The Best Exercises Targeting Each Muscle Group

March 22, 2019

Knowing which area of your body you want to focus on can inform your exercise choices. Your muscle fibers adapt to the type of exercise you do, so it is important to have a plan. There are 11 muscle groups in the body, and these correlating workouts are the best exercises targeting each muscle group.

  1. Hamstrings:
  2. Calves:
    Jump rope
    Dumbbell jump squat
  3. Chest:
    Bench press
  4. Back:
    Pull-ups/ Chin-ups
  5. Shoulders:
    Overhead press
  6. Triceps:
    Reverse grip/close grip bench press
  7. Biceps:
    Close grip pull-up
    Dumbbell curl
  8. Forearms:
    Wrist Curls
  9. Trapezius:
  10. Abs:

How to Build Muscle Fast Through Diet and Exercise

If you are looking to gain muscle, it pays to go back to the basics. Diet and exercise are the key to controlling body weight, and that includes muscle gain. You can modify your workout regimen to gain muscle faster if so desired. If you are looking to increase your muscle size, it is important to understand your own limits to be able to increase the intensity of your workouts and protein consumption. Here is a guide on how to build muscle fast:

Diet: Protein and More

While some may have naturally fast metabolisms, everyone can benefit from a healthier diet. A protein-rich diet helps the muscles recover from a workout and grow stronger. Many people supplement their diet with protein powder, as it is a quick way to get protein into the body. The most common way protein powder is consumed is through protein shakes. These shakes can be consumed either before or after a workout. As long as your body is getting the protein it needs to build muscle after a workout, you are in good shape.

To figure out how much protein you should be intaking while trying to gain muscle, there are a few factors to consider. The average sedentary woman needs about 46 grams of protein per day, while the average man needs about 56 grams. This need for protein increases when one starts building muscle, as the protein helps heal the muscles so that they can grow.

If you are planning any particularly strenuous exercises, make sure that you eat enough calories to give your body the energy it needs to build muscle. While those who are concerned with losing weight may search for more low calorie foods, it is expected that a person will gain weight in the process of building muscle.


Whether you are hitting the bench presses and lifting weights to tone your upper body, or doing squats and lunges to tone your lower body, understanding how your muscles are targeted during a workout can maximize efficiency. Use the list of best exercises targeting each muscle group at the beginning of this post as a guide.

Rep Range

How many reps you do between rest periods is a factor to consider when you are learning how to build muscle fast. When it comes to strength training, having rest periods in between reps are important so that you can ultimately continue your workout longer than if you did not have rest periods. Arguments have been made for how many reps are considered ideal for muscle gain, but it may come down to knowing yourself and what your body responds to. A lower number of reps, such as 5, would be ideal for someone just starting out with weightlifting. If you are new to weightlifting, you can work your way up to a higher number of reps (15) with time. If you are unsure where you fall, a moderate number of reps, such as 10, is always a safe bet.

Training Program

If you are ready to put on pounds of muscle, start with a Houston gym known for its elite training. O Athletik has state-of-the-art equipment to target every muscle group in the body, as well as personal trainers ready to help you reach your goals and fitness classes that will keep you on your toes.

The 12-Week Beginner Bodybuilding Plan – Phase 1

Main | Phase 1 | Phase 2 | Phase 3 | Phase 4

Phase 1 The One-Day Split ( Weeks 1-3)

You don’t need Einstein’s IQ to guess that a whole-body training split involves training the entire body in every workout. It’s ideal for beginners, allowing them to train each muscle group multiple times each week. With a whole-body training split, you can train each muscle group three times per week—say, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

“Your muscle fibers must learn how to contract in concert, allowing you to perform exercises correctly.”

That sort of repetition helps train train the body’s nervous system. See, before you can focus on muscle building, those muscles must first learn to contract properly. Learning how to bench press or squat is like learning to ride a bike, and just as painful if you don’t know what the heck you’re doing. Your muscle fibers must learn how to contract in concert, allowing you to perform exercises correctly, and apply the most strength when you do it.

We suggest training Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but any three days of the week will do, as long as training days are separated by rest days. Your body needs time to recover from the previous workout. Recovery is critical for becoming bigger and stronger.

Weeks 1-3 Workouts

Note: Complete this workout three times per week with at least one full day of rest between workouts (e.g. Monday, Wednesday and Friday).

Phase 1 Workout 1 3 sets, 10-12 reps (2-3 minutes rest)+ 8 more exercises

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Phase 1 Rundown


The exercises you’ll be using are the tried-and-true mass builders, such as the bench press, squat and barbell curl to name a few. The kind of stuff Arnold did. You’ll be performing only one exercise per muscle group during this phase. More than that, and the workout would become prohibitively long and excessive for muscles not yet accustomed to such stimulus.


Rep is the abbreviated term for repetition, which involves doing an exercise one time through its full range of motion. In this phase, aim for 10-12 reps per set. That is a good range in which to learn the exercise and build size and strength in the beginner’s body. Exception: calves and abs. For those stubborn muscle groups, higher reps will stimulate more muscle growth. And when doing body weight ab exercises, such as the crunch, do as many reps as you can until reaching muscle failure.


“Since you’ll be doing 10-12 reps per set, choose a weight that prevents you from doing any more than 12 reps, but allows you to complete at least 10 reps.”


The amount of weight you use is determined by the rep range. Since you’ll be doing 10-12 reps per set, choose a weight that prevents you from doing any more than 12 reps, but allows you to complete at least 10 reps. You should grow stronger over these three weeks, so once you can exceed 12 reps with the weight you’re using, increase the weight by 5 or 10 pounds.


