Barbell Exercises II –Some Variations of the Big Five


 The Big Five lifts are the Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Press, and the Row.  Some variations of The Big Five are listed below.  They are done as either additional exercises, assistance exercises or just for a change.

(There are also dumbbell variations of the big five but that will be the subject of another article).

 Press Variations

 Incline (bench) Press

 Back in the day, the famous strength and conditioning Coach Bill Starr recommended 3 main exercises for football players and track and field athletes:  The Squat, the Power Clean and the Incline Press.  The incline press was chosen because the angle of the press closely approximated the angle of executing shot putting, discus throwing, tackling, etc.  (Starr originally suggested the flat Bench Press be used only because very few athletic clubs in the late 1960s had an adjustable bench, otherwise Starr believed the Incline Press was the best one to use).  The incline press is also popular among bodybuilders because it hits the front deltoids and upper chest more than the regular bench press.  It is somewhat different in that you cannot use the lats to stabilize the lift so you must work harder on balancing the barbell.  Your feet will be flat on the floor and your lower back will be touching the bench which will be set at an angle anywhere between 30 to 45 degrees The elbows must stay under the wrists during the lift.  Note:  The wrists must be locked with forearms always underneath the bar.  Push the bar upwards in a straight line.

Demonstration of Incline Press:

 

Decline Bench Press

The Decline Press is the opposite of the incline press in angle direction.  In the Decline Press your pelvis is higher than your head.  There is less emphasis on the front deltoids and more stress (and thus development) on the lower pectorals and triceps.  If you have never done the Decline Press it will certainly feel very strange.  This is not a very popular lift for two reasons.  One,  many benches sold do not adjust downwards and two, many weight trainers feel more comfortable doing weighted Dips which is a bodyweight exercise that feels more natural and works much the same muscle groups as the decline press.

Demonstration of Decline Bench Press:

 

 Push Press

The Push Press is a standing press using the front deltoids and triceps.  It is very much like an overhead or military press except that the legs are used to forcefully to push the bar upwards very quickly.  It is not like the jerk in the Clean and Jerk because you are still using your arms to push up the weight.  In the Jerk part of the Clean and Jerk, the bar rests on your clavicles and you jump the weight up to a locked-out position using your arms only as a guide.  In the push press you are actually pushing the bar.  The Push Press can be used to develop great strength because more weight can be used than the ordinary shoulder press.  The only drawback with this lift is that initial strength is not developed at the bottom because the legs are assisting you.  On the positive side, the Push Press helps the whole body learn better to function as one unit.

Demonstration of Push Press:

 

 Squat variations

Front Squat

Olympic weight lifters do a gosh-awful lot of front squats because it is this movement that allows them to get quickly under the bar when performing the Clean and Jerk.  Great flexibility in the fingers and wrists are needed because the bar is managed on top of the front part of the shoulders with the first two fingers of both hands as they stretch backwards.  This exercise does not engage the hamstrings or hips as much as the back squat but  bodybuilders tend to like and use it to develop the “tear drop” muscle of the quadriceps known as the vastus medialis.

Demonstration of Front Squat:

 

 Barbell Hack Squats

This lift is when you lift the barbell as you would a deadlift except that the bar is behind your knees.  The result is that it throws an large amount of stress onto your quadriceps.  The day after you do this lift, expect the middle part of your back to be sore until you are used to it.  It is best used at with a moderately light weight perhaps at the end of a leg workout routine because if you use too much weight, the bar will scrape badly against the backs of your knees.  Many weight trainers will not do this exercise because it feels so awkward but that does not change the fact that it is an excellent exercise.  When performing it, you should stand on top of a couple of plates to elevate your heels to better isolate the quads.

Demonstration of Barbell Hack Squat:

 

Front Lunges

This is a very popular barbell exercise for complete development of the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.  With the barbell across your shoulders step (lunge) forwards with your right foot putting most of your weight on it.  The length of the step you take is determined by how well you can then kneel down onto your left knee with your right thigh parallel to the floor.  This movement needs a lot of practice.  Then from the floor position, put your weight onto your right leg and push/thrust upwards bringing your left foot besides your right foot.  You can either repeat again with your right leg or else change to step forward with your left foot to work the opposite side.  The famous bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman said that walking across a parking lot doing barbell lunges was one of his favorite exercises.

Demonstration of Front Lunges:

 

 Reverse Lunges

To do reverse lunges, they are performed the same as forward lunges but you step backwards with the non-weighted left foot with your left knee on the floor and then once in the kneeling position, push off with the weighted front right foot.

Demonstration of Reverse Lunges:

 

 Deadlift Variation

 Sumo Deadlift

Certain body types seem to be compatible with certain exercises.  This is certainly true with the deadlfit.  If you have short legs but a long torso, then the conventional deadlift is for you.  If however you have long legs, you may want to try doing a sumo deadlift.  To perform this lift, you take a stance as wide as possible and reach down to grip the bar with both hands palms down.  Your hands will be inside of your legs.  Keep a neutral back when you pull and arrange your body mechanics as such that you are using your hips, hams, and glutes to lift bar more than your back.  As with the conventional deadlift, remember to take in a belly full of air just before you lift.  Many lifters with back problems use the sumo deadlift instead of the conventional and oddly enough, although more weight can usually be lifted with the sumo deadlift, most records are broken using the conventional.

Demonstration of Sumo Deadlift:

 

Rowing Variation

It is recommended that the best rowing exercise is what is called the Pendlay Row.  The movement here is to, after finding a comfortable stance,  keep the upper torso parallel to the ground while pulling the barbell, elbows out, to the lower chest.  The bar is let down and released after each rep and picked up again in a quick rest-paused fashion.  Some lifters nearly drop the weight but the best way is to let the weight down.  One rowing variation (next) is called Bodybuilder Rows.

Bodybuilder Rows

Using a neutral (arched) back, pick up a barbell using the same grip as if you were doing shrugs and stand upright with arms extended and hanging down.  Bend forward, not too far, and with elbows in, pull (row) upwards to just above belt level.  You will be able move massive amounts of weight rowing this way and in fact, sometimes the weights involved are so heavy that the barbell should lifted off a rack instead off the floor.  This exercise is sometimes also called the Yates Row named after bodybuilder Dorian Yates.

Demonstration of Bent Rows:

And there you have some lifting variations of The Big Five.  Again, the reason why these variations are performed is to have a more complete routine, to assist with getting stronger at doing the big five or just for a change.


There is one book that is a “must have” for barbell training and that is Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. In this book you’ll learn why barbell training is the best way to get strong. The big five lifts are taught and illustrated. The second book, The Strongest Shall Survive by Bill Starr is a precursor and just as informative.

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