10 Exercises Every Man Should Master

Whether you’re hitting the gym for the first time, or you’ve made the squat rack your own personal sanctuary, it never hurts to go back to the basics. Fitness is an area in which the simplest things typically work the best, and returning to your roots when exercising can often be more beneficial than investing your time and energy into learning new, complicated techniques.

So where do you start? Here are the key exercises you need to master.

1. Squats

man performing squats

Squats are one of our favorite key exercises. | iStock.com

Most trainers will tell you to focus your energy on three main lifts. As one of the “big three,” squats really are the cornerstone of any fitness regimen. Any trainer or fitness professional will tell you it all starts with the squat — whether you want to lose weight, get stronger, or get chiseled. Plus, squatting with weight is a full-body workout, building your gluteus and leg muscles while also engaging your core. The most important thing, however, is to get your form down. There are tons of tutorials out there, and you can even work on building up strength through body weight exercises before hitting the rack. If you start anywhere, start with the squat.

2. Deadlift

ma performing a deadlift

The deadlift is highly beneficial and easy to perform. | iStock.com

If there’s an exercise that’s second in relative importance when it comes to strength-building, it’s the deadlift. This is also the simplest lift you can do — you’re merely picking up as much weight as you can, and putting it back down again. You’ll be working your core, legs, and back, and forming a solid foundation of muscle by mastering the deadlift. There are a number of ways to perform this exercise, and the big thing is to make sure you don’t hurt yourself. As Livestrong.com emphasizes, your lower back is at the biggest risk when performing this exercise. Maintaining proper form and caring for your back before and after this exercise is crucial.

3. Leg press

Man using the leg press

Working your legs is a fitness must. | iStock.com

In the wide world of weight-lifting, the upper body too often gets all the attention. You have surely seen this happen before, with men having arms like the Hulk, but legs made for skinny jeans. “When it comes to strength, your lower half is your better half. Your leg and butt muscles are the foundation of your body and essential for almost any activity,” says Men’s Health. To keep yourself from looking like a disproportionate action figure, you should add leg presses to your fitness regimen. The same story recommends doing a diminished-rest interval workout twice a week, using “a weight that’s about 95% of the amount you lifted in the test, perform 10 sets of one repetition, resting 80 seconds after each set.”

4. Bench press

bench press

Learn to perform a proper bench press. | iStock.com

When you think about weight lifting basics, the bench press is likely one of the first things that pops into your head. The bench is definitely important, as it’ll target your chest, back, and arms. It’s the third of the “big three” and getting the right form down is fairly easy. You are merely pushing weight up above your head and chest, and bringing it back down. Start slow, and try to add a little weight every session. The one caveat is that, despite it’s easy-to-follow instructions, it is very easy to hurt yourself. The bench press is best done with a spotter to keep things safe. Benching by yourself? Take a cue from Fitocracy on solo benching safety.

5. Pull-ups

Man hanging on bar

Mastering pull-ups will not be easy, but they will get you ripped. | iStock.com

You might be groaning at the sight of pull-ups on this list, given the well-known workouts reputation for being difficult. Which is understandable — for beginners, or for people who haven’t worked out in a while, pull-ups can be very challenging. That being said, you shouldn’t be discouraged from doing them. Just make sure you’re getting the movement right. Having proper form will actually make this upper-body blast easier to master. Before you know it, you’ll be busting out multiple reps and sets, and seeing the difference in your chest and shoulders.

6. Hip thrust

Set of personal sport stuff lay on training bench in fitness gym

Hip thrusts will give you a serious lower body workout. | iStock.com/golubovy

Working your glutes and optimizing the extension in your hips is crucial. Which makes it interesting that not a lot of people utilize this workout staple. “The glutes are designed to extend the hip or pull the leg behind the body,” STACK explains. “If your glutes are underdeveloped, your speed, power and strength are all compromised.” Of course, you need to make sure you have proper form — stacked shoulders, feet not too far apart — to help prevent injury to your back and knees. Do two to three sets of 12 and you will start to feel the burn of this exercise.

7. Vertical jump

Man performing box jumps

Performing vertical jumps will add explosiveness. | iStock.com

Building your muscles is all well and good, but adding explosiveness to your regimen? Now that’s a basic fitness must. In addition to being great for your hips and glutes, this exercise gives you explosiveness that can be applied to the rest of your fitness regimen. (It’s no wonder NBA and NFL players have it as part of their own workout plans.) Of course, this is no ordinary jump. Proper form — which is broken down very well in this tutorial — is important for avoiding injury and getting the most out of your jumps.

8. Rows

standing row

The row can be performed many different ways. | iStock.com

The row is an underrated yet effective lift, and one that every man should have in his fitness arsenal. This exercise works your arms, chest, and back together in a way that many other exercises can’t, and it’s also a steady form of cardiovascular exercise. You’re essentially mimicking the movement you would do if you were rowing a boat — pulling weight toward yourself. There are many ways you can do it, too. You can do it seated, standing, with rope attachments on machines, barbells, or dumbbells.

9. Power clean

a power clean

Nothing says Hercules like performing a good power clean. | iStock.com

Another popular lift, and an important one for developing upper-body strength, is the power clean. Also called the hang clean, this lift has gained followers thanks to the CrossFit craze. But despite the focus on the upper body, the power clean is a full-body lift, and one that you’ll need ample space to perform. At the exercise’s bare bones, you are picking a barbell up off the floor, and thrusting it up and under your chin. While it sounds pretty self-explanatory, having an instructor or spotter nearby could be the difference between doing the exercise properly, and sidelining yourself with an injury.

10. Running

Woman runner running on city road

There is actually such a thing as proper running form. | iStock.com/lzf

No, really — a lot of people don’t know how to properly run. And they end up hurting themselves as a result. While the temptation might be to stick to lifting weights, you will never see results without integrating cardio, and running is the best way to achieve that goal. But first, you must have proper running form. If you’re unsure, check out a tutorial to see if your form is off.

You shouldn’t be damaging your knees or ankles, and if you are running with bad form, you could give yourself a stress fracture or shin splints. Also, get some good, solid shoes. You won’t believe the difference a great pair of running shoes will make for your shins.

Additional reporting by Chelena Goldman