Six of the Best Exercises to Build Strength

Look at any exercise book, website or app and you can find hundreds of different exercises. Those exercises can be performed hundreds of ways and those hundred can turn into thousands of different variations. The Jefit app, as an example, features more than 1300 different exercises. What are the best exercises to build strength though? Let’s take a look at a few of them.

The Deadlift is One of the Best Exercises to Build Strength

Overall strength is needed for activities of daily living and it’s obviously very important for any athletic activity or workout. The deadlift is a great exercise because its whats known as a compound exercise. Meaning, multiple muscle groups work concurrently. As a result, an increase in strength will occur in the core, legs, back, hips and grip – basically head to toe! The glutes and hamstrings are the prime movers during this exercise. An additional nine other muscles also get worked. The deadlift is great for improving hip extension strength.

TRAINER TIP: Use a Hex Bar, if possible, it’s a lot easier to use than a barbell when initially performing a deadlift.

Squat

The squat is always a main exercise feature in any strength program and for good reason. Squats are also great for a beginner level person compared to say a deadlift. Knee-dominant exercise, like the squat, target the quadriceps muscles. The glutes also come into play during the execution of the movement. In addition, like the deadlift, nine other muscle groups also get hit.

TRAINER TIP: Many strength coaches actually teach the front squat before back squat. It’s not about the amount of weight a person uses but rather using good technique and moving through a full range-of-motion. As a former assistant strength coach at UConn, we use to have all our athletes start fresh because so many coming in had bad habits. We gave each student-athlete a chronological training age of zero. Once they had proper technique down they then progressed to bigger and better things with the squat and other movements.

Pull-Up

This exercise can be very challenging for a novice but it’s a great way to build upper body strength. The pull-up uses an overhand grip compared to a chin-up, which has the palms facing towards the person. This is a great exercise to test your upper body “pulling” strength. They can tell someone a great deal about where they’re at training wise. Seven muscle groups get stronger doing this compound movement, including the latissimus dorsi, and biceps.

TRAINER TIP: If pull-ups are too difficult initially, try chin-ups first or do negative pull-ups. Try jumping up and let yourself return to the starting position in a slow controlled manner. Also, try either an inverted row or connect a giant band to try assisted pull-up using less of your body weight, as additional options.

Overhead Military Press

Overhead Press

An efficient way to build shoulder, core and overall strength is by lifting weight overhead. Lifting a barbell, kettlebell or dumbbell overhead builds strength in the shoulders, back, arms and core. Any vertical pressing movement also works different muscle that act as stabilizers from the foot up through the shoulder complex.

TRAINER TIP: Remember to move the head forward as you press the weight overhead. Also, keep areas of your body, like glutes and core braced (or tight) when performing the exercise.

Bent-Over Row

The Bent-over Row, using a barbell or dumbbells, is one of the best pulling exercises someone can do. It ranks near the top for exercises in terms of muscle recruitment. See this previously published article on the Jefit blog that discusses this topic more in depth. The exercise is perfect for any push/pull routine and is a nice compliment to a barbell or dumbbell chest press.

TRAINER TIP: Work first on performing scapular retraction before any pulling or rowing motion is attempted.

Bench Press

Saving the best for last, the bench press is a versatile exercise that can be performed using a barbell, dumbbells and kettlebells. It’s a great exercise to build upper body strength, especially in the chest, shoulder and arms. As a result, it’s a great compound or multi-joint exercise and a must in a strength training routine.

TRAINER TIP: Change it up every 4-6 weeks. Meaning, make your grip wider, more narrow, switch barbell to dumbbells, change the speed of the movement, adjust the incline on the bench, try a decline position, etc.

Adding any of these six exercises into your routines at any given time will help build strength in both the prime movers and smaller stabilizing muscle as well. These particular exercises are some of the best exercises to build strength. Good Luck and Stay Strong!

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5 Squat Variations to Add To Your Training (Beginner to Advanced)

squat variations

Squats should be a staple in every gym goer’s training plan. They are a great lower body exercise that can also work your core and other parts of your body if performed correctly. There are many squat variations that you can try, that each has their own benefits. Whether you are a beginner squatter or seasoned veteran, here are some of the squat variations to add to your routine.

