Walk into any gym, find the strongest/biggest person in there and ask him or her what exercises make up the staple of his program. 90% of the time you will hear the squat, bench, deadlift, and press. Sure, you can make the argument that it might be a variation of these lifts, but I can guarantee you they will tell you they’ve done something akin to these lifts for the majority of their training career.
Walk into the same gym and find someone who looks like they are just in good shape, maybe more of a fitness model look. Again, I’d be willing to bet the overwhelming majority of those people used the same four exercises (or their variations) for the majority of their training career.
So why are these exercises any good and why should they be in your program?
They’ve stood the test of time and they work. They work damn well at that. Even for people who just want to look good naked, these exercises will put muscle in areas that you want it.
Let’s dig a little deeper into each one go over why these exercises are so good in a little more detail.
The squat is the king of leg exercises. This is applicable to everyone but the tallest lifters (who for growth might find other alternatives to be better). Listen, no ones cares how many plates you stack up on the leg press to move your legs 2 inches. If you see someone squat a few wheels per side with good depth, you know they have great leg strength and mass.
Why is the squat so good at accomplishing these goals? They work all the major muscles between your hips and your knees and then some. For males who want bigger quads, they work wonders. For females who want a better booty and hamstrings, look no further. For anyone who wants to get under some heavy weight and work as hard as possible you cannot find a more difficult exercise (in my opinion. Some people love the hell out this exercise. I have a feeling they just haven’t worked hard enough to earn the right to love to hate them)
Another point about the barbell squat that is often overlooked is its role in mobility and flexibility. If you can do a deep squat with decent form, you most likely have more than enough mobility and flexibility in areas such as: ankles, calves, hamstrings, and spinal erectors. What this means of course is that if you can squat half decently you won’t need to turn into a gymnast every time you go to the gym and stretch for 15 minutes before you train.
The Bench Press
When it comes to developing pushing strength, the bench press simply has no equal. No other lift will allow you to press as much weight while developing the chest, shoulders and triceps as the flat bench press.
There is no equal to the bench for developing the above qualities. Sure, if you have a big ego and want to put a bunch of weight on the bar and get under a decline bench you may be able to eke out a few more pounds but you won’t get the same benefits of doing this exercise on a flat bench.
Depending on limb lengths, this exercise can affect different people in a different way when it comes to hypertrophy. Some will be able to blow up their chest, other will use more shoulders and triceps. Either way you will add muscle to your upper body with this exercise.
Let’s be honest, what guy doesn’t go to the gym to bench press anyways? You may as well accept the fact that this will probably be in your programming for as long as you enter a gym. So get good at it.
The deadlift is my personal favourite exercise. No other exercise makes you feel as animalistic and beastly as the deadlift. There’s something about simply plucking a heavy barbell off the floor and standing up with it that makes you feel like King Kong.
In terms of muscular development, I doubt there is an equal in terms of an exercise that hit the most area of muscle that the deadlift does. It requires tension from literally the entire body to perform properly. It will train the hamstrings, quads, glutes, low back, mid back, upper back, traps, and forearms like crazy.
That’s just the beginning. Let’s look at some of the strength benefits of the deadlift:
- Increased grip strength
- Increased hip strength
- Increased back strength
- Increased leg strength
- Increased back durability
- Increased kinesthetic awareness of the hips and back
When trained properly, it also teaches the lifter how to “hip hinge” properly. In many new lifters this is a foreign concept. This is why you will often see novice lifter “squat” their deadlift. This simply is not the correct way to deadlift. Learning the hip hinge and the differences between what exactly that means and it’s differences from the squat pattern can be paramount in decreasing injury and increasing performance.
The press is the exercise of choice when trying to gain strength for pushing things overhead. When it comes to shoulder size, you will not find anyone with big shoulders who doesn’t utilize some sort of overhead press in their training. Remember, if the coveted V-taper is a goal of yours you will need some sort of heavy compound pressing movement in your program.
Wanna get better at bench pressing? Overhead press.
The press and the bench, work hand in hand to create the best duo for pressing strength. For most people there is a linear relationship between the press and the bench. If your press increases, your bench will also increase.
The beauty of pressing is there are numerous ways to perform the exercise and they’re all pretty damn effective. Generally speaking the standing or seated versions of the barbell and dumbbell variation will yield the greatest gains in strength and size. The reason for this being that you will be able to hoist the most amount of weight possible through a nice long range of motion.
Remember that when you begin training you want to build a base with which to work from for many years to come. This base should be founded on big compound movements that allow you to get stronger and build more muscle. These four exercises will accomplish that goal. So get at it and don’t look back.
Featured image courtesy of Greg Westfall and is used under a Creative Commons license.