The Big 3!
The big 3 are fundamental compound exercises for mass. Compound movements require the use of multiple joints and muscles to fully engage each exercise. They generally allow the person to load a lot of weight, and they also have many variations of each exercise. The amount of weight and work the muscles have to do in order to stabilize a heavier load leads to an overall increase in strength and size – when compared to doing single-joint isolation exercises alone, such as the bicep curl. Although, isolation exercises certainly have their place, an effective exercise program should incorporate a strategic implementation of both types.
Whether you are a bird flying in the sky, or a man swinging a bat, or a person who spends too much time sitting all day, the big 3 will benefit you in countless ways beyond a great-looking body – it’s great in terms of a mindful and healthy body. A ‘full-body’ exercise program should be a balanced one.
Compound exercises, are thus given priority in many exercise programs in order to strengthen the most vital foundations of solid core training and joint/muscular health, (muscle imbalances are unhealthy and surprisingly perhaps not that uncommon). Misinformation can be harmful.
I must reiterate: the big 3 are performance-driven, but they are also immensely valuable in the crafting of an aesthetic physique. They are a staple of any effective physical training for good reason. Only a few exercises qualify as world record lifts, only a few exercises have competitions based directly on them, and these are the big 3. Even in the Olympics, Olympic movements in weightlifting, due to the direct carry over in related muscle groups, benefit greatly from incorporating these 3 exercises in training.
I will be breaking down the details of the exercises below. This is by no means an exhaustive physiological list of every single technical muscle worked or the variation and mechanics of each of the movements. What this page will definitely do is cover the basics and summarize the most vital information you need to know for optimal progression. For additional information, I highly recommend reading the articles I have provided in the links at the end of this page.
1. The Bench Press
“Yeah that’s cool, but how much do you bench bro?”
Probably the most commonly asked question by gym rats and typical bros found swarming all manner of bodybuilding forum.
Voted number 1 in the American council on exercises for chest exercises. This is the industry standard measurement of a person’s pushing power, it is a true test of the size and strength of the upper muscles. Used extensively but not limited to: the NFL, wrestling, power lifting, bodybuilding and MMA. This movement incorporates many major and supporting muscle groups.
Muscles worked: pectoral major and minor, latissimus dorsi (assisted in: balance and stability), triceps, forearms, hands (grip), biceps, and the anterior deltoids (front shoulders).
Variations: decline bench press, incline bench press, dumbbell chest press.
Technique and safety: preferably done with a spotter if attempting to set a new personal best. Grip the bar around the outer rings and maintain a tight grip.
Ensure that your back is arched and not completely flat on the bench; with your rear shoulders resting flat on the bench. Your chest should naturally protrude upwards in this position. Is it important to keep a (moderate not exaggerated) arch while performing the movement. Keep your wrists and arms aligned as shown in the image with your elbows being tucked slightly under the mid-section of your chest – this prevents your elbows from flaring out sideways. Your whole upper body should be contracted. As you lower the bar to your lower chest (almost touching), push the bar upwards with explosiveness. The trajectory should be straight down and then slightly tilted upwards as opposed to pressing in a straight line. Main a tight grip at all times. Do you feel slightly uncomfortable? Good. The bench press should not like you are lying down on a bed.
Fun fact: Birds have amazing chest muscles in terms of proportional body radio. This is because they require big powerful pectorals to support the dynamics of so much flying. Maybe that’s how the isolation exercise chest flyes got its name.
2. The Squat
The king of leg power exercises. Ass to grass. Leg day can be tough, try going up some stairs right after an intense leg day pump and it can feel like your soul is leaving your body via your feet. The legs hold the biggest muscles of the body, and therefore if you want big explosive power look no further than having a set of powerful legs.
A love and hate relationship for many, do not be tempted to skip leg day in favor of training the more immediately visible and pleasing muscles of the upper body. Few things look more ridiculous than an enormous upper body placed on top of a pair of chicken legs that look like they are about to snap from the uneven distribution of weight.
