Introduction of the compound lift
Weightlifting with the Big 3 Compound Lifts isn’t just a casual activity to be done occasionally and expect to see optimal results. It’s a lifelong journey of self-discovery, hardship, and mental toughness. By necessity, you have to push your body and mind to new thresholds and limits, but most people do this without addressing their imbalances and eventually hurt themselves in the process.
As a result, they take themselves out of commission for six months and restart the process all over again without learning anything valuable about themselves and the way they lift weights. In this article, I’ll explain how to train injury free in the Big 3 Compound Lifts and why it’s so important when it comes to training for longevity. You want to be training for your whole life, and one injury can set you back many months and potentially even years. My goal is to help you train injury free for life.
Compound lift #1: The Bench Press
The first Compound Lift: The Bench Press. If you’ve been lifting for any amount of time you’ve probably heard these words come up in a conversation: “How much ya bench bro?”. This is the ultimate form of dick comparison without whipping them out in the gym. But it’s not a great measurement by any means because the Bench Press is the leading cause for shoulder injury.
In fact, Yours Truly had a shoulder injury a couple of years ago that took some time to heal and fix. I was training in my basement one cold morning, and I didn’t bother warming up. Everything felt fine until I began to press the bar up. Immediately my right shoulder went numb. It was a slog to get the bar up but I somehow managed. I decided to end the workout there. For the rest of my day my shoulder burned when resting.
How did I fix it?
After doing some research, I came to the conclusion it was an inflamed shoulder bursitis (along with cancer if I went on WebMD). Some time later, I tried benching again and this time there would be a sharp pain underneath my anterior deltoid. Through more research I discovered that the two bicep tendons (long and short heads) connecting to my shoulder joint were inflamed.
My shoulder bursitis turned into bicep tendinitis. After that, I didn’t bench for at least 6 months. It wasn’t worth grinding my shoulder joint to dust. So how did I fix my shoulder and Bench Press? I began to do many more upper back exercises. Including Facepulls, Seated Pronated Grip Rows, and Neutral Grip DB Shoulder Press. All of these helped my one weak and underdeveloped muscle: My Rotator Cuff and all the surrounding muscles with it.
Your Rotator Cuff is necessary for stabilizing your shoulder joint and pulling it back from being anteriorly rotated. If it can’t do this properly, then your shoulders will take more beating then necessary. But why does the Bench Press cause so much shoulder damaged? Because it’s 90% shoulder work, especially when the Rotator Cuff and the Lats can’t properly stabilize and protect your shoulders. This is also why the Bench Press is terrible for building a strong Chest. If you really want to build a stacked deck of a Chest, the Incline Bench along with Cable Chest Flyes, Dips, and Flat Dumbbell Pressing are your best friends. Actionable Advice: If you want to prevent the most common injuries in your Bench Press, then for every amount of pushing exercises do twice as many pulling exercises.
Compound lift #2: The Squat
The Barbell Squat, the second Compound Lift, is one of the best full body exercises. You need to keep your back and core tight along with your strong tree trunks of legs to bear the weight of the bar when coming out of the hole. If you have any lagging parts in your body, you’ll eventually hurt yourself as you’ll be forcing yourself to make something work that isn’t supposed to.
One of the most common issues I’ve found in my clients is the inability to get in and out of the hole with fluidity and proper hip extension. Their hamstrings and hips are tight from sitting all day, and when it comes time to bring their body ass-to-grass they can barely hit parallel. Over time, if not addressed properly, pinching in the hip flexors can develop as there’s less room for the ball and socket joint of the hips to move around.
So, what’s the solution?
- Walking for 90+ minutes throughout the day will loosen up your hips and will strengthen your glutes to make your Squat and Gait stronger. Constant movement is necessary for the health of the human body.
- Properly warm up your abductors and adductors before squatting. I recommend 2 sets of 30 reps on both the Good Girl and Bad Girl machine. Your hips will be warm, and you’ll be able to hit parallel without any issue.
- Hit the Leg Curl machine to warm up your hamstrings and knee joint. 2 sets of 30 reps each will get the blood flowing and muscles warm. This is normally the most common problem with the Squat, now let’s take a look at the Deadlift.
