Do You Have to Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift to Reach Your Goals?

There’s a trend going around right now in the fitness industry to bash the ‘big 3.’ Aka squatting, bench pressing and deadlifting. 

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Once thought of as the staple exercises in any good training program, they’re now often looked down upon as inferior options for most people.

So what’s the deal? Are these exercises now all of a sudden not so great anymore or are people using this as an excuse not to train these big lifts?

In today’s article, I’m going to outline how to best apply the big 3 in your training to maximize your strength, fat loss, and muscle building results.

The Big 3

This one isn’t part of the big 3

The squat, bench press and deadlift are known as the ‘Big 3.’ Once viewed as the staples of any solid training program, these exercises are now receiving critiques of being bad and not very worthwhile for most people’s goals.

Fortunately, these exercises are still very useful for helping you get stronger, leaner, and more defined. Even if you’re not a powerlifter, which most people aren’t, you can still use these lifts in your own programming.

So where does this distaste for the ‘Big 3’ come from all of a sudden?

Perhaps it’s from people who don’t personally like any of these exercises in particular, or who haven’t had much success with them in the past.

I’m not too sure really.

But I will tell you these 3 exercises are here to stay. They’ll always be some of the best exercises you can do to build more muscle and lose more fat. Maybe it’s the narrow-minded approach many people share which gives the big 3 a bad rap.

Thinking Outside the Box

A lot of the info you might read these days is focused on making exercises new and exciting.

However, I’ll be the first one to tell you the squat, bench press and deadlift should not be the only exercises you choose if you truly want the best results possible.

With that being said, even though you may not be back squatting, barbell bench pressing, and straight bar deadlifting, you should be performing similar movements in your own training.

You Must Look at Your Goals

The exercises you might choose to do are often dependent on your goals.

This means if you aren’t a competitive powerlifter, you don’t have to do the big 3. And while you don’t have to do them, I’d encourage you to at least give them a try because they are some of the best exercises for developing total body strength and real-life functionality.

Besides helping you get better at squatting, benching or deadlifting, the big 3 exercises teach you how to move correctly as well.

You can’t squat safely without maintaining a rigid spine and maintaining tightness throughout the lift.

You can’t bench press safely without retracting your shoulder blades.

And you can’t deadlift properly without hinging at your hips and bracing your core.

These are just a few of the things you don’t get to learn or experience if you only ever use cables and machines in your training.

Training the big 3 repeatedly will help you develop skills which carry over to other exercises as well.

Can You Perform them Safely?

Some people, due to mobility restrictions, can’t do the traditional big 3 exercises.

Does this mean they shouldn’t train at all?

Of course not. If you do have certain limitations or aren’t comfortable performing these exercises quite yet, there are plenty of options to help you reach your goals.


image courtesy of

image courtesy of

When choosing to forego barbell back squats you want to first identify what your goals are. Are you looking for maximal strength, hypertrophy, or fat loss?

For more strength focused goals you could do these as acceptable substitutes:

-front squats

-safety bar squats

-cambered bar squats

-high handle trap bar deadlifts

For more hypertrophy oriented goals including muscle gain and fat loss these options work great as well:

-leg presses

-any lunging variations

-split squat variations

-hack squats

-quad dominant machine work

The exercises you choose are not set in stone. If you can squat with a bar on your back with good technique and no pain I say go for it. However, if your joints and knees say otherwise, it’s ok to use some of the above variations to train similar muscle groups and achieve the desired result you’d get from traditional squatting.

Bench Pressing

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

The king of all upper body exercises, the bench press is taking heat lately as well. As far as developing strength, the bench press is number one for pressing. But in terms of developing the most muscular and defined chest, it’s not the best option. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bench press, but rather you should include other exercises as well to complete your chest routine.

If your shoulders aren’t fond of the straight bar bench press give these variations a shot:

-dumbbell bench press

-dumbbell incline presses

-dumbbell flyes

-cable flyes

-nautilus and hammer strength machine presses

-machine chest presses and flyes



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Deadlifts are one of my favorite exercises. But not everyone can perform straight bar deadlifts from the floor due to mobility limitations or previous injuries.

If off the floor deadlifts are not an option you could elevate the bar so you’re pulling from an elevated surface. This will lessen the range of motion and allow you to get into a better and safer position to pull from if you are limited mobility wise.

If deadlifts aren’t an option at all, you can try these exercises which will target similar muscles:

-romanian deadlifts

-stiff leg deadlifts (barbell and dumbbell)

-barbell glute bridges and hip thrusts

-cable pull throughs

-leg curl variations

-trap bar variations (often easier on the back)

-back extensions

-good mornings

And the Verdict Is…

If you want to improve your squat, bench and deadlift then you should be doing those exercises. Not only to get stronger at them but also to develop better technique.

If you don’t care how much you squat, bench or deadlift and simply want to look better, feel better, and move better, then these are not a requirement by any means.

There’s a million different exercises to pick from. While I still believe the big 3 to be some of the best movements for training the entire body, I’m certainly not saying these should be your only exercises you perform.

What to Do Now

By now I hope you can see the big 3 aren’t ‘bad’ exercises. They’re also not the end-all-be-all for strength, aesthetics and everyday life.

If you want more training tips, diet information, and strategies to improve your physique and strength, be sure to hop on my newsletter below. I’ll send you a free copy of my nutrition guide, “10 Commandments of Fat Loss” as a welcome gift.

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