When trying to build lean muscle I like to keep things simple. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of all the new products and exercises that promise to be the next best thing in muscle building.
This article will show you three exercises for building lean muscle and will hopefully encourage you to use them in your efforts. These exercises are the grass roots of building lean muscle and in my opinion are essential for any serious training program.
You might find it hard to believe, but with these three exercises alone you can pack on a serious amount of muscle. Due to the fact that they are complex movements you also get the benefit of increased metabolic stress. That means these exercises can burn more calories than other exercises making it easier to achieve lean muscle. When I start planning a program for a client I always start with these three basic exercises and build the program around them.
Squat The squat is an exercise that builds serious muscle. The squat is primarily a leg building exercise. If you are not familiar with the movement, you start the exercise with a barbell resting across your shoulders standing straight up. Then bending at the knees and hips, lower the barbell down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. And then stand pushing the barbell back to the starting position.
Performing squats will target quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals. Secondary muscle groups include the lower back, abdominals, adductors and to a certain extent your shoulder and calf muscles. Yep, that’s right I said abdominals. Performing squats correctly is an incredible exercise for strengthening your core.
Standing Shoulder Press
I think that standing shoulder press or military press is one of the best upper body building exercises. By including the standing shoulder press into your workout you target one of the biggest muscle group in your upper body, the shoulders. By performing the exercise standing, you also demand performance from your core muscles to maintain a consistent neutral spinal position. The more muscle that gets stimulated by a single exercise means that your body must work harder to perform the movement. If your body has to work harder then you get a greater metabolic effect from that exercise. Think about it. When you are doing a standing shoulder press every muscle from the ends of your toes to your finger tips are being used. When you are doing a seated shoulder press only muscle groups from your hips up are being stimulated. And think about this, when you perform bench press only muscles from your shoulders up are being recruited for the primary movements(nothing against bench press it has its’ place and should be included, just not in the top 3 in my opinion.)
The standing press is a simple yet extremely powerful exercise that targets the entire shoulder complex, (deltoids) and triceps and some chest will be recruited to do this movement. To perform a standing press stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Use a barbell or dumbbells. The bar should be gripped at shoulder width. You must ensure that you keep your spine in what is known as a neutral position throughout the movement. If you can not do this you risk seriously hurting your back. Now press the bar or dumbbells overhead until your arms are completely extended. Lower the bar back to your shoulders and repeat. Now feel the sweet burn!
Pull Ups Wide grip, narrow grip, reverse grip, mixed grip, whatever! Grab a chin up bar with your arms fully extended and get your chin over top of it! If you were only going to do one exercise to work your back this would be it. This exercise is a great test of a lifters power to weight ratio.
Pull ups work your entire upper back, biceps and forearms. Grab the bar in your choice of grip. Start in a “hanging” position with your arms fully extended. Pull yourself up until your can get your chin over the bar and lower back to starting position.
If you are unable to do a pull up on your own don’t think this exercise is not for you. There are lots of variations. You can use the assisted chin up machine or lat pull down machine to strengthen your back. Another great idea is to place an olympic bar at about waist height on a squat rack. Keep your body rigid and hang from your arms at a 45 degree angle beneath the bar. Pull your chest to the bar. lower back down and repeat. It targets the same primary muscle movers. Before you know it you will be on the pull up bar doing them without assistance.
Remember it is my opinion that these exercises are the primary or core exercises of a good program designed to build lean muscle. All of the exercises are complex ie) they each require multiple muscle recruitment to perform. Because more muscle is recruited from all over body this means maximal muscle growth while at the same time ensuring maximal caloric output to create that lean, chiseled look.