Compound movements use many joints at one time to get the same work done. This means a more efficient, full body workout. It’s so efficient, in fact, that you can work out on a simple three-day cycle, one hour per training and still see good performance gains. Here is how you can benefit from compound movements.

What are Compound Movements?

There are two types of compound exercises. The first would be a classic one, such as squatting or deadlifting. Each exercise uses multiple joints and multiple muscles within one group or more to complete the exercise.

The second type of compound exercise is a combination of two isolated exercises. An isolated exercise might be a bicep curl or a leg extension. Add a shoulder press to your bicep curl, making it a curl and press, and you’ve got a compound movement!

The only people who should be performing isolated movements every training are those higher level bodybuilders who require a program that isolates each muscle to ensure it develops at the rate needed for performing physique competitions.

When it comes to health and wellness, getting stronger or performing athletically, you can get a lot more out of the big, basic movements. The most common compound exercises are:

  • Deadlifts
  • Squats (front, back and overhead)
  • Bench press
  • Lunges
  • Power Cleans
  • Overhead press

There are many more exercises we call dynamic exercises, which are even more effective than compound exercises; but they require a lot more technique and are more complex.

compound movements

Benefits of Compound Movements

Compound exercises can be for more than just getting more done in one exercise.

Burn More

Firstly, you are working more exercises in one repetition, which lasts about two to three seconds. Each repetition of a squat uses the muscles of the core, back, quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves. If done in an isolated program, you might need eight exercises to use all the same muscles.

Contract more muscles at once and each one expends the energy it needs to flex and extend. Each minute spent doing a compound exercises can be four times as efficient at burning calories than isolated exercises are.

Get Stronger

Compound lifts are known as the big ones to get stronger. Overall body strength can be most quickly improved with compound movements because the body moves in these ways naturally, in everyday life. Lifting, reaching, pulling and pushing are natural movements. An upright row, for example, is not.

A program with compound exercises quickly becomes a strength program when you notice how much stronger and taller you feel in a few short sessions. These types of movements also pull out all your weaknesses. A chain of muscles that works together as it would in a deadlift will fall short in one or two aspects, showing you the weaknesses. For example, if your back curves, it is the muscles of the back, or core, that need to be improved to keep up with your hamstrings.


Finally, expect to see some great improvements in your core. All movements that include the extremities require some degree of involvement from the core. The core is the central point of activation for virtually all body movement. Using compound movements includes the core in each exercise.

Rather than sitting in a machine and pushing or pulling, stand up, grab a barbell or dumbbells and perform a few sets of compound exercises to get your core working.

weightlifting belt

Programming Compound Movements

Try a three-day program of compound movements.

Day 1:
Seated OR bent-over rows
Power clean

Day 2:
Front or back squat

Day 3:
Bench press
Strict shoulder press
Overhead squats

This program only uses a total of nine exercises. However, if you perform five to eight sets of each at approximately five to seven repetitions for each, you will notice huge gains in your strength and overall fitness. Rest for about 90 seconds between sets and work at a high enough intensity that your heart rate increases significantly by the last repetition. These basic compound exercises will improve your strength, burn calories and improve overall fitness performance.