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As much as you may have wanted to see them here, leg extensions and curls didn't make the cut for this list of the 10 best leg exercises. As with our best-exercise lists for chest and back, we consulted EMG studies to see which exercises work your muscles to the max. This list could easily have included 10 types of squats, so instead we went with just a few versions. Why it's on the list: Squats are king because they're simply the most challenging leg movement you can do, especially when loaded appropriately. In all variations, the depth of squat is determined by your ability to maintain a neutral spine, as well as tightness in your hip flexors and tightness in your calves. You're not restricted to one type or the other, so feel free to use either movement in your workout, though you wouldn't typically include both on the same training day. In your workout: Do this movement first with several light warm-up sets, pyramiding up in weight, before attempting your heaviest weight for multiple sets. Why it's on the list: Some individuals find that squats build their butts well, but they really need help building their quads.
This movement generally requires some pretty serious upper-back and core strength to maintain a neutral spine and keep you from missing weights. Why it's on the list: Movements like snatches and power cleans take some serious dedication and technique to master, but they can be unrivaled when you are trying to improve jumping power or squat strength. In your workout: These exercises require absolute concentration on technique and body position. Why it's on the list: Deadlifts and deadlift variations like sumo are considered whole-body exercises, specifically for the posterior chain, which includes the hamstrings and glutes.
Because you can use a tremendous amount of weight, you'll see strength improvements in all these areas. In your workout: This gets tricky, as deadlifts are typically trained during a program that's built around the bench press one day, squat the next, and deadlift on the last. Why it's on the list: This one is deceptively difficult, partly because of balance and partly because you're training one side at a time. In your workout: You really can't use much weight on this movement, so push it toward the middle of your leg-training session. Why it's on the list: Machine exercises don't rank high on our list, because they control the pathway for you, meaning stabilizing muscles take a back seat. However, one of the primary benefits of the hack squat is that you can manipulate foot placement. It's also easier to spot on machine exercises and use advanced techniques like forced reps and dropsets, because you don't have to worry about collapsing under a weight. While you can do reverse hacks on this machine, in which you're facing toward the apparatus, that version offers very little spinal protection and is not recommended unless you really know what you're doing.
In your workout: Hack squats are typically done after free-weight exercises and before single-joint leg movements. Why it's on the list: Like all the movements listed thus far, multijoint lunges require hip and knee extension, which gives you the stimulus for the thighs and glutes. We slightly prefer the latter because of the ease of getting into and out of the start position and the decreased likelihood of knocking something down when doing the walking version down the weight-room floor.
Lunges are best done when your legs are prefatigued, so a moderate load works particularly well for this exercise. In your workout: Do 3 sets of 8-20 reps per side, going higher the further back it is in your routine. Why it's on the list: For those of you hoping leg presses could replace squats in your leg workout, the divide between the two movements can't be overstated.
Like hack squats, however, the leg press allows for a variety of foot positions, effectively enabling you to target weaknesses such as the teardrops or outer thighs. The Romanian deadlift is probably one of the trickiest exercises you'll ever learn to do, and learning good form is imperative. Once you get it down, it'll help with body positioning during bent-over rows and bent-over lateral raises, too. In your workout: Do the Romanian deadlift as a transition between your frontal and rear thigh exercises, because the glutes are involved in each. Why it's on the list: For newcomers to squatting, the machine squat offers a degree of safety while learning the movement pattern.
In your workout: Beginners should do these first for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps, using a weight that approaches muscle failure. Have you ever wondered what the absolute best muscle-building movements for your chest are? Without further ado, here are our top 10 chest-building exercises, ranked in no particular order. Why it's on the list: You can generate the most power with barbell lifts, so the standard barbell bench allows you to move the most weight.
In your workout: Do it toward the start of your chest workout for heavy sets in lower rep ranges. In your workout: Do flat dumbbell presses toward the start of your chest workout for heavy sets in lower rep ranges. In your workout: Many chest workouts start with flat-bench movements first, then progress to inclines, but it's time to get out of that bad habit. Why it's on the list: Some machines, like Hammer Strength, allow you to move each arm independently, which is a great feature on chest day.
One of the primary muscle actions of the pec major is transverse adduction—think cable flyes or pec-deck flyes to understand this action. In your workout: Do free-weight exercises first in your chest workout because they require more effort and stabilizer muscles than machines. Why it's on the list: Free-weight pressing moves on a flat bench are great, but the machine press has some unique benefits.
EMG research demonstrates that the machine bench press recruits much less of the three heads of the deltoid (anterior, middle, and posterior) than free-weight variations because of a decreased need for humeral stabilization.3 This allows you to really target your pecs.