A “set” refers to doing all reps for an exercise. Picking up the bar and performing as many reps as you can before putting down the bar completes one set. Typically you do several sets per exercise, resting in between those sets. In this phase you’ll do three sets per exercise, just enough repetition to learn the exercise, yet not too much to over-extend the workout.


During this phase, you’ll rest 2-3 minutes between sets. The goal is to allow enough rest for you to stick fairly close to the rep range using the same weight on all three sets. This will help you gain more size and strength. In fact, research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that beginning lifters resting 2.5 minutes between sets gained more than twice as much muscle size on their arms as those taking one minute between sets. The exception here is calves and abs, which tend to recover faster between sets. For these exercises, rest 1-2 minutes between sets.

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The 8-Week Beginner Barbell Program for Serious Strength Gains

Barbells are accessible for men and women of any age. And the best part? All you need to get stronger are these five simple moves, according to Bonvechio.

These are compound movements, meaning they work multiple joints and muscle groups at once. Compared to isolation exercises, like biceps curls, compound exercises burn more calories and get more work done in less time.

Plus, they’re generally more functional: Learning how to safely pick up a heavy object off the ground, as you do in the deadlift, is likely to carry over into real-world situations (like moving furniture into your dream apartment).

Here are the big 5 exercises you need to know:

1. Back squat

Muscles worked: Quads, hamstrings, hips, glutes

A. Make sure the “J-cups” — the brackets that hold the barbell — are at shoulder-height, says personal trainer Dell Polanco (pictured).

With your feet shoulder-width apart or a tiny bit wider, rest the barbell on your traps. Those are the wide, flat muscles that cover the top of your back and bottom of your neck.

Grasp the bar with both hands facing forward and elbows pointing down. Your arms should form a rough W shape.

B. Keeping spine straight and core braced, first push your hips back, then bend your knees. Pause when your butt is just below parallel with the floor, push through your heels, and rise to starting position.

2. Bench press

Muscles worked: Chest, triceps, shoulders

A. Place J-cups in position. Lie faceup on the bench with the bar racked above your upper chest. Place hands shoulder-width apart or a little wider.

Lift the bar and bring it down across your sternum so your arms are at about a 45-degree angle from your chest (not flared out to the sides).

B. Keeping wrists straight, push the bar up and very slightly back toward your head so it finishes over your shoulders.

Keep shoulder blades contracted, engage glutes, and drive heels into the floor throughout the movement. Position feet so they’re not too far away to engage your glutes, Polanco says.

3. Barbell row

Muscles worked: Back

A. Hinge forward at hips until your torso is parallel with the floor.

B. Grab the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart, both palms facing you. Brace core and pull elbows toward the ceiling, bringing the bar to your lower chest. Squeeze shoulder blades together to emphasize scapular strength. Return the bar to the floor between sets.

4. Deadlift

Muscles worked: Glutes, hips, hamstrings, lower back

A. With the bar on the floor, roll it so it’s practically against your shins. Stand with feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Point toes forward or at 11 and 1 o’clock. Bend your knees a little and your hips a lot as you grasp the bar slightly outside your legs.

B. Brace core and lift the bar by squeezing glutes, thrusting hips forward, and pulling torso back and up. Be careful not to bend your knees or drop your hips too much or keep your torso too upright, Bonvechio says.

“It’s a hinge, not a squat, so the hips should be above the knees and the torso should be at about a 45-degree angle to the ground.”

5. Overhead press

Muscles worked: Shoulders, triceps

A. With feet shoulder-width apart, rest the barbell on your clavicle. Grip it with elbows pointed down and forearms perpendicular to the floor.

B. Taking care to pull your chin back a little (to avoid smacking it with the bar), drive the bar upward in a straight line, locking out your elbows.

Once the bar clears your head, bring your chin back to its original position, so the barbell is right above your head or even a little farther backward. Reverse the movement. Be careful not to arch your lower back too much throughout the movement.

Dumbbell exercises

Dumbbells are the most accessible free weights so they’re the first most people tend to try, either in the gym or as part of a home workout. They’re also among the most versatile weights you can use, and even if you usually gravitate towards the barbell to tackle big lifts like the back squat, deadlift and bench press, there are plenty of reasons to make sure you also find time for dumbbell exercises.

“When using a barbell, your weaker side can get an easy ride,” says PT and Multipower ambassador Ant Nyman. “You can move the weight predominantly using your stronger side, meaning one side will always lag behind. Using dumbbells nullifies this problem because each side has to work individually, meaning you’ll develop strength and size evenly on both sides.

“The unstable nature of holding dumbbells also ensures that your stabiliser muscles have to work hard to keep you steady while you perform the movement. Without realising it you’ll be strengthening your core and other stabiliser muscles, which can help prevent injury.”

Here are Nyman’s favourite beginner, intermediate and advanced dumbbell exercises, and a few of our own, too.

Beginner Dumbbell Exercises

Lateral raise

Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand next to your outer thighs. Keep your back straight and slowly lift the weights out to the sides until your arms are parallel with the floor. Your elbows should be slightly bent. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

“Lateral raises target the medial (outer) head of the deltoid muscle,” says Nyman. “You don’t need an awful lot of core strength to perform the movement, which is why it’s good for beginners.

“Imagine you are holding a bucket in each hand. As you raise your arms out to the side, tip the buckets as if to pour out the contents so that your thumbs point to the floor. This will ensure you hit the medial head as opposed to over-developing the front delt.”

Biceps curl

Hold a pair of dumbbells in front of your thighs with your palms facing out. Slowly curl the dumbbells up to your chest and then back down again.

“Keep your elbows pinned to your sides,” says Nyman. “The minute your elbow comes up you are shifting the emphasis away from your biceps and onto your shoulders.

