Last updated on November 3rd, 2022 at 05:57 pm
Have you ever wondered, “Can I Just Bench Squat and Deadlift?”
The “Big 3” are often viewed as the Holy Grail of workouts.
You’ll always hear people telling you that if you want to get stronger then train squats, bench presses, and deadlifts.
There will be others who will categorically state that you get jacked and pack on some serious muscle just by training the Big 3.
Then again, there are those who claim that you’re leaving a lot of muscle and strength on the table by avoiding other lifts.
With so much conflicting information it’s difficult to know whether you should just train bench, squats and deadlifts.
So, let’s find out.
Can I Just Bench Squat and Deadlift?
You can certainly get bigger and stronger by just training the bench press, squats and deadlifts. Plus, the best way to get better at these lifts is to train them more often. However, depending on your overall training goals you should add other exercises to your weekly routine. This will help you to build maximal strength and muscle, have an aesthetically-pleasing body, as well as avoiding potential injuries.
The “Big 3” Are Great For Size and Strength (But Not The Best)
Firstly, I will say that I am a fan of the “Big 3”.
Well in truth, the two lower body lifts.
I’m not a great one for the bench press.
I don’t believe it’s a great fit for me, and I much prefer other push-based lifts.
And that’s the whole point, it’s about finding what’s best for YOU.
So, initially I will say that the bench press, squats and deadlifts are great exercises.
You definitely can just train the 3 big lifts.
You can expect to get bigger and stronger by just performing these three exercises.
I’m guessing that most of you would typically train them on a 3-day split.
Perhaps, they’re best suited to being hit in a big way on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, or whatever suits your timetable.
The three movements are the cornerstone of powerlifting.
Plus, if you want to get better at each exercise then the best way to do this is to perform them more often.
So, by just training the 3 movements you will find that you can add muscle, get stronger, and become more proficient at the exercises.
However, that’s probably where the positives end if you’re going to focus your entire training routine around just 3 exercises.
I would never tell anyone not to train the big 3.
However, as I’ve mentioned about myself, not all of us have bodies suited to each exercise.
Plus, there are perhaps better exercises to train the main muscles that are targeted by the bench press, squats, and deadlifts.
Firstly, the bench press, which is viewed as a chest exercise.
Basically, if you want to pack on mass and strength to your chest then you should bench press.
But, in reality it’s not actually as great for the chest as you may think.
You’ll typically find that people who train the bench press pretty much all the time will push more weight than literally everyone else in the gym.
However, their chest development is often severely lacking.
In reality, they have simply become proficient at the bench press.
For those who have a great set of pecs, I can guarantee that they use a wide variety of chest-focused exercises.
They never solely rely on one exercise.
Furthermore, if you overly rely on just the bench press you’re likely to overdevelop the front delts.
This can eventually lead to muscle imbalances and poor posture.
In effect, it will give you that hunched over look.
Finally, the standard bench press isn’t even the “best bench press” version to hit the pecs.
Going back to the Golden Era of Bodybuilding, the legend Vince Gironda was one of the first ever coaches to have his trainees lower the bar to the neck rather than the lower pecs.
Termed the Guillotine Press, you will definitely develop your chest muscles to a far greater degree than the conventional bench press.
You can read more about Vince in my personal review of Vince Gironda Legend & Myth.
The Guillotine Press
Sticking with Vince Gironda for a moment, he wasn’t a fan of the traditional squat.
He claimed it would give you a fat butt and nothing more.
Vince was a proponent of the front squat and saw it as the best quad-builder there is.
Then again, there are those who will tell you that the conventional squat isn’t actually that great for developing the glutes.
Now, once again I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be doing squats, and it is without doubt one of the greatest exercises ever in my mind.
However, not everyone is suited to performing standard barbell back squats.
In fact, torso and limb length plays a huge role in whether you should be doing the traditional barbell back squat.
And if you can squat with good form then there are still better exercises to work the target muscles.
Many people will claim that squats aren’t the best quad developer, even though they’re the main muscle group that are meant to be targeted.
