One Lift to Rule Them All — These Are the Best Bodybuilding Exercises for Each Muscle Group

If you had to choose one lift only for each muscle, these movements would stand above the rest.

Picture your ideal physique. As an aspiring bodybuilder, you might visualize the iconic v-taper of Frank Zane or the mammoth chest and broad shoulders Schwarzenegger sported in his heyday. If you go to the gym just to lose a bit of fat or get in better shape overall, you might just see you — only a little bit bigger. 

Even if you know where you’re going, the real task is figuring out how you’ll get there. Your training plan is your vessel, but the individual exercises you choose are the real nuts and bolts of the machine. How far could you go if you had the right movements under the hood?

woman performing lat pulldown
Credit: Lucky Business / Shutterstock

Choosing the correct exercises can make your workouts a whole lot more than the sum of their parts. However, you don’t need to take a shot in the dark at picking the best movement for every muscle. Armed with the right knowledge, you’ll be able to confidently stride into every workout knowing you’ve picked the proper tools to get the job done. These are the best bodybuilding exercises you can do for each muscle — period. 

Note: The exercises below are suggestions. If any movement you perform in the gym feels noticeably uncomfortable or causes pain, don’t perform it. There are plenty of other effective exercises out there.

Best Bodybuilding Exercises by Muscle Group

Chest 

The meat and potatoes of a good chest workout are pretty simple. After all, every Monday, gyms across the globe are full of people pounding their chests with different presses. But this does beg the question — is the flat bench press the end-all, be-all of International Chest Day, or is there a better way to pump your pecs?

Seated Cable Chest Press

All pressing variations satisfy the anatomical demand of drawing your arm forward and toward your midline. That said, the barbell does fall somewhat short here since it locks your arm into a specific pattern of movement and doesn’t accommodate for any left-to-right asymmetries you may naturally have. 

Dumbbells let you move more freely and usually with a greater range of motion but can be cumbersome to set up with. What’s more, if you know the 70-pounders are just right for your targeted rep range or effort level, but they’re missing from the rack, you’re out of luck.

A seated cable press solves both problems at once. You can conveniently tweak the exact height of the cable fixture to align with the fiber orientation of your pecs and your specific mobility needs. Cables lack the high-end loading potential of the barbell, but more than make up for it with consistent tension from start to finish. 

Coach’s Tip: You can make the seated cable press the centerpiece of your next chest day, or use it to follow up on your first free-weight press with slightly higher reps. 

Runner-Up — Low Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

The flat dumbbell bench press is a chest-day cornerstone, and for good reason. While it does give more anatomical leeway than a barbell would, bringing each weight all the way down to your chest requires a good deal of international rotation at the shoulder

Setting the bench to a low — think ten to 15 degrees — incline changes the orientation of your arm relative to your torso. This should allow you to get into a deeper range of motion with a more comfortable, externally-rotated upper arm. The low incline press lets you lift heavily and comfortably without shifting too much tension onto your triceps or front delts. 

Coach’s Tip: If you’re trying to develop your upper chest specifically, you may need to throw in one or two other exercises on a higher incline or with different equipment. 

Shoulders

Molding Death Star-esque delts is all about knowing your angles. Since the shoulder joint is one of the most mobile and free-moving pieces of your entire body, you have plenty of room to make gains (and errors). Since your anterior deltoids come into play on many chest exercises and your rear delts contribute to upper back pulling, the only true essential item in a shoulder workout is the right lateral raise. 

High Incline Lateral Raise

The standing lateral raise with dumbbells is a reliable side-delt builder, but comes with its own baggage — an inconsistent resistance curve, too much potential trap engagement, and the movement is far too easy to “cheat” on by swaying your torso to generate momentum. You can tackle all three issues at the same time by simply perching yourself against a bench set at a high incline.

The fiber orientation of the lateral delt tissue actually makes it beneficial to raise the weights out and slightly forward, but this motion might create some unwanted movement at the hips to generate force. By leaning against a bench, your trunk and legs are immobilized and your shoulders are the only lever you can lift with.

