Is a muscular, well-toned look something you’ve been aspiring to? When muscle growth and toning are on your fitness agenda, what you need is a good workout routine that can help you build muscle consistently and make you stronger too. The secret to this is … strength training!
Before you start:
- Invest in the right equipment. For beginners, a set of dumbbells, a stability ball, and resistance bands are sufficient.
- Consult a professional to help you set up your routine and get your technique right.1
Resistance or strength training aims at working your muscles using your own body weight or equipment like dumbbells or kettlebells. While your body needs cardio to boost your heart rate, build stamina, and burn calories, a workout routine with strength training at its heart helps muscle growth, boosts bone density, and gives you a toned and sculpted appearance.2 This becomes all the more important as you cross 30. Everyone loses about half a pound of muscle a year at this age and after – unless you do something about it.3 Men should also work at building their levels of testosterone, a hormone that has a key role to play in building muscle and helping grow and repair muscle proteins. Regular exercise and a healthy diet that boosts levels of the hormone and supports muscle building are the best way to do this.4
We’ve rounded up some of the best resistance or strength training exercises, with and without weights, to help you target all the major muscle groups in the body. These can make you stronger and get the sculpted physique you’ve always aspired to. Variations are available on a lot of these, which you can explore as you master these movements. All set?
1. Two-Handed Kettlebell Swing
If you can invest in kettlebells, this is a good exercise to boost testosterone and help build muscle.5 It works the hamstrings, the forearm or flexor muscles, triceps, gluteus maximus or buttocks, as well as the adductor magnus, the large triangular muscle on the side of your thigh. It also improves hip mobility, power, and strength.6 7
- Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart and the kettlebell in front of you on the floor, centered between your feet.
- Reach for the kettlebell, bending from your waist until your torso is parallel to the floor. Grip the kettlebell tightly with both hands.
- Lift it and swing it between your legs – up and back.
- Work on active flexing – your hips will act as a hinge and your knee flexion must be kept restricted when you bring the kettlebell downward between your knees. Keep the spine neutral by ensuring the back is straight and neck aligned.
- Use your hip flexion to push the kettlebell forward to mid-chest level.
- Bring it back down in the reverse direction down and back through your legs. Your core must stay engaged to allow the movement to be controlled. Move into the next movement until the momentum is used up.
- End the movement by bringing the kettlebell back down in front of your feet and gently lay it down.
2. Bodyweight Chin-Ups
Bodyweight chin-ups or simple chin-ups just require access to a stable chin-up bar or any bar that can support your weight. They help build muscle mass on your upper back, biceps, and lats, the large flat muscle connecting the spine, side of the torso, and upper arm.8
- Stand under the bar keeping your arm stretched up, palms faced away from you.
- Jump up to grab the handles, gripping firmly with your thumb around the handle.
- You can cross your legs to bring stability to your body as you brace your abdomen. Align your head with the spine and keep your wrists straight and forearms neutral. Move your shoulders down and back.
- Bend your elbows as you pull yourself up slowly. Your elbows should point down to the ground as you pull. Try and keep your body perpendicular to the ground and avoid swinging it as you pull up.
- Carry on until your chin is at bar level or hand level. Hold.
- Now slowly return to the original position, letting your elbows straighten out.
- Your abdomen must stay engaged throughout and your shoulder blades must be pulled back.
3. Barbell Bench Press
If you are a little concerned about whether you can manage a barbell, don’t have access to the equipment, or are simply looking to change things up sometimes, dumbbells are a good alternative to a barbell for your bench press.9 This will work your arms, chest, and shoulders like the barbell.10
The barbell bench press or chest press tones up your arms, shoulders, and chest and helps add muscle to the upper body for that classic muscular look.11
- Lie on your back on a flat bench, your hands just a little more than shoulder-width apart, holding the barbell firmly.
- Push your feet – which should remain flat – into the ground. Press your hips into the bench as you lift the bar up off its rack.
- Bring the bar slowly down to your chest, letting your elbows bend a little out to each side.
- Continue lowering it until your elbows are a little below the bench. Push your feet into the floor. This should enable you to press the weight of the barbell up and return it to its starting position.
4. Standing Lunge With Dumbbells (Dumbbell Lunge)
Work those buttocks and quadriceps with standing lunges. The front of your thighs and buttocks will really feel it12Keep at it and you’ll see the fat on your lower body turn into toned-up muscles!
