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Exercise Scientist Reveals 10 Exercises Men Need to Build Muscle

Add these to your “must-do” list workout.

If you want to build muscle, you have to choose the right exercise. However, if you don’t want to go through the scientific literature, or read hours of different articles to find out what are the best exercises men need to build muscle, then simply see the list in the following paragraphs.

Chris Williamson is the host of the “Modern Wisdom” podcast. The “Modern Wisdom” podcast covers a wide range of topics, including health, fitness, psychology, business, and personal development. Chris often interviews experts and thought leaders in these fields, providing insights and valuable information for his audience. He also has his own YouTube channel boosting close to 2 million subscribers.

Williamson shared a video in which he has a conversation with exercise scientist Mike Israetel. Dr Mike Israetel, PhD in Sport Physiology and co-founder of Renaissance Periodization, is a well-respected professor in the bodybuilding community. He doesn’t only talk about workouts and fitness tips, he often dives deep into health and nutrition.

In the pursuit of building and maintaining muscle mass, the selection of exercises plays a crucial role. Imagine having only 10 exercises to rely on for the rest of your life—what would they be? In a candid conversation, Chris Williamson poses this intriguing question to renowned fitness expert, Mike Israetel. Let’s delve into Mike’s personalized list of go-to exercises for optimal muscle development.

These two know a lot about fitness, but it is Israetel who gets asked the question which 10 exercises he would pick for men to build muscle.

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Exercise Scientist Reveals 10 Exercises Men Need to Build Muscle

It is important to note that Mike Israetel is picking exercises that not necessarily are scientifically proven to build more muscle than another. In fact, some of these exercises are simply his favourite, that he enjoys doing more than others.

Either way, these exercises will still increase your muscle-building capability, especially if you haven’t done them before or in while. That is because your body needs variety to keep getting fitter, or it gets used to a movement and the benefits diminish over time.

With that being said, let’s check out Mike Israetel’s 10 exercises men need to build muscle.

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1. High Bar Back Squats:

Mike kicks off his list with high bar squats, emphasizing their effectiveness in targeting quadriceps, adductors, and glutes. The reduced fatigue compared to low bar squats makes them a favourite, with Mike humorously noting his personal affinity for the high bar position, given his large arm size.

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2. Standing Overhead Barbell Press:

The overhead barbell press earns its spot for its ability to engage the midline bracing and contribute to overall strength. Mike highlights the importance of this exercise, not just for muscle development but also as a testament to manhood strength. His personal success with the movement adds to its appeal.

3. Barbell Skull Crushers:

For triceps development, Mike suggests the barbell skull crusher. This isolation exercise helps target the triceps effectively, contributing to a well-rounded upper body development.

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4. Pull-Ups (Overhand Grip):

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Choosing overhand grip for pull-ups, Mike cites personal preference and mobility constraints. He humorously comments on the inability to rotate his arms for underhand grip, leading to a preference for the overhand variation.

5. Barbell Bent Rows from a Deficit:

To fully engage the back muscles, Mike recommends barbell bent rows from a deficit. This variation allows for a deeper stretch, activating a broader range of muscles in the back.

6. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts:

To ensure adequate stimulation for the hamstrings, Mike includes stiff-legged deadlifts in his lineup. This dynamic movement complements the isometric nature of bent-over rows, providing a comprehensive workout for the hamstrings.

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7. Cambered Bar Bench Press (Incline Version):

Introducing a unique element, Mike suggests the cambered bar bench press for chest development. The distinctive bend in the bar allows for a deeper stretch, proven to enhance hypertrophy. Mike humorously draws parallels to medieval milk-carrying practices and torture devices, adding a touch of wit to his explanation.

8. Dips:

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Adding dips to the mix, Mike emphasizes their efficacy for lower pecs and overall manliness. The exercise also engages the triceps, contributing to a well-rounded upper body development.

9. Super ROM (Range of Motion) Laterals:

In a nod to ego-driven exercises, Mike introduces his own creation—the Dr. Mike laterals. These super ROM laterals target the side delts, providing a unique challenge and, of course, a chance to boost one’s ego.

