This is a short article to set in stone the 7 most important weight lifting/weight training exercises.  I’ve mentioned them several times in various posts, and also in several of my ebooks, but let’s get this defined once and for all.

Note – these are not necessarily in order.  We’ll save the debate about which “one” is the most important for later…

The Big 7

  1. Squat
  2. Deadlift
  3. Chest Press (Bench Press)
  4. Rows
  5. Chin-up/Pull-up
  6. Military/Standing Pres
  7. Dips

There are many variations to each of these.  Dumbbell versions, barbell versions, seated vs. standing, different grips, different angles, etc.

But the key things about this list:

a) they are all compound movements, not isolation exercises

b) together, they hit every major muscle in the body (yes, they even work your abs for you fitness-models out there!)

c) they produce RESULTS

d) they should form the basis of any good program/routine; if your routine doesn’t include each of these at least once a week, even if you are a beginner, get a new program

e) with the variations, you could do just these 7 exercises for years and never get bored

Anyone disagree?  Anyone want to debate which one is the most important?

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100 Responses to “The Big 7 – The Seven Most Important Weight Training Exercises”

  1. I’m still working on those chin-ups, Darrin!

    I am new enough at all of this to be very open to suggestions. I am a firm believer that something is better than nothing, provided you can avoid injury. Nevertheless, anything that can help me do more with what I have, get better results and have better health – that’s wonderful. I say, Bring it on!

  2. It’s tough to figure out which is most important (they’re all pretty good). I would guess that the Deadlift is the most important because it works so many different muscles. I would also guess that out of the whole list, the deadlift is probably the exercise most people are not doing (only a guess..I don’t know because I workout in my small home gym in my basement). What does everyone else think?

  3. I’d say the #1 lift period would be a clean. The one that probably the least people do, partially because it’s hard to teach right. Even if you disagree with the fact that it’s the #1 lift, it’s easily on the top 7…

  4. Pretty much all the ones in rippetoes starting strength :D

  5. what about pushups?

  6. @ Stan: Shhhh. Darrin gives us enough to do already!

    Seriously, I wondered the same thing, mostly because pushups are another exercise that I find hard to do. My body sends me clear signals that pushups are working more than one muscle/ muscle group. So, shouldn’t they be considered “compound exercises” even if not “compound MOVEMENTS”?


  7. But the bench press is pretty much the same as the push up isn’t it? Just a difference in weight and reps.

  8. I’d have to agree with Cameron on the power clean, specifically I would replace the bench with the clean. Also, when did military presses become the standard? I’ve even seen people saying “you can perform the military press without heels touching”. The base movement is the overhead press and is, again in my opinion, the superior exercise.

  9. Hi everyone – I’ll tackle these in reverse order:

    @Dave – yes, strict military press originates with feet together, but let’s face it – there is a lot of confusion about terms and synonyms. Whether you call it overhead press or military is generally debatable but what’s not debatable is: a) done standing, not sitting; b) done with a barbell, in front of the head (not behind the neck!); c) torso moves forward slightly as bar passes your eyes; d) not an isolation movement – a compound movement.

    @Jon, Gene, Stan – pushups are indeed a great exercise, but my emphasis here is on weight training; pushups would be near the top of any bodyweight exercise list. Pushups can be done with weight or extra resistance (bands, or as I do, actually putting weight plates on your back) but not traditionally. However, pushups are NOT the same as bench press. The position of the scapula is different and actually pushups recruit more muscle groups (for example, your lats are involved more). If they were easy to do with the same total resistance as bench press, they’d be the superior exercise. By the way, pushups are in all 4 of my programs, meaning that I (and people on my programs) do pushups and variations year round.

    @Gene – I’ve considered “compound exercise” and “compound movement” synonymous (and I’d say pushups qualify). Do you have a meaning here I’m missing?

    @Cameron, Dave – the clean is a great exercise, but extremely hard to do. I include it in one of my programs, but given it’s difficulty (technique-wise) I left it out on purpose. If the average person is doing the Big 7, they’ll be fine without it. Sure is fun though!

  10. Well, Darrin, you’ve got the comments running on this one!

    Re: Pushups and chinups These are both “body weight” exercises, aren’t they? That is probably why some of us were wondering why one was included and not the other.

    Re: Compound Exercise and Compound Movement I think we both think alike on this. I was just a little confused, I think.

    Thanks for the motivational and informative articles. They have been very helpful.

  11. @Gene – ahh, you’re totally right! It’s funny that I don’t consider chins/pull ups “bodyweight” yet I consider pushups bodyweight. Obviously inconsistent, but let me see if I can rationalize (weasel) my way out of this one… a) pushups are endurance exercises, whereas chins are strength exercises [to explain: most people, after a few months, can do sets of 20 or 30 pushups (endurance) but still can only do a handful of chins (strength)] and b) it’s far easier to add weight to chins [I almost always use weights, so I guess psychologically I classified them as weighted]. I’m a huge fan of pushups, but I think I’ll keep my Big 7 as-is, despite the inconsistency.