5 Beginner to Advanced Squat Variations

1. Prisoner Squat

The prisoner squat is one of the simplest squat variations because it just uses your bodyweight. It is a great staple exercise for anyone to add to their regime, especially for beginners starting out. It is a lower body workout that not only strengthens your legs and glutes but can also work your core and shoulders.

Prisoner squats can also be done anywhere as you are only using your bodyweight! So you can fit them in during an ad break, or even at work.

To prisoner squat, make sure that your feet are planted firmly on the ground, hip-width apart. Your weight should be distributed evenly between them. Engage your core as you pull your shoulder blades slightly together.

Bend at the knees and lower yourself to the ground as if you are sitting on a chair. Remember to keep your torso upright. Keep lowering yourself until you are parallel to the ground, and if you can, go beyond that parallel line. Make sure that your knees do not drop inward as you do so; keep your knees rotated out.

Stand up again by straightening your legs. And repeat.

To make the standard prisoner squat more challenging, try holding the lower squat position and pulsing. Now you can really feel that burn!

2. Goblet Squat

Another great squat variation is the goblet squat. This is similar to the prisoner squat but with added weight. You can use a dumbbell or kettlebell.

Hold the dumbbell or kettlebell up close to your chest as you squat. If you are starting out, start with a lighter weight, just to get used to the movement. Then keep increasing your weight as you progress.

This squat will not only work that lower body but it can really work that core strength. It can also help prepare you for the front squat, which we will talk about soon!

3. High Bar Back Squat

This is the classic squat that people tend to gravitate towards. It is a comfortable place for people to hold the bar.This squat variation uses a barbell that is placed across your back on the trapezius muscles on top of the shoulders.

During the high bar back squat, make sure that the bar remains aligned with your midfoot. Your torso needs to remain as upright as possible to keep the weight from shifting forward.

The high bar back squat is a squat variation that places emphasis on the quadriceps (front thigh muscles) and glutes. There is less reliance on the hamstrings. However, compared to other squat variations, such as the low bar squat, you won’t be able to squat as heavy.

If you want to make it harder, then try pausing for a couple of seconds at the bottom of the squat before coming up. The high bar squat is also great to help those who do weightlifting (the snatch and clean & jerk).

4. Low Bar Back Squat

Another squat variation is the low bar back squat. This squat places the barbell on lower on the upper back than the high bar back squat position—on the posterior deltoid. It is only a slight shift in position of the bar but it does result in different body parts being used in the movement.

In this position, your torso should lean forward even more. This offloads some of the weight on your back and to help keep you balanced. It also means that you will be able to squat heavier than the high bar squat. You have less range of motion because your torso will be more horizontal.

Your feet should be wider than that of a high bar squat, as well as your hands. To help lean your chest forward, your hips will also be pushed back.

This version of the squat works the hamstrings and glutes. It also places more emphasis on the posterior chain. If you have knee problems, then the low bar is a good option as there is less stress on the knees.

5. Front Squat

The front squat works the front of your body, emphasising the quads and core. It uses the barbell but instead of placing it on your back, it is placed in front of you, resting on your front deltoids and collarbone. Your arms can be in two different positions:

Classic Grip: Place your right-hand fingertips under the bar on your right side, and do the same for the left. The number of fingertips you use to hold the bar depends on your preference. Keep your elbows up so your upper arms are parallel to the ground. This position can be difficult for those with limited wrist mobility.
Cross Grip: Your right hand can hold the bar on your left shoulder and vice versa. Your arms will be in a cross position, touching opposite hands to shoulders. If you have limited wrist mobility, you may prefer this grip.

As you squat, try to keep your elbows in and up and your knees out.

The squat is a really great move to include in your training. With these squat variations ranging from beginner to advanced, you can pick and choose which ones suit your fitness goal and level so you are not missing out on these great benefits.

Track your squats with Jefit

Jefit is a workout log app that has an extensive library. With the ability to mix and match your training, including different kinds of squats, you can really maximize your gym workouts and make the most of them. These are just 5 of the many kinds of squats you can do—check out Jefit’s squat library here to find more!

Have you tried any of these different kinds of squats? Which ones do you like? Let us know in the comments, we would love to know!

squat variations