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The Best Muscle Builders for Bodybuilding & Men's Health

Updated on May 11, 2018
James Foglio profile image

James is a current freelance writer. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from Southern New Hampshire University in English & Creative Writing.

This is true!
This is true! | Source

Lower Body Weight-lifting Exercises

Barbell Squats

Barbell squats is the best exercise an individual can perform to build strong and powerful quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteal muscles. Squats target all four heads of the quadriceps: rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius and the vastus medialis. The exercise also targets the tensor fasciae latae, sartorius and biceps femoris (part of the hamstrings). For those wanting to SKIP the exercises in this article to check out the SUPPLEMENTS section, scroll down to the bottom of the article. Taller individuals may frown upon the thought of doing heavy squats and this is completely understandable. Regular squats put a lot of unnecessary pressure and stress on the lower back. Being tall doesn't help at all. Great alternatives to the squat are leg presses using the leg press machine, dumbbell squats or dumbbell lunges. If you have access to dumbbells weighing at least 100 pounds, perform dumbbell squats. You could maybe even try dumbbell squats with the Big Kahuna 200 lb. dumbbells at some bodybuilding gyms. Lunges in general are also great for building the inner thigh. I personally prefer doing dumbbell lunges with dumbbells weighing at least 100 lb. You really want to challenge your thighs and gluteal muscles because for every step, only half of your lower body is doing the majority of the work with one leg. A good rule of thumb for lower body exercises: use higher repetitions in the 12-20 range for muscle growth. This applies especially for calf training.

Standing Calf Raises with Machine

Feel free to load up those calf machines with as much weight as you can possibly handle. This is the best exercise for building maximum muscle mass in the calves. Building huge, strong calves isn't easy at all. Some individuals naturally have big calves, but others have to work hard in order for them to grow even just an inch. Loading up calf machines with close to a 1000 lbs. is a bit ridiculous, but this would definitely help to grow your calves. For many individuals, doing calf raises with 500 lbs. is more than enough to pack on some serious mass with the right diet. You could even get away with performing calf raises with a weight between 200 to 300 lbs. with higher repetitions, such as between 25 to 40. Calves are one of the most stubborn muscle groups of the human anatomy when it comes to building muscle. You can do standing calf raises with 150 lbs. from time to time, but don't expect significant results in terms of packing on additional mass. If you don't have a calf machine available, feel free to use barbells for standing calf raises or use one very heavy dumbbell for one legged standing calf raises. Performing these exercises on a block of some sort to gain a greater range of motion throughout the movement on each repetition is essential as well. For your core, use abdominal exercises, such as crunches and weighted sit-ups in the 10-50 rep range per set.

With heavier weights, your joints will thank you if you don't squat any further than parallel to the floor.
With heavier weights, your joints will thank you if you don't squat any further than parallel to the floor. | Source

Upper Body Weight-lifting Exercises

Barbell Bench Press

This exercise is fantastic for building pectoral major and minor muscle groups in the chest. The barbell bench press also provides indirect work on the anterior deltoids and triceps. Multi-joint exercises, such as the bench-press, pull-up, body-weight dips, shoulder press, deadlift and squat, are great mass builders for the male human anatomy. These exercises will stimulate higher levels of testosterone throughout your body. Men are more likely to build bigger muscles through exercise with higher levels of testosterone. If you don't have a spotter or don't have access to an Olympic barbell, other great mass-builder exercises for the chest include the dumbbell bench press, body-weight dips (standing up hunched over), heavy dumbbell pullovers (excellent for training the serratus muscles near the ribcage) and push-up. If you feel you don't weigh enough to get the most out of performing the push-up, what I like doing is filling a backpack with various 25, 35 and 45 lb. weight-plates and then, putting it on my back. Instead of doing a push-up with your standard body-weight between 160 to 200 pounds, you'll feel as if you're trying to perform a safer version of the barbell bench-press with your own body-weight and more.

Barbell Shoulder Press (In-front and Behind the Neck)

The barbell shoulder press is excellent for building the anterior (front), medial (side) and posterior (rear) areas of your deltoid muscles. If you perform the exercise in-front of your neck finishing each repetition near your chest, the movement will target mostly your anterior and medial deltoid muscles while providing indirect work for your triceps. If the exercise is performed behind your neck, which is a little bit more dangerous with heavier weights, the movement will mainly target your medial and posterior deltoid muscles. If you don't have an Olympic barbell with weight-plates or suffered a minor shoulder injury recently, a great substitution is using dumbbells instead. The dumbbells can be more difficult to control in each hand, so try to stick with a weight heavy enough so that you can only perform between 6 to 8 repetitions. Seated shoulder exercises are always more challenging than when the exercises are performed standing up. Lifters have a tendency to use their own legs to push the weight above their shoulders as they get tired while the movement is being performed standing up. You'll be able to feel it in your triceps and deltoid heads if you're performing the exercise correctly.