    Anyone else see holes in my theory/list/ideas/head???? [Thanks Gene!]

  12. YES! YES! YES! i could not agree more! I used stronglift 5×5 for 6 months and i put on alot ov weight on, my shoulders was much wider, my chest got bigger, i found the squat hard to get good form, and still do due to the lack ov mobility i have in the hips. Foget isolated excerses if your a begginer. You will see visable results with JUST these excersises, in a small amount ov time, im talking 1 month to see visable results, seriously! (Making sure your diet is correct). I have two freinds that have a really small frame, and i keep telling them to do these but there too bothered about taking advice off steroid heads who are doing low weight isolated excersises. Without places like this blog there isnt many people who actually know what there talking about, people go to gym and look at what the big guys are doing. I tell them that they have either been training for years and have already got the frame to start training single muscles or on steriods!

    I enjoy reading this blog and always keep an open mind when i read something new, keep up the good work!


  13. @Darrin, fair enough re the military/overhead, sorry for the little rant, I don’t know why that annoys me so much hehheh.

    As for pull-ups vs push-ups as weightlifting exercises, I think there’s a distinction in how far you can practically take the loading. With a belt, you can just keep adding plates on pull-ups, chins and dips. After the first 45 lbs, it becomes very hard to add weight to push-ups.

  14. “Without places like this blog there isnt many people who actually know what there talking about, people go to gym and look at what the big guys are doing.”

    You’re right, personally I only know of one other group that does. If any1 wants me to post a link to the forum I will. But, if no1 asks I won’t bother wasting the time to get it.

  15. Thanks for all the feedback so far. I wonder, not to get too mushy, but I think there might be some value to changing the wording of the list, just a hair. For example “chest press” instead of “bench press”. And “overhead press” instead of “military”. But that might be too general. I want avoid the debates about which versions of each are best – for example “back squats” vs. “front squats” vs. “sumo squats” vs. etc. etc.

    I’ll keep the comments open on this post for a while to get more views.

    Of course, I could certainly kick up quite a bit of controversy, I’m sure, if I told you each exactly what variation of each is the “best”… that could be fun…

  16. It all depends on your reason for lifting. The term “best” can mean either “most muscle groups used,” “biggest muscles targeted,” or “most functional.” Functionality can only be discerned when you know WHY you are lifting.

  17. Couldn’t have said it better! They really are the rock bottom truth!

    Curls? Well, once you’ve the foundation, you can fool around with them, until then this is the RECIPE!

  18. hello everyone,

    this is a quite important discussion here.
    because in my first year of permanent body working, i almost done none of them because of the guy in the gym did not tell me to do, and i was new and had no knowledge.
    the funny thing is at the end of the year i was able to work with quite heavier weights for me, but could do only 3 chin ups !!!
    and it was not only me, many huge guys around the dumbelss were not so succesful with chin ups or dips.
    thats weird,
    because when we do lots of isolations we get shaped (of course), but that look is so easy to understand, you can really get if a man is doing the workouts above permanently, or rather curls, by just looking at him on the streets.
    and the men who went on these compound movements always seemed to me as they have far better looking, uniqe bodies.
    with the others, you just see a unity of pomped parts of body, but not a fully acting strong one.

  19. It’s got to do with more than look. If you watch the guys who do compound movements and the guys who don’t you’ll notice that even though most often the guys who don’t isolate everything APPEAR smaller, they usually lift heavier. Compound movements are much more functional, an in the end that’s what matters. What’s the point of working out if you never notice it? Compare a row to a curl. A real live example would be picking something…maybe a 2×4… off the ground to set it somewhere else. When in life are you actually going to get something in curl position and just curl it? Although not isolation, back squats are the same way. Don’t get e wrong, I love squats, but when in life are you actually going to be able to put something on your shoulders to carry it?

  20. What about those of us who are just getting started (or restarted) in trying to live healthier and be healthier?

    I can barely do one chinup. I have a barbell and free weights in my basement so I can do all the exercises on the Big 7 list. I also swim and do intervals in the pool (great cardio for me as I have foot trouble for running and I push real hard in the pool when I am doing sprint intervals.. 2 laps all out, 2 laps moderate, 3 all out, 2 moderate, 1 easy, 2 all out, etc)… So I am thinking of doing swimming most mornings and doing a 2 on/2 off routine with just the Big 7 (and maybe pushups/core strenghteners unless the big 7 do enough core strength by virtue of the compound movements?) I’ll divy them up to try and do opposites or lower/upper.

    But what is a good way to actively train to do the chinups? Would starting up high from a chair or jump and holding over time train towards them or is that just going to cheat me? What about going as high as I can for a few sets of as many (which won’t be a lot) reps as I can do?

