Top 10 Weight Training Exercises for Building Muscle & Strength

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Training

Top 10 Weight Training Exercises for Building Muscle & StrengthTo 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.


66 Responses to Top 10 Weight Training Exercises for Building Muscle & Strength

  1. Codey Paulsen April 18, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    Jason, I have heard before that the high pull is bad for shoulders, rotator cuffs, and causes impingement. What do you say to this?

    • Jason Ferruggia April 18, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

      Don’t go higher than nipple line, the point where your upper arms are parallel with the floor.

      • Codey Paulsen April 18, 2012 at 3:18 pm #


      • Rob O'Brian November 26, 2013 at 10:57 am #

        Hi Jason, Just one question, but its a long one. I started training when I was 15, I just did full body workouts mainly with my own bodyweight and made some great gains, then I injured my elbow (I think its the ligament or the joint) and I just rested it for like 3-4 months, and it was frustrating not being able to work on my upper body. Now it feels better, but it still clicks and I have a little bit of an uncomfortable feeling (e.g. it feels like strain on the joint) When i Try workout. I was wondering, when I get back to working out, whether I should just start with a coupe of months of progressive bodyweight training (eg Kneeling push ups to incline etc…) to condition the joint and then only start weight training ?keep in mind I turn 16 in 1 month.
        What do you suggest
        Regards Rob

  2. Alexandru Constantin April 18, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    This is f****** awsome.I didn’t know about the high pull.Another hiper cool exercise added to my list.Thank you.

    • Jason Ferruggia April 19, 2012 at 8:24 am #

      You’re welcome. Let me know how it works out for you.

  3. Brody April 18, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    What about pullups or a muscleup?

    • Codey Paulsen April 18, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

      Thats not weightlifting thats bodyweight

    • Tom April 19, 2012 at 9:49 am #

      Pullups are certainly excellent. If you weigh 200 pounds, you’re pulling up close to that amount. That’s pretty damned tough. Anyone who sneers at pullups doesn’t do them because they’re difficult.

  4. Jason P. April 18, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    I like to combine a few that you have there. I find the muscle clean and press is a great exercise to build the traps, shoulders and arms. I find myself and my clients can use it to replace the shoulder press, up right row and to a certain extent the snatch. It doesn’t get the same CNS as the snatch but a good exercise to add to the mix.

    • Jason Ferruggia April 19, 2012 at 8:24 am #

      Yeah man, I love that one. Good call.

  5. Scott April 18, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    I think it would be good to have links to demonstrations/videos for some of these exercises. I had no idea what a high pull was, nor a snatch (yes, really), and still don’t know how to safely and effectively do a kettlebell swing.

    • David April 19, 2012 at 10:08 am #

      or youtube

  6. John Phung April 18, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    My traps used to be bigger when I did power cleans. But the racking phase of the lift always give me shoulder pain. Time to try out some high pulls!

  7. Doug Zdanivsky April 18, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    I cut out OH presses due to rotator cuff issues in my right shoulder..

    Is there a way to mitigate the irritation OH presses cause?

    DB instead of BB, different grip, higher reps, low weight? Thanks!

    • Gabri April 18, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

      Hey Doug!

      I’m sure Jason can tell you better than me, but maybe you should try to use a neutral grip. With DB you allow your shoulders to rotate the way they want. You could also avoid going too low at the bottom of the mouvement.

      If this doesn’t work, to replace OH weight exercises with handstand push-ups is a really good idea that will keep your shoulders healthy and stroger than ever!!

      • Doug Zdanivsky April 19, 2012 at 9:54 am #

        Thanks, I’ll try that!

      • Jason Ferruggia April 20, 2012 at 10:11 am #

        Good ideas, Gabri

  8. Michael Hodge April 18, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    I a huge fan of the farmers walks. That shit is tiring! Awesome post Jay!

  9. Nick P April 18, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    You just listed my program! Awesome article. I will add Turkish get-ups to the list as well.

  10. Brian April 18, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    I miss many of these moves, as they truly magic for strength and size! I had lumbar surgery (minor-laminectomy) in Nov 2011 to remove a bone spur/clean the disc. 4 years of sciatica and a car crash to top it off. There is so much conflicting info on whether most these moves are ever safe again post surgery. If you ask the medical community, it is an absolute no (avoid vertical spinal loading). Well, that pretty much eliminates all of these. I kept up with Yoga, Pilates, and light resistance work and my size went to hell in a hand basket.

    • Jason Ferruggia April 19, 2012 at 8:27 am #

      Sorry to hear that, man. But you can still train hard without spinal loading. All kinds of great bodyweight and sled stuff you can do to maintain size and strength. Single leg lower body work, rings for upper body, dumbbells, you’d be fine with all that.

