Bodybuilder in gym performing deadlifts

The 8 Fundamental Bodybuilding Exercises For Maximum Results

Resistance training is more valuable and more effective than cardio for weight loss, and should be an integral part to any exercise program. These are the eight most important exercises to include in your bodybuilding workouts.

You want to look chiseled and lean. You already have your nutrition plan and supplement regimen all lined up. All you need is now a workout routine and you’ll be good to go.

So which bodybuilding exercises are best? There’s a lot of information out there, and it’s often contradictory, since what may work best for one person may not work for another.

So how can you set up a workout program if everyone reacts differently to different routines? Although everyone is different, there are many methods and techniques that can be used to help you build muscle mass.

And when it comes to burning fat, resistance training is an important part of exercising for fat loss – and it’s actually more effective than cardio. Believe it or not, you don’t even need to do cardio in order to get shredded!

The Best Basic Bodybuilding Exercises

Here are the 8 essential bodybuilding exercises that should be included in any resistance training program:

  • Deadlifts
  • Squats
  • Power Cleans
  • Bench Press
  • Bent-Over Rows
  • Military Press
  • Dips
  • Pull-Ups

These exercises are aimed at making your workout sessions as productive and efficient as possible for muscle growth. All of them are compound exercises which use multiple muscle groups, including those that don’t typically get worked as strongly as with isolation exercises.

These are the exercises that will help you build the most muscle mass in the shortest amount of time. Below is a brief description for each exercise, as well as sample training splits for both the beginner and advanced trainees.

Note: For each exercise, it’s recommended to perform 3 sets of 12 reps. Take a 30-second rest between sets to keep up intensity and heart rate for optimal fat loss.

See Also: The Best Bodybuilding Supplements

1. Deadlifts

Along with squats, deadlifts are one of the best bodybuilding exercises you can do. Deadlifts work not only your back, but your entire core, engaging and strengthening all the big muscles of the lower body and pretty much working everything from your shoulders to the hips and legs.

Deadlifts place particular emphasis on stabilizing and strengthening the erector spinae and lower back, while hitting the abdominals, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and hips. This exercise is essential, since the lower back is typically a weak spot for most people, causing a lack of stability, injury, and other problems.

Based upon the strength of your forearms and hand grip, you might want to use straps to keep your grip on the barbell as you begin moving to heavier weights. There are a few different variations of hand positions you can use also.

One way is to use both hands with an overhand grip. Another way is to use an alternate grip, with one hand having an overhand grip and the other using an underhand grip (this helps improve strength).

2. Squats

The squat is one of the two most important of all exercises, along with deadlifts. Squats work most muscle groups in the body, putting emphasis on the core and the major muscles of the lower body. The more muscles utilized during an exercise, the more effective the exercise becomes – and the squat takes the grand prize in this regard.

You can add different variations of the squat to your routine in order to target specific muscles. The front squat places more emphasis on the quads, while the back squat involves the hamstrings and glutes.

Targeting specific muscles while performing squats can also be achieved by varying the width of your stance. A narrower stance will work the quads more, while a wider stance will focus more on the hamstrings and glutes, and a sumo stance targets the adductors.

Squats can be performed using barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, or even using only your own body weight. Choosing to perform squats using free weights vs machines can also influence their effectiveness, with barbells being the optimal choice.

When performing squats, it’s important to lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the ground. That said, some individuals (those who are taller or longer-limbed, for example) may not be able to do this, in which case going as far as you comfortably can will work as long as your form is correct and you keep the intensity up.

3. Power Cleans

Targeting many of the muscles employed using the deadlift, but without having to lift as much of a load), the power clean is a power-lift compound exercise targeting the lower legs, quadriceps, glutes, upper back, and deltoids. Generally speaking, power-lift-type exercises  are the most effective exercises to implement, and even though the power clean is not a simple exercise, if it’s performed correctly it can be a valuable tool in your muscle-building program.

4. Bench Press

The bench press is another power exercise that’s the fundamental technique used in bodybuilding to work the pectorals, and the triceps and anterior deltoids as well. Like the squat, bench presses can be performed in different ways in order to target specific parts of the chest.

Using a flat bench targets the middle of the chest, an inclined bench press targets the upper pectorals and serratus anterior, while declined bench presses target the lower pecs. This exercise can be performed using either a barbell or dumbbells, with a barbell being standard, although using dumbbells works more stabilizer muscles.

Incline barbell bench press, workout programs for men
Bench Press

A change in the width of your grip can also affect specific chest muscles differently. Using a wider grip places more emphasis on the chest overall, while a narrower grip places more focus on the triceps.

5. Bent-Over Rows

The back is the largest muscle group in the upper body, spanning the all the way from the top of the trapezius down to the hips. A bent-over row is the reverse exercise to the bench press, targeting the back.

However, the reverse variation of the bent-over row is even more effective than standard bent over rows, because it utilizes more muscles. This variation uses an underhand grip rather than the traditional overhand grip.

Based upon the width of your grip, you can target either the latissimus dorsi or the rhomboids. Using a wider grip will work the latissimus dorsi more, and a more narrow grip will hit the rhomboids.

