Before diving into the best exercises to increase your strength and size, I recommend checking out my previous articles titled “The Best Way to Increase Your Strength in the Gym" and “Powerlifting for Strength and Size” to get a better layout of how to incorporate these workouts.
I also recommend checking out the guys most recent episode “How To Become The Strongest Guy (Or Gal) In Your Local Gym” to get an even more in depth look at how to best utilize your time in the gym.
One final point I want to make is when it comes to training for strength, at a certain point you are going to want to challenge your body in ways that you are not used to. After years of experience in the weight room, our body needs a new stimulus to target new growth. Keep that in mind when reading this article, and also remember to properly prime your workouts beforehand with a good warmup to help prevent injury. Practice safe sets!
When it comes to size and strength, most people at this point have heard of the staples - the squat, deadlift, and shoulder press. If you enjoy those lifts a lot, or are more of a powerlifting focused individual, then the best way (as with any sport) is to keep practicing the main lifts. You are going to need to hit them with more frequency then say a typical bodybuilder would.
A Powerlifter for example, will hit those three lifts anywhere from 3-4 times a week. Now, that doesn’t mean going ALL out each time. Your central nervous system, and muscles would be so overtrained if you did that. The purpose is more frequency, and practicing form at different speeds, and intensities, to groove the motor pattern down.
Alternate, but SUPER Effective Alternatives
For those of you who might be a little sick of the main three lifts, or felt they have plateaued, I would like to bring in some new exercises that you can focus on.
Lower Body Exercises
Good Mornings - This exercise is great for strengthening the lower back, and lengthening the hamstrings. Most people spend all their time doing leg curls and RDL’s, and forget about this third option. Doing a good morning properly, involves keeping REALLY good technique. Tight, flat lower back, shoulders squeezed back, and engaging the hips to push back and stretching the hamstrings. The one thing you should definitely be NOT doing is rounding at any point of the lift.
Zercher Squat - This variation of the squat, has been a lift I’ve started incorporating a lot in my routine. I found myself stuck, just always doing front squats and back squats. The zercher squat was a game changer for me. Not only did it give a new stimulus to my quads, but because of the positioning of the bar on the elbows, it strengthened my entire back in a way it’s never been challenged before. Because of that, I was able to tap into a new type of muscle growth I haven’t had in a long time.
Snatch Grip Deadlift - The big difference with this version of the deadlift is that wide grip. By taking that wider, snatch grip, it involves way more of your lats as opposed to mid back. If you find your lats just aren’t growing, or are a lagging strength point, then give this a shot. You will have to go a lot lighter in weight, because of the challenge of the wider grip.
Upper Body Exercises
Z Press - This is another take on a shoulder press. I find as the weights get heavier on a typical press, I tend to hyperextend my lower back, shifting the focus of the lift. By sitting on the floor with my legs straight, this keeps my core challenge, and allows all of the focus to stay on the shoulders and the upward movement of the barbell.
Circus Press - I just find this a great change up overall. It’s not quite a clean, it’s not quite a shoulder press, but it still challenges your body in such a unique way. It also will highlight any weaknesses you might have on one side of the body and help bring up whatever is lagging.
Pendlay Row - This row variation is great for focusing on raw power. I used to spend so much time focusing on tension and making sure my back was always firing during a row. When I started incorporating pendlay rows, I found my strength shot up. Now, don’t use that as an excuse to have bad technique. You still want your form immaculate. This version however, allows you to focus on pure pulling power since you are not spending as much time focusing on the eccentric component.
Sled Push - Not everyone has access to a sled, but if you do I recommend this for your lower body. Similar to a step up, having a sled with weight on it allows you to apply this very functional driving power through your legs that you can’t accomplish with regular weights. It gets you super explosive.