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10. Seated Incline Dumbbell Curls:

Completing the list, Mike suggests seated incline dumbbell curls for bicep development. This exercise focuses on tension at the stretch, offering an effective way to sculpt the biceps.

While Mike Israetel’s list represents his personal preferences, it provides valuable insights into exercise selection for muscle mass development. As with any fitness regimen, individual variations and preferences should be considered, and consultation with fitness professionals is recommended for a tailored approach. Ultimately, the key lies in finding exercises that not only yield results but also motivate and inspire consistent effort in the pursuit of fitness goals.

You can get a deeper explanation on why each exercise was chosen by Mike Israetel in the video below in which he talks with Chris Williamson. Below the video, we go into detail on how to perform each exercise correctly.

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How to Perform Each of the Movements Mentioned Above

1. High Bar Back Squats:

  1. Set-Up:
  • Position the barbell on a squat rack at approximately shoulder height.
    • Stand under the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Bar Placement:
  • Rest the bar on your upper traps, just below the base of your neck.
  • Grip:
  • Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, keeping your elbows down and back.
  • Unrack:
  • Lift the bar off the rack, taking a step or two back to clear it.
  • Stance:
  • Position your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with toes pointing slightly outward.
  • Descent:
  • Initiate the squat by bending at your hips and knees simultaneously.
    • Keep your chest up, back straight, and lower yourself by pushing your hips back and bending your knees.
  • Depth:
  • Aim to descend until your thighs are parallel to the ground or below, maintaining a natural arch in your lower back.
  • Ascent:
  • Push through your heels to stand back up, extending your hips and knees simultaneously.
  • Breathing:
  • Inhale before descending, and exhale while ascending.
  • Re-rack:
  • Return the bar to the squat rack after completing the desired number of repetitions.

2. Standing Overhead Barbell Press:

  1. Set-Up:
  • Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart.
    • Hold a barbell with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Bar Placement:
  • Rest the barbell on the front of your shoulders, just above your chest, with your elbows pointing forward.
  • Elbow Position:
  • Ensure your elbows are positioned slightly in front of the bar.
  • Core Engagement:
  • Tighten your core to provide stability throughout the movement.
  • Lift:
  • Press the barbell overhead by extending your arms fully, straightening your elbows.
  • Head Clearance:
  • As you press, move your head slightly back to allow the bar to clear your face.
  • Lockout:
  • At the top of the movement, fully extend your arms without locking your elbows.
  • Descent:
  • Lower the barbell back to the starting position with control, bringing it down to the front of your shoulders.
  • Breathing:
  • Inhale before starting the lift and exhale as you press the bar overhead.
  • Repetition:
  • Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

3. Barbell Skull Crushers:

  1. Set-Up:
  • Lie on a flat bench with your feet flat on the floor.
    • Hold a barbell with an overhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart.
  • Starting Position:
  • Extend your arms fully, holding the barbell directly above your chest.
  • Elbow Position:
  • Keep your elbows stationary and pointing towards the ceiling throughout the exercise.
  • Descent:
  • Lower the barbell towards your forehead by bending your elbows, allowing them to flex while keeping the upper arms perpendicular to the floor.
  • Depth:
  • Lower the bar until it is just above your forehead, feeling a stretch in your triceps.
  • Ascent:
  • Push the barbell back up to the starting position by extending your elbows.
  • Breathing:
  • Inhale as you lower the barbell and exhale as you push it back up.
  • Controlled Movements:
  • Ensure a slow and controlled pace throughout the exercise, avoiding rapid or jerky movements.
  • Repetition:
  • Complete the desired number of repetitions, maintaining proper form.
  • Safety Considerations:
  • Use a spotter if lifting heavy weights to ensure safety.
    • Avoid excessively arching your back during the movement.