      • Brian April 19, 2012 at 10:13 am #

        Thanks for the encouragement and advice, Jason!

    • Ricky Dhillon February 1, 2013 at 5:27 am #

      Go light, try it and see. I used to be a boxer, and was very fit and lean at 10 stones. (around 63kg) and only do olympic lifts for weights.

      I had a car accident 3 years ago. Smashed 3 thoratic spinal vertibrae, 2 lumbar, all ribs, both shoulders, jaw, neck, collar bone sternum and cheekbone. I was wheelchair bound, told id never walk again….

      and now, im 103kg, lower bodyfat and without blowing my own trumpet, im one of the strongest guys in the gym. Even when i got back into the gym i still didnt think id ever be able to load my back. Now, my back is my strongest bodypart and although im too old to carry on boxig, weight training has become my new passion.

      One thing i learnt…Your body is an amazing thing, you will never truly know what it is capable of until it is pushed so far beyond its limit, and that limit is much much much further than you or i can ever imagine.

      Good luck God bless

  11. Luke April 18, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    I love the snatch! Did yoked earlier this year and easily added 6 inches to my jump, and traps/shoulders got a lot bigger and stronger!

  12. Vleit April 19, 2012 at 8:58 am #

    Curls in the squat rack?

  13. Brian April 19, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    Hi J.
    Rep scheme for these?
    I am currently working 5×5’s

    • Jason Ferruggia April 20, 2012 at 10:13 am #

      That works. On Oly lifts 3’s are great.

  14. Shane April 19, 2012 at 9:33 am #


    Where do curls and tricep extensions fit in? Top 15, top 20?

    • David April 19, 2012 at 10:11 am #

      they don’t.

  15. Jeffrey April 19, 2012 at 9:35 am #

    Snatches, high pulls, and 1 arm rowa are great but… over pullups?!?

  16. Kristiyan April 19, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    Jay, what do you think about the crossfit special – thrusters?
    Anyway, great list !

  17. Clint - Crude Fitness April 19, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

    Great post mate.
    Huge fan of all of these exercises – it can take some convincing to get people to test them out though. People with bad backs continue to avoid deads and squats and yet they keep training their upper body and come back to me saying “I have a back issue, so i can’t do those exercises”.

    Frustrating :)

    One other exercise I love for shoulders is the ‘Arnold Press’.

    • Arthur May 16, 2012 at 7:37 am #

      Yeah, I have disc hernia and i’ve been advised to avoid theses exercises. Do you think its ok to do them?

  18. Raymond April 19, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    All excellent exercises, I regularly do 5 out of the 10 and now I should add more in.

    But getting size? Well I haven’t had that much luck with it though ..perhaps its more diet and cardio. or maybe I’m just not hitting my limit enough?
    Anyways whatever it is … I’ll still do these exercises as much as I can they simply make me feel good when I lift as heavy as I can.

  19. David Black Mastro April 20, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    I really love kettlebell swings. They’re great for building overall strength and explosiveness–I’ve found them especially helpful in improving my performance in fencing. Swings with kettlebells and dumbbells were once very common amongst Western strength athletes–you already mentioned Arthur Saxon, and other folks who immediately come to mind include Arthur’s brother Hermann, as well as Hermann Goerner, Charles Rigoulot, Ernest Cadine, Maurice Deriaz, Thomas Inch, and W.A. Pullum. In addition to the kettlebell swing which is associate with Russia, there were also at least two distinct methods of swinging dumbbells–the “Classic French” style (where a solid dumbbell was used) and the “British” style (where a plate-loaded dumbbell–often unevenly loaded–was used).

    • Jason Ferruggia May 11, 2012 at 5:54 am #

      David- Thanks for contributing. Love the old school knowledge!

  20. David Black Mastro April 20, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    Some records: Hermann Goerner holds the record for the greatest poundage in the kettlebell swing–with two kettlebells in one hand, he put 211.64 lbs overhead. Arthur Saxon, using one kettlebell, put up 207.23 lbs Regarding Saxon, Thomas Inch related a very interesting story:

    “He (Saxon) had two ringweights, solid, 150 lbs. each, the handles very close to the globes. He would swing one up and then stoop down and swing up the other. This 300 lb. lift he made the subject of an offer of either £50 or £100 and needless to say he never lost his money.”

    Now THAT is impressive.

    • Brian April 20, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

      great research dude!

    • Jason Ferruggia May 11, 2012 at 5:55 am #

      Awesome stuff.

  21. Uncle Timbo April 20, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    To avoid shoulder issues with the High Pull, I go with a wide “snatch grip”. IMO, if you can’t pull it to the nipple line, the weight is too heavy.