Further, an inclined torso changes the resistance curve of the weight. A standard lateral raise will be painlessly easy at the bottom and extremely difficult at the top. Mimicking a forward lean smooths this discrepancy out, and you should find that your delts are still under noticeable tension for a greater portion of each rep. 

Coach’s Tip: To reduce the amount of work your traps perform, raise your arm only until it is perpendicular to the torso. Any higher will begin to involve your trapezius muscles to a significant degree. 

Runner-Up — Cable Lateral Raise

One of the best reasons to work with cables in your bodybuilding sessions is the consistent tension they place on your muscles. The tensile force of the cable neatly addresses the uneven range of motion of a lateral raise, turning the movement’s biggest weakness into one of its strengths. 

However, cable trees are prime real estate in a busy gym, and in practical terms you’ll usually have to work one arm at a time in the cable lateral raise. This can turn an expedient, efficient training session into a bit of a slog, so the cable raise loses some points in that regard. 

Coach’s Tip: To increase the activation of your lateral deltoid, think about “scooping” the air up with your arm. Keep it low and move your hand in a large arc. 

Biceps

Bulging biceps are basically a cheat code if you want to have a commanding presence in the gym. Pull-ups and rows will do the trick if you’re a beginner, but to build a pair of biceps that Arnold would envy, you have to concentrate on your curls. Picking the right curl out of the many, many available variations is the hard part. 

Single-Arm Preacher Curl

A good biceps curl has to meet several criteria. The movement must place a high amount of mechanical tension on the tissue, remove as many auxiliary or supportive muscles as possible, be convenient to perform, and safe to perform to failure. A single-arm preacher curl hits all of these marks and then some.

The biggest thing the preacher curl has going for it is the bench itself. The movement places your upper arm in a flexed position, which increases the stretch on the tissue as you lower your forearm down. This exercise is the most difficult where your leverage is the lowest, creating a double-whammy of stimulation that most other movements simply can’t match. 

Coach’s Tip: Avoid cutting your range of motion short, especially towards the bottom. If you can’t full extend your elbow on the eccentric portion, you’re likely using too heavy a weight. 

Runner-Up — Spider Curl

Spiders aren’t known for having beefy limbs, but the spider curl can help you get there. The exercise is structurally quite similar to a preacher curl, but without a surface on which to rest your upper arm. Removing that base of support places the stability impetus directly on your body.

Your arm hanging vertically in front of your body will provide a very readable tactile cue. If you’re used to sloppily slinging your curls around, you’ll notice that you get little to no stimulation from a spider curl. This movement is fantastic for teaching you to focus on your mind-muscle connection and omit other muscles from the equation.

Coach’s Tip: This exercise works with both dumbbells or a fixed bar. You’ll likely find a stronger, more intense contraction from a straight bar if your wrists can tolerate it

Triceps

Tearing your triceps apart in the gym takes a little more finesse than simply banging out sets on the bench press or dip station. While the triceps are a “lever” muscle like the biceps and control the extension of your elbow, the third, longer head requires you add some intricacy to your programming. 

Rope Triceps Pressdown

Any movement that forces you to extend your elbow against resistance will tax your triceps to an adequate degree. Performing your cable pressdowns with a rope, however, puts your arm in a more advantageous position for your triceps to work. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXayEEbnWFA

The flexibility of the rope allows you to drive your hand down in alignment with your elbow, which should reduce discomfort and increase the severity of the contraction. Furthermore, you can also attempt to “pull” the handles apart as you extend your arm, dramatically increasing how heavy the exercise feels as you finish. 

Coach’s Tip: Lean forward slightly towards the cable station and press the rope down and towards your body. 

Runner-Up — Low Cable Kickback

The triceps are incredibly powerful extensors in the right situation, but you can also work some postural magic and make them extremely vulnerable to even the lightest weights. The kickback is a great way to exercise your triceps, but when performed with a dumbbell, suffers from uneven tension. 

