#71 – The Big Lifts: 3 Compound Lifts to Kickstart Your Exercise Program

Coach Darin Deaton and Trent Jones are kicking off a new series about the so-called “Big Lifts” — the squat, press, and deadlift — that comprise the majority of the exercises in any good strength program.


Why the big lifts? They are simple, hard, and effective. With just three exercises (and, for most people, the bench press as well) you can get very strong, and build a functional and aesthetically pleasing body with the least amount of time. They work so well because they fulfill the basic criteria for strength that Rippetoe lays out in Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training (paraphrased here):

  • They use the most weight
  • They use the most muscle mass
  • They use the greatest effective range of motion (also the safest range of motion for the human body)


With the barbell lifts, you can move much more weight, and therefore train your ability to produce force, than you can with dumbbells or any of shiny machines at the local globo gym. The barbell is also trainable for longerthan other weight lifting implements. You can start as light as 10lbs with a small barbell or load 1,000+lbs on a standard barbell, with any weight increment in between. You can improve your squat, press, bench, and deadlift for years. How long can you improve your cable row?


Not only are the barbell lifts effective, they are also efficient. Why do 12 exercises when 3 will get better results? For athletes of any level, the compound barbell lifts will make up the majority of their strength training program. There’s no need to make it more complex than that! Your time is valuable, and barbell training honors that time. In one hour of barbell training, you can accomplish far more than a two-hour “bro split” filled with curls and hammer strength machines.


Finally, the compound lifts are functional. Not in the fashionable, buzzword sense that involves chains, ropes, or bosu balls, but in a practical sense. The compound lifts apply weights to basic human movements. You squat every time you sit on and stand up from a chair, every time you use the toilet. You press when you put tools up on the shelf in the garage. You deadlift when you pick anything heavy off the floor, whether it’s your kid or a bag of concrete. These basic movement patterns are how humans interact with the world, so it makes sense to train them. They use the whole body as a system, not single body parts in isolation. When’s the last time you performed a tricep kickback in real life?


In the following weeks, Coach D and Trent will dive deep into each of the big lifts and discuss what makes them so useful and effective at making humans stronger.


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