Stop Searching For Magic Exercises

They Exist, But You’ve Already Found Them

The teardrop of the quad. The long head of the biceps. The upper chest. The “upper lat”. The medial head of the triceps. The rhomboids.

All very important muscles. All of them can be preferentially targeted with certain movements.

But should you?

The biceps has two heads.

Both act on the elbow to flex it, and also assist in raising the arm overhead by acting on the shoulder. You can get slightly more activation of one or the other by manipulating your arm position or even the load, such as holding a dumbbell off-center.

But should you try to emphasize one head of the biceps or the other?

No. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

If you want bigger biceps, just work the entire damn thing.

Same thing with quads.

You can attempt to work the “teardrop” or vastus medialis a bit more by turning the toes a certain way when doing squats or leg extensions. But the amount of increased growth that you’re going to get compared to just doing normal exercises in a normal way is…generally pretty meaningless.

Plus, you are now working the other part of the muscle suboptimally. So you need another exercise for that specific area, rather than just doing one basic movement for both. And you can possibly even open the door to injury if you are doing a movement in an awkward or uncomfortable way, just to increase activation of a certain area.

The astute reader is probably asking “why do these weird super-specialized exercises even exist, then?”

Two main reasons:

  1. For extremely advanced bodybuilders who have already lifted for many years and might actually need such specialization to add the dozen or so grams of muscle to their frames in a way that makes them more competitive.
  2. To sell to dopamine-reliant program-hopping beginners who don’t realize that it’s a massive waste of time for them doing these.

It’s mostly the latter.

You want to know the “magic exercises”?

Squats. High bar? Low bar? Front? Anderson? Goblet? Paused?

Yes. All that stuff. But hold the bosu ball bullshit, please. Variety is good, but when things get weird, they almost certainly get suboptimal, too.

Deadlifts. Back extensions. RDLs. Good mornings.

Push stuff. Bench presses. Barbell, dumbbell, incline, decline. Dips. Throw in some cable stuff but don’t overdo it.

Press things overhead, too. Barbells, dumbbells, seated, standing. Arnold style, Klokov style.

Row. Not in a boat, but with a barbell or dumbbell — notice a pattern? Strict, cheated, in between, yes.

Go to a bar. Pull yourself up to it. Or grab something overhead and pull it down.

Toss in some isolation work, curl a bar, or extend at the elbow with it. Same for dumbbells. Add some isolated shoulder work for the side and rear delts and call it a day.

95% of all the muscle you’ll ever build can probably be done with 15–20 exercises, but you have to actually do them and get strong at them. That’s hard to do if you’re training for the circus like many influencers promote.

The worst part?

They almost all built their physiques with those very same, magic, basic movements that they tend to not talk about, because that doesn’t get the clicks, views and shares. They’ve fallen into the trap of giving people what they want, not what actually helps them.

Don’t fall for it. If magic exercises exist at all, they’re just the basic old school movements, not the over marketed new ones.

Hi! Just a guy from Quora who lifts and writes about it. Online personal trainer based in Shenzhen, China. New to Medium…and writing.

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