The secret behind getting strong? Pick the right barbell exercises. Follow Men’s Fitness’s guide to build strength fast.

And if, like most modern men, you are time-poor and you want to make sure that your gym sessions are both effective and efficient, it makes sense to identify the most useful exercises you can do so that you can build your workouts around them.

They are all barbell exercises, for one simple reason. “When you’re strength training, the best tool you can use is the barbell,”. “Nothing else comes close. Lifting for strength requires multi-joint exercises known as compound lifts, which create tension through different muscles and movement patterns, and they stimulate thousands of nerves which are all part of getting stronger.”

But before you head to the gym with a new punishing seven-move routine, some advice about how to weave them into your training regime. “Because these movements require the recruitment of a large number of motor units and they provide a big stimulus to the central nervous system, I always put them at the start of training sessions. Generally you pick two of these exercises as your main lifts, such as squat and deadlift for a lower-body session, or bench press and barbell row for the upper body.”

Alternatively you could do a full-body strength session, performing an upper-body move followed by a lower. “This upper/lower style of training can allow you to get more work done in a shorter amount of time because less recovery time is required when you move between different body parts. Another benefit of this method is increased heart rate as the body pumps blood from one area to another, leading to a higher metabolic rate and increased fat burning.”

Here are the seven moves you need to know about.

Photography: Glen Burrows; Model: Tom Wright

The Magnificent 7

Bench Press

Start with your arms locked and the bar above your chest. Press your shoulders into the bench, plant your feet on the floor and squeeze your glutes. Bend your elbows to lower the weight to your chest, then press back up to the start.

Targets: chest, triceps, front shoulders

If you want to build an impressive upper torso then the bench press is king.

Bent-Over Row

Hold the bar with a shoulder-width grip, bending your knees slightly, then bend at the hips until your torso is at a roughly 45° angle to the floor. Pull the bar up to touch your stomach and then lower under control. If you’re moving your upper body to shift the bar, the weight’s too heavy.

Targets: biceps, lats, core

You should be spending the same amount of time training your back as you do your chest, and the key move is the bent-over row. “The barbell row is a great way to develop a strong upper body and add size to your back, and it’s the only exercise to work all the different muscles that make up the rear of your torso” . “The move requires not only a strong pull but also the ability to keep yourself fixed in the bent-over position, which takes strong spinal erectors – technically part of your core muscles.”


tanding with your feet shoulder-width apart, grasp the bar with your hands just outside your legs. Lift the bar by driving your hips forwards, keeping a flat back. Lower the bar under control – though once you get up to really heavy weights, it’s OK to drop your final rep.

Targets: whole body

If you’re looking for raw strength then the deadlift is the move for you.

Back Squat

Take the bar out of the rack with it resting on your rear shoulder muscles. Take two big steps back and stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly out. Keep your spine in alignment by looking at a spot on the floor about two metres in front of you, then “sit” back and down as if you’re aiming for a chair. Descend until your hip crease is below your knee. Keep your weight on your heels as you drive back up.

Targets: quads, glutes and hamstrings

The reason the squat is a great measure of strength is because it works both lower and upper body at the same time while connecting the two with a strong core.

Overhead Press

With your feet shoulder-width apart, position a bar on your upper chest, gripping it with hands just wider than shoulder-width apart. Brace your abs, glutes and quads as you press the bar straight upwards. Pause at the top, then lower. You may find you lift more weight by wrapping your thumbs around the same side as your fingers, to keep your forearms in a more favourable position.

Targets: shoulders, triceps

Hoisting a heavy weight above your head is a true old-school test of strength. This exercise will create bigger delts as well as a strong back – plus greater overhead strength, which will transfer over to the bench press.


Stand with a barbell resting on the back of your shoulders. Retract your shoulder blades and keep your back upright and core braced throughout. Take a big step forwards and lower your body until both knees are bent at 90˚ before pushing back off your front foot to return to the start position.

Targets: quads, glutes and hamstrings

The barbell lunge is an excellent lower-body builder because it allows you to apply heavy loads on to a single leg in a dynamic movement.

Power CleanBench Press

tart with the barbell on the floor, holding it with a shoulder-width grip. Drive through your heels to lift it off the floor, then explode up as it passes your knees, using the momentum to help pull it up to chest height and “catching” it on your chest. Pause for a second, then drop or lower the barbell for the next rep.

Targets: whole body

This is the one move in the series dedicated to increasing power and speed.