6 Best Compound Exercises for Building Strength

6 Best Compound Exercises for Building Strength

(Last Updated On: November 15, 2020)

Compound Exercises

Unless you’re a professional bodybuilder, you may have limited time for strength training, yet there’s nothing more important for preserving muscle strength and functionality than working your muscles against resistance. Men and women start to lose muscle mass after the age of 30 and the loss accelerates after middle age and strength training is the best way to preserve muscle and build more. When time is a premium, it’s important to pack as many benefits into the allotted training time as possible. You can do this by including a high percentage of compound exercises in your routine.

What Are Compound Strength-Training Exercises?

Compound exercises are those where you move more than one joint and more than one muscle group at the same time. When you do compound exercises, you work multiple muscle groups at the same time. In contrast, an isolation exercise activates a single muscle group and involves the movement of a single joint. An example of a compound exercise is the deadlift, while biceps curls is an isolation exercise.

Adding more compound exercises to your routine means you get more return on your training time since you’re working more than one muscle with each exercise. Plus, movements, where muscles work together, are superior for improving functional fitness, since they train muscles to work together as a unit rather than in isolation. Compound movements also burn more calories too since you’re working several muscles. For example, deadlifts burn significantly more calories per minute than biceps curls do.

If you’re ready to tackle a few compound exercises, which ones are best? Here are five that should be in your routine.


Squats work multiple muscle groups, including the quadriceps muscles in the front of the thighs, the hamstrings in the back of the thighs, the glutes, and the calves. Plus, your core muscles get in on the action as they help stabilize your body when you squat. However, squats target the quadriceps more than the hamstrings and glutes. Therefore, you shouldn’t make squats the only exercise you do for your hamstrings. Also do hamstring curls, hip thrusts, and glute bridges to increase the focus on the muscles in the back of your thighs.


Lunges, and lunge variations, work multiple muscle groups in your lower body. Like squats, lunges are more effective for building stronger quads than they are hamstring muscles, although your hamstrings get in on the action too when you lunge. You can increase the activation of your hamstrings and glutes more by leaning forward slightly at the waist when you lunge. The walking lunge also shifts more of the focus to the hamstrings.


Deadlifts activate more muscle groups than any other strength training movement. When you deadlift you activate your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core muscles. Even your biceps get some stimulation. In fact, with deadlifts, you work so many muscles that it fires up fat-burning hormones like growth hormone and testosterone, not to mention the extra calorie burn because of the number of muscles you’re working. There are several variations on deadlifts and some, like the trap bar deadlift and sumo deadlift, place less strain on the lower back. Find a variation that works for you.


The muscles in your upper body need training too, and push-ups activate most of these without equipment. All you need is a mat and a little motivation. Push-ups are especially effective for targeting the chest muscles and the triceps, the muscles in the back of your upper arm. Placing your hands closer than shoulder-width apart when you do push-ups increases activation of the triceps muscles and shoulders, while hand placement wider than shoulder-width hits the chest harder. Once you’ve mastered basic push-ups, you can try harder variations, such as push-ups with your legs elevated on a bench.


Dips are one of the best exercises for strengthening the triceps muscles in the back of the upper arms. They also strengthen the pectoral muscles in the chest and shoulders. If you’re a beginner, start by placing your palms on a bench to do the exercise. As you build up strength, increase the challenge by elevating your feet on a bench when you dip. It’s easier to bend your knees when you first start, but as you gain strength, do the movement with your legs straight. Also, the closer your place your hands on the bench when you dip, the more the challenge and the more you’ll feel the burn in your triceps.

Bench Press

The bench press is best known for working the chest, but this compound movement also targets the triceps and anterior deltoids in the front of the shoulders. You can use bench press machine or do bench press on a bench using a barbell or two dumbbells. The exercise is easier if you use a bench press machine since you don’t have to stabilize the weight. The added stability that machines offer enables you to lift more too. The standard hand position for bench press is about shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. Widening the grip more makes the exercise easier and bringing your hands closer makes it harder.

The Bottom Line

When you’re pressed for time, doing a series of compound exercises will give you a workout in the shortest time possible. Plus, including more of them in your routine will boost the calorie burn and increase your workout efficiency. In fact, you can get a complete workout doing only the exercises discussed above. So, take advantage of the fitness benefits that compound exercises offer and get stronger in less time. That’s the beauty of compound exercises and these are the “basic six” that will help you get stronger fast.



On Fitness. September/October 2011.

Stack.com. “Bench Press Grip Guide: How Hand Placement Changes the Exercise”


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The Truth About Weight Loss, Body Fat Burning, and Exercise

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Related Cathe Friedrich Workout DVDs:

STS Strength 90 Day Workout Program

All of Cathe’s Strength & Toning Workout DVDs
Total Body Workouts
Lower Body Workouts
Upper Body Workouts


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