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Are the big 3 lifts necessary for muscle growth?

First, for all you noobs out there, what are the big 3 lifts you might ask? Well they are the bench press, bench press and bench press. Because a big chest is all that matters! No no, in all seriousness the big 3 lifts include the #Squat, #Bench press and #Deadlift. 3 large compound moves which require a lot of skill, practice and persistence to master and improve on.

Now the question is, should you be doing these to maximise muscle hypertrophy. Well, yes and no. It depends on a number of different factors. But for arguments sake, let's start with why you should be doing it.



The first and possibly the most important point as to why you should be doing these movements in your gym program is because research shows that doing these 3 big compound movements, or any exercise which requires more muscle involvement, will result in higher levels of testosterone. MORE #TESTOSTERONE! FOOK YEAH!!!! The more testosterone we produce the faster our muscles can recover, grow and even assist us with losing fat. This doesn’t only apply to males, but females as well.

Another reason to do these exercises is because they result in hypertrophy of a lot of muscles when doing them correctly. For example, in a squat, you can hit the quads, hamstrings and glutes in the one movement. Then after this you can start doing more focused or targeted movements on machines. Sometimes you may even be stuck on time, so rather than worrying about doing 4-6 exercises on a leg day, you might just do 1-3 bigger compound movements and keep the session short and effective. This may look something like:

  1. Squats 8-10 reps x 3 sets

  2. Leg press 12-15 reps x 4 sets

  3. Bulgarian Split Squat 12 reps each leg x 3 sets, then ending with a double drop set until failure on each drop set

Next, as we know, more strength = bigger muscles, and bigger muscles = more strength. Yes, there are some genetic freaks out there who can get strong without putting on a lot of muscle, but for most of us, if we are doing the big 3 for hypertrophy or strength purposes, then we should see an increase in muscle size. Even if we simply do sets of 3-6 reps, the low rep count can still result in muscular hypertrophy, even though the gym bros may keep telling you that you MUST do 12-15 reps...

Finally, most gym programs on the internet are based around the 3 big lifts. For example, a typical chest day will start with Bench Press. As we should all know from previous blogs, we start with the bigger compound movements and then move to more isolated ones. So if you’re someone who loves to follow a program from the internet or your favourite coach (I recommend Jeff Nippard or Chris Bumstead) they will do a lot of these bigger compound moves in their programs.


Next, let’s talk about why these lifts aren't necessarily bad, but why it may not be suitable for you to do them in your gym program.


There are also other factors to consider when deciding to do the big 3 lifts or not though. This includes current or previous injuries. There is no point doing a heavy ass bench press or squat if your shoulder is painful or unstable. There are other exercises which can supplement this like chest press machines, cable fly's or incline dumbbell presses. The goal of weight training should not only include being healthier and bigger, but you want to look at the long game. To make the most gains you need to be lifting for quite a number of years CONSISTENTLY. So if you are constantly injured or fighting old injuries, it can be hard to make progress. Do what you feel comfortable with, don’t do something just because everyone else is doing it and use the correct form. A big chest isn’t always based on a big bench press, some of the biggest people in the world don’t always bench press every chest session.

You are a beginner. If you are new to training some of these exercises may not be suited for you because they require a good technique/form. For example a Deadlift is one of the most complex exercises you can do in the gym and is easy to do wrong! We recommend you learn the movement patterns off youtube or a trainer in your gym before attempting this movement. You can seriously injure yourself with the wrong technique. There are definitely a lot of easier exercises you can do in the gym without any real technique! These days there is a fancy machine for almost every exercise and can be a great alternative for newbies or someone unsure of technique. We definitely recommend learning to do the Big 3 at some point because they do provide some great benefits that you can't get on a machine.


Sometimes doing the Big 3 just isn't necessary in your training program. For example if you are an elderly person, a bench press or deadlift might be too risky to perform and there are a lot more safer machine based alternatives. If you are 100 years old and want to deadlift, GREAT! But you need to be mindful of your capabilities so you don't injure yourself. When you are elderly your aim isn't to get huge like we are but to maintain some strength for everyday activities.


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