  22. Uncle Timbo April 20, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

    Also, I love to use the high pull as warm-up before deadlifting. Usually 3 sets of 3-5 reps

  23. Randy Maddux April 21, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    This list is very reassuring, giving me more confidence that I’ve been correct in my exercise choices. Someone mentioned the clean and press, which I use frequently, but they are causing some elbow soreness, especially with <5 reps. Could this be because of improper form? Improper grip? I hate to stop doing these because they seem to be working very effectively. Any comments would be greatly appreciated.

    Great article Jason.

    • Jason Ferruggia May 11, 2012 at 5:55 am #

      Randy- No, this is not unusual with cleans. Unfortunately the exercise may not be for you.

      • Randy Maddux May 11, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

        Thanks for the reply.

  24. Gabri April 21, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

    Hey Jason!!

    I love to train with bodyweight exercises, but once a week i go to the gym to do some heavy sets of deadlift.

    What set/rep sheme and what progression do you recommend me? A 5×5 with linear progression since i’m still starting i think it’s a good idea, but since i’d like to work on my strength, should i low the reps after i stall on the 5×5? Or should i just work to a heavy set of 6?

    Thank you for all your work!!

    • Uncle Timbo April 22, 2012 at 9:55 am #

      Check out Jim Wendler’s 5,3,1 program. I’ve been using it for a while with deadlifting and I like it a lot.

      • Gabri April 22, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

        Timbo, i just started reading his ebook today, and i really like it!! Thank you for the idea!

  25. David Black Mastro April 25, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    I would add the Bent Press to the list–but one must learn to perform it correctly, since it’s an especially complex lift/support/balance feat. I’ve seen both good and (very) bad examples on Youtube.

  26. Wayne Hinton April 26, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    These are all part of Crossfit workouts and are all great exercises. Glad to see them all here since I do them all on a regular basis. Great article. Thanks!

  27. Jason Ferruggia May 11, 2012 at 5:54 am #

    Ron- 2-6 times

  28. Dan May 15, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

    You missed weighted pullups and weighted ring dips.

  29. Ryan May 16, 2012 at 8:29 am #


    First off just want to say I love the site. I changed up my workout routine 9 months ago to more of a powerlifting routine and am loving it. Complex movements are totally the way to go, have put on more mass in 9 months than i did in the last 3 years. I was looking at an article yesterday on building “wheels” or legs and some of the best exercises etc. I came on today to get the link to send a friend but can’t seem to find it. Would you be able to send me the link?

    Thanks, Ryan

  30. Brandon June 8, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    You say too much horizontal pressing and not enough overhead work will lead to beat up shoulders. Is there a ratio of horizontal to overhead that we should shoot for?

  31. Sam October 28, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    Hi Jason,

    How about breathing squats? Are they effective for a strong chest even at late-forties?


  32. Kiran December 29, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    No bench press? I know it’s not the most functional of exercises but………

  33. rob January 4, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    I know a lot of people don’t have them or access to one. But the log clean and press is one of my favorites.

  34. Ian January 10, 2013 at 4:04 am #

    Hi guys
    I am a 39 year old from England, my wife died a little while back and I am just returning to serious training. Love the big exercises, do deadlifts with a trap bar due to a lower back niggle due to years of rugby. Hope I am not too old to make good gains in size and strength, I am 6ft1 and 285 pounds

  35. Bill February 18, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    High pulls and farmers walks were new to me. I love doing squats, not the first time out but after that and the wretched pain that comes for a couple of days. Then I am good My problem is always trying to get more mass in my chest. I do ok with bench and flyes but I think I just have to nail them with more sets or something

  36. Jake March 12, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    I find the log clean and press and the safety bar squat much easier and more effective than just using the bar. I generally wrap a towel around the bar when squatting but the safety bar eliminates this and lets me push harder

  37. elevate gf June 2, 2013 at 4:24 am #

    Apart from increasing your grip and thus making your job at the gym a whole lot easire, forearm exercises really make you arms look “complete” – as opposed to having thin forearms and huge biceps. And, I should think, that strong forearms come in useful for daily use: carrying bags or heavy loads. I mean let’s be honest, biceps look good, but it’s the forearms that do most of the work everyday.

  38. Todd Lippeatt June 8, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    Hey Jason…great stuff as usual from your site. Been working out off an on for years and always find the information you suggest on training is what always works best for me. I am not an advanced trainer by any means and always looking to gain insight from the experts like yourself. Thanks for keeping in simple and truthful with respect to solid philosophy. I am implementing some of your training philosophy in my 10 yr old son’s wrestling workouts. Hopefully I can update you on our progress!

  39. Sam August 16, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

    Thanks for this fantastic post. With a few adjustments, this is very close to what I am doing at the moment. So now I feel more confident that I am on the right track despite only having started training a short while ago.