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52+ Best Compound Exercises: A Complete Guide (with videos)

12/07/2020

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Best Compound Exercises - Complete Guide

52+ Best Compound Exercises: A Complete Guide (with videos)

It’s no secret:

Building size and strength for some is the equivalent of a Jehovah’s witness knocking on your door in the middle of a global pandemic knowing full well you’ll be at home.

A tough gig.

But what if there were specific lifts you could perform to accelerate your progress and make you the envy of every self-obsessed fitness wanker?

Thankfully there is, and they’re called compound exercises.

But why are they are important?

How will they help you get bigger and stronger?

And what are the best compound exercises that will give you the greatest results?

Well… you’re in luck, as we’ll be covering these topics and a lot more in this complete guide (with helpful videos too).

This includes:

· What are compound exercises?

· What are the benefits of compound exercises?

· What are the best compound exercises (for maximum results)?

· Compound exercise list (by specific body part) including…

Arms

Back

Chest

Shoulders

Legs

Abs

· Compound lifts you can do at home

and…

· Frequently Asked Qustions

But first:

Before we dive right into it, what exactly are compound exercises?

What Are Compound Exercises?

A compound exercise is a movement or lift that requires more than one muscle group and joint to work together to perform the exercise.

On the other hand:

An isolation exercise is a movement or lift that requires only one muscle group and joint to complete the exercise. In other words, the recruitment of other muscles is limited.

For example,

A squat would be categorised as a compound lift as it engages all of the muscles in your lower body, parts of the upper body and your core throughout the movement.

However:

Calf raises, for instance, would be categorised as an isolation lift as your calves and ankles are the only muscles and joints being recruited to perform the exercise.

Whilst performing isolation exercises are great if you’re trying to develop a lagging part of the body, there’s no denying that performing compound movements is more time-efficient at giving all-round muscle stimulation.

Therefore,

Whenever possible, you want to focus on compound exercises for most of your workout.

Why?

Because even in the outside world, you hardly use your muscles in isolation.

Think about it:

When you’re throwing luggage over your head on a long-haul flight, pushing your side chick behind your bedroom door so your girlfriend doesn’t see her, or picking up dog shit off the floor – you’re using multiple muscle groups at once.

Just like you would when performing a compound lift.

If that wasn’t enough:

As you’re using multiple muscles and joints together, you’re taxing your body a lot harder when training which has numerous benefits.

With that said,

Why do two exercises when you can do one instead?

Now:

You’re probably wondering what the benefits are of compound exercises. 

Keep reading to find out more.

Benefits of Compound Exercises

One of the biggest errors people make is under-appreciating the many benefits of performing compound lifts.

This includes:

· Greater time-efficiency – by working several muscle groups at once, performing compound movements can help you save time if you’re operating on a tight schedule, or if you simply want to fit in more stimulation in less time.

· Improved strength – the more muscle groups you train together, the greater the amount of weight you’ll be able to lift which can lead to improved strength gains.

· Greater progressive overload – your muscles and joints go through a large range of motion performing compound exercises. As a result, they enable you to lift more weight for better progressive overload.

· Improved functional fitness – the best compound exercises simulate real-world movements such as standing, lifting, pulling, pushing and rotating which will help improve overall coordination, mobility and stability.

· Greater fat loss – performing bigger moves that engage more muscle groups whilst lifting heavy weights all contribute to an increased heart rate. This can lead to improved fitness levels and the burning of a lot of calories.

· Increased growth hormone release research shows that performing compound exercises produces larger releases in testosterone and growth hormones. This is beneficial for changing overall body composition.

· Reduced chance of injury – when applied correctly, performing compound movements can improve speed, powder and strength. This means you can lift more weight and improve muscle functionality with less chance of injury.

Best Compound Exercises (For Maximum Results)

Whether you’re a seasoned gym goer or are starting out for the very first time, the following compound movements should make up the core of your training routine to give you the most bang for your buck.

Let’s get into it.

1) Squats

Best Compound Exercises - SquatsOften described as the ‘king’ of all compound lifts, the squat has been a staple in many professional bodybuilders training routine for decades, and for good reason.

Not only are squats (particularly weighted barbell squats) an excellent exercise for developing superior lower body mass and strength, but it also engages your arms, core and posterior chain making it a complete, full body movement. 

If that wasn’t enough:

It’s also a relatively easy exercise to progress on, as your body is designed to handle a lot of weight from the muscles being targeted.

Muscles worked: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves, Hip Flexors, Lower Back and Core.

2) Deadlifts

Compound Exercises - DeadliftsAnother exercise hailed in many ways as being a cut above the rest.

Deadlifts are a complete body movement which helps to strengthen and develop all of your muscles in the posterior chain.

With that said:

Performing deadlifts isn’t easy. Technique is a crucial element of ensuring you’re able to perform this exercise safely.

Far too many times I’ve seen gym bros commit the biggest cardinal sin by performing this exercise with a rounded back (only to never be seen in the gym again).

Don’t let this be you.

Work on perfecting your form first before you even begin to think about progressing with weights.

Muscles worked: Hamstrings, Hip Flexors, Glutes, Upper Back (Rhomboids), Erector Spinae, Lower Back and Core.

3) Lunges

Best Compound Exercises - LungesLunges are a great go-to exercise for developing mass and strength in your legs.

They’re commonly known as a ‘unilateral exercise’ which means they work one limb or side of your body at a time.

The benefit of a unilateral exercise like lunges is that you’re able to work both sides of your body equally, removing the possibility of allowing any dominant muscle to do the heavy lifting. This in turn allows you to focus on the primary working muscle(s) for maximum intensity.

Better still:

Lunges come with the added benefit of correcting muscular imbalances, improving your balance and stability as well as incorporating your core muscles.

Muscles worked: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves and Core.

4) Bench Press

Compound Exercises - Bench PressThe bench press needs no introduction.

It is one of the best compound lifts you can perform to develop superior muscular size across your upper body.

With variations including an incline bench press, flat bench press and decline bench press, you can target your chest from all angles to ensure you are getting maximum growth from one simple exercise.

If that wasn’t enough:

As multiple joints are being worked when performing any variation of a bench press, you’ll burn through a lot of calories whilst simultaneously packing on some serious muscle, making it one of the most effective compound movements to perform. 

It is little wonder that the bench press formed the staple of some of the best muscle-building programs out there including: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Golden Six, Stronglifts 5×5 and the original ‘Squats and Milk‘ routine. 

Muscles worked: Chest (Pectorals), Triceps, Deltoids and Core.

5) Bent Over Rows

Compound Exercises - Bent Over RowThe bent over row is a compound movement used to build both size and strength in both the upper and lower back.

There are many variations of the bent over row including a: barbell bent over row, dumbbell bent over row, kettlebell bent over row and a single arm bent over row.

