So… what's the BEST exercise for the chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, lats, etc.

The Best Lifts for Building Muscle

Written by Shane Duquette on April 28, 2015

One of the most common questions we get asked is, “What exercise is best to grow my small chest (or arms, shoulders, abs, etc)?” It’s a surprisingly large question, since there are so many things to consider. There are a ton of studies looking into the best exercises for activating certain muscle groups, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

So we’ve put together a guide showing you the best exercises for each muscle group. These exercises represent your best chance of safely building muscle as rapidly as possible for your experience level. We’ve selected these exercises based on a few factors: muscle activation, efficiency, learning curve, risk:reward ratio, etc.

Before we get to the infographic, we’ll break down how we went about selecting these exercises by explaining a few of the things we considered:

Experience level is a really important factor. Let’s say you’re trying to build up the beastliest shoulders possible. Just like an advanced lifter, you’d want to optimize the “three M’s of muscle” (mechanical tension, metabolic stress, muscle damage) in all of the muscle fibres in your shoulders (study). This makes a case for building a workout program around heavy compound lifts done through a large range of motion. The best study to date found that the dumbbell overhead press better stimulates your shoulder muscles than barbell overhead presses, military presses, seated dumbbell presses, etc (study). Bret Contreras even found that overhead pressing also better activated core and oblique muscles than squats and deadlifts. So it would make sense that this would be the best lift for you to choose, right?

Maybe not.

To reap the rewards of that advanced lift you need solid shoulder strength, stability and mobility. If you’re a lanky limbed and lanky torsoed beginner with iffy posture and shoulder mobility, you should use an easier, lighter and safer exercise to stimulate growth in your shoulders. Something like a lateral raise. Otherwise you’ll risk injuring your shoulders and lower back without even properly stimulating the muscles you’re trying to grow.

Equipment. As a beginner you don’t need much equipment to build muscle. If you have access to a fancy equipment, great, but as a skinny dude you can build 30+ pounds of muscle with just a couple dumbbells and a bench. Dumbbell exercises are often the best exercises for building muscle. A simple setup will allow you to build muscle optimally well. This makes it easy to train in a wide variety of gyms, and also easy to train at home. (Here’s our guide for building a simple home gym.)

As you become more advanced your training options expand, it becomes harder and harder to build muscle, and due to your ever-growing strength you need to lift heavier and heavier weights. As an advanced lifter it helps to have a barbell, weight plates, a power cage, etc.

Compound vs Isolation lifts. Compound lifts are shown in regular text. We’ve also included exercises that specifically target that particular muscle group (typed in bold italics) for muscles that you really really want to grow quickly (perhaps your biceps) and muscle groups that don’t activate easily (perhaps your chest).

For example, if you’re torso dominant like me, the bench press will be the best exercise to build up your chest because it will allow you to press a ton of weight with your chest. I grew my chest pretty much exclusively with dumbbell and barbell bench presses. If you’re limb dominant though, like Jared, a bench press will mostly grow your shoulders and triceps, making it a poor lift to plumpen up your lagging pecs. He’s grown his chest by adding in a ton of pullovers and flys.

Assuming you want to grow every muscle quickly, I’d recommend doing a mix of both compound and isolation lifts for your entire body. This has been shown to build more evenly developed muscle mass, more muscle mass overall, and more strength (study, study).

You’d begin your workout with the heavy compound lifts, and then finish with the lighter accessory/isolation lifts. For example, you may find that doing chin-ups will grow your biceps just fine, but if you want to build truly burly biceps I’d recommend doing bicep curls too:

The best exercises for building muscle in your biceps (curls or chin-ups?

Muscle Group illustrations. Each muscle is shown as a few mock muscle fibres. These are simplified, but show you which directions these muscles can pull. We thought this would be helpful, since it also shows which parts of muscles you can target.

As you can see, the muscles in your chest run horizontally. You can target the lower fibres with a decline bench press, the upper fibres with an incline bench press. (A regular bench press will target both.) However you probably won’t have as much luck targeting your “inner” or “outer” chest, since the same muscle fibres span all the way across.

Conversely, your bicep muscles run vertically. You can target your inner biceps (short head) with in-front-of-the-body lifts like the preacher curl and concentration curl, or your outer biceps (long head) with behind-your-body lifts like the incline curl and drag curl. (A regular curl will work both.) However you can’t really target your upper or lower biceps.

