If you ask what exercises are the best for building muscle mass, you’ll usually get an answer like bench press, squats, deadlift, and so on. However, there are two big problems with these exercises as effective as they may be.
First of all, you need equipment to do them and unless you have a gym at home, that’s just not an option for home training. You have to do away with dumbbells, kettlebells, and your own body weight, and still be able to build muscle effectively.
Secondly, heavy barbell exercises require great form and they limit the range of movement, there’s a lot of pressure on your joints, and deviations from the good form can result in trauma. Worse yet, if you have weaknesses in your joints, to begin with.
So let’s pick some exercises that will be just as effective while providing safety and you can do them at home with simple weights. Before we begin, you have to understand that the best exercises to grow muscle are compound exercises that work in as many muscle groups as possible.
It’s also important to note that just doing these same exercises all the time will not be effective. You need a range of exercises in your workouts that work different muscles in different movements. These exercises target the most and the biggest muscles in your body but gains happen only when you add them to your workout with other exercises only focusing on them more.
Dumbbell/Kettlebell Clean and Press
Clean and press, done by picking up a weight off the ground and pressing it over your head, is usually performed with a barbell. But barbell restricts elbow and shoulder joint movement, which puts a lot of pressure on them. Picking up a kettlebell or a pair of heavy dumbbells is a better option in that it allows a full range of motion. This exercise will work with your traps and shoulders as well as your upper legs and lower back.
Dumbbell Walking Lunges
While the barbell squats are said to be the best exercise for big legs, it has to be performed very well in order to keep injuries away. Few guys can do it really well and I would not even suggest it for beginners. A better option for legs is dumbbell walking lunges. Pick up heavy dumbbells and do walking lunges. The exercise works not only for your legs, especially quads, but your grip too.
Deadlift while great is even more dangerous than the squat because it’s that much harder to get the form right, it’s one of the top causes of lower back injury. Switching to dumbbells or a kettlebell can help you a great deal. First of all, it’s easier to get the form right by working your hip thrust, and secondly, you start with lower weights. If you think it’s too easy, try one-legged deadlifts.
Romanian dumbbell deadlift is also a great variation to stretch your hamstrings. It’s performed by keeping your knees straight and moving hips back only, with dumbbells held in a neutral grip (not in front like a barbell).
Kettlebell Front Squat
You’ll want to do squats but instead of a barbell use a kettlebell or a dumbbell. Put it in front of your chest as you do the squat. It’s a lot easier to get the form right this way and you get no pressure on your shoulders. You can start lighter with a single kettlebell or a dumbbell, or heavier with two kettlebells. When squatting, always arch your back with your hips back, imagine as if you’d be sitting down in a chair.
The dumbbell press can actually be a better exercise than the bench press, especially if you have heavy dumbbells. The benefit is that dumbbells don’t restrict joint movement in your shoulders and elbows, and allow a full range of motion to stretch the chest muscles more.
One of the best dumbbell exercises can help you build bigger back muscles. For many guys, it’s difficult to really hit the back muscles and feel them working, and you can do this with dumbbell rows. Don’t use too heavy weight but focus on muscle contraction instead. Pause at the top, and go down slower. Apply the principle of eccentric muscle movement focus.
Hammer Curls with Pronated Extensions
Hammer curls are great for bigger arms and have an advantage over the isolation curls in that they work the biceps and forearms together. An even better variation is after a hammer curl pronating the arm for the eccentric movement (lower down). This works the forearms even more.
It’s one of the most overlooked exercises that trains your explosive power, core stability, and control. It also hits your glutes and trains you to prevent lower back injury. It’s definitely one of the best exercises to include in your workout.