4. Pull-Ups (Overhand Grip):

  1. Grip and Hanging Position:
  • Start by gripping a pull-up bar with your hands placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, palms facing away from you (overhand grip).
    • Hang from the bar with your arms fully extended.
  • Shoulder Engagement:
  • Engage your shoulder blades by pulling them down and back. This helps activate the muscles of the upper back.
  • Initiate the Pull:
  • Begin the movement by pulling your chest towards the bar, leading with your elbows.
    • Keep your core tight and avoid excessive swinging.
  • Chin Clearing the Bar:
  • Continue pulling until your chin clears the bar. Focus on using your back muscles rather than relying solely on your arms.
  • Top Position:
  • Once your chin is above the bar, briefly hold the top position to maximally contract the muscles of your upper back.
  • Controlled Descent:
  • Lower yourself back down with control, fully extending your arms.
    • Avoid sudden drops or swinging motions.
  • Breathing:
  • Inhale as you lower yourself, and exhale as you pull your body up.
  • Repetition:
  • Repeat the exercise for the desired number of reps.
  • Progression:
  • If you find pull-ups challenging, consider using assistance from a resistance band or a pull-up machine until you build sufficient strength.
  • Form Focus:
  • Ensure a full range of motion by fully extending your arms at the bottom and achieving chin-over-bar height at the top.

5. Barbell Bent Rows from a Deficit:

  1. Set-Up:
  • Begin by standing on a raised surface, such as a small box or platform, allowing your feet to be higher than the ground level.
    • Place a barbell on the floor in front of you.
  • Stance and Grip:
  • Position your feet shoulder-width apart for stability.
    • Bend at the hips and knees to reach down and grip the barbell with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Hip Hinge:
  • Hinge at your hips, keeping your back straight and chest up, until your torso is parallel to the ground.
    • Your arms should hang directly beneath your shoulders.
  • Rowing Motion:
  • Initiate the rowing motion by pulling the barbell towards your lower chest.
    • Keep your elbows close to your body and squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
  • Full Range of Motion:
  • Lower the barbell back down, fully extending your arms to the starting position.
    • Ensure a controlled and deliberate movement throughout the exercise.
  • Breathing:
  • Inhale as you lower the barbell, and exhale as you pull it towards your chest.
  • Maintain Core Engagement:
  • Keep your core engaged throughout the movement to provide stability to your spine.
  • Repetition:
  • Complete the desired number of repetitions while maintaining proper form.
  • Adjust Weight:
  • Start with a manageable weight to ensure proper form and gradually increase the load as your strength improves.
  • Safety Considerations:
  • Avoid rounding your lower back during the exercise to prevent injury.
    • If needed, seek guidance from a fitness professional to ensure correct execution.

6. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts:

  1. Set-Up:
  • Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart.
    • Hold a barbell with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Grip and Position:
  • Maintain a straight back as you hinge at the hips, lowering the barbell towards the ground.
    • Keep a slight bend in your knees, but ensure they remain mostly stationary throughout the movement.
  • Hip Hinge:
  • Initiate the movement by pushing your hips back, maintaining a flat back and allowing the barbell to lower towards the ground.
  • Stretch:
  • Lower the barbell until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Ensure your back remains straight, and the barbell is close to your shins.
  • Maintain Core Engagement:
  • Keep your core engaged to provide stability to your spine during the descent.
  • Ascent:
  • Reverse the movement by driving through your hips and bringing your torso back to an upright position.
  • Squeeze Glutes:
  • At the top of the movement, squeeze your glutes to fully engage the hamstrings and achieve a complete contraction.
  • Breathing:
  • Inhale as you lower the barbell, and exhale as you return to the starting position.
  • Controlled Movements:
  • Ensure a slow and controlled pace throughout the exercise, avoiding jerky movements.
  • Repetition:
  • Complete the desired number of repetitions while maintaining proper form.

7. Cambered Bar Bench Press (Incline Version):

  1. Set-Up:
  • Begin by adjusting an incline bench to the desired angle (typically set between 15 to 30 degrees).
    • Place a cambered barbell on the bench.
  • Lie Back:
  • Sit on the incline bench and lie back with your upper back and shoulders positioned on the bench.
    • Ensure your feet are firmly planted on the ground for stability.
  • Grip the Bar:
  • Reach up and grip the cambered barbell with an overhand grip, hands placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Unrack the Bar:
  • Unrack the barbell, holding it above your chest with your arms fully extended.
  • Lower the Bar:
  • Lower the barbell in a controlled manner towards the upper part of your chest.
    • Allow the cambered bar to enhance the depth of the movement.
  • Elbow Position:
  • Maintain a slight elbow tuck as you lower the bar, keeping them at an angle to your body rather than flaring them out.
  • Press Up:
  • Press the barbell back up to the starting position, fully extending your arms.
  • Breathing:
  • Inhale as you lower the barbell, and exhale as you press it back up.
  • Full Range of Motion:
  • Ensure a full range of motion, allowing the bar to reach the upper chest on the descent and fully extending the arms on the ascent.
  • Repetition:
  • Complete the desired number of repetitions while maintaining proper form.

