Lift Heavy

If you want an awesome body, you have to get strong. You need to challenge your body to build muscle. But what goal should you shoot for, and how do you know when you’re “strong?” 

When you enter the 1000 lb. Club. 

To become a member, you have to bench press, back squat and deadlift a combined 1000 lbs. or more. For example, if you have a 400-lb. deadlift, 350-lb. squat, and a 250-lb. bench, you’re in. But you must do these exercises the competition way: descend below parallel on the back squat, pause the barbell on your chest for the bench press, and lock out completely on the deadlift. Anything less is a “miss.”

“The 1000 lb. Club is your ticket into the ‘Grown Man Strength’ club,” says Chad Landers, CSCS, co-chair of USA Powerlifting in California and owner of PUSH Private Fitness in Toluca Lake, California. Being a member shows that you’ve trained extensively, you’ve slaved to improve your technique, and that you’re serious about true strength. It’s one thing to be strong in a single lift; it’s quite another to be strong in all of them. 

That’s why this club is so special. 

It’s not about a few, pretty muscles; it’s about power, strength, size and grit from head-to-toe. It’s about moving heavy-ass things and building a powerful, confident and athletic body—not about superfluously pumping your calves or biceps. 

Learn the best tips for a monster deadlift, squat, and bench press and how to put it all together with a great program. “Joining the 1000 lb. Club is hard and requires a lot of work and consistent effort over a long time,” says Landers. 

But there’s no better benchmark of total-body strength. 

1000 lb squat

The Back Squat

The back squat is the king of all exercises. 

It builds powerful legs and massive quads while strengthening your core and your back. It adds slabs of muscles to your frame, fires your nervous system, and activates so many muscles because your body must support the weight and stay rigid. The big problem, however, is that many guys think they squat heavy, but actually go down only 8 inches. 

“Take a wide enough stance that you feel you are sitting down in between your legs, not on top of them,” Landers explains. At the bottom of the back squat, you want your thighbone to be parallel to the ground or lower otherwise it’s void. “Then, as you rise, tighten your core,” he says. 

To build your squat, squat often. “Guys don’t squat enough,” says Landers. “Worse is when you completely replace the squat with the leg press rather than treating the leg press like an accessory exercise.” Instead, for variety, add other types of squats to your workout program that have carryover to the back squat—if you use the front squat, for example, you’ll hammer your quads and maintain good posture throughout the main lift. 

Try this workout on your leg day to boost your squat:

A1: Back Squat 5 x 10,5,5,3,3 (increase weight each set)

B1: Alternating Lunges 3 x 10 each side
B2: Swiss Ball Leg Curl 3 x 12-15 (or glute/ham raise 3 x 6-10)
B3: Standing Calf Raise 3 x 15-20

1000 dedalift

The Deadlift

To build a commanding, athletic body, you must have a strong deadlift. It builds massive and powerful hamstrings, glutes, back muscles, and grip strength. It’s also the most basic exercise of them all—put something heavy on the ground and lift.

But to pull the most weight in the safest way possible, you need to follow a few rules for an efficient deadlift. 

“Keep the bar in contact with the body during the lift,” says Landers. By dragging the barbell up your legs, you’ll pull with the best method biomechanically and keep your lower back safe. 

Next, build a strong grip says Landers. When pulling 400-plus pounds, you need hands that can rip the bar off the ground and prevent it from slipping. Things like weighted carries, towel pull-ups, and grip crushers will explode your grip strength. 

Also, make sure you “set” your lats to stabilize the spine and transfer more force. “Try to bend the bar around your shins by twisting your grip into the bar with your pinkies—think clockwise rotation of the right hand and counter-clockwise with the left hand,” says Landers. “That applies to double-overhand or mixed grips, too.”

Finally, for the best number sets and reps, Landers recommends 3 reps or less when pulling 80% or more of your one-rep max to save wear-and-tear on your lower back. For example, if your 1-rep max is 400 lb., use 3 reps or less once you’re using weight above 320 lb. 

Increase your deadlift with this program:

A1: Deadlift 5 x 3,3,2,2,1 (increase weight each set)

B1: Barbell Hip Thrusts 3 x 8

C1: Pull-Ups 3 x as many as possible
C2: Dips 3 x as many as possible

1000 lb bench press

The Bench Press

Of all the powerlifts, the bench press is by far the most common one in gyms across the world. It sculpts a strong, sexy upper body, huge pecs, and broad shoulders, yet it’s an exercise that many guys do wrong.  

“People take too wide of a grip, which injures the shoulder,” explains Landers. Often, guys bench by keeping their elbows flared out to the sides—not only is that inefficient, but also it strains your fragile shoulder joints. Instead, keep those elbows close to your ribcage as you bench. 

Next, guys often bounce the barbell off their chest to gain momentum and cheat. “Instead, pause all reps at the bottom, but stay tight,” says Landers. In a powerlifting competition, you actually have to lower the bar to your ribcage and wait until the judge lets you to push—this requires far more strength because you’re pressing from a dead stop. 

To supplement your bench press, Landers recommends strengthening the triceps, which are critical to lock out the barbell. Also, strengthen the opposing muscles at your back and rotator cuff with rows and external-rotation exercises. This will develop the upper-back musculature to support a big chest and heavy bench, while keeping your shoulders balanced and injury-free. 

Finally, press with your entire body. Landers coaches his competitors to tense their lower body and drive through their feet so they have the stability and muscle activation to lift a lot of weight. 

Increase your bench with this quick powerlifting routine:

A1: Bench Press 5 x 5

B1: Chest Support Rows 3 x 12
B2: Feet-elevated Pushups 3 x 12
B3: Face Pulls 3 x 12

How To Build Your Program

Now that you have the tips, it’s time to find a great program to boost your numbers. 

Use a periodized, strength-training program like 5/3/1, the Texas Method, 5×5, Madcow, or the Westside system. “They focus on steady planned progressions and, more importantly, back off weeks,” says Landers. That way, you’ll make fast, consistent results without undue fatigue. 

Without a smart program, however, you’ll hit plateaus and progress slowly. For example, many guys test their one-rep max too frequently, which exhausts their muscles and drains their nervous system. “Test your one-rep max at powerlifting meets only,” says Landers, “or no more than every three months if you don’t compete.” 

But if you want to enter the 1000 lb. Club, consider a competition. “Nothing will motivate you more than having to put your ‘gym maxes’ to the competition test,” says Landers.