anyone who has ever used any type of workout program, you most likely have heard of the big three. I am referring to the “three kings” of exercises. The Squat, the DeadLift, and the Bench Press
are the exercises I am referring to. Without these three exercises power lifting would not even exist. These exercises are
not only considered the exercises of the manly man but they are also three of the best exercises, if not the best exercises
for improving fitness goals. So if you’re not a power lifter why should you even care about “the big three”,
because they are the most effective and versatile exercises a person can have in their workout. The “Big Three”
can also be referred to as Upper Body, Lower Body, and All Around cause that is what these three exercises do. You could make
some pretty significant changes to your body using a program that only had these three exercises in them.
So what makes
them better than any other old exercise? First off they are what you call compound exercises. Compound exercises are exercises
that work a lot of muscle groups and joints at one time. A few things about compound movements:
- Compound movements use more muscle fibers to complete a movement
movements like leg extensions target one muscle area the quads, when you do a compound movement like a squat you hit your
quads, hamstrings, butt, adductors, adductors, calves, and various other muscles in the legs. You get more bang for your buck.
- Compound movements give you more results in less time
more results in less time with compound movements because you end up working harder with each lift. When you use more muscle
groups your energy output is more, by outputting more energy each lift you end up spending less time in the gym. So whether
your goal is to lose weight or gain muscle by outputting more energy you can achieve one or the other or both in less time.
- Compound movements give a greater
release of hormones
stressful an exercise is on the body the more the body will release hormones. One prime example is Growth Hormones. Growth
Hormone helps burn body fat and build more muscle.
- Compound movements give you more time to focus on other things
achieve better results in less time you have more time to focus on other aspects of your training. You can have more time
to dedicate to your diet, cardio ,and or muscle stretching.
- Compound movements teach better balance and stability
movements are done with free weights. When your body uses free weights it has to stabilize and balance on it’s own unlike
machines. Since you are already using more muscles by doing compound exercises, you build stability and balance in more areas.
- Compound movements help you burn fat better
By working harder
and using more muscles you also burn more calories. By burning more calories you can burn fat easier. A second compound movements
help you burn fat better is because you can build muscle faster with compound movements. Whenever you have more muscle, you
can burn body fat easier. More muscle equals more fat burning.
Now lets look
at the “Big Three” individually and some of their benefits.
The Squat- The squat is by far the king of the lower body. Squats build strength and size in your
lower body and define your gluts. They increase jumping ability, lower body stability total power. Squats also strengthen
your upper body to a degree and help strengthen and improve joint mobility. Squats can be so taxing that they also help cardiovascular
the King of the lower body is plagued with bad rumors about him.
There are men and women who routinely perform squats with hundreds of pounds over their body weight incident
free. Everyone should be able to free weight squat their bodyweight at least once in good form. If you can’t, there
is a goal for you. When performed properly there is no better exercise for the lower body than the squat. The key to great
gains from squats is proper technique.
are more harm than good.”
People who get
hurt from squatting are people who either use bad technique, too much weight, or improper mechanics. This is also a great
excuse for people who do not like squatting. If something is bad for you why do it, that is much easier than saying these
are good for you but can be really really hard. How many times do you see people in the gym with well developed upper bodies
but lacking in the leg department.
The first thing they usually say is “I work my legs but they just do not grow!”
The first thing
I ask is do you squat. Usually you will get a response like “No squatting is not for me or sometimes but not often.”
If you do get
a yes, I ask to see them squat and when you see their technique you can see the problem right away. Usually their legs don’t
grow because their technique is off.
are bad for your knees.”
Guess what; leg
presses, leg extentions, or any leg exercise done incorrectly can be hell on your knees. Squats get a bad rap for this because
bad squatting technique does tend to put more stress on the knees than any other leg exercise. Add the fact that squats are
hard anyway and here is the urban legend about how bad squats are for you. Squatting with proper technique not only build
and strengthen your legs but actually improve your knee joint strength and flexibility.
I worked with
a client who constantly complained she could not do squats because they hurt her knees. After working with her and improving
her technique, she routinely free weight squats around two hundred pounds for reps.
Three of the
worst offenders of the knees with squatting are:
- Positioning of the knees when squatting
your toes should be pointed slightly outward. Your knees should follow your toes. By pushing the knees outwards, it takes
a lot of pressure off of the knees when they are pointed forward. Make sure to also keep pushing your knees out when coming
up from a squat. Knees buckling in place a lot of tork on the knees.
- Stopping at parallel when squatting
your knee joint as a door hinge. A door hinge is strongest fully opened or fully closed. When a door hinge is at 90* it is
at it’s weakest point. The same can be said for the knee joint. At 90* the hamstrings are not allowed a full stretch.
