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Bench press, squats and deadlifts - Are the main lifts necessary for bodybuilding?

Bench press, squats and deadlifts - Are the main lifts necessary for bodybuilding?

There are many strength athletes who consider the three basic exercises of bench press, squat, and deadlift in particular to be the ultimate basis for building muscle. Especially for powerlifters these are essential, as they form the three disciplines of powerlifting. But how useful are basic exercises in a training plan for bodybuilders?

  • Advantages and benefits of the basic exercises for bodybuilding
  • Disadvantages and dangers of bench press and co.
  • Optimal muscle building through proper exercise selection
  • Targeting of muscle groups

Strength and basic musculature

In the gym you will meet various types of strength athletes: powerlifters, strongmen, and bodybuilders. The first two types of strength athletes primarily pursue the goal of getting stronger and building muscle. The basic exercises are made for this purpose: Complex movement sequences that activate different muscle groups simultaneously and provide a strong stimulus.

Bodybuilders, on the other hand, don't necessarily push for new personal records in the bench press or squat. Optimal muscle growth and an aesthetic physique are the goal.

To determine the benefits of the basic exercises for your training as a bodybuilder, the first question is your training progress. Beginners will definitely benefit from bench presses, squats, and deadlifts in their training plan.

Core stability and coordination

The three basic exercises activate many different muscle groups when performed correctly. The deadlift, for example, works the lower back, abs, legs, glutes, upper back, calves, and traps.

Beginners in particular learn the execution of complex movements and build up a stable core musculature by activating different muscle groups. You can consider the basic exercises as a basis for your later training. They improve your coordination and core stability, so you can benefit from them in the long term.

The increased stability acquired through the basic exercises has a great carryover to other exercises. Exercises like the dumbbell incline bench press require good coordination and a stable core. Without these, your execution suffers and the risk of injury increases.

Improved focus and concentration

The bench press, as well as squats and deadlifts, requires a high degree of concentration due to the complex movement sequences. This is also reflected in the correct execution and technique of the exercise. This also trains your focus and helps you stay fully concentrated during each set.

Multifunctional exercises for strength and muscle building

Generally, through the compound exercises you stress different joints and muscles at the same time and thus set a strong stimulus for muscle growth. For example, the barbell bench press involves not only the chest, but also the anterior deltoid muscles and the triceps.

Thus, it is possible to quickly become stronger with a focus on progression. Especially at the beginning of your weight training career you will build strong basic muscles with the help of the basic exercises.

The better you execute and learn the technique, the faster you will be able to move more weight.

Basic exercises for bodybuilding?

If you are interested in achieving the best possible growth of your muscles rather than making strength gains, you do not necessarily need to integrate the basic exercises into your training plan.

Philosophy of bodybuilding

Bodybuilding is about developing a physique without any serious weak points. This means that all muscle groups should be equally emphasized. The focus is on overall body composition.

The balance of proportions must be right. Therefore, the development of strength is secondary. To shape the body according to one's own desire is the goal of bodybuilding.

"I’d always wanted to tell people that when I work on my body I’m thinking about classical sculpture, so I jumped at the chance to show off bodybuilding as an art form."
Arnold Schwarzenegger

This is the essence of this sport, and to shape the body in this way requires isolation exercises!

No targeted isolation

You can't target and isolate individual muscle groups with the bench press and the like! Imagine you want to prioritize your leg flexor (musculus biceps femoris). It is your weak point and is less well developed compared to the quadriceps femoris (front of the thigh).

If you mainly train squats, you will not be able to make up for this deficit. The exercise works the muscles of the entire leg, but not with a specific focus.

At this point you should instead complete additional sets for the leg curl alone. Here, for example, leg curls done while lying on the machine are a good option.

For an overview of the best muscle building and isolation exercises, check out the Alpha Progression App.

The more advanced a bodybuilder is, the more important it becomes to correct weak points and deficits. Although the basic exercises form the basis for a trained and muscular body, they are not suitable for targeting specific focus muscles in isolation.

Realizing your full potential

If you do the bench press as your only chest exercise, your strength levels will increase and you will build muscle. However, in terms of aesthetics and overall appearance, you can make further adjustments.

If you only do the bench press, you will develop an imbalance in the pectoral muscles, with the upper part getting very little stimulus. In addition, the muscle will be better developed on the outside than on the inside. There will be an increasing lack of density in the middle.

In this case, different fly variations and the dumbbell incline bench press provide targeted stimuli and improve deficits. This allows the inner and upper part of the chest muscles to be targeted more specifically. If you suffer from an imbalance in your chest muscles, try the exercises mentioned above.

Train smaller muscle groups in a targeted manner

Especially smaller muscle groups like the biceps are not sufficiently stimulated by the basic exercises. If your goal is to build muscular arms, you should focus on isolation exercises and machine training.

Avoiding injuries

With good technique, the basic exercises can be performed safely. Nevertheless, there is always a risk of injury. The complex movement sequences simultaneously stress several joints and muscle groups. In addition, the CNS (central nervous system) is heavily loaded during these exercises.

So you must always pay attention to your stability during the exercise and maintain control over the weight. Unlike machine-guided exercises, mistakes can result in injury much more easily.

You don't have to expose yourself to this risk as a bodybuilder. Since it is not necessary to train the basic exercises in bodybuilding, unlike with powerlifting, you can also replace them with other exercises.

You can replace the free squat, for example, with the variation on the hack squat machine. Here you also need good core stability, but the exercise is more guided and you do not have to balance a barbell.


In principle, you are never dependent on a specific exercise.

It is more important to find exactly the exercise that suits you and with which you can target the target muscles in the best possible way. Therefore, isolation exercises are essential for bodybuilders.

You can use the basic exercises especially as a beginner to strengthen your coordination, core stability, and fundamental muscle groups. In addition, these exercises can also be integrated into your later bodybuilding training. However, you should not only rely on exercises that are performed with free weights.

You sometimes need targeted machine training as a bodybuilder to correct imbalances.

This way, you'll set exactly the stimuli you need to trigger your muscle growth in specific areas. For this reason, the basic exercises are not mandatory for bodybuilding!