By Raechel Campbell
Looking to get stronger and steroids aren’t really your thing? I understand.
Many of us want to get strong without all of the nonsense that comes along with it (chugging gallons of milk? Ew. No thank you). We just want to be strong, lean and develop some awesome athleticism that makes you cooler in the process.
For you today, I’ve compiled a list of five of my favorite strength movements and offered up some explanation as to why they are going to make you super sweet. Someone could probably write an entire article on each movement, but I’ve tried really hard to just keep it basic and a general summary kind of thing.
Having done all of these movements the past few years at P360, I can say with certainty they will increase strength and performance, as well as have some nice aesthetic, postural and mobility benefits. I am a big believer in getting really good at the barbell movements as I believe that’s where most of our strength lies and that most people try to move to other things too quickly. I’m not going to win any prizes for inventing any new weird stuff that maybe, maybe you don’t even know about, but I believe in simplicity. In this article, you will not find any body weight or accessory movements. If I were to include them you may see movements like pull-ups, kettlebell swings and box jumps but I don’t believe those to be on par with the big barbell players.
I believe the best gains are in the barbell, and that’s what’s here for ya’ today.
I am also a very strong advocate of being good at both Olympic lifting (cleans, snatches and jerks) and power lifts (deadlifts, back squat, presses) for strength. Olympic lifts are a bit more speed and technique focused (which is why you used to see me fall down a lot), whereas power lifts are a bit more tension and and raw strength focused. If you are performing both well, you will have a really good foundation for well rounded strength and performance.
My hopes are that you all become so strong that you can lift a million pounds after reading and applying these movements.
1. The Overhead Squat
The Overhead squat is one of my favorite strength developers because it is one of the most physically demanding movements to perform. Combining the overhead power and stability of the jerk with the core stability and leg strength of a squat, everything about this movement is difficult. Simply getting the weight into the overhead position is a challenge as the start of each rep requires a heavy, behind-the-neck jerk. Once in place, the OH squat requires tension throughout your entire body unlike any other movement, rivaled only by the Turkish Get-Up. You have to maintain this rigidity of your core and arms the entire movement while balancing and stabilizing weight over your head. All while squatting! The movement pattern of your squat must be flawless, the overhead stability perfect.
This movement is not only extremely physically taxing, but also very mentally taxing. It requires so much focus that sometimes, for me, it’s the exact reason why I may miss a rep. You must pay attention to every joint and every single step of the way, for just one screw up and the weight gets dumped. Now, if that doesn’t require attention to detail I don’t know what does!
No movement tests overall, total body strength and working together like the overhead squat. And for that, it is at the top of my list.
2. The Deadlift
The beauty of the deadlift is in its simplicity. You pick up something heavy and then put it back down. It is one of the easiest movements we do, relatively speaking, as most anyone can walk in and train themselves to be really good at deadlifts over time and smart training. From an anatomy perspective, the deadlift trains the entire body in a way that no other power or Olympic lift can do. Since it’s typically slower and heavier than its Olympic counterparts, the deadlift requires a huge amount of tension in order to move and lock out the weight. And tension typically equals strength. Using your back muscles and abdominals to keep the barbell over the center of your foot while maintaining a flat back creates a huge amount of taxation on the entire system of working muscles. Your grip, hips and legs create force that overcomes the weight not wanting to budge off the floor and lockout, and your rigid spine transfers that force to your arms, then to your hands and the barbell.
If a movement requires the use of all these muscles in a big way, then the movement will strengthen all these muscles in a big way. The deadlift is also very good for correcting our poor posture and countering the act of sitting in a desk (or for me, a car) all day long.
3. The Power Clean
The deadlift tends to contribute to the power clean and the power clean tends to contribute to the deadlift in that both movements require moving weight off the floor with extended arms. However, what the deadlift lacks that the power clean does not, is the effectiveness in teaching timing and athletic synchronization. Olympic lifts like cleans and snatches are the best way to increase the ability to be explosive, powerful and athletic! Cleans train the speed and commitment required in getting under the bar, and increase our rate of motor unit recruitment. The faster and more motor units we can recruit, the more explosive we will be.
As Mark Rippetoe famously states, “Power is dependent upon strength. Force production capacity that does not exist cannot be displayed”.
Meaning, if you never train to be explosive you will never be explosive.
The deadlift is the strength and the clean is the power.
4. The Back Squat
The back squat builds strength in your hamstrings, quads, glutes and calves, and not to mention releases the highest amount of natural testosterone of any movement listed. This creates a huge opportunity for muscle growth when performed heavy and at high reps (think muscle growth option on Reps for Goal days, P360 folks). The back squat is an axial loaded movement, meaning the weight is in contact and administered along the spine making it a hugely beneficial core exercise. From an anatomy perspective, the deadlift tends to work more of the hamstrings whereas the back squat tends to work more of the quadriceps, and of course the glutes, as well. This makes balance of both important.
The squat is an extremely good way to burn fat, as well. When performed at lighter weight (~40% of 1RM), the back squat creates a very high Excessive Post Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), where we burn fat at rest.
It is also one of the best butt exercises we can do, so some weights on there and make that booty pop!
5. The Split Jerk
Being proficient at overhead pressing requires strength in your legs, core and upper body. It also requires the ability to apply violent speed, and then immediately stop and lock out a shit ton of weight with strong tension. Acceleration annnnd deceleration. Not a very easy task. The split jerk requires use of our fast twitch, Type-II muscle fibers, the muscles that we use for athleticism and speed. They are what apply the speed of a sprint, the burst of a high box jump and the power of a heavy lift. When we repeatedly train speed and fast twitch muscle fibers, we dramatically improve our ability to produce more force in a shorter amount of time, that “force production” that Mark Rippetoe was talking about.
This is the very thing that leads to our being stronger, faster and more likeable, really.
The split jerk also requires a massive amount of core and total body stability. Like the clean, it teaches speed in getting under the barbell while also producing an upward force. If you think about it, if you are pressing heavy weight over your head at a fast speed, there’s no way that’s going to happen without complete stabilization of your core and overall body. So, like the overhead squat, it is also a teacher of tension and stability, two things very responsible for what leads to a lot of our strength gains, as well as injury prevention.
In closing, these movements are beneficial in their own right in the following way
- The Overhead Squat – Arguably the best overall display of strength, mobility, awareness, tension and stability.
- The Deadlift – Raw strength, tension and grip.
- The Power Clean – Speed, athleticism and commitment underneath the barbell.
- The Back Squat – Strength, core stability, tension. The booty.
- The Split Jerk – Speed, power and athleticism. Stability.
If you are only good at a few of these, your overall strength is incomplete as each require strength, power, speed, stability and mobility in different areas.
If you see me in class or coaching, feel free to strike up a convo and ask me whatever you need. I am always happy to help ya’.
Best of luck, grasshoppers.
Raechel Campbell is a coach at Performance360. Some of her accomplishments include 310# deadlift, 220# back squat, 190# front squat, 175# split jerk, 170# power clean, 12 strict pull-ups, 5:52 mile, 47″ box jump and the most accumulated Club Forged points of all time.