When it comes to building a big total, there is an emerging marketplace for over-complicated approaches. The easiest way to simplify getting strong in the sport of powerlifting is to break powerlifting down into simple cues.
If I had to choose one cue that was universal to all three big lifts, it would be “leg drive into your upper back.” From the squat to the bench press to the deadlift, no lift exists without big legs and a strong upper back. So as we look to implement the best exercises to help build our total, we need to look no further than an exercise that overloads the legs and the upper back.
1. Front Squat
The front squat is a great exercise that fits both of these criteria, and also has the ancillary benefit of testing our range of motion at the hip and ankle. You can use this exercise to attenuate the load by keeping the bar weight low but keeping the relative subjective intensity high.
2. Block Pulls
This deadlift variation is a great way to allow us to start managing heavier and heavier loads. It takes away any elastic potential of muscle, forces us to create rather than transfer tension, and ultimately allows us to just lift heavier. Sometimes lifting heavier weights just requires lifting heavier weights.
3. Stiff Leg Deadlifts
Not to be confused with Romanian deadlifts, stiff leg deadlifts require very little to no bend in the knee. It makes up for the lack of range of motion by introducing purposeful flexion of the spine. This is an exercise variation that will require you to use less weight, but will challenge the erector muscle group while still using a barbell.
4. Rows: Pendlay, Dumbbell, T-Bar, Barbell
No need to overcomplicate this. If you want a massive total, having a massive back is a good place to start. Training rowing movements with higher frequency benefits any and all lifters.
5. SSB Good Morning
While the good morning has been seemingly extinct for many years in powerlifting, it has enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent time. This is an unparalleled exercise for creating strength and stability of the spine while putting size on the erectors, glutes, and hamstrings.
The bottom line: when choosing accessory movements to build a total, specificity is going to be king. So it is critical that you pick out the right accessory based off of your weak points.