10 of the best compound exercises for muscle and strength (2023)

If you are just starting yoursempowerment journey, has probably already happened to you during your periodcompound exercises,usually related to something you should be doing, like eating broccoli or watching PBS documentaries.

Exercise experts disagree, but almost everyone agrees that compound exercises are a strength and fitness seeker's best friend.

"Most of the exercises in most people's workouts should be compound," says Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., Beachbody's senior director of fitness and nutrition content.

The sooner you become familiar with these classic gymnastics moves, the quicker you'll make big strides toward your goals.

What are compound exercises?

"Composite exercises are movements that involve multiple joints and engage multiple muscles or muscle groups at the same time," says Thieme.

Consider the overhead press — where you stand and press a weight directly overhead at shoulder height.

As you raise and lower the weight, the elbow and shoulder joints articulate significantly, making it a classic example of thismultiarticular,or connection, exercise.

On the other hand, consider alift sideways, where you hold two dumbbells in front of your legs and lift them out to the side.

Some sort of science might say that other joints move as well - the whole concept of "bone in the foot connects to the bone in the ankle" - but the main movement is in the shoulder joints.

This makes it a unique jointIsolationthe exercise.

Then thesupino,diffraction,squatting,Line, zthrustare all compound movements while thebicep thread, fly with dumbbells andtricep extensionit's all isolation exercises.

Why are compound exercises important?

Why should you focus primarily on compound exercises in your training?

Finally, isolation movements are more targeted, require less coordination, and generally require lifting less weight.

So why not build an entire exercise routine around them?

A few reasons…

1. You train more muscles

Getting back to our side press vs. bench press comparison, the focus of the side deadlift is on a single muscle, specifically the medial (middle) head of the deltoid, orshoulder muscle.

The bench press, on the other hand, works not only the three deltoids, but also the triceps and (to a lesser extent) the upper pecs.

If you're short on time, you can work a lot harder with compound movements.

2. Are more useful

"Muscles rarely function in isolation in the real world," says Thieme. "So it's a more effective way to build, train them, work togetherfunctional strength.“

Functional strength exercises, he explains, build real-world strength and often resemble everyday movements.

Performing the squat is similar to getting up from a seated position while performing an isolation movement like thisleg extensionIt's similar to nothing you would normally do anywhere other than the gym.

Both exercises build muscle—but compound exercises are more transferrable to real-world activity.

3. You burn more calories

Because compound movements engage more muscle (aka "metabolically active tissue") than isolation exercises, they also increase calorie burn to a greater degree.

As a result, a routine that includes push-ups, pull-ups, deadlifts, and lunges will burn more fat than one that includes pecs, straight rows, hamstrings, and leg extensions.

4. They make you stronger

Because compound exercises involve more muscle than isolation exercises, they can be used to move heavier loads.

"This leads to higher 'mechanical tension', which is an important growth stimulus," says Thieme. “And the reason for that is that it creates moreMicro damage in the musclewhich the body repairs and strengthens, making it stronger.”

10 of the best compound exercises

Assuming you don't have any serious injuries or restricted mobility, compound exercises should form the basis of your training.weight training. Here are 10 that can help you maximize muscle growth from head to toe.

1.Bench press with dumbbells

  • Lie on a flat bench and hold a pair of dumbbells directly above your chest with your palms facing forward.
  • Keeping your feet flat on the floor, core engaged and lower back pressed into the bench, slowly lower the weights to the sides of your chest, keeping your elbows at a 45-degree angle to your body (not flared).
  • Pause and press the weights back to the starting position.


Incline Press: Performing this exercise on a bench at a 30-degree angle emphasizes the upper pecs.

Barbell Bench Press: Switching from dumbbells to a barbell increases stability, allowing you to press more weight, but slightly decreases overall muscle recruitment.

2nd height

  • Grab a pull-up bar with a grip that's a little more than shoulder-width apart. Hang at arm's length with your arms straight (a position known as a dead hang) and your ankles crossed behind you.
  • Without bouncing or jumping (using momentum to propel you up), squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull your chest up to the bar (or at least your chin over it).
  • Pause, then lower back to neutral.


heads up: Execute movement with handshake.

Mixed-grip pull-ups: Use an overhand grip with one hand and an overhand grip with the other. Shuffling your grip forces your back, shoulders, and core to work harder to keep you from twisting.