  21. H Mike – check out today’s article:

  22. I found this web that explains Bruce lee’s strength workout and some comments are sayin that its based on genetics so I just wanted to show you Darrin and explain to me that I can do this workout
    Contact me:

  23. @ Shayne – I removed your personal contact info from your comment, because otherwise you’d get spammed! Go ahead and post the link here – it’s ok. And then ask any specific question you like; I’ll try to answer.

  24. Thanks but do add me on facebook tho and email lol

    Heres the web I found bruce lee’s strenght workout

  25. Hi Shayne,
    That site looks interesting, though I have no way of knowing how legit the info is – did Lee really train that way? I have no idea. If your question is about genetics, then absolutely they play a role. How much does that matter? Well for the elite (elite bodybuilders, elite athletes, etc.) it matters a ton. But for the rest of us, it’s not worth worrying about. I hate it when people say “well, my genetics keep me small” or “my whole family is fat so I guess I will be”. That’s all hogwash. If you’re skinny, you can get lots of muscle even if you don’t have “the genetics” – do compound movements and eat a ton of food. You’ll gain muscle.

    In terms of the workout posted at that site (again, not knowing if Lee really trained that way), I would say that would only be a good routine for people who are doing some other high-intensity exercise (e.g. MMA, track and field sports, soccer, etc.). That workout by itself probably would only be productive for beginners (who respond to anything). After a few months, you’d need to add some volume and variety (incorporating The Big 7). I’d also cut out the curls!

  26. But my workout is harder than this because I do chest/bicep and tricep on mondays, wednesday, and friday and and I do more sets but when do curls I do dumbbell curls, why do you need to cut out the curls for, don’t they contract the muscle to get bigger muscle

  27. @ Shayne – Don’t train your arms separately. Read this. And be careful of regularly doing chest 3x a week unless you are a beginner. Read this.

  28. The ideal routine is: Squat 5×5 bench 5×5 barbellrowing 2 sets 12reps.
    Day 2: Deadlift5x5, overheadpress5x5,closegrip benchpress 2 sets 8 reps
    Then maybe some chinups or curls if you think your biceps need more work.

  29. Why do you include dips in your top 7?

    As a trainer I dont dislike any exercises but I wouldnt include these in workouts now for a couple of reasons. Ill list them below.

    (A) Most people (the general population) are weak in the middle traps/rhomboids & this exercise reinforces the upper trap dominance

    (B) Most upper body ‘injuries’ are located at the shoulder girth (Bodybuilders will know about this), generally feeding off an impinged AC joint. Dips are great for damaging this.

    Im not being dismissive of the exercise, just giving my view on it.

    Constructive critism most welcome.


  30. @breezy909 – Excellent comments Byron! You are correct, though for (A) the other big7 exercises do improve “middle” traps and rhomboids. And I find that form plays a huge factor in both A and B. For example, if your legs are essentially in front or even straight below you, then are more likely to see negative side effects. This is similar to the (horrible) bench dips for some reason popular with women. Bench dips are bad news because they are less effective and they are more likely to cause shoulder problems.

    But if you do proper dips, with your legs bent and arced behind you, you kind of lean forward when doing them and they are much safer.

    Do you have any suggested variations or alternatives to Dips?

  31. Hi Darrin,
    Sry this is only a quick reply but I get in depth reply later. I want to start by saying that for a long time i performed/proscribed dips and totally swore by them as a great exercise. I just think that there are other ways to achieve what is wanted by this exercise, but with less risk.

    For alternatives/variations I look at what the dip is. Vertical Press.

    I just work through vertical press progressions that dont place the shoulder/elbows under too much stress.


  32. @Darrin. HI there, just getting round to answering your question now,lol.

    Some Variations I use would that would tick the same boxes as dip(Upper body strength/stability/engaged core

    D/B Tricep Extension on Ball (horizontal press,lol)
    Split stance D/B shoulder press
    Kneeling/split kneeling/standing kettlebell press

    The press up variations(trx & weighted vests are great to work to :P) work brilliantly for the’push’ movement.

    Youve covered all these great exercises in your 7. Maybe a plank variation could be dips replacement,,lol..just kidding
    I probably sway more towards risk vs rewards view now,lol.

    For any guys that are reading the thread & are still dipping,dont stop cos i just say so. Some of the best use it, but i just give my reasons why I dont. The decision is always yours.

    Again, constructive critism to my thoughts are welcomed

    P.s. Really liking the site Darrin, nice and refreshing. Some really good stuff and keep up the good work.


  33. @breezy – good suggestions – essentially you are saying that some variations on vertical or horizontal presses (shoulder press and bench press in the Big 7) would suffice and you are right – with variations you can target different muscles. For example, Yates rows and my “power db rows” involve the traps more than regular rows and I like dips because of the traps involvement. So it would be possible to come up with alternate routines. But I’m still confident that these are indeed The BIG 7! Rather than disagree, I’ll add one more compliment to your alternates – they are mostly compound movements, which is really key for 80% of anyone’s lifting program.

