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Basic Muscle Program Exercises

A Split System of Exercises


Updated May 19, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

I’ve attempted to feature exercise equipment that would be available in most reasonably equipped gyms and health clubs.

The exercises below are in the order in which you should do them, pending availability of equipment. You should at least attempt to keep the supersets sequential. You will get sore after the early sessions until your body adjusts. Try two days rest between sessions and only two sessions a week if this is a problem.

Session 1 – Legs and Buttocks


  • Dumbbell or barbell squat Make sure you get through the full three sets of these. Lighten the weight if necessary.


  • Sled hack squat You can substitute these with barbell hack squats, if you wish.


  • Leg press Do these with your feet placed at the top of the plate to preferentially activate the hamstrings and butt muscles. The squats will take care of the quads. Note how your back responds with this exercise. Work hard, but lighten up if the lower back feels too stressed.


  • Leg curls (SS) Do either the standing leg curls or the prone bench curls, whichever you prefer. Or, alternate them.


  • Leg extension (SS) Make this a solid weight, but don’t over stress the knee joints. Back off if this exercise is uncomfortable or painful at the knee joint.


  • Dumbbell or barbell calf raises Hold the weights appropriately, then raise both heels off the ground and lower with a controlled motion. If you have trouble with balance, go to a single dumbbell and hold onto something, then alternate legs.


  • Calf raise machine Sit on the pad, hook your thighs under the bar, and lift the weight.



  • Dumbbell or barbell forward lunges The barbell can be held at the chest or behind the head at the shoulders. Dumbbells are usually held at the sides. Keep the toes behind the line of the knee when lunging. This is a good balance exercise as well.


  • Bridges Lie face up on the floor with your arms by your side. Lift and squeeze your buttocks, hold for four seconds, lower and repeat. No equipment is required unless you place your heels on a bench instead of the floor for variety.


  • Cable hip abductions (SS) Superset these. Lift your leg to side.


  • Cable kickbacks (SS) Lift leg to your rear.


Leg exercises like squats and deadlifts also work the buttock muscles.

Session 2 – Back, Shoulders and Arms

Back and Shoulders

  • Lat pulldown Pull down in front; don’t pull down behind the neck. Vary the grip from wide to close to challenge different muscle groups.


  • Seated cable row Squeeze the shoulder blades together as you pull back.


  • Romanian deaflift These work the lower back and legs. This can be done with heavy dumbbells as well as barbells.


  • Lateral dumbbell raises Bend the elbows slightly to take pressure off the shoulder joint.


  • Seated dumbbell press Push straight up above the head while sitting upright on a bench.


  • Dumbbell shrugs Hold dumbbells at the sides and shrug the shoulders upward so that you feel the trapezius muscle across the back of the neck contracting.


  • Bent over lateral dumbbell raises (SS) Bend over at the waist with your back straight. Raise dumbbells to shoulder height and return. Don’t curve the back over. This is an advanced exercise that works back and shoulder muscles. Don't lift to failure with this and the next exercise. The shoulder joint can be sensitive to heavy work in this position.


  • Alternate front dumbbell raises (SS) Superset these with the previous exercise. Hold dumbbells by your sides with palms facing the rear. Lift to horizontal and return.



Session 3 – Abdominals and Chest


  • Crunches Standard, twist, or combination (legs up) crunches can be alternated.


  • Decline bench crunches or situps This is a little more difficult.


  • Kneeling cable crunches More crunch variety.


  • Machine crunches Some gyms will not have this machine.


  • Leg raises Uses the Captain’s chair equipment unit or do these hanging. Support arms in the frame or hanging and raise legs and return. This is an advanced exercise. Aim for three repetitions of 10.


  • Dumbbell side bends These work the obliques at the side of the abdomen. Hold a dumbbell in each arm at the sides and bend over one side then the other. Don't lean forward or back.



  • Incline dumbbell bench press This is for the shoulders and chest pectoral muscles. Raise the bench from flat to leaning back.


  • Bench press Lie flat on the bench. You may require a spotter if done with a barbell. You can use barbell, dumbbells, or a Smith machine.


  • Dumbbell pullover Lie on a flat bench with your feet on the floor. Hold one end of a dumbbell in your palms. Raise it up and, with arms fully extended, lower it behind the head and return.


Summary of Weight Training Programs

This 30-session program is designed to fit into a larger cycle of weight training and should not be done prior to the preparatory Basic Strength and Muscle program, or a similar program. A preparatory program conditions the body to the stresses, strains, and processes of weight training. Once you have completed a preparatory program, you may need to decide what suits your goals best.

This muscle building program includes quite a few more exercises than the Basic Strength and Muscle or Basic Strength programs and requires experience in selecting weights and executing exercises with good form.

Related Video
Weight Lifting Exercises for Back and Shoulders

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