Squat, Bench, Deadlift
by Bradley Steiner
Of the three powerlifts, the squat is the most difficult to excel in, and is the lift most indicative of overall body strength in the lifter. The squat requires unbelievably hard work if one wishes to reach his true maximum lift with the movement. Many, in fact the vast majority of strength lifters, manage to achieve outstanding lifts in the squat without ever really hitting their full potential.
Of all the things heavy squat training is, I readily concede that “pleasant” is not one of them. However, to achieve a truly record-breaking squat (even if the only record broken is one’s own) is more rewarding than you can imagine.
The fantastic overall strength gains obtained from hard work on the squat are such that other lifts will improve in proportion to your improvement in the squat. This does not hold true in reverse. If the trainee were to become a “one lift power specialist” then he would, by far, be advised to make the squat his “one lift.” It is just that excellent.
Bodybuilders have always recognized how crucial the squat – as an exercise – is to their success. Just as squatting triggers all-round power gains, it triggers all-round muscular gains. Of course, the bodybuilder does not employ weights approaching what the powerlifter handles, but he does work for a greater number of repetitions with a greater weight. The squat is also important for power trainers who also want a great physique.
The method of training for an outstanding squat that I will outline herein will be aimed at developing all-round muscle as well as all-round power. The only way to build a powerful body is to lift heavy weights. Therefore, it is essential in becoming a powerful squatter to continually add weight to the lifting you do. Always strive to handle a greater and still greater poundage.
It is relatively unimportant how much weight you are capable of lifting when you begin. You might be so weak that you can barely work with the empty bar. That’s all right, so long as – even if only once every two or three weeks – you put a little more weight on that bar. 2½ pounds is okay, if that’s all you can manage to add. Generally, though, ambitious, hard-training beginners with no health problem can at first add ten pounds a week to their squat bar. (If only this rapid increase continued beyond the beginner stages!) It requires pushing, but the nature of the muscles being worked is such that strength build-up is rapid during the first few months, and it’s perfectly alright to pile on the iron.
More advanced trainees will of course find it difficult to add weight as rapidly as beginners. Their muscles are more “mature” and have already gone far along the road of development. Gains, however, are always possible.
A power program aims at one-lift maximums. This means that sets generally consist of fairly low reps, building up to that “one rep” effort which will, hopefully, be a new “record” fro the trainee. Training with high reps and moderate or light weights will not build power as effectively as training with low reps, many sets, and heavy, heavy weights.
Always follow good form in the squat, and always warm up properly before heavy squatting.
The following is a recommended course in squat training for the beginner once he has developed adequate form in the lift. Train three days a week, on alternate days. Add weights at about every third or fourth workout. Stay on this program for two months.
Warm up – Do 2 sets of up to 15 hyperextensions or light dumbell swings between the legs, then do thirty free hand squats.
Set #1 – Light set of 12 reps.
Set #2 – 8 reps with a moderate weight.
Set #3 – 5 or 6 reps, fairly heavy (last rep of this set should require some fighting).
Set #4 – 2 or 3 reps, very heavy.
Set #5 – 2 reps, very heavy (to be done only on high energy days)
Once every two weeks, follow this set/rep scheme:
Warm up – Same as before.
Set #1 – 1 x 12 reps.
Set #2 – 1 x 6.
Set #3 – 1 x 4 or 5.
Set #4 – 1 c 2 or 3.
Set #5 – 1 x 1. (new maximum)
Set #6 – 1 x 1. Do this sixth set only if you failed to hit a good limit rep with your new maximum. That is, take two attempts at the new weight if necessary.
Here is a squat program aimed at the more advanced lifter:
Warm up – 3 sets of 12 hyperextensions.
1st set – 15 reps, light.
2nd set – 12 reps, add about 20 pounds.
3rd set – 8 or 9 reps, with heavier weight.
4th set – 6 reps, heavy.
5th set – 4 reps, more weight.
6th set – 2 or 3 reps with maximum weight.
Train this routine two days per week. Add weights for a maximum lift once every four weeks. When you are going for a new maximum lift, use the following set/rep scheme:
Warm up – same as before.
1st set – 12 to 15 reps, light.
2nd set – 8 reps, moderate.
3rd set – 5 reps, heavier.
4th set – 4 reps.
5th set – 3 reps.
6th set – 2 reps.
7th set – One rep maximum attempt.
Rest very well between sets, and be sure to add weight for each set. Do not use maximum poundage on any but the 7th set.
