You should all now be aware that I, along with thousands of other fit pros, firmly believe that weight training is a superior exercise mode for improved body composition and health. But what about superior weight training exercises?
For each muscle group I’ve narrowed it down to just one movement. No decision was made lightly. And obviously each entirely subjective, but I’ve given my arguments for why they made the final cut. You can use this as a list of top priority exercises, i.e. If you could only do one exercise for a chosen muscle group, listed below is what I’d recommend. For more guidance on how the exercises below work in a periodised programme that’s specific to your goals, take a look at online personal training with me.
Each movement has been selected for its ability to recruit the target muscle fibres, its capability to keep you safe and its ease of completion. In other words, these exercises will give you most returns on time invested.
Barbell back squat – The king of lower body weight training movements. I’m sure if I put anything else down I’d end up with hate mail and death threats! Seriously though the back squat is a great exercise for working the quads, adding mass and building strength. For even more quad recruitment try performing it with your heels raised under two small weight plates.
Prone leg curl – There’s many options here, including all deadlift variations, but the prone leg curl is brilliant at isolating the hamstrings.
Barbell hip thrust – This is a great movement for the glutes and posterior chain in general. The posterior chain can handle a much heavier weight than you might anticipate. Which is great, because you can really load this exercise up.
Seated calf raise – The difference between seated and standing is so minimal, however I prefer the seated variation for its ability to work the soleus muscle effectively as well as the gastrocnemius.
Dumbbell flat chest press – I generally prefer dumbbell variations of chest presses over barbell. You’ll get more pec fibre recruitment and more range of motion.
One arm dumbbell arc row – This is like a regular dumbbell row, however you add more of an arc/sweeping motion by pulling to the hip. This activates the lats even more. I also like performing them with one arm to ensure each side of the back is getting equal work.
Ahrens dumbbell press – Basically a seated dumbbell shoulder press, however as the press the weights up you go out to create a Y shape. A bit like the first dance move shape in the YMCA song. This variation keeps the tension on the delts much more effectively than just the normal dumbbell press.
Dumbbell shrugs – For much the same reason as chest, I prefer dumbbells for this movement for the extra added range of motion you get.
Incline dumbbell curl – Seated variations of biceps movements are good because they take the majority of the ability to cheat out of the movement. Inclined curls place the elbow behind the body, which means you’ll work the lateral/long head of the biceps – an area that often lags behind and gets neglected.
Parallel bar dip – By keeping the torso more erect on a traditional bar dip, you can really target in on the triceps. I really like this movement for overall triceps development. Any movement that helps you to develop strength and control with your own bodyweight is great.
Anything with a thicker grip! Take any weight training exercise and do it with a thicker grip for more muscle fibre recruitment in the forearms. It also transfers over into functional grip strength. Obviously having a set of dumbbells and barbells with thicker handles is going to get expensive, but a more feasible alternative is to use something like Fat Gripz.
Gym ball roll out – This is a great all rounder movement for the abs and core. I also like it because it encourages you do use the glutes for pelvic stability. If you want a progression you can even try it on a TRX or one of those old school ab wheels.