In order to get stronger at bench press or deadlifts or squats, you need to lift and lift heavy. There is no denying or arguing it. And the best way to do that is by using multi-joint, compound exercises.
If you are someone who is just starting out in the weight room, you really don’t need to be doing much more than a few key lifts. Sorry, but it’s true. Beginners will make a lot of progress on the big lifts due to neural adaptations and simply getting use to the exercise.
As you progress in your lifting career however, you may find that there are certain aspects of a lift you struggle with. Maybe you’re weak coming out of the bottom of a squat, or you have trouble getting the bar off your chest while benching.
The following is a list of assistance exercises designed to help target specific weak points you may have and help you get stronger at bench press, squats, and deadlifts.
This type of squat variation is not commonly seen performed in many gyms but is a fantastic way to train explosiveness if you’re weak coming out of the hole.
To perform an Anderson Squat, set the pins in the rack at or slightly below parallel. Un-rack the bar and squat down until the bar is resting on the pins. Pause for a second and then explode up. Lower the bar again and repeat. Do not bounce the bar off the pins, but rather let it come to a complete stop prior to performing each rep.
Any great squatter is going to have strong quads, and performing unilateral or single-leg exercises like lunges, step-ups and split squats is a great way to develop strong quads.
Because you are only working one leg at a time, unilateral exercises are great for improving ankle stability and mobility, which will transfer directly to squats.
Lastly, unilateral exercises require a great deal of core strength to stay balanced. Improving your core strength will help you squat more weight as well.
To move the weight during a deadlift you have to rely a lot on your glutes and hamstrings. And while the deadlift is great for strengthening these two muscle groups, you can’t deadlift non-stop because of the stress it places on the central nervous system.
The glute-ham raise is a fantastic way to strengthen your glutes and hamstrings without beating yourself up, and can be perform multiple times per week if you really need to strengthen those muscles.
Rack pulls are basically the top portion of the deadlift and will help those who are weak during the lockout portion of the exercise.
Rack pulls are performed by placing the bar on pins in the rack either slightly above or below knee height. Because you are not limited by having to pick the weight up off the ground, you can usually use heavier weights than if you were doing a full deadlift. This helps work your grip strength as well.
Limited Range of Motion Pressing
This includes things like pin/rack presses, board presses, and dumbbell/barbell floor presses. Much like the rack pull, by limiting the range of motion to just the top portion of the lift, you are able to move more weight. This helps get your body use to handling heavier loads.
The limited ROM also places more emphasis on the triceps. Strong triceps are necessary to get stronger at big bench press.
In order to get good at pressing lying down, you need to be pressing standing up. Overhead pressing builds strength in the shoulders and triceps, two muscle groups directly involved in the bench press.
Overhead pressing also builds strength in the rotator cuff, scapula, and upper back; all muscles involved in creating stability during the bench press. If you just focus on bench pressing alone, these muscles do not get worked as much and can create an imbalance, increasing the risk for shoulder injury.
Make no mistake, the best way to get better at something is simply to do it. If you want to get better at squatting, then squat. If you want to become a better bencher, then bench. These exercises will not replace those.
If you are at that point however, where you have been lifting long enough that you are seeing progress in your big lifts start to stall, adding some of these exercises to your program can certainly help you bust through your plateau.