Three of the Most Important Compound Lifts to Know


So this is my first post for The Idle Man, I feel I should make the effort and go all out to impress, especially when talking about the subject of building muscle and what three exercises are the best for doing this.

I'm afraid you won't learn anything new here, I've never been a fan of selling the exotic, exciting workouts or miracle results. Any successful person, regardless what area, be it finance, health or relationships knows that success and goals are achieved by consistent persistence and hard work over time. Yes, some people might get "lucky", however, luck is usually when hard work meets opportunity. So if you're looking for a shortcut please stop reading.

Saying that, what I'm going to present to you is an easy-to-use and easy to implement solution for those of you looking to get a bigger/stronger physique.

I'll cut to the chase, big compound movements work, trying to twist your body into a position to get a peak or certain area of muscle activated will more often lead to wasted effort and a battle against genetics. Now, you can out train genetics to an extent but if you work hard and don't stress over the small stuff success will come easier.

My big 3 are the deadlift, the squat and the overhead press. (Or variations of each in that order).

The reason for the above is that these big exercises quite simply create the biggest muscular overload in one movement - if done correctly. Now, that last part is the most crucial. I'm a fully qualified personal trainer and I can't emphasise enough the importance of form. Leave your ego at the door. A big deadlift is useless if you put your back out, likewise with the squat, giving you bad knees etc.

This could be a full paper on these exercises so I'm going to keep it as brief yet informative as possible. When trying to build muscle there are two types, let's not get technical, I'll say strength (think Olympic lifter) and size (think bodybuilder). Both have their place depending on goals.

When training for strength you won't get much bigger so you can lift away without the fear of getting "too big" unless you eat too many calories. The rep ranges for strength are typically between 1-6, lower favourite for absolute strength.

For size aim for 8-12, upwards of 15 if you can maintain food form for heavy weight for reps. The way this works is it uses a different energy system (carbs), the more you stress this system in these rep ranges the more your body will have to store in the form of accessible carbohydrates (glycogen). This will look good but don't expect to move like an Olympic athlete.

Ideally you want to combine these two types for optimal performance. Giving you the best of both worlds.

The big three exercises are broken down as follows. I'll touch on form but, if you're looking to get the most out of them, please contact a qualified professional to show you the technicality of these lifts.


It uses almost every muscle in the body, mainly posterior focus (meaning muscles behind you) which are great for posture. Again, technique is key here, otherwise this will ruin your physique. This exercise will allow you to pick up the most weight. More weight means you force your body to change, it has to adapt. The way it adapts is simply by more muscle, and by picking up the biggest weight possible you will get the biggest change. Think about it this way. What will build more muscle? Bicep curls or deadlifts?



Put a bar on your back or front and you have a metaphor for life's challenges. When it tries to knock or put you down, just get back up. Working most major muscles i.e. the legs and also a massive overload on the core. To resist the body folding, your abs will get a pretty decent workout, especially if you do a front squat correctly, no question. I would say back squat for sheer weight but feint squat for the positive effect it has on posture, as you have to have better technique to be able to do it right.


Overhead Press

I chose this over the bench press because it requires a lot of core strength to keep your body upright. You're body will default into leaning back but make sure you squeeze your bum and keep it tight. This is going to create a vertical load that will develop shoulders, arms and core strength.


There you have it, keep it simple and don't overcomplicate things. It is hard if you do it right. Doing these exercises 3/4 times a week will get you big and strong. There are so many variables, just ensure you put in the time and energy into training sessions and your body will thank you for it. Remember to always warm up and mobilise before and after workouts.

For personal training, nutrition and exercise advice visit Fabio Bonanno's website and book a session!

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