We kept this in mind when putting this diagram together. Your best bet for stimulating every part of every muscle group is to use a wide variety of exercises that work your muscles in slightly different ways. Comparable (somewhat interchangeable) exercises are on the same line, and complementary exercises are shown on different lines.

So if you’re a beginner who wants to build up a big chest, you might want to do dumbbell bench presses and push-ups and dumbbell pullovers, and then either the dumbbell pec fly or the pec deck.

Example. To give you an idea of how all these factors come together, a goblet squat activates virtually every major and minor muscle group, it optimally stimulates several of them, it’s relatively easy to learn, and it requires just one dumbbell. When the heaviest dumbbell is no longer heavy enough, or muscle gains begin to slow, it’s then easy to transfer your newly acquired skills, coordination and strength towards a front squat (and eventually a back squat). This makes the goblet squat the best skinny-boy exercise for a few different muscle groups, and a great exercise for many others.

Conversely, a Smith Machine back squat does a poorer job of activating many muscles, proper technique is more difficult to learn, it’s more likely to result in injury, it requires a fancy piece of equipment that isn’t very versatile, and it doesn’t allow you to easily progress to a more advanced variation later on. (You wouldn’t have built up your stabilizer muscles or practiced the movement pattern that would allow you to smoothly progress to a barbell front or back squat.) Smith machine squats aren’t necessarily a “bad” exercise, but they certainly aren’t good enough to make the cut.

This is not an exhaustive list. Just good solid examples that will get the job done incredibly well.

Okay. Here we go:

The best exercises for building muscle organized by muscle group

We hope that helps!

Note: We made the image for our new Pinterest page. If you have Pinterest, it’d be great if you followed us. We’ll be posting a ton of cool new ectomorph muscle-building graphics there over the next few months 🙂

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So, what'd you think? 75 responses below.


oh Shane just what i needed! this whole article puts everything i had in my mind today along the journey of B2B. I’ve been thinking a lot about isolation lifts this week as i’ve added flys to my routine and i think it was a good move to see results on my stubborn chest. I wanted to know more about isolation lifts since i owe most of my gains, balance, and strength to compounds lifts (and to you guys of course) but it seems to get some muscles popping we need some isolation in the equation. having narrow frame means i most certainly will need some isolation lifts to improve my aesthetics. I’ve been gaining 1lbs/week steadily after my cut to 145lbs(january) now i’m sitting at 168lbs and i just finished phase 1 ! 30lbs to go or whatever my narrow frame can carry. i can’t wait to sign up again for more of the advancy fancy stuff. i think i’m an intermediate lifter when it comes to numbers but stability wise i’d fall in advanced weightlifter. killer content as always.

Shane Duquette

That’s awesome, man! Sounds like the bulk is going absolutely perfectly! Congrats 😀

Really glad you dug the article. Keep it up 🙂


Great article! Wanted to ask if you guys aprove of high knee raises? Or is it just planks and ab wheel that are effective. Thanks

Shane Duquette

Thanks, Chet 🙂 There are TONS of effective core exercises and these are just some examples. Knee raises are also a hip flexor lift I think, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were rad for the abs as well.


Hey Shane, something I’ve always wondered about the program is why the standing Overhead barbell press isn’t utilized for the shoulders.

Shane Duquette

Hey Michael, did this post answer your question? We used it as an example in the text part above the diagram. Long story short, the barbell overhead press is a great lift, but it takes a lot of shoulder mobility/stability, and you need really strong core muscles and solid posture. Because of that, it’s very hard to make a program with standing barbell overhead press because only certain people can do it safely/effectively, even at an intermediate/advanced level.

Later on in our programming though we do include overhead pressing… just not with a barbell (unless you want to use a barbell). That’s because it’s the DUMBBELL overhead press that wins when it comes to building muscle and strength (study on that in the article). The push press is pretty amazing too, since you get to incorporate your lower body and can thus use heavier weights / more muscle groups.

(I should note that we’re always glad to customize the plan to fit an individuals training level / goals, it’s just the barbell overhead press isn’t a default lift.)


Oh man. Hahah, I’m sorry about that. I’m currently studying for finals and read this during a study break. And completely missed that paragraph….. right in the middle of the article. I know it’s frustrating when people ask dumb questions after you’ve explained something, so I apologize.

Thanks for clarifying.

Shane Duquette

Ahaha no problem, Michael. Good luck with your finals!!


