Wiit training exercises

This is a partial list of weight training exercises organized by muscle group.


The human body can be broken down into different muscles and muscle groups. The muscles can be worked and strengthened by exercise. This table shows major muscles and the exercises used to work and strengthen that muscle.

Lower body

Quadriceps (front of thigh)


The squat is performed by squatting down with a weight held across the upper back under neck and standing up straight again. This is a compound exercise that also involves the glutes (buttocks) and, to a lesser extent, the hamstrings, calves, and the lower back. Lifting belts are sometimes used to help support the lower back. The freeweight squat is one of ‘The Big Three’ powerlifting exercises, along with the deadlift and the bench press.

Equipment Squats can be performed using only the practitioner’s body weight. For weighted squats, a barbell is typically used, although the practitioner may instead hold dumbbells, kettlebells, or other weighted objects. Individuals uncomfortable performing freeweight squats may use a Smith machine or hack squat machine. Major variants Common variations include front squats, in which the weight is held across the upper chest, and box squats, in which the practitioner rests briefly on a box or bench at the bottom of the movement.

Leg press

The leg press is performed while seated by pushing a weight away from the body with the feet. It is a compound exercise that also involves the glutes and, to a lesser extent, the hamstrings and the calves. Overloading the machine can result in serious injury if the sled moves uncontrollably towards the trainer.

Equipment Leg press machine.


The deadlift is performed by squatting down and lifting a weight off the floor with the hand until standing up straight again. Grips can be face down or opposing with one hand down and one hand up, to prevent dropping. Face up should not be used because this puts excess stress on the inner arms. This is a compound exercise that also involves the glutes, lower back, lats, trapezius (neck) and, to a lesser extent, the hamstrings and the calves. Lifting belts are often used to help support the lower back. The deadlift has two common variants, the Romanian deadlift and the straight-leg-deadlift. Each target the lower back, glutes and the hamstrings differently.

Equipment Dumbbells, barbell, trapbar or Smith machine. Major variants Sumo (wider stance to emphasise the inner thighs); stiff legged (emphasizes hamstrings); straight-legged deadlift (emphasizes lower back).

Leg extension

The leg extension is performed while seated by raising a weight out in front of the body with the feet. It is an isolation exercise for the quadriceps. Overtraining can cause patellar tendinitis. The legs extension serves to also strengthen the muscles around the knees and is an exercise that is preferred by physical therapists.

Equipment Dumbbell, cable machine or leg extension machine.

Wall sit

The wall sit, also known as a static squat, is performed by placing one’s back against a wall with feet shoulder width apart, and lowering the hips until the knees and hips are both at right angles. The position is held as long as possible. The exercise is used to strengthen the quadriceps. Contrary to previous advice in this section, this exercise is NOT good for people with knee problems because the knees bear most of the load, especially when they are held at right angles (90 degrees).

Equipment Body weight, wall or other flat vertical surface, exercise ball placed behind the back is optional as well.

Hamstrings (back of legs)

Leg curl

The leg curl is performed while lying face down on a bench, by raising a weight with the feet towards the buttocks. This is an isolation exercise for the hamstrings.

Equipment Dumbbell, cable machine or leg curl machine. Major variants Seated (using a leg curl machine variant); standing (one leg at a time).

Stiff-Legged Deadlift

The Stiff-Legged Deadlift is a deadlift variation that specifically targets the posterior chain. Little to no knee movement occurs in this exercise to ensure hamstring, glute, and spinal erector activation. The bar starts on the floor and the individual sets up like a normal deadlift but the knees are at a 160° angle instead on 135° on the conventional deadlift. The person picks the bar up from the ground with a straight back to prevent snap city. This exercise will give you a strong back and booty cheeks as well as football player hamstrings when done correctly.


