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The Big Five Workout in Weight Training

What is the big five workout? Fitness trainers talk about “the big five” strength training exercises, because they truly are the most important to perform often. Let's look at the most effective strength training exercises and what muscle groups they effect the most.


The Big Five Workout: Less is More

The big five workout exercises give us a full body workout, stimulating growth in all of the largest muscles in the body. After training in Super Slow strength training I've started putting a bigger focus on these five essential exercises for maximizing efficiency. A lot of people make the assumption that we have to work out at the gym for hours a day just to be healthy, this simply couldn't be further from the truth.


To achieve the maximum amount of muscle growth possible, we want to use as many muscle fibers as possible. Naturally, when we focus on the compound exercises (exercises that use multiple muscle groups), we get a lot more out of our strength training sessions. Read more about strength training and evidence based exercise.

So what are the big five and what muscles do they work?

Leg Press – Glutes, Lower back, all leg muscles (our focus is on strengthening the glutes and pushing through the heels.)

Lat Pull Down / Compound Row – Mid back (Lats), Upper back, Biceps, Forearms, Rear shoulders

Chest Press – Chest muscles, triceps, front shoulders

Leg Curl – Hamstrings, calf muscles

Some people will add overhead press, but these muscles are generally being used twice and we could substitute this exercise for another -

Overhead Press – Middle shoulders, biceps, triceps, top of the back and chest

The Big Five Workout: Express Fitness

The big five workout exercises are the most efficient way to give yourself maximum muscle growth while working with a trainer or lifting weights on your own. Another important aspect of getting the most out of our strength training workouts: assure you work the muscles until you can no longer move the weights any longer (achieve full muscle fatigue).


When we fully fatigue our muscles we are basically turning the “regrow” switch all the way to grow the most possible. This New York Times article will talk a bit more about how we can get the same results and the same muscle growth in about half the time most traditional workouts last. This form of express fitness is commonly known as super slow strength training, and also commonly called high intensity training (HIT for short). 

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