The bench, squat and deadlift, or ‘the big three’ as they are often called, are often thought of as the holy grail of muscle building exercises, with gym bros thinking the only way you can earn your stripes as a ‘proper lifter’, is by becoming proficient at these lifts.
Now, while the lifts themselves can and often do carry great merit for building strength and muscle on lifters, I believe they are by no means the only way to go about building a good body.
I say this from a position of the first-hand experience as in my early years of lifting, I was married to these exercises, especially the back squat. I believed grinding away lifting as heavy as possible on pretty much only these lifts was the only way to make real progress.
Not only was I insistent that you ‘needed’ these exercises in your program, but I was also a die-hard believer in ‘full range of motion’ training. thinking that squats had to go ‘all the way down’ and that bench presses ‘must touch your chest.’
Now fast forward a few years and I have changed my opinion on both those points.
When the topic is how to build muscle optimally? I believe two of the most important questions you can ask are
- Am I contracting the target muscle?
2. Am I getting stronger at this movement in some way (be it more reps, sets, more control or more weight lifted)?
I believe providing adequate nutrition and rest protocols are followed, that following these principles will create a driver for muscle growth regardless of exercise selection.
I believe in finding the best exercises that suit each part of your body best. These don’t need to be the bench, squat and deadlift. Although I will give these exercises the merit they deserve. They are excellent tools for being indicators of strength and progress. If your lifting numbers go up you know you are getting stronger.
The trick then surely, if these exercises don’t suit you, or are painful for you, is to find other exercises you can perform that can clearly indicate strength progression (or progressive overload). And to use these movements as core movements in your training. Often this will be a pressing, deadlifting and squatting variation, but not restricted to the squat, bench and deadlift.
For example, for me, full range of movement bench pressing hurts my shoulders, and I don’t really feel it in my chest that much. I much prefer dumbbell floor presses, the benefit of this exercise is that I have a clear start position (the floor) and the range of motion is far less stressful for my shoulder meaning I can still go heavy and progress strength.
I like deadlifts but they don’t always suit my back, unfortunately. So I often use single leg deadlifts which if anything hit the hamstrings and glutes way harder. I also like trap bar deadlifts and rack pulls. Both of these variations place less stress for me on the lower back than a conventional of the floor deadlift.
As far as squats are concerned, recently I have been experimenting with the free motion squat machine as a primary quad exercise and have never had leg pumps like it. It is truly an excellent machine for isolating the quads in my body. I feel it far less in the lower back than regular squats.
I still value the basic barbell movements and include them in my program when I can to keep the movement pattern, but I place great importance on always questioning what feels best for me and my body.
My goal is to maximize muscle growth through my whole body, and I know the way for that to happen is to choose exercises that I feel working the right part of my body that don’t cause joint pain, so I can focus on what is most important to drive muscle growth, which is, of course, strength progression.
As simplistic and beginner as that may sound, it is an ideology I skipped out on for the first decade of my lifting career. Instead, I was dedicated to performing the ‘in-vogue’ bench, squat and deadlift movements. This meant that although I made progress, I also picked up a few injuries I probably would have avoided if I had of been more open-minded to other movement variations that might have suited me better at the time.
– So in conclusion, I do not believe that you should perform any one version of an exercise if it strongly does not fit your body. I believe it is the responsibility of the trainee to find the variation that suits you best and then put your energy into progressing in that movement.
Thanks For Reading Guys
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