This places most of the force applied against the leg forward and upward from the quad and their attachment to the front of
the leg below the knee. This places a tremendous shearing force on the kneecap. Squats should always be taken just below parallel
or as deep as you can comfortably go. If you can not hit below parallel with the weight your using then you need to drop the
weight till you can get down in the right range of motion. Squats tend to be safer than even leg extentions for knees but
that is another discussion for another time.
muscles also put a ton of force on your knees. Try squatting with really tight hamstrings and see how productive that is.
In the same token if a muscle is weak another muscle usually compensates by taking over most of the work. If you squat and
your thighs and lower back are doing most of the work it means your hamstring and glutes are weak. Glutes and hamstrings play
a big role in knee flexibility, so if your not getting proper strength or flexibility from either your knees will hurt.
squatted before but got nothing out of them.”
If you can’t
get gains in your whole body from squatting, you might as well quit lifting. Squats build the lower body massively but put
a bit of stress on the upper body to also help it grow. Squats like any other exercise, to be successful you have to pay your
dues. The problem most people have with paying their dues to squats is the dues are much harder to pay. You don’t become
the king of lower body exercises without being hard and casting fear in some. Some people never miss an opportunity to leg
press but always find a way to avoid squatting from week to week.
- Step under the bar, letting it rest across
the back of your delts. Make sure the barbell is centered on your back. If it is resting on your neck and traps it’s
too high. Placing the barbell low across the delts gives you greater leverage and power.
- Grip the barbell tightly. Bring your hands
in as close to your shoulders as you can comfortably. Bringing your grip in tighter will keep your upper body tight throughout
the lift increasing your stability and help keep your back flat.
- Place your feet close together directly
under the bar. Take a deep breath into your chest and lift the bar out of the rack with your legs.
- Take at least two, but no more than three
short, steps back from the rack to set up.
- Use a foot placement that is comfortable
for you. Different placement of your feet will have different advantages and disadvantages. Find the one that is most comfortable
- Point your toes in the same direction
your knees are pointed – with a narrow stance they should be pointed slightly forward, with a wider stance they will
be angled out. This will prevent binding in your knees and hips.
- When ready to squat, take another deep
breath into your chest and hold it. Tighten your abs.
- Your descent should begin with your hips
breaking before your knees. Sit into the squat as if sitting into a chair.
- Keep your head and chest up, and your
back flat throughout entire lift.
- Descend until your thighs are just below
parallel with the floor.
- Drive the weight back up explosively.
Keep your head and chest up and drive down through your heels to maximize the use of your hamstrings and glutes. Force your
knees out as you drive through the lift.
- Complete the lift by pushing out your
knees, forcing your hips forward and bringing your back fully erect. Exhale as you begin locking the weight out.
- Select a weight that you can perform all
of your repetitions using proper technique. On your last 1-2 sets, your last repetitions should be very difficult, but you
should maintain good form.
The Bench Press- Who does not know the bench press? It is probably the most famous upper body movement
around. How much do you bench? I think that question is probably asked of every male and some females that had ever worked
out in their life. The bench is one of the best upper body movements around. Notice I did not say chest movements but upper
body movements. Bench Presses are great for the chest, shoulders, triceps, rear delts, and to a small degree the lats. That
is almost your entire upper body worked in one simple exercise. Even though it’s considered the manly mans’ exercise,
bench presses are great for women also. Because of the heavy compound movement that it is, bench pressing is great for women
because it can help shape a woman’s cleavage. The motion of the bench press help firm and lift the chest area on women.
Bench Pressing will also shape the arms and upper body frame better because of the work it places on the triceps and front
shoulders. Many women try and incorporate push ups in their workout anyway, a bench press really is just a more advanced form
of a push up. Unlike his buddy the squat, the bench press often gets too much
attention leading to some people getting injured from bench pressing.
A few things
to remember about Bench Pressing:
- Do Not Bench Press to often
Bench Pressing is a Compound exercise you use more muscle fibers to work. The more muscles you use the more recovery time
your body is going to need. Bench Pressing also uses a lot of shoulder and tricep
muscles. They are smaller muscles and should not be worked as hard or often as some of your larger muscles or you could end
- Use weight that you can handle
the Bench Press is for your upper body not your ego, you don’t want to end up seriously injured by getting weight too
heavy for you stuck on your chest or neck. Another thing to remember is you use a lot of stabilizer muscles and joints to
bench press. If you use weight that is too heavy you could tear a muscle or injure a joint from them not being able to handle
- Use proper form when Bench Pressing
form is key when bench pressing. You want to lift in a slow controlled manner. Wobbling,
bouncing the bar off of your chest, and too much arching with your back is something that should be avoided when bench pressing.