Why it's on the list: Dumbbell presses make everybody's top 10 list, but with an adjustable bench you can do a number of things you can't with a fixed bench.
In your workout: This is an occasional first movement, but it can easily go anywhere from first to third in your routine.
For even crazier pumps with this exercise, try to slowly rotate the dumbbells from palms-forward to a palms-inward position during the concentric portion of the lift, really squeezing at the top.
Why it's on the list: Not many single-joint exercises made the list, but this is one of our favorites. In your workout: Do incline cable flyes at the end of your workout for slightly higher reps (sets of 10-12). Why it's on the list: Forget flat-bench pull-overs; the incline version puts your chest fibers under tension for a longer range of motion!
Why it's on the list: Chest flyes are hard for many trainees to learn with dumbbells or cables because the arms need to be locked in a slightly bent position for the duration of the exercise.
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When you crack your exercise toolkit open each week on back day, you've got a seemingly endless array of movements available.
While head-to-head exercise comparison research is a bit limited in this area, we selected the following 10 exercises based on factors such as available literature, how difficult each movement is, how much muscle each stimulates, and how unique each exercise is compared to others. If you get bowled over by the sheer number of rows you can do on back day, or even draw a total blank when thinking of new exercises to try, consider this list your new back blueprint. 1Barbell Deadlift Why it's On the List: This is technically more than a back exercise?it hits the entire posterior chain from your calves to your upper traps?but it's the absolute best for overall backside development. There are also numerous deadlift progression programs you can follow to help you reach new personal bests. 2Bent-Over Barbell Row Why it's On the List: This is probably the second-best back movement in terms of sheer weight you can lift.

3Wide-Grip Pull-Up Why it's On the List: It's always a good idea to have an overhead pulling movement in your back routine, and the pull-up is one of the best.
4Standing T-Bar Row Why it's On the List: We selected the T-bar row over a chest-supported version because you can pile on much more weight here, even though that typically translates into a bit of cheating through the knees and hips. 5Wide-Grip Seated Cable Row Why it's On the List: Just about everyone defaults to the close-grip bar on rows. Bend over about 45 degrees, staying close to the bar, and expect a little contribution from the hips and knees when you're pounding out the heavy sets.
7Close-Grip Pull-Down Why it's On the List: Since we've already covered the wide-grip pull-up, the wide-grip pull-down is too similar, so we opted for the close-grip handle for our pull-down selection.
Slow down the rep tempo on these, squeeze hard at the bottom of each rep, and allow a good stretch at the top. 8Single-Arm Dumbbell Row Why it's On the List: This is a great unilateral exercise?each side works independently?that allows you to move a lot of weight. 10Single-Arm Smith-Machine Row Why it's On the List: This bad boy is basically a single-arm dumbbell row performed on a Smith machine.
Pectoralis stretch: Stand in an open doorway or corner with both hands slightly above your head on the door frame or wall.
Arm slide on wall: Sit or stand with your back against a wall and your elbows and wrists against the wall. Scapular squeeze: While sitting or standing with your arms by your sides, squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for 5 seconds. Mid-trap exercise: Lie on your stomach on a firm surface and place a folded pillow underneath your chest. Rowing exercise: Close middle of elastic tubing in a door or wrap tubing around an immovable object. In fact, while they can be useful toward the end of your workout, they probably aren't even among the top 20, because single-joint moves just don't deliver much bang for your training buck.
In addition to recruiting more muscle mass into the movement, multijoint exercises generate greater release of the muscle-building hormones testosterone and growth hormone. But remember, choosing the right movement is only half the battle; you must also load it correctly and do the requisite number of sets to maximize the training stimulus. After all, you're not going to do a workout that includes just squat variations—unless you're feeling particularly crazy. They work all the lower-body musculature (we're counting glutes), and have been shown to spike muscle-building hormone release. Bodybuilders typically use the high bar squat, in which the bar rests atop the traps, which hits all the leg musculature fairly evenly.
With the high bar squat, the torso stays more vertical and increases the knee movement away from the center of gravity.
If you round your back before reaching 90 degrees in your hips, stop at that point and reverse direction. Doing squats later in your workout mean your quads will be prefatigued, so you'll definitely sacrifice some weight, and good form will be more difficult to maintain. You can hold the bar in the front rack position (also referred to as a clean grip) or with arms crossed. But there is quad activation in this movement as well, mainly observed in the sumo deadlift.
And because of the amount of muscle mass that's engaged in the movement, this exercise can incur a nice hormonal response as well. If you're training it with legs, you probably won't be able to go too heavy—keep the reps moderate, and stop short of failure. The Bulgarian split squat is essentially a split squat, but your rear leg is elevated, which forces the front leg to pick up more of the workload.