The snatch is one of the two current olympic weightlifting events (the other being the clean and jerk). The essence of the event is to lift a barbell from the platform to locked arms overhead in a smooth continuous movement. The barbell is pulled as high as the lifter can manage (typically to mid height) (the pull) at which point the barbell is flipped overhead. With relatively light weights (as in the “power snatch”) locking of the arms may not require rebending the knees. However, as performed in contests, the weight is always heavy enough to demand that the lifter receive the bar in a squatting position, while at the same time flipping the weight so it moves in an arc directly overhead to locked arms. When the lifter is secure in this position, he rises (overhead squat), completing the lift.


Standing calf raise

Dumbbell standing calf raise

The standing calf raise is performed by plantarflexing the feet to lift the body. If a weight is used, then it rests upon the shoulders, or is held in the hand(s). This is an isolation exercise for the calves; it particularly emphasises the gastrocnemius muscle, and recruits the soleus muscle.

Equipment Body weight, dumbbells, barbell, Smith machine or standing calf raise machine. Major variants One leg (the other is held off the ground); donkey calf raise (bent over with a weight or machine pad on the lower back).

Seated calf raise

Seated calf raise machine

The seated calf raise is performed by flexing the feet to lift a weight held on the knees. This is an isolation exercise for the calves, and particularly emphasises the soleus muscle.

Equipment Barbell or seated calf raise machine; can also be done on a leg press machine.


  • Vaginal weightlifting refers to strength training using the contraction of the pelvic floor muscles to lift weights after inserting an attachment in the vagina.

Upper body

Pectorals (chest)

Smith machine bench press

  • The bench press or dumbbell bench-press is performed while lying face up on a bench, by pushing a weight away from the chest. This is a compound exercise that also involves the triceps and the front deltoids, also recruits the upper and lower back muscles, and traps. The bench press is the king of all upper body exercises and is one of the most popular chest exercises in the world. It is the final exercise in ‘The big 3’.
    • Equipment: dumbbells, barbell, Smith machine or bench press machine.
    • Major variants: incline ~ (more emphasis on the upper pectorals), decline ~ (more emphasis on the lower pectorals), narrow grip ~ (more emphasis on the triceps), push-up (face down using the body weight), neck press (with the bar over the neck, to isolate the pectorals), vertical dips (using parallel dip bars) or horizontal dips (using two benches with arms on the near bench and feet on the far bench, and dropping the buttocks to the floor and pushing back up.)
  • The chest fly is performed while lying face up on a bench or standing up, with arms outspread holding weights, by bringing the arms together above the chest. This is a compound exercise for the pectorals. Other muscles worked include deltoids, triceps, and forearms.
    • Equipment: dumbbells, cable machine or “pec deck” machine.
    • Major variants: incline ~ (more emphasis on the upper pectorals), decline ~ (more emphasis on the lower pectorals), cable crossover.
  • Cable crossovers
  • Dips

Lats (mid back)

  • The pulldown is performed while seated by pulling a wide bar down towards the upper chest or behind the neck. This is a compound exercise that also involves the biceps, forearms, and the rear deltoids.
    • Equipment: cable machine or pulldown machine.
    • Major variants: chin-up or pullup (using the body weight while hanging from a high bar), close grip ~ (more emphasis on the lower lats), reverse grip ~ (more emphasis on the biceps).
  • The Pull-up is performed by hanging from a chin-up bar above head height with the palms facing forward (supinated) and pulling the body up so the chin reaches or passes the bar. The pull-up is a compound exercise that also involves the biceps, forearms, traps, and the rear deltoids. A chin-up (palms facing backwards) places more emphasis on the biceps and a wide grip pullup places more emphasis on the lats. As beginners of this exercise are often unable to lift their own bodyweight, a chin-up machine can be used with counterweights to assist them in the lift.
    • Equipment: chin-up bar or chin-up machine.
  • The bent-over row is performed while leaning over, holding a weight hanging down in one hand or both hands, by pulling it up towards the abdomen. This is a compound exercise that also involves the biceps, forearms, traps, and the rear deltoids. The torso is unsupported in some variants of this exercise, in which case lifting belts are often used to help support the lower back.
    • Equipment: dumbbell, barbell, Smith machine or T-bar machine.
    • Major variants: cable row (using a cable machine while seated).

