When it comes to packing on muscle, the recipe is actually quite simple. Focus on the bigger, compound movements that allow you to push a lot of weight. The difficulty is in the attack. In order to grow, you must consistently perform these movements on a timeline long enough that allow you to outperform your previous workout. Do this enough times, and you will put on size.
That’s a big generalization, and there are a ton of details in between but in reality it just overcomplicates things.
Compound vs Isolation
Isolations have their place. They should be seen as tools to help bring up lagging body parts. The focus of your program if you want to look bigger shouldn’t be bicep curls and side raises. Those target only one muscle group at a time, and with lighter weights. They can help grow those body parts for sure, but they will play no role in getting your chest, legs or back bigger.
Compounds on the other hand, like a bench press, will hit your chest, shoulders, AND triceps. That’s 3 for 1. This is the value in compound exercises and why you always hear of people recommending them. The squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, row, and pull-up. If you did nothing but bicep curls you’ll only ever have big biceps. If you did nothing but pull-ups you’d have big biceps AND a big back. See the difference now?
We only have so much time and energy that can be spent in the gym. Each exercise is going to sap a little bit each set. If that’s the case, and size is your goal, then your priority should be allocating all your energy towards hitting compound movements FIRST, as they hit the most muscles and require the most effort, and THEN hit isolations if you even need it at all. Let’s also state that many people have built amazing physiques without doing a single isolation exercise.
Free Weight vs Machines
Along that same note, free weight exercises are more functional. Not only do they hit more muscles but they translate to everyday life better. The deadlift is probably the best example of that. Low back injuries, and a weak core as well as overall musculature is usually the cause of adults low back or hip injuries. If we spend our time building up the muscles that support those areas we significantly reduce the chance of having an injury. Free weights like barbell and dumbbell exercises allow you to not only hit targeted muscles, but allow smaller stabilizing muscles to kick into gear as well. You can do a leg extension without ever strengthening your low back. You can’t deadlift or squat heavy weight without building a nice strong core and low back. This is crucial.
You shouldn’t just be chasing size but also longevity. Choose exercises that enhance your quality of life so that you can move around pain free longer, as well as look good. So when it comes to asking what the best exercises for packing on muscle are, there is no better place to start than with compound, free weight exercises.
Here is what a sample beginner routine for packing on the most amount of muscle, the most efficient and effective way might look like.
Day 1 -
Barbell Squats 3x12-15
Barbell Bench Press 3x12-15
One Arm DB Row 3x12-15
Barbell Curls 3x12-15
Day 2 -
Barbell Shoulder Press 3x12-15
Lat Pulldowns 3x12-15
DB Hammer Curls 3x12-15
V-Bar Pushdown 3x12-15
Day 3 -
Leg Press 3x12-15
T-Bar Row 3x12-15
Incline Barbell Press 3x12-15
Seated DB Press 3x12-15
Spider Curls 3x12-15
I’ll reiterate again, I threw in smaller muscle exercises as a bonus, but you can easily do that workout just focusing on the first 2-3 exercises and not touching the remainder. In fact, I encourage starting with that till you no longer see progress, and THEN adding the remaining isolated exercises.
If you want more help, check out my article on The Best Workout Routine for Skinny Guys who Want to Put on Muscle.