Compound Exercises: The Ultimate Guide

What Are Compound Exercises?

Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that work several muscle groups simultaneously. These exercises are the cornerstone of any effective strength training program, as they allow you to lift heavier weights and build more muscle than isolation exercises. In this article, we’ll dive deep into the benefits of compound exercises and provide you with a list of top exercises you should try.

Benefits of Compound Exercises

Efficient Muscle Building

One of the primary advantages of compound exercises is their ability to target multiple muscle groups at once. This means you can build muscle and strength more efficiently than isolation exercises, focusing only on one muscle group at a time. Not only does this save you time in the gym, but it also promotes overall muscle balance and reduces the risk of injury.

Improved Strength

Compound exercises require multiple muscle groups’ coordination, leading to increased overall strength. As you progress in your training, you’ll find that your ability to lift heavier weights increases, and you’ll see improvements in your performance both in and out of the gym.

Functional Fitness

Functional fitness is all about improving your ability to perform everyday activities efficiently. Compound exercises mimic your body’s natural movements, helping you build strength and mobility that translates directly to real-life situations. This makes them an excellent addition to any fitness routine, regardless of your goals.

Boosted Metabolism

Compound exercises can help increase your metabolic rate, which is essential for burning calories and losing fat. The more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns at rest, making compound exercises a powerful tool for improving body composition.

Top Compound Exercises You Should Try


The squat is a classic compound exercise that targets the lower body, primarily the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. It also engages the core and lower back, making it an excellent full-body movement. To perform a squat, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and lower your body by bending your knees and hips, keeping your chest up and your back straight. Push through your heels to return to the starting position.


The deadlift is another powerful compound exercise that works the entire posterior chain, including the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. To perform a deadlift:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and grasp a barbell with both hands.
  2. Engage your core, and with a straight back, lift the barbell by extending your hips and knees.
  3. Lower the barbell back to the ground by hinging at the hips and bending your knees.

Bench Press

The bench press targets the chest, triceps, and shoulders, making it an essential upper-body compound exercise. To perform a bench press:

  1. Lie on a flat bench with your feet firmly planted on the ground.
  2. Hold a barbell with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Lower the barbell to your chest, keeping your elbows at a 45-degree angle from your body.
  4. Push the barbell back up until your arms are fully extended.


The pull-up is a fantastic compound exercise for the upper body, targeting the back, biceps, and shoulders. To perform a pull-up:

  1. Find a sturdy horizontal bar that can support your body weight.
  2. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Hang from the bar with your arms fully extended, and then pull your body upward until your chin is above the bar.
  4. Lower yourself back down to the starting position.

Barbell Row

The barbell row primarily targets the muscles in your back, biceps, and forearms. To perform a barbell row:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and bend your knees slightly.
  2. Hold a barbell with an overhand grip, and hinge at the hips, keeping your back straight.
  3. Pull the barbell towards your lower chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  4. Lower the barbell back to the starting position.


The push-up is a versatile compound exercise that works the chest, triceps, and shoulders. Begin in a plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Lower your body by bending your elbows, keeping your core engaged and your back straight. Push your body back up to the starting position.


Dips are an effective compound exercise that targets the triceps, chest, and shoulders. To perform a dip:

  1. Find a set of parallel bars and grasp them with your palms facing inward.
  2. Push yourself up until your arms are fully extended, and lower your body by bending your elbows until your upper arms are parallel to the ground.
  3. Push yourself back up to the starting position.

How to Incorporate Compound Exercises into Your Routine

Finding the Right Balance

To make the most of compound exercises, finding the right balance between them and isolation exercises in your workout routine is essential. While compound exercises should form the foundation of your program, isolation exercises can help target specific muscles and address any weaknesses. A good rule of thumb is to focus on compound exercises for 70-80% of your workout and isolation exercises for the remaining 20-30%.

Gradual Progression

When incorporating compound exercises into your routine, gradually increase the weight and intensity as you become more comfortable with the movements. This will help minimise the risk of injury and ensure you maximise the benefits of each exercise.


Compound exercises are essential to any strength training program, offering numerous benefits, including efficient muscle building, improved strength, functional fitness, and a boosted metabolism. By incorporating compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, pull-ups, barbell rows, push-ups, and dips into your routine, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your fitness goals.


Can beginners do compound exercises?

Yes, beginners can and should incorporate compound exercises into their routines. It would be wise to start with lighter weights and focus on proper form to minimise the risk of injury.

How often should I perform compound exercises?

It’s generally recommended to perform compound exercises 2-3 times per week, allowing for at least 48 hours of rest between sessions to ensure adequate recovery.

Can I do compound exercises at home?

Absolutely! Many compound exercises, such as push-ups, squats, and dips, can be done at home with minimal equipment.

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