We all know that there are a variety of benefits to weight training — including improved fat loss, strength and athletic performance — but at the core of weight training, there are 5 key lifts that are known as the big 5. Also known as compound exercises, the big 5 work multiple muscle groups at the same time, making them some of the most effective exercises you can do when it comes to building strength. The big 5 lifts include:
- Bench Press
- Shoulder Press
What Are The Benefits of Using the Big 5 Lifts?
The big 5 lifts train not only intramuscular but also intermuscular systems, which improves muscle coordination and allows you to work on numerous muscle groups at once. This means instead of working on a different muscle each day, you can get a full-body workout every time. You’ll be building functional strength by using your muscles to do big, powerful movements that cross over into everyday life.
How To Use The Big 5 Lifts
As strength building works best with lower rep counts, the most recommended workout for the big 5 lifts is a 5×5 workout. As the name suggests, this workout includes 5 sets of 5 repetitions of each of the big 5 lifts, making it super easy to remember. You should aim to do this workout 2-3 times a week, with rest days extremely important to strength building, as it gives the muscles time to repair and recover. You can add to the weights of these lifts as your strength develops.
Deadlifts are a vital part of any strength training workout, which is why they’re number one on our list. Engaging the legs, lower back, shoulders and core, deadlifts build muscle groups that are extremely useful in everyday life, making them a great workout for anyone. As one of the best total-body moves for burning fat and building muscle, you want to ensure your form is right every time for maximum benefit.
For the perfect powerhouse deadlift, grab a bar and find yourself some floor space. Place the feet shoulder-width apart with toes pointed forward or angled out slightly for balance. Grab the bar with your hands just outside your legs, squeeze, then drive your hips forward as you lift the bar and squeeze your glutes tight. Ensure that the back stays flat throughout the movement. Lower the weight with control and repeat as necessary.
Our top tips: you can use either a double overhand grip or a mixed grip for deadlifting, but ensure you change hands regularly if using the mixed grip to avoid muscle imbalances.
2. Bench Press
The second of the big 5 compound lifts is another staple for any great strength training workout — the bench press. As a worldwide favourite, a bench press with great form is vital to weight training.
To bench press correctly, lie flat on your back on a bench. Press your feet into the ground and keep your hips in contact with the bench throughout. Then grip the bar with your hands just wider than shoulder-width apart and lift the weight off the rack. Lower the bar with control down slowly to your chest. Then press the bar back up until your elbows are straight. Repeat as necessary.
Our top tips: use a spotter if you can, don’t go too heavy too early, and keep your elbows pointing down towards the floor for great form!
Squats can be scary to begin with but are a great addition to any strength training, even for beginners! It may take time for you to feel confident with squats and they can be difficult to master, so work on your form before piling on the weights.
To squat perfectly every time, you should secure your shoulders underneath the bar and lift off the rack with the bar on your back, before taking two big steps back. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing out slightly and ensure to keep your torso braced throughout the exercise. Then, bend at the hips and knees, and lower as if you are sitting down until your hip crease is below your knees, before driving back up.
Our top tips: try focusing on a spot around two meters in front of you on the floor (without dropping your chin) and try to press your weight into your heels as you rise up for extra balance.
4. Shoulder Press
Also known as an overhead press (OHP), a shoulder press is another great compound exercise that works well for strength training. To perform a shoulder press correctly, you should start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the bar no further than shoulder-width apart, and hold at shoulder height with your elbows bent. Press the bar directly overhead, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Lower to your starting position with control. Be sure not to tilt your hips forward as you do this exercise.
Our top tips: if you don’t think you’re quite ready for the overhead press, you can do a seated dumbbell shoulder press instead, using dumbbells in the same way to help you build the strength required to use a barbell.
Last but by no means least of the big lifts are pull-ups — a great compound exercise that works both primary and secondary muscle groups and is excellent for building all round functional strength.
To utilise pull ups, you will first need to decide which grip to use. With three options to choose from, it might be worth doing some research around which grip will help you build the functional strength you’re aiming for. For example: a neutral grip can be good for beginners, a pronated grip can help build functional strength great for climbing and gymnastics and a supinated grip works the biceps and chest more than a pronated grip.
Once you’ve chosen your grip, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grab the bar however suits. Hang freely with your arms extended, bracing your core and keeping your head straight, then pull yourself upwards by bending at the elbows but keeping them tucked into the sides of the body. Pull your body up until your chin is just higher than the bars, then lower back to the starting position with control. In this exercise you will want to breathe out at the top and breathe in at the bottom.
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