To get around the tension issue and get a lot of value out of a little bit of weight, try doing your cable kickbacks from a low attachment point. The major technical key here is ensuring that your upper arm is roughly parallel to the line of the cable itself. This will ensure that the movement is most difficult when your triceps have the least leverage. 

Coach’s Tip: Using a standard handle attachment might make the movement feel awkward. You can grab the fixture of the cable itself and crush it in your palm instead. 

Forearms

There’s a good chance that no serious bodybuilder considers the deadlift or farmer’s carry as the only way to build up their forearms. Without strong forearms you’re unlikely to pull a deadlift personal record or bang out a set of weighted pull-ups, but the crucial element to those movements is that your forearms only contract isometrically.

To really maximize growth below the elbow, you need to take those tissues through some dynamic range of motion.

Cambered Bar Reverse Curl 

Flipping your hands over in a barbell curl takes your forearms from a second-fiddle muscle to the star of the show. Not only does your brachialis — the meaty muscle on the top of your forearm — assume a larger brunt of the load while your biceps take the back seat, the smaller and more dexterous muscles of your forearm have to work hard to keep the weight lodged in your palm.

As such, you get both concentric-eccentric stimulus and some bonus isometric contraction from the reverse curl. You can use a straight barbell if you like, but the pronated posture of your wrist might cause some distracting discomfort and inhibit your ability to focus on squeezing your muscles as hard as you can.

Coach’s Tip: Unwrap your thumbs while performing the exercise and concentrate on crushing the barbell with your fingers.

Runner-Up — Cable Wrist Curl 

The magic of cables is in the flexibility they provide to your movement patterns. Instead of being at the mercy of gravity, which acts only downward, cables let you apply tension to any joint movement from any direction. For forearm training, this comes in especially handy.

The underside of your forearm contributes a surprising amount to the overall mass of the muscle. Smaller tissues like the flexor carpi ulnaris and flexor digitorum profundis matter for creating a sculpted look, but often go neglected by many exercises that don’t challenge your ability to curl your wrist under load.

Seated wrist curls performed with a low cable attachment remedy this issue and let you train your forearms comprehensively

Coach’s Tip: Allow the bar attachment to roll down to your fingertips during the eccentric portion. 

Upper Back

The vast array of muscles spanning your upper back, from your lats to your rear delts and everything in between, do a lot more than help you look good at the beach or on the bodybuilding stage. A big back provides a stable surface to bench from, a strong shelf to rest a bar on during squats, and, perhaps most importantly, looks absolutely dynamite in a t-shirt. 

Chest-Supported Row 

Any row variation performed with heavy weights and solid form will do wonders for your back. For bodybuilders specifically, the main drawback of barbell or dumbbell rows is the immense strain they place on your posterior chain.

There’s nothing wrong with developing a rock-solid lower back, but if your primary goal is physique development, the energy you spend stabilizing your torso could be better spent on the rows themselves. The chest-supported row — sometimes called a prone row — allows you to crush your lats with heavy weights without your lower back limiting your performance in any way.

You can perform chest-supported rows with a barbell, but you might find it difficult to utilize your entire range of motion if you don’t elevate the bench you’re resting your torso on. Placing your chest against a raised incline bench and grabbing a pair of dumbbells circumvents any setup problems and provides an insane lat contraction to boot. 

Coach’s Tip: Think about “pulling your elbows into your pockets” while you row to ensure proper technique and get a better contraction. 

Runner-Up — Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown

For hypertrophic purposes, the lat pulldown station is just as reliable as a pull-up for developing your back. From the waist up, your body performs the exact same mechanics without any of the external stability demands placed upon your legs or core. Convenient loading is also a plus. 

