Best Exercises for Your Weightlifting Routine

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You decide it’s time to update your weightlifting routine, so you spend oodles of time pouring over magazines and online resources to find the “best” exercises. You find a few exercises that look new and cool and they promise to sculpt those areas you want. So you start your new workouts and love them – for a while. Until you realize your butt still looks the same and you’re not even breaking a sweat anymore.

The problem with using random exercises in your workouts is just that: they’re random. Those “interesting” and exciting new exercises may not be optimal for your goals. But most importantly, random exercises are not part of a weightlifting routine – that is, a plan that has direction and targets your specific goals.

Reforming your random-exercise-picking ways is easy: Stick to the basics I list below. If you use these exercises as the foundation of your weightlifting routine, I guarantee you’ll see better progress. Plus I’ve added tips about variations that can add a little zest and interest to your workouts.

Weightlifting Routine Basics

Once you pick the right exercises below, stick to your weightlifting routine for at least six weeks, progressing each session by adjusting other variables. If you keep changing these exercises every session you’ll be right back where you started – randomness.

For big muscles (glutes/hamstrings, quads, pectorals, back muscles as a group), choose two to four compound exercises as the foundation of each workout. Shoulders can be trained as a big muscle and a small muscle. You should include at least one compound shoulder movement and can supplement with isolation exercises if you’re looking for more definition.


Small muscles:

It includes (optionally) shoulders, triceps, biceps, calves, and any upper-body back muscles you want to hit individually, such as traps or rhomboids. Small muscles don’t need as much stimulation, so choose one to three per small muscle, depending on your goals.

Remember, there’s an inverse relationship between sets and reps: The fewer reps you do, the more sets you’ll do. The more reps you do, the fewer sets you’ll do. Do fewer reps/more sets of your first two “big” exercises. Do more reps/fewer sets for small muscles.


Exercises Proven to Give Results

These are not the only good exercises, mind you. But they’re the foundation of a good weightlifting routine.

Lower Body

So you want a firmer butt, shapely calves, and well-defined inner thighs. Use the following exercises in your weightlifting routine and your results will speak for themselves.

Deadlift. Sumo or conventional deadlift

Squat. Back squat, Bulgarian split squat, box squat, front squat,

Kettlebell swings. Alternating or two-arm

Romanian deadlift. Do these with a single-leg or

Weighted hyperextension

Barbell hip thrusts. Single-leg or two-legs


Back and Chest

Pulling and pushing: It’s easier when you break it down this way.

Pull-ups/chin-ups. Do band-assisted if needed or negatives.

Rows. Barbell bent-over row, one-arm row, cable row, chest-supported row, machine row

Pulldowns. Lat pulldowns with various grips, straight-arm pull-downs 

Pushups. Many different variations!

Barbell or dumbbell bench press. Flat or incline

Cable crossovers. One or two arms

Chest flys. Cable or dumbbell


Shoulders and Arms

You only need 1 to 3 exercises per small muscle group, but again, it depends on your goals. For shoulders, see my note about training big muscles above.

Overhead press. Military press, push press, Arnold press, uppercuts, seated, standing

Rear delt flys. Standing, seated, one arm, two arm

Shrugs. Barbell, dumbbell, cable

Tricep extensions. All variations

Bicep curls. All variations

Pick your exercises wisely, adjust training variables judiciously, and stick to the plan and you’ll start seeing results from your weightlifting routine in about six weeks. And then? Keep going and stick with it 🙂 🙂

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