Time-Crunched Strength: Build a Powerful Physique in Less Time with Compound Exercises

Compound Exercises


Are you looking to build strength and sculpt an impressive physique, but find yourself short on time? It’s a common complaint people have – balancing big aspirations and too few hours in a day. The answer to this dilemma lies with compound exercises – the secret weapon of efficient workouts that deliver maximum strength training without stealing all your precious time. By making compound exercises the backbone of your workouts, you’ll build strength and muscle size while still having time left for other things.

The Power of Compound Exercises

If you’re strength training, you’re already doing a variety of compound exercises. If not, you should be! These are multi-joint movements that engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Best of all, they help you get more done in less time. By focusing on exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and pull-ups, you target all your major muscle groups and work more than one at the same time. How efficient is that?

An added benefit is compound or multi-joint movements elevate your heart rate more than isolation exercises. The latter are movements that work a single muscle group or involve movement around one joint. Examples are bicep curls and leg extensions.

Compound exercises offer anabolic benefits you won’t get from isolation movements. Because you’re working large muscle groups and multiple muscles at once, they boost the release of growth hormones and testosterone, anabolic hormones that power up muscle size and strength. Plus, by engaging your core and stabilizer muscles, compound exercises give you another perk – functional strength. These movements will also improve your athletic skills.

What Science Says about Compound Exercises

Compound exercises give you back your time, but how well do they build muscle and strength? A study compared compound versus isolation exercises while keeping total training volume equal in trained men. The compound exercise group performed a bench press, military press, lat pulldown, squat, and a deadlift. The isolation group performed chest fly, shoulder lateral raise, pullover, leg extension, leg curl, etc.

Results? After 8 weeks, the compound exercise group had greater increases in strength on the exercises they trained (squat, bench press, etc). However, both groups had similar improvements in whole-body fat-free mass. The authors concluded that compound exercises may be superior for strength in the specific movements trained, due to neural adaptations, but not necessarily for overall muscle growth when volume is equated.

Efficiency of Compound Exercises

Although compound exercises may not be superior to isolation exercises for building muscle size and strength, their efficiency, and the fact that you’re building functional strength makes them appealing. Picture your typical training session. You might spend 30 minutes on the leg press, another twenty on the chest flies, and then isolate your biceps and triceps for a few more exercises. Before you know it, you’ve been working out for over an hour, and you haven’t even hit your back or shoulders yet!

Now, let’s flip the script. Why not build a workout around power-packed compound exercises? You start with squats, hitting your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core all at once. Then, you move on to bench presses, engaging your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Next you tackle deadlifts, which work your entire posterior chain from your calves to your traps. Throw in pull-ups for your back and biceps and finish off with a set of walking lunges to really get your heart pumping.

Boom! In just five exercises, you’ve hit every major muscle group in your body. Even better, you can easily complete this entire routine in under an hour, even with proper rest between sets. With a compound-focused routine, you can slash your workout time in half while still getting the full benefits. Plus, you’ll be training your body in a more functional way, improving your overall strength and coordination rather than just isolating individual muscles.

The Best Compound Exercises for Muscle Development

So, what are the best multi-joint or compound exercises? Consider adding squats, deadlifts, bench presses, pull-ups, and rows. But why?

Squats work your entire lower body, including your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Plus, when you squat, you engage the core and lower back, so you’re getting comprehensive strength building. Performing squats regularly can lead to significant gains in lower body strength and muscle mass. Not to mention, improved functional fitness and athletic performance.

Deadlifts work a vast array of muscles. From the glutes and hamstrings to the lower back, traps, and even the forearms, deadlifts build raw strength and muscle density while stimulating your body to release anabolic hormones. They also play a crucial role in developing a strong posterior chain, the muscles in the back of your body. When these muscles are strong and balanced with your anterior chain, the muscles in front, you’re at lower risk of injury.

Don’t forget about the bench press! It’s a staple in any muscle-building regimen, especially if you want a strong and muscular upper body. Bench press shines the spotlight on your pectoral muscles, but also engages your shoulders and triceps. It’s an efficient way to build upper body mass and strength. Variations like the incline or decline bench press target various parts of your chest for a balanced chest workout.

Pull-ups and rows are indispensable for back development. Pull-ups, whether you do them with a wide or narrow grip, build the latissimus dorsi, biceps, and upper back muscles. When you add a set of rows, you target the middle and upper back, rear deltoids, and biceps. Both exercises help you build a balanced upper body while building functional strength and enhancing your posture.

The Upsides and Downsides of Isolation Movements

Another downside to isolation exercises: Overdeveloping single-joint muscles by repeatedly working them in isolation can lead to asymmetry and functional imbalances. On the plus side, isolation exercises have their place in your fitness routine too. The benefits of isolation exercises include:

  • The ability to focus on specific muscles for balanced aesthetics and strength.
  • Ideal for addressing muscle imbalances or weaknesses.
  • Rehabilitation and Injury Prevention
  • Controlled movements minimize strain on joints and other muscle groups.
  • Easier to control and perfect form, reducing risk of injury.
  • Allows for fine-tuning of muscle engagement and contractions.
  • Enhances the ability to mentally connect and focus on specific muscles during workouts.
  • Essential for regaining strength post-injury in specific areas.
  • Prevents overuse injuries by distributing workload across workouts.
  • Can be used on lighter training days to allow recovery from compound movements.

What’s the Best Approach?

If you want to build balanced strength, it’s not either-or. Do both compound and isolation exercises! Compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses foster greater hormonal responses that drive hypertrophy and strength gains, but isolation exercises help you “tweak” your approach and build more balanced strength. You can use isolation exercises to work specific muscle groups that are “lagging.”

The best ratio might be to make 75% of your lifts compound ones and 25% isolation movements. With this ratio, you’ll improve your functional fitness while building strength and muscle size.


  • Paoli A, Gentil P, Moro T, Marcolin G, Bianco A. Resistance Training with Single vs. Multi-joint Exercises at Equal Total Load Volume: Effects on Body Composition, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Muscle Strength. Front Physiol. 2017 Dec 22;8:1105. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.01105. PMID: 29312007; PMCID: PMC5744434.
  • Gentil P, Soares S, Bottaro M. Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy. Asian J Sports Med. 2015 Jun;6(2):e24057. doi: 10.5812/asjsm.24057. Epub 2015 Jun 22. PMID: 26446291; PMCID: PMC4592763.
  • Goncalves A, Gentil P, Steele J, Giessing J, Paoli A, Fisher JP. Comparison of single- and multi-joint lower body resistance training upon strength increases in recreationally active males and females: a within-participant unilateral training study. Eur J Transl Myol. 2019 Feb 27;29(1):8052. doi: 10.4081/ejtm.2019.8052. PMID: 31019663; PMCID: PMC6460214.

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