- Grab a dumbbell firmly in each hand, put your arms straight by your side, and keep your palms facing each other.
- Ensure your back is straight as you take a step forward with your right leg.
- As soon as your right foot touches the ground, start to lower your left knee down to the ground.
- Push into the ground with your right foot to stand up and bring both your feet back to the original position. Repeat on the other side.
Another great lower body muscle building move is the squat. The squat makes you engage your muscles in the thighs and buttocks and works those hips.13 Try and deepen the squat for maximum effect. And remember, it will even engage your core so your back and abs get used too. Here’s how to do squats the right way:14
- Stand with feet a little more than hip-distance apart, your toes gently turned out, arms by your sides, palms of the hands facing in. Pull your shoulders back. Engage your core/abdominal muscles and stabilize your spine. Your chest should be out and up. Shift your weight into your heels.
- Inhale as you lower your hips gently, shifting them back and then down so your hips and knees have a hinge-like movement. Your knees may start to move forward, but try and keep this movement to the minimum and use your core muscles as you do so. Your back must stay flat.
- Keep going down until your thighs are nearly or fully parallel to the ground. Avoid letting your feet move. Your knees must remain lined up over the second toe of each foot.
- Exhale as you extend your knees and hips and push toward the floor through your heels and rise up. Keep extending till you are upright again.
Use your chest muscles (pectorals) and strengthen the muscles in your arms and shoulders with push-ups. Later on, you can also try and do elevated/suspended push-ups with your hands off the ground at a height (using suspension straps). 15
- Go down on all fours with your feet together, toes pointing to your shins (flexed), hands shoulder-width apart and palms flat on the mat and aligned just below your shoulders. Your knees and hips must not bend. Your torso must be stiff – engage your core/abdominal muscles to do this. Keep your head aligned with the spine.
- Slowly bring your body down to the floor, ensuring your head stays aligned to your spine and your core is engaged. Your lower back mustn’t sag and your hips should not move upward. Your elbows can flare out.
- Keep lowering your body until you feel either your chin or your chest touching the mat.
- Now press your body up through your arms as you retain the strength of your torso and alignment of head and spine. Again, ensure your hips don’t hike up and that your lower back does not sag. Keep pressing up until your arms are totally extended at the elbows.
7. Barbell Bent-Over Row
The standing bent-over row brings about high levels of muscle activation in the muscles in the lower as well as upper back. If you have back troubles, this could be substituted with an inverted row as it places less lumbar spine load – that is, it taxes your lower spine less.16
- Place the loaded barbell in front of you, grip it firmly with both hands, keeping them slightly more than shoulder-width apart on the bar.
- Lift the barbell off the ground and flex your trunk over your hips.
- Ensure your spine stays neutral even as your legs are bent at the knees and your hands at the elbows as you bring the bar up to the lower part of your chest. Pause.
- Lower it in a controlled manner.
- Repeat this rowing motion, pausing as it reaches the lower part of your chest each time.
8. Bicycle Maneuver
If you’re looking for great looking abs, the bicycle maneuver may be your best bet. It works your core since you need to keep the abdominal region stable, along with the obliques, the large outermost muscles on the sides of your abdominal area.17
+ Just lie down flat on the floor ensuring your lower back is pressed into the ground.
+ Place your hands on either side of your head as you bring your knees up to a 45-degree angle.
+ Now move them as if you were riding a bicycle, pedaling as you move them.
+ Raise your shoulders up a bit as you bring your right elbow to touch your left knee and then your left elbow to your right knee. Continue the pedaling movement, alternating legs and ensuring breathing remains relaxed.
Deadlifts are a staple of the weightlifting and bodybuilding world. You can do deadlifts to work the muscles of your legs, back, hip, and torso.18
- Place a loaded barbell on the ground and stand behind it so your feet are beneath the bar or just behind it.
- Bend down into a squat position and grip the barbell with both hands, about shoulder-width apart.
- Raise the bar up, extending your knees and hips fully until you are standing upright holding the barbell. It will line up wherever your fully extended arms end, around the hip level.
- Keep your shoulders pulled back, not bent or rounded or leaning forward.
- Bring the bar down by going back into a squat. Repeat.
