Everyone is looking for that magical exercise, that will help them build strength, muscle and promote fat loss...well many would turn to bodybuilders and assume the isolation exercises are the answer, id say the answer lies within in the big movements in the sport of Powerlifting, Squat, Bench and Deadlift!
When done properly, all three lifts build power, strength, size and do promote fat loss, how can they not when each of them require the whole body to work as one to complete the lift, as yes that does include the bench press!
Of course the physiological changes all depend on diet but those dietary routes will be accelerated with the addition of these three movements.
Your probably thinking “hang on, fat loss? Well powerlifters...their big but have a generous amount of adipose tissue around them right?” well yes the super heavyweight classes tend to fit that criteria after all they eat for recovery and energy and not for physique, but take a look at the lighter weight classes athletes such as Chris Jenkins, Matt Kroc and even PhD’s own Strength and conditioning expert who competes in Powerlifting, they all have awesome physiques that neither me or you would complain about!
So let’s break down the three movements:
As quoted by my friend, qualified chiropractor and also a competitive Powerlifter, Dr Hassan Zaid DC CCEP “Squatting is the single most effective exercise that you can do to lose fat and tone/strengthen muscle.”
Sounds perfect doesn’t it for a singular movement? Yet is also the one movement many individuals shy away from, mainly due to poor technique and pre existing imbalances from performing the exercise with such poor technique, however when performed correctly the benefits are endless.
Squatting isn’t just a movement that targets the lower body unlike what many people perceive it to be, it is in fact a whole body movement.
It strengthens various parts of the body all around such as the core, upper back, shoulders, hamstrings and glutes, lower back etc, thus when done correctly will strengthen the body as a whole, and issues such as back ache, poor posture all can be resolved simply from strengthening them with this movement. The simple fact that the body has to work as a whole unit and in synergy to perform the movement makes it a prime example of why it is an all round exercise that can promote muscle gain and fat loss when the correct nutritional parameters are present, so much is being utilise at once, the effects it has biologically in terms of energy being expenditure and the release of hormones within the body speaks volumes for itself.
Common mistakes that need to be looked at to ensure your doing the squat right!
Knees caving in, I see it a lot, and have been guilty of it myself before, either down to weak imbalances within the glute or hamstring region which can be sorted out by performing Box squats made famous by Louis Simmons at Westside Barbell, as they teach you to engage your glutes and fire them efficiently whilst sitting back, another issue is foot placement and footwear, flat sole shoes such as converse, skates shoes or wrestling boots are perfect and simply pointing your feet outwards will make a world of difference helping you bring knees out whilst ascending and descending during the movement.
Depth, big issue and cause of many arguments in Powerlifting. In general the rule of thumb is to ensure you are descending to a point where the hip is lower than the top of the knee, squatting “ass to grass” although great if you can do it, isn’t necessary and most people do not have to flexibility for this and will just cause further pain and complications in their already tight hips and glutes, especially if your new to the squat!
So there you have it, all rounder exercise that separates the men from the boys!
Here is a link to part one of a master class in the squat by Elite FTS for a visual learning aid:
The rest of the parts are also on their Youtube channel.
Bench press, the lift we all love to do (unless you have monkey arms likes me!) yet are you doing it correctly? Believe it or not, this exercise, that’s been a staple of Monday chest training sessions worldwide aka national chest day, is actually a whole body movement, yes you read that correctly WHOLE BODY!
The bench press itself activates numerous muscle groups in the upper body, chest, shoulders, fore arm muscles, hand muscles and abdominals. You never see a big bencher without monster forearms and dense upper body! But lower body also comes into play with this movement and this is what separates the powerlifting form to the general bodybuilding gym technique.
Powerlifters use an arch, activate their lats and use leg drive whilst keeping their glutes firmly on the bench for the best possible power and speed during a bench press, in addition tucking the elbows in to avoid stressing the rotator cuffs so more front delt and triceps power comes into play.
A general bench press you see in majority of gyms is a flat back, no leg drive, flared shoulders and a one way ticket to a shoulder popping out when it comes to heavier percentage loads!
This is an area I have recently myself been working on to improve as it is my weakest lift out of the three, and utilising my lats, core, and legs whilst tucking in my elbows has helped immensely to allow me to fire up the bar in the most efficient manner possible, furthermore more muscle groups are being utilise this way, thus as mentioned before, if the nutritional parameters are there can only help with regards to adding dense size to the upper body or expend more energy during a fat loss regiment.
Here is a link to a video that highlights the most common mistakes and how to fix them!
Last but not least, the Deadlift, the best test of raw power out of the big three, nothing will put more size on your frame, ruin your CNS in an oblivion like this lift can! Two stances usually performed the Sumo Stance and the Conventional Stance, the majority of people however will focus on the conventional stance especially those who do not compete, Sumo is a specialised technique and rarely do you see it performed by individuals who do not compete or are doing it for a sport specific reason.
First off let’s look at what essentially makes a Deadlift in terms of equipment...a bar and some plates, nothing else, no power rack, bench is needed, just a reasonable surface to pull from, and good quality bar with enough plates for your desired poundage’s. All in all, very minimal!
You can name any ab type crunch, medicine ball or bosu ball wish wash movement, when it comes to core stability none of them even come close to the Deadlift. The Deadlift in itself targets a lot of muscle groups especially the posterior chain, lower back, hips, lats, traps, hamstrings etc, in order for a lifter to shift a decent amount of weight successfully, the body must fire as one in synergy using all of these muscle groups, as I mentioned regarding the squat, you are asking your body to do a lot physiologically and neurally just to accomplish this, that alone if the nutritional parameters are correct sets up an immense environment for muscle growth, strength and fat loss.
It has real life applications, if you think about picking up heavy objects or grip strength, these are areas we all do once in a while, moving house, opening a tight jar lid, DIY, sounds silly at first but it’s nice to know what you’re doing in the gym has some sort of application in everyday life!
Many are scared to perform this lift, claim they have suffered injuries, or the potential risk of injuries is too much, even bodybuilders who train for physique choose rack pulls in the fear of this.
But this is all down to technique, well the lack of it!
Deadlift ideally (conventional stance) should be performed, feet shoulder width apart, toes pointing slightly outwards, spine fixed in a neutral position, head up, chest up, keeping the core and lat muscles tight, shoulders back and hips placed down. This will be followed by the legs firing the weight up, hips out to ensure the lockout and traps and shoulders to ensure that last portion of the lockout without pulling too far back.
The best way to achieve this, start light, a 20kg plate aside or even lighter, use a bumper 5kg or 10kg plate if need be! Once the technical aspects are achieved then the heavier lifts can be chased without the risk of tearing something.
Here is a nice little video from the good men (and women) at Elite fts, for a good visual aid of performing the deadlift!
So that pretty much sums up the big three lifts, I do not proclaim to be an expert, if anything im learning things every day from the people I surround myself with in training, and the little I do know, I owe to them! But if you do benefit from any article I write, even by the slightest, that alone is worth writing for!
Thank you Fitmag for the opportunity to write this, PhD Nutrition for their constant support and big shout out to the team at Genesis Gym!