept adding more and now I am doing the 40 steps and have been adding two at a time until I am up to 17 flights or more. You can see what I was doing a couple of years ago at: http://s1181.beta.photobucket.com/user/slrman/media/68BD.mp4.html

        Starting the first of the year, I am going to change the sit ups to crunches. I have learned that changing your routine is best for you mentally and physically. No matter how dedicated you are, you can become bored with anything. I’ll probably keep the pushups and squats, though. The daily walks will stay, too as I usually do stretching things somewhere in the middle of those. Besides, the scenery here, especially at the beach is great. ;)

  • James Smith

    My comments are based upon being a former owner of a large Nautilus fitness facility and over 40 years of being in the martial arts and fitness field.

    This list ignores some important facts. First, developing muscles depends more upon genetics than m ost care to admit. If you are an ectomorph body type, you can improve definition by exercise and lowering your body fat. But developing large muscles will forever be beyond you unless you are taking illegal and dangerous drugs. If you are a mesomorph body type, then you already have larger muscles but they may be weak for their size and can be developed much more than they are naturally. Ectomorphs may not develop large muscles but they can improve and grow amazingly strong. I am speaking from personal and professional experience.

    Next, the list involves exercises that place heavy compression loads on the spine. Eventually, the extorts a heavy price in the forms of major back problems including sciatica.

    Using free weights will work but so will lifting a bag of rocks. They will not work not as well as a properly designed and utilized machine system such as Nautilus. There are also the dangers involved with free weights. Losing control of a free weight can result in injury or even death. Losing control of the weights in a machine will result in a loud noise and everyone in the room jumping.

    Some of these such as the squats as shown can cause damage to the tendons and ligaments around the knees. After the knees are bent more than about 90º, you are only bouncing on them, not working the muscles such as the quadriceps. Again, a person will eventually pay a painful price for this.

    Finally, much the same results can be obtained with no weights at all using common exercises. I personally do over 1,000 pushups a week with other non-stress exercises. Yu can see a summary of many of those at: http://i1181.photobucket.com/albums/x425/slrman/Nov2012.jpg

    BTW, I am 70 this year. :) Still staying fit and healthy.

    • Jeff

      Hello James,

      thank you so much for reading my article and for commenting on it.

      Well, it’s true that genetics play a big part. A huge part, I should say. But the purpose of this article is to show what exercises are the most effective in stimulating muscle growth. Muscle stimulation requires high intensity training. Nobody can deny that.

      Now here is something many people are unaware of. While high intensity resistance training is effective for muscle stimulation, it also poses injury risk. In fact, the highest the intensity the greater the risk for injury. Therefore, one has to balance these two: Sufficient muscle stimulation AND low injury risk.

      This is where genetics comes in. There are people who are more prone to injury than others. Professional bodybuilders, among other virtues, have the ability to recover fast and be much less prone to injuries than the average Joe.

      I cannot do barbell bench presses without torturing my rotator cuffs. But others can. Free weights have developed my chest more effectively. Does this mean that barbell bench press is not effective in muscle stimulation? Of course not. Similarly, I don’t do squats, because my left knee gets overstressed. I do lunges. So, everybody is different. We just pick the exercise that best works for us whether it be free weights, barbells, machines, or our own body weight.

      But, whenever you see muscle growth, there are two principles at work, which I believe you agree with:

      1. The more muscles involved simultaneously in an exercise the higher the anabolic effect of the movement, which causes overall muscle growth.

      2. Choosing exercises that do not overstress the joints can make a difference in how fast you develop these muscles.

      I mention these principles at the beginning of my article.


      • michelle Haynes

        Hello Jeff, I ‘m a 42 year old female and I’ve been weight training for almost 6 months now (and still learning).I find that my body parts tolerate body weight and free weight exercises more than they do machines.For instance, I can do a hundred barbell lunges but can barely do 2 sets of 8-12 reps with light weight on a leg extension machine and I can do countless squats but can barely keep myself from running away from the Leg Curl Machine. My legs and knees actually hurt after I use those things but they don’t when I do squats and lunges. The problem is that I’m not seeing any progress in muscle mass or tone in my legs just using bodyweight. What do I do? Do I really need to use the leg machines?

        • Bobby Smith

          Hi Michelle,

          I noticed your post and thought I’d put in my 2 cents. Your body will get use to workouts that keep repeating faster than you’d think… it does become easier to do the same exercises, especially when done for months. Do you really need to do machine???, No… you can do anything that gives you the range of motion that will alow you legs to push and pull to full range both ways.

          Personally I try to change one or more exercises (still targeting the same muscle) in my workouts weekly or bi-weekly… I feel that it challenges the body keeping it guessing. I’ll come back to those big important exercises… but I cycle through many exercises… try to use every possible equipment that is at the gym…. this helps me with my over all strength and endurance… and I feel like every gym session is challenging cause my body is not used to it.

          Lunges, squats and deadlifts are rated in the top 10 of best exercise of all… and are amazing for your legs, back, core, body and for building strenght and muscle. Yet, it seems to be one of the most over looked exercise in the gym, probably because when done properly… they are tough, especially at the beginning… glad to hear you are doing them… but I think you nailed it on the head… you said you can countless lunges and squats… sounds to me like you are not using enough resistence.