However, each variation is predicated on the same basic movements; maintaining a strong hip hinge in a bent over position and pulling the weight(s) using your elbows in a steady rowing motion.

Bent over rows are frequently used as an accessory movement for performing deadlifts or a clean and snatch in powerlifting, but it’s also a superior exercise in strength and muscle-building focused workouts.

Muscles worked: Upper Back (Rhomboids), Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi), Hamstrings, Glutes, Rear Deltoids, Forearms, Biceps and Core.

6) Pull Ups

Best Compound Exercises - Pull UpsPull ups are an unprecedented compound lift that targets numerous muscles in the back, shoulders and arms (simultaneously) for all round upper body muscular development.

The term ‘pull ups’ is used rather loosely as there are a multitude of variations that you can perform whilst using a pull up bar.

This might include: wide or close-grip pull ups, parallel-grip pull ups, chin-ups, behind-the-neck pull ups, in-and-out pull ups and so on.

In particular:

Pull ups are a great exercise for overall functional strength and for developing superior grip strength.

Having good grip strength is a prerequisite of performing many pulling compound movements safely and effectively, such as deadlifts and bent over rows.

Because you’ll be lifting your entire bodyweight as opposed to a fixed weight on a barbell or dumbbell, pull ups will help you build a better overall frame allowing you to get results a lot faster.

This is especially the case when pull ups become too easy and you up the ante by adding additional resistance on a weight belt or placing a dumbbell in between your legs.

Muscles worked: Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi), Trapezius, Rear Deltoids, Biceps, Forearms and Core.

7) Push Ups

Best Compound Exercises - Push UpsPush ups are a tried and true compound movement that will get blood pumping through your chest, arms, shoulders and core.

Not only are they a great exercise for building upper body strength, but you can also perform them anywhere, at anytime without any equipment (whether at home, at the office or in the gym – just be prepared for the banter to follow if you opt for the office).

It also goes without saying:

You’ll likely incorporate some pushing movements in your every day life such as opening doors, pushing cars out of a ditch or just pushing a shopping trolley stacked with your nutritional requirements.

Thus, the functional fitness you’ll develop from performing push ups is second to none.

If that wasn’t enough,

There are many variations or modifications of a push up you can perform in the long-run in order to keep your body guessing, increasing intensity and promoting muscle growth.

Whilst modifications will place greater emphasis on certain muscles over another, the overall movement remains the same and all of the primary muscles will still likely be targeted.

Muscles worked: Chest (Pectorals), Biceps, Triceps, Deltoids and Core.

8) Dips

Best Compound Exercises - DipsDips are an excellent compound, bodyweight exercise for developing upper body size and strength.

Depending on how you perform them, you can either target your chest or triceps more specifically for a greater ‘muscle focused’ workout.

The most common way of performing dips is by using two parallel dip bars (or objects) and lowering and straightening your arms whilst holding your bodyweight up.

By learning your torso slightly forward at a 45 degree angle and allowing your elbows to flair out slightly, you’ll be working more of your chest muscles.

If you decide to stay up straight and keep your elbows tucked to your side, more emphasis will be placed on your triceps. 

Similar to push ups, dips can be performed anywhere, at anytime with minimal equipment, making it a great multi-joint exercise to perform for a great pump when you’re strapped for time.

Muscles worked: Chest (Pectorals), Triceps, Deltoids and Core.

9) Military Press

Best Compound Exercises - Military PressThe military press, otherwise called the overhead press is a complete, full body exercise.

As this exercise is typically performed standing up and with a barbell, it incorporates multiple muscle groups to execute this movement.

Your shoulders and arms press the weight above your head, whilst your legs, lower back and core are also engaged to maintain balance and stability. 

This exercise won’t work your legs or core the same way squats or deadlifts will, however, as your legs don’t move. They remain straight throughout the movement but are indirectly engaged by supporting the weight with an isometric hold.

Nevertheless:

The military press is one of the best exercises to build stronger, muscular shoulders and arms.

It is also one of the more difficult compound lifts to perform as you’ll have to use less weight to safely press the bar over your head. This is because the military press directly targets some of the smaller muscles on your upper body such as your deltoids.

So,

If you haven’t got your form nailed down when performing this exercise, make sure you make the necessary adjustments as the risk of injury is high if performed incorrectly.

Muscles worked: Deltoids, Triceps, Rotator Cuff, Trapezius, Core, Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes and Calves

10) Clean and Press

Best Compound Exercises - Clean and PressOriginating as an Olympic lift, the clean and press is a full body, explosive compound movement incorporating both a traditional deadlift and a military press into one exercise.

Not only is it an all-round complete exercise for building muscle size and strength, it also helps improve cardiovascular, endurance and functional fitness levels giving you a complete workout (particularly if you’re strapped for time).

The most difficult aspect of this lift is safely transitioning the weight from the floor to above your head. This is the point where a deadlift diverges into the clean once it goes past the knees and is caught/front-loaded onto the chest to then be pressed out above your head.

Hence the name, clean and press.

As you might expect, this exercise is more suited to advanced lifters as it involves a number of different movements that must be executed in one go.

However,

If you are prepared to perfect the technique required to perform this exercise, the results it will yield will speak for itself.

Muscles worked: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves, Upper Back (Rhomboids), Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi), Deltoids, Triceps, Trapezius and Core

Compound Exercise List

Best Compound Lifts for Arms

Close Grip Chin-Ups

Close grip chin-ups are single-handedly one of the best compound lifts you can perform for building stronger, bigger biceps.

As the name suggests, you take a ‘closer’ grip of a pull-up bar with a supinated (underhand) grip.

Whilst the same back muscles will still be recruited from a standard pull-up, greater emphasis will now be placed on the biceps.

How you might ask?

The simple answer is elbow flexion.

A closer, supinated grip means your bodyweight can now be channeled through the elbow joint, and with the bicep attached to the elbow joint, it will bear the majority of the resistance of pulling your body up and over the bar and lessen the focus on your back.

Muscles worked: Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi), Biceps, Forearms and Core.

 

Close Grip Bench Press

The close grip bench press is another excellent compound lift to build stronger, bigger triceps. You could call this exercise the ‘sister’ of the chin-up for all round arm development.

This exercise differs from a traditional bench press in that you perform the pressing movement with a ‘narrower’ grip.

Whilst this exercise focuses more on tricep development, your chest and shoulders will still be engaged to some degree to complete the movement.

Thus, because these muscle groups are involved to a certain extent, there is scope to increase load progressively and maximise strength gains.

The close grip bench press also has the added benefit of alleviating any shoulder pain which might be experienced from a traditional bench press as the closer grip creates less shoulder abduction.

Muscles worked: Triceps, Chest (Pectorals), Deltoids and Core.

