How To Progress Performance In The Primary Compound Exercises!

The squat, bench press and deadlift are rightfully some of the most popular and effective exercises. They have the ability to strengthen and grow a large number of muscle groups, allow us to develop our proficiency with the fundamental movement patterns, and are phenomenal exercises to lay the foundation for our training.

But how do we develop our strength in these exercises? That’s the topic for today’s article!

Do The Exercises:

As much as strength is a physical ability, it is also a skill. The skill comes from how well we can use our strength in specific exercises. This comes down to technique. Positioning, leverages, comfort level under the bar and all that good stuff.

Perfect practice makes perfect. Execute all of your lifts with as optimal technique as you can, and this will help ingrain that technique and ingrain it under heavy loads and fatiguing sets.

The better our technique, the better we will be able to use the strength that we currently have and are developing.

This doesn’t mean go out and squat, bench and deadlift 7 days a week. What it does mean is ensuring you are doing these exercises enough (a minimum of once per week). It also means when you are doing these exercises, make sure you are executing them with intent/sound technique.

Assistance Exercises:

With any given lift, we have points in that lift (the bottom portion, lockout, etc), where we struggle. Performing that same lift will be able to get you better at the lift as a whole. But, your weak points will still be holding you back. Eventually, progress from just doing the main lift will dry up (although, this does take a while), and you’ll need to look at how you can develop different aspects of that lift to make you better at it.

Developing areas where you are weakest in the lift will have the biggest and most effective benefits for developing it. To put this into context, if I had the ability to lock out a 400-pound deadlift, but I wasn’t able to get the bar high enough off the ground to lock it out past 300 pounds, then the bottom portion/initial pull would be my limiting factor for the deadlift.

If I were to spend some time developing that weak point, now I might be able to get 350 pounds to a height where my lockout strength can finish off the lift.

Assistance exercises are POWERFUL!

How do we select the assistance exercises to perform? First, we need to determine where our weak points in the main lift are. Let’s go back to that same example, our weak point is getting the bar off the ground in the deadlift. Well, once we know our weak point, we can choose an exercise or exercises that put us in a weaker position mechanically, when the bar is at that weak point position.

For this weak point in the deadlift, deficit deadlifts are likely a great choice. We put our feet on something that raises us slightly off the ground. This makes our muscles work harder to get out of that position (the bottom of the lift), developing our strength at the weak point (soon to be not a weak point).

So our hamstrings, quads, glutes, lower back and all the other contributing muscles get stronger, more powerful (especially if done with speed reps) and more stable in that position.

I released an Instagram video recently that sums this up as well. If you would like to check that out, my account is @fullaffectfitness.

Another way to do assistance exercises is to put yourself in positions where you can load the assistance exercise heavier at your weak points. Typically these positions will be where the movement mechanics suggest you should be able to generate the most force at that point, which is determined by how leverages change as you go through a range of motion for a movement pattern.

An example would be if your weak point was the lockout of the deadlift. You could load the exercise heavier in a rack pull, which would be the same or near the same position as the lockout for the deadlift. Now you are using heavier loads, which again, develops strength, power and stability in the position where you are trying to develop your strength.

Not to mention, using overloads that you can safely handle is beneficial for the entire exercise, not just for a weak point assistance exercise.

Muscle Fibre Activation:

Muscle fibres produce force. The more muscle fibres we can activate and the quicker we can activate them, the more force we can produce. Using heavy weights and taking them near failure is a great way to activate large numbers of muscle fibres. Heck, even lighter weights taken close to or to failure achieves this, (just heavyweights are most relative to strength development).

But, with this comes a lot of fatigue from the heavy training, and we already get this stimulus from our main exercise working sets. So, there are a couple of other methods that I tend to utilize to further develop muscle fibre activation.

The first is speed reps/reps specifically used to develop power. Performing an exercise as explosively as possible while maintaining
proper technique forces your muscle fibres to activate as quickly as possible. This works on the speed at which you can activate muscle fibres.

To work on the number of muscle fibres that I am activating, I like static isometrics. This is when you load a bar with more weight than you can move and push or pull into that weight with as much force as you can safely apply. Because you are applying maximal effort into a weight that is not moving, it forces your body to activate a very high number of muscle fibres.

Again, developing the number of muscle fibres that you are activating and increasing the speed of their activation will help you put more force into whatever weight you are moving.

I also released an Instagram post explaining static isometrics recently, @fullaffectfitness.

That’s All Folks!

Alright, those are a few concepts that you can use to develop your strength in the primary compound lifts such as the bench press, squat, and deadlift. If you have any questions or comments on this topic, please leave them in the comment section and I will be sure to respond as I always do!


Here are some other articles that may be beneficial for your knowledge!

How to Strength Training

Weight Training For Beginners

What is Linear Progression?


Until Next Time,

Kohl Johnson

Please refer to my liability disclaimer to ensure you know who is responsible for the use of this information after reading.

Support is much appreciated if you benefited from this:

Kohl Johnson

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