    Everyone else (especially new readers) – keep the ideas flowing! This is a pretty popular topic so we could talk about this for years!

  34. darrin,

    i am new with body building world. although i took body building when i was just 18yrs. now, again i try to come back in the gym world.i like to have loose me belly which is not good to the eyes of the women’s taste. can you give me a complete program for free, which i could use develop my intire muscle of my body? second question is what are the difference between isolation training/exersice and compound movement. a couple of days ago, i had this program whic took in the internet,, and when i perform with this program fellow builder told me that i used the isolation movements. what is wrong with that? help me
    to inhance my knowledge with all the body building.

  35. Hi Willie,

    Read this to start with: . For a simple, free workout check out the free ebook you get when you sign up here (3 Months To A New You). For a better beginner workout, go to .

    If you have more questions on The Big 7, post them to .

  36. Where can we place the pull-overs,Sit ups and Dumb bell splits. are they not major exercises.

  37. @Fred – don’t do situps (at least not traditional situps) and don’t even bother with “ab exercises” if you aren’t pretty lean already. The Big 7 work your core plenty. As for other exercises like you mention, do them at the end of your workouts. Generally I suggest people pick 2 to 4 of the Big 7 per workout as their main lifts.

  38. I read that Walter Jones (pro-football offensive tackle) pushed an SUV around as a big part of his workout. If you’ve ever pushed a jalopy by yourself you know it’s a serious work out. They have all sorts of training sleds that would give you a similar workout, I bet this movement is one of the best for leg strength. The problem is what gym has a sled.

    Here’s a link to Walter Jones workout.


  39. Good article.I will discuss all this with my trainer. Surely it will help me a lot to back in shape.

  40. I’m a big advocate of pushups. I think they are far better than chess press and dips. As mentioned though the biggest problem is a limitation on weight. There are a couple ways to get around this.

    1) Use a weight vest. You can get 100+ lb weight vests. A pushup is about 70% of your weight. So if you’re 200 lbs a pushup is around 140lbs, add in a 100 lb weight vest and you’re hitting 240 lbs. For beginners and novice this is a perfectly acceptable if not high weight. The benefit is that you do not require a spotter like you do bench press.

    2) Change your grip. You can do wide grip, extra wide, regular, hip pushups, feet elevated and triangle pushups. These will all add in an extra challenge without having to add a lot more weight.

    3) For the masochists out there do 1 arm or 1 arm weighted pushups. I’d argue it’s a more compound movement than a squat or a clean. When you do a 1 armed pushup every core muscle in your body will be aching as well as your entire upper body and much of your lower body. (NOTE: These are a very difficult exercise though and if you have any shoulder problems you’re better off trying the first two suggestions.



  41. Hi there, I liked your Big 7 list a lot, mostly because it is actually my workout program exactly! :)

    I used to do a lot of isolation workouts in the 90s and was quite into bodybuilding, 4 days a week split program etc. Then I got into law enforcement and rotating shift work and that rapidly went out the window.

    After hitting 40 and lurching into fat lazy bastard territory I realised I needed to get back into shape and stay there for life. This was in October last year. Fortunately I had a very workout orientated best friend who relentlessly researches these things and he put me onto full body compound workouts.

    I did my own research and after getting a gym membership in October I played around with what worked – my goal was 2 workouts a week for just under an hour each with maximum efficiency. This allowed me to work round my rotating shift schedule and other life commitments. I realised that I had to be realistic about what I can fit in for the rest of my life but still gain the most out of.

    After pairing out what I considered useless or at least time inefficient exercises – isolation mostly – I was left with compound work, I reluctantly added squats and deadlifts to my routine because it was clear that they are the ultimate compounds and like most guys from the 90s bodybuilding era I was all curls and no legs (oh do I have to squat? I whined to my buddy).

    Result – in the last few months I have stayed exactly the same weight (235) but lost 7 inches off my waist and gained a significant amount of muscle mass across my whole body.

    My workout is – bench currently 245 in sets of 3-4, weighted pullups – 8 sets of 4 with 65lb dumbell full extension, cable or dumbell row, weighted dips – 45lb plate 3×5, 2 x4 at 90% 1rm deadlifts 1rm 325 so far but my form needs work, squats 205 for 5 x 5, standing military press or dumbell press 55lb dumbbells currently. Thats it, usually Im fried afterwards but I keep the weight heavy, reps in the 4-6 range, rest a minute or less between sets (trying to drop it to 45secs). I sweat heavily through the whole workout and my heart and cardio ability has rocketed. Last October I could only manage 3 bodyweight pull ups and was shaky afterward. The only supplement I take is whey isolate and fruit shake after my workout.

