Must have exercises! – Exercises you should be putting in your program


As long as the exercise you are doing hits the muscle group you aim for it to hit, and you progressively overload you will gain muscle and strength. Exercise choice doesn’t matter as long as it is diverse and hits all angles and heads of a muscle group, there are no must-have exercises! However, there are a few exercises we think you should be doing that many people don’t. 

These will either be a type of exercise or a variation on an exercise! We will explain how to perform them and also why we think you should be programming them. So let us kick it straight of into our first one.


Some people do Shrugs, some people don’t. Some people do them every now and then and don’t track them! The best thing I have done was start taking my shrugging seriously! Treat it as you would with any other exercise! Logging it, progress it and you will see huge improvements! 

Plus, progressing your shrug, I think, can improve your physique dramatically. Help improve your shoulders and back. Plus it can assist with exercises like Deadlifts and help improve them.


Most gyms will have what they call a Lat Pull Down but these machines aren’t optimal for hitting the Lats. There are a few alternatives you can do to hit the Lats better, all that matter is that your arm is out in front of you and you are bringing your elbow towards your hip/pocket. Some gyms (like the one I have changed to) have a Good Lat Pull Down machine, so we aren’t saying they are all bad. However, if yours doesn’t you can do an alternative.

Another thing to remember is that there are plenty of other exercises to perform that will hit the Lats. Dumbbell and cable pullovers. Pullover machine, pull-ups. So just because your gym has a Lat Pull Down of some kind, don’t think that it is the most optimal way to grow your Lats.


Most people will be doing a lateral raise of some kind, however, you will find that a lot of people will be doing a dumbbell lateral raise. This is a good starting point but has a lot of pitfalls. Mostly the profile of the exercise doesn’t lead itself to use a dumbbell that well.

We recommend that you swap to using a cable! Using a cable to perform your lateral raises will allow you to keep resistance on your Muscle throughout the whole movement! Allowing you to fatigue the muscles more which in turn will allow you to build more muscle. If you aren’t doing lateral raises at all, make sure you add them in! I would say they are the best shoulder movement out there!


Everyone wants boulder shoulders! Having big shoulders makes your was it look smaller and also added so much to your shape in general. Everyone will train a shoulder press and a lateral raise of some kind, but most people will miss a reverse fly. This exercise will target the posterior deltoids, or rear deltoids and will help to give you that bowling ball or “capped” delt look. 

If you do a reverse fly, are you doing it with a cable? As with eh cable lateral raise, using a cable over a dumbbell will make the exercise even better! Keeping resistance on the muscle throughout the whole movement, allowing more growth. There are several ways to set up a rear deltoids fly, I prefer a standing, dual cable belt fly. The downside is that as it is standing there will be some balance issues but if you wanted you could do them seated and single-armed.


As you mature in the gym, you find yourself enjoying leg day. However, one thing a lot of people skip or don’t take seriously is calf work. Most people do it as and when and when they do it, they aren’t as strict and don’t try to progress it, they just do 3 sets of so many reps and be done. You should be treating calf’s the same as any other muscle. Hitting them with a certain frequency throughout the week tracking the lifts and progressing it as you would your deadlifts. 

I am a huge fan of standing calf raises as I can feel these more than seared and feel I get more out of them, but pick whichever one you like the most and stick with it. Your calves will grow! As will any other muscle you train.


This one isn’t an exercise, more of a group! We are all guilty of it! Forgetting to train abs, or even just straight-up ignoring them. Abs are a muscle group and need to be trained! You will work them in other exercises, but you work your arms in other exercises and still train them! 

If you want to get a strong core and define abs you need to train them like you would with any other muscle group (For define abs you will also need diet and a low body fat percentage). I don’t do a lot for abs, I like to keep it simple, I just do a superset of Ab wheel rollouts into weighted knee raises! 3-4 sets of this and that is abs done for me. I will aim to hit them once a week, 


So that is a few of my must-have exercises! You might have noticed that I didn’t give a certain exercise, It was more variations. We have said it many times before, you don’t need to do certain exercises to build muscle. Some of the exercises that people say are must-have exercises are not the most optimal for muscle growth. 

You want to have a selection of exercises to hit all the areas of a muscle group effectively and also exercises you enjoy, don’t pick exercises that you don’t like doing. All that will happen is you will lose motivation for gym because you don’t want to do that exercise. Look at most people and leg day, they hate squats so they hate leg day, take out squats and swap it for another pressing movement and suddenly leg day is fun again! If you want to keep up to date with any articles we post head over to our Instagram. 

If you are after a way to track your lifts then you can use the built-in Exercise tracker in our application, it is part of the Members Area. You can download the application here for free to get started!

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Written by Kieran Blacker

Kieran is the CEO and Founder of Sets & Reps. He decided to make an application that helped people get a gym workout when not at the gym. He designed, Coded and built the application himself.