You want to build muscle mass —and you want to build it fast!
There are hundreds of different workouts for each muscle group you could spend your valuable time doing, but not all of these exercises are going to maximize your muscle growth. Focusing on effective and efficient strength training can lead to faster results.
This handy-dandy list of the best compound exercises contains 50 muscle-building exercises to efficiently work each muscle group. Rather than focus on isolated movements that take much more time to see results, compound exercises target multiple muscle groups and create more dynamic training.
If you spend your time doing these workouts, you’ll see results much quicker than if you waste your time doing fad or isolation exercises. Of course, taking lactose-free, casein, or paleo protein powders will help.
Want Quicker Results? Here are some effective programs that will help.
If you want even quicker results, we highly recommend going for a paid calisthenics course.
Many of these courses make use of compound exercises in order to maximize efficiency. Many of the best compound exercises you see in the list below are integral to these assorted calisthenic programs.
These effective and valuable programs can be done from the comfort of your own home and are an insanely fast way to build muscle through various techniques, including compound exercises.
Here are our recommended favorites:
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- Workouts with No Gear
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- Hundreds of Videos
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Let’s dive in to some compound lifts that focus on strength training.
The Complete List of Compound Exercises
Compound Chest Exercises
Compound Back Exercises
Compound Ab Exercises
Compound Shoulder Exercises
Compound Leg Exercises
Compound Bicep Exercises
Compound Tricep Exercises
Download our FREE 12-week workout plan. The plan includes a daily schedule, list of exercises, and the number of sets and reps for each exercise.
Compound Vs. Isolation Exercises
Exercises are categorized as either compound (involving more than one muscle group) or isolation (involving a single muscle group).
The difference is clear when you compare two exercises—take the squat and the calf raise, for example.
When you do a squat, you’re engaging your core, glutes, quads, hamstrings, back muscles, and even other small muscles in your upper body and lower back. When you do a calf raise, you’re only engaging your calves.
This is why compound weight-lifting exercises are more efficient. Just 5-7 compound weight lifting exercises can stimulate all the major muscles in a single workout which quickly builds muscle mass, increases weight loss, and improved heart rate. Furthermore, this is just a much more efficient use of time.
With isolation exercises, you’d have to do 15-20 isolation exercises to stimulate the same muscles. So, if you have 3-4 hours to workout each day, by all means, do isolation exercises.
But isolation movements aren’t all bad! They’re great for recovery, target toning, and correcting muscle imbalances. They have a rightful place in every workout! It’s just more efficient to work out your lower and upper body with compound lifts.
What is Compound Exercise?
There’s a little more to “compound exercise” than just having multiple muscle groups involved. So what are compound exercises, and how do they relate to strength and muscle?
Definition of Compound Exercises
Compound exercise refers to the engagement of multiple joints to stimulate entire muscle groups and multiple muscles.
Besides giving you a more effective workout in less time, there are a ton of other benefits to compound exercises. Here are a few based on scientific research:
Additional Benefits to Compound Exercises
In addition, there are several more benefits you could assume based on reasonable logic:
- Decrease in injury due to greater strength
- Increase ability to perform functional movements
- Improve coordination and balance
Why Implement Compound Lifts as Muscle Building Exercises?
If you only have 45-60 minutes in the gym, don’t you want to spend that time doing the best exercises?
Forget the machines and most isolation movements—they focus too much on a narrow range of motion and impractical strength. Instead, we want to focus on functional strength.
The best compound exercises incorporate free weights. Dumbbell and barbells workouts allow your body the full range of motion it needs to naturally grow.
This produces practical strength.
Take for example one of the most well-known compound exercises, the bench press.
Weight lifters who make use of this exercise understand that they are doing far more than just building pectoral muscles when attempting a bench press.
They are activating the elbow and shoulder joints to induce flexibility and mobility. They are also working the supporting muscles in the shoulders, the triceps, and the forearms. By completing relatively common exercises such as the bench press, athletes build functional strength that induces growth in both directly targeted muscles and supporting ligaments.