    Basically I would wholeheartedly recommend this approach to anyone, it can be done and the gains are huge for very little time invested. You just have to bust your ass and get of the whole – I must curl to wow the girls kick – that I see some many guys (and me in the past) do, had to chase a guy out of the squat rack the other day who wanted to curl in it – sheesh.

    Great article, thank you.


  42. @Martin – very cool. And as a side note, thank you for being in law enforcement. We never thank you guys enough.

  43. Good compilation of very good exercises! If I could only do two exercises it would be the squat and the deadlift. Three exercises? Squat, DL and Muscle-Up. I wouldn’t want an asymmetric upper body so I can’t just pick the big three and go with them :P. 4 exercises? Easy one: Squat, DL, chin-up, bench. Ahhh I love these topics! There are always some powerlifters or oly lifters who shout “clean!”, “snatch!” or something similar, but not everyone has the opportunity to learn these lifts. I’m certainly not going to learn to snatch at home by myself without a personal coach. This is why I prefer squats and deadlifts over any oly lift any time, any day :). Wow that was a long and weird reply. Hope you don’t mind, Darrin! ;)

  44. Hi there all

    This is officially my first post and I’ve really enjoyed reading all your comments, very informative. I have been a fitness professional all my professional life in the military and have last year left the forces after serving 22 years, and am now serving in the world of private security. I have pretty much been thrashing myself for years leading troops over undulated terrain with heavy load on my back and then a staple diet of chin ups and dips (body weight & weighted) and have therefore found my fitness to be of a good level. However what has illuded me apparently is the ability to put on muscle mass which frankly has frustrated me constantly. To be clear I absolutely agree with the principle of compound exercises and the whole body approach 3 x weekly which is what I’m trying to follow……………..but still not making the gains I would like. So I’m going back to the drawing board and would be very grateful Darrin and fellow trainers if you could advise what you would consider the best course of action to achieve the gains that illude me; do I use the beginner FBA routine and increase the load or is there another system of approach but using the big 7

  45. I recommend starting with Darrin’s FBA program. Also check out the forums. They can be a big help. His hypertrofreak program is developed for size as well.

  46. For most people who have lifted for many years but still aren’t at the strength or size they want, eating habits often make far more of a difference than the exact lifting program. As you know, you can be incredibly fit without gaining size. But if you are doing compound movements in a sensible program, then even if you are older you will gain muscle if you feed yourself enough good calories. If you are doing FBA (or a similar program) for 2-3 months but don’t gain any mass, then I’d lay 10 to 1 odds that it would only be because of eating: insufficient calories, or possibly mis-timing of when/what to eat.

    And thanks jager42 for serving our country.

  47. Spot on and thanks Darrin, and fellow enthusiasts; quite often the way forwards is more obvious than we think so I’ll get on it and look to positive gains. Catch up with you all soon; Stay Strong!

  48. Greetings…I would say the most important exercise on this list would be squats, and add that their value is often overlooked. The legs coupled with the abdomen are the base of the body, and the focal point of all movement. Anytime you wish to get from point A to point B these are the muscles involved. As for the most important exercise, in my opinion, the abs are the most important muscle group in the body. They promote correct posture and help to ensure a healthy spine, as well as aid in breathing. By forcing the air out completely during exhalation, a higher degree of carbon dioxide is removed from the body, thereby supplying the entire body with a higher level of oxygen. They are also unique in the fact that through breathing they are the only muscle group constantly in motion, so I believe they can be trained on a daily basis. The best ab exercise that I have found would be dragon flags, or in gymnastics terminology, body levers. This is the only ab exercise that I’m aware of that works every single stomach muscle.

  49. I can think of one :D

  50. oh my god i love this page!! big thumbs up!!
    i have been doing 5 of these 7, (i neglected squats and deadlifts, which are arguably the best ones there). this has motivated me to get into those now though!! i guess i neglected them because they are somewhat harder to do and it feels like if i do them wrong i am going to break my back :( haha.

    i have a question though ! regarding chin ups, is this with hands facing you or facing away from you? because the two are very different! i can do almost 20 chin ups with my hands facing me, but when i put my arms wider apart and have my palms facing outwards i can barely do 6 before i cant go on!!
    cheers :D:D

  51. @Erik – glad you like it! In terms of chinups (palms facing you) vs. pullups (palms facing away) it is not uncommon for their to be differences in capacity. But it’s usually not as big a difference as you are seeing. It could be due to technique, or it could be slightly weak deltoids (limiting your pullup count) or overly strong biceps (increasing your chinup count). One thing is for sure though – doing more pullups will help you increase the pullup count.

  52. Hi Darrin,

    My name is Chris, I am 18 years old and workout generally 6 times a week. The only supplements I take are Creatine HCl and a pre-workout shake. My workout consists of:
    Mon: Chest/tri
    Tues: Back/bi
    Wed: Shoulders/legs
    thurs: rest
    Fri: Chest/tri
    Sat: Back/bi
    Sun: Shoulders/legs
    I feel that considering I’m young and full of natural testosterone, I wouldn’t need as much rest as the average Joe. But as it stands I don’t think I am adequately resting my muscles.
    My question is, what changes would you recommend I do to my current workout, and how would I incorporate the “Big 7″ into a routine.

