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If you’re familiar with my articles you already know that I like to keep it simple, because it is. If you want to improve your performance on “The Big 3” – the squat, bench press and deadlift – here’s what you need to know:
* If you want a bigger squat…SQUAT
* If you want a bigger bench…BENCH
* If you want a bigger deadlift…DEADLIFT
There you have it. Thanks for coming. No refunds!
Seriously though, each of these bullet points could be a single topic of an entire article but when all is said and done, you should still be squatting, benching and deadlifting to improve your performance on the Big 3. And because these movements recruit so much muscle, you’ll also improve performance on everything else.
Box jumps and band work are nifty little exercises for beginning strength seekers but to progress to an intermediate or advanced level and crawl under triple body-weight squats, smash bar bending benches or make the gym shake when you set down your deadlifts, then you will need to consistently perform the Big 3 with ever increasing amounts of weight.
Accessory work can help create and maintain muscle balance and mobility work is important to avoid injury, however, a bunch of sets and reps of isolation exercises and machines should never be prioritized over the Big 3. If it’s using up a lot of time or energy that could have been better spent with a few more sets of squats, benches or deadlifts then it’s a distraction, not a benefit.
Bringing up weaknesses is important but the best way to improve weaknesses is by using variations of the Big 3, not a machine or some circuit training.
Here are examples of variations for each of the lifts.
>> SQUAT: Low-bar back squat for hip and glute strength, front squat and/or high-bar squat for quad strength, pause squat to improve explosiveness (speed), RDL’s for hip, glute and core strength.
>> BENCH: Flat, incline or close-grip benches, dips, pause benches, lock-outs, overhead presses, board presses, floor presses. Save the flyes, cable crossovers and rope pressdowns for your next bodybuilding show. This statement always draws some controversy but here it goes: Benching heavy is not primarily a chest movement, it’s a shoulders-and-triceps movement. (Feel free to write me if you’re hurt by this.) So if you’re having trouble out of the hole, do more overhead presses. Having trouble locking out? Do more close-grip board presses.
>> DEADLIFT: Conventional, sumo and deficit deadlifts, box/rack pulls, Romanian deadlifts, unsupported T-bar rows, chins. If you’re having trouble pulling from the floor, do deficits, if you’re having trouble locking out, do RDLs.
Your entire workout should consist of these exercises. See any machines in there? If it doesn’t include a barbell, isn’t a multi-joint movement, doesn’t utilize the core or you can’t fall over when doing the exercise, it doesn’t belong in your program. Period. Not if you’re serious about increasing performance on these three lifts.
Keep your reps low, performing mainly doubles and triples. Don’t exhaust yourself with a bunch of “warm-up” sets. Take longer rest periods between sets (5+ minutes) to allow for maximum strength output on each set
Once you’ve completed the competition lift then follow up with a variation as prescribed above to address your weaknesses.
Getting stronger requires heavy lifting to force central nervous system adaptation and to stimulate fast twitch muscle fibers. Isolation moves won’t cut it – not in a strength phase. After 8-10 weeks of training these lifts exclusively, you can transition back to traditional, hypertrophy-based training, only this time you’ll be doing it with much greater weight.
Train as frequently as you’re able to recover and continue getting stronger.
Stan “Rhino” Efferding is an IFBB Professional Bodybuilder and World Record powerlifter. Stan is known as the “World’s Strongest Bodybuilder” and is one of only six men in history in any weight class to have ever totaled over 2,300 lbs raw in competition which he did at the age of 45. Stan’s two-hour training and instructional video, “Proving It,” is available at www.ProvingItDVD.com. For more with Stan, you can visit his web page at www.stanefferding.com.