A fixed implement does restrict your movement somewhat, and it’s fairly easy to lose focus on executing proper technique and start swinging your torso too much on this exercise. At peak hours, the lat pulldown station at most gyms is often swamped with patrons and it might not be feasible to wait around to use it yourself. That said, it’s still a phenomenal tool for blowing up your back

Coach’s Tip: Make sure you allow your shoulders to fully elevate at the top of each rep, and then initiate the concentric portion by actively pulling your scapula down.

Lower Back

It may not be the first thing you think of when imagining a chiseled physique, but your lower back is part of the package you bring to the stage. Even if you don’t compete, there’s no reason to neglect any muscle in your body. They may not steal the show, but your spinal erectors do a lot of work behind the scenes to ensure your training goes smoothly. 

Back Extension

Sometimes less is more — a truism that applies well to targeted lower back training. Your spinal erectors don’t sit idly in the gym, they’re involved in almost every compound lift you perform to some degree. As such, you’ll probably only need a few sets of direct work to encourage growth. 

The 45-degree back extension is phenomenal in this retard. Most back extension stations are adjustable, allowing you to set up the exercise such that your lower body is involved to a limited degree. Further, you can load this movement by holding weight plates, dumbbells, a barbell, or even a resistance band. A few sets of solid back extensions will leave you feeling like you’ve got a steel-forged spine.

Coach’s Tip: To bias your lower back more than your glutes in the back extension, allow your lumbar spine to round slightly during the eccentric, and deliberately arch it a little bit as you raise your torso up. 

Runner-Up — Stiff-Legged Deadlift

Mechanical tension is a major player when it comes to inducing muscle growth, and in that respect nothing touches the standard deadlift from the floor. However, time under tension is comparably important, and many bodybuilders would agree that high-rep deadlift sets can incur too much total-body fatigue to be worth the extra lower back stimulation.

By tweaking your technique and performing pulls with stiffer legs, you can still place plenty of load on your lower back without having to work with as much overall weight. Further, a stiff-legged deadlift naturally takes some of the load away from your legs and shifts it more towards your posterior chain

Coach’s Tip: Avoid bouncing your barbell off the floor during a stiff-legged deadlift in order to maintain consistent and safe loading on your lower back. Set the bar down under control and take a new breath before lifting it again. 

Quadriceps

Quad training is a surprisingly contentious topic in the iron game. You can look at a pro bodybuilder in the Classic Physique or Wellness division and see very different approaches to training than what you’d find in a high-level powerlifting or weightlifting gym. However, proficient squatters have some mighty impressive wheels themselves.

What do they all have in common? Both the professional physique athlete and the world-class lifter aren’t afraid to go into the pain cave in their training. To build beastly quads, you need to find the right exercise and absolutely pulverize yourself with it. 

Belt Squat

The belt squat is one of the most ingenious training contraptions out there — period. There’s no doubt that a loaded squat is one of the best ways to beef up your legs. Squatting brings on plenty of mechanical tension, a good amount of time under tension, and takes the knee joint through its full range of motion.

However, free-weight squats demand that you also maintain your balance and stability, have solid technique, and are able to recruit and utilize your glutes, back, and core in equal measure. Great assets to have on the lifting platform, but not relevant whatsoever for quad growth.

By taking away the axial load — resistance pushing downward on your skeleton from above —  and instead wearing a belt that attempts to “pull” you into a deep squat, the belt squat largely removes the stability requirement and reduces the amount of work your core and posterior chain perform.

That load is naturally shifted to your legs, and you’ll feel it after just a few reps. The only hard part about making the belt squat a part of your bodybuilding program is that the equipment and setup can be a bit difficult to come by. 

Coach’s Tip: If you don’t have a dedicated belt squat machine in your gym, you can stand on an elevated surface like a pair of boxes or two benches and attach some weights to a dip belt to replicate the movement. 

Runner-Up — Leg Extension Machine

If you wanted to build up your biceps, you probably wouldn’t shy away from the dumbbell rack and stick to performing endless sets of pull-ups. The same principle holds true for your legs — squatting is fantastic for stimulating your quadriceps as part of a larger synchronous movement, but you definitely need to isolate your knee joint as well.