  53. @Chris – thanks for commenting! An example Big7 Routine is here:
    You’ll notice no focus on arms….

    I think most of your question can be addressed by reading these two articles:

    If you have other questions on recovery time, post them there ok? Thanks!

  54. each and every point, described by Darrin is correct.. and in short compound moments + healthy diet plan + good training plan = strength & size … specially to new comers.. gr8 Darrin..

  55. Hi darrin
    gr8 to visit this forum again.
    if I gather correctly—u are quite clearly recommending the foll for beginners–
    1) the big 7—in whatever sequence(I am not sure, though, and would really luv to know if there is a best suggestible sequence) is the best possible set of workouts to be adopted and worked on by a beginner, irrespective of age—(me 49 yrs)

    2) one can simply stick to them, for a period, lets say , one year

    3) all are to be done on the same day–with may b two days of rest in between, the routine should suffice–(ie, 3 or at most 4 days a week)

    4) one should get progressive—-ie, increase the weight gradually, suited to one’s own comfort level—(again, here, I would request that u specify how much time is normally expected to pass between such progress in terms of weight)
    pl correct if I am wrong /confirm the querries
    warm rgds

  56. @ranojoy –
    1) order of the exercises doesn’t really matter but I’m not suggesting doing them all in one workout (though that could be interesting as a one-time full workout); generally you would either do a full-body routine (like the free one in 3 Months To A New You) or a split routine (upper/lower) like 6x6x6; for beginners you can also try FullBodyAttack (all these are available via the links on the Store page)
    2) you would stick with them forever, not just one year; take Skip La Cour, who is a world-champion, lifting for 23 years – his workouts are still based on these 7 lifts (with some variations)
    3) see my #1 above
    4) yes, progression is key; as a beginner, you can usually progress about 5 pounds per week on each of the lifts (maybe even 10 pounds if you start low); eventually you get to a point where progression like that slows

  57. For someone starting out that wants to make sure they hit all the major muscle groups equally, to get a good muscle ratio (instead of big arms and chest, narrow back, thin legs!) what about

    3 x ? of the following…

    Military Press
    Bench Press
    Lat pulldown (just can’t do them damn pullups yet!!)
    Curls (d/bell)

    6 exersices, about 10 minutes each, done in an hour (hopefully!)

  58. @Mark – yeah, that looks pretty good. Except for the curls – I’d do supinated rows instead. I’ve tried workouts doing all 7 of the big7 and have noticed two downsides to putting them all into a single workout:
    a) the ones you do last are inevitably half-assed; in your case, I’d bet when you get to squats you don’t REALLY push yourself; I found this to be the case
    b) recovery time is brutal – I’ve found that I then need to take like 3 days off with no lifting at all.

    so if I could only like twice a week, maybe doing all 7 could work, but then in the second workout that week I’d reverse the order.

    But I really love split routines – let’s you focus and recover.

  59. I have a question: im in high school and i do track, specifically i sprint and throw javelin. I want to get faster and throw farther, obviously. Right now i can sprint 100m in 11.5sec and throw about 150ft, i wanna drop half a second in 100m and add 20ft to jav. Right now i do plyometrics, a crazy amount of core work and the track workouts my coach gives me, and on my own i do about 500 pushups (in a ladder) followed by about 50 chinups (in sets of 10) every other day. Do you have any bodyweight excersizes i can do to supplement my own workouts? I dont have day to day weightroom access.

  60. @zach – I’m not an expert on training for track and field, but Dan John is:

  61. These exercises are more important for beginners.If beginners focus more on learning these exercises from the beginning then they’ll make a fast progress from the start.It makes a perfect weight lifting workout for beginners.

    Certification personal training

  62. very-very usefull in ur articel. but i have a few question that i dont understand.

    1. can i be bodybuilder if i train like big 7?? or just like an athletic?

    2. don’t i had plateu? or i change a split if in my big 7 had plateu?
    3. may i do superset and dropset in ur training big 7? or do not?
    4. i had a ectomorph body genetic, how many days muscle recovery for my body type? generally i read 48hours for muscle recovery, but it’s for all body type or what??

    cos i want to be like an “the rock in WWE, he is a superstar in hollywood too :D”

    thank u before :D


  63. @indra:
    1: either
    2: plateau’s happen on all routines; and the Big 7 isn’t a “routine”, it’s just a set of exercises that should be part of any routine; search the site for other advice on plateaus
    3: sure
    4: see

    And yeah, The Rock has an awesome physique!

