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Top 5 Weight Training Exercises

top 5 weight training exercises

The Big 5


Is your goal to build size or strength quickly and solidly? Then you should make these five exercises your weekly training routine:

The "Big Five": squats, deadlifts, bench press, shoulder (military) press, and barbell rows. They are all compound exercises using multiple muscle groups and each puts a rather heavy load on the body. This kind of stress causes the body to respond by developing overall strength and size. The following routine can be used a few times a year to give your regime a two week shake up or as the basis for your maintenance or even your "on the run" workout.

If you are in a hurry this is an effective five exercise routine that will hit all major muscles groups. It can be exhausting so be sure to rest between exercises and remember that correct form will keep you from injury.

Here are the five exercises in more detail. Use a weight that is comfortable at first until you have mastered the technique. When you feel that you can handle a heavier load then start working the exercise to its maximum. To do that you would use a weight that would allow you to do between 12 and 15 reps for the first and second set. Then increase the weights by 20% or so. You should be able to do between 8 and 10 reps for 2 sets. Then increase the weights again and do 1 or 2 sets of 4 to 6 reps. Anything less than 4 or 6 reps and it is simply to heavy for a regular workout.

Barbell Squats - Legs
Muscles worked - glutes, quads, abductors, adductors.

Technique - place the barbell on the upper back just below the base of the neck and across the shoulders. Use a wide hand grip to stabilize the weight. With your head up, back straight and feet about 16" to 18" apart, squat until the upper thighs are parallel to the floor. Continue to look up and squeeze the gluts as you stand up again. Hold the standing position a second before attempting another rep. Inhale down and exhale up. Experiment with different stances to see how they affect your range of motion and leg strength.

Barbell Dead Lift - Back, Legs
Muscles worked - glutes, quads, lower back.

Technique - start with the barbell on the floor in front of you. Keep your feet 16" to 18" apart. Bend down and grasp the bar with your arms on the outside of your knees. With your knees bent, back straight and head up use your quads and gluts to stand erect. Keep your arms extended at all times. Inhale up and exhale down. You can do this movement with dumbbells.

Bench Press - Chest
Muscles worked - pectorals, triceps, deltoids.

Technique - lie on the bench, feet flat on the floor. Grasp the barbell about 6" wider than your shoulders. Lift the bar extending your arms. Lower the bar to your chest at or about 1 " below the nipples. Raise the bar again keeping a constant, controlled speed. Be sure to keep your head on the bench, do not arch your back or raise your hips from the bench. Inhale when letting the bar down and exhale when pushing up.

Military Press - Shoulders
Muscles worked - front and outer deltoids, triceps.

Technique - seated on a bench (with back support), feet flat on the floor. Grasp the barbell about 3" wider than your shoulders. Lift the bar extending your arms overhead. Lower the bar behind your head to your shoulders. Raise the bar again. Keep your chest high, abs contracted for back support and feet firmly planted to balance the weight. Use a slow steady motion and keep the tension on your muscles for maximum effect. Inhale up and exhale down.

Barbell Rows - Back
Muscles worked - upper back (rhomboids, traps), Lats, biceps

Technique - place the barbell on the floor in front of you. With your feet wide apart bend over and grasp the bar about 8" wider than your shoulders. Keeping your legs slightly bent and back arched to support the lower back and isolate the movement in the upper back muscles, pull the bar straight up to the chest. Hold the bar by contracting the back muscles and then slowly release, lowering the bar toward the floor. When your arms are extended pull the bar to the chest once again. Inhale up and exhale down. It is good to keep your abs tight and should you feel any lower back strain let the bar to the floor and rest before attempting another set.

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