What Is a Compound Exercise?

Dumbbell squats are effective compound exercises.
i Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

If your schedule is tight and you have to make every minute of your workouts count, compound exercises are for you. When you do compound exercises you move more than one joint and work more than one major muscle group during each exercise. Compound exercises are also recommended if you’re looking to build strength. Do a complete warm-up first, including dynamic stretches of every joint and muscle group you’ll engage during your workout, before you begin your compound exercise routine.

Compound Workouts

    Because compound exercises are so versatile, you can set up a full, compound-only routine. To perform a circuit, select one or two compound exercises to cover each major muscle group and do the exercises consecutively, without rest. Perform the circuit every other day to give your muscles adequate rest. If you prefer shorter but more frequent workouts, select one or two muscle groups to hit per workout and set up four or five workouts per week. Perform fewer reps per set, with heavier weights, if you’re primarily interested in building strength. Do more reps, with lighter weights, to develop muscular endurance.

Arm and Shoulder Exercises

    Compound exercises for the arms and shoulders typically involve both the elbow and shoulder joints. Triceps exercises include the close grip bench press and triceps dips. Shoulder exercises include the shoulder press and upright row. Compound exercises that target the biceps are harder to find, since the standard curl involves only the elbow. You can try the drag curl, which requires some shoulder movement, and include pullups or chin-ups in your routine. The latter two exercises target your back but also provide a strong biceps workout.

Torso Exercises

    You have a variety of bench presses to choose from to strengthen your chest. Do your presses on an adjustable bench to vary your focus. Incline presses, for example, target your upper pectoral muscles, while decline presses emphasize your lower pecs. Bent-over rows or cable rows also offer elbow and shoulder movements while you work a variety of back muscles. Perform leg or leg-hip raises, moving your hips and knees, to focus on your core muscles. Bicycle crunches feature upper and lower body movements to help tone your abs.

Lower Body Exercises

    Lower body compound exercises typically involve movement from your knees, plus the hips or ankles. Squats and lunges provide good overall workouts for your leg and pelvic muscles; hold a pair of dumbbells to increase the resistance. Deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts target your hamstrings but work a variety of lower body and back muscles.

the nest