Best Exercise Swaps for the Bench Press, Squat and Deadlift

We love the Bench Press, Squat and Deadlift, but sometimes we have to try something else. STACK Expert Justin Groce offers effective alternatives to the Big 3.

Barbell Bridge

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I understand you get tired of doing the Bench Press, Squat and Deadlift. They are the three best exercises for athletes, but doing the same thing over and over again can get quite boring.

The good news is, there are instances when substituting alternative movements for those Big 3 critical exercises is essential to your program and your progress.

For example, if your shoulder is sore, maybe you shouldn't Bench Press—even if you want to build your upper body. Or maybe you're in-season and want to move some iron but not tax your body with deadlifting.

Below are some helpful alternatives to fold into your program when the Big 3 don't make sense for whatever reasons.

Instead of the Bench Press

Standing Cable Chest Press

This cable exercise actually translates to sports performance better than the traditional Bench Press, even though it's commonly frowned upon. When is the last time you lay on your back and pressed something off of your chest. Here's another scenario: What exercise replicates the movements involved in pushing an opponent away from you? I'll give you a hint—we're discussing it right now.

How to: Adjust each cable tower to mid-chest height. Firmly hold each cable in front of your body. To avoid stress to your shoulder, never let a cable go behind your body. Take a very long step out so the weight stack never bottoms out. Exhale and press each cable out in front of your chest.

Dumbbell Physioball Chest Press

This exercise makes the list because you can still move a heavy load, but it also creates an indestructible core in the process. Since you balance on a ball, you engage your abs, hamstrings and glutes.

How to: Sit on a physioball with a dumbbell in each hand. Walk your feet out and allow your body to roll with the ball until it's between your shoulder blades and your head is supported by the ball. If your head is off the ball, get a larger ball. Exhale as you press each dumbbell over your chest. Slowly lower each dumbbell back to the start.

Instead of the Squat

Bulgarian Split-Squat

The Bulgarian Split-Squat is a must-have for your program. It should be a staple for running backs, track athletes and even bodybuilders, because it builds strong glutes, eliminates imbalances between yours legs and strengthens stabilizing muscles.

How to: Stand in a lunge or stride position with your back foot on a bench or box and a bar on your back. Keep your front knee behind your toes. Bend your front knee to lower into a lunge until your thigh is parallel to the ground. Extend your hip and knee to drive up to the start position.

Barbell Glute-Hip Bridge

This could have been put in the Deadlift category, but it recruits many of the same muscles as the Squat with an emphasis on the backside of the body. Having a strong backside will improve your speed and power on the field, and help you lift heavier in the weight room.

How to: Lie on the ground with a barbell across your hips and position your shoulders on a bench behind you. Drive through your heels and squeeze your glutes to extend your hips up toward the ceiling until they are parallel to the floor. Slowly lower your butt to the floor.

Instead of the Deadlift

Rack Deadlift

The rack Deadlift integrates all of the same functional aspects of the traditional Deadlift, however it's less taxing on the nervous system. You can use the same amount of weight, if not more, while minimizing the stress on your body.

How to: Set the safeties on a squat rack to slightly below knee level. Lock your shoulder blades together with the bar against your shins. Pull the bar as if performing a Deadlift. Slowly lower to the starting position.

Barbell Good Morning

The Good Morning makes the list because it recruits all of the same muscles as the Deadlift without having to use nearly as much weight.

How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a bar on your back. Shift the weight to your heels, and hinge forward at your hips until your torso is at a 30- to 45-degree angle with the floor. Keep your back flat and maintain a soft bend in your knees.

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