8. Dips:

  1. Set-Up:
  • Find parallel bars or dip bars that are stable and securely anchored.
    • Stand between the bars, facing forward.
  • Grip:
  • Grip the bars with your hands, placing them slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
    • Ensure your palms are facing inward, towards your body.
  • Starting Position:
  • Jump or use a step to lift yourself up, supporting your body on straight arms.
    • Keep your elbows slightly bent but avoid locking them.
  • Lowering Phase:
  • Lower your body by bending your elbows until your shoulders are below your elbows.
    • Keep your torso slightly forward to emphasize chest engagement.
  • Depth:
  • Descend until your upper arms are parallel to the ground or slightly below, feeling a stretch in your chest and shoulders.
  • Pushing Up:
  • Push through your palms to straighten your arms and return to the starting position.
    • Fully extend your elbows at the top of the movement.
  • Breathing:
  • Inhale as you lower your body, and exhale as you push yourself back up.
  • Body Position:
  • Keep your body upright and avoid leaning too far forward or backward to maintain proper form.
  • Controlled Movements:
  • Execute the exercise in a controlled manner, avoiding rapid or jerky movements.
  • Repetition:
  • Complete the desired number of repetitions while maintaining good form.

9. Super ROM (Range of Motion) Laterals:

  1. Set-Up:
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, maintaining a straight and upright posture.
    • Hold a dumbbell in each hand, with palms facing your body.
  • Starting Position:
  • Begin with your arms at your sides, elbows slightly bent, and dumbbells by your thighs.
  • Lateral Raise:
  • Lift the dumbbells laterally, away from your body, while keeping your arms straight.
    • Continue the raise until your arms are parallel to the ground or slightly above shoulder height.
  • Full Range of Motion:
  • Take the movement a step further by bringing the dumbbells all the way up until they meet or nearly touch above your head.
  • Touch at the Top:
  • Allow the dumbbells to touch or come close to touching above your head, creating a super range of motion.
  • Controlled Descent:
  • Lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position in a controlled manner.
    • Resist the urge to let gravity take over, maintaining tension in the lateral deltoids.
  • Breathing:
  • Inhale as you lower the dumbbells, and exhale as you lift them up to the full range of motion.
  • Body Position:
  • Keep your core engaged and avoid using excessive body momentum. Focus on isolating the lateral deltoids.
  • Controlled Movements:
  • Perform the exercise with deliberate and controlled movements, emphasizing the full range of motion.
  • Repetition:
  • Complete the desired number of repetitions while maintaining proper form.

10. Seated Incline Dumbbell Curls:

  1. Set-Up:
  • Adjust an incline bench to a comfortable angle, typically between 45 and 60 degrees.
    • Sit on the incline bench with your back against the pad, feet flat on the floor.
  • Hold Dumbbells:
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms fully extended, and palms facing forward.
  • Starting Position:
  • Allow your arms to hang straight down towards the floor, keeping your elbows close to your torso.
  • Curling Motion:
  • Begin the curling motion by flexing your elbow joints, bringing the dumbbells towards your shoulders.
    • Keep your upper arms stationary and elbows tucked in.
  • Full Range of Motion:
  • Aim for a full range of motion, bringing the dumbbells up until they are close to your shoulders.
    • Squeeze your biceps at the top of the movement to maximize contraction.
  • Controlled Descent:
  • Lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position in a controlled manner.
    • Allow your arms to fully extend without locking out your elbows.
  • Breathing:
  • Inhale as you lower the dumbbells, and exhale as you curl them up.
  • Body Position:
  • Maintain a stable seated position throughout the exercise, avoiding excessive leaning or swinging.
  • Controlled Movements:
  • Perform the exercise with controlled movements to target the biceps effectively.
  • Repetition:
  • Complete the desired number of repetitions while maintaining proper form.

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