Deltoids (shoulders)

Cable machine upright row

  • The upright row is performed while standing, holding a weight hanging down in the hands, by lifting it straight up to the collarbone. This is a compound exercise that also involves the trapezius, upper back, forearms, triceps, and the biceps. The narrower the grip the more the trapezius muscles are exercised.
    • Equipment: dumbbells, barbell, Smith machine or cable machine.
  • The shoulder press is performed while seated, or standing by lowering a weight held above the head to just above the shoulders, and then raising it again. It can be performed with both arms, or one arm at a time. This is a compound exercise that also involves the trapezius and the triceps.
    • Major variants: 360 Degree Shoulder Press (wrists are rotated while weights are lifted, then weights are lowered in front of the head before being rotated back to the first position).
  • The military press is similar to the shoulder press but is performed while standing with the feet together. (It is named “military” because of the similarity in appearance to the “at attention” position used in most militaries) Unlike the seated shoulder press, the military press involves the majority of the muscles of the core as stabilizers to keep the body rigid and upright, and is thus a more effective compound exercise.
    • Equipment: dumbbells, kettlebells, barbell, Smith machine or shoulder press machine.
    • Major variants: Arnold Press (dumbbells are raised while rotating the palms outwards).
  • The lateral raise (or shoulder fly) is performed while standing or seated, with hands hanging down holding weights, by lifting them out to the sides until just below the level of the shoulders. A slight variation in the lifts can hit the deltoids even harder, while moving upwards, just turn the hands slightly downwards, keeping the last finger higher than the thumb. This is an isolation exercise for the deltoids. Also works the forearms and traps.
    • Equipment: dumbbells, cable machine or lateral raise machine.
    • Major variants: front raise (lift weights out to the front; emphasis is on the front deltoids), bent-over ~ (emphasis is on the rear deltoids), 180 degree lateral raise (weights are held slightly in front of the body and lifted over the head in a circular motion).

Triceps (back of arms)

  • The pushdown is performed while standing by pushing down on a bar held at the level of the upper chest. It is important to keep the elbows at shoulder width and in line with shoulder/legs. In other words, elbows position should not change while moving the forearm pushes down the bar. This is an isolation exercise for the triceps.
    • Equipment: cable machine or pulldown machine.

Lying dumbbell triceps extension

  • The triceps extension is performed while standing or seated, by lowering a weight held above the head (keeping the upper arms motionless), and then raising it again. It can be performed with both arms, or one arm at a time. This is an isolation exercise for the triceps. It is also known as the french curl.
    • Equipment: dumbbell(s), barbell, cable machine or triceps extension machine.
    • Major variants: lying ~ (lying face up with the weights over the face), kickback (bent over with the upper arm parallel to the torso).

Biceps (front of arms)

Dumbbell biceps curl on the preacher bench

  • The Preacher curl is performed while standing or seated, with hands hanging down holding weights (palms facing forwards), by curling them up to the shoulders. It can be performed with both arms, or one arm at a time.
  • Standing barbell curl
  • Alternating rotating dumbbell curl
  • Hammer curl
  • The Zottmann curl gives a stronger focus to forearm training compared to the traditional curl.



