Big Lifts and Accessory Exercises

By  | 

It’s important to find the right combination of exercises for your body. Any exercise is better than no exercise, but some are much more beneficial than others. The big lifts are great because they’re the number one strength and mass builders. However, we all have weaknesses and imbalances. If we continue to perform the big lifts with these imbalances, it will inevitably lead to unnecessary joint stress and injury. Accessory exercises are great to isolate and strengthen those weaknesses, thus greatly reducing the risk of injury.

What are the big lifts? The main lifts include:

  1. The Bench Press
  2. The Barbell Back Squat
  3. The Barbell Deadlift
  4. The Military Press

The Importance of the Big Lifts

There are several reasons why the big lifts are crucial to your workout program but first thing’s first. Ladies, I’m speaking to you so listen. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. These movements will NOT make you “bulky” or “manly”. With that being said, they do boost testosterone levels. Both male and female bodies naturally produce testosterone. Obviously the male anatomy produces a much higher amount (approximately 90% more than females, on average). You can not “look like a man” naturally. It’s impossible. Get it out of your head. Testosterone is responsible for building muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the more “toned” you will look.

Higher testosterone levels enable us to lift heavier, boosting confidence and ego. There’s nothing more empowering than being able to lift more than your body weight. It’s invigorating and will put you in one hell of a good mood! You can read more about that HERE.

Compound movements (exercises that work more than one muscle group) such as the big lifts can build muscle unlike any other exercise. They also work the core more than any ab exercise ever could. Think of the core as your foundation. You wouldn’t build your house on sand, right? Trying to build your body on a weak foundation will lead to stress and injury. A strong core will open the door for strong movements.

Using free weights such as barbells and dumbbells allow us to strengthen our stabilizer muscles. These muscles not only control balance, but also support the trunk and limit movement within a joint. This is crucial in the big lifts as well as the accessory exercises for excelling and preventing injury.

The Importance of Accessory Exercises

The purpose of an accessory lift is to improve our weaknesses and fix our imbalances. An example might be if someone has an excessive forward lean in their back squat. This would mean that they have a weak posterior chain (glutes, erector spinae, etc.) In order to improve their squat, they would need to strengthen these muscle groups. In order to do that they could perform accessory exercises like barbell glute bridges, leg curls or back extensions. Once we fix the problem we can get back to kicking butt!

A majority of the accessory exercises are extremely beneficial. Any machine (leg press, leg curl, cable pulldown, etc…) dumbbell or TRX exercise and many more can be helpful in improving your lifts. I have seen some crazy things in the gym though, that make me scratch my head. It feels as though sometimes I’m at the circus. Training doesn’t have to be complicated. This is where I recommend a custom program. Cookie cutter plans WILL NOT CUT IT because no two bodies are the same. Everyone has different imbalances and weaknesses. One plan for a hundred people will not work in the long run.

The big lifts, while greatly beneficial in many ways, can take a toll on our bodies; especially our joints. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t do them, they’re crucial to growth. What I’m saying is that accessory exercises allow us to maintain training intensity and volume without added joint stress. Like I said in the beginning, we need to find a healthy combination of both.


Do you perform the big lifts? If so, do you see any weaknesses and imbalances in yourself? We all have them. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. The best thing that you can do is acknowledge your imbalances and weaknesses so that you can get back to increasing your big lifts. They’re not going to just go away. If you ignore them you will end up with an injury. It’s just a matter of time. If you don’t know if you have imbalances/weaknesses I’d be more than happy to talk with you about it. A good sign would be lack of improvement in the lift or consistent pain after the movement.

I’d also like to point out that imbalances can also come from overactive, tight muscles. Flexibility plays a huge role in movement patterns. The question I’d ask you is “Are you stretching enough?” Your body is like a machine. You have to perform routine maintenance on it to keep it working in tip top shape! You only get one, so take care of it!

If you need help programming a workout/lifting plan, I do have custom plans available on the blog. Just click HERE.

Thanks for reading. Until next time…


Total Views: 6741 ,

I'm an NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist. I worked in a gym setting back in Florida for over 2 years, training one-on-one clients and leading group fitness classes. I absolutely loved it, but once we moved across the country to Colorado, I decided to take the opportunity to pursue a slightly different career! My obsession with exercise and love for writing collided, which is how I became a fitness lifestyle writer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *