The Big 3: Squat, Bench, Deadlift
The 3 main lifts are the core of every successful bodybuilding and powerlifting routine, as they engage the maximum number of muscles, cause extreme central nervous system activation and eventually trigger the greatest release of anabolic hormones and growth stimulus.
In every aspect of life our success is determined not only by our talent and work ethic, but mainly by the foundation that we have built at the very beginning of our career. In sports the importance of building a strong base is even more important, especially when considering the fact that it takes years to build a strong foundation. When it comes to power-oriented sports and especially bodybuilding it’s the BIG 3 that count as the “bread & butter” of a solid groundwork. The squat, the deadlift and the bench press these are the lifts that ultimately determine the power that a sportsman is able to generate.
Stimulus is what causes us to adapt and grow. When it comes to generating stress and stimulus, there is nothing beating or even coming close to the BIG 3.
The squat is often cited as the most challenging and growth spurring exercise – no wonder it is considered as the king of all exercises. The squat targets the muscles of the legs and it is the best exercise for overall mass gain. When performing the squat (front or back) the body indirectly uses numerous other muscles called lift-assistants in order to perform the lift – these include the arms, shoulders, back and abdominal muscles. As a result of this the cumulative stress, caused by performing the squat puts the body in an extremely stressful situation, which leads to a stress-reaction-adaptation response mechanism. The body reacts by producing increasingly large amounts of anabolic and stress hormones like Growth Hormone, Testosterone, Adrenaline, Cortisol and numerous others. In turn these hormones facilitate muscle growth and promote not only the increase in size of targeted muscles like the legs, but also promote better muscle growth in all other body parts, as a result of the bettered hormonal environment and metabolic stress indicators. So next time you hear the saying “Squat for bigger biceps”- take it for real.
The deadlift, often called the “man’s lift”, is the heaviest free weight exercise that can be performed. It’s you against the barbell on the floor, no way of cheating gravity. Similar to the squat, the deadlift engages all muscle groups in performing the lift, as a result of which the body is stressed to an extreme degree and forced to produce copious amount of anabolic hormones. The deadlift is the staple of every successful back routine and often cited as the exercise that ultimately determines the outcome in powerlifting competitions, as many heavy lifters can actually lift more than they can squat. When performing the deadlift, the strongest muscle groups work in synergism and the extension of the legs and hips, combined with the back engagement generate a massive amount of torque. This makes it the most powerful movement pattern that the human musculoskeletal system can perform.
The bench press is the most compound exercise for the chest, triceps and shoulder muscles. Compared to the deadlift and squat it is relatively easy, but when it comes to building upper body mass – there is nothing coming close to it. “How much do you bench” is one of the most widespread questions that one may hear in a gym and no wonder, because everybody does the bench press. Just go to a random gym on Monday evening and you will see how popular it is.
Performing the BIG 3 creates an extreme anabolic stimulus, which over time increases your growth capacity. The implementation of those exercises in a routine will also make you much stronger on the other lifts and lets you perform more repetitions on secondary lifts.
Theory into practice
The best way is to incorporate the squat at the beginning of the leg routine when one is strongest. Start with 2-3 warm up sets for 10 repetitions and gradually build up to a working set weight. Perform 5 working sets of 5 repetitions at 80% of your 1RM. Rest for 2 minutes between working sets. This will help you increase functional hypertrophy, so you will gain muscle mass that is functional, so you will be as strong as you look. Start the deadlift at the beginning of your back workout by performing 3-4 warm up sets to prepare the back and hamstring muscles for the heavy weights. Start with 12 repetitions, then 10, then 8, and at the final set do between 3 and 5 repetitions for max weight at approximately 85% of your 1RM. After this your back will feel much stronger and will help you perform rows with heavier weights, which will result in greater back muscle development. If you choose to perform the deadlift at the end of the training, do 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions with controlled motion and focus on squeezing and locking out at the top, rather than just lifting maximum weights. The bench press is best performed first in the chest routine, as one will be able to lift maximum weights. Start with one set for 20 reps to get the blood flowing and then perform two more sets for 10-12 reps to warm up. After this perform 5 working sets of 5-6 repetitions at 80% of your 1RM, after completing the last set, drop the weight by 30% and do a drop set to failure to get a good pump. Rest for maximum 2 minutes between working sets. Remember that those three exercises are primarily power-oriented, so one should always be striving to lift weights above 80% of 1RM in order to cause maximum muscle fiber recruitment and growth.
Last, but not least, performing the squat and the deadlift demands superb whole body coordination and improve the athleticism and explosiveness of an athlete, which leads to better performance in all sports. For everyone who is serious about packing muscle, getting stronger and becoming better in his sport there is no way around it you MUST perform the BIG 3!