Article last updated: January 2020 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
Today I got a comment on my YouTube transformation video regarding the 4 big lifts, and I decided to answer it in depth:
My answer: The scientific consensus right now is that as long as you train at a high intensity, both low and high reps produce the same muscle gains: https://oskarfaarkrog.com/training-with-high-loads-and-low-loads-result-in-similar-levels-of-hypertrophy/
In addition, high volume training is easier on the joints. Everyone who trains with high loads and lower volume ends up with debilitating injuries. The same isn’t the case for the bodybuilders who used high volume all their life: https://skinnyfattransformation.com/high-volume-training-effective-training-system-skinny-fat-guys/
As a result, I recommend doing most of your training with higher reps and using more sets to achieve higher volume.
Also, most guys want a V-tapered upper body with big arms, wide lats, full upper chest and wide shoulders and a slim waist.
The squat, bench press and deadlift are good overall full body exercises, however they don’t target these “aesthetics muscles” very well: https://skinnyfattransformation.com/why-you-shouldnt-do-starting-strength-as-a-beginner/
If you want too develop a more aesthetic physique, you’re better of focusing on other exercises with chin ups and diamond push ups being the main ones.
According to EMG studies, the chin up has the highest activation in the lats of any exercise and the lats are the biggest muscle group in the upper body. Thus you get better bang for the buck by focusing on the chin ups and weighted chin ups over rows and deadlifts — if you train for aesthetics. They also lead to better biceps and serratus anterior development.
Diamond push ups have the highest triceps activation of any exercise and the triceps make up 2/3 of your arm size.
They also develop the upper and inner chest very well and work the front shoulders a lot — while having a much lower risk of injury than barbell bench press.
So for most people they’re superior as a pushing exercise compared to the bench presses.
For shoulders you need to isolate all 3 heads to reach anywhere near maximum development — the shoulder press won’t be enough for anyone except guys who are short and stocky or have naturally big shoulders. So I recommend you focus more on the DB front raises, side raises and rear raises to get full delt development.
So overall for bodybuilding purposes I wouldn’t focus on any of the big 4 lifts. You can include some variations of them into a program, but they wouldn’t be the main exercises.
You can read more about why I don’t include these exercises much in my programs in the articles linked above and then make up your own mind after if heavy barbell squats, bench press, deadlift and row are right for you.
Be proud but stay hungry!
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer