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Bodybuilders & The Big Three


Like them or not most bodybuilders have been including the big three and variations of them as staple movements in their routines for years.

  1. If you like the big three (Back squat/bench/conventional deadlift) but couldn't do them for some reason what are some of the best free weight variations that you think will replace one of them for the target muscle?

Here are mine:
Deadlifts - BB Rows (Upper back) Back Extensions (Lower back +Hams) Hip Thrusts (glutes)
Squat - Front Squat / Leg press
Bench - Dips / Incline DB bench

  1. If you could invent the big three over again what would they be?

I think BB Rows >Deads
Front Squat>Back
Bench>Incline DB bench


Well I cant back squat because of damage to my spine due to jiu jitsu so instead I found Zercher squats pretty effective, thinking of trying some goblet squats next week for like a finsher or supersets...


have you tried front squats? yeah if I do goblets they are always a finisher because obviously you can't go that heavy as your are limited to the dumbbells.


I'd agree with all of your suggestions. Flat benches made me strong but didn't build my pecs. Back Squats made me good at Back Squatting (and gave me a big ass), but didn't make my quads look like a bodybuilder's. Full Deads made me strong as hell at deading (and bigger forearms), but I had nowhere near the back development that I have today (rarely ever do deads, instead focusing on a variety of rowing movements).

The BIG THREE are not perfect, nor horrible, and they are an excellent place to start for most trainer., but after a bit you have to decide if they're assisting you in actually reaching your individual goals (and in regard to your individual genetic predisposition), or if you need to find an other approach.



I substitute hip belt squats for back squats.(scoliosis)


Front squats, low-incline dumbbell presses and one-arm dumbbell rows for me. Though I have no problem at recruiting the desired muscles during the big 3, I HATE back squatting, feels incredibly unnatural... Also, any grip wider than shoulder-width hurts my joints on bench, so, whenever I use BB, I use a rather narrow grip.

I gotta agree with Stu when it comes to rows for back developement. I recall I did pullups-chinups and deadlifts almost every back workout, but in the last half a year I realised that I lack mass in my lats. The aforementioned excersises made my upper back thick and strong, but my lats are seriously lagging.

With undergrip barbell rows, and one-arm db-s, I can recruit my lats much better... Not to mention T-bar rows, another great tool in the box, just as cable rows. :o)


Rack Chins and Partial ROM pullups for width, man. And Pendlay Rows.


But on topic, if I were to substitute for the big 3, they would be:

Front squats
DB bench
BB Rows

Nothing surprising.

Having said that, I still think one of the best ways to get a big set of spinal erectors is lots of deadlifts. Only problem is the injury risk for certain individuals.


do you include any vertical pulling anymore?


i like high rep rack pulls for spinal erectors. deads for me are too technical to really feel (shitty MMC)

H4M do you(if you do, that is) use a conventional stance for rack pulls? never seen anyone so sumo style rack pulls

also do BB rows/pendlays help your width?


I would keep the back squat and deads personally, but I would change BB bench for Dumbbell benching.


Im gonna agree with Stu and how the "Big 3" affected me. Hell, i dont deadlift most of the time period. When it comes to chest, i think my bread and butter for size was Db fly. It takes some serious Pec recruitment to be able to fly triple digit dbs past parallel to the floor. Looking at the squat, i am glad that i started properly using it, but if i was to focus on 2 isolation movements that targeted your hams and quads, id have to say Elevated Front Squats for quads, and Weighted lunges for hams/glutes (when you really put some length in your stride and drop down to the floor, you wreck your hams/glutes to the point where sitting the next day hurts lol)


Akuma, elevating the heels does help a lot. I have a pair of shoes elevated bout 5 mm-s at the heels, I only use them for leg training.

Does anyone noticed better stretch on the incline when training chest? I don't exactly know why, but I get better stretch than on flat bench, thereby I usually stick to a low-incline (actually the "adjustable bench" in the gym works with plates stucked under the legs of the regular flat bench :wink: )


Meh, i simply use 35lb plates. Lol its all i think they're good for.


I rarely do rack pulls, but yes I dot hem sumo stance. Otherwise it's too easy to pull the bar back onto your quads, and leverage it up using them, which defeats the purpose of them.

And Pendlay rows I'd say are about 70% width 30% thickness (throwing those numbers out based on feel), and I'd pretty much flip those percentages around for BB Rows. If I had to pick 4 back exercises to do for the rest of my life, they'd probably be pendlay rows, bb rows, sumo deadlifts, and rack chins.


I've always been a fan of chins, but found that a lot of the stress went to my inner back, where I guess I was naturally stronger (not a bad thing, but contest bodybuilding is about correcting imbalances). Not that my lats were lagging, but I realized that I needed to thicken them up to create a better 'X' Frame effect when standing onstage. About a year ago I started incorporating close grip (usually a v-grip) pulldowns where I would maintain a perfectly upright torso position, while keeping my elbows in front of my body the entire time (none of that 'squeeze your shoulder blades for a peak contraction' stuff), while pausing the motion when my hands reached in front of my chin. This allowed me to put much more direct stress on my actual Lats, which I believe made a very big difference in my physique.

Also, and I think I've been asked about this before,.. I never was a fan of wide grip chins, pulldowns, anything, simply because my naturally dominant arms took the brunt of the work. Instead, I've always relied on scapular retractions in a cable station, and focused on more of an angled-shrug if you will.

These are really the only exercises I incorporate that have me doing work in the vertical plane.



What do you feel about free weight pullovers Stu?


I agree

Is it just me or do most here not really do pull ups all that often? I could be wrong but it doesn't seem like something a lot of people on this site do other than maybe as a warm up for the workout.

H4M, how much are you using for rack chins?


Which part of the pullup rom are you referring to, and do you mean after/in addition to full pullups or instead of them?

Also, when I've done rack chins in the past I feel it much more in my upper back/rear delts and not at all in the lats - what set up and grip do you use?

Thanks in advance - width has been a bit of a weakness of mine haha


Can you explain rack chins and partial ROM pullups? for these are you stopping when its halfway though the rep then pulling back to your chest?

Are pendlay rows barbell rows but started from the floor so you get more of a vertical pull because your body is parallel to the floor or just below?