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7 Most Important Exercises for Men To Build Muscle

Pump up your physique with these mass-building movements.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

It's no secret that the aspirational physique for most men includes toned, defined muscles. Whether you seek a bulky, bodybuilder look or a lean, chiseled physique (think Brad Pitt from "Fight Club"), you need to build muscle. That being said, I'd like to share some advice I've learned over a long career of training male clients for physique transformations. The seven most important exercises for men to build muscle form the core basis of any serious workout program. Plus, they hit the majority of the important muscles in your body.

Gear up for dumbbell exercises, barbell exercises, and calisthenics. You can split these moves into upper and lower-body workouts, or combine the exercises into one or more full-body workouts. For best results, add in the weights when 12 or more reps become too easy. Decrease the weight if you cannot complete eight reps.

Plan to perform three to four sets of eight to 12 reps for each exercise one to two times per week for a minimum of eight weeks.


man performing barbell squats at the gym

The first of these exercises for men to build muscle is the squat. Squats are called the king (or queen) of exercises for a reason. To put it simply, they hit all of the major muscle groups in your lower body. Furthermore, when you perform barbell squats and other loaded squat variations, you train your core and upper body to stabilize, resulting in a true full-body exercise. I recommend performing barbell back squats if you are physically able.

To perform a barbell squat, begin with a barbell on the rack at roughly shoulder height. Step under the bar, and wedge it onto your traps, pulling down with each hand to create stability. Unrack the bar, and step back with your feet shoulder-width apart. Sit back, and lower your hips until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Keep your torso as upright as possible while maintaining control of the bar. Drive through both feet to return to the top. Repeat for the target repetitions.

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man doing barbell deadlifts

Deadlifts are one of the most powerful lifts you can perform. They train the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and back muscles. You can lift very heavy weights with a deadlift, allowing major muscle-building stimulus to your entire lower body.

To perform a barbell deadlift, begin with a barbell on the floor with the appropriate amount of weight on each side. Step up to the bar until it's just away from your shins. Hinge at the waist, and grip the bar with an overhand or alternating grip. Keeping a braced, neutral spine, drive through the floor, and lift the bar until your knees and hips are locked out. Return to the starting position. Repeat for the target repetitions.

Dumbbell Bench Press

man doing dumbbell bench press exercises for men to build muscle

The bench press is one of the most popular exercises, and for good reason. It allows you to lift major weights with your chest muscles, shoulders, and arms, providing a major mass building to these areas. I personally prefer dumbbell bench presses as they allow a smoother, more natural range of motion. That being said, you can do them with a barbell as well.

To perform dumbbell bench presses, begin seated at the foot of a weight bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Lie back on the bench, and position the dumbbells on each side of your chest with your arms bent at the elbow. Press upwards until your arms lock out straight up. You can bring the dumbbells together at the top of the motion for the maximal muscle squeeze. Return to the starting position. Repeat for the target repetitions.

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Overhead Press

man doing overhead dumbbell press

Overhead presses build major mass in the shoulders. I am equally a fan of dumbbell and barbell overhead presses, but the dumbbell variation is more forgiving on novice lifters who have not perfected the barbell technique.

To perform a dumbbell overhead press, begin standing with a dumbbell in each hand, held at shoulder height. Press the dumbbells overhead until your arms lock out. Bring them together at the top for a maximal squeeze. Return to the starting position. Repeat for the target repetitions.


man doing chin-up exercise, exercises for men to build muscle

Pull-ups are a great way to develop your upper body muscles—especially in the lats, upper back, and biceps. I recommend including prone, neutral, and supine grip variations.

To perform pull-ups, begin hanging from a pull-up bar with your selected grip. Pull your body upward as high as possible, ideally touching your chest to the bar. Lower to return to the starting position. Repeat for the target repetitions.

Dumbbell Rows

dumbbell rows

Dumbbell rows train the horizontal rowing motion which develops the posterior shoulders, upper back, and biceps.

To perform dumbbell rows, begin with a dumbbell in one hand and the other hand positioned on a bench with your torso leaning forward. Row the dumbbell upwards until your upper arm is in line with your torso. Return to the starting position. Repeat for the target repetitions.


man doing dips at the gym, exercises for men to build muscle

Dips are a bodyweight exercise that build the triceps, shoulders, and chest. You can use a bench to perform dips, but I prefer parallel bars or rings to allow full body weight.

To perform dips, begin on parallel bars with your arms straight going downwards, gripping the bars. Lower your chest towards the floor by bending your elbows and pivoting at the shoulder joint. Lower until your upper arms are parallel with your torso. Drive through both hands to return to the starting position. Repeat for the target repetitions.

Tyler Read
Tyler Read is a personal trainer and has been involved in health and fitness for the past 15 years. Read more about Tyler