Bent-Over Barbell Rows

Bent-over barbell rows are great for building the latissimus dorsi, teres major, teres minor, rhomboids, trapezius and while providing indirect work for your posterior deltoids, lower back and biceps. This is a terrific movement to help widen and thicken your upper back. One arm dumbbell rows with a bench is also an effective alternative exercise. The dumbbell should be quite heavy because you're using only one arm at a time for each repetition to work half of your back for each arm. If you usually use about 250 lbs. for the barbell rows, try a one arm row with a dumbbell weighing at least 125 lbs.

Pull-Up (Weighted or Not)

Wide-grip pull-ups are fantastic for widening your back. This exercise targets your latissimus dorsi, teres major, teres minor, rhomboids, trapezius and provides indirect work to your posterior deltoids and biceps. Close-grip pull-ups will focus on your outer back while working your serratus anterior muscles along your ribcage. I prefer performing this exercise with a weight dip belt. These belts can be bought online or in the stores, and they're very effective for adding extra weight for bench dips, normal dips, pull-ups and other exercises. I highly recommend adding extra weight if you can do at least 8 pull-ups in perfect form. The beauty of pull-ups is that this exercise can be performed almost anywhere. If you don't have access to a pull-up bar at your local gym, walk on over to a park and try doing them on the monkey bars. Or, you could perform them on a strong tree branch or from the comfort of your own home using cheap door pull-up bars.


Barbell Upright Rows

This is another notable multi-joint exercise to work your deltoid muscles, trapezius and biceps. Pull movements can have a substantial effect on your radial forearm muscles as well if you're using heavy weight. You should never feel as if your biceps are doing the majority of the work throughout pulling movements because if so, you may be performing each repetition incorrectly. Pulling exercises should only work the biceps indirectly. Narrow-grip barbell upright rows are the most challenging way to perform this movement. Not only is this one of the more safer weight-lifting exercises for your shoulders, this movement will give you a great opportunity to take advantage of using cheat reps. I typically would never recommend cheat reps for deadlifts, good-mornings or barbell lying tricep extensions, but upright rows are pretty safe if you don't have any preexisting shoulder or elbow injuries. Wide-grip barbell rows will give your medial (side) deltoids a great workout. If you don't have access to a standard or Olympic barbell with weight plates, dumbbell upright rows are a great substitute. I've never tried dumbbell rows seated, but I'm sure this would make the exercise more difficult. If you're up to it, give it a go.


Seated Bench Dips

Seated bench dips are the best for building maximum muscle mass in all three of your tricep heads: the lateral head, medial head and long head. Try to lean back while you perform the exercise because the more you lean forward, the more the movement will take stress off your triceps and transfer it to your lower pectorals (chest), which is not supposed to be the target area for this particular exercise. I like to place 35, 45 and 100 lb. weight plates in a back-pack in my lap before performing the movement with extra weight. If you can safely perform the exercise with over 300 lbs. in your lap, feel free to add more additional weight. This is one of the best multi-joint exercises, if done correctly. Good substitutes for the seated bench dip are close-grip barbell bench presses, barbell lying tricep extensions and rope pull-downs on a machine. Close-grip bench presses are excellent mass builders for your triceps. You could even do push-ups with your hands close together to help better target your triceps. My back-pack method works for these push-ups with your hands close together as well.

This is my favorite triceps exercise.
This is my favorite triceps exercise. | Source

Barbell Curls

Most men want big biceps, there's no question about it. The biceps contain two heads: the long head and the short head. For building big biceps, barbell curls are the most important. Aside from working your biceps, this movement will train your brachialis and radial forearm muscles. The most effective rep range is between 6 to 8 repetitions. This is another exercise I would recommend to use cheat reps. If you are able to perform at least a partial rep 4 to 6 times, this will help to build the lower end of your biceps. Again, if you don't have access to Olympic barbells with various weight plates or an EZ curl bar for that matter, feel free to use heavy dumbbells for each arm. For your bicep peak, seated concentration curls are the best. You might already have big biceps but if you lack a peak, your arms won't look as big when they are bent and flexed. Seated incline curls are another good one. At the top of every repetition with the weight, try to have your palms facing the ceiling with your wrists twisted slightly inside. This will help develop the highest peak possible. Try to let your biceps do the most work with these exercises rather than your forearms. DO NOT pull the weight back towards your back as you curl during each repetition. Remember that this is a curling exercise for your biceps, not a pulling one for your back.