Compound lift #3: The Deadlift
It’s no surprise that the Barbell Deadlift, the third Compound Lift, is one of the most powerful movements that the human body can perform. All the Strongmen and Powerlifters test their strength with the ability to Deadlift the most amount of weight for one Repetition. Olympic Weightlifters and Crossfit athletes test their power with the first movement to get the bar off the ground: The Deadlift.
With that being said, the Deadlift can also destroy your lower back if you don’t initiate the movement correctly. The Deadlift is often improperly known as a Pulling movement, but it’s actually a Pushing movement. What happens when you try and Pull the bar off the floor? You try pulling the bar with your lower back. From there, it’s a slow grind to squeeze your cheeks to straighten out your body at the top of the movement.
The Deadlift is a Push
What happens when you Push the bar off the floor? The load is driven right into your glutes and hamstrings ready to protect your lower back. Your core should be tight and your Thoracic spine neutral. With your upper body stiff and strong, your posterior chain (Glutes and Hamstrings) will do most (if not all) of the work by bringing your hips forward at the top of the movement.
At no point during the Deadlift should your lower back hurt. If it does, then you’re doing the movement improperly which can either be the result of two lagging muscles: 1. Your glutes 2. Your core. To prevent injuries during the Deadlift, you should be training core strength as a warmup for every workout. The best athletes know that every exercise is a core exercise. You’ll also want to train your glutes for power, as in the speed at which you can squeeze your cheeks. If your body is slow at hip extension, then your lower back will compensate for your weak Glutes. This applies to all three of the Compound Lifts.
Prehab and proper form
I define Prehab as the “intelligent approach to resolving muscle imbalances before they become a problem through specific isolation and unilateral exercises”. Physiotherapists take the approach of rehab after the problem has gotten so great it’s taken the athlete out of commission for any amount of time. The goal of any Coach and Personal Trainer is to find the smaller problem before it becomes a bigger problem. However, this begs the question: “What if I don’t have a Coach or Personal Trainer that can watch my back?” You must become your own Coach and Personal Trainer for yourself. You must look at yourself through both the extrospective and introspective lens to understand the compound lifts.
You can do this through 2 ways:
- Record your lifts and analyze them in detail.
- When you’re in pain, look at the muscles both above and below where the pain is. Often the pain isn’t caused directly where the pain is, but by some muscles that aren’t properly balanced and are pulling in unequal directions.
The Two Most Important Muscle Groups
In terms of exercises, you’ll want to put down the barbell and get the Dumbbells, cables, resistance bands, and any tools that will help you strengthen your imbalances through isolation and unilateral exercises. With that being said, I see two main muscle groups that will help across the board on the Big 3 lifts, and with day to day life.
- Strong Core
- Strong Glutes
Why are these two so important?
If you have a desk job and you sit a lot throughout the day, both your core and glutes will become weak. Your core will cave in as you round your shoulders to move closer to your computer screen. As a result, you’ll have a harder time to breathe with your diaphragm and will develop rib flare. When it will come time to lift weights, you’ll have a harder time engaging your core and your lower back will be more susceptible to injury in all 3 of the Big compound lifts.
In terms of glutes, when you’re sitting throughout the day your glutes stretch out and you lose the tightness and muscle-mind connection necessary to squeeze your cheeks during your lifts. This is especially prevalent with your Glute Medius which is necessary for the external rotation of the knee. If you can’t externally rotate your legs and knees, then you’ll develop hip flexor tightness and pain during the Big 3 Lifts, especially the Squat. As a result, you’ll have daily lower back pain as your lumbar spine will want to compensate for the load that your core and glutes can’t handle. What your Glutes and Core can’t support, your lumbar spine will compensate.
If you want to train injury free for life, especially for the Big 3 compound lifts, then you’ll have to train intelligently. This will include using prehab isolation exercises to target your muscle imbalances along with strengthening 2 main muscle groups: your Core and your Glutes. If you keep these two muscle groups strong, you’ll minimize unnecessary injuries in the most susceptible parts of your body: Your lower back and hips.
Struggling with the Big 3 Compound Lifts? shoot me a DM on Twitter at my handle @MylesWould and we’ll get you started on exercises you can do today.
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