In fact, some EMG evidence suggests that 4 sets using your 10-rep max with Bulgarians aren't too different from back squats. Do multiple sets of 8-12 reps per leg, and shoot for close to muscular failure on each set.
In addition, the hormone boost they generate just doesn't compare to their free-weight brethren.6 That's one reason to do them later in your leg-training session, when your thighs are already fatigued. A high placement allows you to descend further, which emphasizes the glutes and hamstrings.
They can be done standing in place, or stepping forward or backward—decide for yourself which subtle variation you prefer. Step forward far enough that you go straight down when you descend, rather than leaning forward. As you reach muscle failure, jettison the dumbbells, and do a few more reps without them, like you would in a dropset. Because the leg press recruits less muscle mass than squats, it simply doesn't generate the same degree of testosterone release.6 Nor is the body position here particularly functional, unless your log cabin collapses and your only way out is pushing the timber forward. Be careful not to lower the sled too far, though; doing so will lift your glutes up off the butt pad and cause your lower spine to curl.
This exercise is especially safe when combined with intensity-boosting techniques such as rest-pause, dropsets, or forced reps.
Plus, most hamstring routines focus on leg-curl movements, which center around the knee joint, but this one works from the hip joint.
If you have never done this movement before, beware that it's potent and could leave you hobbling for days! If done later in your workout, you can allow the reps to drift higher to pump the thighs and glutes.
It's focused on the best-of-the-best mass builders, with a little bit of instruction and explanation to complement each choice. Dumbbells also allow for a longer range of motion than the barbell bench press, both at the bottom and top of the movement. We don't typically recommend doing dumbbell presses in addition to the barbell bench press, because both moves are so similar.
Besides doing a machine decline press straight on, you can sit sideways on the apparatus and press across your body one arm at a time, which delivers a completely different feel than when you sit straight-on. By sitting in a sideways position, you can maximize your press with a pec-dominant horizontal adduction, effectively getting more from the movement. For one, it's easier to slow down the repetition, both in the concentric and eccentric phases. For anyone looking to build mass, machines give you a greater chance to pump your pecs with minimal shoulder assistance.
Our favorite: changing the angle of the incline from one set to the next, or from one workout to the next.
Keep in mind, though, that the later you do this movement, the less weight you'll likely be able to push. This slight change will cause you to medially rotate the upper arm, really recruiting your pec major. If you're training with a partner, do a few dropsets for some real masochistic, muscle-building fun!
Just sit back against a bench inclined to about 45 degrees and make sure the dumbbell clears the top.
Pull-over exercises work the shoulder-extension movement pattern (moving the upper arm rearward), which can really torch the pecs since they're one of the primary muscle groups involved in this action!
Store Reviews Register Advanced Search Forum Workout Routines 10 Best Muscle-Building Back Exercises! Knowing which tools are best suited for building a wide, thick back will help you get the job done faster, which is why we've assembled our list of top 10 mass-building back exercises. Give us your thoughts at the bottom in the comments and add any other recommendations you might have! Technique is uber-important with the deadlift, but once you nail it, you can progress to lifting monster weights that will recruit maximum muscle, release muscle-building hormones, and help you get big. Physiologists love to prescribe the deadlift when programming for strength and conditioning because the exercise hammers your musculature and is one of the best choices to strengthen your bone structure.

EMG research has suggested that hitting bent-over barbell rows will work the larger muscle groups of the upper and lower back equally, making this a great overall back builder.2 Like the deadlift, this is another technical move that requires excellent form but rewards you with a ton of muscle. Of course, if you find them difficult, you can always use an assisted pull-up machine or a good spotter, or switch to the wide-grip pull-down, which is a solid substitute.
In the starting position, the scapula should be retracted?pull your shoulder blades down and toward each other?prior to initiating the pull. For some, maintaining a flat back can be challenging, in which case the supported version is a better choice. If that sounds like you, you'll find using a wide grip on a lat bar a nice change of pace because it shifts some of the emphasis to the upper lats. The Smith machine allows you to concentrate only on pulling as much weight as possible, since you don't have to worry about balancing it. While some gym rats consider the Smith machine taboo, the fixed plane of the movement and ability to really control a weight (think tempo of four seconds up and four down) can be both a novel and humbling exercise. EMG research suggests that use of a close neutral grip activates the lats similarly to a regular grip, so you're not missing out on any muscle fibers.3 As mentioned earlier with pull-ups, a closer grip does allow for a longer range of motion and increased time under tension for the lats, which is great for building muscle. You'll get greater range of motion when training unilaterally, and you won't be restrained if your weaker side fails first.