 

TRX Bicep Curls

Unlike traditional barbell or dumbbell bicep curls, TRX bicep curls uses suspension cables rather than free weights.

TRX bicep curls have the added benefit of constantly keeping your core engaged as you’ll be performing this exercise in a way that creates overall instability which you wouldn’t necessarily get from standing or sitting with free weights.

If that wasn’t enough:

Your anterior deltoids and forearms will also be assisting with the movement whilst simultaneously improving your overall balance and strength, thereby increasing your functional fitness level.

You can easily make this exercise a lot more difficult by adjusting the angle of your body by bringing your feet closer to the suspension and/or changing the angle of the cable handles.

Muscles worked: Biceps, Forearms, Deltoids and Core.

 

Underhand Grip Inverted Row

The inverted row, like most rowing and pulling variation exercises increases overall back, arm and grip strength.

However,

By modifying this exercises slightly and using a ‘underhand’ (or supinated) grip, the majority of the load will be placed through the biceps and forearms making it a great exercise to grow your arm size and strength whilst incorporating other muscles on your body (such as the rhomboids, trapezius and core). 

Like most body weight exercises, there’s greater room for progression by increasing time under tension and varying the angle in which your body is positioned to make the underhand grip inverted row exercise more challenging.

Muscles worked: Biceps, Forearms, Upper Back (Rhomboids), Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi), Trapezius, Rear Deltoids and Core.

 

Zottman Curls

If you’re looking for an all-round arm exercise to get some serious blood pumping into the biceps and forearms, the zottman curl has you covered.

Zottman curls work in the same way a normal dumbbell or barbell bicep curl works with a standard supinated (underhand) grip.

The difference is…

When you’ve completed the concentric phase of the curl (the squeeze at the top), you’ll then slowly change to a pronated (overhand) grip during the eccentric (lowering) phase of the curl to engage the forearm.

By changing your grip in the middle of the curl, you’ll hit the three major muscles that make up the bicep – namely the brachii, coracobrachialis and brachialis, not to mention blasting your forearms also.

This exercise really gives you more out of one slight variation making it a great compound arm movement for increased size and strength and one that many of the great bodybuilders of all time incorporated over the years.

Muscles worked: Biceps, Forearms and Core.

 

Diamond Push Ups

As the name suggests, diamond push ups are traditional push ups with an added twist.

Rather than having your hands shoulder width apart on the floor, your hands will be placed in the shape of a diamond/triangle.

The positioning of your hand will place greater emphasis on the triceps, with your chest (pectorals) and shoulders (anterior deltoids) playing less of a role compared to a standard push up where they are the primary focus.

The diamond push up is a great exercise to increase all-round tricep activation, size and definition as you’ll be forced to lift up your entire body weight through the triceps with minimal support from your chest/shoulders (although they’re still working to some degree).

You can increase the intensity of this exercise by altering the position of your body (incline or decline) as well as use them as part of a superset for a greater pump in the arms.

Muscles worked: Triceps, Chest (Pectorals), Deltoids and Core.

 

Best Compound Lifts for Back

 

Wide Grip Pull Ups

Wide grip pull-ups are a variation of a basic pull-up designed to target the upper and middle back (namely the latissimus dorsi).

This exercise involves holding a pull-up bar more than shoulder width apart in a pronated (overhand) grip to place greater emphasis on the back whilst you’re pulling your body up to the point at which your chin is level with/or above the bar.

Done correctly, the wide grip pull-up will also hit your biceps, shoulders and core making it a great all-round upper body exercise.

It also has the added benefit of developing strength for other compound-based movements such as the bent over row and lat pulldown (covered shortly).

To make this exercise more challenging, consider wearing a weight belt and add a few plates for extra resistance, or simply place a dumbbell in between your legs or feet for increased intensity.

Muscles worked: Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi), Trapezius, Rear Deltoids, Biceps, Forearms and Core.

 

Parallel Close Grip Pull Ups

This exercise, sometimes called the ‘neutral grip pull-up’ follows the same technique as a standard pull-up, but with neutral grip bars so that both hands are facing each other.

This variation of a pull-up primarily works the lower region of the latissimus dorsi, but also the teres major (a medial rotator that supports the latissimus dorsi in extending the back and depressing the shoulders to support the pull).

And if that wasn’t enough:

The rhomboids, trapezius and rear deltoids will also get a workout too making this another great compound lift.

Muscles worked: Upper Back (Rhomboids), Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi), Trapezius, Rear Deltoids, Biceps, Forearms and Core.

 

Standing T-Bar Row

A variation of a standard bent over row, the t-bar row is a compound movement which primarily works the same muscles when performing a bent over row.

The main difference being, however, is that the t-bar row focuses more on developing overall muscle thickness in the back whereas the bent over row mainly builds muscle width in the back.

This is due to the hand and arm positioning of the t-bar row.

When performing this exercise, your hands and arms are usually more closely aligned to your body where the positioning of your arms and hands are usually slightly wider when performing a bent over row.

Either way,

Both exercises are great for building incredible muscle mass and strength in your upper back (rhomboids) and middle back (latissimus dorsi) as well as developing functional strength in your arms, posterior chain and core.

Muscles worked: Upper Back (Rhomboids), Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi), Hamstrings, Glutes, Rear Deltoids, Forearms, Biceps and Core.

 

One Arm Dumbbell Row

The one arm dumbbell row is another great compound training exercise specifically targeting the middle back (latissimus dorsi).

By focusing on a single arm row, you’re able to isolate the latissimus dorsi for increased size and strength whilst simultaneously working the rest of the back (namely the trapezius and rhomboids) as well as the arms, shoulders and core.

Also,

The beauty of this exercise is that you’re in a much better position to lift the weight up slightly past the hip for maximum muscle contraction and engagement compared to a standard barbell row.

It gets better:

By placing your free hand on a fixed surface like a bench, you can also progressively lift more weight allowing you to get a better workout.

Overall, it’s far better to focus on full range of motion (ROM) with a weight you feel comfortable with in the long-run, as you want to be able to perform controlled movements which also keeps other muscle groups engaged.

Muscles worked: Upper Back (Rhomboids), Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi), Erector Spinae, Biceps, Deltoids and Core

 

Inverted Row

The precursor of the underhand grip inverted row, the inverted row is performed in exactly the same was as the former but with a pronated (overhand grip).

By performing this exercise with an overhand, instead of an underhand grip, the majority of the load will be placed through the upper and middle back with less emphasis on the biceps and forearms.

This means you’ll be able to target your back muscles a lot more effectively making this a great variation exercise to have in your toolkit when you are lacking equipment at home or at the gym.

Muscles worked: Upper Back (Rhomboids), Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi), Trapezius, Deltoids, Biceps and Forearms

 

Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown is another great multi-joint exercise you can perform to build a stronger, wider back.

