Eddie Hall, Brett Gibbs, Ed Coan, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (better known as the Mountain) – if these guys are anything to go by, the three strength movements aren’t considered the pillars of strength and muscle-building by pure chance. Then again, bodybuilding golden men such as Frank Zane relied on these power movements to achieve their champion physique.
But even with them backing up the big three, many lifters still aren’t so sure as to why they should invest time and effort into mastering the right movement patterns, finding the perfect stance and bracing, all the while wondering if there’s a herniated disc just around the corner. But the simple truth is that when done correctly and safely, just like any lifting movement for that matter, these can be the true reflection of your strength and muscle-building potential.
The Leg-Blasting Squat
In all fairness, just like the other two, the squat is not an isolation exercise, and it’s one of the most powerful movements that targets the entire body. It requires an incredibly strong back, and if your core cannot withstand the weight, you will not be able even to begin, let alone finish a rep. However, it’s most well-known as a quad and glutes-building exercise, and the safety of if only depends on your ability to control the weight without compromising the form.
The squat also mimics our natural moving pattern, and when done under a load, it also helps you increase your natural joint mobility, including your hips, knees and ankles. There are several useful variations such as the front and the back squat, pistol squat, paused squat, the overhead squat and many more that build strong legs, and can be done both in high rep and low rep splits. It also allows you to use supportive equipment such as lifting belts and knee wraps in case you need added support when you go for heavier weight.
The Upper-Body King
A beloved exercise among bodybuilders and powerlifters alike, the bench press is a commonly misunderstood movement, as it’s believed that it primarily targets the pectoral muscles. Sure, it does build incredibly strong pecks, but it also activates your arms, your triceps in particular, and your anterior deltoids. And, of course, when you engage your legs, back and core properly, it becomes a full-body movement. So, do you think you’ll gain stronger (hence more muscular) arms with infinite triceps cable press-downs or lifting eighty kilos above your head?
Due to its impact on the shoulders, it’s not always advisable to use this movement for hypertrophy, but it sure will give you mass and raw power, especially when complemented by the overhead press and fly variations that actually focus on your pectorals. So, aim for muscular endurance elsewhere, go for the bench when looking for some serious upper body strength.
The Dreaded Deadlift
Most novice lifters avoid it like the plague due to its injury reputation, but this movement can actually increase your level of stability, whole-body strength and resilience to injury when done with correct form. There is absolutely no muscle group this movement doesn’t activate, especially if you steer clear of straps for as long as your grip can take it. However, wearing durable bodybuilding clothes is essential in learning this movement properly, safely and with ample visibility of the movement pattern.
If you do it correctly and with enough resistance on the barbell, whether it’s a sumo or a conventional deadlift, you’ll feel it even in your hip flexors, your entire core, your hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves. Deadlifts are so effective for your entire program and enhance your strength and endurance in every aspect of your routine, that they can be performed every day of your split.
Aesthetics, Endurance and Power
Doing compound movements in general, and the big three especially, has a beneficial effect on your testosterone production, building greater muscle mass, and activating both the fast and the slow-twitch muscle fibers. They are primarily incorporated for their versatile nature for both pro and beginner lifters, as they allow so much creativity for creating ideal super and giant sets, and pushing your muscles and your CNS into over-drive to perform better, faster, and stronger.
But most importantly even for the average gym-goer, these movements are incredible for improving core strength and stability, boosting posture, mobility, bone density and thus increasing your quality of life. So, if the names from the very beginning haven’t served as enough inspiration to lead you by example, perhaps some of these movements’ lifelong health, strength and physique benefits will be your perfect motivation.