“If you’re a beginner you may be wary of picking up heavy weights. With biceps curls you won’t need to worry about that because it’s not about going heavy, it’s about the feel of the muscle lengthening and shortening. You can change grip to target different heads of the muscle but for a beginner I’d recommend using a supinated grip – palms facing up.”


Holding dumbbells by your sides, take a big step forwards and lower your body until both knees are bent at 90°. Then push up through the front leg and return to the starting position.

“Working your legs is essential for many reasons, including building strength, muscle and burning loads of calories,” says Nyman. “But if you’re a beginner the thought of getting under a heavy barbell for a set of squats may seem intimidating. So instead grab a pair of dumbbells and get lunging. It’s a great way to add resistance to your legs and glute work, without the fear of being left in a heap under the squat rack.”

Overhead press

You can do this either seated or standing. Hold a pair of dumbbells by your shoulders with your elbows out to the sides and bent at 90°. Extend through your elbows and press the weights overhead, then slowly bring them back to the starting position.

“While lateral raises are good for working the delts, performing heavy overhead (or shoulder) presses is a great way to add serious strength,” says Nyman. “Make sure you don’t arch your back too much. If you do you’ll probably end up using your upper chest instead of your shoulders.”

Dumbbell bench press

This is a great option for beginners if you stick to a weight you’re comfortable with. Using dumbbells will work more muscles around the shoulders and chest than using a barbell because they’re forced to keep the weights stable, and it’s well worth developing those muscles before moving on to heavier barbells. Lie on a flat workout bench with your feet flat on the floor. Hold the dumbbells above your chest, palms facing towards your feet with your arms fully extended. Bend at the elbows to lower the dumbbells slowly until they reach your chest. Pause for one second, then press both dumbbells up powerfully.

Intermediate Dumbbell Exercises

Chest flye

Lie on your back on a flat bench with your feet on the floor. Hold the dumbbells above your chest with your arms almost straight, palms facing each other. Slowly lower them out to the sides, then bring them back up above your chest. Your arms should have a slight bend in the elbows throughout.

“Doing chest flyes is a great way to isolate the chest,” says Nyman. “Most pressing chest movements will enlist the help of the shoulders and triceps, but flyes keep the focus purely on the chest.

“Exaggerate the arch in your lower back slightly. This will help keep the tension on your chest as opposed to your shoulders.”

Bent-over row

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and lean over from your waist, keeping your neck lined up with your spine. Let the dumbbells hang with straight arms, then slowly bring them up to your chest by squeezing your shoulders together.

“Using dumbbells to perform bent-over rows is a great way to ensure you develop both sides of your upper back evenly,” says Nyman.

“Think of Donald Duck – stick your bum out and ensure you maintain the natural curve in your lumbar spine (lower back).”

Front squat

Hold a pair of dumbbells up by your shoulders with your elbows by your sides and palms facing each other. Lower into a squat until your thighs are parallel with the ground, then drive back up to the starting position.

“It’s not as daunting as getting under a loaded barbell, and performing squats while holding dumbbells by your shoulders will challenge your core in a different way to the barbell version,” says Nyman. “Because the weight is slightly in front of you, you’ll place more emphasis on your quads, too.”

T press-up

A press-up with a twist, quite literally. The T press-up enhances the already considerable benefits of the exercise by increasing the challenge to your core. Take a pair of dumbbells (hexagonal ones are ideal for this because they provide a more stable base) and get into the press-up position, holding a weight in each hand directly under your shoulders, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Perform a press-up and once you’ve pushed back up, lift one dumbbell off the ground and rotate your torso until that arm is extended towards the ceiling. Pause at the top, then rotate back down slowly and go into another press-up.

Arnold Press

Everyone starts to think they’re the Terminator after a few good lifting sessions, so here’s a move the Terminator himself made famous. The Arnold Press works all three sections of your deltoids – or,machine-gun stabilisers, as we’re sure the The Austrian Oak refers to them – and keeps your muscles under tension for longer than a standard overhead press.

Stand holding dumbbells in front of your chest using an underhand grip, as though you’re midway through a biceps curl. Open your arms out to the sides while rotating your wrists 180° then, without pausing, press the dumbbells above your head.

Advanced Dumbbell Exercises

Split squat

Get into a staggered stance, holding dumbbells by your sides. Using your legs, slowly lower as far as feels comfortable, then push back up to the starting position. For a tougher variation of the split squat, put your back foot on a bench.

“These are tough at the best of times but performing them with a dumbbell in each hand will take it to a whole new level,” says Nyman. “You’ll feel every muscle in your legs and glutes working hard just to stabilise yourself.

“Keep your chest up throughout the movement. Push up through your heels as opposed to your toes to target the quads and glutes instead of your calves.”

Chest pull-over

Lie on your back on a bench, holding a dumbbell in both hands above your head. Keep your arms straight but not locked. Slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head until you feel a stretch in your chest. Return to the start position and squeeze your chest hard at the point of contraction.

“This is a great way to finish off a chest workout and target the upper and inner sections of your chest,” says Nyman.

Dumbbell snatch

This full-body exercise relies on a rock-solid technique to be effective, so don’t overdo the weight when you first start doing the dumbbell snatch. Stand holding a dumbbell in one hand. Lower into a squat and touch the dumbbell to the floor between your feet. Then drive your hips forwards to stand up and lift the weight explosively. Once it reaches chest height, flip your wrist under the dumbbell and then push it above your head until your arm is fully extended.

Do it right and the final press will be a fluid extension of the move using the momentum created by your legs and hips. If you have to press the weight overhead using mostly your arm, then get your technique checked and/or use a lighter weight.

