There are thousands of articles drawing programs highlighting what trainers believe to be the best gym exercises out there. However, these articles are all of a similar nature and framed within repetitive and uninspired workout regimens.
This is a bold claim to make, however, I will deliver what I believe are the best gym exercises for building strength and/or size.
And these aren’t exercises you can expect to find in mainstream fitness publications, either.
These exercises have been remarkably effective for me — as somebody who has trained in a variety of disciplines in the gym.
Without much further ado, let’s jump straight in.
The Best Gym Exercises You’re Not Doing
Let’s start off with everyone’s least favorite day — leg day.
These exercises target your lower body in a way you’ve never known.
We will commence with one of our signature lifts I developed to hit new heights on the squat and deadlift.
The “Herc Squat”
This is called the “Herc Squat” and it is a supramaximal partial Bulgarian Split Squat on a Smith Machine.
I know the Smith Machine has a horrible reputation among advanced lifters, but its utility shouldn’t be ruled out without an afterthought.
This movement enables you to FAR EXCEED your squat one-rep max for reps, allowing you to overload your glutes and quads — translating into ENORMOUS results.
From our article on the “Herc Squat”:
When I first started these, I could do 3.5 plates a side. After a few months, this increased to nearly 5 plates a side.
My max squat at the time was in the mid-500s, and, within a year, I added over 60lb to my squat – mostly because of this exercise.
Now, let’s take a step back: 3.5 plates – or 160kg on the bar – per leg translates to the equivalent of a 320kg squat. I have never attempted to walk out more than 7 plates a side in my life – far less than what I began dealing with.
Then sooner, rather than later, I almost went up to 5 plates a side on my right leg – the equivalent load of a 420kg squat. And don’t forget, thus far, I was a lifelong natural lifter.
While not the most glamorous lift, it has a TON of potential for muscle growth and strength gains.
Weighted Back Raise
This is one of the best gym exercises because it will absolutely hammer your posterior chain like nothing else.
The weighted back raise is a synonym for hyperextension — but with a loaded barbell thrown into the mix.
If you want to gain size on your hammies, glutes, and lower back, plus add serious poundage to your deadlift, I suggest you give this awesome exercise a try.
First pioneered by 900+lb deadlifter Pete Rubish, the deadlift specialist could hit this insane accessory movement for over 400lb for reps.
We recommend you try with a plate a side before reevaluating how much you can handle.
Here is Pete Rubish performing the exercise below.
Nordic Glute-Ham Raise
Most lifters who train legs will often have overdeveloped quads, leading to a dangerous muscular imbalance that could cause back pain and/or injury.
Many athletes who squat religiously are prone to hamstring tears when sprinting as their quads are comparatively stronger than their hamstrings.
However, the Nordic Glute-Ham Raise is one of the best gym exercises for lifters of all disciplines as it strengthens the posterior chain, fast.
The beauty of this exercises is that it is challenging AF for almost everyone, and it can be done at home as millions around the world are locked down.
Not only will you protect yourself from future problems, but you will also retain athleticism as you remain stuck at home.
Besides, this exercise takes literally around 5 minutes to crank out 3-4 sets.
You should be performing them with a slow negative, and there’s no need to add extra weight — your bodyweight should be more than plenty.
Now comes the fun part of the article — the show muscles.
The pectoral muscle’s functions are simple as they only bring the arms forward, so we aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but expose one of the best gym exercises that has been criminally overlooked.
The Reverse-Grip Bench Press
While we all do our dips, bench presses, incline DB press, flyes, and crossovers, the reverse-grip bench press is one of the best gym exercises that has been ignored.
Although rare to see and uncomfortable to employ as a novice, the reverse-grip bench press requires a spotter and no ego lifting to be performed safely.
I, personally, find the reverse-grip bench press more comfortable for my elbows than other pressing movements; but, in addition to this, the reverse-grip bench press is one of the best gym exercises you’re not doing because it stimulates the upper pecs more than the incline bench press.
Furthermore, a lot of lifters around the world might not have access to an incline bench set up, leaving their upper pecs disproportionately underdeveloped.
But the reverse-grip bench press can come to the rescue.
Bonus: The Herc Press
In addition to the reverse-grip bench press, I have added another of our signature movements: the “Herc Press.”
This is also a simple, but powerful, move you could add to your arsenal as a finisher to your chest days.
The Herc Press is a reverse-grip squeeze press I developed when I was suffering from elbow problems.
No exercise is as effective in hitting the upper inner pecs as this movement — making it one of the best gym exercises that you’re not doing.
The following is taken from our article on the Herc Press:
Traditionally, apart from general upper chest mass building exercises, the best way to develop this stubborn area — apart from favorable genetics — is the low-to-high cable crossover, focusing on squeezing at peak contraction.
However, it’s often relegated to the end of a workout and abandoned as a mere afterthought at times.
My friend and I can comfortably rep out 3 plates on the bench, but we struggled to hit 30lb DBs on this for ten reps.
This exercise DOES NOT require an awful lot of weight.
Using a combined dumbbell total of around 25% of your bench press one rep max is a good place to start before adding more weight.
And apart from tearing up the upper pecs, it will give your anterior deltoids and triceps some stimulation — like, practically all pressing exercises.
Like with chest, most of the shoulder’s functions are generally well covered by most mainstream exercise choices.
But there is one shoulder exercise I have never seen being done at a commercial gym for as long as I’ve lifted.
The Z Press
Although I was never a form puritan, the older you get, the more you place emphasis on form.
In my teens and early 20s, I threw caution to the wind and paid for the consequences.
Today, I can’t do 80% of pressing movements without (painless) crunching and clicking.
The Z Press is an unsupported seated strict form overhead press that will really humble you if your form isn’t on point.