  • The crunch is performed while lying face up on the floor with knees bent, by curling the shoulders up towards the pelvis. This is an isolation exercise for the abdominals.
    • Equipment: body weight, dumbbell or crunch machine.
    • Major variants: reverse ~ (curling the pelvis towards the shoulders), twisting ~ or side ~ (lifting one shoulder at a time; emphasis is on the obliques), cable ~ (pulling down on a cable machine while kneeling), sit-up ~ (have touch your knees), vertical crunch (propping up to dangle legs and pulling knees to the or keeping legs straight and pulling up legs to a 90 degree position). Reverse hanging crunch (using gravity boots or slings to hang head down and pulling to a 90 or 180 degree form)
  • The leg raise is performed while sitting on a bench or flat on the floor by raising the knees towards the shoulders, or legs to a vertical upright position. This is a compound exercise that also involves the hip flexors.
    • Equipment: body weight or dumbbell.
    • Major variants: hanging ~ (hanging from a high bar), side ~ (lying on side), knee raise (lying on back, drawing knees to chest).
  • The Russian twist is a type of exercise that is used to work the abdomen muscles by performing a twisting motion on the abdomen. This exercise is performed sitting on the floor with knees bent like in a “sit-up” position with the back typically kept off the floor at an angle of 45°. In this position, the extended arms are swung from one side to another in a twisting motion with or without weight.
    • Equipment: body weight, kettlebell, medicine ball, or dumbbell.
    • Major variants: back kept off the floor at 45° angle, back rested on exercise ball, feet resting on the floor, anchored or kept off the floor.

Lower back

Back extension

Back extension on a Roman chair

The back extension is performed while lying face down partway along a flat or angled bench, so that the hips are supported and the heels secured, by bending down at the waist and then straightening up again. This is a compound exercise that also involves the glutes.

Equipment Body weight, dumbbell or back extension machine. Major variants Without bench (lying face down on the floor).


The deadlift is a very effective compound exercise for strengthening the lower back, but also exercises many other major muscle groups, including quads, hamstrings and abdominals. It is a challenging exercise, as poor form or execution can cause serious injury. A deadlift is performed by grasping a dead weight on the floor and, while keeping the back very straight, standing up by contracting the erector spinae (primary lower back muscle). When performed correctly the role of the arms in the deadlift is only that of cables attaching the weight to the body; the musculature of the arms should not be used to lift the weight. There is no movement more basic to everyday life than picking a dead weight up off of the floor, and for this reason focusing on improving one’s deadlift will help prevent back injuries.


The good-morning is a weight training exercise in which a barbell, two dumbbells, or no weight at all is held on the shoulders, behind the head. The person bends forward and bows at the hips and recovers to upright. The good-morning is so called because the movement resembles bowing to greet someone. It involves the hamstrings but is primarily used to strengthen the lower back; the degree of knee bend used will change the focus – nearly straight-legged involving the hamstrings most.


  1. ^ Johnson-Cane, Deidre; Cane, Jonathan; Glickman, Joe (2000). The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Weight Training. Indianapolis: Alpha Books. p. 169. ISBN 0-7865-4251-9. 
  2. ^ Johnson-Cane et al., p. 170
  3. ^ Johnson-Cane et al., p. 173.
  4. ^ Johnson-Cane et al., p. 175.
  5. ^ Johnson-Cane et al., p. 177.
  6. ^ Johnson-Cane et al., p. 179.
  7. ^ Johnson-Cane et al., p. 180.
  8. ^ Johnson-Cane et al., p. 187


There are literally thousands of potential circuit training exercises that can be used to develop a suitable routine.

Additionally, many exercises require little or no expensive equipment. With nothing more than a mat and a set of dumbbells, there is scope to develop dozens of routines, even one that is sport-specific.

The circuit training exercises below are useful for designing a classic circuit training routine i.e. the one that develops short-term muscular endurance. This type of strength endurance is important in many prolonged sports with intermittent bouts of activity, such as soccer and field hockey. See these sample circuit training programs that can be used by athletes who play multi-sprint sports.

These circuit training exercises can also be used by non-athletes to develop general fitness. In this respect, circuit training is very time efficient helping to develop strength and stamina in a single session. See these sample circuit training workouts for program ideas. Athletes can make use of these general workouts too in the off season for example.

Pure endurance athletes still require excellent strength endurance but the nature of their events requires a slightly different approach. See these sample circuit training routines for endurance athletes for more details.

