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What Are Your Favorite Big Lifts?


I want to veer away from the Big Three in powerlifting to give my both my mind and body a break. I still want to train for strength and power in that order of importance.

So I still want to focus on some main lifts kind of like I would if I were training for the Big Three. I’ll probably swap these out for different exercises every month or two. Except that I’ll be using different lifts depending on if I were training for power or strength that session for the same movement pattern. This is because I strongly feel that certain lifts lend themselves towards training one trait or the other. So since I’m not limited to trying to build only the powerlifts, I thought this would be a good idea.

What I had in mind were:

Strength Squat: high bar moderate stance back squat
Occasionally with a pause like when my back is feeling kind of rough or my knees and hips start drifting backward and shoot up too soon in the regular free squat.
Power Squat: box squat with light bands to parallel
These always help with developing a strong hip hinge throughout the whole movement, explosiveness with the hips, and help with form on my main squat.

-Upper Body Press-
Strength Press: push press
I find the regular standing press to not really work my shoulder girdle all that well. In the regular press, my lats drive the barbell up (while also stabilizing of course) which gets the barbell over halfway over my face, then for a couple inches my shoulders take over, then the rest is done with my arms. But in the push press, my legs do the initial drive instead and the momentum takes the bar just a little higher and because of the relative overload my shoulders are doing a lot more work and my lats and upper back take on more of a stabilizer role.
Power Press: depth plyo box push ups
Just because it looks fun

Strength: High Pull
I see Coach Christian Thibaudeau always celebrating these so I thought I’d give them a try. It think it might be a good break from DLs so I can get my back and hips feeling better.
Power: Power Snatch
I can’t think of a better posterior chain exercise for power than this one. They also make my shoulders feel healthier when I use them.

So what the are the big lifts you like and why?


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I find that, if I like a lift, it’s most likely not effective. One of the signs of effectiveness in my experience is how much misery a lift can create.

As far as effective, non-powerlifting lifts go.

-Car deadlift simulator

You can pile the weight up stupid high on this lift, especially if you put the weight behind you. It requires little technique, and in turn means you can just push stupidly hard and really leave nothing behind. I liked starting with a weight I could do for 6-8 reps and working up to 15 before throwing another 45 per side and starting the process over.

-Safety squat bar squat

I am a hugely vocal proponent of the SSB, and any chance I can turn someone on to it, I try. Along with the fact you can use it to work around pretty much any limb injury (you can squat with broken hands, arms, shoulders, etc AND with a bad leg, as being able to hold the bar with one hand means you can use the other hand to brace and lower yourself down), the camber in the bar makes the squat a much more brutal exercise than normal.

The entire time you try to squat, the bar is trying to shove your face into the floor, and in turn you have to fight with all your power to keep that from happening. Along with developing a strong lower body, you develop an ugly strong upper back as well. Also, like the car deadlift simulator, it makes the squat a far more brutal than technical lift, for if the weight falls forward, you can still muscle it back up.

Upper body press
-Keg/sandbag clean and press

Once again, you can’t really be talented here, you just have to be ugly strong to get it moving. It’s also nice that these implements are dirt cheap.


I’ve adopted the front squat, push press, and power snatch for my “big three” for the last several months.

For me, it is just a change of pace and an opportunity to get stronger in those lifts. The biggest reason for choosing those lifts…

…is my high-bar back squat just was barely moving over 440 lbs, so I was really feeling beat down with trying to move past it. So the front squat just gave me a fresh lift to work on for awhile.

My strict press was not moving at all, so I wanted a way to use more weight for overhead pressing. I’ve heard a lot of people say the PP will not help your strict press, but that is the total opposite experience I’ve had. My overhead pressing has improved a lot from PPing.