Not only is this exercise designed to specifically target your lats, but you’ll also be incorporating your rear deltoids, biceps and forearms as well in order to execute this movement.

Performed seated by pulling a bar attachment from above your head down to your upper chest region, the lat pulldown has many functional benefits that can help build the necessary strength to perform other related movements.

This includes things such as pull-ups and swimming which both heavily engage the lats and the same secondary muscles to perform effectively.

It’s also been a staple exercise in the regimen of many of the greatest lifters to ever grace a bodybuilding stage, so you’ll be hard-pressed not to incorporate this into your next back workout.

Muscles worked: Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi), Upper Back (Rhomboids), Rotator Cuff, Trapezius, Rear Deltoids, Biceps and Forearms

 

Seated Cable Rows

As the name suggests, seated cable rows involves you performing rows using a cable-assisted machine whilst seated.

This is another fantastic multi-joint movement designed to target your upper and middle back whilst also involving your rear deltoids, biceps and forearms.

Whilst the same muscles are targeted as a lat pulldown, with all rowing motions, greater emphasis is placed on building overall muscle thickness in the back as opposed to width.

Seated cable rows are another great exercise that has been tried and tested by many of the best bodybuilders over the years, and is one you should look to complement with the lat pull down for an effective compound back workout.

Muscles worked: Upper Back (Rhomboids), Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi), Trapezius and Biceps.

 

Best Compound Lifts for Chest

 

Incline Barbell Bench Press

The incline barbell bench press is one of the best compound lifts to perform for a fuller chest.

When you set an exercise bench to an angle of 30 – 45 degrees, you’ll be targeting your upper pectorals (more specifically, the clavicular head) which is often a neglected part of the pectoralis major.

Training this muscle will help you build an all-round, complete chest particularly if you already incorporate a standard flat bench press in your workout regime.

Not to mention:

Your shoulders and triceps will also be engaged in this exercise making it a good multi-joint lift to perform for increased size and strength.

Finally, one of the benefits of using a barbell over dumbbells for this exercise is the increments in weights you can go up with as you begin to progressively overload the muscles.

Often you can add between 1.25kg – 2.5kg of incremental weight each side as you become more accustomed to this exercise.

However, when using a dumbbell, you often don’t have this luxury with most dumbbells going up in 4kg increments (each side), making it a lot harder to perform and potentially throwing your technique off and causing long-term injury.

As the clavicle head is a lot smaller than the sternal costal head, it’s important to bear in mind that you’ll unlikely be able to lift a lot of weight off your chest in an incline position compared to a flat position.

Muscles worked: Chest (Upper Pectorals), Deltoids, Triceps and Core

 

Decline Barbell Bench Press

The decline barbell bench press is another variation of the flat bench press which is designed to change the angle, focus and tension placed on the pectorals.

By setting an exercise bench at angle of 15 – 30 degrees, you’ll automatically place greater emphasis on the lower pectorals, which again, similar to the upper portion of the chest, is an often a forsaken area of the pectoralis major.

This is a great exercise to specifically target the lower region of the chest which often isn’t activated in a standard flat bench press.

As well as this:

Your shoulders, triceps and core will also be tasked to put in some work throughout this exercise (which are also engaged when performing an incline or flat bench press too).

Thus, this variation alongside the aforementioned exercises are great for executing a complete compound workout specifically targeting your chest.

Also, as greater emphasis will be placed on the lower region of the chest, less shoulder activation will occur.

So,

If you are suffering from a longstanding injury, or simply want to take the pressure of your shoulders – the decline barbell bench press should not exacerbate or cause any issues.

Muscles worked: Chest (Lower Pectorals), Deltoids, Triceps and Core

 

Dumbbell Pullovers

If building a bigger chest and back is one of your goals, look no further than the dumbbell pullover.

A commonly performed exercise in the 1970s ‘Golden Era’ of bodybuilding from the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Reg Park and more, the dumbbell pullover is an excellent exercise to build muscle mass on multiple parts of the body.

It is also one of the few exercises to train your serratus which helps improve scapular health and mobility that will assist in performing many ‘pressing’ based exercises.

To get maximum benefit out of this exercise, it’s important to ensure your chest and lats are performing the majority of the lift.

If you’re feeling more tension on other muscle groups, chances are you are performing it incorrectly.

Muscles worked: Chest (Pectorals), Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi), Serratus, Triceps.

 

Landmine Press

The landmine press is a great compound movement that targets the upper chest, as well as engages your core, shoulders and triceps.

There are many variations of this exercise you can perform including standing, kneeling or unilaterally (alternating between each arm) for increased isolation on each pectoral.

The execution of this exercise also has many functional fitness benefits that translates well into specific sports.

This means that the versatility of this exercise can help improve strength, power or all round hypertrophy depending on what your fitness goals and objectives are.

Muscles worked: Chest (Upper Pectorals), Deltoids, Triceps and Core

 

Reverse Grip Bench Press

The reverse grip bench is an often overlooked variation of a standard bench press which helps to increase upper pectoral activation.

This exercise is performed in exactly the same way as a usual flat bench press – but as the name suggests – a reverse grip bench press involves using an underhand (reverse) grip on either a dumbbell or barbell as opposed to a usual overhand grip.

According to one study, performing a reverse grip bench press increased the recruitment of muscles fibers in the upper pectoral region by 25% – 30% when compared to a regular grip. Bicep activation also increased substantially when using a reverse grip. 

The reverse grip bench press is a great movement to perform if you’re particularly prone to shoulder injuries.

The external rotation of your wrists will place less strain on the shoulder joints and wrists which will force your chest and biceps to perform the majority of the lift.

Whilst this exercise might feel awkward at first, it’s important to perform it with less weight in the beginning to nail the technique.

Once you feel comfortable with the movement, you can begin increasing the load.

Muscles worked: Chest (Upper Pectorals), Deltoids and Biceps

 

Flat Dumbbell Bench Press

The flat dumbbell bench press is an exercise that most are familiar with.

Whilst the same muscle groups will be targeted when performing a bench press using dumbbells, namely the pectorals, deltoids and triceps, there are many advantages of using dumbbells instead of a traditional barbell.

Firstly,

One of the key benefits of using dumbbells is greater stability is needed at the shoulder/shoulder girdle which will help strengthen the stabilising muscles.

This in turn will benefit other pressing-based exercises such as the military press or clean and press.

Also,

As dumbbells work independently, each arm is responsible for pressing both dumbbells up using its own muscle mechanism without the limitation of being in a fixed position (unlike a barbell).

This allows each side to develop equally and vary the angle at which the weights are pressed for greater range of motion, pectoral activation or intensity.

Finally,

The freedom of using dumbbells without being limited in movement means you can performing this exercise unilaterally (one side at a time), this will have the added benefit of engaging your core too if this is an additional focus.