As experience is accumulated by you, you may discover certain things about how you train that can help in improving your program. What I have imparted here are the basics. Stay with them until sufficient power and experience have been developed by you to justify going off on your own.
The Bench Press
We start with the mind. To say that concentration is important for lifting success and to state that you must apply full, intensive mental effort to lift respectable weights is a gross understatement. Let me embed, for all time to come, the following in your mind: Your mind is your master!
Determine to lift more.
Concentrate when you lift.
Want (and Want Badly) to lift more.
Persist in your efforts.
Powerlifting and Bodybuilding
Is it possible to combine a powerlifting program with bodybuilding?
Yes it most definitely is! In fact, it is worth noting that powerlifting is bodybuilding, as the powerlifts are actually three basic exercises for the development of the largest muscle areas. One great powerlifter, Bill Seno, comes to mind when answering this question. If you are interested in bodybuilding AND powerlifting, follow a course similar to the Bodybuilder’s Powerlifting Program outlined later. Also, you will have to follow a somewhat more controlled diet.
The following is a recommended schedule of bench press training for the individual who has had relatively little lifting or training experience and seeks to develop a powerful bench press. It will provide excellent gains and induce confidence in the inexperienced trainee.
Begin by setting a goal. Let us say that you can now bench press 150 pounds once, in good form. Set a goal of 200 pounds. Aim to reach it by a definite date. I suggest giving yourself about eight weeks.
Work on your bench press three days a week, on alternate days. As a raw beginner can gain quite rapidly and train more frequently, I suggest going for a new “limit” bench press at every third workout, preferably on the first training day of each week after two days rest.
1 x 12-15 reps warmup, very light.
1x10 reps, adding some weight.
1x6 reps, again adding weight.
2x4 reps, more weight.
2x2 reps, adding.
1x2-3 reps maximum.
On your maximum single workout do the following, adding weight on each set without overtaxing yourself for the final limit attempt.
1 Limit lift.
The foregoing schedule allows two power-producing days of training, and advocates a once-weekly all-out lift. This applies only to the raw beginner.
You must adjust the weights you use so that you work with poundages you can HANDLE. Your goal is a good. one-rep LIFT; but to improve that one-rep maximum you must do the additional sets of reps as instructed. This will condition and build the muscles involved, and eliminate the chance of injury.
I suggest that an increase of at least 5 pounds per week be tried at this stage – and most trainees will find, at least for the first three weeks, that it will be possible to increase that final one-rep attempt by a full 10 pounds! Increases become more difficult as one advances, and it will be impossible to train like this beyond a certain point and still make progress. The beginner should not use assistance exercises.
The following is a fine basic bench press program for advanced or semi-advanced men to follow. It is severe, but highly productive, and it can be continued for long periods of time without staleness or a need for a change.
Train two days a week. Go for a new one-rep limit lift once every four weeks. Permit at least two full days between bench press workouts.
Warm up set – Use a very light poundage and do about 15 strict, fairly FAST REPS.
2nd set – Add enough weight to make 10 or 12 reps feel comfortably hard to complete.
3rd set – 6 reps with a heavy weight.
4th set – 5 or 6 reps with more weight.
5th set – 3 reps, with added weight.
6th set – 2 reps, try for a 3rd if you are feeling energetic.
That’s your basic plan. Do not do single reps each time you train. On days when energy is high, do a 7th set, like this:
One rep. Not your absolute limit, but a good, hard rep that makes you fight with about 85-90% of your capacity.
Once every four weeks, WHEN YOU FEEL STRONG, follow the workout this way:
Warm up – same as before.
1st set – 8 reps, with heavier weight.
2nd set – 5 reps, with added weight.
3rd set – 4 reps, with added weight.
4th set – 3 reps, with added weight.
5th set – 2 reps, with added weight.
6th set – 1 rep, all out limit attempt. Give yourself 2 chances here, if your first 1-rep set fails to allow your new and heavier maximum. Relax for a full 5 or 10 minutes, concentrate, and TRY! If the second attempt misses, CALL IT QUITS THAT DAY – do not do more.
A Bodybuilder’s Powerlifting Program
Bodybuilding and powerlifting go hand-in-glove. This was mentioned before, and I should now like to outline a basic plan of training for the benefit of those who wish to combine a powerlifting program with some bodybuilding.
First, you must remember that powerlifting must remain a good 75% of your overall effort output. This is because you would not make much powerlifting improvement with less effort, and also because the powerlifts are, themselves, the basic cornerstone bodybuilding exercises. You are advised to train on a brief and basic type of routine, consisting of primary powerlifting work, and secondary bodybuilding exercises.