Lower-Body & Upper-Body Exercises

Barbell Deadlift

This is easily the best exercise you can do to train both your lower and upper body at the same time. This movement will train your gluteal muscles, quads, hamstrings, erector spinae (lower back), trapezius, shoulder girdle and other muscle groups. When lifting heavy weights from the floor, always begin by lifting with your legs rather than your back. Your back is there for support. If you can't lift the barbell off the floor using your thighs, gluteal muscles, back and arms altogether, the weight is too heavy. The overhand grip is the safest grip for this exercise, and it's highly recommended for all lifters to help prevent the weight from falling out of the lifter's hands. If you're not up to doing barbell deadlifts, dumbbell deadlifts work too and even T-Bar rows are effective for thickening the upper back. In general, deadlifts are extremely tiring on your entire body. I would personally recommend making deadlifts the first exercise in your workout routine on a specific day. Always remember to train smaller muscle groups, such as calves and forearms, last in your work-outs. These smaller muscles are used to assist your larger muscles for other important lifting exercises. You wouldn't want to lift barbells with sore and/or tired forearms.


Power Clean & Press (Jerk)

This is another perfect full-body exercise. Like deadlifts, try to do these exercises first in your workout regimen if you choose to perform them. Power clean & presses use the same muscle groups as deadlifts, but add in the triceps. Once the weight is at shoulder level, it's actually encouraged for lifters to use their legs, deltoids, triceps and upper back to get the weight above their head. This movement combines the upright row, deadlift and shoulder press all into one full-body exercise. It can be very dangerous with heavy weight, but it's still one of the most effective exercises to use to build maximum muscle mass and improve power. Practice with lighter weight to get the feel for it and when you feel you're ready, stick with the 6 to 10 rep range starting out. If you've been lifting for years, aim for the 3 to 5 rep range for powerlifting.


Favorite Weight-Lifting Exercise

What is your most favorite weight-lifting exercise?

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What are the Best Bodybuilding Supplements for Mass?

  • Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass - This supplement comes in all kinds of different flavors. It has a lot of carbohydrates, protein, calories, and vitamins and minerals in each serving. In 2 scoops, you'll have 1,250 calories, 50 grams of protein, 20 grams of sugar and 250 grams of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are your body's number one source for energy. For a size and strength diet, a lot of carbohydrates are a must. Each serving is approximately 2 heaping scoops and the 12 lb. bag will give you the most bang for your buck. In my own personal opinion, the chocolate and vanilla flavors are the best.


  • Russian Bear 5000 - This supplement is another great one for packing on muscle mass. Although there are only 9 servings per container, you don't have to use the full serving in order to get a lot out of this product. Each full serving of 5 scoops contains 184 grams of protein, 391 carbohydrates, creatine monohydrate and 46 grams of triglycerides amino acids (MCTs). Take under consideration that their serving is based on individuals mixing a lot of the supplement in with milk. This is quite a lot starting off, so I recommend people to use two to three scoops instead of the full five. The supplement will go by faster if you use the full serving. These weight-gainer supplements are not cheap, but they definitely work.


  • Ultimate Nutrition Muscle Juice Revolution 2600 - This was my first bodybuilding weight-gainer supplement. It has great flavors, and my own personal favorite was just plain vanilla. Chocolate is also a tasty flavor. For weight-gainer supplements, it can be difficult to find the right ones that taste good. It has 19 servings per container, 1,020 calories per serving, 170 carbohydrates per serving, 56 grams of protein and 18 grams of sugar. Each serving size is four scoops. I highly recommend purchasing the bigger buckets instead of the smaller four pound tubs. However, if you've never tried it before, stick with the smaller tubs.


What if I'm on a tight budget? Are there cheaper supplements?

  • The four-pack of Muscle Milk or purple Myoplex drinks are great for building muscle. Each four-pack of Muscle Milk is usually $5.99 at Target and Wal-Mart stores in the United States. Each individual drink contains 25 grams of protein, 170 calories and a lot of vitamins and minerals. In my opinion, the chocolate and vanilla flavors are the best. The four-pack of Myoplex drinks are between $8.99 and $11.99 each at the same stores. The larger Myoplex drinks contain 300 calories each, about 42 grams of protein, approximately 20 grams of carbohydrates, and various vitamins and minerals.


© 2018 James Foglio


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