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Rethinking the “Big Three”: Alternative Exercises for Optimal Health and Functionality

When it comes to weightlifting, the “big three” exercises are often considered to be the foundation of strength training: the squat, the deadlift, and the bench press. These exercises are known for building muscle mass and strength, and are commonly used by weightlifters and bodybuilders alike. However, if your goal is to become as healthy and functional as possible, there may be an alternative big three that you should consider incorporating into your exercise routine.

The Barbell Back Squat

The squat of the big three typically refers to the barbell back squat. The ability to squat is one of the four fundamental movements that the human body makes, so building strength and work capacity in the squat will have a positive impact on your overall functionality.

The traditional squat uses both legs together and places the bar on your back. Chances are you squat every single day, but it’s not likely you have weight on your back.  If you have anything, you’re likely holding it on your front.

It’s also a rarity to have a situation that requires you to use both of your legs together at the same time like you do with a traditional barbell back squat. Instead, we live our lives one leg at a time, alternating between using our left and right legs independently.

Prioritizing single leg movements such as lunges and step ups will build the strength the way you need most in sports and in everyday life. Front loading will build strength in your core and shoulders, improving their stability and reducing your overall potential for injury.

The Bench Press

This exercise is often considered a measuring stick of physical worthiness, especially amongst young males, but it may not be the most effective exercise for overall health and functionality.

Pressing muscles are pressing muscles, regardless of whether you’re pressing vertically or horizontally. You have a mechanical advantage in the horizonal plane and the muscles will contribute in different ways, but the same muscles are working.

The standing Overhead Press and standard push up will both serve to improve pressing strength along with improving shoulder stability. The should is the most mobile, least stable, and one of the most injured joint in the body.

Overhead pressing and pushups require you to stabilize your shoulder more than a bench press does. On a bench your shoulder blade is being pressed against your back by the bench, improving its stability. Your body must stabilize your shoulder when pressing overhead and doing pushups.

Overhead pressing and pushups also create a stability demand for the core, improving its ability to protect your lumbar region. Another befit lost with bench press.

The Deadlift

Deadlifting is an important exercise because it build the ability to hinge which is a fundamental human movement. There are many ways to build the hinge beyond just deadlifting.

Building strength with hinging provides for a number of very important physical capabilities.

Deadlifting will build starting strength, which is your ability to initiate movement from a dead stop, like getting out of a chair.

There are many versions of deadlifting, so the options are endless, but the fundamentals of building the ability to hinge are consistent.

In conclusion, if your goal is to compete in the sport of powerlifting, then it’s probably a good idea to practice back squatting, bench pressing, and barbell deadlifting. However, if you want to do any other sport or simply become a healthier version of yourself, consider incorporating front loaded single leg work, standing overhead press, and any hinge version that works for you. By prioritizing these exercises, you will build the strength and stability that you need to function at your best in everyday life.

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