Muscles worked: Chest (Pectorals), Triceps, Deltoids and Core.

 
 

Best Compound Lifts for Shoulders

 

Arnold Press

The Arnold press is another classic compound lift specifically targeting all 3 heads of the shoulders – the anterior (front deltoid), medial (side deltoid) and the posterior (rear deltoid).

If racking up 7 Mr Olympia World Titles, becoming The Terminator and governing an entire state wasn’t enough, the legend that is Arnold Schwarzenegger also popularised this exercise in his heyday which has been rightfully named after him.

The main benefit of this exercise is the fact that you are getting a ‘complete’ shoulder workout.

It incorporates a standard dumbbell press above the head which engages the anterior deltoid, but by adding in a rotating motion as you press up, you’ll naturally hit both the medial and posterior deltoid.

You also reap many of the benefits of a traditional dumbbell press in that the triceps and traps will get a workout too, but you’ll also be working your rotator cuffs to for additional strength and mobility.

Thus, the Arnold press, is a great compound lift to perform for fuller, bigger shoulders and arms.

Muscles worked: Deltoids, Triceps, Rotator Cuff and Trapezius

 

Upright Row

The upright row is a superb compound movement to increase size and strength of the shoulders, namely the anterior and lateral head of the deltoids.

This exercise also targets your trapezius, rhomboids, biceps and forearms as secondary muscles, as well as engaging your core giving you a great upper body workout.

It is important to maintain quite strict form to ensure you are lifting the load through the shoulders at the top of the movement rather than your biceps and forearms for greater emphasis on the shoulders.

The upright row is also one of the best exercises to perform for building bigger traps, but is easily performed incorrectly.

If you’re looking to work a bit more of your traps, be sure to use a narrower grip, as the wider your grip is, the more posterior shoulder activation is recruited.

Muscles worked: Deltoids, Upper Back (Rhomboids), Trapezius, Biceps, Forearms and Core

 

Push Press

The push press is a great compound movement to build size and strength in the shoulders.

It is performed in the same way as a standard military press in that you’ll be pressing weight above your head to target your deltoids.

However,

The main difference with the push press exercise is the ‘dip and drive’ motion leading up to the press.

With a barbell resting on your upper chest and your elbows tucked to your side, you’ll slowly dip your legs to brace your upper body (namely the shoulders, triceps and core) to drive the weight up and over your head to complete the press.

This is an excellent exercise to increase the load on your shoulders as it is all too common hit a road block on a standard military press when you begin to increase the weight.

Why?

The heavier the weight you are lifting, the likely you are to sacrifice form/technique in a fixed range of motion which can increase the likelihood of injury (particularly on the lower back) when performing the military press.

With that said:

This becomes less of an issue when performing the push press as you’ll use the momentum from the dip to drive and press the weight above your head allowing you to go heavier over time without compromising your form/technique following the greater fluidity of movement.

Muscles worked: Deltoids, Triceps, Rotator Cuff, Trapezius, Core, Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes and Calves

 

Seated Dumbbell Press

Unlike a standard military press or push press, the seated dumbbell press (as the name suggests), entails pressing dumbbells overhead whilst seated.

Contrary to the former, the seated dumbbell press requires you to lift with much stricter form and shoulder strength as possible, since being in a seated position removes any increased core stabilisation and leverage from dipping the knees.

This has the benefit of deliberately taxing the shoulders with more resistance, but will also call for the triceps and trapezius to put in additional work to support the press, thereby increasing their overall recruitment.

In addition:

As this variation requires less core stability and strength, you’ll be able to fatigue the deltoids a lot more effectively before your core gives out (which is often the biggest contributor of failure/weakness in performing a standing variation).

Muscles worked: Deltoids, Triceps and Trapezius

 

Dumbbell Neutral Grip Shoulder Press

If you frequently experience shoulder pain or discomfort when performing a few of the above shoulder-based exercises, then the dumbbell neutral grip shoulder press could be the compound variation movement for you.

The dumbbell neutral grip shoulder press can be performed either seated or standing which involves grabbing a pair of dumbbells (with both palms facing each other) and pressing the weights above your head.

By gripping the dumbbells this way, you naturally reduce excessive external rotation of the shoulders.

This has the benefit of minimising the amount of stress you place on the shoulder joint, whilst also maximising strength, mass and endurance as the movement is performed in the same way as a standard military/dumbbell press.

When performing this exercise standing, you’ll also target the same muscle groups as you would when executing a military press, making this a great full body compound lift whilst keeping tension on the shoulder joints to a minimum.

Muscles worked: Deltoids, Triceps, Rotator Cuff, Trapezius, Core, Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes and Calves.

 

Dumbbell Bent Over Lateral Raise

The dumbbell bent over lateral raise primarily targets the rear (posterior) deltoids located on the back of the shoulders.

For most people, 

This is often the most undeveloped part of the shoulder compared to the other parts of the shoulder muscle, such as the front (anterior) and side (medial) deltoid.

Thus,

The dumbbell bent over lateral raise will help develop large, well-rounded shoulder muscles, so it’  important to not neglect them.

Because you’ll be moving dumbbells out laterally with the upper torso bent at varying degrees, the upper back and trapezius will play a supporting role in executing this movement, giving you another compound lift to use in your shoulder development arsenal.

The beauty of this exercise, like many other shoulder exercises, is that it can be performed either seated or standing, but will often require lighter weights to perform due to the size of the posterior deltoid.

All-in-all, training the posterior deltoids will yield significant benefits for other pushing and pulling-based movements, improve overall shoulder stabilisation whilst simultaneously working other muscle groups.

Muscle worked: Rear and Lateral Deltoids, Upper Back (Rhomboids) and Trapezius.

 
 

Best Compound Lifts for Legs

 

Romanian Deadlifts

The Romanian deadlift (also abbreviated as RDL) is an excellent deadlift variation which targets the same prime movers as a traditional deadlift.

Unlike a normal deadlift where greater focus is placed on the concentric (lifting) aspect of the movement, RDLs place more emphasis on the eccentric (lowering) phase of the lift.

This means that you often won’t be able to lift the same amount of weight when performing a RDL compared to a standard deadlift, as the former has a diverse biomechanic make-up such as a shorter range of motion and hip hinge compared to the latter.

With that said:

RDLs are commonly used more of an ‘accessory lift’ to a traditional deadlift to really increase hypertrophy and strength in the hamstring and glutes. This is often applied with submaximal loads.

One of the key benefits of performing RDLs is the increase in pulling strength you’ll develop.

Many athletes will perform heavier RDLs in place of conventional deadlifts to increase glute, back, and hamstring activation while limiting the amount of stress placed on the lower back.

Muscles worked: Hamstrings, Glutes, Upper Back (Rhomboids), Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi), Lower Back (Erector Spinae), Trapezius, Forearms and Core.