Exercise Selection

Exercise selection is governed by the principle of specificity. The circuit training exercises selected must train movements that the athlete will perform during competition. A general circuit class you might expect to see in a gym will develop muscular endurance but it wont be specific to any particular sport.

The circuit training exercises below require only basic, inexpensive equipment – a set of relatively light dumbbells, skipping rope and an exercise mat for example.

Each of the circuit training exercises below has been grouped into one of four categories:

  • Total Body
  • Upper Body
  • Lower Body
  • Core Region

There is a reason for this. For details see the article How to Design a Circuit Training Program

Total Body Circuit Training Exercises

Squat Jumps

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, trunk flexed forward slightly with back straight in a neutral position.
  2. Arms should be in the ready position with elbows flexed at approximately 90.
  3. Lower body where thighs are parallel to ground. Explode vertically and drive arms up.
  4. Land on both feet and repeat.
  5. Prior to takeoff extend the ankles to their maximum range (full plantar flexion) to ensure proper mechanics.


  1. Start in a standing position and bend your knees and place your hands on the ground.
  2. Extend your legs back into a push up position. Bring your knees back in towards chest and stand back up.
  3. This should be a continuous motion and be fluid.


There are various types of skipping and they make excellent circuit training exercises – two feet off the ground, alternate feet, hop on one leg for 5 then swap and so on.

Dumbbell Squat and Swings

  1. Start position: Holding a dumbbell in each hand start in squatted position with dumbbells between legs.
  2. Start movement by standing up and keeping arms straight rotate shoulders and trunk towards the left.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat to the other side.
  4. Repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.

Tuck Jumps

Standing on the spot, jump up with both and tuck both knees in towards your chest.

Squat Thrusts

In a push-up position bring both knees in towards your chest and then explode out again so they are fully extended. Repeat in a smooth, rhythmical fashion.


Similar to squat thrusts only alternate your feet. In the push-up position with legs extended bring one knee into your chest, then quickly switch to bring the other knee into your chest. The action should be a smooth running motion as your arms stay fixed.

High Knees

Running on the spot pick your knees up to waist height and pump your arms.

Fast Feet on Box

Use a sturdy box or aerobic step. Step on and off quickly making sure both feet come into contact with the box. Every 20 or 30 step-ups change your feet so the opposite leg leads.

Jumping Jacks

Start with your legs side by side and your arms by your side. In one motion jump and spread your legs out to the side while your arms raise out and up over your head. Land in this position and then return to the starting position and repeat.

Alternating Split Squat

  1. Stand with feet hip width apart. Take left leg and step back approximately 2 feet standing on the ball of back foot.
  2. Feet should be positioned at a staggered stance with head and back erect and straight in a neutral position. Place hands on waist.
  3. Lower body by bending at right hip and knee until thigh is parallel to floor then immediately explode vertically.
  4. Switch feet in the air so that the back foot lands forward and vice versa.
  5. Prior to takeoff extend the ankles to their maximum range (full plantar flexion) ensure proper mechanics.

Squat to Presses

Holding a relatively light dumbbell in each hand by your side, squat down until your knees are bent just above 90 degrees. As you extend your legs push the dumbbells overhead and extend your arms fully. Lower the weights as you squat down again.


Stand with your feet together and arms by your sides. Keeping your feet together jump forward a foot or so. Jump back to the starting position. Jump to your left, back to the start, then the right and then behind you. Repeat this sequence by keeping ground contact time minimal and feet together.

Cardio Equipment

If you’re lucky enough to own any cardiovascular equipment (treadmill, cross trainer, rowing machine) they make good circuit training exercises. Of course if you perform your routine at the gym you have an even greater range of choice.

Upper Body Circuit Training Exercises

Dumbbell Exercises 

There are dozens of upper body circuit training exercises you can do with dumbbells. Examples include biceps curls, lateral raises, alternating shoulder presses, triceps extensions, front raises, single arm rows.