Really helpful information, and I appreciate the link to studies. Its great that you’ve made this info available for us skinny guys, love it!

Shane Duquette

Glad you liked it, RM!


Oh! That’s EXACTLY what I needed. Started couple months ago (+10 pounds) and I feel my workout to be so weak on back, especially lats. Definitely trying those exercises, since unfortunately I can’t afford the program right now. Strong dollar + small budget makes it harder to a 17 years old Brazilian 🙁 wish I knew about the program in 2014) however, I see on the “before-after”of your model facial changes. I guess this is quoted on the aesthetics article but I don’t get it. Can I grow the lower of my face (hormones?) ? That would be awesome cause I have a typical ecto-triangular face, but almost oval,almost square too (hard to describe :).

Shane Duquette

Woot, congrats on the 10 pounds, Felipe. And in just a few weeks too—that’s amazing!

Yeah. When you gain weight you’ll build a little muscle everywhere, including your face. There are a number of factors that could play into this, for example a higher testosterone output, or a protein-y calorie surplus causing muscle growth everywhere. You should notice that as you continue to build muscle that your face fills out as well 🙂

Good luck, and keep it up!


Can you descibre more accurately torso vs limb dominant body characteristics, to try applying it to myself.


Shane Duquette

Hey Denis,

The easiest way to figure it out is to give the exercises a try! If you do a set of 12-30 reps of the bench press, for example, are you feeling the burn / failing in your arms or your chest? The area that you’re failing on is going to get a large growth stimulus, whereas the area that’s already strong enough won’t. This will cause the failing area to grow larger. Sometimes things balance out. If you have weak shoulders, perhaps they grow strong enough to shoulder the load and you begin failing on your chest. However oftentimes someone will have strong shoulders, those strong shoulders will activate easily and do the heavy lifting, you’ll fail there, the shoulders will grow more, and your chest will lag way behind, since it’s never bearing its share of the load. This is what happens to Jared.

For me, on the other hand, I feel the burn in my chest, fail on my chest, can grow a large chest very easily… but my arms and shoulders get almost no growth stimulus. I made it up to a 225 bench before making it up to 12″ arms.

If you want to know for other exercises, do the same thing. Do a higher rep range and try to pinpoint which muscles are working the hardest and failing on the lift. Are you doing chin-ups with your biceps or back? Deadlifting with your butt or hamstrings?


This imbalance test is more suited for compond movements, where 2 to 3 distinctive muscle groups are complementing big move, like bench press, overhead press, chin (pull) up.
It is hard to do this big number of chins for testing purposes, even though my big max for the close grip chins was 20 reps some time ago. It is back to 8 now.
I couldn’t define whether biceps or lats were more stimulated. Actually nothing was burning, just power to lift the body was gone. Development was none. Maybe too little stimulus for biceps, while still taking a big load off the lats, so lats got no stimulus also.

About deadlift. What should be more activated. Its a so called full body exercice, or posterior chain dominant, so to speak.
From DL’s I get sore lats, delts (squeezing on top, but not bending back) and some low back soreness.
I’m a tad over 6 ft and dont have the body type to be able to begin from low squat and deadlift the weight, with little lean over.
I do try to activate (squeeze) as many muscles as possible. It’s a concentration job, to squeeze glutes, abdominals towards spine, shoulders back and down, whole arms, finishing in tight bar grip, while not looking forward, but in line with spine.
That’s why I only do 3 reps (strength) but go for 10 series.

So probably lowering weight and doing hi rep range would show if I’m limb (hamstrings) or body (butt) dominant.

Shane Duquette

Well something was failing, so something was getting enough stimulus to grow. Perhaps another factor is limiting your muscle growth. Rest, nutrition quality, nutrition quantity (not being a calorie surplus). Could be you’re training too hard, not hard enough, etc. Perhaps you aren’t periodizing your training well and your body has hit a plateau. Hard to say without knowing all that much about your particular situation.

If you can deadlift with your back holding really strong all over isometrically and your butt and hamstrings doing the lifting then you’re doing a pretty good job of it. Depends on your form and proportions though. Some guys will deadlift with a lot of quad, for example.

High rep deadlifts aren’t necessarily the best. One reason is that you risk fatiguing your stabilizer muscles, and that can make it more dangerous. You could look at how your body is developing. Maybe your glutes aren’t developing at the same pace as your hamstrings, or vis versa. Otherwise you can just see where you fail on the lift and address it.