  64. Split out into a 2-day routine, I guess this would be the simplest of the big 7 as a 2 day routine.

    - Deadlifts
    - Dips
    - Chins (probably start with pulldowns)
    - Military Press

    - Squats
    - Inc DB Press
    - Bent-over BB Rows
    - Reverse Upright Rows
    (I tend to put in some ‘reverse upright rows in routine-B as well)

    MON, WED, FRI: ABA, BAB, ABA, etc etc etc

  65. Hi Darrin,

    Just wanted to say thanks for the awesome information and insight yourself and others have provided regarding this topic! I usually do these exercises or a variation of these during my workouts although with a busy schedule, I have tried to lump most (if not all) of these into one workout – twice a week. From what I’ve read it might be too much to do all this in one session so now I’m trying to organise my routine based on this thread.

  66. Hi Darrin

    I’m just a beginner and found this article surfing on the web. I’m trying to maximize my strength and muscle gains using compound exercises. I have a barbell and dumbells at home. I’m clear about all the exercises apart from rows. If you were to do one type of row at home what would it be?

  67. @Alastair… hmmm… this could spark lots of convo, but if I had to pick just one, I’d go with a 1-arm dumbbell row variation, primarily because you get the maximum range of motion. Even with this there are variations (stances, back angles, momentum vs. strict, etc.). But 1-arm DB rows is my vote.

  68. Hmm… I lose. I waited to answer because I thought for SURE Darrin would say “Yates Rows.” Anywho… Personally, because I think they are fun I’d say upright BB rows. From a “What’s better?” standpoint I’d say Yate’s row as well. Main reason is that you can also use your bar to do body rows/ pull-ups from a seated position if need be).

  69. Hey Cameron – we definitely should live closer so we could work out together… anyway, I do love Yates. Awesome lift. But the range of motion is just too small, IMHO, for me to pick that as the “only” row for someone to do. Plus, it’s generally easier to cheat on Yates without realizing it.

  70. GREAT discussion. :-) Hope this isn’t an exclusive ‘mens’ club and that I am not hijacking the conversation but it is such a good thread and I am really hoping that all this is as pertinent to women as it is to men. I love the compound movement and didn’t realize that isolation was an older way of working out. I’ve been out of shape for a while now but when I did train back in the day, this is what I did. I love the idea of doing one exercise that targets so many groups. I also can’t do a chin up to save my life. How does one ‘gradually’ start to get better at this if they can’t even get ONE done?

  71. @Danielle – great to hear from you! Welcome! I’ve written some articles on chin-ups/pullups:
    These should help.

  72. Walter Jones used a modest program with all dumbbell exercises for upper body strength in addition to other pushing and plyometric exercises for his legs and back. Here it is from SI some years back.


  73. Walter Jones did a lot of weigtlifting at FSU and participated in their 2 hour per day strength and conditioning programs for the two years he was there. I was there and saw him.

    “Walter Jones began his career at Holmes Community College starting at both tight end and left tackle. Once done transferred to Florida State University. It was evident when Big Walt first walked in Florida State that he was different. They are few things you can teach in life, the old basketball adage concerns height. Well at Florida State they say you can’t teach quickness. “He’s probably the best athlete that’s ever come through here on the offensive line. 6-5, 300 pounds, 4.9 speed in the 40. You know anybody else like that come through here?” Jimmy Heggins, FSU offensive line coach. Jones while at FSU added to his already impressive frame while still retaining his trademark quickness, clocking a 4.86 40 during spring drills, benching 455, and possessing a 34 inch vertical”

  74. Great list and good, solid advice. Like others I am doing a 5×5 program and was looking for a couple alternatives to switch up. My only problem is because I’m pretty small (4’7″/84lbs -and way older than all of you!)now that I’ve gotten strong enough some exercises require a spotter every time! As an example, I can’t un-rack on bench, because it’s a bit too high to push that much weightover the lip of the rack in that position! (working weight 100lbs/max lift 120) I don’t have any female friends willing (or able) to lift heavy enough to team up! Ah well, it’s a good problem! Thanks for the tips! Keep up the good work!

  75. Ismail Noor khatri
    January 23rd, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    i am a bodybuilder when i got to do back exercise i do deadlifts i always not do this one but some times i did in moderate weight i notice that after a day i got lower back pain.i am looking forward for a good reply from you. Thank you

  76. @Ismail – I’m guessing you just need to work on form. Search for videos of Dave Tate teaching deadlift – his advice is priceless (but do NOT try to lift anything close to what he lifts!). Also, try sumo deads – the different stance may fit your body type better.

  77. “b) together, they hit every major muscle in the body (yes, they even work your abs for you fitness-models out there!)”

    I have a question about these kind of statements. Don’t get me wrong, this article/website and it’s authors seem very intelligent and knowledgeable, but why do I keep hearing people say “Full body workout” and “hits EVERY muscle in your body” when it does not literally hit every muscle in your body?