To make regular push-ups easier (remember you need to sustain them for 30-60 seconds), keep your knees in contact with the ground.

Wide Push-Ups

Same as a regular push-up except spread your hands to wider than shoulder width.

Diamond Push-Ups

Same as a regular push-up except place your hands together and make a diamond shape with your thumbs and forefingers.

Plyometric Push-Ups

Same as a regular push-up except as you extend your arms push up explosively so your hands leave the ground. Then allow your elbows to bend slightly to absorb the shock as you land. Lower and repeat. A variation of this exercise is to quickly clap your hands as they are in the air.

Bench Dips

  1. Sit upright on the edge of a sturdy bench and place hands hip width apart, palms down, fingers pointing forward and gripping the edge of the bench. Place heels on another bench with legs out straight in front of you.
  2. Start position: Slide glutes off bench with elbows slightly bent.
  3. Lower body by bending at elbows until elbows are at 90 degree angle. Return to start position.

Lower Body Circuit Training Exercises

Dumbbell Exercises

As with the upper body there are dozens of circuit training exercises for the lower body you can do with a simple set of dumbbells. Examples include, squat variations, lunges, calf raises, dead lifts

One Leg Squat

This is one of the more difficult lower body circuit training exercises – even with just your own bodyweight. Make sure you build gradually up to this one…

  1. Stand with feet hip width apart with knees slightly bent and toes pointing forward.
  2. Start position: Lift one foot off ground and extend leg forward. Extend arms forward at hip level.
  3. Lower body by flexing at the hips and standing leg knee. Upper body can flex forward at the hips slightly (~5) during movement. Be sure to “sit back” so that knees stay over the feet.
  4. For balance, hold on to a chair by your side. Once thigh is slightly above parallel return to start position.
  5. Remember to keep head and back straight in a neutral position – hyperextension or flexion may cause injury. Keep weight over the middle of foot and heel, not the toes. Keep abdominals tight throughout exercise by drawing stomach in toward spine.

Single Leg Kickbacks

  1. Start in a four point position with your hands and knees on the ground.
  2. Proceed to kick your leg back and up until you reach full extension.
  3. Squeeze your glute muscle while performing this movement. Repeat with the other leg

Forward Lunges

  1. Start by standing with your feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Step forward with one foot and bend your knees into a lunged position. Your back knee should come close to touching the ground and your front leg should be bent to about 90 degrees at the knee.
  3. Maintain your upright posture throughout the movement. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite leg. 4. If you have them, hold a light dumbbell in either hand.

Box Step with Knee Drive

  1. Stand behind box and place one foot on top of box, heel close to the closest edge. Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Push off the box and explode vertically and drive your other knee up towards your chest. 3. Repeat with other leg.

Core Region Circuit Training Exercises

Sit-Ups with a Twist

  1. Start position: Lie back onto floor or bench with knees bent and hands behind head. Keep elbows back and out of sight. Head should be in a neutral position with a space between chin and chest.
  2. Leading with the chin and chest towards the ceiling, contract the abdominal and raise shoulders off floor or bench. As you come up twist one shoulder towards the opposite knee.
  3. Return to start position and repeat with the other shoulder.
  4. Remember to keep head and back in a neutral position. Hyperextension or flexion of either may cause injury.


  1. Start position: Lie face down on floor with hands down at sides. You may place a rolled towel under forehead to clear face from floor.
  2. Raise chest and head off floor keeping feet in contact with floor. To increase resistance, extend arms out in front like superman.
  3. Do not raise head past 8-12 inches – excessive hyperextension may cause injury. To vary exercise raise feet while raising trunk.

Double Crunch

  1. Lie back onto floor or bench with knees bent and hands behind head. Keep elbows back and out of sight. Head should be in a neutral position with a space between chin and chest.
  2. Start position: Hands behind head and knees bent at 90 degrees.
  3. Leading with the chin and chest towards the ceiling, contract the abdominals and raise shoulders off floor or bench. During the crunch, also bring knees towards chest.
  4. Return to the start position.