This is especially true if you don’t really feel your quads working during sets of squats, which is common. The leg extension machine takes every other muscle out of the equation and lets you torch your quads with no distraction. You can hit up the leg extension for a bit of pre-exhaustion before you head to the squat rack, or utilize it as your main finisher movement at the end of leg day.

Coach’s Tip: Most leg extension machines come with handles on each side of the seat. Grip them hard and try to pull your buttocks into the seat while you extend your leg. This should keep you from bracing the back of your thigh against the pad for leverage, which may reduce how much of the load is placed directly on your quads. 

Hamstrings

You may have heard that bodybuilding shows are won from the back — a saying that is more fact than folklore. Even though you can’t see them in the mirror, your hamstrings are an integral part of the physique you bring to the stage.

Despite their anatomical complexity — the hamstrings are biarticular, meaning they cross both the hip and knee joints — effectively training the back of your legs should be brutally simplistic.

Romanian Deadlift

The only major caveat to picking the right move for your hamstrings is that you cannot flex both your knee and hip simultaneously. Since the muscle crosses both joints, closing the joint angle will slacken the tissue. This is why squatting will do little for hamstring growth if you have good form.

Any exercise where your hip stays open and your knee bends, or vice-versa, works just fine — the Romanian deadlift is a foolproof choice in this regard. 

The technique is relatively simple once you understand how to hinge at the hips. You can perform Romanian deadlifts with various types of equipment, making them a convenient plug-and-play move on leg day. The exercise’s form necessitates a controlled and patient eccentric, which helps drive muscular fatigue that will eventually lead to growth. 

Coach’s Tip: For a bit of extra stress on your hammies, you can place a pair of small plates on the ground and rest the front of your foot on them. 

Runner-Up — Prone Leg Curl Machine

In the same way that attacking your quads from every angle requires some time on the leg extension machine, you shouldn’t shy away from training your hamstrings in isolation. Of the two machines you’ll commonly see in most commercial gyms, the prone hamstring curl edges ahead of its seated cousin.

Setting up for a prone hamstring curl places your body in a position that is better suited to isolate the tissue. The seated machine is serviceable, but you might find yourself driving your leg into the pad to add more leverage that you don’t need.

The construction of the prone leg curl station takes almost every other muscle out of the equation, and allows you to take your hammies through their full contractile range with just the right amount of resistance.

Coach’s Tip: Actively push your pelvis into the pad for the duration of the set to keep the load on your legs where it belongs. 

Glutes

Everyone has a reason to grow their glutes. Not only can a well-developed posterior turn heads and inspire awe (and envy), your glutes are among the most powerful muscles in your body. They help you run fast, jump high, and squat heavy. Whether you’re a bodybuilding aspirant or you want to compete in powerlifting, you need a strong behind. 

Smith Machine Hip Thrust

The hip thrust is the de-facto glute builder. It’s simplistic in its performance, you can use a variety of different implements, and, most importantly, lets you largely isolate your glutes to perform hip extension while also working with super heavy weights. 

While the Smith machine wrongfully catches a bad rap in some training circles, its design aligns perfectly with the technique of a good hip thrust. Setting up to do thrusts with a barbell requires access to a bar, an available bench or box to rest on, plenty of weight plates, and free space to work. 

Getting all of that at once in a busy gym might be unrealistic, especially if you’re pressed for time. However, the Smith machine is a convenient bypass. You can load up the weight and work heavy with the Smith in just a few minutes. What’s more, the bar path in a hip thrust is almost perfectly vertical — meaning that the locked-in Smith bar isn’t detrimental to your movement integrity. 

Coach’s Tip: Many Smith machines have a slightly angular rail. Set up for thrusts such that when you lower the resistance and flex your hip, the bar is drifting back towards you. 

