“The squat, press, the deadlift, and the bench press have been used for decades by the strongest athletes on the planet. There is good reason for that. Any program that doesn’t use them is inferior to one that does, and an athlete that leaves them out of the program is doing less than possible for performance, and less than absolutely necessary to have the best strength possible”.
There is much to concur with in Mr Rippetoe’s quote.
It is also important to know that there is not a routine that just makes you big or just makes you strong, there is always carryover and overlap between the two modalities.
Only six movements are required to develop complete overall body size and strength. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the best exercises to build size and strength will be compound and multijoint movements. In order to build size and strength the human body responds best when it is trained as a unit and training big compound movements are the best method of achieving an effective adaptive response. Forget the bullshit magic training routines – these moves will create the greatest change in body composition in the shortest possible time.
In addition to being able to build great size and strength, compound exercises have the added advantage of developing the body proportionately. Bodybuilders who utilise predominantly isolation exersises can admitedly achieve effective hypertrophy, especially as they are chemically enhanced, but they often do not look aesthetically pleasing. Instead they often look like a conglomeration of body parts rather than a unified, composite whole. Training Isolation moves will not develop great overall body strength or athleticism either .
The following quote from Dr Fred Lester illustrates this rationale perfectly :
“Why so-called compound movements? Before I actually knew anything about proper training (and this is not to imply that I know even a fraction of what there is to know now), I realized that there was something, an indefinable something, that wasn’t “right” about a number of bodybuilders who trained in the gym where I also trained. (This is not to be misconstrued as a criticism of all bodybuilders. Many have a great deal of athletic ability and fine, athletic-appearing physiques.) One such man was an advanced trainee (in the sense that he had been training a number of years and had won a number of local physique titles). However, he was missing a certain athletic quality, a harmonious look. My brother put the finger on it when he observed, “He looks like a bunch of body parts pasted together. He’s all there, big and all, but the total picture looks awkward-no grace, no glow, no…” The point had been made.”
The big three powerlifts, the Bench Press, the Squat and the Deadlift are extremely effective at building static strength. The standard weightlifting disciplines are I believe unsurpassed at developing explosive power. Additionally all will build great size if loaded appropriately for sets and reps.
My chosen six best exercises to build size and strength use or borrow heavily from these disciplines.
Utilise the following six movements effectively and you will build all the meat your coathangers can handle. Additionally you will build great static and explosive strength and your body will benefit in terms of increased athleticism.
These are my top 6 exercises to build size and strength:
Goes without saying the Squat known as the king of exercises is one of the “must do” exercises to build size and strength. Although the Back squat allows the greatest leverage and ability to move the most weight, a small proportion of trainees have knee problems preventing its execution. If you are one of these, the vertical frog like stance of the Front Squat usually alleviates this problem, and is equally effective. Safety Bar Squats, heavy Double Kettlebell Squats and even Goblet Squats can be substituted so long as some squatting is done. Squats, like Deadlifts and its variations, promote increases in production of growth hormone and testosterone. They elicit a systemic effect on the body, precipitating size and strength increases all over.
There is something primordial about lifting a huge weight from the floor. The Deadlift and its derivatives, build great strength throughout the entire body. Trap Bar, Snatch Grip, Rack pull, Rumanian, Stiff Legged and Deficit Deadlifts are all additional variations of pulling a heavy weight from the floor. Aside from being the best back exercises in existence Deadlifts build great strength in the core and hips which just happen to be the seat of athletic power. Rack Pulls, in this writers opinion are most effective at putting slabs of meat on the upper back, especially when trained heavy with weights in excess of your Deadlift 1 rep max.
In older times, before the massive popularity of the Bench Press and “pecs”, the archetypal test of upper body strength was the Standing Press – and for good reason.
Prior to its exclusion from the olympic lifts in 1972 the Standing Press was trained extensively and effectively, and is in this writers opinion superior to the aforementioned Bench Press. It is more useful in its athletic application also, because it is ground based and utilises the longest kinetic chain of any of the static lifts.
With the majority of athletic pursuits, with few exceptions, anytime force is applied by the body to an external object, the parts of the body involved in the transmission of that force, to where it is applied, start at the floor and travel along a kinetic chain to the object being moved, thrown etc. The kinetic chain of the Standing Press for example, is the longest possible and extends down the arms through the torso, utilising the entire musculature of the trunk, hips and legs to stabilise the body, whilst the deltoids, upper chest and triceps press the bar to arms length.
The Standing Press is therefore not merely an excellent upper body exercise, but also a huge developer of core strength.
The inability to fairly judge the execution of this former olympic lift resulted in its exclusion, demise, and reduced popularity as a training exercise. This is evident as you rarely see it performed now, especially in commercial gyms.
Conversely the Bench Press exploded in popularity, and whilst it’s a great exercise for building upper body strength, it’s not the best chest developer and it’s functionality and application in athletic pursuits is probably less than that of the Standing Press. Many however disagree with this opinion and consider the Bench Press as the superior upper body exercise. Each have their merits and they can also be effectively alternated.
The Standing Press can also be trained effectively using dumbells or kettlebells
Unlike the Bench Press where only the arms move, Dips allow heavy weights to be used while the entire body moves through space. Weighted Dips develop slab like pecs, huge powerful triceps, and front deltoids. They were utilised extensively by many old school bodybuilders as their prime chest exercise.
This is the superior exercise for chest development – yes even better than the Bench Press in this writer’s opinion.
Weighted Chins/Pull ups:
Ever since we descended from our arboreal habitat and stood on the ground, man has attempted to pull himself up and over an overhead branch, sometimes in order to survive. Indeed anyone who considers themselves strong should be able to accomplish this feat.
Chins and Pull Ups (especially weighted) build great strength in the upper body and a big wide back. They are far superior to Pulldowns, where only the arms move. Additionally Weighted Chins build big biceps more effectively than Curls.
Power or Hang Cleans:
I think it’s tremendously important to have a ballistic move included in this list of exercises to build size and strength.
The Power Clean is a powerful exercise that builds explosive power and strength throughout your entire body. Look at any olympic lifter and you will see immense musculature in the upper back and trapezius – there is a reason for this and its called “The Clean” which is matchless in its ability to develop the upper back and traps. This exercise also builds great explosive power when weighted appropriately. It cannot be done slowly, and is probably the most effective move for converting the strength derived from the other moves into power.
Contrary to popular belief, learning to Power Clean is not rocket science – lifting a heavy weight to the shoulders is a fairly natural movement, however some people still find the proper execution of this lift difficult to learn.
With this in mind, the Hang Clean provides an effective and technically easier alternative.
There you have it – six of the best exercises to build size and strength. Incorporate these into your training or build a routine around these six alone for prodigious increases in size and strength.
Don’t forget to get your diet and recuperation dialled in,