  1. Start position: Lie back onto floor or bench with knees bent and hands extended towards ceiling. Head should be in a neutral position with a space between chin and chest.
  2. Leading with the chin and chest towards the ceiling, contract the abdominal and raise shoulders off floor or bench. Also raise legs up towards ceiling and attempt to touch your hands to your feet.
  3. Return to start position.

Oblique Crunch

  1. Start by placing your left foot over your right knee and place your hands behind your head.
  2. Lift your shoulders up off the ground and twist so that your right elbows tries to touch your left knee.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat according to the required repetitions.
  4. Repeat with the other side.

Hip Thrusts

  1. Lie on your back with your legs bent 90 degrees at the hip.
  2. Slowly lift your hips off the floor and towards the ceiling.
  3. Lower your hips to the floor and repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.

Push-UP Superman With Alternating Arms

Starting Position: Start the movement in a plank position. Holding that position raise your right arm and left leg off of the ground. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other arm and leg. Hold each lift for 1-2 seconds.

Bicycle Kicks

  1. Lie on your back with your knees at chest level and your arms flat on the floor.
  2. Alternate extending your legs by extending one leg out straight and as you bring it in extend the other leg out.
  3. Continue to repeat this process like you are riding a bicycle until the required repetitions are completed.
  4. Make sure you keep your back flat during the movement. If you are unable to keep your back flat then reduce the extension of your legs.

Other Circuit Training Exercises

The circuit training exercises on this page really only scratch the surface. If you have access to resistance bands, a stability ball and/or medicine ball they can easily be incorporated into the session:

For sample medicine ball exercises click here

For sample stability ball exercises click here

For sample resistance band exercises click here


People always ask me, “what are the best weight training exercises to build muscle and get strong?”

But I like to add something to the end of that…

“While remaining healthy, athletic and injury free.”

Because then the game changes.

Sure, you can do a lot of power and Olympic lifting but it will take a toll on your body and eventually you’ll get hurt.

I prefer to put safety at the top of the list and stick with exercises that are joint friendly and don’t beat you up.

That said, the basics are still the best.

You judge an exercise’s effectiveness in two ways.

First, it has to be a movement that allows a great amount of loading for that muscle group.

Second, it has to allow for great progression and strength gains.

That’s why goblet or kettlebell front squats are better than leg extensions, and why dumbbell or kettlebell military presses are better than lateral raises. You can use way more weight on the first two. And you can add a lot of weight on the squat and military press. On lateral raises you’ll start with 5’s and when you’re really strong you’ll be using 20’s a few years later. Not that great.

Compound exercises are where it’s at.

With that, here’s the list:

Note: The exercises are listed not in order of effectiveness but rather starting from the top of the body and working our way down.

1) Dumbbell Clean and Press

This is an old school classic. Sig Klein used to have a very well known challenge. It was to do twelve reps on this movement with a pair of 75 pound dumbbells. If you can do that you’re a freakishly strong, jacked dude. It’s definitely one of the best shoulder exercises you can do.

2) Standing Landmine Press

This is a lot easier on most people’s shoulders than pressing straight overhead. Plus the core stabilization required turns this into an awesome full body movement.

3) Incline Dumbbell Press

I prefer these to be done somewhere between ten and thirty degrees. Dorian Yates always said this was the best angle to hit the upper chest, while placing the least amount of stress on the shoulders. Who am I to argue? (“He’s not Flash, but he’s fast, and his name is Jay.”

The safest way to do them is with your elbows tucked and palms facing each other. The bodybuilder way to them is with your elbows way out to the sides and palms facing forward. That’s more stressful to the shoulders but does seem to hit the pecs more effectively.

A good compromise is to have your elbows and hands at a 45-degree angle. Be sure not to bounce at the bottom.