          There are many ways to do legs, lunges, squats… find ones that give minimal pain but find a way to increase resistence.

          Ask youself this question when you do a set, pick a target set number, say 10 (5 to 15 reps per set is the best range for building muscle and strength) so when you do that last rep, rep number 10… keeping good form and keeping resistance going both ways (instead of rushing through the motion like some do) can you still do 3 or more reps after that number 10? If the answer is yes… you need to increase your resistence.

          Find that sweet spot that when you hit your target number you are strugling and need to push hard… if you can maybe do 1 or 2 more but that is all. You are in the perfect range. If you don’t want to put on too much mass, use 15 reps… but same theory… in those last few you should be strugling. 100 reps is too many for muscles.

          For muscle/weight training… this should be true for every single set you do at the gym, no matter what muscle group you are working on… aside from that slow perfect form warm up set, you should be pushing through every single set… even if the set 15… the 15th should be tough.

          I see so many people going to the gym merely going through the motion… and you can see they are barely working out, and it shows, their body doesn’t change. You have to do it with the right form and push… if your joints hurt lay off of that exercise, find other ways of doing the same range of motion… but keep coming back later on another day and try it again.

          100% True story, I used to barely be able to do 2 squats with no weights just cause my knees hurt bad, i think because I use to run quite a bit. Anyways I had taken too long off the gym and I put on a bit of weight, it sometimes hurt walking down the stairs.

          Now I’m back … and I’m doing 3-4 sets of 8-10 with 200+ lbs of free weights on my shoulders… and it’s climbing fast. Leg extensions does hurt a little, but I am doing the stack… so I decided not to do them often… allowing my body to be free from pain.

          Weight training is suppose to be hard, tough and you are suppose to push to see muscle (yes the better shape you are the easier it may be to push yourself), but I break sweat every workout. If people are going to the gym and don’t feel like they pushed themselves every set… they are wasting valuable time.

          Anyways… I hope this helps some, keep working… “hard” ;-) and you’ll see results.

          ps… don’t forget keeping your diet in check as it is the single most important part of shaping your body.
          The saying you are what you eat is so true… if you want to look lean and mean… you got to eat lean and mean.

          • James Smith

            I agree with much of what you say. What I take exception to is doing squats with weight on your shoulders. Any time you do resistance training that places compression loads on your spine, yu are building a pain debt that may eventually cripple you.

            You might think it isn’t harming you when you’re in your 20s but it will eventually make itself known and could possibly make you an invalid long before you would be.

            I especially agree with your statement about, pushing yourself every time. I personally always do most exercises to muscle failure and leave it at one set. Nautilus has proven this is the most effective way to encourage muscle growth.

        • James Smith

          I agree with much of what you say. What I take exception to is doing squats with weight on your shoulders. Any time you do resistance training that places compression loads on your spine, yu are building a pain debt that may eventually cripple you.

          You might think it isn’t harming you when you’re in your 20s but it will eventually make itself known and could possibly make you an invalid long before you would be.

          I especially agree with your statement about, pushing yourself every time. I personally always do most exercises to muscle failure and leave it at one set. Nautilus has proven this is the most effective way to encourage muscle growth.

        • James Smith

          Muscle bulk is largely a result of body type. If you are a Mesomorph (muscular) type, building bulk will come naturally. If you are an Ectomorph (skinny) type, developing mass will be nearly impossible. That doesn’t mean yu cannot have excellent definition and become amazingly strong. Bruce Lee, for example, was mostly an ectomorph with some tendency to mesomorph. Most people are not entirely one thing or another, but more of a blend.

          Most women tend to the endomorph body type where they easily accumulate fat. That doesn’t mean you have to be fat. As Bobby Smith stated, you do have to control what you eat. I have an excerpt from my book. Fit For Free Forever” about this at:


          Remember, very few people are exclusively one type or another. No matter what your body type, you can improve upon it and stay fit and healthy long after others have become couch potatoes or worse.

      • James Smith

        Yes, we do agree, especially upon point number one. When I mentioned isolating muscles for maximum development, I was referring to working towards developing the particular muscle group as one might for competition. For over-all development you are correct. I should have made my comment more clearly.

        I also do lunges without weights and usually do 150 or more on a side. I am careful not to stress the tendons because, as you mentioned, those take a long time to heal.

        One of the worst problems I encountered personally and as a fitness center owner was people returning to workouts too soon after an injury. Yes, mea culpa, mea culpa. ;)

    • hikmat shahi

      i am 28 and wish to meet you when i will be 70.hope to see you healthy then.you are an example.good luck and god bless

      • James Smith

        Thank you for your kind words. see much good advise given in this posting and hope everyone pays attention to it.

        As was mentioned, body type via genetics plays a very large role in your development. That doesn’t mean that anyone cannot improve. A fine example would be Bruce Lee. He was more of an ectomorph body type, yet he developed excellent muscle definition and amazing strength. Clearly, he might not have won many body-building completions as he did not have the bulk. But as far as strength and agility, he would be among the top 1% or less of people on the earth.

        I encourage everyone to do something and not place artificial limitations on what you can do. I feel I am still improving and will never stop working out.