The squat is especially effective for those looking to reverse the stiffness caused by prolonged amounts of idle sitting – it engages core power, the hips, lower back, spine and of course many leg muscles. It also helps in building the strength and integrity of the joints and flexors in the knees and ankles.
Muscles worked: quadriceps (large front muscles of the upper legs), hamstrings assisting the movement (muscle behind the quads), gluteus maximus (main hip flexors of the buttocks that controls the descent of the squat – with the help of the hamstrings), the erector spinae (essential muscle of the back consisting of 3 groups located on the vertical path of the spine).
Variations: front squat, goblet squat.
Techniques and Safety: Along with the other variations, you can choose to go for a high-bar (bar positioned around the upper traps) or low-bar squat (bar positioned around the posterior deltoids/upper back).
Once you approach the squat rack, go underneath the bar and place your body to ensure that the bar is positioned between your upper back and your traps (it can be difficult to explain as people tend to find a sweet spot where the bar rests approximately within this area), try an experiment with just a bar and find a suitable position. Your hands should be gripping where the outer rings are located.
To squat with correct form: firmly place your feet shoulder width apart with your toes slightly pointed out. Once you lift the bar off the rack, maintain position – take a few steps back and allow your hips to sit back. Lean forward in a brace position with all the weight being emphasized on your heels – your legs should be contracted but they should not be straight and stiff; allow your knees to bend slightly.
Breathe in to maintain core tightness, contracting your legs and glutes. Proceed to squat, keeping your body tense – your glutes should go below parallel to the floor. Breathe out at the top of the movement. Maintain a slow controlled movement throughout repetition.
Maintain the above position throughout the entire movement. Keep your head up, and your back tilted forward but with a straight spine. Keep your elbows closer to your lats and engage your glutes and core muscles, remember to breathe and keep tightness throughout.
3. The Deadlift
A great upper, lower and core exercise. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more intense exercise that adds so much overall mass to your body. With a high amount of weight and force exerted on the body – the deadlift is crucial for weeding out any droopy lagging muscles and flexors that affect your pose and overall physicality – additionally boosting other lifts in the process. It can be a high risk and high reward exercise with the biggest bang for your buck.
The deadlift, over all others, is the one lift that transfers the most directly into your actual day to day activities. An improved deadlift increases the power level involved in the amount of times you are required to lift stuff off the ground, heave groceries, and emulate weighted movements that require bending down and up. All of these activities benefit from having an increased core strength and stability – along with a decreased chance of injury – and an improvement of the tendons and ligaments. Posses a solid deadlift, and you will undoubtedly have a strong athletic foundation.
Muscles worked: posterior chain, the lower back, the trapezius, grip strength, the obliques and the hamstrings.
Variations: sumo deadlift, close grip, Romanian deadlift.
Safety: A deadlift done wrong can be disastrous, using incorrect form can lead to a serious back injury. Despite the high rewards, the sheer weight that can be loaded on a deadlift can be high risk. To avoid this, you must understand the basics of this lift.
The correct form for a standard deadlift is to firmly place your feet around shoulder width apart, with your toes slightly pointed out away from each other. As you bend down to pick the weight up, grip both hands over the bar just outside of where your feet are placed. Ensure that the bar is as close to your lower shins as possible – the bar should almost scrape your shins when performing the lift. You are able to generate far more power when you lift in a straighter alignment from head to feet, as opposed to hunching further forward with the bar further away from you. The further away the bar is from your legs, the more power will leak and the more your back will round – increasing the chance of injury.
Do not hunch or arch over your back. Let your hips descend slightly down and ensure that your back is straight when attempting to lift the bar.
Note: as you can see in the image, the deadlift is not a squat, while you would lower your hips in both exercises, you should not lower your hips below the knees.
Effectiveness of the bench press for chest muscles – American Council on Exercise: https://www.acefitness.org/cer…
Physiology and benefits of the deadlift: http://journals.lww.com/nsca-s…