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Why Is It so Hard to Let Go of "The Big 3" for Non-Competitive Lifters?

Almost No one trap bar deadlifts, does rack pulls, does zercher squats, or neutral grip presses or even floor presses anymore. Just a few of many exercises that can deliver the same if not even better results than the big 3. I struggle with this at times. I sometimes do too much of other strength exercises I feel like I’m not officially strong if I don’t do dead, squats or bench press. Is it cuz of the whole powerlifting dogmatic Bs that has poisoned our brains?

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I love Zerchers and Rack Pulls. Front Squats and Barbell Hack Squats as well for good measure.

I think it comes down to:

“hey bro saw you at the gym the other day, what are squatting these days?”

“oh about 225 for 8 on the front squat, I haven’t back squatted in ages as I have a tendency to go a bit heavy and get form breakdown ya know.”

“ah… Cool…”

END OF CONVO! [insert awkward looks and muttering in the direction of front squat dude]

In summary, the big 3 lifts are easy to relate to and gives people a quick guide on their strength level.

I think you might be wrong about this, thankfully, considering many are starting to divorce from their marriage to the big three lifts. I made my best bodybuilding gain when I got rid of standard deadlifts, barbell bench presses, barbell overhead presses, and back squats in favor of trap-bar deadlifts and RDL’s, safety or front squats, dumbbell overhead presses, dumbbell bench presses and dips.

Thankfully Ben Bruno, Bret Contreras, and John Rusin are hammering home the message in their articles and social media posts that people don’t, and in some cases, shouldn’t do some barbell lifts.


Because people need a little box to put their training method

They need to put what they are doing in relation to what others are doing to have the impression it really is something/valid, EVEN IF it ends up being a worse way to do things.

I never understood it


Starting Strength went out of it’s way to explain that the low bar squat, barbell bench press and deadlift were scientifically the most superior way in the world to build size and strength and any deviation from that was inferior in some way and only reserved for assistance work, and people chose to believe this.

There are a lot of “internet powerlifters” out there concerned with their fake totals, and these lifts allow them to keep up that charade.


I struggle with this a lot. I have a DS bar, but I still go back to the conventional deadlift all the time and I have no idea why. I honestly have no idea why I flat bench either. I get nothing from it.

The axle is helpful methodone for a situation like this. Swap the barbell for an axle and after a while you realize you’re technically doing a different movement, and it opens the door to the idea that maybe you could still get strong doing something different.


They’re the dirty chicks of weight training. Fun to do and you don’t have to think about them too much.


So what would you guys say should be the “big 3” for general non competitive lifters?

What do you think are the core lifts that truly would benefit a non competitive lifter?

A loaded carry - everyone has to carry stuff whether you’re a lifter or a granny
A squat - for mobility & lower body strength
An overhead press - for mobility & upper body strength

(any variation of the 3)

I don’t know about your experience but mine is there is one or two bench presses that remain empty in favour of DBs and benches. Deadlift platform gets used more for rows than deadlifts (but mostly for stretching) and the power rack for shrugs (and rows) rather than squats.

I will say I notice far more folks squatting than in the old days and it isn’t like I’m going to a commercial gym

Depends on their goals.

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I think maybe because it does get drilled into your brain from when you start working out. As a beginner most if not all advice from older lifters whether they do the movements or not is get strong in the big three and after having a solid base of strength deviate from there if necessary.

For competing in strongman, what are your main lifts?

I don’t have any. I have to be good at a LOT of different things, so it fundamentally depends on what the competition is. When I find out those lifts, I start practicing them.

I rotate between press, deadlift, squat and bench variations, along with moving events with various implements and stone work.


I was going to try and defend doing the big 3 but realize I don’t do them as much as I thought. I do this each week. Main reason I do them (except squat) is because its what 5/3/1 uses and its really the big 4 in that program.

Bench one day, closegrip bench another
Deadlift one then Sumo or RDL the other
Overhead press one day
Front Squat one day and SSB another

Doing 5/3/1 so 2 of the big 3 lifts are my main lifts of the day. As someone who does not compete in powerlifting I don’t see any reason to not bench press, I still overhead press as a main lift with the same priority as bench has. No reason to not deadlift, I don’t have a trap bar and doing deficit or rack pulls seems arbitrary, might as well just do regular DL.

Also if you workout at home or have limited equipment the big 3 are easy. Your favorite chest exercise is the hammer strength flat press machine? What if your forced to go to another gym for whatever reason and can never do that anymore? This won’t happen with the big 3 or some of their barbell variations.

I was just checking out your log. What is typically the minimum cycles do you typically use a lift for? Obviously this would depend on what events or non-events are coming up. I’m hoping to do an event next march in Miami, so I’ll be looking at your log, among others for ideas. For now I’ll continue with 5/3/1 using deadlift front squat press and incline press.

IMO it’s that question that causes this whole problem in the first place. There are NO core lifts unless you compete in a strength sport. There are lifts and/or techniques that work for you in terms of achieving your goals, and ones that don’t. End of story.

Hell, it’s arguable that there are no core lifts for anyone - including competitive lifters - in training as long as what you do improves your performance.


Your A Alpha Destiny fan arent you ?..for the record I went back to Trap Bar deads as my main pull movement.

If I have a competition looming, I’ll typically start focusing on the competition lifts for 8 weeks. Seems to work well for me.

A know a lot of folks are into the front squat and incline press for strongman. I never train them personally, but it’s partially my background in powerlifting that is responsible for that.