Finding the "Big 3" for You

Hi there.  My name is Alex, and I'm a strengthaholic.

As I've written on this blog about 306 times by now, strength is what matters.  It's the ultimate equalizer, and not just because I'm terrible at conditioning (I'd rather drop a 45 pound plate on my foot than go for a 5 mile run).  It's because I have yet to meet someone who hasn't had better movement, felt better overall, or needed extra help moving apartments (a nod to all of you on a September 1st lease in the Boston area) once they were stronger.

Yet, how do you quantify strength?  The inner meatheads will use the powerlifting "big 3" of back squatting, bench pressing, and deadlifting with good reason - those three movements are tested at powerlifting meets, and dedicating time and effort to them will make you super strong.

Amen, brotha.

Amen, brotha.

....but what if I told you, that unless you're a powerlifter, it's silly (and sometimes downright stupid) to use those exercises and metrics?

I know, I know....I probably just offended a bulk of the internet tough guys out there.  However, let's be real: I can count on one hand the number of people I've seen that are ready to jump into powerlifting programs. For the other 99.6% of us, that doesn't mean it's time for Fu-Fu Bosu Ball Squats with Tracy Anderson style weights.  It simply means we need to focus and attack mobility, stability, or both!

Thus, your "big 3" should be something that's a bit more fitting for your larger life goals (living well until I'm dead, losing some fat, looking better nekkid), while keeping the risk of injury as low as possible.  Putting a bar with a few hundred pounds on your back probably doesn't fit the criteria above, so why pigeonhole yourself to a "square peg round hole" scenario?

Ideally, you should have the following as goals:

1. A large posterior chain movement (the correct answer is some type of deadlift)

2. Some kind of pull (TRX Rows, Chin ups, Pullups, etc.)

3. Some kind of Push (floor press, dumbbell bench press, overhead press, etc)
a conditioning related goal (timed mile, rowing machine, or the AirDyne bike if you particularly love punishment)

For a long time, I graded myself on three main lifts - trap bar deadlifts, weighted chin ups, and rear foot elevated split squats.  I'd venture to say that I was so dedicated to those lifts that I'm probably still stronger in those three exercises than I am in conventional powerlifting, where my current goals are.  Just for giggles, I decided to test my strength in those lifts this past week (after front squatting and overhead pressing, respectively) to see how I stack up:

Now, are these the big power lifts that you'll see on YouTube?  No.  But, I think they illustrate how you can get strong while not abiding by the traditional back squat, bench press and deadlift (although I'm pretty sure you could have blown me over during the first few reps on the split squat).

I firmly believe that my strength in these other exercises (and not in conventional bench pressing/back squatting) is what has kept me relatively healthy for so many years.*  The fact that I can rattle off a couple of Chin ups at 290 (bodyweight + 100), is what has kept my shoulders healthy despite my history as a pitcher. Plus, I have literally zero knee issues to speak of, which I attribute to strong glutes....complements of the spit squats. 

Some people may never do a traditional big power lift, and you know what?  That's totally OK. Strong is strong, no matter the language or the exercise.  As long as you make it a priority to see progress and break personal records, you're on the path.  Now, just embrace the journey. 


*The other part that's kept me healthy is learning and implementing lessons from the Postual Restoration Institute.  Let that be a lesson to all my clients - do your breathing!