Pack on muscle and build your strength with these trainer-recommended movements.
As men, we all want to look and feel strong, and there’s no better way to achieve this than by gaining muscle. However, finding the time and money to go to the gym regularly can be a challenge for many of us. Fortunately, you don’t need fancy exercise equipment or costly gym memberships to get your desired results. Instead, with just a few free weights and some know-how, you can start building muscle in the comfort of your home. We chatted with an expert who shares seven of the best free weight exercises for men to gain muscle.
TJ Mentus, CPT, a certified personal trainer at Garage Gym Reviews, shares seven free weight exercises you can do right now to start gaining muscle (and develop a shredded upper body). These exercises target all major muscle groups, including your chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and legs. Plus, we deliver expert tips on proper form and technique, so you can get the most out of each exercise and avoid injury.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned gym-goer, these exercises are perfect for anyone who’s looking to build muscle without breaking the bank. By the end of this article, you’ll have a solid foundation of free weight exercises to add to your workout routine and start seeing some muscle-building results.
1. Barbell Back Squat
This classic compound movement targets multiple muscle groups in your posterior chain (backside), including your quads, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. “Back squats are one of the best exercises for building muscle because they place tension on muscles throughout the body rather than focusing on just one muscle group,” explains Mentus. “When doing barbell back squats, your core and back muscles have to stabilize the weight of the barbell while your legs are going through the squat movement.”
To perform the barbell squat, walk under the bar resting on a squat rack so that it’s placed evenly across the back of your shoulders. Grab onto the bar, and pull it into your shoulders to create tension, then step out of the rack. Next, squat by lowering your butt toward your heels and letting your knees move forward over your big toes. Then, stand up out of the squat, driving through your heels. Use a moderately heavy weight and perform three to four sets of eight to 12 reps.
2. Dumbbell Front Squat
Similar to the barbell back squat, this exercise targets your lower body. Dumbbell front squats put your hips, quads, hamstrings, and glutes to work, the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) reports.
“Front squats are a great free-weight variation for anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable placing a barbell on their back. Front squats help keep the torso upright and put more pressure on your core and upper back as you hold the dumbbells on your shoulders. The dumbbells and the weight at the front of the body will also help focus on quad development,” says Mentus.
Hold the dumbbells in your hands at the shoulders, with one head of each dumbbell resting on the shoulder. Keep the elbows up, and perform a squat by lowering your butt toward your heels and allowing the knees to move forward in line with the big toes. Then, press through your heels and drive your hips forward to stand back up. Select a moderate weight, and do three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps.
3. Dumbbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench press is essential for building chest muscle and upper body strength.
“The dumbbell bench press is one of the most common upper body exercises because it will build the chest, shoulders, and arms,” says Mentus. “Dumbbell bench pressing can be less stressful on the shoulders and allow a deeper range of motion than a barbell because barbells place more muscle under tension with each rep.”
To start, sit on the bench, holding the dumbbells resting on your thighs. Lie back on the bench, and bring the dumbbells to the armpits as you do. Press the dumbbells straight up above your chest until locking out the arms. Lower them back down to the armpits to start the next rep. Perform three to four sets of eight to 12 reps at a moderate weight.
4. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts
“Like the squat, this exercise will work multiple muscles throughout the body rather than just one muscle group,” says Mentus. “This deadlift variation works the glutes, hamstrings, and upper back and requires you to utilize your core to stabilize your spine for proper form. In addition, you’re working your entire posterior chain with this exercise.”
Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides. Keep good posture with shoulders back and a big chest, then push the hips back to lower the torso toward the ground while maintaining a flat back. Lower the dumbbells past the knees, then return to standing by driving the hips forward. Use moderately heavy weights for three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps.
5. Dumbbell Rows
Dumbbell rows are fantastic for building a strong upper back and solid foundation and should be a staple in any workout routine. “When you’re doing dumbbell rows, it’s imperative to have a balance of development between the chest and upper back muscles; this keeps the shoulders healthier, improves posture, and creates a well-rounded physique,” Mentus explains.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and perform a Romanian deadlift to lower the dumbbells to the knees. From here, pull the shoulder blades back, keeping a big chest, and row the dumbbells by pulling the elbows into the torso. Extend the dumbbells back out, and begin the next rep. Do 10 to 12 reps using moderately heavy weights for three to four sets.
6. Barbell Thrusters
“Thrusters combine the strength and explosive power of the lower and upper body,” says Mentus. “When doing this exercise, you’re squatting into a press, which allows you to get much more weight over your head than you would be able to do a traditional barbell press. Barbell thrusters are great because you work your upper body muscles with that explosive movement, encouraging more muscle growth.”
For barbell thrusters, hold the barbell on your shoulders, and perform a front squat. Stand up out of the squat explosively. As you get halfway through the squat, use the momentum to press the barbell over your head. Lower the bar back down to the shoulders, and begin the next rep. Do eight to 12 reps for three to four sets. Consider starting with a light weight until you perfect this more complex movement.
7. Dumbbell Lunges
Dumbbell lunges are excellent for building strong legs and improving overall balance and coordination. “When holding dumbbells by your sides as you go down for a lunge, you engage your core and upper back muscles to maintain your balance and foundation while working your legs on the lunge. This is an excellent example of a compound body movement for building multiple muscle groups,” says Mentus.
Holding a dumbbell in each hand, perform a lunge by stepping forward and lowering the back knee to the ground so that both knees make right angles. Then, step the front leg back to meet the other foot and return to standing. Alternate legs for each rep and aim to do 10 reps per leg for 20 reps total.