Dorian Yates, considered one of the greatest bodybuilders in history, was of the same thinking.
He believed there were far better exercises for the quads (plus he hardly ever performed the flat bench press either).
Put simply, if you want quads, the leg press, hack squats, and front squats will stimulate greater development.
The deadlift is often lauded as the greatest strength exercise of them all.
Basically, you’re packing more weight onto a bar than just about every other lift.
Can there be a better test of strength than picking up something extremely heavy off the floor?
Now, while I agree that deadlifts are a great way to increase overall strength, they’re definitely not the best lift to get stronger in individual areas of the body.
If you think about it, deadlifts hit a huge range of muscles in the body.
So, whenever you lift that bar off the floor the strength development of the lift is distributed to numerous muscles.
Therefore, no one muscle group bears the complete brunt of the movement.
If you want stronger glutes there are better individual exercises.
Looking to increase hamstring strength, there are better exercises that target the hamstrings specifically.
And the list goes on.
Yes, you can get freakishly strong with deadlifts, but we’re talking about the body as a whole.
Plus, they hit the Central Nervous System hard, so it can take a lot longer to recover from a heavy deadlift session.
Furthermore, deadlifts can help to build muscle, but yet again it’s not the best way to build individual muscle groups.
When you perform heavy deadlifts there is typically no eccentric (negative) part to the movement.
You use a huge number of muscles to get the bar off the floor and then typically just drop it back down.
So, no controlled eccentric portion.
And it is the eccentric part of pretty much all lifts that build muscle.
In effect, you would be better off performing Romanian deadlifts for muscle growth, as the bar doesn’t touch the ground.
Do Heavy Negatives Increase Muscle?
Your Training Will Be “Uneven”
I much prefer the “Big 5” to the “Big 3”.
Basically, I would throw the overhead press and bent-over rows into the mix.
Although bench, squats, and deadlifts can build muscle and strength to some effect, your training isn’t exactly even.
Regardless of what you may think or believe about deadlifts, they’re not the greatest lat-developer.
Realistically, the lats are stimulated through isometric contraction whenever you deadlift.
So yes, the lats are activated, but enough to pack on significant size and strength.
Additionally, there are those who would claim that the overhead press is a far better exercise than the bench press.
In fact, the ultimate test of strength for Strongmen from many years gone by was pressing heavy stuff overhead.
However, in the modern day and age, we all seem to want to know “How much do you bench?”
Plus, I wouldn’t exactly class the bench press as the most athletic of movements.
I mean you’re lying down for a start.
Not exactly very athletic is it?
But for me, you’re leaving a lot behind by simply training the big 3.
And your workouts will definitely be “uneven” in terms of training all the major muscle groups.
The Only 5 Exercises You Need to Build Muscle
This Could Lead to Injury
A final factor to consider if you want to train just bench, squats, and deadlifts is the potential for injury.
I’ve already spoken of the unevenness of the training.
Plus, overdeveloped front delts from constant bench pressing without any significant pulling exercise for the back can lead to poor posture.
You typically end up with that hunched over look, which is a precursor for various injuries and joint problems.
It’s bad enough in the modern world that we spend many hours a day hunched over a computer screen, or getting “texting neck” from staring at our smartphone screens.
So, you don’t really want to compound the problem with an uneven training routine.
Additionally, by sticking to just three exercises you won’t be training many of the basic movement patterns.
Walking is basically a lunge.
We twist and turn every single day.
We pick stuff up and carry it.
So, in effect these movements will become weaker, while the big 3 lifts become stronger.
This could impact on your mobility and general athleticism, which once again can lead to injury.
I really don’t want to sound down on the bench press, squats and deadlifts.
They truly are fantastic exercises.
However, you would be better off formulating a workout plan that includes these 3 exercises, rather than training them and nothing else.
If you train just bench, squats and deadlifts you will definitely become more proficient at each exercise. Plus, you can certainly add size and strength to your frame. However, the 3 movements aren’t the best for the development of individual muscle groups. Plus, your training will be uneven, especially in terms of training the upper back, lats, and shoulders, which can eventually lead to injury.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.