Dynamic Alternatives & Additions to the Big Three Lifts

By on February 17, 2022

The bench press, the squat, and the deadlift are fantastic exercises. Between them, they cover a wide variety of movements and bodyparts. They also allow us to move huge amounts of weight, which in turn make them perfect for building lots of strength.

But they are not the be-all and end-all.

Bench Press

They are just three exercises. And they don’t come close to covering the full spectrum of possible human movement. There’s no twisting, no single leg movement, no movement in the frontal plane. But you’ve heard all this before.

In this post, I’m going to take a look at some alternatives to those key lifts. We’ll find their blind spots and suggest some fixes to address those issues. These options will also be more suited to training at home, with less equipment. And to building a faster, more explosive, and more powerful body.

I’m not saying you should never do the big three movements. But I’m saying not to fret if you don’t have access to a gym where you can perform them easily. And certainly consider combining them with these options for greater benefits.

Bench Press

The bench press is one of my favourite lifts, so no hate.

But it is also a lift that involves lying on your back and pushing weight directly upwards. There is no bracing of the core. No balance. And no realistic scenario where you’d be replicating this movement. When do you ever lie underneath something and push upwards?

Bench Press

Worse, is that the technique recommended by powerlifters goes against many of the fundamentals of human biomechanics. Powerlifters arch their back so as to reduce range of motion (they only have to lower the weight down to their chest – this does also protect the shoulders though) and they retract their shoulder blades to create a more stable base. This latter point is particularly unusual, as it doesn’t represent the usual glenohumeral rhythm. That is to say that we naturally want to protract the shoulder blades when pushing.

And of course, what’s the use of being able to push a ton lying down if you can’t do the same thing standing up?

For all these reasons, a cable press or band press actually makes more sense. This way, you are pushing through your feet, bracing your core, and driving through your arms. This is pushing strength that would translate to pushing an object, a person, or anything else.

You won’t develop as much pure strength, or isolate the pecs and shoulders to the same degree. But you’ll develop the full body control necessary to drive power from an upright position. And a band press can be performed anywhere.

Squat

The squat is a movement that has been shown to translate to greater jump height and running speed. This is one of the first tools many coaches will need when strength training their athletes.

The squat is also a mobility challenge that requires good ankle and hip mobility. And it builds the core, as you must brace to keep the barbell in place.

Squat glute dominance

But again, it has no real-world counterpart beyond a certain point. When was the last time you squatted anything outside the gym?

How would you even go about squatting something that you couldn’t lift into that position in the first place?

It’s not practical for most people to squat that heavy at home, and without a lot of coaching it’s very easy to get wrong. In fact, a lot of people will need weightlifting shoes just to get into a deep squat position with their back straight and without showing signs of butt-wink. Is a movement really functional if you need external tools to make it work?

Kettlebell Jump Squat

With this in mind, a better option, in my opinion, would be the front squat. This could be a goblet squat with a kettlebell, or a Zercher squat. Either way, this will challenge you to squat something in the way you would be much more likely to carry it in the real world. This also emphasizes the core challenge AND the mobility benefits. Front squats are great for improving ankle ROM and they turn the movement into more of an anti-flexion move. You now need to engage the back more to prevent yourself from falling forward.

This could also translate to even better jump-gains, as you thrust your upper body upwards when you jump.

See also: Five Kettlebell Exercises to Jump Higher – At-Home Athleticism!

In fact, depending on your goals, a goblet jump squat might be the most useful variation of all. And here, you won’t need that much weight, because you’ll be trying to jump as high as possible into the air. In fact, 30% of your bodyweight is generally what’s recommended for the purposes of increasing explosiveness.

Deadlift

The deadlift is often considered a highly functional movement, as it teaches you to pick things up off the ground. This is something we all do a lot in our day-to-day lives, and it’s something that leads to injury for a lot of people.

And it’s true, the deadlift is SUPER useful. Not least, because it teaches the hip hinge, which protects the back from rounding during lifts.

The problem is that it’s not enough. We’ve all heard stories of people putting their backs out while picking up socks! But how often do you ever deadlift your sock off the ground?

Intermittent Fasting Testosterone

More often than not, we pick things up off the floor with one hand, while also twisting to one side. This requires not only hip, core, and leg strength… but also strength in the obliques and quadratus lumborum.

To mimic this, we can use the twisting deadlift, or perhaps something like a cross-body kettlebell clean and press.

Another similar option is to use a staggered-stance deadlift. Interestingly, this is how I find I naturally lift heavy weights off the ground.

Kettlebell swing

Other times, we pick something up and then walk with it. Thus the farmer’s walk is a very useful addition.

Closing Comments

Again, I’m not hating on the big three lifts. I think they’re great, and a perfect starting point for most people.

But they only train three movement patterns. And they are very precise in those patterns. There are countless more ways to move, and countless more options for mixing up our training. Give some of these alternatives a try, and let me know what alternatives you use in the comments below!

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

One Comment

  1. Ian Lutticken says:

    I’ve been following the Protean workout regime, and I love the emphasis on real-world strength. I have noticed that some of the progressions could maybe use more steps (like the front lever flutter…) or troubleshooting guides. It gave me a rad idea: A Choose-your-own-Adventure book where the choices are calisthenics diagnostics. You have to build up to the best ending!

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