You may find you’re overthinking it, too! Oftentimes it’s best to focus on the technique / squeezing / etc when practicing and doing warmups, but just to focus on lifting when you’re doing your working sets. Oftentimes that will have you executing a better lift.

I hope something in there helps!

Adam Trainor

I would add one more critical lift to this list… the fork to your mouth, loaded with nutrients. So critical, but seriously… some good advice here on adds to your workout that will help you add size.

Shane Duquette

Ahahahaha I love it. So true!
And thank you 🙂

Adam Trainor

Glad you liked it!


Food, correct. In my case this is big problem, not being ectomorph, with skinny, striated, vascular body, but rather skinny fat. Everything in excess calories transfers to singe area only. Belly&love handles. Some puffy nipples too.
I’m 38, in peoples opinion visually and mentally 30 or less.
But very critical to own body. Training alone in a garage, having proper squat rack and olymic weights. Also TRX is in use for targeted work. Occasional hi effort running and mountain biking. I’m a military family man.
Right now and from past expirience, i’m back to intermittent fasting. Intake consists mostly of fats, meats, eggs, yogurt not skimmed, nuts (presoaked for nutrient release), veggies and some unrefined carbs, like buckwheat. All home prepaired. If I overdo with bread, sugars etc, quickly get bloated.
Second meal is more loose, while still avoiding sugars, corn starch etc.
Its gotten me so far, that I dont care about body as much as I try to get stronger and durable, so my resting time between sets is 30 – 45s max.
Works for now and this guys here really helped me alot in few basic understandings.
As long as I can now do a test as to which group is dominant in a move, so I can isolate lagging parts.


Concerning the study you sent us via e-mail about workout routines, which states that full body workout have more efficiency than triple split; does that apply to ectomorphs? Sounds a bit the opposit of what we have to do…

Shane Duquette

Hey C.B.

We recommend three full body workouts per week, and I’d say that that’s probably the best (or at least equally as good as the best) for ectomorphs, mesomorphs and endomorphs. If you’re talking about skinny guys, i.e., guys who haven’t built up much muscle mass yet, then there’s even more research suggesting that it’s the best 🙂

Keep in mind what we said at the beginning of the email too: that it’s a relatively minor factor. There are many things that combine to form an effective workout routine: exercise selection, exercise variety, form, total sets/reps, how close to failure you go, etc. Training frequency per muscle group is just one factor, and likely not one of the more significant ones.

Wwhat sounds like the opposite of what we should be doing about full body workouts?


Hi Shane I’m 14 yrs old and I’m currently around 90 pounds but whatever j do I can’t seem to gain fat or muscle can h please help me out with that my arms are skinny and legs thighs everywhere so yeah anything will do


And can u give me a workout routine just for me that will help me gain muscles and become bigger. I’m tall and skinny so I would like to become kinda bulky you know so yeah workout routine at home or at the gym to build up my muscles and fat

Shane Duquette

Yeah man, we can not only give you a workout routine, but we can also help customize it to suit you in particular, and we can also help you figure out the nutrition side of things so that you can finally gain weight. Check out the Bony to Beastly Program 🙂

You’re just 14 though, which is fine, but make sure to get permission from your parents (and of course your doctor—as you would with any exercise routine).

Shane Duquette

Hey Abdikarim, if you’re struggling with gaining weight, then it’s a calorie issue. Us skinny guys often really struggle to get into a calorie surplus because our metabolisms are huge compared to our stomachs and appetites. Check this article out. It covers why that’s happening and what you can do about it 🙂

Joel Waters

Great article, again!! I have a question as it relates to giving the body a break. I’ve been squatting, deadlifting, pressing, and bench pressing HEAVY for about 6 months. I’m 38 years old, 5’10” and am up to about 170 lbs. I’ve been eating a lot of food to gain weight and it’s been working (although I’ve definitely gained some fat in the process). I’m starting to feel pretty “beat down” and my motivation is diminishing. I’m considering a program of pushups, dips, inverted rows, pullups, one legged squats, and sprints (all bodyweight excercises) for a 2-3 month period. My concern is that I will lose the strength I’ve worked so hard to gain. Everyone says it’s nearly impossible maintain, let alone gain muscle from a routine like this. What are your thoughts? Thanks, again, for all of your insight on this website. Joel

Shane Duquette

Props on getting up to 170 pounds, Joel. That’s sweet 🙂

If you switch to bodyweight workouts I think you’re right—you’ll probably lose a fair bit of muscle and strength. A better solution would be to switch to lower the intensity of your weightlifting, maybe increase your rep ranges a little bit, and perhaps lower the volume.

