My personal favourite exercises which have given me the biggest increase in size and strength may surprise you, but they do come from years of trial and error and as you will see there is evidence of their value amongst the groups of people who use them the most. Some of these movements will be familiar to you, however the slight changes to the technique will bring you new gains in the targets muscles, so change it up and build some new muscle!
Traps/shoulders/rhomboids/rear delts - Snatch grip high pulls
Yup, you read that right. The best exercise for four muscle groups is ONE exercise! the snatch grip high pull. Nothing and I repeat nothing with build your entire shoulder girdle like these will. They build absolutely enormous traps & shoulders. For a period of time they have been the only exercise I do to hit my shoulders...and they have never been bigger!
Not only are they amazing at making your whole shoulder area massive and strong, they are incredible at increasing your power and require a high amount of energy to perform, so they are great for fat loss as well.
Just look at the group of people who perform them the most: Olympic weightlifters. These guys do high pulls or variations of them all damm day and as you will notice when you watch the Olympics, have incredible shoulder and trap development. Even if you see weightlifters who aren't on the international state, they will still have one identifying feature that they are a weightlifter...HUGE TRAPS!
Nothing will improve your entire body as much as snatch grip high pulls will, oh yea and they also hit the whole posterior chain as well....rear delts, rhomboids, lats, glutes, hamstrings, calves.
If you can sling a significant amount of weight up on these, then you can be sure your are gonna be one wide, yolked up, strong, powerfull mofo. Perform 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps or sets of 3 reps every minute on the minute for 8-12 minutes (using around 75% of your max)
Honourable mention: Behind the neck shoulder press. The standard military press is great for the front delts but the behind the neck version of the overhead press is superior as it involves a lot more side and rear delt stimulation. Dont be fooled by those who say this is a dangerous exercise, if you have healthy shoulders this movement is perfectly fine. When pain is felt during this movement it is usually an indication of a pre-existing shoulder problem that needs to be fixed.
Chest - Reverse Grip Incline dumbbell press
Nope its not the bench press! while great for overall upper body strength, the bench press is sub par for most people when it comes to developing the chest muscles. Dumbbells allow for a greater stretch and range of motion than a barbell. The slight incline allows for the whole muscle to be stimulated, simply place a plate under the head of the bench to get the perfect angle that will allow the most pec stimulation whilst keeping the shoulders out of the equation. The reverse grip will give you a new stimulus you won't be used to, It will really target the upper chest and allow a big stretch. Go for a set of 6-8 with a reverse grip then immediately switch to a regular grip and go until failure. Peform 2-3 sets after you main lift of the day (A bench press variation) then finish with 3-4 sets of dips to failure.
Honourable mention: Dips - When done properly these may actually better than dumbbell presses. The correct way to perform dips when pec stimulation is the goal is to bend the body like a bow - torso leaning forward and legs out in front of you.
Back - Dumbbell rows - done correctly!
When performing dumbbell rows, most lifters involves far to much bicep and rear delt involvment relative to lat stimulus. The right way, or at least most optimal, is to have the range of motion of the dumbbell be more of an arc, rather than an straight up and down. At the lowest postion the dumbbell should be in front of the body as if you are reaching as far away as you can, this will really stretch the lat muscle. The concentric portion of the rep is then in arc - back and up (think elbows to touch hips) really drving the elbow up and back as hard as possible. To increase the tension you can start each rep from a dead stop which will really require the lats to contract super hard in order to get the weight moving.
Honourable mention: 'Perfect' cable rows - Done on a cable row machine, this row utilises eccentric, concentric and isometric reps to full stimulate the lats. To begin, lean back then row, pulling back low with the elbows to the belly button. Then whilst keeping the elbows back, slow lean forward until upright, now slowly release the cable back to the start position. Perform 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps.