Resistance training doesn’t have to be as complicated as people try to make it online. I think more often than not, people try to make a name for themselves, and feel the only way to do that is to promote some new, novel exercise or stimulus that no one’s ever heard of. Which is fine, but after years and hundreds of coaches trying to do that, we start to lose sight of the best way to workout.
Stick to the Basics
Whether you are new to working out, or have been lifting for years, the compound exercises are always going to be your best bet. Compound exercises are going to be the movements that stimulate multiple muscles at once, and allow the greatest load to be placed on the body. The beauty of this is you are stimulating more than just one muscle, and giving it a stress that forces the body to adapt.
Best Resistance Training Exercises
Chest - Flat Bench Press, Incline Bench Press
Back - Pull-Up, Chin-Up, Seated Row, Bent Over Row
Quads - Squat (any squat variation), Lunges, Leg Press
Hamstrings - RDL, Deadlift, Good Mornings
Shoulders - Shoulder Press
This is by no means an exhaustive list, or the ONLY exercises you should be doing. Think of structuring your workout as a set of tools to get the job done (gain muscle). Find the most bang for your buck exercises that hit the most muscles. If after THAT you find certain areas are lagging behind, or smaller muscles are holding you back from progressing from the bigger movements, THEN can you add in more. You don’t have to be doing bicep curls, lateral raises, and skullcrushers especially if you only want to get strong and healthy overall.
The reason I emphasize compound movements is from a stimulation point of view. If you didn’t care much for working out, were only doing it for the health aspect, or just wanted to be efficient with your time in the gym which would you rather do? A bicep curl that will help your biceps grow and that’s about it, or a pull-up which will stimulate the biceps as well as the rhomboids, lats, and entire musculature of your back? It’s about working smarter not harder.
There’s also the stimulation. If you did a squat, you can build up to 200, 300, maybe even 400 pounds onto the bar. That is a LOT of stimulus your body has to adapt to. On the contrary, a leg extension you may get 100 something pounds at BEST. That’s less than half the stimulus of a squat.
Here’s what a sample workout could look like putting this all together.
Squat - 3-4 sets of 8-12
Overhead Press - 3-4 sets of 8-12
Pull-Up - 3-4 sets of 8-12
Deadlift - 3-4 sets of 8-12
Bench Press - 3-4 sets of 8-12
Row - 3-4 sets of 8-12
Make sure you stay 1-2 reps shy of failure, and maintain good form throughout the movement.
Again, these are just general recommendations in regards to the best resistance training exercises. If you really want to go deep into the how’s and why’s when it comes to exercise selection, and the rationale behind it make sure to check out Sal’s new book The Resistance Training Revolution where he breaks the entire workout down so you never have to rely on the confusion of fitness influencers telling you to jump on a box while rubbing your stomach.