So if you’ve been doing 6 sets of 3 rep squats and going to failure, you might want to switch to doing 3 sets of 8 rep squats, and leaving 2 reps in the tank (stopping two reps short of failure). If you do that to your entire program, you should be able to give your body the break it needs while maintaining all of your gains 🙂

(If you want to learn a little more about this, check out this article. What you’ve want to do is switch from powerlifting style training to either bodybuilding style training, or a mixture of both.)

Another thing you might enjoy is doing a professionally programmed program! If you do a program where the volume is designed to be right in that sweet spot where you’re stimulating your muscles well enough to grow but also able to properly recover, you might find that weightlifting starts suiting you a whole lot better 🙂

Joel Waters

Thanks – That makes perfect sense, Shane.


Hey guys,

Is there an option or possibility to get access to the program even without paying for it completely. I’m really keen on getting on this although due to budget restraints I can’t fully purchase the B2B as a whole but would really like to jump on board and make improvements to my body.


Shane Duquette

I’ll shoot you an email with a payment plan option 🙂


I’ve loved your infographic. If I give you the translation in brazilian portuguese of these texts, would you edit a new version of it? It would be very interesting to share here in Brazil.

Shane Duquette

Glad you like it, Mattaeus!

Make the infographic in Portuguese? I don’t normally do this kind of thing, since it can take quite a long time, but in this case it sounds like you’d be doing a lot of the work for me. Your sharing it would be great too, especially if there’s a shortage of this kind of information in Portuguese. Why don’t you shoot me the text via email (us at and I’ll see what I can do 🙂


Hi. Do you remember me?
I’ve offer you to translate your infographic “The Muscle-Building Exercises” here in Brazil.
I’ve completed the translation.
Could you send me the PSD (photoshop file or similar) for edit myself with the new texts?

Shane Duquette

Hey Matthaeus, that’s awesome!! 😀

If you send me the text at, I can pop it into the psd and then send it to you 🙂


Hi guys, thanks for these articles. Super helpful and just about the best sourced, well written and snazzily presented I’ve ever come across. So, I’ve got a specific question about deadlifts. They used to be a key part of my routine and their effect was incredible, especially on my butt, which was none existent before. However, I’ve got a chronic lower back problem–specifically a slipped disc that when herniates, presses on the sciatic nerve. Sometimes these flare ups are excruciating and I’m barely able to move, let alone workout. I know my form is good having been observed and corrected by trainers in the gym but I also know that deadlifting can aggravate this problem. My question is: is there an alternative to deadlifting that places less strain on/requires less motion of the lower back? I know that nothing else will match this beast of an exercise and perhaps there simply isn’t. I’ve used dumbbells instead of the bar before, but they are too light and awkward for my lifts now. Many thanks

Shane Duquette

Thanks for the kind words, Sam. Really glad you dig ’em 🙂

Not everyone can do every lift, so it’s possible that the deadlift is just not a good fit for you. If it’s causing an old injury to flare up, you might be better of doing an entirely different lift. You also don’t need to take a powerlifting approach to it, where you just try to build that number up ever higher. It’s not like a guy who wants to be fit and strong needs a 500 pound deadlift or anything.

So there are very definitely tons of ways to build up a beastly body without ever going near a deadlift.

However, if you’re deadlifting properly you shouldn’t really have any motion in your lower back. You’d want to maintain a neutral spine throughout, as you can see in our illustration here. If your lower back is bending at the bottom of the lift then you’ve gone past the range of motion you should be using. I would raise the bar up, doing rack pulls or raised deadlifts (with the bar raised, not your feet).

If you want a deadlift variant that puts less stress on your lower back (and more on your quads) then the sumo deadlift would be a good alternative. You don’t need to bend over as far, so your back stays fairly upright throughout. A light version that most people respond well to is the dumbbell sumo deadlift, where you stand a dumbbell up on the floor and deadlift using that. You can see it presented at the end of our deadlift video here.

Does that help / make sense?