Renegade row

The most demanding dumbbell row asks you to hold a plank while pulling the weights up to your chest – a stern test, especially if you don’t rush your reps. Use dumbbells with hexagonal weights to provide a firm base, otherwise you risk turning your wrists. Get into the top press-up position, holding the handles of the dumbbells with your hands under your shoulders and spreading your feet wide to ensure a stable base. Brace your core and keep your torso as still as possible throughout the move. Lift one dumbbell towards your chest, keeping your arm close to your body. Lower under control, then repeat on the other side. Continue, alternating sides.


A dumbbell thruster is a fiery little move – literally, because you’ll feel the burn in a lot of different muscles. It’s also a great way to build up to the barbell thruster and to iron out any strength imbalances.

Stand holding dumbbells at shoulder height with your palms facing. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing slightly outwards.

Squat down slowly, then explode up, thrusting the dumbbells above your head so that your arms are extended. Work on making the action from the bottom of the squat one fluid movement – it shouldn’t be a squat followed by an overhead press.

Foundations for Weight Lifting

If you’re just getting started in the gym (or starting over), use this routine for 4 weeks straight. It will create intensity, consistency, and longevity that you’ve never had before in your workout program. The problem with people talking about “hard work” and “habit” and “discipline” is that it always lacks specificity. What hard word exactly yields the results? Lots of people try really hard, use ineffective methods, and walk away from fitness altogether: “It’s impossible. I just can’t do it.”

This program explains the right way to work out for beginners in a way that is informative, but not overwhelming. Master these simple fundamentals, and there won’t be much left to learn about fitness.


Give this thing everything you’ve got. Be consistent. Be diligent. Exert yourself. Don’t leave any doubt in your mind that you tried as hard as you could. Most importantly: Trust the system. Seriously, you can do this. I’m telling you — paired with the right diet, this program works. The only people who are in great shape who don’t use this program are genetic freaks who can just look at a kettle bell and instantly be in good shape. Do every single exercise listed here, and hit every single rep. Look at this program as a debt that you must pay every single day. And, when you finish the workout, your conscience is clean.

The worst thing you can do is try one workout program for a week, get lazy, and say, “I’m gonna try the Rest Six Days a Week Program. It’s apparently all the rage.” No. Work hard. Hit every day.


Barbell: One long bar, on which you add weight to each end. Requires two hands to pick up.

Dumbbell: A short bar with pre-attached weights. Requires only one hand to pick up.

Exercise: A specific movement with a specific piece of equipment. For example, “Barbell Bench Press” is a different exercise than “Machine Bench Press.” Also, “Machine Shoulder Press” is different than “Machine Chest Press.”

Rep: One single “repetition” of an exercise. If I lift up a barbell on the bench, bring it down to my chest, and push it back up, that is one single “Rep.”

Set: A single series of “Reps.” If I pick up the barbell, do 10 “Reps,” and put it back on the bench, that was “A set of 10.” So below, when the program instructs you to perform “3 sets of 10,” that means you pick up the bar, perform 10 full repetitions, and put it back down. Take a 30-second break. Repeat another 10 reps. Take a 30-second break. Perform another 10 reps. That’s “3 sets of 10.”


If a certain piece of equipment isn’t available (either the gym doesn’t have it, or it’s crowded) that’s okay. Substitute an approximate exercise. Tons of people show up at the gym, can’t get the equipment they need, and then just abandon their workouts. Don’t do it. If you can’t get on the barbell bench press, just grab some dumbbells and do that instead. Or if you have to, jump on a bench press machine. If you can’t get the piece of equipment you need, try to look for another weight or machine that can mimic the same movement and work the same muscle, and substitute it. It’s better than getting frustrated waiting, losing momentum, and leaving the gym.


If you don’t track, you will fail. I cannot overestimate the value of tracking everything. When I started this program, I wasn’t losing any fat. Then, I tracked. And I lost 65 pounds of fat in three months. Get the printable PDF journal specifically formatted for the program below.

Start Here, Start Now: The 8-Week Beginner Workout Plan

More than ever before, this whole “getting in shape” thing can seem like some kind of advanced algorithm. This is especially true if you’re standing at the front end of the journey trying to find a way through all the information online.

One scary-sounding study says your health depends on x, but another says it depends on not doing x. One writer says CrossFit kills people, but the people in those pictures all seem ripped and happy. But so does that woman in yoga class. And, let’s be honest, so does the Shake Weight guy! So does that online writer guy shouting at you about intermittent fasting, high reps, low reps, high-carb, low-carb, no-carb, steady-state, or HIIT.

Sigh. It’s no wonder that so many people can’t figure out how to get from where they are now to the promised land of their New Year’s resolutions. There’s too much mental clutter.

You want simple? Here it is: 3 rules, 3 workouts, and an 8-week program that will build full-body strength, set fire to calories, and introduce you to all the tools you need to be fit from now on. Thank me later; for now, just do this.

Rule 1. Make The Gym Your Habit

In his phenomenal book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business,” Charles Duhigg dedicates an entire chapter to what he labels the “habit loop.” Without giving away any spoilers—I’m not kidding, it’s a book that will melt your brain, and you should read it—Duhigg explains that one of the most fail-proof ways to create a habit is to preface the behavior you want to reinforce with a cue.

As an example, let’s say someone’s goal is to go to the gym three days per week before work. A basic cue would be to place their gym clothes, post-training shake, and shoes next to their bed the night prior so those items are the first thing the person sees—or maybe trips over—when they wake up. The theory is that the cues will create a routine, and eventually, the person won’t need the cue.

