Three of the best gym alternatives to the bench press, squat and deadlift 3 years ago

Three of the best gym alternatives to the bench press, squat and deadlift

The bench press, squat and deadlift are referred to as the 'big three' for a reason

They are the lifts most people associate with strength training, packing the biggest punch in terms of muscle gain and strength. However, they're not always necessary. Certain gym alternatives can still provide all the benefits of the biggest lifts, without causing pain or injury.


There are two scenarios where you simply have to programme the bench, squat and deadlift:

  • Powerlifting: this sport tests all three lifts, so you have to train for them. There is no quad extension on the powerlifting platform.
  • Team sports: rugby, football and NFL routinely use the bench press to assess player power. Budding American footballers must also test the bench in the NFL Combine, to increase their chances of being drafted.

If you don't fall into these two camps, you have numerous gym alternatives to all three lifts. The bench press, squat and deadlift are examples of compound exercises which use more than one muscle group at once.


(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Why look elsewhere?

If the big three lifts work for you in their standard form that's great - and there's no need to change anything. A couple of situations may need back-up, though:

  • Busy gyms: picture the scene - it's 5pm, the weights room is rammed and all the benches and squat racks are taken
  • Injury: if you're returning from injury or have a shoulder or lower back niggle, the standard big three may pose a bit of a risk

Instead, these are the best gym alternatives to the bench press, squat and deadlift.

Bench Press Alternative: Weighted Dip

Your chest, triceps and (mainly front) shoulder are all activated by the bench. The Flat Bench Press is not the only lift which offers this, though.


Weighted Dips are effectively as an inverse bench press, engaging all the same muscle groups in the same 'pressing' motion. One rep of a bodyweight dip is essentially the equivalent to that weight on the bench.

For instance, if you weigh 80kg and can do 10 bodyweight dips, that is the equivalent to benching an 80kg bar for 10 reps. Add weight via a dipping belt to hit the serious numbers.

Many people also feel the Tricep Dip is a little safer on the shoulder joint, when compared to the Flat Bench Press.

Squat Alternative: Leg Press or Flywheel Squat


The Leg Press is a compound exercise, working the quads, glutes and hamstrings to great effect. It's particularly useful if all the squat racks are occupied or you've got a lower back injury.

For unilateral (single leg) lifting, the leg press is arguably a better choice than the squat. Foot placement can also be used on the Leg Press to place particular emphasis on certain areas.

The higher your feet on the machine, the more glute activation you get. The lower your feet, the more quads come into play.

If your gym is as well-equipped as The Rock's, you could even make use of the Flywheel Squat Machine:

Deadlift Alternative: Trap Bar Deadlift

The conventional deadlift has your arms placed in front and over the bar, which can make it difficult for some to retract their shoulder blades.

Performing this lift with a Trap Bar places less stress on the lower back, and the side handles allow you to pull your shoulder blades back with much greater ease.


It's easier to build strength if your technique is first optimised. Anthony Joshua is also fan. There's a big enough selling point if you needed another.

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