Thanks for all the useful insight it has helped me progress throughout the past year! Contemplating on doing either a split upper body/lower body workout or a 5-day routine where I hit legs, arms, chest, back and shoulders. What would you suggest for me who is an intermediate lifter and want to put on some size, but also does a decent amount of cardio?

Another thing, I’ve been trying to get my arms/forearms bigger, but it’s very challenging. Any advice on how I could do that?

Very interested in your program as well, but may wait until I can afford it due to being a broke college kid. 😛


Shane Duquette

Hey Cole,

We dig doing 3 full body workouts per week, albeit with a slightly different emphasis each workout. However, how many times we go to the gym isn’t that important. What’s important is that it allows us to hit each muscle group with a good frequency (3x per week) and with a high enough volume to stimulate good growth.

For other lifting schedules the same is true. If you have four days available for training, an upper / lower split is great. It would allow you to hit each muscle group with a good frequency (2x per week) and with a high enough volume to stimulate good growth. (Both 2x and 3x per muscle group per week are great.)

With your 5-day approach, for example, you’d hit your rear delts on both shoulder and back day, and your front delts on both shoulder and chest day… but many muscles would just get hit once per week. Volume would be good, since you have a whole workout to devote to a muscle group, but frequency would suck.

I think you’d probably see better results by focusing more on both frequency and volume (full body or upper/lower), rather than hammering individual muscle groups with a split. These are relatively minor differences though. It wouldn’t be wrong to just pick the routine that you’re most excited by.

How do you grow your arms and forearms? Do more work with them! More difficult sets per week. That means more sets per workout, or more workouts per week. Instead of 6 sets per workout for your arms twice per week (12 sets total), perhaps 6 sets per workout thrice per week (18 sets total). Or with your upper/lower split, perhaps that means going from 6 per workout twice per week (12 total) to 9 per workout twice per week (18 total).

Does that make sense / help?

And good luck! College is a great time for this 🙂


Yes absolutely makes a lot of sense! I think I am going to do the 3 full body per week to start and see how it works. Do you have any suggestions on specific exercises I should definitely be sure to include or advice on sets/reps per exercise?

I appreciate you helping me out and getting back to me so quickly!


Shane Duquette

Beginning the workout with low reps big compound lifts works well. So starting the workout with 4-8 rep squats or deadlifts kind of thing.

The assistance and isolation lifts work better later on in the workout with lighter weights. More like 8-12 reps.

As for lifts to definitely include… I’d recommend the ones in the diagram! When it comes to lifting variety, the more the merrier so long as you start with easy enough variations and can actually get the practice in to get good at them.

Include some lifts that you really love, too. If you really dig fat grip reverse bicep curls or whatever… toss those in so you have something to look forward to at the end of the workout 🙂


Awesome. Yeah I was looking at the diagram and liked the different variety of lifts per muscle. How many exercises per workout do you think would be sufficient? Maybe like 8-10 or is that too many?

Shane Duquette

I like doing 5-7 different exercises per workout. 8-10 isn’t necessarily too many if you aren’t doing that many sets… but it’s a lot!


Thanks for the article 🙂 Goblet squat is my beloved exercise. And the infographic is great ! Something I can print out and put on my pin board as constant reminder 🙂


Hey Shane, is there any chance I could send you my current workout plan for a quick check over. for the last two weeks I’ve been eating 3000 calories a day (all whole foods and some home made shakes post workout) and I’ve been doing 3 full body workouts a week – I was considering switching to a 3 day push/pull plan with muscle grouping but I’m not sure of the set/rep ratios… Also, please can you send me details of the payment plan?

Shane Duquette

Hey Mike,

Evaluating workout plans is super difficult and time consuming, since there are so many factors that all combine together to make a good one. Same thing with nutrition. We literally wrote an entire book on that stuff! However I could take a quick glance and maybe give you some feedback to get started with 🙂

I’ll shoot you the info on the payment plan and you can respond there 🙂


I’m 18years old ive been going to the gym now for about a year. Im 5’6 and i weigh around 130pounds.

My routine is
Monday – Chest/tri
consists of bench press 145lb is my max
incline bench press
and for triceps tricep pulldown, dips/weighted dips

tuesday – back/biceps

lat pulldown, pullups and dumbell row

dumbbell curls 35 is my max and 5 sets of 21s 15lbs on each side of barbell


thurs repeat chest/tri
friday repeat back/biceps
sat/sun rest

I definitely see results in myself, but i dont think its very effective.
i was wondering what i should do in order to get bigger faster.
i was thinking about trying the 5×5 program or the BUFF dude program.
please help any advice will help.

