Lifts for Strength Gains: While it may be tempting try out the fancy-looking, new-fangled exercises featured in a trendy fitness magazine, if you’re looking to make big strength gains we suggest you stick to the basics. Here is a list of the five best lifts for strength gains.
Best Lifts for Big Strength Gains at the Gym
The deadlift sits at the top of the list for a good reason. A laughably simple move – bend over and pick up a barbell – the deadlift hits multiple major muscle groups in the legs, back, chest, and arms.
How to deadlift
- Place a barbell on the ground & stand with your toes nearly or directly under the barbell
- Feet hip-distance apart, bend at the knees (no curve in the back) & reach down to grip the barbell
- Your arms & hands should be placed close to the outside of each leg
- Stand up using legs, keeping the barbell close to your shins & thighs as it travels up
- DO NOT round your back at any point. When bending down & standing up, hinge the torso at the hips, maintaining a straight line between your tailbone & neck
The squat – whether it be a back squat, front, squat, air squat, etc. – is a strength training staple. While it mainly hits the glutes & legs, squats also train strength in the abdominals & back, due to the stabilization strength needed to stay upright during this exercise.
How to back squat:
- Place a barbell over your shoulders, with an even grip
- Bend the knees and squat until your hip crease is at or below parallel
- Keep your knees behind your toes, your weight on your heels, and your back straight while you squat
- Like the deadlift, hinge the torso forward & back from the hips, but do not let your back round
3. Military Press:
The military press is another big, compound lift that targets the upper body. Done sitting or standing, a military press is simple pressing a weight completely overhead.
How to Military Press:
- Can be done either sitting or standing
- Begin with a barbell racked across the shoulders in the back, or in the front (by your collar bones)
- Press the weight up & overhead, ending with your arms completely straight in “lockout”
- Lower the weight back down in a controlled manner to the starting position.
4. Bench Press:
The bench press is one of the most popular lifts among dudes (“how much can you bench, bro?”), and with good reason! The bench press hits the entire upper body, and will directly translate into improvements in push ups, pull ups, and other upper-body movements.
How to Bench Press:
- Position yourself on a bench press station. Flat, incline, and decline bench presses are all ok.
- Grip the bar with hands at shoulder-width or slightly wider. Not too wide, or else you won’t get a full range of motion.
- Begin with arms fully extended upwards, weight positioned directly over your chest
- Lower the weight down towards your chest, keeping your elbows tucked in. Do not let the elbows flare out to the sides
- Push the weight back up to starting position, and repeat
The clean is by far the most complicated lift on this list. If you’ve never done a clean before, wait until you are with an experienced lifter before trying this for the first time. The above diagram shows a full squat clean. There are other variations, such as a hang clean, or a power clean, but the squat clean involves the biggest ranges of motion & uses the most muscle groups.
How to clean:
- Begin with the barbell on the ground, and set yourself up like you’re going to do a deadlift
- Grip the barbell & stand up, exactly like a deadlift
- When you’ve come upright, use a hip thrust & slight hop (heels lift off the ground for a moment) to begin bringing the barbell upwards towards the shoulders
- Flip your grip from overhand to underhand, letting the elbows point forward, racking the barbell at your shoulders
- While flipping from overhand to underhand, the knees dip so you’re set to “catch” the weight
- Catch the weight & descend down into a front squat, then rise up to standing