To increase exercise intensity, you can perform bent-over rows with your feet elevate,  by placing them on a bench rather than on the ground.

6. Standing Military Press

Also referred to as the shoulder press and overhead press, the military press focuses on the deltoids, and is typically performed in the standing position. For this reason, this exercise requires you to stabilize your core, rather than relying on the bench for support (as opposed to a seated military press).

Like the squat, deadlifts, and bent over rows, the core is engaged when performing the military press. With this exercise, either barbells or dumbbells can be used, but a barbell is the better choice.

Variations include in-front-of-the-head and behind-the-head presses. However, only advanced trainees should attempt behind-the-head presses due to the greater risk for injury associated with this exercise if performed incorrectly.

7. Dips

Of all exercises, dips are the best for working out your triceps. Newbies can start off by doing bench dips, with hands on a bench and feet on the floor.

Then, move to full body weight dips using the dip bars. Advanced trainees can add more weight to their dips by hanging a plate from a chain on a weight belt, or by placing a dumbbell between their feet.

Triceps dips, workout programs for men
Whether done slowly or quickly, dips put your arms to work, and you’ll feel them burn during this exercise. Your can vary from the standard shoulder-width grip, a slightly wider grip, or even a grip where your palms are facing toward your body.

To target mainly the triceps, perform dips with your body straight and perpendicular to the ground, and lean forward a bit to target the pectorals more.

Additionally, doing dips can enhance your bench press performance.

8. Pull-Ups

Next to bent over rows, pull-ups are the most comprehensive exercise for developing the muscles of the back, particularly the latissimus dorsi. Pullups work every area of the back, from the trapezius and lats, down to your lower back and waist – all by just using a variety of pull-up exercises.

There are wide variety of pull-up exercises that you can perform, whether using full body weight, an assisted machine, or adding more weight by hanging plates from a chain on a weight belt. There are narrow and wide-grip variations, with the grip in a neutral, underhand, or overhand position.

Other variations include full pull-ups with elbows completely extended, half-reps to mainly target the biceps, and sternum pull-ups, where you touch your sternum to the bar on every rep.

Putting Together a Workout Split

Whether your priority is to build more muscle and burn fat, get stronger, or become more athletic, an important aspect when putting together a comprehensive training program is choosing the right workout split.

A workout split is a way to organize your workouts during the week – either by body areas, isolated body parts, movements or lifts. The type of split you use is based upon whether you’re a beginner or an advanced trainee, and the frequency of your weightlifting sessions.

Beginner Bodybuilding Splits

Training 2 to 3 days per week will be enough for most beginners, with three days being ideal. In general, you should target each body part once per week in order to allow ample recovery time until the next workout session.

To receive the greatest benefit and fastest results, beginners should focus on full-body training, whether using the two- or three-day split. Performing full body workouts increases greater amounts of anabolic hormones compared to doing the upper or lower body only.

Beginner Workout Split Examples

2-Day Split Examples:

  • Full body/Full body
  • Push/Pull
  • Upper body/Lower body

3-Day Split Examples:

  • Full body/Full body/Full body
  • Upper body/Lower Body/Full body

To avoid the risk of injury, it is vitally important for beginners to always use correct form when doing all exercises. Each rep should be performed with good, controlled technique.

For best results, how much weight you’re able to lift is not nearly as important as how well you lift. If you are new to bodybuilding, it is strongly recommend to find a personal trainer who can demonstrate correct exercise form, and (more importantly) can observe and correct any mistakes in your technique.

Advanced Bodybuilder Splits

Workout veterans will be able to train each body-part more than one time per week, assuming that they’re getting a sufficient recovery period before hitting the same body parts. For the more experienced trainee, 3- to 5-day splits are common, as are 2-day on, 1-day off splits, and similar.

A lot of advanced bodybuilders will only take one day off from training, and will complete their cardio training on non-weightlifting days.

Advanced Workout Split Examples

4-Day Split:

  • Upper-body/Lower-body/Upper-body/Lower-body
  • Push/Pull/Push/Pull
  • Chest and Triceps/Shoulders and Traps/Legs and Abs/Back and Biceps

5-Day Split:

  • Chest/Shoulders/Arms/Legs/Back
  • Back and Chest/Shoulders and Traps/Arms and Calves/Quadriceps and Abs/Hamstrings and Abs

Keep in mind that regardless of your training experience, you should to adjust your resistance program every 4-6 weeks, or at signs of plateauing. This will ensure that you continue making gains by forcing your body to frequently adapt to the changes.

See Also: Bodybuilding Diet, Nutrition, and Meal Plan


To get a chiseled, muscular physique, the first step is to focus on your diet. Once your nutrition is taken care of, only then is it time to start training.

You should incorporate the 8 essential exercises into your workout program: Deadlifts, squats, power cleans, bench presses, bent over rows, military presses, dips, and pull-ups. Together they work out your entire body in a way that is the most efficient, effective, and delivering the fastest results – especially for beginners.

Add to this some high-intensity aerobic training, which is far more effective for fat loss compared to steady-state, low-intensity, cardio. With these best bodybuilding exercises in your workout program, along with a proper nutrition plan, get ready to become huge, lean, and chiseled.

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