 

Goblet Squats

The globlet squat is a versatile compound movement for your legs that yields the same benefits of performing a conventional bodyweight squat.

Goblet squats are a great exercise to enhance squat strength as well as improve your overall movement, technique and control.

The good thing about goblet squats is that they can be performed either by holding a kettlebell, dumbbell or any other weight between your hands which means they can practically be performed anywhere.

If that wasn’t enough:

The position of your body in a goblet squat means that you will have to maintain a strict thoracic spine to keep your torso upright and well-balanced.

This has the knock-on effect of improving your postural strength when performing squats (particularly if you are just starting on your squatting journey as a beginner) and enhancing overall core strength.

Muscles worked: Quadriceps, Glutes, Upper Back (Rhomboids), Biceps, Forearms, Deltoids and Core.

Leg Press

The leg press is a machine-based, lower body exercise designed to build size and strength primarily in the quadriceps.

However,

Depending on the positioning of your feet and the width of your stance, you can also effectively target the hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors making it a really effective compound exercise for legs.

The leg press simulates the same movement of a conventional squat, but significantly reduces the load on your back.

If you’re a beginner, this has the benefit of allowing you to develop the strength to perform squats more efficiently under ‘safer’ conditions.

And if you’re a bit more experienced:

The leg press is an effective exercise to add to your arsenal for additional volume to maximise hypertrophy of the lower body whilst keeping additional wear and tear on the rest of the body to a minimum.

Finally,

The leg press is also a good exercise to perform during rehabilitation from injury to ensure you’re still able to build and develop lower body strength.

So all round, you can’t go wrong with this exercise.

Muscles worked: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes and Hip Flexors

Barbell Hip Thrust

The barbell hip thrust is a bilateral compound lift that is used to specifically target the glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings.

This exercise can be used as a primary, corrective or an accessory movement to develop and build overall glute and hip extension size and strength.

Performing the barbell hip thrust also helps to build greater power and explosiveness of the legs. This is because the glutes are designed to extend the hip or pull your leg(s) behind your body which are important components of many functional movements.

If this area is undeveloped (which often is the case with men), your speed, power and explosiveness will all be compromised as a result.

This effectively spirals into squats and deadlifts which will also be weaker and can affect your vertical jump as well as sprinting if these are areas you are also looking to improve in.

Thus,

The barbell hip thrust is one of many important compound exercises for legs you should be performing regularly.

Muscles worked: Glutes, Quadriceps, Hamstrings and Core

 

Bulgarian Split Squat

Quite often:

Single-leg exercises are neglected by many lifters.

Why?

Time is of the essence when it comes to tight schedules these days.

However,

The Bulgarian split squat is one of the most effective lower body exercises to fire up multiple muscle groups including the quads, hamstrings, glutes and also helps to develop greater core strength and stability.

In particular:

This exercise can be performed with dumbbells, a barbell or no equipment whatsoever. All you need is a simple platform to elevate your rear foot and you’re good to go.

Plus,

It doesn’t take much to feel a good burn with this exercise, making it a great option to perform whilst at home, travelling or in a place with limited equipment.

Muscles worked: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes and Core

 

Best Compound Lifts for Abs

 

Hanging Leg Raises

This is an intermediate compound abdominal exercise which can significantly improve your overall functional strength and develop bigger, stronger abs.

As the name entails, the hanging leg raise is performed by hanging from a bar so that your torso and legs are able to hang freely below.

You then raise both legs to a point that fully contracts your abs (usually at 90 degrees).

This exercise is typically more demanding on the abdominal muscles compared to a hanging knee raise as you’ll need to raise the entire weight of your legs as opposed to the quadriceps (upper thigh) only.

If that wasn’t enough:

It is also a great exercise to engage your hip flexors where a lot of quadricep strains often come about as a result of weak hip flexor muscles.

Additionally,

As you’ll be hanging directly from a bar, you’ll be developing stronger grip strength through the forearms thereby improving your performance on other pulling-based movements that involve good grip strength.

This includes exercises such as deadlifts, pull ups and bent over rows.

Muscles worked: Rectus Abdominis, Obliques, Hip Flexors and Forearms.

 

Push Up With Dumbbell Row

The push up with dumbbell row combines two compound exercises into one.

By performing both a push and dumbbell row simultaneously, you’ll be targeting multiple muscle groups that each of these exercises will normally work on their own.

But here’s the kicker:

When you are transitioning from a push up into a dumbbell row, the stability required to row one arm will fire up your abdominals and obliques making this a fantastic compound abdominal exercise.

But wait – there’s more:

Not only does this exercise increase all round intensity and charge up your core stabilisers, you’ll also be targeting the middle of your back (latissimus dorsi).

When performed properly and with good form, the push up with dumbbell row is one of the most effective and efficient upper body exercises to perform.

Muscles worked: Chest (Pectorals), Triceps, Deltoids, Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi), Rectus Abdominis and Obliques.

 

Bird-Dog (From Push Up Position)

The bird-dog exercise from a push up position is an excellent full body exercise which helps to build greater strength and stability of both your mid-section and lower back.

However,

As the move requires you to lift an opposing arm and leg in the air, you’ll also engage your glutes and erector spine making this a great compound core exercise.

This exercise allows you to develop greater control over your body as well as build better range of motion and stability. 

To reap the full benefit of the bird-dog exercise, it’s important to focus on moving your body as a whole as opposed to isolating certain muscles or the movement itself.

This will allow you to establish a better mind-muscle pattern and use your body as the full sum and not by its parts which will also translate into greater muscle strength and hypertrophy.

To make this exercise even more difficult, consider lifting a pair of light dumbbells off the floor when you raise each arm to build shoulder size and strength alongside targeting your abdominals and glutes.

Muscles worked: Rectus Abdominis, Obliques, Erector Spinae, Lower Back, Hamstrings and Glutes.

 

Cable Chops

Cable chops are a unique compound exercise in that it can develop greater core strength, increase muscular size and strength of the abdominals as well as simulate certain rotational movements (such as wood-chopping, swinging a bat and so on).

More specifically:

In relation to the latter characteristic,

Performing cable chops can help focus on specific training needs in specialised fields of sport making it a great exercise for developing functional fitness. 

Whilst this exercise predominately targets the abdominals (core stabilisers) and obliques (rotational muscles), the shoulders, arms, back and glutes are also deployed during the movement.

Thus,

Cable chops are an excellent multi-joint exercise to perform for an effective compound workout.

Muscles worked: Rectus Abdominis, Obliques, Hip Flexors, Deltoids, Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi/Scapular), Biceps, Forearms.

Swiss Ball Pike

The Swiss ball pike is a full body exercise which not only targets your abdomen and hip flexors, but also puts your shoulders, arms, lower back and legs through its paces.