The takeaway: Don’t just say you’re going to start going to the gym. It doesn’t work. Make things more concrete by setting up as many nudges and reminders as possible to help keep you from backing out. Your reward will be better health, feeling like a million bucks, and no longer fearing taking your clothes off with the lights on.

Rule 2. Be Consistent In Your Training

I don’t marry myself to particular weightlifting modalities or principles. Massive numbers of people out there have different goals, needs, injury histories, experience, and equipment access. What works for one person won’t always work the same way for the next.

Does this mean that everything is as good as everything else? Of course not. I’m a strength coach, and I believe that a full-body strength program built around compound lifts is the best place for almost everybody to start, no matter what they end up doing months or years later. It’s better than so-called fat-loss programs, hypertrophy programs, programs that help add inches to your vertical jump, or ones that promise to turn you into a superhero in eight weeks.

The only program that will work is one you’ll actually follow consistently.

Regardless, I also recognize that the only program that will work is one you’ll actually follow consistently. So take that as your rule, but if you want a suggestion, well, follow the program below.

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Rule 3. Build On The Fundamentals

Listen up: If you’re a guy who just started training and can’t do at least five clean, dead-hang, sternum-to-bar pull-ups, then you have no business going to the gym to perform set after set of biceps curls—period! For women, the same rule applies, but I’d say the number is between 1-3 pull-ups.

Don’t get caught up in which exercise works which muscle. Master a small lineup of proven exercises in the following categories first, and worry about splits and fine-tuning somewhere down the road, if you worry about them at all.

Fundamental Exercises

Master at least one from each category

  • Squats: Front squat, back squat, box squat, and goblet squats. If you go with back squats, check out my article about common squat mistakes.
  • Hip hinge: Trap-bar deadlift, conventional deadlift, sumo deadlift, and Romanian deadlift. Need a guide? I just so happen to have one handy.
  • Single-leg work: Reverse lunges, forward lunges, lateral lunges, Bulgarian split squats, single-leg RDL, single-leg hip thrust, and step-ups
  • Pushing exercises: Bench press variations, dumbbell press variations, military press, push press, landmine press, and push-ups
  • Pulling exercises: Seated cable row variations, chest-supported rows, barbell rows, single-arm dumbbell rows, single-arm standing cable rows, chin-ups, and pull-ups
  • Carries: Farmer’s carry (bilateral), suitcase carries (unilateral), waiter carries, and cross-body carries
  • Core lifts: Pallof press, chops, half-kneeling lifts, tall-kneeling lifts, overhead lifts, split-stance exercises, plank variations, and roll-outs

If you follow a full-body program built around these seven categories, you’ll be amazed at how well your body responds. If your goal is to add mass, these are the movements that will allow you to use the most weight and provide the training stimulus the body will need to grow. If your goal is fat loss, these are the movements that will allow you to burn the most calories and continue working harder in the gym. If your goal is just to get stronger and more athletic for whatever you decide to do later, these movements are the perfect tools.

Strength and Muscle for Beginners Program Follow this full program in BodyFit Elite! You’ll get a customizable workout tracker and app, with demonstration videos for all movements. Earn free shipping and store discounts, plus access to 70+ additional programs! GO NOW

If you’re a new member at Anytime Fitness, welcome! You’re about to embark on a journey that’ll help you become healthier and happier. Who wouldn’t want that? If this is your first time in the gym, it can be overwhelming but don’t let that stop you from reaching your goals! Let’s check out some tips to getting started!

You’re Not Alone

Contrary to popular belief, YOU are the normal one at the gym. 80% of the people I counsel every day as a trainer, are those with little experience. If you don’t know much about the facility and machines, remember, everyone starts somewhere. That’s why we’d love to share a few tips to help you get started and feel comfortable in your new environment.

  • Explore The Anytime Fitness Blog. We have a ton of recipes, workouts, and advice for anyone beginning or advancing in their fitness journey.
  • Choose a goal. What would you like to accomplish? “I want to lose weight in my stomach area” just won’t do. Make sure to create a S.M.A.R.T. goal and write it down, share it on Facebook, tell everyone (accountability helps). Typically, it takes 9-15 months to create a real habit. So buckle up, prepare your mind, and embrace that this is the first day of the rest of your life!
  • Start small. Attainable goals don’t happen overnight. Commit to a MINIMUM of days that you get to the gym, and anything extra is AMAZING. Make a commitment that you can live with. I suggest committing to 3-4 days a week. If you go more, great!

Beginner Strength Workout

For this workout, make sure to use a low weight and concentrate on the exercise and form. You’ll have plenty of time to push yourself later. For now, focus on the movements to wake up those sleeping muscles.

1. 5-10 minute warmup on the Recumbent Bike

2. 2 sets of 10 Leg Press Machine
Make sure to keep your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart.

3. 2 sets of 10 (each leg) Step-up
Use some risers if your club has them and set them up to be about 6 inches high. Make sure to keep your balance as you step up. To modify this exercise, place the risers near a wall and lean against the wall if needed to keep your balance.

4. 2 sets of 10 Seated Row Machine
As you pull the bars toward you, make sure to keep a tight grip and squeeze your shoulder blades together.

5. 1 set 20 Stability Ball Bicep Curls

6. 1 set 20 Tricep Pushdowns
Make sure to fully extend your triceps as you push down.

7. 2 sets of 20 Crunches

8. 5 minute cool down on Recumbent Bike or your choice of cardio machine

There you go! Now you’re ready to conquer the gym!

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Strength training exercises

Challenging your muscles with strength training (also called resistance training) exercises 2 or 3 times each week is all that is needed to improve the strength and tone of your muscles – as well as gain you several long-term health benefits to your muscles, bones and general metabolism. But like all forms of exercise, you need to undertake it on a regular basis.