What is Practical Strength?
The strength to lift the upper body to the bar while doing pull ups, strength to lift boxes and furniture, strength to sit up, or the strength to perform that perfect incline bench press is all practical strength.
Practical strength comes from free movement.
Take the squat, for example- an essential lower body movement.
During the barbell squat, you have to practice balance by using your leg muscles, your core, and even your lower back muscles.
Switch to a smith machine or leg extension machine and now you’re going straight up and down—denying your body the chance to strengthen balancing muscles, core muscles, and other subsidiary muscles.
Don’t waste your time doing ineffective workouts like grip strengths if you want to really get stronger!
This list of the best compound exercises provides you with plenty of variety if you like to keep things fresh.
Are Compound Exercises Useful to Build Mass?
We have already gone through many of the benefits of using compound exercise programs, but there is a nagging question that many of our gym rats might have. Do these exercises help in building mass, if that is the end goal?
The simple answer is yes.
When implementing these exercises into your routine, the body will consistently make use of multiple muscle groups per exercise, which will in turn allow your body to carry a larger weight load. The heavier the bearing load weight, the more your muscles will be broken down when completing heavy weight training.
On top of normal muscle regrowth, compound exercises have also been shown to induce a higher hormonal response, which in turn increases muscle recovery and growth.
The Best Overall Compound Weight-Lifting Exercises:
Remember: it’s not all about sweat and pain. Train smarter, not harder.
Best Compound Exercises With Dumbbells
Here’s a separate list for those who only have access to dumbbells.
Even if you do have a gym with a variety of equipment, there are still plenty of reasons to focus on compound movements with dumbbells:
- Dumbbells help to improve your balance and coordination. You have to activate more muscles (in different ways) to balance the separate weights.
- Dumbbells can help correct any muscle imbalances you have. Take your barbell bench press for example—if you’re feeling weak on your left side, just add an additional 1-2 reps to your left arm during your dumbbell press. After a few weeks, your left side should catch up.
- Safety first. You can go to failure on any set with dumbbells and just drop them when you’re finished—no getting stuck!
- Dumbbells are way more affordable when building a home gym.
- Even when the gym is crowded, you’ll likely still have access to dumbbells. The benches get taken pretty quickly, so you may have to do dumbbell floor press, but it’s better than nothing.
Compound Exercises with Dumbbells:
- Dumbbell Bench Press
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
- Weighted Pull-ups
- Hanging Dumbbell Knee Raise
- Weighted Decline Sit-up
- Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press
- Arnold Shoulder Press
- Bent-Over Reverse Fly
- Lateral Raise
- Front Dumbbell Raise
- Seated Hammer Curl
- Zottman Curl
- Dumbbell Lunge
- Weighted Dips
- Dumbbell Kickback
- Seated Overhead Dumbbell Extension
Sometimes A Little Assistance is required
Going heavy on these compound movements sometimes requires a little assistance. If you are struggling with the final few reps of your bench press, it means you’re doing it right! Make sure when you are hammering out your compound lifts that you are remembering to keep safety in mind.
A spotter, wrist wraps, belt – you name it!
New PBs require new levels of effort, so don’t be afraid to invest. Compound lifts and movements ensure you are using your gym time efficiently, and training smart. By tracking your compound movements, you ensure that essential muscle groups are seeing progress.
Be sure to note your max effort weights and reps for strength training movements such as bench press and pull-ups, so that you give yourself the opportunity to build muscle mass and increase technical skill.
Recap of Compound Exercises
So next time you are planning your workouts, try and incorporate some compound exercises to challenge yourself properly. Instead of isolating the lower back, try a barbell deadlift that will activate all of your back muscles at the same time! Tough out the bent-over row and feel the burn in multiple places. By implementing more compound exercises into your workout regime, it won’t take long before you maximize muscle growth, minimize wasted time, and achieve the strength and muscle goals you have always wanted.
Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. Many times the content is not written by a single author, instead it is usually a team effort.