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A well made program will involve a lot of compound exercises, these are exercises that work multiple muscles at once rather than isolating a single muscle at a time.

For example, the bench press will work the Pectoralis Major, the Triceps Brachii, and the Deltoids. This is a good compound exercise. However, the bicep curl only works the Biceps Brachii so is an isolation exercise. There is nothing wrong with isolation exercises, but when starting out it is best to learn the more efficient exercises.

We will be looking at six exercises which between them will work each major muscle group. Once we have analyzed each exercise we will place them into a program that you can follow next time you're in the gym.

1. The Bench Press

Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major (chest), Triceps Brachii, Anterior Deltoid (Front shoulder)

Description: Hold a barbell (dumbbells can also be used) so that it is directly over your chest, your hands should be at least shoulder width apart. Take a deep breath in and then lower the bar until it touches your chest, pause and then drive the bar back upwards whilst breathing out forcefully. Stop moving the bar before your arms are fully extended. Pause at the top, and then repeat the movement.

Benefits: This exercise is a great chest developer, and can also strengthen the shoulders and triceps. You can re-target the triceps by bringing your arms closer together (called a close-grip bench press) or place more emphasis on your chest by bringing your arms out wide.

I have attached my workout videos to make things clear to you:

2. The Goblet Squat

Muscles Worked: Quadriceps, Gluteus Medius/Maximus

Description: Hold a dumbbell in two hands placed in front of the chest, the two hands should be holding the weight as you would a goblet (hence the name). Your feet should be shoulder width apart with toes facing out slightly. Take a deep breath and squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Once you have reached that position pause, and then drive yourself back upwards whilst breathing out.

Benefits: Other than being an excellent exercise for working the quads and glutes, the Goblet squat is fantastic for improving your overall squatting technique.

A common issue with beginners is that they tend to squat with their shoulders hunched forward, which causes their back to lose its shape. This is impossible to do in a Goblet squat because the dumbbell ensures that the lifter keeps their chest pushed out and their back straight. Otherwise the weight will fall to the floor. Mastering this exercise means that you will be able to eventually progress to barbell squats without any issue.

Video Demonstration:

3. Romanian Deadlifts

Muscles Worked: Hamstrings and entire posterior chain 

Can be performed with either a barbell or a pair of dumbbells, for this example we will discuss the barbell version. Stand with your two feet slightly narrower than shoulder width apart, with your toes facing straight ahead rather than slightly outwards (like you would for squats). Create a slight bend in your knees and hold the barbell by your waist with your arms straight. Whilst keeping your shoulders back and chest out (this will straighten your back) bow forward and let the bar travel down towards your shins. Your arms should be straight throughout, pause at the point where your hamstrings start to stretch and then slowly return back to your original position.

Benefits: The Romanian deadlift is one of the best hamstring exercises there is, it is also a fantastic exercise to improve your hip-hinge movement. This is the movement of your hips forward and backwards that is required for this exercise, for deadlifts, Good mornings, and proper squatting.

Video Demonstration:

4. Barbell Overhead Press

Muscles Worked: Deltoids, Triceps Brachii

Description: Grab a barbell (or a pair of dumbbells) and place it at collar-bone height with elbows out in front of your body. Without arching your back, push the weight straight up into the air. Once it is past your nose you can start to bring the bar slightly backwards as well so that it finishes directly over the centre of your head. Pause and then lower the bar back towards your collar bone.

Benefits: Improving your shoulders' pressing power will lead to bigger, stronger shoulders, and will also improve your bench press technique. This is because your shoulders and triceps are required for both exercises.

Video Demonstration:

5. Inverted Row

Muscles Worked: Trapezius, Latissimus Dorsi

Description: Lie underneath a parallel bar with your feet on a raised platform (bench). Place your hands on the bar at shoulder width apart and then pull yourself off the ground so that you are hanging. Take a deep breath and then pull yourself up until your chest is almost touching the bar, pause, and then lower yourself back down whilst breathing out.

Benefits: The inverted row is the perfect stepping stone to performing full pull ups. Once you have mastered this exercise you should have the strength required to attempt proper pull ups. It is also an excellent middle and upper back developer.

Video Demonstration:

6. Lunges

Muscles Worked: Quadriceps, Gluteus Maximus

Description: Keeping your chest out, and shoulders back take a large step forward. Raise your back heel off the ground and then drop your back knee until your front thigh is parallel to the ground. Then take your back foot and take a huge step forward, raising your back heel and lunging again.

Benefits: Excellent quad and glute workout, walking lunges are also huge calorie burners.

Video Demonstration:

The Workout

  • Goblet Squats 3-4 sets x 12-15 reps
  • Romanian Deadlifts 3 sets x 6-8 reps
  • Lunges 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Bench Press 3 sets x 6-8 reps
  • Inverted Row 3 sets x 6-10 reps
  • Overhead Press 3 sets x 6-8 reps 
Give yourself 45-60 seconds rest between sets (but take more if you feel you really need it). Use a weight that is challenging, but with which you can complete the exercise with confidence and good form.

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Written by Matthew Smith , BSc Sports Science Degree (2010) from London Metropolitan University | REPS lvl. 3 (2010) | BTEC Sports Science (2006)
Matthew Smith is a Personal Trainer at LA Fitness Marylebone based in Harrow, London. He has been coaching for six years and loves to write helpful and effective fitness articles.

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