Why tone up?

Life today sees many of us ‘sitting’ for long stints during the day, every day. Our muscles pay the price: the stiffness of joints and the weakening of muscles that we sometimes blame on ageing are often a direct effect of inactivity.

Making the effort to have toned muscles will mean you have strong muscles. Strong muscles are firmer – they look better – and they help avoid potentially debilitating bone and joint injuries. Doing strength training exercises can increase your lean body mass (the non-fat parts of your body), which raises your metabolic rate, so helping with weight management. Having well-trained muscles also improves your ability to take up and use glucose which reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes.

What are strength training exercises?

Strength training exercises work your muscles by applying a resistance against which the muscles need to exert a force. The aim is to use an appropriate weight or resistant force that will work the target muscles to fatigue, over 8 to 12 repetitions of an exercise. A typical beginner’s strength training programme involves 8 to 10 exercises that work the major muscle groups of the body. These exercises are usually performed 2 to 3 times every week.

Whilst going to a gym will provide access to specific strength training equipment and supervision, as well as providing an environment that some people find supportive, it’s not essential and some strength training can be undertaken at home. For example, in many exercises, the weight of your own body is used as the resistance against which the muscles need to work, and a pair of hand-weights or even 2 soup cans can supply the resistance in some exercises.

How often should you do strength training?

Strength or resistance training is just one component of an all-round fitness programme, which should cover aerobic fitness, flexibility, muscular strength and endurance. If you are a beginner exerciser, you will gain the most benefit from 3 strength training sessions a week, however, 2 sessions will still give very good results.

Initially, the improvements in strength are due to neurological adaptations, as your nervous system learns how to more effectively recruit your muscle fibres. Then, as you continue with the program, some muscle growth, as well as improvements in tone becomes noticeable.

It is generally recommended that you don’t train the same muscles on consecutive days. This is because muscle tissue needs to recover from the strength training which stimulates its growth. If you do want to train on consecutive days, it’s recommended that you work on different muscle groups, e.g. arms on Monday, legs on Tuesday.

Sticking to your routine is the key to maintaining your fitness and as your strength improves you’ll need to increase the amount of resistance that you use with each exercise. A gradual increase will reduce the risk of muscle strains, which can occur if you increase your loads too rapidly.

Warming up and stretching

Before doing your strength training exercises, you need to warm up. This means about 5 minutes of activity, such as cycling, rowing or skipping.

The aim is to increase your heart rate and to raise a light sweat. The increased movement of blood through your muscles will warm the tissues and make them more pliable – a simple measure to help prevent injury during exercise.

Follow your warm-up with a short 5-minute stretching routine, again as a means of preparing your muscles. Make sure you gently stretch each of the muscles that you will be working during the strength training exercises – the muscles in your back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms and legs – holding each stretch for just over 10 seconds.

You can stretch the muscle group you have just used immediately after your set of strength training exercises – before you move on to the next exercise. The muscles will be warm and flexible at this time. For example, do a set of 12 reps of a biceps curl and then stretch your biceps muscle before moving on to a triceps strength training exercise.

Cooling down

Equally important is cooling down after your strength training exercises. This can involve easy walking or cycling for 2 to 3 minutes, followed by 5 to 10 minutes of stretching. The aim is to:

  • remove metabolites (intermediate substances formed by metabolism) from your muscle tissue;
  • prevent blood pooling in the lower half of your body; and
  • help you be ready for your next strength training session in 2 to 3 days’ time.


The exercises and information included in this article are general. If possible you should seek more personalised exercise advice and have your strength training tailored to your individual needs. If you have an existing injury or any health problems, or you do not already exercise regularly several times each week and you are middle aged or older, first check with your doctor about your suitability for a resistance training programme.

Before starting your resistance training, ask a trained fitness instructor about the correct technique involved in such a programme, including ways to progress your fitness gradually and minimise injury risk.

Programme your overall fitness programme composed of various exercise types — aerobic training, flexibility training and strength training.
Session a component of your fitness programme, e.g. a strength training session or a swimming session, which you perform a certain number of times each week.
Set a group of successive repetitions of an exercise performed without resting, e.g. 2 sets of abdominal crunches with 15 reps would mean you do 15 crunches then rest or stretch the abdominal muscles before doing another 15 crunches.
Exercise a particular movement designed to strengthen a particular muscle or group of muscles, e.g. calf raise. There may be 8 to 10 exercises to perform in a beginner’s strength training session.
Repetitions or ‘reps’ the number of times you repeat each exercise in a set. For exercises that work your arms or legs, you will need to count reps for one limb (say the right arm) then repeat these for the opposite side (the left arm), before moving on to the next exercise. The upper body is usually exercised for fewer reps than the lower body, e.g. 8 to 12 reps of a biceps curl compared with 15 to 20 reps of a lunge.
Weight or resistance how heavy the hand-weight or fixed weight is, e.g. 3 kg. Different weights may be used for different exercises within your strength training session.

At the start. Begin with one set of each exercise, comprising as few as 5 reps, no more than twice a week.

Your aim. Gradually increase, over a few weeks, to one set comprising 8 to 12 reps for each exercise every second or third day.

Beyond this. Once you can comfortably do 12 reps of an exercise you should look at progressing further. Options include increasing weight or resistance – thus increasing the intensity of muscular effort – or increasing the number of sets of each exercise to 2 or 3. The health benefits of strength training can be attained safely by most people if they do 1 set of 8 to 10 reps of each exercise each second or third day. If you have a particular sporting goal in mind and want to increase your level of fitness further, talk to a trained fitness instructor about how to increase the intensity and duration of your strength training programme gradually.

