The Full-Body Workout To Boost The Big Three Lifts
Think specialized training is the only way to get stronger? Think again! Use this simple full-body routine to fill the gaps that the big lifts might miss, making your numbers on them stronger!
Boasting both a colossal physique and superhuman strength, Mike "Thor" Kundla certainly earns his nickname. He's a two-time NPC natural overall champ who can easily deadlift 600 pounds, kip up off the floor right into a soaring box jump, then do a pistol squat on a BOSU ball.
He prides himself on not sticking to any one style of training, but to seriously challenging himself no matter what he's doing.
"I want to learn and be the best I can possibly be at every physical and mental challenge I put my mind to," he explains.
As an elite powerlifter, Thor loves to measure himself against the big three of squat, deadlift, and bench, but his training doesn't always line up squarely with standard splits.
If your approach has been "bench Monday, squat Wednesday, deadlift Friday," this full-body workout may be just what you need to fill the gaps in your strength, boost your numbers on big lifts, and make you tougher and stronger, period.
Unlike the strictly hip-dominant Romanian deadlift, the sumo deadlift is a favorite among powerlifters because it allows them to recruit more inner thigh, quad, and glute action through a wider, more "squatty" stance and greater bend at the knees. This enhanced muscle recruitment and superior lifting position will help build the accessory muscle strength you need to pull more weight off the ground.
To really beef up your deadlift, Kundla recommends increasing your time under tension by pausing your lift just below the knee.
"TUT helps improve grip strength while simultaneously conditioning your body to remain tight and controlled during your lift," he says.
"If you don't front squat, you probably should," says Kundla. "Front squats are amazing for core development and will help improve your depth on your friendly neighborhood back squat."
By shifting the load from the back to the front, front squats force your body to be more upright and enhance core activation and upper back activation.
And if that's not enough to help you bust through your squat plateau, Kundla recommends incorporating transitional pauses into the final rep of each set.
"Most people get hung up at the lowest point of their squats," he explains.
Pausing at the bottom removes all momentum, forcing your muscles to fully engage to drive that bar back up.
As with the sumo deadlift, the wider stance of these box squats recruit more accessory muscles to give you better strength and functionality when you go to lift those heavier weights.
Barbell walking lunge: Any serious lifter knows the walking lunge is a beast guaranteed to set your legs on fire and leave you sore and whining for days.
"I know this is a pretty basic functional strength exercise," admits Kundla, "but people tend to overlook the most basic concepts when it comes to strength and athletic training."
Barbell Walking Lunge
Barbell walking lunges help improve core strength, balance, and hip flexibility—all crucial elements for your core lifting program. If you want to increase your strength and power, add this dynamic total-body exercise to your routine. Kundla recommends starting light and working your way up, focusing on proper form and technique.
Dumbbell single-arm overhead press
Overhead press to bench more? It may sound odd, but many strong lifters have found success through this exact approach. When you're focused on adding more weight to your heaviest lifts, it's easy to forget smaller movements that don't exactly mimic it. But sometimes these overlooked exercises make the difference.
Dumbbell Single-Arm Overhead Press
By only working one side at a time, this single-arm exercise forces each shoulder girdle to recruit strength independently, meaning your stronger side won't compensate for your weaker one. It also means your secondary muscle groups reap the benefits of isolated strength building so they can help your chest push more weight when you get under the bar.
Dumbbell hammer curls
Arm strength is important in big lifts, not just in looking the part. If you expect your triceps to push to their full potential, having strong antagonist muscles on the other side of the arm is crucial.
Dumbbell Hammer Curls
But their importance doesn't end there. If you've never watched a video of a powerlifter tearing a biceps muscle…don't. Just trust us that you want biceps that aren't your weak point.
As with the bigger, compound exercises, tempo is key.
"Time under tension exercises always help me bust through plateaus," says Kundla, "and throw my muscles for a loop!"
You can use either barbells, dumbbells, or some kind of specialty bar like the neutral-grip football bar here, but whatever you do, include the floor press somewhere in the mix.
Why? For one, it does wonders for your lockout strength on the bench press, while also being more shoulder-friendly than the bench. It also allows you to overload the triceps like almost nothing else, usually without the need of a spotter to help save your noggin. This move has plenty of potential to help you pack on more plates on your next heavy bench day.
Seated box jump
"This is one of my favorite exercises to improve explosive power," says Kundla, "It's also a very effective way to develop squatting and pulling strength in any athletic program."
Seated Box Jump
Starting from the seated position forces your muscles to fire from the 90-degree point—helping you strengthen your squat at its weakest point.
If you've never done seated box jumps, don't go overboard or expect to be Instagram-worthy right away. Start with a step you feel comfortable with and be sure to step down instead of jumping down to reduce impact on your joints. This unique move will help improve your explosive strength, along with your deadlift and squat numbers.
Sumo box squats
"I owe most of my deadlift progress to my accessory work—particularly wide stance box squats," explains Kundla. "If you're a sumo puller, I highly recommend incorporating these into your programming. They will help you focus on driving through with your heels, while simultaneously strengthening your hips, glutes, and hamstrings."
Sumo Box Squats
Finishing your workout with heavy box squats paired with jumps may seem a bit cruel, but as Kundla explained in the article "What S'mores Can Teach You About Crushing Your Workouts," this pairing hits all the muscle fibers you might otherwise have missed, leaving you heading for the showers feeling like you could walk through walls.
For more of Kundla's tips to boost your PRs, optimize recovery, and increase your power, check out the article "5 Ways to Perfect Your Post-Workout Protocol."