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Here's Why You Don't HAVE to Squat, Bench Press or Deadlift

Confused as to whether you really need to be doing the main barbell movements of the squat, bench press and deadlift?

Powerlifter doing heavy barbell deadlift at a competition

Ah, the squat, bench press and deadlift.

The three classic and all too important powerlifting movements that we're told everybody should be doing in order to build total body strength and muscle mass.

We're all told when we start out to get good at them and focus on building up our strength on them if we want to make real progress in the gym.

But what if I told you that this was simply a lie?

What if I told you that you don't NEED to be doing any of these exercises, and that there are likely much, much better exercise choices to suit your goals?

In this post I'm going to break down why this is, give you some examples as to what better exercise options could be for your goals and help you decided whether or not you're going to want to keep these exercises in your training program.

Let's get into it.

Why Do We Not Need the Main Barbell Exercises?

There are quite a lot of things to go over, so we'll make it quick.

Your Body Doesn't Know Whether You're Using a Barbell or Not

One of the main things that you need to understand is the point that your body does not actually know whether you are lifting with a barbell or not.

Sure, YOU might know, but your body certainly doesn't.

During a chest pressing movement of any kind, your body certainly does not know the difference between a barbell, a pair of dumbbells, a machine or even your own bodyweight.

All your body understands is that it's got a little bit of resistance that your muscles need to overcome, and that your muscles need to grow back bigger and stronger over time so that the next time you do this exercise at this intensity, it's not as difficult.

Check out our article on progressive overload to learn more about this.

Even if you were to completely get rid of the barbell for your workout program and only use dumbbells or machines, your body wouldn't know.

It'll still continue to do its job, continue to grow, and continue to make gains as long as you keep on doing the hard work.

Barbells Can Sometimes Limit Range of Motion

Often times, barbells also do not offer you the best range of motion when it comes to your exercises and how much you actually get out of each rep you do.

Let's continue to use the bench press as an example.

When you do a barbell bench press, your range of motion is limited due tot he bar hitting your chest and you not being able to bring the weight down any lower.

This reduces the amount of stretching that you're able to place on your muscle fibers during the eccentric phase of the movement, which is an extremely important factor when it comes to determining how much muscle you build.

Compare this to a dumbbell or a well-designed chest press machine, where your range of motion is not limited by the weight hitting your body.

You can go back as far as you comfortably can, placing a great stretch on your muscles and really allowing yourself to build some muscle.

You might now be able to see why the main barbell exercises are not the bets options for some people.

Barbells Can Increase Chances of Injury Over Time

Muscular bodybuilder clutching his elbow after suffering injury from barbell bench press

Another important thing to note is the fact that using barbells too often can lead to joint injuries and pain over time.

Since barbells cause you to maintain a fixed position with your hands (i.e. you can't twist your hands freely), you can gradually develop some injuries in your shoulders, wrists and elbows over time if you use barbells too often.

Some people like to bench press anywhere from 2-4 times a week.

If you're on the higher end of this and you're training intensely each time you do it, you can develop some lingering or chronic shoulder, wrist and elbow pain over time.

Things like dumbbells or machines are far more friendly on your body as you can twist and move freely, unrestricted by the fixed nature of the barbell.

So What Are Better Options?

Well, if we're keeping it to strength training exercises, the main options you've got could be dumbbells, machines and your own bodyweight.

You could replace the barbell bench press with dumbbell bench press, machine chest press or the push up.

You could replace the squat with the goblet squat, hack squat, leg press or pistol squat.

You could replace the barbell deadlift with dumbbell Romanian deadlifts or machine deadlift variations.

Quickly learn more about direct comparisons:

Really, the only people that NEED to be utilizing the main barbell compound movements would be powerlifters, as their sport actually requires them to be good at those specific exercises.

For other people, these barbell options definitely aren't BAD exercises, but aren't always going to be the best options either.

Strong and muscular bodybuilder doing heavy dumbbell rows

You certainly can do them if you want to because you enjoy them, but you can definitely make the same, or even better gains with other options instead.

Generally, you can look to these guidelines below to decide which type of resistance you want to do. (Definitely look to incorporate a range of them to build up your overall athleticism!)

  • Use barbells for:

  • Strength

  • Easy progressive overloading

  • Use dumbbells for:

  • Unilateral training (one side at a time)

  • Fixing muscular imbalances

  • Training the stabilizing muscles

  • Use machines for:

  • More muscle isolation and the ability to focus on one specific part

  • Safely building up strength

  • Use bodyweight training for:

  • Functional training

  • Overall athleticism

  • Training the core

  • Stabilizing muscles.

These exercises are important movement patterns for you to be doing (knee extension, horizontal press and horizontal row), but can definitely be done in any way that you like and see fit!

Hopefully this helps you make a decision as to whether or not you're going to keep doing the barbell squat, bench press and deadlift.

If you're still a little unsure, play around with other alternatives, compare that the classic barbell exercises and see what you like best!


Overall, the main barbell exercises of the squat, bench press and deadlift can definitely be good exercise choices, but certainly don't HAVE to be a part of your workout program at all if you don't want.

Experiment, play around with different options and see what you like best!

I hope this has helped you in deciding on the exercises in your workout program, and that you've enjoyed reading through this article!

If you did, remember to share it with your friends so that we can reach more people and help more reach their goals in fitness this year!

Do YOU do the barbell squat, bench press or deadlift?

Let us know down in the comments section below!


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