This is because you’ll need to stabilise your entire body on a movable object (a Swiss ball) which requires more muscle recruitment to complete this exercise effectively.

Therefore,

Not only is the Swiss ball pike a fantastic exercise to build a stronger core, but the very nature of the movement will also help improve your balance, coordination and stability which can easily translate to other compound-based exercises.

With that said:

The Swiss ball pike is an advanced variation of a traditional ‘exercise ball pull-in’ which only specifically engages your abdomen region.

So if you are new to this exercise, practice with this exercise first before performing the Swiss ball pike.

If you are a bit more experienced, try adding in a push up as you roll the ball back to it’s starting position to also engage your chest and triceps for a greater upper body focus.

Muscles worked: Rectus Abdominis, Hip Flexors, Deltoids, Biceps, Triceps, Lower Back, Quadriceps, Hamstrings and Glutes.

 

Turkish Get Up

The Turkish get up is a functional, full body compound movement which relies on the employment of many muscle groups (especially the abdominals) to perform.

Not only is this exercise primed to develop greater core strength, but the very nature of the movement will also increase muscular stability, mobility and balance across the board for a complete workout.

In particular:

As you’ll be holding a weight over your head (usually a kettlebell), you’ll increase unilateral shoulder strength, size and stability of the due to the demands placed upon the rotator cuff and upper back muscles.

Also,

This exercise requires excellent spinal alignment and the need for a strong core (which is required at almost every stage of the lift) in order to support the shoulder.

This, in turn, forces you to develop the right technique for an overhead load.

Because this exercise works almost all of the major muscle groups (trust me, your abdomen, shoulders and upper back will be trembling like a pig at a slaughterhouse), it’s important to first get a feel for the lift without any weight.

This is key for establishing the correct body alignment and sequence of movements before you throw a weight into the mix.

Once you can successfully perform this exercise safely, you can begin adding a light weight and slowly progressing to a heavier weight which enables you to perform this exercise safely and without compromising on technique.

Muscles worked: Deltoids, Rectus Abdominis, Obliques, Rotator Cuff, Trapezius, Quadriceps, Hamstrings and Glutes. 

Bonus: Best Compound Lifts at Home

Whilst push ups, squats, dips and pull ups are all staple compound movements of any training program (with or without weights/equipment), below are a few compound variation exercises you can perform at home aside from these common lifts:

Burpees

Every fitness enthusiast’s nightmare.

Burpees have a reputation of making even the most athletic lifters’ stomach churn and are the closest many will get to having a near death experience.

All for good reasons, of course.

But why are they so despised in the fitness community?

Because they’re bloody hard work (but also effective).

Burpees are a high-intensity compound movement that challenges multiple muscle groups across the upper and lower body.

The combination of a push up, squat thrust and explosive jump means not only are you working your arms, chest, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and abs – but the explosive jump at the end also employs your cardiovascular system which improves overall muscle endurance and torches fat. 

The best part is:

Burpees can be performed anywhere with no equipment so there are no excuses not to perform these as the benefits are numerous.

Muscles worked: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves, Middle Back (Latissimus Dorsi), Erector Spinae, Chest (Pectorals), Biceps, Triceps, Deltoids and Core.

 

Pike Push Up

The pike push up is a push up variation which can be performed at home with no equipment which is designed to place more load onto the shoulders (through positioning the body vertically, similar to the swiss ball pike position).

This is a great exercise for building shoulder size and strength as well as improving overall core stability.

If that wasn’t enough:

Whilst this exercise is primarily focused on developing the shoulders, your chest, triceps and back also play a key part in performing this movement making it a well-rounded upper body lift.

Pike push ups are a great exercise to help you progress into a handstand push up.

Because of the fluidity of this exercise, it can easily be adjusted for beginners or for advanced lifters.

As you build your strength with this exercise, you can slowly begin to lift your feet up to higher positions (using benches, chairs or even the wall) in order to increase the level of difficulty.

Muscles worked: Deltoids, Triceps, Upper Back (Rhomboids) and Core.

 

Spider-Man Push Ups

Whilst this exercise won’t turn you into Spider-Man himself, the fact that this push up variation is a complete multi-joint exercise targeting your chest, arms, shoulders, core as well as your hip flexors and legs, you’ll no doubt build some serious superhero size and strength.

The Spider-Man push up is also a fully functional exercise.

As you’ll be performing this movement primarily balanced on three parts of the body with one leg extended up to your side, you’ll naturally be required to stabilise, control and coordinate different muscle groups in unison.

In turn:

This helps develop greater muscular balance, strength and coordination making it the perfect exercise to address any muscle imbalances.

Finally,

The Spider-Man push up also has the benefit of improving your anti-rotational core strength. By developing this, you prime your body to resist sudden changes in movement which long-term will help prevent any injuries.

Muscles worked: Chest (Pectorals), Triceps, Deltoids, Rectus Abdominis, Obliques, Hip Flexors, Quadriceps and Core.

 

Pistol Box Squat

The pistol box squat is a unilateral, lower body compound exercise that develops single-leg hypertrophy, strength, balance and mobility.

Whilst this exercise falls within the same bracket of a squatting movement, it’s a variation of a standard (bilateral) squat in that it requires significant mobility, coordination and strength to support your weight on one foot.

Also:

As you’ll be ascending/descending from a seated position (at 90 degrees) using a chair, bench or plyo box, there is little room to cheat as it requires a greater depth in order to work your leg effectively.

If you’re a beginner of this exercise, it is easier to use a rocking motion to perform the pistol box squat if you struggle to lift yourself up on a single leg.

You can use this motion to gain a slight momentum in order to use concentric strength to complete the movement.

Muscles worked: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves and Core.

 

Jumping Lunges

Jumping lunges are an advanced variation of a standing walking lunge that focuses on unilateral plyometric explosiveness to develop strength, size and endurance of the legs.

As this exercise relies on a transitional jump by alternating legs in the air before your feet touch the floor, it will help develop dynamic stability, coordination and balance.

When performed correctly, jumping lunges targets your quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, glutes and calves.

It is also a fantastic exercise which is applicable across many sports and disciplines making it a great functional movement to incorporate into your training. 

With that said:

The jumping lunge can help improve knee, hip and ankle stability, particularly during ballistic and dynamic joint movements which is essential for preventing injury and improving athletic performance.

Muscles worked: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Hip Flexors Glutes, Calves and Core.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can compound exercises burn fat?

As compound exercises rely on several muscle groups to work together simultaneously, they usually require a significant amount of energy expenditure. This, in turn, can lead to fat loss provided you are also in a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you are consuming).

Can compound exercises build big arms?

Provided you’re performing the staple exercises of squats, deadlifts, bench press, military press, pull ups and bent over rows, your arms, although not the primary muscle worked in these exercises, will still be employed as a secondary muscle group which can increase its overall size.