    I do a lot of Muay Thai, and it’s very important to have strong, reliable calves (for closing/gaining distance) and powerful, dominating forearms (for, when you’re clenched, turning your opponent off balance like an arm wrestler turns arms) but none of these workouts REALLY target the calves or forearms (or hip abductors for that matter – a critical muscle for kicking).

    These workouts may work these areas slightly, but certainly not enough for anyone that needs them. You’ll never get doms in your forearms, or calves with these workouts so this is why I have always stuck with isolation exercises on top of Muay Thai. I’ve always sort of done my own thing when workoing out so perhaps you can educate me?

  78. hi Fox – I think I used the phrase “every MAJOR muscle”; I guess you could argue about calves but there should be no argument around forearms: heavy deadlifts absolutely tax your forearms.

    regardless, for any particular sport or athletic capability, weight training is not going to 100% transfer. If you want to be a great swimmer, weight training will help but in the end, you need to swim. If you want to be a great sprinter, weight training will help but you still need to sprint. I don’t know particulars of muay thai but I assume that to excel, you need to do more than just lift weights

  79. I’m kind of skeptical of this as u might have already guessed and I am strongly considering starting the 5×5 program but I just don’t want muscles to lag behind the rest of my progression, specifically calves bcuz they don’t really seem to be very involved in these exercises

    Would u recommend I and some standing calve raises or no?

  80. @Luis- nobody’s saying these are the only movements you can ever do. Only that these are the most important for the goals of most people on this site: getting muscular and lean. So sure, put in some calf movements at the end of your workout (in fact, most of the mini programs I sell on this site have calf movements as “extras” after you’ve done the main lifts, so I’m a fan of calf movements!).

  81. It’s hard to argue with this list, although I would advise even the novice lifter to throw power cleans into the routine from the very start. Use lighter weights to practice form, develop a little muscle memory, and then aggressively add weight. The reason? It’s an exercise that actively engages the muscles that support the rest of these lifts. It builds that overall strength that will prevent injury down the road.

    For overhead/military press, I prefer to take the barbell down and throw a hang clean into the movement. It’s right there for the taking, so why not engage the entire upper body? No, it’s not quite enough weight for a good clean, but it maximizes my time.

    As for rows, the biggest mistake I see people make with these is that they don’t get themselves close enough to parallel to the floor. They in up shortchanging themselves full range of motion, and end up doing a modified shrug. Stop showing off, cut the weight back, and focus on pulling the weight up with the muscles in your back.

    I guess that’s true with every exercise. If you’re sacrificing form, you’re wasting your time, but rows might be the easiest exercise to get sloppy on.

  82. Not seeing where the hamstrings, semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris are being worked. Deadlifts and squats will work part of the bicep femoris (hip extension)but there isn’t lift that’s causing a concentric contraction that flexes the knee involving the semitendinosus, semimembranosus.


  84. I think that a clean has too many movements in it to become one exercise. You deadlift of the ground, into a squat position, and perform a front squat. And if you’re doing a clean and jerk, the shoulder press is covered too. If you do less weight, and are more manual and controlling with it, the latter half is heavily upper body. If it’s heavier, you’re forced to use your legs to protect your back and shoulders, and your core works harder to keep your movements fluid and precise.

  85. Do you have a training program or recommendations for a home workout with only dumbbells and body weight?


    With no bars, how do you replace chinups, pullups, and dips with alternatives that are equally as good or at least almost as good?


    Is it possible to do a fat burning workout and maintain or even gain a little muscle? Right now I’m trying 2 high rep/low weight days and 1 low rep/high weight day each week with cardio inbetween each day. Will that allow me to maintain muscle and more importantly strength while burning fat? My goal is to lose a lot of fat without losing a lot weight (keep the muscle and ideally add a little if possible). Any recommendations on workouts/programs that accomplish both fat loss and muscle maintenance/gain will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  86. @Doug – those are great questions but off topic. Please take it to the forum.

  87. I came up with a very similar list, with one addition, based on natural ‘functional’ movements and attempting to work each limb in a complete range of motion in a given plane.

    Lower body:
    Deads: pick something up from the floor.
    Squats: full ROM for legs. The legs can pretty much only push vertically.

    For upper body:

    Vertical above shoulder:
    push: overhead press
    pull: chins

    push: bench press
    pull: rows

    vertical below shoulder:
    push: dips
    pull: ?

    Your list covers all these movements except for the last one, which would correspond to picking something up while standing. A rather common move.

    I added the db raise (
    It seems to be an unusual exercise, but it involves a useful movement that is not covered by this list.

  88. @Paul – thanks for this! There are some horizontal leg movements, such as long jumps, sprints, and even kettlebell swings (when done right). Great comments.

  89. @Darrin – Been away from my laptop for a while. True about the horizontal leg movements. I am also a rec tennis player. I find it much easier to cover those moves on the court. Some things are difficult to work in the gym. There is nothing like an opponent to motivate you for a flat out sprint.


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