What Are 10 Exercises For Men To Build Muscle? Approved By Exercise Scientist

The pursuit of more muscle mass and strength is the hope of many men getting into weight lifting. 

In a Feb 2024 podcast with Chris Williamson, Exercise Scientist Dr. Mike Israetel explains his top 10 favorite exercises for men to build muscle. 

As a certified personal trainer, I’ll help guide you these through ten effective exercises tailored specifically for men looking to pack on muscle mass. 

I’ll also provide alternatives for ultimate workout customization. 

Here’s what’s coming up. 

Who’s Dr. Mike Israetel? 
Dr Mike’s Top 10 Exercises 

Bottom Line 

Who’s Dr. Mike Israetel?

Dr Mike Israetel is the cofounder of Renaissance Periodization, a popular fitness website and Youtube channel. 

He’s arguably the funniest YouTuber in the fitness space, and has a no b.s. approach when it comes to the hard facts about exercise.  

He holds a PhD in Sport Physiology, and was formerly a professor of Exercise and Sport Science in the School of Public Health at Temple University in Philadelphia. 

Dr. Mike’s Top 10 Exercises
For Men To Build Muscle

exercises for men to build muscle

In a Feb 2024 podcast with Chris Williamson, Chris asks, “If you only had 10 exercises for the rest of your life to hold on to and build as much muscle mass as possible, what would they be?” 

Dr. Mike responds with his personal favorite exercises. He notes that this doesn’t mean they’re the best for everybody.

With that in mind, I’ll also provide a few alternatives to the exercises mentioned. That way you can see what works best for you and your fitness journey. 

Here’s Dr. Mike’s top 10 exercises for men to build muscle: 

1. High Bar Squat

High bar squats are a compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups at the same time. The amount of fatigue you get
from them is less than from other types of squats. 

Muscles Worked

  • Primary: quadriceps, adductors, glutes
  • Secondary: core, lower back, calves 

How To Do It 

  • Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, with the barbell resting on your traps (upper back) behind your neck. 
  • Engage your core, keep your chest up, and lower yourself into a squat by bending your knees and pushing your hips back. 
  • Squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground or slightly below, by keeping your knees over your toes.
  • Press through your heels to return to the starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternatives

  • Dumbbell Front Squat. Similar to the high bar squat but with dumbbells positioned in front of the shoulders. 
  • Low Bar Squat. Instead of the bar on your traps, it drops lower to your rear deltoids. This allows for a more upright squatting position. 

2. Standing Overhead Barbell Press

The standing overhead barbell press is a compound movement develop shoulder stability and improved upper body strength and aesthetics.

Muscles Worked

  • Primary: anterior delts, triceps
  • Secondary: lateral delts, traps, core, upper chest, upper back

How To Do It 

  • Begin standing with your feet hip-width apart, holding the barbell at shoulder height with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Brace your core and press the barbell overhead safely, fully extending your arms without locking out your elbows.
  • Lower the barbell back down to shoulder height with control. Go with a lighter weight at first to maintain correct form and prevent injury.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternatives

  • Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press. Performing the movement with dumbbells instead of a barbell to address muscle imbalances. 
  • Seated Military Press. A seated position reduces the involvement of the lower body, allowing for better isolation of the shoulder muscles compared to standing, but less core involvement.  

3. Barbell Skull Crusher

The barbell skull crusher is an excellent isolation exercise for targeting the triceps and improving elbow and shoulder stability. 

Muscles Worked

  • Primary: long head of tricep
  • Secondary: other tricep heads, shoulder stability 

How To Do It 

  • Lie flat on a bench with a barbell held straight above your chest, arms fully extended and shoulder-width apart, palms facing away from you.
  • Keeping your upper arms stationary, slowly lower the barbell towards your forehead by bending your elbows.
  • Pause briefly when the barbell is just above your forehead, then extend your arms to raise the barbell back to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternatives

  • Dumbbell Skull Crusher. Perform with dumbbells for greater freedom of movement and less strain on the wrists. 
  • Cable Skull Crusher. Use a cable machine with a rope or straight bar attachment for constant tension throughout the movement.  

4. Pull Ups (Overhand Grip)

Pull-ups are a classic compound exercise and arguably the king of back exercises. They are highly effective for building upper body strength and mass.

Muscles Worked

  • Primary: latissimus dorsi (lats), upper back 
  • Secondary: biceps, forearms

How To Do It 

  • Grip a pull up bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart, palms facing away from you.
  • Hang with your arms fully extended, engaging your core and keeping your shoulders pulled down and back.
  • Pull yourself up by driving your elbows down and pulling your chest towards the bar.
  • Briefly pause at the top of the movement, then lower yourself back down with control.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternatives

  • Chin Ups (Underhand Grip). Similar to pull-ups but with the palms facing towards you. Places more emphasis on the biceps.
  • Assisted Pull Ups. Use a pull up machine or a resistance band for help during pull ups. These are great for high reps.  

5. Bent Over Barbell Rows 

Bent barbell rows are an effective compound exercise that help improve posture, increase back strength, and enhance upper body muscle development.