Can compound exercises build abs?

Similarly with arms, if you’re performing the staple compound movements, you’ll work your core as a secondary muscle group which can help build abs. However, there are specific compound lifts for abs you can do to target them directly.

Can I do compound exercises every day?

You can build a well-rounded physique by performing compound lifts daily. However, in order to avoid injury or burnout, it is better to have 2 or 3 days of rest during the week to allow your muscles enough time to recover.

Can I do compound exercises with dumbbells?

Compound workouts can be performed with any sort of resistance, including dumbbells.

Can I just do compound exercises?

Depending on your fitness goals, you can just perform compound lifts for a well-rounded physique. However, it’s likely that muscle imbalances can still occur, so supplementing your training with isolation exercises as well can be beneficial.

Will compound exercises build muscle?

Provided you are progressively overloading your muscles with more resistance over time, compound lifts will help to build muscle.

Will compound exercises get me ripped?

Provided you are training in a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you are consuming), compound lifts are likely going to help you get ripped as it relies on multiple muscle groups to perform which helps burn a lot of calories.

Which compound exercises burn the most calories?

Generally speaking, compound movements which require the most muscle recruitment such as squats, deadlifts, bent over rows and clean and press will burn the most calories.

What compound exercises should I do?

Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced trainer, you’ll always get good bang for your buck by performing the staple compound lifts such as: squats, deadlifts, bench press, military press, pull ups, dips and bent over rows.

What compound exercises work abs?

The following compound lifts will work abs:

· Hanging Leg Raises

· Push Up with Dumbbell Row

· Bird Dog (From Push Up Position)

· Cable Chops

· Swiss Ball Pike

· Turkish Get Ups

What compound exercises work the biceps?

The following compound lifts will work biceps:

· Chin Ups

· TRX Bicep Curls

· Inverted Row (Underhand Grip)

· Zottman Curls

What compound exercises work traps?

The following compound lifts will work traps:

· Military Press

· Clean and Press

· Arnold Press

· Upright Rows

· Push Press

What compound exercises work rear delts?

The following compound lifts will work rear delts:

· Bent Over Rows

· Pull Ups

· Lat Pulldowns

· Seated Cable Rows

When should I do compound exercises?

Compound exercises can be performed at any time in the day. However, it is far better to perform compound workouts up to 3 or 4 times a week to give your body enough time to rest and repair.

How many compound exercises should I do per workout?

This depends on what your fitness goals are. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim for at least 2 – 3 exercises for smaller muscle groups such as your arms, and 3 – 5 exercises for larger muscles groups such as your legs or back.

For smaller muscle groups, you usually don’t need to perform many exercises to stimulate them for growth. However, for larger muscle groups, you’ll often need to hit them at different angles in order to maximise hypertrophy and induce muscular stress.

How many compound exercises are there?

As mentioned in the main article, any exercise which works multiple muscle groups simultaneously is a compound exercise. This means there are hundreds of compound movements (including variations) which you can perform.

How should I split compound exercises?

This depends on your level of experience and what your goals are.

A common split is focusing on upper body one day and lower body the next. Alternatively, you can perform full body workouts three times a week or split your exercises into a dedicated push/pull/leg day with a day of rest in between.

How many sets of compound exercises should I do?

If you’re looking to build muscular size, you should use moderate resistance and aim for 3 or 4 sets with 10 – 12 reps. A good training plan to follow is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘Golden Six’ program.

If you’re looking to develop strength and power, you should use heavy resistance and aim for 5 sets with 5 reps. Our favourite training plan to develop strength is Stronglifts 5×5.

How do I do compound exercises at home?

You can perform compound lifts at home with little to no equipment and using your own bodyweight. You’ll need to ensure you can exercise in a room (or a garden) with enough space to move around freely.

A few examples of compound lifts you can perform at home include:

· Burpees

· Pike Push Ups

· Spider-Man Push Ups

· Pistol Box Squats

· Jumping Lunges

What compound exercises work shoulders?

The following compound lifts work shoulders:

· Arnold Press

· Upright Rows

· Push Press

· Seated Dumbbell Press

· Dumbbell Neutral Grip Shoulder Press

· Bent Over Lateral Raises

Why are compound exercises important?

Compound exercises are important because they help improve all-round muscular balance, core strength and promote greater hormone release.

Compound movements also train you to use your body as a sum of all its parts which can help reduce the risk of injury and increase functional fitness levels in the long-run.

Why do compound exercises build more muscle?

Compound exercises build more muscle because they create greater hormonal responses which leads to faster muscle growth.

As more muscle groups are recruited and broken down during compound lifts, your body releases greater testosterone and insulin-like growth factors in order to repair micro-tears to muscle fibers.

Therefore, in the long-run, you end up building more overall mass than you would have by simply performing isolation exercises.

Are compound exercises good for weight loss?

As compound movements work multiple muscle groups, they help to develop muscle mass a lot faster. As a result, by increasing your muscle mass you naturally improve your resting metabolism.

Over time, this can lead to your body burning calories a lot faster which can lead to weight loss.

Are compound exercises better?

Compound lifts are effective because they can be performed to give you the most bang for your buck in the gym or at home.

However, there are limitations to compound-only exercises. This includes developing muscular imbalances and/or increased joint stress.

Depending on what your fitness goals are, compound exercises could be better than isolation exercises in the context of what it is you’re trying to achieve (overall muscle size or corrective muscle imbalances – which ever is a focus for you).

Are compound exercises the best for building mass/bulking?

Performing compound exercises can help you put on muscle mass a lot faster due to the heightened stress placed on multiple muscle groups.

Ultimately, consuming more calories than you burn will lead to weight gain. However, compound lifts will help you build muscular size and strength in larger muscle groups in the long-run.

Are compound exercises better than isolation exercises?

Not necessarily.

Isolation exercises have their place in all training programmes.

They’re a lot more effective at targeting specific muscle groups which compound lifts might not be able to do and help correct any muscular imbalances in the process.

Should I perform compound exercises first?

This depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

A common technique used in training for muscle size is to ‘pre-exhaust’ your target muscle with an isolation exercise and to then superset with a compound movement to fatigue your muscle further, forcing them to grow.

Alternatively,

Others find it beneficial to perform compound movements first to ensure smaller muscle groups do not fatigue so that they can lift heavier weights over a set amount of sets or reps.

When to perform compound lifts is entirely down to goals/preference.

Closing Off

There you have it:

A complete guide on compound exercises – what they are, it’s many benefits and the compound movements that will help you build muscle fast.

Now over to you…

What is your favourite, or least favourite compound exercise?

Were there any other great compound lifts we missed?

Let us know in the comments section below.

We’d love to hear from you!