There is no way you can cheat this exercise.
If your form is less-than-perfect, you WILL NOT be able to complete the lift.
Far too many lifters overhead press with less-than-perfect form — and the Z Press will correct any mechanical breakdowns quickly.
In fact, if your form breaks down, the barbell will shoot forward or you will stall the lift.
The fact that you’re seated on the ground, taking the legs out of the equation, will put more emphasis on bracing your core throughout the movement.
And the strict form overhead press can be a difficult exercise to continually progressive overload on.
The Z press is one of the best gym exercises you can do as it is inherently corrective.
Here’s how to do it:
The Face Pull
If you’re not doing the face pull at least a few times a week, what are you even doing?
The face pull is perhaps the best gym exercise, period.
Not only can it be done almost every day and help you get those 3D shoulders, but it will also protect your shoulders from injury and wear and tear.
Any time you do pressing movements, you should always follow them up with Face Pulls.
If you don’t have access to a multi-pulley machine or ropes, we suggest you invest in a resistance band and perform dozens of Band Pull-Aparts every day.
The rear deltoid’s development is the most important out of the three heads.
- helps prevent injuries
- improves posture
- corrects muscular imbalances from pressing
- gives coveted roundness to shoulders
- helps increase all-rough strength
Far too many gymgoers have overdeveloped front deltoids from pressing, while neglecting their rear deltoids.
Moreover, very few lifters actually perform Face Pulls properly.
Here’s how to do them:
Bonus: Single Arm Straight Bar Lateral Raise
Here’s a bonus exercise you’ve probably never seen.
I recently incorporated it into my shoulder day — and never looked back.
This is one of the best gym exercises as it would add a ton of roundness to your deltoids.
The longer straight bar is a little more unstable than a dumbbell and, therefore, can potentially recruit more fibers to complete the lift.
If you perform this exercise with strict form, you will feel the difference as opposed to performing it with a dumbbell.
Here’s how it’s done:
If you’ve been reading this website for some time, you will be able to guess what this exercise will be.
The very best gym exercise to target your back is the chest-supported row.
It doesn’t matter what variation you use — just do it!
This is the very best upper back movement out there.
While I love the supramaximal barbell row with body English, the chest-supported row is:
- easy to do
- very difficult to cheat on
- perfect to complement your other movements (bench, deadlift, etc.)
Machine Chest-Supported Row
I love this exercises for a variety of reasons.
This exercise directly assisted me to bench 3 plates for the first time in my life, way back when.
You can overload this exercise; change your hand positioning, grip, and a lot more to target different portions of your upper back for different utilities.
Dumbbell Chest-Supported Row
Another kick-ass variation of a kick-ass movement.
This is perhaps the most challenging variation of one of the best gym exercises.
If you’re not strong enough to lift it, you won’t be able to complete the movement — which is why you don’t need that much weight to complete the movement.
It practically targets the entire upper back and will leave you feeling sore the following day.
The strength curve is exaggerated toward the end of the movement, making it difficult to complete close to fatigue.
Here’s how to do it:
This one is a little trickier to do as few gyms are equipped with the proper bench to perform Seal Rows.
If you’re lucky enough to frequent a gym stocked with the right bench, well, lucky you — what are you waiting for?
This is undoubtedly one of the best gym exercises; and athletes are often one of the few lucky enough to have access to the correct setup.
The Seal Row targets close to the entire upper back and allows for a natural bar path, while the dumbbell version can be hindered by the floor or the bench getting in the way.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
Who doesn’t love arm day?
Who didn’t love watching highlights of Rich Piana’s 8-hour arm workouts?
But which is the best gym exercise for arms?
Single Arm Straight Bar Curl
This is another unusual exercise I’ve recently added to my repertoire.
The principle of this exercise is similar to the single straight bar lateral raise, but for the biceps.
Again, you don’t need much weight to execute this exercise.
But, since it’s unstable, it will require much forearm strength and bicep recruitment to stop the bar path from wobbling.
The bicep pump you will get from a few sets of this will be like nothing you’ve ever experienced.
Here’s how it’s done:
The JM Press
Although this exercise is a staple in many powerlifter’s program, I can’t recall ever seeing anybody do this lift in any commercial gym I’ve visited.
And you’re missing out.
This is perhaps the single best gym exercise to target your triceps and increase your bench press.
The JM Press is a cross between a Close-Grip Bench Press and a Skullcrusher, but you can overload the JM Press a lot more than the Skullcrusher.
From our article on the JM Press:
While there are several other movements in my accessory arsenal I could recommend; the JM Press is a movement both powerlifters and bodybuilder can program into their workouts to great effect.
The JM Press is a lot kinder on the wrists and shoulders than the skullcrusher if you have poor mobility. It is also a lot less technical than the skullcrusher.
By effectively performing a close-grip bench press over your mouth/nose area and pausing before making contact, you will also give your triceps a great stretch at the bottom phase of every rep.
The other benefit of the JM Press is that it can be performed with a variety of rep ranges.
My first few sets of JM Presses were of 10 reps at around 50% of my max bench. Within a few months, I was doing the JM Press at weights near my bench press working sets.
Of course, this isn’t something you can do all the time.
Here’s how to do it:
The Best Gym Exercises Conclusions
Congratulations if you incorporate some of these movements into you program.
You will be able to tap into them to great effect and make gains the mainstream doesn’t want you to know about!
Don’t hesitate to email us at [email protected] for personalized coaching and a client questionnaire if you’d like DEDICATED tailor-made personal training on strength training, building muscle, losing fat, developing athleticism, and more — all to your liking, lifestyle, habits, and taste!
Alternatively, you can pick up a FREE eBook on fundamental strength principles offering an introductory workout program.