There are countless and tools to help you get a stronger bench, deadlift and squat. Fancy machines, kettlebells, landmine attachments and suspension training devices just to name a few.
However, among all this, we often miss something that we look at and live in every day: our bodies.
It’s easy to overlook the obvious will all those bright shiny toys in front of you, but your body’s weight is a great tool and you should use it get a stronger big 3.
The biggest knock against bodyweight training is there’s a limit to how much strength and weight you can add. However, if your training uses bodyweight exercises in conjunction barbell exercises, you’ll get better and stronger at your barbell lifts.
The following are exercises you can either use as accessory exercises or on non-gym days if you’re up for some more fun.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Bench Press Accessory Exercises
The barbell bench press is the go-to move for upper body strength. However, adding bodyweight moves allows you to work on sticking points without too much added stress on your joints.
1. Tempo Push-Ups
Manipulating tempo puts the working muscles of the chest, shoulders and triceps under more tension. This helps to add strength and size along with addressing any weakness/sticking points you may have in your bench press.
There are a few different ways you go here. If you want to work on your eccentric strength, a tempo of 4111 (4 seconds eccentric, 1 second pause at the bottom, 1 second push up, and 1 second at the top) works well.
Or if you’re having an issue in the bottom part of your bench, a tempo of 2411 — where you take away the stretch reflex of the muscle to work harder to push up — works also.
Use as an accessory movement on pressing days for 2 to 4 sets with reps between 10 and 15. And if you want to blast your chest, pair this with a cable chest fly. For example,
- 1A. Tempo push-ups: 10 reps
- 1B. Cable chest fly: 10 reps
2. Diamond Push-Ups
Performing push ups with a closer grip forces the triceps to do more of the work because the elbow goes through a greater range of motion. And of course, stronger and bigger triceps will help with lockout strength because the top part of the bench press primarily uses the triceps muscles.
Do this on bench days as an accessory move for 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 15 reps. Pair this in a superset with another triceps exercise to blow them up. For example,
- 1A. Diamond push-up: 8-12 reps
- 1B. Overhead triceps extension: 12-15 reps
Deadlift Accessory Exercises
Adding bodyweight exercises to improve your deadlift gives your back a break, reinforces good hip hinge mechanics, and helps to improve your pulling power and muscular imbalances.
1. Broad Jumps
Broad jumps build leg strength and explosive power which can help with your pulling strength from the floor.
They also improve the reaction time of your fast-twitch muscle fibers because they need leg and core muscles to contract quickly to generate maximal force, which also helps with pulling power.
Doing 3 sets of 3 to 5 reps, focusing on quality reps and distance before your deadlift works best. This will get your fast twitch muscles ready to lift heavy, which is known as Post-Activation Potentiation.(1)
[Related: Our guide to post-activation potentiation for the lower body]
2. Single Leg Deadlift
Training single leg exercises will help if there’s a strength imbalance between the left and right legs. This exercise trains you to stabilize on one leg (putting more of your bodyweight on one leg) and works on eccentric hamstring strength too.
This also helps lower the weight under control, which can improve the health of your lower back.
Work this in as an accessory move on lower body days for 2-4 sets of 8-12 reps on each side. Pair with another hamstring exercise for a nice lower body pump. For example,
- 1A. Single leg deadlift: 8-12 reps
- 1B. Seated hamstring curl: 12 reps
Squat Accessory Exercises
Because of the bilateral nature of the barbell back squat, there may be a tendency to favor one side over the other when rising out of the hole. That’s why single leg work is so important. To help prevent injury, reduce muscle imbalances and to improve performance.
[Related: A unilateral leg workout to give your low back a break]
1. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat Jump
You add power production through a large range of motion in a safe fashion with the addition of the jump. Plus, if your quads are holding you back in the squat, this exercise will help strengthen them.
Quality reps are important here. Once you lose your hop, you’re training endurance, not power. So, try anywhere from 4 to 8 reps for 2 to 3 sets. Pair this with an adductor side plank if you’re feeling masochistic. For example,
- 1A. RFESS: 4-6 reps
- 1B. Adductor side plank: 3 breaths
2. Cossack Squats
Adductors are the forgotten muscle in the squat and they play a significant role in hip mobility. Good luck trying to squat with tight groin muscles.
Furthermore, along with the hamstrings, the adductors act as the brakes as you descend into the hole. So, forget them at your peril.
[Related: The right way to do cossack squats]
Depending on your mobility and single leg balance, anywhere from 8 to 15 reps on each side for 2 to 3 sets works well. Do this as an accessory move on lower body days.
And if you want to improve your hip mobility and prevent groin strains, try this superset.
- 1A. Adductor Quadruped Rockback: 8 reps
- 1B. Cossack squat: 8-15 reps
Combining the barbell with bodyweight exercises is another way you can address strength imbalances, and help improve your numbers with the big 3.
Let the shiny toys gather a bit of dust.
Featured image via undrey/Shutterstock
- Lorenz, D. POSTACTIVATION POTENTIATION: AN INTRODUCTION. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2011 Sep;6(3):234-40.