4) 1 Arm Dumbbell Row

This is a great exercise for building up your upper back and lats. It can be done strictly with a sawing motion, allowing the weight to drift forward slightly at the bottom of each rep, then pulling it up towards your hip.

You can also do them with a slight cheat if you’re more advanced and know how to protect yourself and also use the target muscles properly. I’d recommend a more strict performance for at least your first two years of training.

Most people can’t feel their back/lat muscles working. That’s because they always tend to go too heavy on rows. If you can’t hold it for at least a one second count at the top it’s too heavy.

Lighten the weight and focus on really squeezing the muscles as hard as you can throughout the set. This will help you build your back a lot more effectively.

A chest supported dumbbell row, laying face down on an incline bench, while holding dumbbells is another great variation. This is especially effective for those with lower back injuries.

5) 1 Arm Landmine Row

This is another great variation of a 1 arm row that helps pack size on the lats and upper back.

6) Sandbag Hang Clean

We’ve all seen Olympic lifters and marveled at their huge traps. And these days all the top Crossfit competitors have the same kind of development. The reason? Cleans.

Now, I’ll be the first to tell you they’re not the safest exercise nor are they easy to learn. That’s why I suggest doing them with a sandbag. It’s more about brute strength and power instead of technical mastery.

7) Farmers Walk

Carrying something heavy is a required part of any muscle building workout. It’s what we evolved to do and there’s just something innately manly about it.

Farmers walks are performed by picking up a heavy pair of dumbbells or kettlebells and walking with them for anywhere between 30 seconds and two minutes.

They are the best grip exercise you can do and will really help build bigger forearms. They also pack size on the traps and all the way down your back, glutes and calves. In fact, a lot of people find farmers walks infinitely more effective than any type of calf raise for thickening the lower leg muscles.

Stability in the ankle and knee is greatly improved from this exercise as well. And if you ever want to take a picture of yourself while training this one makes you look coolest. Just FYI.

8) 1 Leg Romanian Deadlift

It doesn’t get any more basic than bending over and picking up a heavy object. This movement works your neck, traps, shoulders, lats, mid back, lower back, glutes, hamstrings, quads, forearms and entire midsection.

Powerlifters all have huge traps and backs. They deadlift a lot. See the correlation?

But I’m not prescribing conventional barbell deadlifts. I much prefer the single leg Romanian deadlift variation. My friend, colleague and rehab specialist, Dr. Mark Cheng got me started doing these and I used them to rehab a lifelong back problem.

You can do them with a barbell, however, I recommend starting with a single kettlebell, held in the opposite hand of the leg you are working. Go slow and maintain very strict form and control of the movement.

9) Goblet Squat

It’s forever been called “The king of all exercises,” and for good reason.

If you want to be strong and you want big legs squats are essential.

That doesn’t mean you should only do back squats with a barbell. Those are very difficult to master and pose quite the injury risk. A goblet squat with a dumbbell or kettlebell will be all that most people ever need.

I recommend that everyone spends the time required to develop the necessary mobility to squat properly. It’s not sexy, fun or exciting but you have to do it if you want to squat without getting hurt.

Be sure to stretch and mobilize the ankles, calves, hips, glutes, hamstrings and thoracic spine for optimal, injury-free squatting. And always use a load you can dominate with perfect form. When you go too heavy and allow the form to get loose you’re just asking to get hurt.

10) Sled Dragging/ Pushing

So it’s not a traditional barbell or dumbbell movement that would usually make the list of best weight training exercises.  The fact is you’re using weights when you use a sled. Not only that but sled work can build leg size and strength like a mofo, while simultaneously improving your conditioning. I consider it an essential part of any training program.

If you look at the quads of any cyclist or speed skater you’ll see that quads respond well to volume. The best part of the sled is the lack of eccentric component. So you can pile on the volume and frequency, which will make your legs grow without your recovery ability getting crushed.


So there you have it- the best joint-friendly, weight training exercises for building muscle and strength.

Good luck and be relentless.


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