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7 Best Exercises Your Workout Program Must Include

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: August 19, 2023

As a fitness trainer, I’ve been approached by many readers who’ve requested a list of essential weight training exercises to incorporate into their routines.

With over a decade of experience training bodybuilders, powerlifters, and various athletes, I’ve found that there are seven essential exercises that build strength and muscle like no other.

This article will take you through these essential exercises and explain why they should be part of your workout routine.

Let’s begin.

Quick Summary

  • Exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench press, and strict overhead press are the king of compound movements and will have significant carry-over effects on your other lifts.
  • Add plenty of compound movements to your workout program to maximize your strength and hypertrophy gains.
  • The primary lifts for your leg day should be squats, deadlifts for back day, bench press for chest day, and strict overhead press for shoulder day.

7 Best Exercises Your Workout Program Must Include

Man and woman performing squats

Here are the seven best exercises that will highly benefit your workout program.

1. Squats

Squats are the best exercises that should be a part of any beginner and pro lifter’s workout regimen.

Squats actively build your glutes, quads, adductors, and lower calves.

They also use your spinal erectors, abs, obliques, hamstrings, lower and outer glutes, and the upper part of your calf muscle as stabilizers.

While it’s primarily a lower-body compound movement, squats can also help you build tremendous upper-body strength.

The best part is squats has multiple variations that target different muscles at different intensities.

“Not only are squats not bad for the knees, every legitimate research study on this subject has shown that squats improve knee stability and therefore help reduce the risk of injuries.”

- Charles Poliquin, Strength Coach

2. Deadlifts

Lifting barbell doing deadlifts

The deadlift is a very close second place to the squat.

This dynamic movement is used by many athletes to develop core, hamstring, and glute strength.

It has two variations:

  • Conventional: This one focuses more on your hamstrings, glutes, and thoracic spine.
  • Sumo: This is a wide-stance deadlift that heavily uses your glutes and quads.

The only downside to deadlifts is that many beginners perform them with poor form, which could lead to injuries.

So, get your form down to a tee with an empty barbell before adding weights.

3. Bench Press

The bench press is a fundamental compound exercise that engages the triceps, shoulders, and chest. Incorporating it into your workout routine can help you develop amazing upper body strength and power, as well as improve your overall muscular endurance.

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned lifter, the bench press is an effective way to build upper body strength and muscle mass, making it a must in any well-rounded workout routine.

4. Overhead Press

Holding a barbell performing overhead press

The overhead press is a compound movement that targets multiple muscle groups, including the shoulders, triceps, and upper back.

It demands stability and strength throughout the entire body, making it a great exercise for both beginner and elite lifters.

In my training experience, this exercise has a high carryover to the bench press and squat, making it a valuable addition to your powerlifting workouts.

5. Pull-Ups

There’s no replacement for pull-ups. This upper body compound movement works the back, shoulders, and arms.

Incorporating them into your workout routine can lead to improvements in overall upper body strength and muscle development and improved grip strength.

Pull-ups are also a functional movement that mimics real-life activities like climbing or lifting heavy objects, making them a valuable exercise for both beginner and elite lifters.

You can modify pull-ups with various grip options to prevent plateauing.

6. Chest Dips

Topless person doing chest dips

Chest dips are an upper-body compound movement that targets the chest, triceps, and shoulders.

Adding them to your workout routine can lead to significant strength and muscle development in the chest muscles.

In my experience training clients, chest dips were more effective than push-ups in building the chest, making them a valuable exercise for both beginner and elite lifters.

You can tailor this exercise to your fitness goals with various modifications, like using resistance bands or adding weight.

7. Planks

Planks are one of the best ab exercises that target the core muscles.

They also engage the shoulders, arms, and glutes when done with perfect form. Planks are a highly effective warm-up for elite lifters; they help prevent injury by firing the muscles that support the spine.

Planks are a must for beginners who want to build core strength, stability, and posture.

To further enhance your workout program, it is crucial to incorporate high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and resistance training into your routine. HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of rest or lower-intensity activity. This type of training not only burns calories but also stimulates your cardiovascular system, helping to improve heart health and promote weight loss.

Additionally, including resistance training exercises that target major muscle groups in your routine is essential for building strength, increasing muscle mass, and improving overall body composition. By engaging in regular physical activity that combines cardiovascular exercises, strength training, and HIIT, you can maximize the benefits of your workout program and achieve your fitness goals more effectively.

Consult a personal trainer to tailor these exercises to your needs and abilities.

What Makes These Exercises Important?

Woman wiping her sweat after workout

These exercises are important because they’re compound (multi-joint) movements, meaning they engage more than one muscle.

Studies show that multi-joint movements increase strength, muscle activation, and metabolic stress more than single-joint movements [1].

Compound movements also more accurately mimic practical day-to-day movements.

So, besides their muscle and strength-building advantages, they can improve the quality of your daily activities.

Safety Precautions

Person stretching legs outdoors

Here are some safety precautions to keep in mind when performing compound movements:

  1. Warm-up: Before starting any compound movement workout, you must warm up properly to avoid injury. We recommend doing light cardio, dynamic stretching, and mobility exercises.
  2. Keep perfect form: Correct form is essential for compound movements to avoid injury and maximize the benefits of the exercise. Ensure you maintain proper posture throughout the movement and engage the appropriate muscles.
  3. Start light: If you’re a beginner, start with lighter weights and gradually increase the load as your strength and technique improve. This will help you prevent injury and muscle strain.
  4. Use a spotter: When performing exercises such as the bench press or squat, it is important to have a spotter to assist with heavy lifts to ensure safety.
  5. Recovery: Compound movements beat up your muscles pretty well. Ensure you get plenty of rest, eat a nutritious diet, drink plenty of water, and take a good protein supplement to recover from your workout.


What Are the 3 Important Things in an Exercise Program?

The three most important things in an exercise program are aerobics, muscular strength and endurance conditioning, and flexibility training. Most athletes incorporate all three elements into their exercise regimen for a complete workout.

What Are the 4 Most Important Types of Exercise?

The four most important types of exercise are endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility activities [2]. These ensure overall fitness and prevent weak points in your training.

Which Exercise Is the King of All Exercises?

The squat is the king of all exercises. It works the biggest muscles in the body, such as the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and core.

Enhance Your Workout Program With Compound Movements

Not only are compound movements more effective in building muscle, but they’ll also help you perform other exercises better.

These exercises demand incredible physical and mental focus, so I recommend taking a high-quality pre-workout for pump before taking them head-on.

We’ve extensively tested all of these products, and most of the powerlifters and weightlifters I train take pre-workout supplements on heavy days to improve their strength and endurance.


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