Glute Kickback

The kickback is the biceps curl of glute work in terms of effective isolation. While it may be a bit clunky to set up and you might feel silly doing it, few other lifts target the gluteal muscles with such a consistent and isolated loading profile. 

Many glute movements only place effective tension on the tissue during part of the range of motion. Doing kickbacks with a cable creates resistance from start to finish in a way that you may struggle to replicate with free weights.

The exercise unfortunately does have limited mechanical tension, especially compared to most free-weight bilateral hinge lifts, but it makes up ground by taking your hamstrings and lower back out of the equation almost entirely if you have good form. 

Coach’s Tip: You can increase glute activation by kicking backward and slightly out to the side, which should more closely align your movement arc with the fiber orientation of the glutes. 

Calves

Plenty of lifters have selective physique amnesia and “forget” to train their calves, to the detriment of both their overall physiques and even their performance. You shouldn’t be one of them. The calf muscles are notoriously stubborn to grow, and you have limited training tools available since the muscles only perform one simplistic function. That said, all is not lost. 

Smith Machine Calf Raise

While solid calf growth may have more to do with your approach to training volume, intensity, or tempo, you can still pick the best kind of calf raise for the job. Working your calves with the Smith machine should give you the best mix of control and loading potential.

As long as you have access to a low riser or another elevated surface to place your toes on, the Smith machine calf raise will let you load your calves with as much weight as you want without the perils of stabilizing a barbell or taxing your grip with heavy dumbbells. 

Coach’s Tip: Avoid using the elasticity of your Achilles tendon to bounce the weight. Take your reps slow and use a full range of motion. 

Seated Calf Raise

Your calves are comprised of two different muscles that are biased in different ways. The gastrocnemius tends to do more work to flex your ankle when your knee is straight, while the soleus muscle is involved in bent-knee plantar flexion.

Therefore, to ensure maximal calf growth, your training plan should include both a standing calf raise with a straight leg and a seated raise with a bent knee. 

Coach’s Tip: Pause for a beat at the top of each rep of seated calf raises to maximally contract the soleus.

Abs

Ab training is a religion with many tribes. Some preach that you need only devote yourself to heavy squats and deadlifts to build your core, while others insist on rounds upon rounds of circuit training

As with most things in health & fitness, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Your abdominals are a muscle group like any other — apply resistance through a full range of motion, progress your intensity in some way, and be patient. Your abs will grow accordingly (though revealing them is another matter). 

Cable Crunch

Your rectus abdominis flexes your trunk, but the practical function of your core is resisting unwanted or errant movement. With this in mind, the most effective ab exercise must contain a strong eccentric component against resistance. 

You resist gravity every time you do a sit-up or leg raise, true, but you’ll find you quickly reach your ceiling of effective stimulus working only with your body weight. Cables come to the rescue in a big way by allowing you to mimic trunk flexion and extension under a weight that you can tweak as you get stronger. 

Coach’s Tip: When you perform a cable crunch, avoid any movement at the shoulder or elbow. Your arms should be fixed in place and you should focus on moving the weight only with your abdominals. 

Decline Crunch

Crunching your abs is a fundamental aspect of working your core, but doing so on a flat surface may not provide enough range of motion to be effective long-term. 

By setting up for a sit-up or crunch on a decline bench, you can optimize muscle activation. Changing the angle of the bench is an easy way to ratchet up or turn down the difficulty without working with a weight, but you can also hold a dumbbell or plate in your hand for some external resistance as well.

Coach’s Tip: Try to avoid pulling your torso up by contracting your hip flexors. Keep your legs as relaxed as possible during any decline ab exercise.

How to Choose Bodybuilding Exercises

If one exercise could truly lead you to the promised land of muscle growth, everyone would already have the physique of their dreams. In truth, there is no “best exercise.” Training for hypertrophy is not an algebra equation to be solved by finding a discrete value.

