If I Could Only Do 3 Exercises to Get Big

If you were one day forced by the strength training gods to only do 3 exercises to put on muscle for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Would it even be possible to gain a significant amount of mass and definition off of only 3 exercises?

If so, I’m sure you’d want to choose the most bang for your buck, multi-muscle group exercises that you could, especially if you didn’t want to look like an out of proportion ‘bro’ from New Jersey.

I don’t know about you, but I know for a fact which 3 exercises I would choose to do for the rest of my life if I wanted to continually get jacked.

How do I know this?

Because these days, I only do 3 exercises.

Yup, just 3 exercises to put on a maximum amount of muscle mass.

Now for those of you who are thinking something along the lines of: “but won’t you be neglecting a lot of muscle groups if you only do 3 exercises??”

Nope.

Not if you choose the right exercises at least.

But before I tell you what mine are, I should state that there are a variety of different ones that you can choose from that would surely do an optimal job.

I say this because I’m sure most people would opt to go for the bench press, deadlifts, and squats as their main 3 exercises.

Considering this is known as the classic “big 3” lifts that one should put their focus on, it is understandable why most people would go this route.

I on the other hand prefer a different route.

 

Therefore, rather than bench, deads, and squats, MY “Big 3” consists of:

1. Weighted Dips

2. Weighted Pull-ups

3. Squats

What sets these exercises apart from the aforementioned classic big 3, is that they offer a number of certain advantages that bench pressing and deadlifting simply do not.

Let’s break them down exercise by exercise.

 

Dips

  • The first thing that separates dips from the bench press, is that they allow for a greater range of motion. Using more range of motion is crucial when it comes to putting on maximum muscle mass.
  • Secondly, dips utilize more muscles than the standard bench press does. While the bench press is excellent for working the chest, shoulders and triceps, dips work all of those better than the bench press, and they also bring some back muscles into the play to act as stabilizers.
  • Last but not least, dips allow you to move a shitload more weight than benching does. Considering I just mentioned that dips work more muscles than the bench press, it would only make sense that you would be able to move more weight by doing dips. Back in my late teens, I would do dips for sets of 3 with 200 pounds attached to my waist (at a bodyweight of 200 pounds). Therefore I was moving around 400 pounds for reps. Even though I was pretty strong at dips, when I would go to test my bench press, I would only get in the low 300s. Now I’m sure a lot of this had to do with the fact that I simply practiced dips more than I practiced bench, but the fact is, dips allow you to use many more muscles than bench pressing does, which in turn will allow you move more weight. Moving more weight will always result in more muscle growth. Simple as that.

 

Pull-ups

  • Ah pull-ups, probably one of my favourite mass-building exercises of all time. The fact is, pull-ups should be a staple of anyone’s fitness regimen, whether it be for putting on muscle, improving conditioning, or losing fat. What makes them so great? Well for numerous reasons (that I will probably cover in a future article), being able to do a lot of pull-ups will result in some pleasant perks. For one, your back will be wide as hell, and your arms will be very big and defined. Two, your abs and core will be very strong simply from doing pull-ups, due to them playing a huge role in stabilizing your body throughout the movement. And 3, being able to do a lot of pull-ups is an impressive feat, and when you can do a lot of them, you feel like a million bucks.
  • The reasons why I would choose pull-ups over deadlifts or rows as my go-to back exercise are plenty. Not only is it for the fact that pull-ups work a ridiculous amount of upper body muscles and give you that attractive V-shaped appearance, but the main reason I would put them ahead of deads is because you can do pull-ups extremely frequently. Pull-ups can be done in a variety of different ways, such as bodyweight only, pull-ups with a weight belt, pull-ups with a
    weight vest, wide grip pull-ups, close-grip pull-ups, neutral grip pull-ups, the list goes on. They’re also extremely convenient because they can easily be done in your home by installing a pull-up apparatuse into your doorway, or spending some extra bucks to by a pull-up and dipping station like I did. Now unless you’re doing pull-ups with a shitload of weight attached to you, it will be much harder to fry your CNS from doing pull-ups than it would be for doing deadlifts. Therefore, pull-ups can be done more frequently than deadlifts can, which is simply what I prefer.

 

Squats

  • Let’s be honest, I would be an idiot if I didn’t keep squats in my all-time big 3 exercises. Squats are arguably the most potent mass-building exercise you can do, and neglecting them when it comes to any form of fitness would be an enormous mistake. It’s no accident that they’re referred to as the King of the mass builders.
  • The other beautiful thing about squats is that if you set up your workout routine smartly enough, you can actually squat at a very high frequency. Many serious lifters squat 3 times a week. Many Olympic lifters squats 6 times a week.
  • Considering I’ve already covered the importance of training frequency and training volume when it comes to putting on muscle mass, I’m always going to want the exercise that I’m able to train with on a frequent basis, and unfortunately, deadlifts do not allow me to do so. That’s why it was a no-brainer for me to keep squats in my big 3.

 

Conclusion

While I obviously stand very firm on my love for these 3 exercises described, I am in no way saying that these are the only 3 exercises that one should choose to put on muscle mass.

Hell, I’m sure all of the powerlifters out there wouldn’t give a second thought to choosing the original big 3 of bench, deads, and squats.

