Hey team! Today I'm going to share the top exercise for each muscle group, from chest to quads, glutes to calves, biceps, and even traps and abs.
Operation Jacked in 2024 is under whey (see what I did there?). I'll refer to some peer-reviewed studies and share some anecdotal evidence from my own experience.
If you haven't read my blog post from last week, I shared 24 tips to get insanely fit in 2024! Let's jump right into the meat and potatoes.
Don't skip leg day! For quads, my favorite exercise is the heel-elevated front squat. I know, I know, the back squat is king when it comes to overall strength gains, but the heel-elevated front squat puts more emphasis on the quads. And when we elevate the heels, it shifts the weight out front, making it even more effective for this purpose.
Here's a tip: If you're going for pure strength, lower reps with heavier weights are the way to go. Aim for 5 sets of 5 reps. But if you're trying to build more muscle, go for a higher rep range, like 15 reps or more. I've been doing 15-plus reps on most leg exercises lately (per Arnold's instructions), and I'm definitely seeing some results!
Don't forget the hamstrings! They're crucial for balance, injury prevention, and overall aesthetics. My top hamstring exercise is the barbell Romanian deadlift (RDL). Go slow on the way down, slight bend in the knees, and really feel the stretch in your hamstrings.
To make the RDL even more challenging, try it from a deficit. Put a bumper plate under each foot and make sure the plates go past the plates you're standing on to get a little extra range of motion and stretch in those hamstrings.
I like 3 sets of 8-12 reps on this exercise.
According to a study in the Journal of Sports Science Medicine, the step-up is the top exercise for building the glutes. I agree! And I find that a slight forward lean on the step-up helps emphasize the glutes a bit more.
Plus, step-ups are great for getting in some extra cardio, especially if you superset them with other exercises. I like to pair step-ups with DB single-leg RDLs.
In my humble opinion, the dumbbell incline bench press is the best chest exercise. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, most of us, including myself, have underdeveloped upper chests. When we incline the bench, we're able to work the upper fibers of the chest more effectively.
Second, dumbbells allow for a greater range of motion compared to a barbell, which leads to more muscle fiber breakdown and growth during recovery.
Slow descent, pause at the bottom, and keep tensions on the pecs at the top by not fully locking the elbows. I like a challenging 3 sets of 10-12.
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I know the shoulder press is a popular shoulder exercise, but I prefer the dumbbell lateral raise. This exercise puts more emphasis on the medial deltoid, also known as the shoulder cap, which is the muscle that gives us those round-looking shoulders and is often undertrained compared to the anterior delt.
Here's a pro tip: Lean forward slightly when you do your lateral raises, bring the dumbbells down slowly with control, and don't bring them all the way together at the bottom. Keep tension on your shoulders the entire time. Aim for 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
I know, everyone wants to work their chest and biceps because that's what we see in the mirror, but the back is huge for posture and overall appearance. You can't have a weak back and be a true alpha!
My top back exercise is the wide-grip pull-up. It's a tough call between exercises like bent rows, chest-supported rows, and single-arm rows, but pull-ups are the GOAT.
When you do pull-ups, focus on activating your lats rather than your biceps. Think about pulling your triceps down to your side at the dead hang. Pause at the top and control the descent on each rep. You'll build thick, strong lats in no time!
I like to do these weighted for 5 sets of 6 reps.
Biceps (aka Curls for the Girls)
If we're talking about building the peak of the biceps, the dumbbell incline bicep curl is the way to go. It gets you into a different range of motion than the classic dumbbell curl and allows you to focus on not swinging the weights.
I like to do drop sets, starting with heavy, 50 or 60 pounds for maybe 2 or 3 reps. Then drop the weight by 10 pounds and crank out another 3-5 reps. Keep dropping the weight and upping the reps until you get down to a lighter weight you can do for 10-12 reps. This drop-set method ensures you hit all the muscle fibers in your biceps and leaves them burning!
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Triceps are often neglected, but they're actually a much bigger muscle group than the biceps. So if you want those awesome sleeve-busting arms, you gotta train your triceps hard! My favorite exercise for this is the dumbbell incline skull crusher. It's a great superset partner for the dumbbell incline bicep curl.
Remember to keep your elbows back a bit and maintain tension throughout the entire movement. You'll get more range of motion and strain the triceps more for maximum growth. Just like with the incline bicep curls, I love using the drop-set method here too. Start heavy and keep dropping the weight until you can no longer maintain good form.
*superset option shown, I like either 3 sets of 12 alternating back and forth between incline curl and incline skull crushers or a huge drop set on each. Either way, PUSH the final set of each.
Brachialis (Popeye Forearms)
This often-overlooked muscle lies underneath the biceps and contributes to that overall arm size. The best way to train it is with concentration curls with a reverse grip.
Sit on a bench and rest one elbow on your knee with the other hand holding a dumbbell in a reverse grip. Curl the weight towards your shoulder, squeezing the brachialis at the top, control the descent. Aim for 3 sets of 12 reps with a weight that challenges you.
This one's a tough call. Power cleans are legendary trap builders. I've always had naturally developed traps thanks to years of doing cleans for football and CrossFit.
Recently, I've incorporated dumbbell shrugs. Forget bouncing the weight and using momentum. Put your ego aside and choose a weight that allows you to maintain strict form. Stand tall, squeeze your traps hard at the top of each shrug, and slowly lower the dumbbells back down. 3 sets of 12 reps with controlled movements will do wonders for your traps.
Come on Calves!
I'll admit, my calves aren't exactly impressive. But I'm working on it! The key to sculpted calves is (genetics lol) controlled movements and hitting the bottom of each rep with a pause.
Seated calf raises are my go-to exercise. Focus on squeezing your calves at the top, pause for a second, and slowly lower the weight back down. Don't bounce! Aim for 3 sets of 8 reps with a moderate weight and perfect form.
Abs are built in the gym, Revealed by Diet
Yes, diet is crucial for visible abs, but you still need to train them to be strong. My top ab exercise is the hollow hold. It's simple but incredibly effective, engaging your core and teaching you proper bracing techniques.
Hold the position 30-60 sec, aiming for 3 sets of increasing hold times.
Just because it is my favorite... Another great ab exercise is sprinting! Sprinting is a full-body workout that aids in fat loss, builds muscle, and works your core like crazy. They're short, effective, and perfect for anyone who wants a quick and efficient workout.
So there you have it! Top exercises for every muscle group to help you sculpt the physique you've always wanted. Remember, consistency is key. Get in the gym regularly, train hard, and eat in a way that reflects your goals. And most importantly, learn to love the process!