Ok so there really isn’t a ‘must do’ exercise or group of exercises in my opinion that we all need to include for muscle growth, however that is not to say that some exercises may not offer a greater benefit on a bang for buck scale. So while these 3 exercises are by no means a necessity, I do feel they offer the maximum amount of potential for muscle growth when compared to other exercises based on a direct comparison.
If you solely stick to these 3 exercises or exercise variations only, you could build an incredible physique and that is why they are my top 3.
The Deadlift is undeniably the highest muscle recruitment exercise you can do in a single movement that has both a functionality benefit as well as a performance enhancement effect. A deadlift will improve your day-to-day strength and stability, but should you want to, it will also help enhance physical strength and performance from an athletic stance as well.
A deadlift is a posterior chain dominant movement, meaning it strengthens the muscles to the rear of the body and has primary benefits for enhancing the strength of your:
In essence, the deadlift enhances the strength, power and function of all primary movers of the posterior chain, as well as improving postural muscle function.
But that’s not all the deadlift is limited to either, as it is one of the top exercises for activating the abdominal region as well, providing an all in one, strength, power and postural muscle enhancing movement.
The reality is that the deadlift is single handily the highest muscle activating movement you can do and will give you the best bang for your back posterior muscle growth response compared to all other back movements. Utilising a deadlift movement as a primary exercise will have you building a dense, thick back and strong powerful glutes and hamstrings.
Everyone loves to squat… NOT! Ok well some of us do but there is something unrelenting about having to put bone-crushing weight on your shoulders before trying to squat down and back up with it. It’s physically hard, mentally tough and almost soul destroying when you fail. But a squat is tough for a reason.
A squat is a posterior/anterior lower limb dominant movement, meaning it is designed to strengthen the entire lower portion of your body, with the dominance of muscle performance going to the:
The great thing about a squat movement is it works by simultaneously stimulating agonist and antagonist eccentric loading through the knee (quads) and hip extensors (glutes and hamstrings), whereas most exercises work in an opposite function as they are not multi jointed movements like the squat.
Think of it this way…
If you were doing a bicep curl, the lengthening of the bicep is the eccentric phase and is achieved when you begin to straighten the arm, which causes the opposite reaction in the antagonist muscle, which is the tricep, as it begins to shorten.
The squat however is a multi joint movement, meaning both the hips and the knees flex simultaneously, meaning that the extensors at opposing joints are both being eccentrically loaded simultaneously.
The reason why this is important to note is it helps explain why a squat version is the 2nd maximum muscle growing exercise, as it ensures maximum lower limb muscle activation is achieved. Unlike a simple leg curl or leg extension, which solely target extension or flexion, the squat targets both multi-joint knee and hip extension and flexion at the same time.
A squat is a prime mover muscle activator and will provide you with the best bang for your buck muscle growth in the lower limb. It even out performs a leg press, despite being able to lift more weight on the machine, as true hip extension for your glutes is not achieved on a leg press.
The squat targets the quads, hamstrings and glutes in their entirety throughout the entire movement unlike any other exercise and that is why it is my number 2.
Wherever there is a pull you need a push! The age old saying of for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction is extremely relevant in your training, as having front to back balance is critically important for both physical function but also for the look of your physique.
Provided that technique is adequate and mobility allows for optimising performance, my number one go to horizontal press is the bench press, as it focuses primarily on:
- Horizontal shoulder flexion
- Elbow extension
- Mild should flexion
Now a dumbbell press will still focus on these 3 movements, however the load you can place through the pecs, delts and triceps is far less with a dumbbell compared to a barbell due to stabilisation impairment of strength and power output.
In essence, using a barbell on a bench, which creates a closed circuit, allows you to place a greater emphasis on the major movers and reduces the need for stabiliser muscles of the scapulohumeral joint to leech some of your pressing power.
This means that the largest amount of force can be distributed through the target muscle, being mainly the pecs. There is debatably no other horizontal pressing movement that offers the same biomechanical advantage as a bench press when done properly and this is why it is my 3rd must have for ensuring maximum muscle growth.
Everyone can see their mirror muscles, being their abs, quads, chest and shoulders, so ensuring you focus your dominant exercises on the posterior chain means a reduced risk for physical imbalance.
Growing maximum muscle requires your dietary intake of protein and calories is sufficient but also that your training is as well. If you could only focus your time on 3 exercises, using the deadlift, a squat variation and a horizontal pressing variation such as a bench press, will ensure you are activating the most amount of muscle, and your bang for buck growth will be also be greater.
By ensuring the intensity, volume or frequency of these 3 exercises increases over time, growing maximum amounts of muscle is a certainty, provided your food intake is sufficient as well.
Forget about over complicating the process of muscle growth, focus on the 3 big lifts and reap the rewards of maximum muscle growth due to an efficient muscle stimulus.