The best muscle-building exercises

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There are hundreds of exercises that will help you target specific muscle groups, but if you're looking to increase size and strength across your whole body there are certain key moves you should incorporate into your training.

MF polled 100 leading personal trainers to find out their top three total-body muscle-building moves, and the results were pretty much unanimous. Try out the three moves below and you'll soon see the benefits.


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This move targets the whole posterior chain of muscles from your calves to your upper back, including your hamstrings and glutes. It also hits the quads and core, and because there are so many muscles involved it prompts the endocrine system to release muscle growth hormone into your blood. Bevan Viljoen, personal trainer at LA Fitness in London's Piccadilly, offers his deadlift tips…

  • 'Keep the bar close to your shins as you lift it, and then to your hips, to make sure that you are generating force vertically and not sending it horizontally into your lower back.’
  • ‘Make sure you’re breathing regularly by exhaling forcefully as you lift and inhaling continuously while you lower the bar.’
  • ‘Brace your deep core muscles by tensing your abs, and keep them braced throughout the exercise.’
  • ‘The lift isn’t finished until you draw back your shoulders at the top of the move to fully engage the upper back muscles.’

Clean and press

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By hitting the legs, back, core, arms and shoulders, this exercise works the body’s entire vertical movement plane for a full-body muscle growth response. Because you’re involving the upper and lower body equally, the core is trained to transmit force through your midriff safely. Dave Coulthard, fitness manager at the Reebok Sports Club in London, guides you through the clean and press…

  • ‘Drive your hips forwards at the same rate as you drive your shoulders upwards for a clean lift.’
  • ‘Keep the bar close to your body as you lift to avoid placing stress on your spine.’
  • ‘Drive up from your legs through your core and into your upper body to accelerate the bar above your head.’

Front squat

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The front squat targets the quads, glutes, hamstrings, core and back in a stable position, allowing you to shift a lot of weight. This creates such a good overall training response that even muscles not directly involved in the lift can make size gains. Graeme Marsh, personal trainer and director of Aegis Training, explains the best way to perform the front squat…

  • ‘Avoid rounding your lower back. Include back extension exercises in your programme to improve lower-back stability.’
  • ‘Keep your chest up, otherwise your weight will be forced forwards, causing poor technique.’
  • ‘Look up and forwards to drive out of the bottom of the exercise. If you allow your head to drop your spine will do so as well.’
  • ‘Drive your knees forwards and out on the way down to create space for the hips to drop into.'
Former features writer

Richard worked as a features writer in 2013 and 2014 for Men’s Fitness UK, which predated and later shared a website with Coach. Richard went on to a career as a professional journalist and editor, working for brands like Red Bull, Total Film, Den of Geek and others.