Compound Lifts

The big ones, the old school ones and the ultimate measure of strength!

Before we get carried away with how much we can lift, how about we focus for a bit on the actual movements and mechanics of these?

Normally we would look at squat, bench and deadlift as the big 3, followed closely by military press and pull-ups.

Moving weight in these movements requires way more than one muscle group working together or simply put they are multijoint movements.

The more muscle we recruit during a movement, the more we release hormones, we need these hormones to develop. So compound (or multijoint) movements are key.

Now, having said that, we don’t need to run off to the barbell or pull-up station straight away!

As we covered last week, we need to build the correct shapes and movements – our technique, so starting off with an aim to get everything feeling fluid during the movement is important.

Let’s take a look at the three main movements, along with some alternatives that can be used as well.

Barbell Squat

Everyone loves a squat right?!?!

  1. Set the bar height to just below the top of your shoulder – this allows us to lift the bar out of the hooks.
  2. Tuck ourselves under the bar with it resting on our traps – be careful to not have it too high up and on your neck.
  3. Grip the bar whilst pulling your elbows towards your body – this helps keep the bar tight and controlled.
  4. Lift the bar up and out of the hooks, step backwards into your squat stance – position your feet as needed.
  5. Take a breath and keep your upper body ‘tight’, descend with the bar keeping our upper body as straight as possible – we want the bar path to be straight up and down with as little forward/backward motion as possible.
  6. Once we have reached parallel, push, we push through our heels, driving the weight back to our starting position.

Alternatives – Air squat, Kettlebell squat, Bulgarian split squat

Barbell Bench press

Load up the bar!!

  1. Set the bar slightly lower than your arms are at full extension.
  2. Lie down on a flat bench. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder width – we are looking for a 90-degree angle when we pass through the middle of the descent, start with the bar and find the right position for your grip.
  3. Make sure your feet are firm and good tension is created through your body.
  4. Lift the bar from the rack and hold it straight over you with your arms locked.
  5. Take a breath and begin coming down slowly until the bar touches your middle chest.
  6. Pause briefly, push the bar back to the starting position as you breathe out.
  7. Focus on pushing the bar using your chest.
  8. Hold for a second and then start coming down slowly again for the next rep
  9. Once complete, re-rack the bar.

Tip: Ideally, lowering the weight should take about twice as long as raising it.

Alternatives – DB bench press, cable chest press, plate press


King of the lifts!!

  1. Ideally we should use Olympic plates (45cm ones, to ensure the bar height is constant)
  2. Walk up to the bar and have it inline with Metatarsophalangeal joint (MCP) or for today Foot knuckles.
  3. Standing with our feet hip-width apart. Bend down from the hip and grip the bar at shoulder-width with your arms just outside your legs, pull your shoulders together.
  4. Take a big breath and then lower your hips and flex your knees forward until your shins contact the bar.
  5. Look forward with chest up and begin driving through the heels to move the weight upward.
  6. After the bar passes the knees, lock the movement out in the standing position.
  7. Lower the bar by bending at the hips and knees, making it the reverse of the movement you have just performed.

Alternatives – Kettlebell deadlift, stiff leg deadlift, sumo deadlift.

For more information, or help with writing and programming your compound lifts, contact a member of Team SF today!