It's important to choose the right weight lifting exercises for your workouts. If you want the best muscle gains possible you should be doing the right exercises.
A common mistake made by a lot of people in the gym looking to build muscle is choosing the wrong exercises. Don't become a statistic, and learn the proper lifts even if they are hard to perform at first and make you look silly!
Let's take a look at the most effective weight lifting exercises out there to build muscle, sorted into the main different muscle groups. You should work all of these muscle groups to build an all-round great figure.
Many people try to avoid working their legs, or they don't work them as hard as their arms or chest for example. That type of thinking is not good, you should train your legs just as hard as any other part of your body.
The reason why is simple. If you just build up your upper body and avoid working your legs, your figure would look odd. Think about it, a strong muscly upper body with weak "twig" legs would just look plain silly. But there is another important reason that is explained in our article on leg workouts.
The most effective leg exercises are:
Squats are definitely the most important leg exercise, and some even say the most important exercise for your whole body. Read more about squats with our articles:
The Importance of Barbell Squats
Proper Squat Technique
Along with your legs, a lot of people avoid working their back. If you want to pack on as much muscle mass as possible, avoiding your back is a big mistake. The muscles in your back make up a lot of the overall muscle mass in your body, and a large, well-defined muscular back makes your figure look very powerful and looks great.
Including these exercises in your back workout will go a long way:
For the best gains in your chest you should include the bench press as the main weight lifting exercise. There are different ways to perform the bench press, either with a barbell or dumbbells.
You can do a basic flat bench press, or you can do it on an incline or decline bench. These different variations will work different types of chest muscle. These are the chest exercises you should concentrate on:
Learn more by reading how to structure a solid chest muscle workout.
Big strong shoulders are a must for a powerful physique. The best exercises for building up your shoulders fast are:
Read about structuring a great shoulder workout here.
The arms (biceps, triceps and forearms) are the most "showy" muscles and so many people focus too much on working their arms, and other muscle groups are ignored. Sure, work your arms very hard! But don't neglect the other muscle groups. But building arm muscle is only one part of building your overall body.
Check out our page on arm workouts to build large and strong biceps and triceps.
Everyone dreams about having those rock solid, sexy-looking 6 pack abs. Although many people are misguided about how to go about getting those great abs.
Most people believe that if you train your abs very hard and at frequent times, your 6 pack will magically appear. That's far from the truth. You see, for your muscles to show in your abdominal region, you need to get your overall body fat under a certain level. No matter how hard you train your abs, unless you have a very low bodyfat percentage, they won't show all that much.
I'm not saying you shouldn't train your abs, just understand that you won't necessarily see amazing abs until you start lowering your overall body fat percentage.
There we go, the most effective weight lifting exercises for all the major muscle groups. Like I said before, don't slack off on any of the muscle groups. It's important to train all muscle groups for a balanced body.
Hopefully this article helped, but always remember to never get stuck in research land. Information is great, but what's infinitely more important and the only thing that actually matters to get results and change your life is to be hitting the gym week in week out, with a properly-structured, intelligently-crafted and well-balanced strength training and nutrition plan that's based on actual scientific principles of building muscle mass (not bro science like you'll see practically everywhere you look online).
But here's the thing:
You don't just randomly stumble upon a highly-effective program that's designed specifically for hardgainers by simply browsing a popular mainstream bodybuilding/fitness magazine, site, or forum (or asking your average run of the mill trainer at a local gym who is highly likely to be just repeating the same old ineffective, incomplete mainstream advice they learned in a classroom).
To truly build that strong, ripped, lean muscular body that you want - and to not just leave it to chance and hope/pray that you'll get results - your training and eating program needs to be solid. Otherwise, you'll be wasting a ton of time in the gym for little return, which is unfortunately what happens to most guys who start hitting the gym as they eventually start spinning their wheels and getting nowhere due to a lack of knowledge and awareness of what actually works most effectively.
So the question remains, how do you ensure you're implementing an effective bulking program that will 100% get you the results you seek? You basically have three paths to take here, so choose whichever fits your situation best.
Path A: Design Your Own Effective Bulking Program (Recommended for Some Beginners & Intermediates)
If you're the patient type who also likes to know how every little detail works, and are willing to spend the time and effort necessary to study the most effective muscle building training and nutrition strategies out there right now to strategically piece together the best information that you find from credible sources to sculpt your own custom bulking program, consider the DIY path of creating your own program from scratch.
However, if you're a beginner, or intermediate lifter who hasn't been getting the results you want, you'll want to make sure that you get your advice from sources and people who understand what it's like to gain muscle starting out as a skinny hardgainer, which is a different beast compared to building muscle as a more naturally bigger guy with more favourable genetics. You also ideally want someone more experienced to look over your program just in case, because there are various things you could miss or do wrong, such as creating an imbalanced program that will lead to posture issues, muscular imbalances, or worse (injuries).
Up for the challenge? To get started planning your own muscle building program from scratch check out our full introduction to building muscle mass as a hardgainer which covers some important basic principles, strategies, and tips.
Path B: Follow A Proven Time-Tested Bulking Program (Recommended for Most Beginners)
If instead of creating your own program from scratch you'd rather follow an already-made complete program that has been proven to work for others in your shoes (ie skinny hardgainers) this is the path for you. Spending the few bucks to get your hands on a well-crafted, respected program that's specifically been designed with hardgainers in mind can really save you time and effort having to design your own program, and it ensures you don't miss out on the various important details that makes a good program.
This is what I'd recommend if you're just starting out or quite inexperienced in the gym, as you'll get off on the right foot to kick-start great results. Although this is also a smart path for intermediates, because if you've been training for a while and not getting great results, getting your hands on a fresh new program created by a natural bodybuilding expert could be the game-changer you need to spark the best results of your life. Sean Nal's Body Transformation Blueprint Program is currently the most comprehensive, polished bulking program for beginners on the market, and is the program that actually helped me the most when I first started out as a newbie so I can't recommend it highly enough if you're new and wanting to all but guarantee great results over the next few months and beyond.
There are other good premade mass gain programs out there that were created specifically (and scientifically) for hardgainers, but there's also a lot of overpriced, overly-marketed and low-quality programs that you should avoid out there so be on your toes when looking for the right program to follow to avoid wasting your money. I've personally used a ton of different programs and I compiled the best, highest-quality ones that I can comfortably recommend in my list of the best comprehensive bulking programs for hardgainers here.
Path C: Find a (Good) In-Person Trainer
This isn't going to be for everyone as a quality trainer who knows what they're doing, and most importantly has got great results themselves (ideally starting out in similar shoes to you) can be quite costly. This is the path you should probably consider if you have any type of injury or health problem, or obviously if you have the money to burn and want someone to carefully monitor what you're doing in the gym and be able to give you specific feedback.
Whichever path you choose, never forget the single most important thing: never give up, and your success in transforming your body, strength, health, posture, and self-confidence will simply be a matter of when, not if. I'd say good luck, but if you really understand that last sentence, you're not gonna need it, friend. I wish you nothing but success.
Mad-Scientist of Hardgainer-to-Hero Transformations for 12+ Years
Last and Definitely Least: Certified Fitness Instructor (real-world experience > school)