To build muscle you need to use the best weight training exercises out there otherwise you’re just wasting your time.
Since I’ve already written about the best bodyweight exercises I figured it was time for the top weight training exercise list.
DO NOT piss around with isolation exercises like flyes and concentration curls.
Compound, multi-joint free weight exercises that allow you to use the greatest amount of weight will build size and strength faster than anything else because they incorporate the largest amounts of muscle mass.
Below is a list of the top ten weight training exercises that absolutely must be a part of your workout.
Note that keeping you healthy is a major part of the Renegade System so we use more non-traditional exercises to achieve the desired result.
When you minimize the nagging injuries you can train more often in a fresher state which allows more muscle to be built.
Note: The exercises are listed not in order of effectiveness but rather starting from the top of the body and working our way down.
1) Log Clean & Press
The clean and press is the most basic, old school exercise there is. You pick a weight up off the ground and put it overhead. It’s the essence of weight training. Cleans with a straight bar can be hell on the wrists and elbows. The log with a neutral grip is a much better choice. Plus there’s almost zero learning curve. Anyone can learn the technique in 5-10 minutes. It’s a staple in strongman competitions and builds massive traps, upper back muscles, shoulders and forearms.
If you don’t have a log a dumbbell clean and press is a great substitute. The Sig Klein Challenge, named after the Iron Game legend, was to clean and press a pair of 75 pound dumbbells twelve times. The ability to do that meant you were a beast.
2) Turkish Get Up
Typically you don’t think of what’s considered by many to be a core training exercise to be on the list of the best builders of size and strength. But the Turkish get up does so much that it has to be considered a staple. Not only does it strengthen your core but it’s fantastic for shoulder stability, thoracic mobility, the hips, the glutes, etc.
Including it in your routine helps bulletproof you from injuries and exposes weaknesses you need to work on.
3) Trap Bar Deadlift
It’s very rare that someone can squat with decent form. It’s even harder to find someone who can deadlift with passable form. Most people can get there with several months of mobility work and strengthening. But the trap bar deadlift is one lift that almost everyone can do perfectly the first time they try it. It’s like a hybrid of a squat and a deadlift so you can kill two birds with one stone just by using this exercise. It’s also safer than regular squats and deadlifts and tends to leave you feeling less beat up between workouts.
If you want to use them purely for strength development and decrease the injury risk even more, drop the bar at the top of each rep. Then squat down and reset. So instead of doing five reps in a row you’d basically be doing five singles with a couple seconds of rest in between.
4) Farmers Walk
Carrying something heavy is a required part of any muscle building workout. Farmers walks are the best grip exercise you can do. They also pack size on the traps and entire posterior chain. Stability in the ankle and knee is greatly improved from this exercise as well. And if you ever want to take a picture of yourself while training this one makes you look coolest. Just FYI.
5) Angled or Neutral Grip 15-30 Degree Incline Press
The flat bench press is too stressful on the shoulders. However, when you raise up to a slight 15-30 degree incline, as was preferred by 7-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates, you get a much better exercise. It’s safer and targets the pecs more effectively. Unfortunately, most gyms only have 45 degree incline benches. So my advice would be to see if you can find some boxes or plates to give your flat bench a slight lift.
The next thing you can do to improve the exercise is ditch the straight bar. A Swiss bar or football bar would be the preferred option. Those will be much safer and keep your shoulders healthier.
Another great option, and one I’d recommend to everyone who is either over 40 or has had shoulder issues, is to use dumbbells on this exercise.
6) 1 Arm Dumbbell Row
Do this with enough weight and you’ll build big big lats. End of story. These can be done strictly with a sawing motion or with a slight cheat if you’re more advanced and know how to protect yourself and also use the target muscles properly. I’d recommend a more strict performance for at least your first two years of training. A chest supported dumbbell row is a great variation, especially for those with lower back injuries. A cheated 1 arm row is seen below.
7) Hand Over Hand Rope Row
Attach a thick rope, that’s at least thirty feet long, to a weighted sled. Squat down with your spine neutral and abs braced. Now row the sled toward you going hand over hand on the rope. This is phenomenal for working the grip, forearms, lats, midback, lower back, obliques and legs all in one movement. It’s hard to beat when it comes to bang-for-your-buck.
8) Safety Bar Squat
Wanna pack size on your legs? Then get your ass under a bar and squat. The problem with the typical back squat is that most people simply can’t do it. At least not without twelve weeks of serious preparation, soft tissue and mobility work. More people do seem to be able to squat properly with the safety bar, however.
The added benefit of the safety bar is that there’s zero stress on the shoulders. Back squats with a regular straight bar can irritate your shoulders especially if you’re big, tight or both. It makes no sense to tax your shoulders on a lower body exercise if you don’t have to.
Another great option is a Buffalo bar which is slightly bent so that it allows for a lower hand position.
9) Sled Dragging/ Pushing
So it’s not a traditional barbell or dumbbell exercise. The fact is you’re using weights when you use a sled. Not only that but sled work can build leg size and strength like a mofo, while simultaneously improving your conditioning. I consider it an essential part of any training program.
If you look at the quads of any cyclist or speed skater you’ll see that quads respond well to volume. The best part of the sled is the lack of eccentric component. So you can pile on the volume, which will make your legs grow, without your recovery ability getting crushed.
10) Kettlebell Swing
Most people just started hearing about swings in the last decade. But Arthur Saxon was doing them back in 1906. That makes them okay in my book. Swings are not only great for conditioning but also for improving posterior chain strength and explosiveness, building bigger glutes, protecting the lower back against injury and helping to actively lengthen tight hamstrings.
Bonus Exercises- I also love the 1 arm flat dumbbell press, 1 arm/1 leg KB Romanian Deadlift, the landmine press, the barbell/full contact twist and the snatch grip high pull. The last three are the only straight bar exercises I use fairly regularly. It was tough leaving these off the list. If it was top 15 they’d be on there.
So there you have it- Renegade Method essentials.
If you’ want to get jacked without getting injured I highly recommend you put in a lot of time and effort on the top 10 weight training exercises listed above.
Good luck and be relentless.