Getting strong isn't always easy, but if you want to get strong you need to be doing the five exercises below at very minimum. If you can master and be consistent with these five classic strength exercises you will be well on your way to getting stronger. Quick word of warning, before you start piling on the weight make sure that you take some time to learn the correct technique, form, and weight for your ability level! No one ever got stronger when injured. If you can master the form and slowly and sensibly increase the weight you are using on these strength building exercises then there isn't much more you need to be doing in the gym. What you will notice about this list of exercises which will make you strong is that they are all compound exercises (more than one joint used) which trigger more of a hormonal response from your body.
The definition of a strength exercise, picking something very heavy off of the floor using your full body. The deadlift when done correctly is a must for anyone looking to get strong, big, toned, fit, flexible etc. You name your goal and deadlifting will help you achieve your goal. It uses your glutes, hamstrings, quads, back, traps, core, and arms to get the weight off of the floor and up to hip height so neglect the deadlift at your peril. Make sure to spend time working on your deadlift technique (with a trainer if you can) and you will be rewarded with strength gains beyond your wildest dreams. What's more is there are tons of deadlift varieties to choose from so the challenge never stops with this strength building exercise!
The squat is another classic lower body strength building exercise using primarily the muscles of the thigh, hips, and butt to control this fundamental human movement pattern. Getting strong on the squat will require good flexibility of the ankle and hips as well as mobility of the mid to upper back, so work on these before attempting to squat something in your max range. If you aren't squatting you are missing out on a fundamental lower body strength builder which if you are a guy is also great for building muscle! There are a few classic squat varieties for you to try in your quest for strength. I recommend this progression for anyone who has never squatted before; goblet squats, barbell front squats, and barbell back squats. Master each before moving on to the next and then start focusing on lifting some weight!
The Bench Press
The go to gym exercise for most guys when they enter the gym, the bench press is actually a potent upper body strength building exercise. It doesn't need a lot of explaining but if you are consistent in progressing your bench press and mixing up the varieties your upper body strength will thank you. One word of warning, if you are benching frequently make sure that you are getting extra back work in to balance the push and pull muscles of the upper body and to avoid overuse injuries. I like to superset my bench press strength work with a lot of dumbell rows and band pull aparts to keep my back in tip top shape to bench as much as possible. I woul also suggest switching the bench press to the military press every now and again for a few weeks to improve the strength of your vertical pushing. You will notice this work when you return to the bench press.
As mentioned the row is a very important exercise for balancing the muscles of the back with the often overused chest muscles. But the row, namely the bent over barbell row is a fantastic strength building exercise in it's own right. Requiring strong lats, rhomboids, lower back, and core the bent over row is in my opinion under utilised as part of a strength programme. In fact the times I have spent working hard on my bent over row strength have been rewarded with new bench press and military press personal bests! This is due to the great platform a set of strong lats will give to your pushing strength! If you for some reason find it difficult to row or have an injury preventing you from being able to do this variation then make sure to use one of the other rowing varieties to give your back the work it needs. I like Kroc rows, inverted rows, and even weight machine rows.
I love chin ups! Not only do they help to build a great set of biceps but they are amazing for building strength in the back, core, and grip! Spend the time to master bodyweight chin ups and then you can start adding weight to boost your strength even further. Using this classic strength exercise is another great option to do between sets of your heavy pressing work such as bench or military press and there are a few varieties to keep you challenged if you master one type. If you struggle to do a bodyweight chin up use negative, band, or assisted chin ups to work yourself up to a master of this strength building classic. You won't regret it!
Getting strong at these five fundamental strength exercises is pretty much all you will ever need if gettting stronger is your goal. The pursuit of mastery and progress in all could keep you busy for the rest of your training life should you be that way inclined. So if you want my advice on what will get you stronger I would say to you, ditch the curls and isolation and start picking up, pushing, and pulling heavy weights and you will get there. Welcome to the pursuit of strength!