Shane Duquette

Hey Brian,

Your routine looks pretty decent. When Jared and I first got serious about building muscle we tried a triple split bodybuilding style routine as well and got pretty good results. You can see a tutorial video of that here. Since then we’ve learned a lot, and since then some new research has come out.

For example, it seems like full body workouts can build muscle a little better than triple splits.

What you’re already doing though is probably more effective than a 5×5. The simplicity of them is pretty cool. You don’t need to learn many lifts, the rep ranges are always the same, etc. However as far as results go they aren’t the best. Those programs aren’t even ideal for gaining strength.

I think this article will help a lot 🙂


I am 14 and 131 and 5″9 and sort of rip but i need to get bigger muscles, can you please give me a good workout for my arms and legs weekly

Shane Duquette

Hey Mark, have you seen the Bony to Beastly program? It has 5 months of workout programming with coaching throughout the process (along with everything you need to know about nutrition, videos teaching the lifts, recipes, and more). I think that’d serve you well 🙂

If you wanted something free, make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter. We’re going to be trying to come out with a bunch of new free content for our subscribers this year 🙂

I hope that helps!

Shane Duquette

Oh! This stuff can be really great for younger teenagers, but make sure to get the blessing of your parents and doctor first!


I’ve loved your infographic.Great. Really helpful information. Yeah. Goblet squat is my beloved exercise. I will bookmark this page. 😀

Shane Duquette

Really glad you loved it, William! Thank you for the kind words.

Rohan Arora

Great Articles.
A hard-gainer should focus more on compound movements like deadlifts, squats and bench press as they involve more than one muscle at a time and help in releasing more growth hormone in the body.

Rafael Rondon

Yeah, that’s what everything I’ve learned has said and I’ve gotten great results so far. It sounds like this guy is angling to get people to buy his program, when all a beginner needs to do is the common compound movements for the first 6 months. Bench press, overhead press, chinups, squats are all you really need to get going.

Shane Duquette

Nope, this blog is free, and it’s totally independent from the program. Besides, how is giving guys all the best lifts for different muscle groups angling them to buy the program? We’re not exactly saying “if you want all the best lifts for building muscle… buy the program!”

I disagree with your recommendations, unless you’re talking about a very athletic beginner with someone to coach them in person. Bench presses, overhead presses, chin-ups and squats are all lifts that are technically very difficult. A beginner being able to do a proper back squat on his first day in a safe or effective way is very unrealistic. If you start with regressions a beginner will build muscle just as quickly (if not more quickly), far more safely, and with way less frustration. (You’d probably want to include rows and deadlifts in your basic compound movement list also.)

Even then, you’d be leaving a lot of gains on the table if you neglect isolation lifts. Studies looking into beginners have found greater gains if you also include isolation lifts. This becomes even more true the more advanced you get.

Research has also very clearly shown that you make more aesthetic and more functional gains if you include a greater variety of lifts, as it causes more balanced, even muscle growth. More balanced muscle growth improves performance and also looks a helluva lot better.

Doing just compound lifts also takes longer each workout and is harder to recover from.

Because anecdotes make for better stories, during my first couple years of lifting I focused on the basic compound movements. I dislocated my shoulder from attempting to do an overhead press with awful form, awful posture, and lanky, clumsy arms. I also didn’t gain any size in my arms, because I was pulling with just my back and pressing with just my chest. I hadn’t yet developed the skill to use all of the relevant muscles when doing the compound lifts, so I wasn’t getting balanced growth. This just furthered my imbalances.

What would the advantages be of doing just the bench press, overhead press, chins and squats?


Love this article. But how would you how heavy the dumbells or barbells should be to start with? Is it something to do with what weight you are now? Thanks.

Shane Duquette

Hey Tyrone,

That depends on what kind of program you’re following! With some more technical programs you’ll want to find out what your one rep max (1RM) is—the heaviest amount you can lift for one repetition. Then you can use percentages of that to figure out how much weight to use. So if your bench press 1RM is 100 pounds, your program might tell you to do 8 reps with 70% of your 1RM or whatnot. So you’d lift 70 pounds for 8 reps.

The most important thing though is that you lift with enough “intensity”, i.e., that you close enough to failure. So if your program is telling you to do 8 reps, I would just make sure that you can’t do more than another 1-2 reps after that. So you’d choose a weight that you can do 8-10 reps with, then stop a rep or two before you fail. Some trial and error will be involved, but so long as you’re lifting within a couple reps of what your program is telling you, it should be okay. So if you’re supposed to do 8 reps and you nearly fail after 6 (or you get out 10 reps before nearly failing) that’s okay.

Does that help?

Sean Larson

Hey Shane,
I love your article and I think it would help me audience a lot. I am going to link to this article in a massive post on gaining weight for ectomorphs (my audience is busy young professionals who want help with their dating lives). Is it cool if I also use the infographic on which exercises are the best? You can contact me at



Shane Duquette

Hey Sean,

So glad you like it! You can absolutely use the infographic so long as you link back to us 🙂



Hi Shane, excellent depth and analysis. But how is one to know if one is torso dominant or limb dominant? Not sure what it means, really.

Shane Duquette

As a beginner I would just pretend that you’re neither 😉

So you’d do your bench press for your chest, shoulders and triceps. Then you’d add in tricep extensions, flys and, shoulder raises.

It will become obvious as you become more experienced as a lifter. After a heavy bench day, your chest will be sore, telling you that you’re stimulating your chest quite a lot, for example. Or you’ll get a chest pump while doing higher rep bench press sets.


for me the chest doesn’t become sore, only the triceps do (no matter which pushing exercise I do).

Shane Duquette

What happens if you do higher rep pushing sets? Do you get a pump only in your arms? If so, I suspect you’re limb dominant.

When I do a push exercise my chest will get pumped in the moment, sore a couple days later. No pump or soreness in my triceps whatsoever. That’s what a lot of torso dominant guys will experience.


for me it is the opposite. don’t feel anything in chest but chest grows. feel it in arms but arms don’t grow, lol. very confusing.

one question out of curiosity. some ppl say pushing, any type of pushing, will always involve chest because u can’t push without using your chest. is this true?

Shane Duquette

Yeah, sounds confusing for sure, and I don’t really have enough information to make a more educated guess. This stuff happens, though. For example, could train your chest more frequently and with more volume than your arms but never to the point where you get a pump or damage it enough to produce noticeable DOMS.

Can you push without much chest involvement? Sure! Overhead pushing won’t work your chest that intensely. Neither will pushing with a very narrow grip. Your chest will work a little, but not nearly as much as with some other pushing movements.


what do u think of dumbbell floor press for those who have shoulder issues? is it good for chest or only for triceps?

Shane Duquette

I think that’s a great choice, and it should work your chest, triceps and shoulders.


what do u think of unilateral press (one arm at a time) not only for db floor press but also for military press, lateral raise, curls, etc.? Some say unilateral sucks, others say unilateral will help u focus more.

what do u think?

Shane Duquette

They’re usually better at working the core at the cost being a little bit less good at working the other muscles. So with a one-armed floor press, your core will need to do a lot of anti-rotation work, which will probably limit the work your chest can do. So they can be very good, it just depends on your goals 🙂


Hello Shane. How r u doin?
May I ask you for advice?

I can’t squad or deadlift since I developed a knee problem (can’t bend it over 35°, doctor recommendations, but other than that it’s fine). Considering those are the best compond exercices, is it still worth to train only 3 times per week? Can you suggest anything instead?

I thank you in advance.

Shane Duquette

Hey Erick, I’m doing really well! Thank you 🙂

You can still train three times per week, yeah.

As for not being able to bend our knees more than 35 degrees, you could probably still do a lot of deadlift and squat variations, just with a smaller range of motion. I’d see a physiotherapist about that one, though, and see what they recommend. Ideally, you could rehab it and get full functionality back.


Thanks for your answer.

I developed a problem in the cartilage, which doesn’t really heal. I did a MRI and all. All that can be done is not hurting it any further and i’ll have no problems in the future. So I got a loot on my mind when doing those excercices and I get really unsettled and unconfortable.

When I train 4 times a week it seens like I’m gonna die. I guess our body is as fragile as it seens, hahaha.

Anyways, best of luck.

Shane Duquette

If those are the strict rules that should help you avoid future injury, then variations like box squats and dumbbell sumo deadlifts should work quite well for your lower body health and development. Both can be done in a way where your knees never need to bend more than 35 degrees 🙂

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