The best exercise for growing a given muscle is the one that you align with the best on a personal level. Taller lifters with long arms might always have a hard time performing a bench press, no matter how attractive the lift looks on paper.

You have to work with what you’ve got in the gym. That said, selecting the movements that occupy your routine isn’t a thoughtless process. There are some key factors that distinguish an intelligently-designed plan from a haphazard one. 

Load Profile

An exercise’s “load profile” refers to how the resistance you’re using, be it from a barbell or a resistance band, is applied across the muscle you’re working. Your body doesn’t discern between the type of equipment you use in the gym, but it does recognize inconsistency in resistance.

You can feel this in the gym pretty easily if you’ve ever dabbled with several different exercises for the same muscle. One type of biceps curl might tear your arms apart, while another one does little to nothing except make you vaguely tired at the end. 

Some essential movement patterns, like shoulder abduction to grow your side delts, are naturally better suited to working with cables instead of free weights (or vice versa). When you’re figuring out what movements you need and what equipment you’re going to do them with, take stock of how the load itself feels across your body. You’ll know pretty quickly if it’s working for you or not. 

Fiber Alignment

Your musculoskeletal system is, essentially, little more than a series of levers. Muscle tissue cannot “push” — it can only pull two segments closer together by contracting its fibers. All muscle fibers orientate in a specific direction, and you should be aware of this when selecting exercises. 

For example, many of the muscle fibers in your upper back — your middle trapezius, rear delts, or rhomboids — orient more horizontally than vertically. This is why rowing movements with your arms flared out tend to target your upper back a bit more than your lats, which have a more top-to-bottom orientation. 

muscle anatomy
Credit: BigBlueStudio / Shutterstock

Conversely, the sheet of muscle that makes up your abs runs vertically. Your rectus abdominis can perform torsion or lateral tilting to some degree, but those actions are mostly the province of the other muscles of the core that are better situated to do so, like your external or internal obliques.

When you have multiple exercises available for a certain muscle, pay attention to which lift best aligns with the structure of the muscle itself

Convenience

In more practical terms, no exercise is worth its weight in steel if it’s a pain in the butt to set up or perform. For an extreme example, you’d waste your time building a workout routine around the hack squat if no such machine existed in your gym. 

But for most day-to-day gym-goers, convenience matters since you probably don’t have all day to spend wandering around the weight room. An exercise may feel amazing on your body and have a great loading profile, but it could still take 10 to 15 minutes to set up or get access to in the first place, which could be a detriment to your productivity overall. You’ve probably found yourself waiting way too long to get into the squat rack before. 

In such cases, don’t be afraid to let a movement go and replace it with something that works similarly well but is far easier to perform on a regular basis. Efficiency and efficacy go hand-in-hand for muscle growth.

Sustainability

If you want to make long-term gains, your training has to be sustainable both logistically and emotionally. Even if you feel amped up every time you set foot in the gym, all athletes are prone to burnout after enough time has passed with little progress made.

The exercises in your routine need to have pathways that allow you to make some form of noticeable progress over the course of months (or even years). This can take the form of another five pounds on the barbell every week or two, or it could be as simple as tweaking your technique for a better contraction.

woman doing decline crunch
Credit: Momentum Ronnarong / Shutterstock

When you’re filling out your routine, don’t overlook enjoyment. Training should be tough, but fun. If you hate squatting with the barbell, don’t squat with the barbell. Even if substituting it with another exercise would be less “efficient,” you’ll still probably get better results over time simply because you actually enjoy the work you’re doing.

The Whole Package

Exercise selection for bodybuilding is a balancing act. A good bodybuilding workout is made of exercises that are loadable, practical, aligned with your anatomy, and mesh well with your training style. You can’t squeeze a square peg into a round hole and expect to make substantial gains as a result.

With the right tools in your toolbox, you can, however, make astonishing progress in the gym in less time than you think. As long as your nutrition is equally on point and you have the willingness to work hard, the only thing left to do is get after it. 

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