Slowly slide your arms upward as high as you can while keeping your elbows and wrists against the wall. Place your arms out straight to your sides with your elbows straight and thumbs toward the ceiling. To stretch your right upper back, point your right elbow and shoulder forward while twisting your trunk to the left.
The amount of muscle called into play is critical on leg day because there are so many large muscle groups involved: the glutes (three muscles), quads (four muscles), hamstrings (three muscles), and calves (two muscles). Always start your leg routine with the most challenging exercises that allow you to push the most weight. Powerlifters prefer the low version, in which the bar instead sits further down atop the rear delts, since this variation slightly shifts the body's center of gravity such that the glutes take up more of the workload, which immediately allows the lifter to use more weight. By shifting the bar from the back to the front of the body, even just 6-8 inches, you change the relative amount of muscle loading that occurs. Focus on getting a good triple extension (ankles, knees, and hips), almost as if you were jumping with the bar.
If you really want to bring up the intensity, try bodyweight Bulgarians with blood flow restriction (BFR). Really control the tempo on these, and avoid locking out your knees at the top to place some serious tension on those quads! For knee health, keep the knees behind an imaginary line that comes up from your toes when stepping forward, and drive the weight back up through your midfoot.
It's vastly underutilized in most trainees' workouts, another reason we believe it's a good fit. Work on keeping a neutral spine and really reaching backward with your hips; too many lifters restrict their range of movement when performing this move. If you're advanced and using this as your squat of choice, you're probably not choosing the right version of the movement.
The effect of short-term strength training on human skeletal muscle: the importance of physiologically elevated hormone levels. You just want to know the best exercises for building a muscular chest, no questions asked. You can swap exercises in your current routine for these choices, build your own chest workout with a handful of them, or just try one when your standard chest workout gets stale. The exercise is easy to spot and relatively easy to learn (if not master), There are plenty of bench-press programs you can follow to increase your strength. Flat dumbbell presses allow you to hoist a fairly heavy weight, and they make for a good alternative if you've been stuck on the barbell bench for ages.
The benefit is that you'll be fresher and can lift more weight, which puts a greater amount of stress on the upper pec fibers and could lead to more growth. So, this exercise is a great movement teacher, and you can go for a great pump without having to balance any weights.
Effects of Variations of the Bench Press Exercise on the EMG Activity of Five Shoulder Muscles. Comparison among the EMG activity of the pectoralis major, anterior deltoidis and triceps brachii during the bench press and peck deck exercises. A closer grip may allow for a longer range of motion, but it may be possible to load the wide-grip pull-up to a greater degree because of an optimized starting joint position. A wider grip will put more emphasis on the lats, while a neutral grip will better target the middle back (rhomboids, teres, and traps). Wide rows mimic some back machines, so don't do both in your workout unless you make some other kinds of changes, like grip or target rep range. You may also be better able to support your lower back?which may have taken plenty of punishment by now?when placing one hand on a bench. Stand sideways to the machine, grasping the bar toward the middle, and keep your body close to the apparatus using a split stance and bent knees for balance.
And that list doesn't even include stabilizer muscles that are also recruited into many multijoint movements!
The low bar squat has a greater torso lean and increases the hip movement away from the center of gravity, thus placing a greater stress on the glutes. Front squats emphasize the quads over the glutes and hams, which means you'll sacrifice some of the load. Some people will experience a bit of a hamstring quiver when reaching back as far as possible. If you've got a good chest pump going, nothing beats looking back at yourself in the mirror as you squeeze out a few more reps.
The biggest challenge here for most trainers is training to failure in the right rep range for growth, which is 8-12.
You might even try flipping your grip?and going about shoulder-width apart?which better targets the lower lats as the elbows stay tighter to your sides. As you pull the bar up as high as you can, your body may sway a bit to keep the movement natural, which is OK. Electromyographic activity of the pectoralis major and anterior deltoid muscles during three upper-body lifts. Since form is so important with these, it may be best to push pull-ups toward the front of your workout to ensure proper shoulder-joint positioning.
The decline version puts your lats under tension for a longer range of motion than when using a flat bench.
To stretch your left upper back, point your left elbow and shoulder forward while twisting your trunk to the right. Just make sure the dumbbell clears your head, and drop it on the floor behind you when you're done. Your goal is to hammer your back and put it through the wringer, not be constantly limited by your grip strength. Effects of unilateral and bilateral lower-body heavy resistance exercise on muscle activity and testosterone responses.
Rather than slinging weight around with this movement, really focus on the stretch and contraction of the back.
If you're an experienced lifter, load up with 25s instead of the 45s, and further increase range of motion by allowing a slight protraction of the scapula at the bottom of every rep. If you do this, be sure to "reset" with a flat back before initiating the next pull! Comparison of different rowing exercises: trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness.

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