Negative pull-up: Set up a chair, box, or bench so that your arms are slightly bent as you stand up and grab the barbell with a shoulder-width overhand grip. At the same time, jump and pull your upper chest onto the bar, with your legs pointing slightly forward. Pause, then slowly lower yourself to a dead spot (try to allow five seconds for this). Step back onto the chair, box, or step and repeat.

3. Deadlifts with dumbbells

  • Take a pair of dumbbells and hold them at arm's length in front of your thighs, palms facing back. this is the starting position.
  • Keeping your back straight, chest up and core engaged, push your hips back and lower the weights to mid-shin, keeping them close to your body (hips should remain higher than knees).
  • Pause and then return to the starting position.


Romanian Deadlift: Perform the same move keeping your legs almost straight with just a slight bend in your knees.

4. Immersion

  • Grab the handles of a dip station and jump or kick to the starting position: arms straight, chest up, back straight, feet off the floor and ankles crossed behind you. this is the starting position.
  • Keeping your head neutral and your arms close to your body, bend your elbows until your arms are parallel to the floor.
  • Pause and then return to the starting position.


Incline: Instead of crossing your ankles behind you, raise your thighs in front of you so your knees and hips form a 90-degree angle. Keep your legs in this position throughout the exercise.

5.dumbbell development

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart (if necessary, place one foot slightly behind you for stability), hold two dumbbells in front of your shoulders, palms facing each other.
  • Keeping your back straight and core engaged, press the dumbbells directly over your shoulders until your arms are straight and your biceps are by your ears.
  • Pause and then return to the starting position.

6. Transport loaded

  • Standing straight, hold two heavy dumbbells by your sides with your palms facing in. Engage your core (like someone is punching you in the stomach) and pull your shoulder blades back and down.
  • Walk for 20 to 30 seconds to complete a "set".


Carrying a suitcase: Perform the exercise carrying a single dumbbell in one hand. Switch sides at every game.

Overhead Load: Lift two dumbbells directly over your shoulders so your arms are straight and your biceps are close to your ears (make sure your back is straight and your core is tight). Hold this position while walking.


  • Stand tall and hold a pair of dumbbells by your sides, palms facing in, feet hip-width apart.
  • Keeping your chest lifted, looking straight ahead, back straight and core tight, take a big step forward with your right foot and lower your body until your right thigh is parallel to the floor and your left knee is bent 90 degrees.
  • Pause and then return to the starting position.
  • Repeat, this time stepping forward with your left foot. Continue alternating sides on each repetition.


Reverse lunge: Instead of going forward, step back into a lunge position and switch sides on each rep.

Side lunge: Instead of stepping forward or backward, kick your right foot sideways, keeping your left leg straight and lowering your body until your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Switch sides on each rep.


  • Get on all fours with feet together, body straight from head to heels, and hands in line with (but slightly wider than) your shoulders. Squeeze your glutes and tighten your core to keep your body in place.
  • Keeping your elbows in toward your body and your head in line with your spine, lower your body until your chest is a few inches off the floor.
  • Pause, then push yourself back to the starting position.


Incline push-ups: Place your hands on a stable, elevated surface (such as a bench or low wall) rather than on the floor. The higher the surface, the easier the exercise becomes.

Refuse push-ups: Instead of planting your feet on the floor, place them on a stable, elevated surface. The higher the surface, the more difficult the exercise becomes.

9. Dumbbell Rows

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Engaging your core, bend at the waist to push your hips back, bend your knees slightly, and lower your torso until it's almost parallel to the floor. Keep your glutes tight to protect your lower back.
  • Let the dumbbells hang at arm's length with your palms facing each other. Squeeze your shoulder blades to keep your shoulders pulled back (i.e. not hunched). this is the starting position.
  • Without moving your upper body and keeping your elbows bent and your back straight, row the weights sideways while squeezing your shoulder blades.
  • Pause and lower the weights back to the starting position.

10.Squats with dumbbells

  • Stand tall and hold a pair of dumbbells by your sides, palms facing in, feet shoulder-width apart, and toes pointing forward. this is the starting position.
  • Keeping your back straight, chest up and core engaged, push your hips back and bend your knees, lowering your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Pause, then push yourself back to the starting position.
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