A variation of this is the Romanian deadlift which works your hamstrings more. In this version, you keep your legs straight as you lift the barbell up. Then bend/hinge forward from the hips as you lower it near the top of your feet, keeping legs straight.
10. Quadruped Hip Extensions
A toned butt is as important as muscular arms and shoulders and strong legs and abs. And research suggests that quadruped hip extensions may be a good way to get them. Work your gluteus maximus and, more importantly, also the gluteus medius, which is on the side of your buttocks and is hard to work even with squats.19
- Get down on all fours, supporting your weight on your hands and knees
- Engage your abdominal muscles by contracting them. Stabilize your spine as well as torso.
- Now raise one leg up, so that the knee is bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Keep raising it until the bottom of your foot points at the ceiling. The leg itself should be lined up with your body so your thigh is parallel to the floor. Lower and repeat on the other side.
Things To Keep In Mind While You Work Out Your Muscles
When you’re starting with your strength training, keep the following things in mind to make the most of your workout, boost testosterone, and build that muscle:
- Train for 45 minutes or less but focus specifically only on strength without cardio to boost testosterone.20
- Work each muscle group at least twice a week. Just be sure you aren’t working the same group back to back.21
- Intersperse the exercises with short rest periods of a minute or two depending on your needs.22
- When you first begin your workout, remember to focus on the “how” more than the “how much” or “how many.” You need to get your technique right before you worry about how much weight you are lifting or how many reps or sets you are doing. Not getting your form right may not just make the movement less effective at building muscle, it could even put you at risk of injury.23
- Build your routine over time.24 Start with 8–12 repetitions per set. As the American Council on Exercise points out, the idea is to work your muscles to a point of fatigue.25 Most people should be able to do about 2–3 sets of each exercise.
- As you grow older, you need to avoid going “to complete failure,” where you are repeating the exercise to a point where your muscles can no longer take the load. This may result in your holding your breath and could also cause joint compression. Instead, the pace, reps, and weights should be ones that you can comfortably manage.
- If you feel dizzy or nauseous that is a sign of pushing too hard, so stop your workout. Reduce the weight or reps to lower intensity of the workout.26
- As you train, you may reach a fitness plateau where you don’t see much change or gains from a routine which has been effective until now. At this point, experiment with other exercises, change up the number of reps, alter the weight or resistance you are using.27
- Regardless of what you do in your workout, always warm up before you begin and cool down and stretch when you end. Also remember to give your body recovery time. And that includes a full night’s sleep and rest time after the workout.
Remember, if you have any underlying medical or health problem, a bad back or a hurt knee, or a condition like diabetes, always loop your doctor in before starting a workout. Once you’ve made sure it’s safe for you to do these exercises, you are good to go!
|↑1, ↑2, ↑26||The Basics of Starting and Progressing a Strength-Training Program. American College of Sports Medicine.|
|↑3||Strength Training 101. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑4, ↑5, ↑9||10 Testosterone-Boosting Workouts. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑6||Do it Better: ACE’s Technique Series Continues With the Two-handed Kettlebell Swing. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑7||Lake, Jason P., and Mike A. Lauder. “Mechanical demands of kettlebell swing exercise.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 26, no. 12 (2012): 3209-3216.|
|↑8||How to Build Muscle: 5 Step Guide to Lean Gains. Muscle And Strength.|
|↑10||Chest Press. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑11||Chest Press. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑12, ↑24||A Strength Training Program for Your Home. American College of Sports Medicine.|
|↑13, ↑27||A Strength Training Program for Your Home. American College of Sports Medicine.|
|↑14||Bodyweight Squat. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑15||ACE-Sponsored Research: Top 3 Most Effective Chest Exercises. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑16||Fenwick, Chad MJ, Stephen HM Brown, and Stuart M. McGill. “Comparison of different rowing exercises: trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 23, no. 5 (2009): 1408-1417.|
|↑17||New Study Puts the Crunch on Ineffective Ab Exercises. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑18||Piper, Timothy J., and Michael A. Waller. “Variations of the Deadlift.” Strength & Conditioning Journal 23, no. 3 (2001): 66.|
|↑19||Glutes to the Max. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑20, ↑22||10 Testosterone-Boosting Workouts. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑21, ↑25||Strength Training 101. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑23||The Basics of Starting and Progressing a Strength-Training Program. American College of Sports Medicine.|