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When it comes to building strength, there are two rules: lift heavy and use multijoint lifts with great technique. There are hundreds of exercises that can help you get bigger or stronger, but when you’re limited on time or equipment, there are four monster lifts that will make your whole body stronger: squats, deadlifts, bench press, and barbell rows.
Since your body is comprised of muscles that help you push and pull, you have to work them all to maximize strength. To do this effectively, choose the whole-body push exercise that is generally considered the king of all lifts: the squat. Couple that with the high demand of a whole-body “push-pull” like the deadlift and both your core and lower body muscle training is complete. For the upper body, the main two lifts to incorporate are the bench press and the barbell row.
Here are a few extra tips to help you get the most out of these four strength moves:
Shoot for 5-8 reps for 3-5 sets per exercise. And don’t cheat yourself—make sure that those weight loads help take your muscles to near failure on each set. When training for strength, a bit more rest is recommended. Aim for 2-3 minutes between sets and increase the weight if you are having an easy time getting to eight reps on each set. All big strength lifts should come early in your workout routine if you are using them in conjunction with other lifts for a specific muscle group. If you build a program around the following major movements, you can minimize the use of “finishing exercises” for the arms, calves and abdominals.
So if strength is your goal in the gym, try doing all four lifts in one workout twice a week, leaving plenty of room between workout days (3-4 days) for maximal strength. Try the following full-body strength workout on Monday and Thursday for four weeks and watch your strength go through the roof. Try to increase strength by adding 5 pounds per workout on upper body moves and 10 pounds on lower body moves.