I hate heavy ass deadlifting anymore, for what I get in return at least. I do heavy RDLs, clean pulls, snatch grip high pulls, etcetera… but I no longer pull super heavy anymore. So, the power snatch has just been a very fun exercise that I honestly have never done before… so it’s a little like being a total noob again and it is fun learning a new movement and watching the numbers go up every week… like the beginner days… lol

x2 on the safety squat bar by the way, I dig that thing too.


My favourite big lifts are:

-Front squats
-Dumbbell Bench (slight decline)
-Pull Ups

My favourite little lifts are:

-Shoulder raises (side and back)
-PJR pullovers
-Cable Flyes

I think I could be happy just coming in to the gym and doing those 6 exercises every time. I might actually try that…


Lower Body Atlas Stones
1, I find it fun picking up big rocks,
2, I think it is one of the best overall strength developers.
3, Surprisingly it bothers my joints less than barbell lifts and feels somewhat natural.
4, lifting rocks is badass.

Upper Body: Dumbell clean and press
1, It is fun
2, good for the while body as a supplemental exercise
3, looks cool


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Top 3: Power clean, front squat, military press. No question about it.

DL is great too, but if I could choose just 3…


Deadlifts are my all time favorite but I’ve also grown fond of benching recently.


Bench is the only one in classic compound lifts I haven’t liked. I’ll still do it, but mostly for principle, it’s no surprise that it is my weakest lift.

  1. Push Press/ OHP/ Log Press
  2. Squat
  3. Sumo Deadlifts


Log press
Atlas stones

I like the caveman workouts


After a long OHP plateau and some wrist issues on bench I decided to try behind the neck push press. With a good leg drive and decent mobility my plan is to push press/jerk more than I bench :wink:
As far as squats - oly technique, upright and narrow.
Alternating sumo and conventional as a primary hip hinge + olympic lifts as a fun accessory.


Ben Bruno wrote Find Your Big 3 Lifts to address almost-exactly this situation. Paul Carter had a similar-but-different article coming at it from a size-building perspective.

I believe the power clean is horribly underappreciated. An explosive pull with a bit more upper body involvement than a high pull and a bit less technique than a snatch, also works as a foundation for pressing or squats.


I’ve been focusing on seated shoulder press, dips, incline, chinups, and front squat (in particular this) much more lately. I rotate in dips & incline as main movements with a bastardized “5/3/1” plan.

There’s nothing special about flat benching, deadlifting from the floor, or back squatting, with the exception that they’re the movements required for powerlifting. If you ain’t powerlifting, I think you can get by just fine without doing them.

And I hate deadlifting. Meh.


Squats: any cambered bar squat - SSB for preference, spider bar is cool too and/or SSB below parallel box squats

Press: military press or incline bb press at a pinch

Deadlift: snatch grip deadlift, deficit snatch grip deadlift or SSB box squats as above


I like all lifts until they get to about 85% at which point I hate them all :smile:


The press (because lifting big arse weights over head is epic!), I also used to really like hex bar deads (great for grip strength + you can really pile on the plates with this movement).


You know what, I think I might just replace my high pulls with those. I’ve seen it included instead of deadlifts for a P-Chain exercise in a few programs and I actually want more of an upper back emphasis than what I discovered I get out of high pulls. Also, if I ever work up to big numbers in the power clean I’ll be able to brag about it without people going, “huh, what’s that lift?” :slightly_smiling:


Having a long-standing lower back issue introduced me to the trap bar. Having an on-going shoulder issue re-introduced me to the trap bar!

Trap bar deadlift, from the floor or blocks

Trap bar dead-start row

Trap bar overhead press (easy to set up as long as you have access to squat stands or a power rack). Ben Bruno demonstrated this recently, but you’ll have to take it from me that I was doing it much earlier!

Tyre Atlas Lift: Bonus: I did this for the first time last night as part of my weekly strongman session. I stick some heavy KBs in an old tyre; and lift it like an Atlas stone before dropping it on a soft surface. I do it as singles and found it to be a good strength stimulator without having any of the stress of an eccentric lift.