If you’ve ever moved a barbell around, you’re going to benefit tremendously from this article! You know the saying, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” The beauty of compound lifts like squats and bench press is that they engage a ton of muscles – a “muscle chain” if you will. But therein also lies the challenge in these moves – they require the simultaneous coordination of a ton of muscle groups. Without specific attention to this musculoskeletal chain, weak points can appear, and compound over time. But if you improve your weak links with specific targeting, you’ll strengthen your entire lift!
Today I’m going to focus on how to maximize your Squat, Bench, and Deadlift, often coined “The Big 3”. These are the meat and potatoes (or tempeh and potatoes to stay vegan friendly) to any workout program dedicated to strength or hypertrophy. When performing these movements closer to your maximum weight, there may be a sticking point during the lift that you can’t get past, for example the lockout at the top of the deadlift. Throughout the rest of this article I’ll show you exactly why you may be failing at a certain point, and how to break through your plateau and crush your next PR attempt!
If you have a hard time starting the ascent of your squat, or you get stuck “in the hole”, (at the very bottom of your squat) you most likely have a weakness in your glutes or hamstrings.
Exercises to Improve Your Initial Ascent out of a Squat
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If you are able to start the ascent, but can’t extend your knees at the top (knees at or above 90 degrees), you probably have a weakness in your quadriceps.
Exercises to Work on Locking Out Top of Squat
If you’re missing heavy bench attempts from the bottom of the exercise, from the bar touching your chest to moving your elbows to 90 degrees, you will most likely need to focus on your front deltoids and chest (pectoralis major/minor).
Best Exercises to Strengthen Your Front Deltoids and Chest
Front Shoulder Raises
Incline Bench Press
If you’re missing your bench because you can’t lock your arms out, you most likely have a weakness in the triceps.
Exercises to Strengthen the Triceps and Lock out PRs
Close-Grip Bench Press
The deadlift is usually one of your heaviest lifts, so it’s relatively easier to find your sticking point and identify where you’re weak. If you miss your deadlift from the floor, you likely have a mid/low back or hamstring weakness as these are the initial movers of the bottom portion of the deadlift.
Best Exercises to Fix Weak Hamstrings & Mid/Low Back
If your problem is locking out the top of the deadlift, this comes from a lack of strength from the glutes.
Exercises to Strengthen the Deadlift Lockout
Add these to your own workouts to blast through plateaus and build serious muscle!
How to Wield the Power of These Accessory Movements
Now that you’ve seen which exercises will help you power through all range of motion in your squats, bench, and deadlift, how do you fit them into your workouts? Pro-tip: do them after your heavier lifts. Your big 3 lifts should always come first in your workout, with 2-4 of the accessory exercises towards the end. Accessory exercises should be done in the 8-15 rep range.
There’s a couple reasons why it’s best to do accessory workouts after your heavier lifts. For one, doing accessory exercises before your main lifts will fatigue your muscles and hinder how much weight you can lift. While there may be a few instances where you’d want to do an accessory-only workout, ultimately the goal in strength/hypertrophy programs is to get stronger in your 3 lifts. If your muscles are pre-fatigued before you ever get to your heavy lifts, then you’ll never harness your muscles’ full potential and you’ll progress more slowly towards your goals.
The other reason to do accessory workouts after your main lifts is so that you don’t have to do as many sets/reps to achieve the same results. In this case, pre-fatigued muscles work to your advantage. By doing accessory exercises after your muscles are already fatigued, the exercises will more quickly and specifically target the intended muscles. Meaning the next time you go into your big 3 lifts (and after eating and sleeping enough), you’ll be able to power through more weight and build more lean, calorie-burning muscle!
Use these accessory exercises to make your weak points your strong points, and augment your lifts into another dimension! If you need help perfecting your form, are unsure where your sticking points are, or if you want a professional to program effective workouts plans so that you don’t have to, come see a fitness professional at Iron Orr Fitness to elevate your strength gains to a whole new level!