Muscles Worked

  • Primary: upper back (rhomboids, traps), lats, biceps 
  • Secondary: forearms, rear deltoids

How To Do It 

  • Stand with your feet hip width apart, holding a barbell with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
  • Hinge at your hips to bend forward until your torso is nearly parallel to the ground, keeping your back flat and core engaged.
  • Pull the barbell towards your lower chest by bending your elbows and retracting your shoulder blades.
  • Pause at the top of the movement, then lower the barbell back down with control.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternatives

  • T-Bar Rows. Use a T-bar machine or landmine attachment for greater range of motion and a different way to stimulate the back muscles.
  • Single Arm Dumbbell Rows. This allows for unilateral training to help address muscle imbalances.  

6. Stiff-Legged Deadlift 

Stiff-legged deadlifts are a powerful exercise for targeting the posterior chain, especially the hamstrings and glutes.

Muscles Worked

  • Primary: hamstrings, glutes, lower back 
  • Secondary: core, forearms

How To Do It 

  • Stand with your feet hip width apart, holding a barbell in front of your thighs with an overhand grip, hands shoulder width apart.
  • Keep a slight bend in your knees and hinge at your hips to lower the barbell towards the ground, maintaining a flat back and keeping the barbell close to your body.
  • Lower the barbell until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, then engage your glutes and hamstrings to return to the starting position.
  • Keep the movement controlled and avoid rounding your back.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternatives

  • Romanian Deadlift (RDL). Similar to the stiff-legged deadlift but with a slight bend in the knees. Puts more emphasis on the hamstrings.
  • Good Mornings. A compound exercise performed by bending forward at the hips while keeping the back straight.  

7. Cambered Bar
Bench Press  

The cambered bar bench press is a variation of the traditional bench press that places less stress on the shoulders while still targeting the chest and triceps effectively. 

Muscles Worked

  • Primary: chest (pectoralis major), triceps 
  • Secondary: anterior deltoids 

How To Do It 

  • Lie flat on a bench with your back supported and feet planted firmly on the ground.
  • Grip the cambered barbell with a medium width grip, palms facing away from you.
  • Unrack the barbell and lower it towards your chest in a controlled manner, keeping your elbows tucked close to your body.
  • Press the barbell back up to the starting position, fully extending your arms without locking out your elbows.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternatives

  • Flat Barbell Bench Press. Perform the bench press on a flat bench targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps. 
  • Dumbbell Bench Press. Using dumbbells allows for greater range of motion and can help address muscle imbalances. 

8. Dips  

Dips are a bodyweight exercise that help increase upper body pushing strength and promote muscle hypertrophy. 

Muscles Worked

  • Primary: lower chest (pectoralis major), triceps 
  • Secondary: anterior deltoids, core 

How To Do It 

  • Stand between parallel bars and grip them with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
  • Lift yourself up so your arms are fully extended, with your feet off the ground and knees bent.
  • Lower yourself by bending your elbows until your upper arms are parallel to the ground or slightly below.
  • Push yourself back up to the starting position by straightening your arms.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternatives

  • Bench/Chair Dips. Perform dips using a bench or chair in case you don’t have access to equipment or need a more beginner approach. 
  • Assisted Dips. Use a dip machine or resistance bands to provide assistance and gradually build strength.

9. Super ROM
Lateral Raises  

Super range of motion lateral raises are Dr. Mike’s signature move for capped and round deltoids. The idea is to continue past the shoulders and have your palms touch at the top of the movement.

Muscles Worked

  • Primary: lateral deltoids 
  • Secondary: traps, core  

How To Do It 

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells by your sides with palms facing inward.
  • Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, lift the dumbbells out to the sides until they reach shoulder height.
  • Once at shoulder height, continue lifting the dumbbells upward and slightly forward, focusing on contracting the lateral deltoids. 
  • Have your hands touch at the top of the movement above your head. Lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position with control.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternatives

  • Cable Lateral Raises. Use a cable machine with a handle attachment for constant tension throughout the movement. 
  • Machine Lateral Raises. Use a lateral raise machine to isolate the lateral deltoids and reduce the use of other muscle groups.

10. Seated Incline
Dumbbell Curls  

Seated incline dumbbell curls isolate the biceps while minimizing momentum and maximizing the stretch. 

Muscles Worked

  • Primary: biceps 
  • Secondary: forearms   

How To Do It 

  • Sit on an incline bench set at a 45-degree angle, holding a pair of dumbbells by your sides with palms facing forward.
  • Keep your back against the bench and elbows close to your torso. Curl the dumbbells upward toward your shoulders, contracting your biceps.
  • Squeeze at the top of the movement, then lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position with control.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternatives

  • Preacher Curls. Perform curls on a preacher bench with the arms supported to get a nice stretch comparable to incline dumbbell curls.
  • Hammer Curls. Perform curls with dumbbells in a neutral grip, to enhance the peak of your biceps. 

Bottom Line

The exercises outlined in this guide from Dr. Mike Israetel are sure to help pack on the muscle mass.

These 10 exercises for men to build muscle require consistency and dedication. With commitment and the right training principles, you can transform your physique!

Remember that proper nutrition, adequate rest, and progressive overload are equally essential components of any successful muscle building regimen.

Got gym questions and need answers? Get started with my article, “Why People Go To The Gym.”

AUTHOR

Shalom is a content creator, musician, and a teacher at heart. As a certified personal trainer, his goal is to encourage others to lead healthier lives and to get buff in the process!

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