I’m sure some Olympic-style lifters would probably throw in some clean and presses into the mix.

Some bodybuilders may prefer to do heavy rows over pull-ups for building their back.

Regardless of which way you choose, you really can’t go wrong when it comes to these choices, just as long as you choose compound exercises that work a lot of muscle groups.

When you look at my exercise selection, all 3 movements work a huge amount of different muscles, on top of the fact that it would be very plausible to train them at a very high frequency (I’m talking 3 – 4 times a week for each exercise).

So given the amount of benefits that dips, chins, and squats have to offer in terms of building a huge amount of size and strength, I simply have to go with them as my big 3 movements for muscle mass.

What’s yours?

 

Comments

  1. Andreas Jansson says:

    Back squat or Front Squat? ?

  2. Gotta beast out that neck.

  3. In your opinion Is it ok to hit each muscle twice a week but alternate exercises? For example for hypertrohy
    MONDAY pullups, dips, squats
    THURSDAY bodyrow, pushups, lunges

    or am i not going to improve the strenght in thèse exercisws by doing them Just 1 per week?

    • Many people say that exercise variation for the same muscle groups is optimal for hypertrophy, so it would not be a bad idea per se. Personally however, I believe that continually increasing strength in the major compound movements is the best way to grow. As you said, continually varying the exercise selection will make it more difficult to become strong at the most important lifts. You will still get results either way, but I believe that you would get better results by picking the best compound lifts and solely focusing on becoming stronger at them. That’s just my opinion however. Again, as long as you are consistent you will get results either way.

  4. Eric Richey says:

    How would you organize volume for each day?

    Would you cycle through 5×5, 10×3, and likewise
    If you only did one lift a day (Pull-Ups, Dips, Squats)?

    • Back when I was lifting all the time (I’m focusing more on bodyweight training now) I essentially did periodic cycles of 10 x 3 and 10 x 10. So for instance, I’d do 10 x 3 for a few weeks, then switch to 10 x 10 for a few weeks.
      When I get back into it, I will probably keep a low rep day at the beginning of the week with a high rep day near the end of the week. Each exercise would be trained minimum 2 x per week.
      I personally believe that this type of programming is most optimal for muscle gain.

  5. Do you do these exercises on the same day or spread out. I’m thinking do them together on the same day, 3 times a week, with on day rest in between ex. monday, wednesday, friday. Your thoughts?

    • I always did them spread out. Looked like this – Day 1: Dips, Day 2: Squats, Day 3: Chins, Day 4: Off
      When I was trying to get my dip numbers up I trained them 3x a week with squats and chins twice a week on different days.

      In terms of doing all of them on the same day as a full body routine, that’s absolutely fine. While I think keeping them on alternate days gives you the advantage of feeling ‘fresh’ for each exercise, doing a 3 day per week full body routine is certainly the most efficient way to train time-wise.

      It also allows you to train at a high frequency with many rest days (which is a obviously good thing). I say go for it.

    • Adam Frith says:

      I’m currently following a push/pull/legs bodyweight split twice a week at the moment with hypertrophy being g the main aim. My current volume is Mon: 10×9 pull ups, 10×10 ring rows, Tues: 10×10 dips, 10×10 push ups, weds: 10×30-50 squats. Do you think if I continue to gradually add additional reps to each set over time I will carry on building muscle?

      • For all of your upper body lifts, you would probably still make gains by adding reps (since you’re only doing 9 – 10 per set). For squats, you are already at such a high rep range that you would have to add some weight or do harder variations to continue to progress IMO.

        • Adam Frith says:

          Ok mate, thanks! I mainly ask because when I add weight, to dips especially, it aggrevates​ my shoulders. I’ll carry on adding reps until I hit 15-20×10 then I’ll start adding weight and start adding weight to squats straight away. I hasten to add that I don’t take all my sets to failure, only really the last set. Should I put more emphasis on taking each set to failure with hypertrophy being the aim? Cheers

          • No worries. And while training to failure is effective for low-load training (which you are doing), I would personally just leave it for the last set (which is also what you’re doing). When you train to failure every set, it makes it more difficult to maintain a high training volume over the course of a training session because your body becomes so fried. It also may increase the risk for overtraining. That’s why I would suggest keeping failure training for the last set like you’re doing.

          • Adam Frith says:

            Cheers dude. Sorry, last question, don’t mean to fill up your blog with my ramblings, but with bodyweight training what sort of rep range do you start to see aLot less returns in terms of muscle gain? Is it something like 10×25 upwards?

          • If you train to failure, then you can still see gains training over 30 reps per set. If you do not train to failure, I would personally guess that anything over 20 reps may not be optimal for muscle gains.

  6. steve horvath says:

    Great article. What do think of replacing squats in your big 3 with trap bar deadlifts? I think the same as you and my routine is barbell row – (with a trap bar,) trap bar deadlifts, chest dips. I do 5 sets each decreasing the weight each set, and work our 3 times a wee.

    • Trap bar deadlifts are a fantastic whole-body exercise, however it doesn’t offer the same range of motion as squats. While you would still get some nice leg growth from deads, it would not be as effective as deep squats. But if you’re not concerned about that, just stick with what you enjoy doing.