What Are The “Basic Exercises” and Why Should You Care?

Fitness, Muscle Growth,

What Are The “Basic Exercises” and Why Should You Care?

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“You’ve gotta use the basic exercises!” is one of the most common piece of muscle building advice you’ll hear…and it’s because these exercises WORK.

The basic exercises are your key to long-term success in training. They encompass every major muscle group in your body and many of the most common movement patterns you perform on a daily basis. If you want to build maximum muscle, you MUST use these exercises or variations of them.

So What ARE These Basic Exercises?

There are different interpretations of what, exactly, they are…but to me, the basic exercises are squats, deadlifts, bench press, shoulder press, rows, and pull-ups.

If you did nothing but these six exercise, you’ve worked pretty much every single part of your body.

You’ll notice curls aren’t on this list…neither are pushdowns, tricep extensions, calf raises, flyes, leg extensions, leg curls or lateral raises. Every single muscle worked by these “isolation” exercises is worked by the basic exercises.

So What Makes The Basic Exercises So Great?

Basically, they involve the most muscle mass all at once. When you do a squat, you’re working the legs AND the glutes, lower back, upper back, calves and core. Much of the benefits of the squat come from this “total-body activation.”

You get the most bang for your buck as the energy you put into the basic exercises gives you a great return on investment in terms of strength and muscle mass.

A program should consist of at least 75% basic exercises…and the percentage should be HIGHER the worse your recovery capability is. To maximize results, you need to spend your energy on the exercises that will do you the most good.

That doesn’t mean you have to do just those six exact exercises, though! The variations of these exercises are also extremely effective and will introduce plenty of training variety to keep you progressing and keep training fun and interesting.

Here are some samples:



Front squats, back squats, goblet squats, dumbell squats, hack squats, dumbell split squats, Bulgarian split squats, one-legged squats, box squats, belt squats, braced-leg-squats.



Conventional, sumo, Super Deadlift Bar, snatch-grip, stiff-legged, Romanian, dumbell deadlifts, suitcase-style, one-arm straddle deadlifts, Jefferson lifts, one-side barbell deadlifts, one-legged glute deadlifts.


Bench Press

Barbell, dumbell, incline, decline, flat, close-grip wide grip, 1 arm, Swiss ball, machine.


Shoulder Press

Military press, dumbell press, seated, standing, push-press, clean and press, two-phase barbell shoulder press, W press, Arnold press, reverse alternating dumbell press, weight plate pizza press, javelin press, side-to-side barbell press, behind-the-beck press (not recommended).



Bent-over barbell rows, dumbell rows, one-arm dumbell rows, cable rows, close grip rows, wide grip rows, underhand, overhand, neutral grip, T-bar rows, inverted rows (pull-up rows), chest-supported rows, upright rows (not recommended).



Chin-ups, wide-grip pull-ups, muscle-ups, neutral grip, reverse grip, one-arm, two bar pull-ups, all variations of pulldowns, full-range pulldowns, corner rack pull-ups, behind-the-head (not recommended).

The list of variations is LONG and covers a lot of great exercises!

These six basic exercises should be a staple of every routine, no matter if your goal is muscle, strength or fat-loss. These six movements and their variations hold the key to truly effective training.

Even myself, being a “mad scientist” of exercises and training, work primarily with the basics and their variations…of course, MY variations tend to be a bit more unique than many of the classic ones, but the same rules apply. This is the stuff that gets you the RESULTS.


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