The best compound exercises allow you to stimulate strength and growth in multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Rather than isolating your legs on one day and then moving to your arms or back the next, you combine muscle groups to accomplish more from each exercise session. While you may work harder to complete each movement, you’ll get a great workout in less time, and burn more calories in the process.
Most compound exercises involve secondary muscles needed for basic body support, whereas isolation exercises only exert enough force to target a very specific muscle group. Additionally, compound exercises require moving at least two joints.
To help you start adding more of the best compound exercises into your workout routine, we’ve rounded up some of the best compound moves. Each of these exercises will help you gain strength as long as you’re working out consistently.
This is one of the more basic and best compound exercises, but it does more work than you may realize. In addition to exhausting your tricep muscles, each dip works your shoulder, chest and back muscles.
If you don’t have access to a gym with a dip station, you can do this at home by positioning your body on the edge of a sturdy chair. Hold onto the front edge of the chair with your elbows pointing out behind you. Walk your legs forward until your butt comes off the chair. Your legs should stay straight out in front of your body.
Slowly lower your butt towards the floor, your arms bending behind you and then lifting your body back up. You can pulse up and down, working your triceps with each repetition before easing your butt back onto the chair.
This is a hard movement even for bodybuilders with strong triceps. Start with just a couple dips and work your way up to a full set of 10.
You can do variations of this compound exercise with or without weights, depending on the strength of your arms and legs. Start by learning the movement without weight and then add weight as you feel comfortable.
This exercise can work your entire body in one movement, so you can add it to leg day or any workout for your upper or lower body. It combines a simple squat with an overhead lift, so two familiar movements are combined.
Stand with your legs hip-width apart, or you can take your feet into a wider stance. If you’re using weights, hold them at your sides. Lower into a squat, raise the weights to your shoulders with elbows bent, then push your arms straight up over your head as you straighten your legs out of the squat. Your arms should go right next to your ears while you lift your weights or closed fists directly over your head. Bring your arms back to your sides before starting the next repetition.
This is a fun movement that can get your heart rate going and work up a sweat, adding some cardiovascular benefits if performed with enough energy. You can do it with or without dumbbells, so start without weight and then advance when you feel ready.
Stand with your legs hip-width apart in a standard squat starting position. Bend your arms up to chest level, holding your closed fists or dumbbells right next to your chest, knuckles facing out to the sides. Bend down into a squat, and then punch your right arm out to the left as you straighten your legs out of the squat.
Your arm should fully extend straight across your chest as you rotate your torso, keeping your lower body straight and stable. Think of it as punching the wall beside you. Return your right arm to the side of your chest, and then go back down into another squat. As you rise back up, punch your left arm across your body to the right. Continue squatting and punching to each side.
This movement works your legs, buttocks, abdominals and arms. If you want to burn some calories, make your squats faster and shallower while punching quickly out to each side to make it one of the best compound exercises for that. Get into a rhythm, and it will turn into a cardiovascular exercise with some strength-building benefits.
Now that you’re armed with some strength-building compound exercises, start sprinkling them into your workout routine.