The Best Lifting Exercises for Overall Results

Bench presses are an effective compound exercise for the upper body.

Bench presses are an effective compound exercise for the upper body.

Compound exercises enable you to maximize your weight-training results without spending endless hours in the gym. Unlike isolation exercises, which target specific muscles, compound lifts engage multiple muscle groups. These exercises allow you to complete a full-body strength-training workout quickly and efficiently. Get your physician's approval before beginning a weight-training program. Ask a professional fitness trainer for guidance and feedback on proper form when trying an unfamiliar exercise for the first time.


As noted by, deadlifts engage the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, rhomboids, trapezius, rectus abdominus, obliques, erector spinae, levator scapulae, erector spinae, adductor magnus and soleus muscles. In other words, deadlifts provide a comprehensive workout for your butt, legs, back and core. Focus on maintaining proper form during each deadlift. Keep your back and arms straight to avoid muscle strains or other injuries. As with all lifts, increase the weight only if you can do so without sacrificing correct form.


Squats strengthen your entire lower body while also challenging your core muscles. Muscles worked include quadriceps, soleus, gastrocnemius, gluteus maximus, obliques, rectus abdominus, erector spinae and adductor magnus. You may be able to safely perform moderately challenging sets of squats using lighter weight on your own. However, safely performing sets of squats using heavier loads closer to your limit necessitates a knowledgeable spotter's assistance. The spotter can help stabilize the lift or take off some of the weight if necessary.


Bench presses and military presses target upper-body muscles, particularly your chest, shoulders and arms. Both types of presses work the pectoralis, deltoid, biceps and triceps muscles. Military presses engage the trapezius, levator scapulae and serratus anterior muscles as well. For challenging sets, both lifts will likely require a spotter for safety, especially if you're using free weights. Machine lifts or weighted pushups offer a safer alternative for pushing your limits if a spotter is unavailable.


The American College of Sports Medicine suggests performing two to four sets of varied exercises targeting the body's major muscle groups two to three times per week. To increase muscular endurance, perform 15 to 20 reps per set; for better strength and power, perform eight to 12 reps per set. Breathe throughout each lift, ideally exhaling as you lift and inhaling as you lower the weight. Pay as much attention to form in lowering the weight as you do when lifting it, maintaining a slight bend in your limbs throughout each motion. Warm up for and cool down after strength-training workouts with at least five minutes of light aerobic exercise. Stretch worked muscles as part of your cool-down. Rest for at least 48 hours between strength-training sessions. Consider increasing your workout's impact by gradually incorporating additional compound exercises, such as pullups or lat pull-downs, crunches and medicine ball chops.

About the Author

A professional writer since 1997, Harvard graduate and pro rock climber Alli Rainey's articles have appeared in "Climbing Magazine," "Rock & Ice" and "Men's Fitness," among many others. Rainey is also an ACTION certified personal trainer (CPT) and climbing coach.

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