The Only 4 Exercises You Need to Get Bigger at the Gym

exercise illustration
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

So you’ve decided it’s time to start building muscle -- you’re tired of feeling like they twist those bottle caps on a bottle of beer just a little tight, and you’re going to do something about it.

If you’ve chosen to jump into the world of building muscle, you’re probably wondering where to start. Building muscle is a simple task. Simple, but not necessarily easy. It takes consistency, time, and a certain level of dedication. Luckily, with the right exercises this process can be sped up a bit. Here are the four exercises you need to be doing to get bigger.

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

One of the most basic tenets of building muscle is doing exercises that involve a large number of muscles working together at once. In that sense, the deadlift is the king of all exercises when it comes to building muscle and strength.

It involves almost every single muscle in your legs, back, shoulders, and even works the muscles in your chest and abs, which are forced to act as stabilizers to a certain degree.

Where most people go wrong is they start trying to deadlift extremely heavy far too quickly. So instead of making that mistake, start light with something easy like a kettlebell or dumbbell, and slowly work your way up to using barbells.

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

While the deadlift has many merits, when it comes to building muscle in the legs alone the squat reigns supreme. A full range of motion squat activates every single muscle in your legs, and uses your core and upper back to work as stabilizers.

Using all of these muscles together works wonders for your muscle-building potential, and it’s the big reason you’ll see this exercise recommended to so many people when they first start out in the gym.

Much like the deadlift, don’t focus on going too heavy too quickly, and be sure you’re squatting deep enough from the start to ensure that you’re getting as much as possible out of the exercise.

Overhead Press
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

While most people think of the bench press as the best upper-body exercise, I’d argue that the overhead press is actually far superior.

Aside from building more functional strength -- strength that carries over into real life -- the overhead press does a great job of building muscle in your shoulders, arms, upper back, and even works your abs.

At times this one can be a bit stressful on your lower back, so it may help to play with how you’re standing, or even do the movement while seated. Figure out what’s the most comfortable for you, and go from there.

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

One of the only matches to the overhead press when it comes to building muscle in the upper body is the pull-up. Where the overhead press works the front portion of the shoulders and the triceps, the pull-up works the rear part of the shoulder and the biceps, as well as the upper back.

Building muscle in the shoulders and upper back is one of the best things you can do to drastically change your appearance, as well as build strength that carries over to every other aspect of your life.

If you can’t manage to do pull-ups, then doing an inverted row with something like a TRX suspension trainer is a great alternative option worth doing.

These four exercises are by far and away some of the most effective when it comes to building muscle. But remember, what’s going to pay off more than just doing these exercises by themselves is consistency. Aim to hit the gym three to four times a week, and be sure you’re eating enough food (and the right kind of food) to help build muscle.

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Tanner Baze is a trainer and writer who can out-squat you. Follow him @dtbaze.