- Always use a spotter when using heavy weight
If you are going
to use heavy weight, make sure you have a spotter just in case. Like the saying goes “Better safe than sorry!”
the Bench Press:
The Setup. You need a strong base to press the weight from.
Tighten your upper-back. Grip the bar hard: try to break it apart like breaking spaghetti.
- .Grip width should
be about shoulder width apart depending on your build. Forearms perpendicular to the floor when the bar touches your chest.
- Secure the bar with your thumbs by rotating
your hands in. Put the bar in the palm of your hand, close to your wrist.
your shoulder-blades before getting on the bench. Keep your shoulder-blades back & down at all times This gives your body
a solid base to press the bar from.
- Don’t allow your chest to go flat
or shoulders to roll forward. You’ll lose upper-back tightness, losing power & increasing risk of shoulder injury.
Keep your chest up at all time.
- Use a wide foot stance to increase stability
on the bench. Feet flat on the floor, weight on the heels, lower leg perpendicular to the floor. This prevents extreme arching
of your lower back.
The Press. Remember to keep the tight
position during the Bench Press from start to finish. Squeeze the bar, keep your upper-back tight & your chest up. Unrack
the weight with straight arms. Bench.
- Touch your chest where your forearms are
perpendicular to the floor when looking from the side.
- . Don’t look at the bar. Fix a point
at the ceiling. Press the bar in a straight line above your chest, not towards your face. Keep the bar above your elbows during
the whole lift.
Deadlift- The King of kings as far as compound exercises is concerned. The deadlift is the true measure
of pure strength because it uses almost all your muscles in your body. The major muscles worked by the deadlift are the quads,
hamstrings, butt, abs, erectors, lats, traps, biceps, triceps, delts, and a whole bunch of other little stabilizer muscles.
The deadlift works the joints of the ankles, knees, hips, vertebrae, shoulders, wrist, and fingers.This is an exercise every
man, woman, and or beast should have in their workout. Gorillas are even known to perform a move similar to the deadlift,
when moving trees in the wild. There is no one exercise that is more taxing on the body due to the amount of muscles used
to perform it.
For men Deadlifts are great because it is the fastest way to build muscle mass and raw strength. Deadlifts,
because they are so taxing they release a lot of growth hormone and testosterone in the body. Deadlifts are big and brutish
but can also have a gentler side for the ladies. Traditionally women tend to be less flexible in the hamstrings than men.
Women also tend to have weaker hamstrings. Deadlifts can help with both of these problems. Deadlifts can also lift and firm
a woman’s butt because you use a lot of glute muscles when you deadlift.
The Deadlift is a great
all around strength builder in both sexes. It will build not only raw power but explosive strength also. The Deadlift is great
for teaching balance and coordination because it has so many multi plain and multi joint movements to it. Deadlifts also burn
a lot of calories so they are beneficial for fat burning.
Performing the Deadlift
- Feet should be flat on the floor
about shoulder width apart in the conventional style and slightly farther apart in the sumo style.
- Grip bar with a closed, alternate
grip (one palm facing you the other away from you).
- Knees should be flexed as in a full
- Bar should be as close to the shins
- Back should be flat.
- Head should be up or in a neutral
- Begin pull by extending at the hips
and knees, such that the hips and shoulders move at the same rate, keeping the back flat, with the shoulders above or slightly
in front of bar.
- As the bar passes your knees, thrust
hips forwards and your shoulders back.
- The hips and knees should be fully
extended, and your shoulders back (as opposed to rounded forward).
- In the downward phase, release the
tension in your muscles so that gravity alone allows the bar to descend to the floor.
- Do not attempt to lower the bar
at an extremely slow rate, as the eccentric stress is taxing and causes undue micro trauma and vertebral stress.
- The lift ends when the bar is motionless
on the floor in front of you.
A few things to remember about the Deadlift:
- Your back should be flat throughout
- At no portion of the lift should
your back or shoulders be rounded keep the bar as close to the shins as possible
during the initial pull, and as close to your thighs as possible after the bar passes your knees.
- Feet should always be flat on the
floor, with your center of gravity over the back half of your feet.
- Exhale through the sticking point
of the pull (some lifters find it advantageous to exhale forcefully as in screaming).
- Do not jerk the bar off the floor.
The pull should be a smooth, max effort from the beginning.
- Pay attention to good form. If your
technique begins to break down from the sheer weight on the bar, you predispose yourself to injury. Rounding of your back,
knees buckling inward and initiating the pull with your back instead of legs and hips are examples of common technique errors
that are potentially damaging.
- Because of the many muscles involved
in the lift, you may require more rest between sets than normal.
Once you master the “Big Three” your overall fitness will improve a great
deal. Can you go beyond the best exercises for even better fitness improvements? Coming up soon, we will look at variations
of the “Big Three” to target more specific muscle groups.