Tips for strength training

Always exercise the largest muscle groups first, such as your hips and upper legs, then move to your lower legs, upper torso, arms, abdominals and lower back.

The abdominals and back muscles are stabilising muscles which help you to maintain correct posture and should be exercised at the end of the session so that they are not fatigued too early.

When lifting a weight, breathe continuously throughout the movement – don’t hold your breath or your blood pressure may go up.

When lifting a weight, control the movement: take 2 seconds for the lifting movement, pause for one second, then 4 seconds for the lowering movement.

Concentrate on maintaining good posture – use a mirror to see that your body is aligned correctly.

Limit strength training sessions to one hour in length – no more.

Don’t do strength training sessions on consecutive days unless you work different muscle groups in each session, e.g. arms on Monday; legs on Tuesday.

1. Lunges — to strengthen your hamstrings (back of thigh), quadriceps (front of thigh), gastrocnemius (calf) and gluteus maximus (bottom) muscles. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, hands on hips. (Optional: hold a small hand-weight in each hand, with your hands by your sides.)
1 rep = step one leg a generous stride length forward and bend this knee to make a right angle between your thigh and your shin. Allow the heel of the back foot to lift off the ground as you bend the back knee towards the floor. Hold for a few seconds, then return to standing upright. Do the same movement, this time moving the opposite leg to the front. Note: keep your back straight and head upright throughout; make sure that your front leg does not bend beyond forming a right angle between your thigh and shin, that is, don’t allow your front knee to extend over your foot.
2. Squats — to strengthen your quadriceps (front of thigh), gluteus maximus (bottom) and soleus (deep calf) muscles. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. (Optional: hold a small hand-weight in each hand.)
1 rep = slowly bend at the hips and knees, lowering yourself until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Slowly return to standing upright.
3. Standing calf raises — to strengthen your gastrocnemius (calf) muscles. Stand on the edge of a step with just the front of your foot on the step. Hold the railing for balance throughout the exercise.
1 rep = take your weight on the ball of one foot by lifting the opposite foot off the ground slightly. Raise the heel of the foot that’s taking the weight as high as is comfortable, then return to the level position; lower this heel until you feel a stretch in your calf muscles, then return to the level position.
4. Wall push ups — to strengthen your chest, arm, shoulder and upper back muscles. Stand facing a solid wall at arm’s length, with feet shoulder width apart. Place the palms of your hands flat on the wall, at shoulder height. Before starting, step your feet back a few inches.
1 rep = slowly lean closer to the wall and let your hands take some of your weight by allowing your elbows to bend. Keep your back and neck straight and in line with your legs; avoid bending at the hips. Lean as close to the wall as is comfortable and hold for a few seconds, then straighten your elbows as you return towards the upright position. Remember to keep your abdominals contracted to prevent your back from arching. Note: this exercise is really a standing ‘push up’. The exercise requires more effort the further that your feet are back from the wall. As you gain strength you may like to progress to a knee push up, which is performed on the floor in a face-down position, and then to a standard push up.
5. Biceps curl — to strengthen your biceps muscle (at the front of your upper arm). Stand comfortably, with your feet shoulder width apart, and hold a small hand-weight in one hand, palm facing to the front.
1 rep = bend your elbow so that you raise the hand-weight to your shoulder, stopping short of fully flexing your elbow. Return to the starting position by slowly lowering your forearm. Avoid fully straightening your elbow. Keep your wrist straight throughout.
6. Triceps extension — to strengthen your triceps muscle (at the back of your upper arm). Lie on your back on a floormat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a small hand-weight in one hand, at arm’s length above your shoulder. Use your free hand throughout this exercise to support the upper arm that’s being worked, aiming to keep it in a vertical position, perpendicular to the floor. Avoid holding the weight over your face or head.
1 rep = slowly lower the weight, stopping just before your elbow is fully bent (flexed). Return the weight to the starting position.
7. Abdominal crunches — to strengthen your rectus abdominus muscles (at the front of your abdomen). Lie on your back on a floormat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, shoulder width apart. Rest your forearms crossed over your chest with your hands on your shoulders. Tuck your chin into your chest to ensure the back of your neck is lengthened.
1 rep = raise your head and upper back off the floor as far as is comfortable, aiming to raise yourself to your knees. Concentrate on using the muscles at the front of your abdomen to achieve this movement, rather than bending your neck and upper back excessively. Hold for a few seconds, then gently lower your head and upper back to the floor.
8. Seated abdominal twists — to strengthen your oblique abdominal muscles (at the sides of your abdomen) and your rectus abdominus muscles (at the front of your abdomen). Sit on the edge of a chair with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, shoulder width apart. Place one forearm on top of the other and raise your arms in front of you, to shoulder height. Lean back slightly and tighten your abdominal muscles.
1 rep = twist as far as you can in one direction, hold for a few seconds, return to the centre. Repeat in the opposite direction.
9. Back extensions — to strengthen your upper and middle back muscles. Lie face down on a floormat, and bend your elbows so that your fingers are touching your ears.
1 rep = slowly lift your chest and shoulders approximately 15 cm off the ground – hold – then slowly lower to the ground again.
10. Quad knee and arm extension — to strengthen your upper, middle and lower back muscles. On a floormat, position yourself on all fours (on your hands and knees) with your back flat and parallel to the floor. Focus your eyes on the mat to keep your neck straight.
1 rep = while keeping your head, neck and back in a straight line, slowly raise one arm and the opposite leg off the ground, so that the elevated limbs are in line with your torso. Hold for a few seconds, then lower your limbs to the floor again. Repeat using the opposite limbs. Hold your abdominal muscles tight to prevent your back from arching.

People throw around a number of different words they think are “synonyms” when it comes to strength training: weight lifting, resistance training… the list goes on. But really the term “strength training” incorporates body weight exercises, bands, machines, weighted equipment, and essentially anything that isn’t running, swimming, jump roping, or flexibility training (like stretching), according to Men’s Fitness‘ Group Training Director Sean Hyson, C.S.C.S. So it’s not synonymous with weight lifting—it’s an umbrella term that includes it. And while weight lifting is great, there are tons of other strength-training moves that don’t include actual weights that can help you sculpt a strong, muscular upper body.

In fact, the most effective strategy is to integrate a combination of compound exercises into your routine. Some of those will include barbells and dumbbells and machines, yes, but others just require your own body weight and some call for resistance bands.

Here, we combed through our database of upper body exercises and Hyson narrowed it down to the top 25 strength-training moves, which will target and trigger muscle growth in your back, biceps, triceps, chest, forearms, and shoulders.

Most of these exercises can be modified, too. (I. e. one-arm row can be done with either a cable or a dumbbell, and a face pull can be done with either a band, TRX, or cable.) So, mix up the variations by using either your body weight, a resistance band, dumbbell, or a suspension trainer, depending on your personal fitness goals and the readily available equipment you have.

Not only will these moves increase your overall strength, but they will decrease your risk of injury, create a more symmetrical build, and will naturally improve your core strength for everyday functional fitness.

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Just doing some strength-training exercises means that you’ll get fit, lose weight, and be a better runner, right? Not exactly. Not every move or machine at the gym is going to make you stronger or fitter. Some are not that helpful at all, no matter how many reps you do. Here are nine moves that simply waste your time, and nine moves you should do instead.

1/ Seated thigh machine (adductor or abductor machines)

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Why it’s a waste: It seems like it will help you get rid of the fat on your inner and outer thighs, but it won’t. “Spot reducing” exercises don’t help you lose fat.

What to do instead: Lunges – forwards, backwards and sideways. These exercises tone and strengthen your whole body, including your thighs, says Greg Justice, an exercise physiologist at AYC Health and Fitness in Kansas City. “Plus, they are functional, which means they train the body for activities performed in everyday life – something the thigh machine does not do.”

2/ Leg extension machine

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Why it’s a waste: “The stated goal of this machine is to strengthen your quads, but you actually end up just putting a lot of stress on your knees as you straighten your legs from the seated position,” explains Justice.

What to do instead: A basic squat or lunge. “They strengthen the quads, hamstrings, and glutes, giving you more bang for your buck,” says Justice.

3/ Crunches

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Why it’s a waste: They just aren’t that effective. “Research has shown that the crunch is less effective at stimulating muscle fibre than exercises that require the spine to stabilise, like the plank.”

What to do instead: Planks. “They activate more muscles in the core than crunches do,” says Travis Barnes, a certified personal trainer at Journey Fitness Coaching in Elmira, New York. Plus, he adds, they don’t strain your back as crunches can.

Work your core

4/ Barbell side bends or rotations

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Why it’s a waste: While you may think you’re strengthening your core or burning fat, you’re not. “There’s really no resistance when you put a bar weight behind the neck and start twisting or bending. It’s much better to work against gravity,” says Justice.

What to do instead: A side plank, with or without movement. “Planks work against against gravity, consequently working your muscles more efficiently and effectively.”

5/ Seated chest presses

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Why it’s a waste: “You’re sitting down, which allows the stronger side of your body to compensate for the weaker side, which means you’ll develop imbalances,” explains Barnes.

What to do instead: Push-ups. “It forces you to develop equal strength, or else you’ll collapse on both sides,” says Barnes. Also, “the push-up has a plank quality to it, and therefore it stimulates your core even more.”

6/ Lying leg curl machine

Why it’s a waste: Lying down to exercise means that your core is not engaged, and you activate the least amount of muscle, says Barnes. “When in real life are you ever lying down curling your legs to your butt for any real purpose?” he says.

What to do instead: Single leg deadlift. “This exercise activates the backside of your body – which includes the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves – while also activating the core with the challenge of instability,” Barnes says. But best of all, “this exercise gives us the strength we need for bending and the balance we need for real life single-leg activities, like climbing stairs, stepping on a curb, or lunging down to pick something up.

7/ Triceps kickbacks

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Why it’s a waste: “You won’t be able to lift weights that are heavy enough while keeping proper form, to get results,” says Justince. “Usually, the upper arm starts to drop toward the floor and you lose the effectiveness.”

What to do instead: Skull crushers, i.e. a barbell lying triceps extension. “It still works your triceps but you don’t lose your form,” explains Justice. “The skull crusher position allows your elbows to stay where they belong to get the most of the exercise.”

8/ Standing calf raise machine

Why it’s a waste: The machine loads all of the weight onto your shoulders, which pushes it onto your back before it ever reaches your calves.

What to do instead: Try sprinting. “It’s better than other forms of running running if you want to develop your calves. That’s because it activates more of those fast twitch muscle fibres responsible for strength and growth development, which leads to a more toned body overall,” says Barnes. If sprinting is not for you, try bodyweight calf raises, and if those are too easy, then try them on a single leg.

9/ Leg press machine

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Why it’s a waste: “People tend to add too much weight, which adds potential for injury,” says Justice. Plus, it’s not that effective: A study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) compared eight different exercises that target your glutes, and found that the leg press activated the fewest amount of muscles.

What to do instead: Dumbbell squats. You’re still targeting your legs, but it’s more stable and there’s less potential for injury, says Justice.

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