The following recommended course outline is to be followed if you seek to combine your total powerlifting schedule with bodybuilding work:
Bench Press – 1x12, 1x8, 2x5, 1x2*
Bentover Rowing – 1x10, 2x8.
Barbell Curl – 2x8.
Squat – 1x15, 1x8, 2x5, 1x3, 1x1, 1x1.
* work to limit once every three weeks.
Deadlift – 1x15, 1x6, 1x6, 1x4, 1x2, 1x2*
One-arm Triceps Press – 3x8.
* work to limit once every three weeks.
Same as Monday.
On three of your rest days, skip rope, jog, run, do some form of aerobic exercise.
“Tell me what a man can deadlift and I’ll tell you his level of basic body power.” The simple deadlift is just that accurate as a gauge of one’s basic physical strength.
The lower back (lumbar region)is a vital area of mans’ anatomy. A sedentary, basically “soft” average Joe can put his back out of whack by coughing mildly or sneezing once. But a seasoned power trainer can lift over 500 pounds, even a small man, largely through the power of his back muscles alone.
These facts lead us to some conclusions. First, we can appreciate that the lower back area is a critical zone, and that reasonable care must be taken in training it, so that no injury results. Second, we see that the POTENTIAL for the development of power in the lower back – and notably deadlifting and pulling ability – is all but unlimited, if we go about it right.
Mental power, concentration, goal-oriented visualization of your training aims, or whatever you want to call it, is the single most important factor for success in lifting. I have known persons to overcome every type of handicap – physical and psychological – through the use of their iron will and their resolute determination to succeed in attaining their goal. The Mind is what does it!
Truly, the greatest obstacle to the attainment of achievement as a lifter lies within your mind. Gravity is overcome by persistent physical training, but the task of doing the training, in good times and bad, remains a mental problem; and it can be satisfactorily overcome only through the proper employment of your mind power.
We can easily compare the mind to the role of the General or Commander in Chief of an army, with the physical body being army itself. The body, just as in the case of an actual military force, functions efficiently only in direct proportion to the efficiency of the commands issued forth by the General. If that General lacks ability in directing his army, then the troops, no matter their potential excellence, cannot achieve the objective. So too with the mind and the body.
A beginner can have two workouts on the deadlift per week. As you advance with your lifting, you may find it better to limit deadlifting to once every week, even every two weeks. Too-frequent deadlifting can easily lead to staleness and injury, especially when the strain of other power-based lifts are considered.
Here is a recommended sample beginner’s routine:
Train twice a week. Train super-heavy on one day, and at about 85-90% on the other day.
Concentrate! Never let your mind waver or wander when deadlifting or during any form of pulling exercises.
Try to add some weight (I suggest 5 to 10 pounds) after every fourth workout.
Stay on the beginner’s course for at least eight weeks.
Warm up – Do Good Mornings with a very light weight for 2 sets of 10 reps.
1st set – Light deadlifts for 10 reps.
2nd set – 8 reps, add weight.
3rd and 4th sets – 6 reps, adding weight each set.
5th set – 3 or 4 reps.
6th set – 2 reps.
Every fifth workout use this set/rep scheme and try to reach a new one rep maximum.
Warm up – same.
1 x 8.
1 x 6.
1 x 4.
1 x 3.
1 x 2.
1 rep maximum.
Increase the weight after each set but do not deplete yourself before the max single attempt. Do not attempt to hit a maximum single lift more frequently than every two weeks, as a beginner.
Advanced Deadlift Routine
Deadlift once a week, no more. Work hard each time you train. Try for a new one-rep maximum every four weeks.
Warm up – Same as beginner’s.
1st set – 1 x 8-10, light.
2nd set – 1 x 6, adding weight.
3rd set – 1 x 6, add weight.
4th set – 1 x 6, add weight.
5th set – 1 x 3 or 4, adding weight.
6th set – 1 x 2 or 3, add weight.
7th set – 1 x 1, if you feel up to it that particular training day, otherwise, skip the 7th set.
Every four weeks let your workout be an exceptionally hard one, and try to hit a new limit lift by training as follows:
1 x 8.
1 x 6.
1 x 4.
1 x 3.
1 x 2.
1 x 1.
1 x 1, if first max attempt is a miss.
There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment and release attendant to lifting a personal best. Remember this when lacking drive in your training.
Best of Luck in your endeavors!