The 3 Key Exercises To Create A Great Physique
This is a guest post by Gabe. You can read his blog at GabeJohansson.com
There’s been a trend over the last several years about using the powerlifting movements to build muscle.
Pretty much every program you see now includes the squat, bench, and deadlift as primary movements.
While they definitely can work, I strongly believe there are more effective options for building a body you can be proud of.
Because let’s face it, most people don’t go around showing off their upper legs.
The problem with these powerlifting based programs is the heavy emphasis on lower body movements.
Don’t get me wrong, leg training is extremely important.
But if you want a physique you’re happy to show off at the beach or a pool party, then here’s what you should do:
Develop Your Chest, Shoulders, And Triceps
The number one way to do this is by getting strong at the incline barbell bench press.
This exercise hits your chest, shoulders, and triceps hard but also emphasizes the upper chest better than flat bench.
You’ll get a more full upper body look from this exercise.
Here’s a quick clip of good form:
As a side note, it’s always good to have a spotter.
A good first goal to reach on this exercise is 135lbs x 5 reps.
Then you’ll want to work your way up to 185lbs x 5 and ultimately 225lbs x 5 reps.
If you’re wondering how I can recommend such numbers with my video above showing me struggling with 175, here’s why:
Fitness is a long game, and what you’ll be able to do in a year from now might surprise you when you look back.
Just think about where you were at a year ago.
Keep pushing with the incline bench and your chest, shoulders, and triceps will thank you for it.
Also, its important to be at a lower body fat percentage to really make your upper body pop.
Blow Up Your Back And Biceps
Have you ever seen those ‘chin up every day’ challenges on YouTube?
Well, we’re about to 10x the results you’d get from that by doing weighted chin ups.
The first step is to work your way up to 8 strict bodyweight chin ups, and once you can do that you’ll start adding weight.
Even if you’re just holding a 5lbs dumbbell between your feet to start, you’ll definitely be able to grow a bigger and more muscular back over time.
As Dom Mazzeti from BroScienceLife says, “Weighted pull ups is like saying… I’m too strong for my own body” which is exactly what we need to really grow.
If you can’t do bodyweight chin ups now, don’t fret because here’s a quick guide on how to get started:
- Try a bodyweight chin up 3-7 times per week
- Do band or assisted chin ups right after
- Get stronger on rows, curls, and cable pullovers
- Keep trying even if it takes months
If you keep at this, you’ll be able to do a strict chin up faster than you ever thought possible.
And once you start adding weight, it won’t be long until you are able to do these:
25lbs x 5 reps, 45lbs x 5 reps, and 90lbs x 5 reps are all great milestones to shoot for.
Don’t Forget About Your Legs
Even though I was knocking on powerlifting based programs that have a heavy focus on legs, of course it’s still important to train them.
I’ll admit, I’m a huge fan of the barbell back squat but after working with a lot of people over the years, it’s the hardest lift to really master.
Not to mention, it’s a higher risk exercise unless you have a qualified coach helping you out.
That’s why I’m recommending Bulgarian split squats to build your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
I’m relatively new to this lift, and it doesn’t take a lot of weight to get a benefit from this exercise.
To put this in perspective, I squatted 260lbs for 3 reps and 235lbs for 8 right before this exercise, but these split squats lit up my legs so much more, even with only 60lbs worth of dumbbells.
I’m convinced that you’ll get more out of these split squats in the long run, with less CNS fatigue so your recovery will be better too.
Higher reps are better on this exercise, so starting with bodyweight really getting the form down is a good first goal.
Then when you start adding weight, 50lbs dumbbells for 3 sets of 12 reps is a great goal to really develop your legs.
The Best Way To Gain Strength
As for getting the results you’re looking for with these exercises, it’s going to take more than just doing them every so often.
You’re going to need a plan.
The best plan I’ve found for building a base level of strength is reverse pyramid training.
How this works for incline bench is you warm up with the empty bar, and work your way up to a heavy set of 4-6 reps without burning yourself out.
For example, if your heavy set is 175lbs then you’d do the bar for 2 sets of 5, 95lbs for 5, 125lbs for 3, and 155lbs for just one rep.
The reason you do this is to save as much energy for your heaviest set.
Put everything you have into this set.
After your heavy set, you’ll drop the weight by 10% and do a set of 6-8 reps.
Then drop the weight another 10% and do a set of 8-10 reps.
With the two lighter sets, you only want to do the number of reps you know you can do and not go max effort like the first set.
Once you reach the top of the rep range on any set, you increase the weight by 5lbs next time you do the lift.
For chin ups, you can increase by 2.5lbs if you’d like.
Here are my rep range recommendations:
Incline Bench: 4-6, 6-8, 8-10
Weighted Chins: 3-5, 5-6, 6-8
Bulgarian Split Squats: 3×8-12
Putting It All Together
So now you know the 3 key exercises you’ll need to build a great physique, how to do them, and how to get stronger at them.
Are these the only 3 exercises you need to do?
Definitely not, but if you focus on them they will greatly impact your muscle development.
Shoulder press, rows, hanging knee raises, calf raises, and hyperextensions are other exercises that make up a great routine.
If you’d like me to write up a full routine in the future, then let me know in the comments.
Until then, put these lifts in your routine and get after it!
P.S. I have a slightly different version of a great muscle building routine in my ebook The Guide To Gains, which you can download for free here.