Compound Exercises To Base Your Training Around

Regardless of your goal, whether it be developing strength or losing weight, strength training will play an important role.

Without going into great depth, overcoming resistance will cause great neural and physiological changes and allow the muscles to contract more powerfully.

For weight loss, studies have shown that resistance training is extremely advantageous and can lead to sustainable long term changes.

However, with so many pieces of equipment and exercises to choose from, it can all become a bit daunting. It doesn’t have to be this way.

This article will highlight six compound exercises that you should base your training around and ultimately allow you to attain your training goal.


Compound vs Isolation

Before outlining the big six exercises, let’s briefly consider what it is that makes these particular exercises so effective.

There are two types of resistance exercise – compounds and isolations.

Compound exercises (or multi-joint exercises) require movement across more than one joint which places demand on many muscle groups.

A squat is an example of a compound exercise as movement occurs around the hip, knee, and ankle joints. As a result, the glutes, quads, and calves contract.

Isolation exercises (or single-joint exercises) require movement from one joint only which places all of the demand on one muscle group.

A bicep curl is an example of an isolation exercise as movement occurs only through the elbow joint which causes the biceps to contract.

Why is this significant?

Well, compound movement will develop multiple muscles at the same time while isolations primarily work one muscle group.

Furthermore, compound lifts also allow you to shift heavier weights than isolations.

This is particularly significant for those who are looking to improve strength as heavy lifting has been found to be most optimal for strength development.

Compounds also burn a greater amount of calories than isolation exercises and can contribute towards the calorie deficit needed for weight loss.

Therefore, if you aspire to make the most optimal progress possible, look to make compound exercises the foundation of your strength training workouts.


The Big Six

Having covered the importance of compound exercises, let’s now cover the six exercises. There are three upper and three lower-based compound exercises listed below.

While the following section outlines the coaching points for the barbell variation of each exercise, they can also be performed with other free weights such as dumbbells and kettlebells.

1) Deadlift

Primary Muscles Worked:

– Glutes (Backside)
– Hamstrings (Rear Thigh)
– Erector Spinae (Back)

How To Deadlift:
  • Start with the feet under the hip and place the feet directly under the bar
  • Keeping the chest up and shoulders back, push the hips backward to tip the trunk forward
  • Grip the bar using an overhand, shoulder-width grip
  • Engage the core to keep the back flat and drive hard through the heels, keeping the bar close to the body throughout
  • Finish by squeezing the glutes to drive the hips to the bar before returning to the floor

2) Squat

Primary Muscles Worked:

– Glutes (Backside)
– Quadriceps (Front Thigh)
– Adductors (Inner Thigh)

How To Squat:
  • Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder width and then place the bar on the meaty part of the upper back
  • Unrack the bar and set the feet slightly wider than hip-width with the toes slightly turned out
  • Drive the chest up, pull the shoulders back, and engage the core
  • Hinge the hips and bend the knees to drop the backside down towards the floor
  • Continue to drop until the thighs are approximately parallel to the floor
  • Drive hard through the floor to return to standing ensuring that the heels don’t lift

3) Hip Thrust

Primary Muscles Worked:

– Glutes
– Quadriceps
– Hamstrings

How To Hip Thrust:
  • Start by placing a bench or box behind the body and a loaded barbell in front of the object. Place a barbell pad around the middle of the bar
  • Sit on the floor with the upper back in contact with the box or bench so that the trunk is approximately at a 45-degree angle from the floor
  • Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width and place the pad on the crease of the hips
  • Bend the knees and place the feet flat on the floor just wider than hip-width with the toes pointed out
  • Brace the core muscles and dig the heels into the floor before driving the hips up until the shoulders, hips, and knees are aligned
  • Squeeze the glutes tightly at the top of the movement before returning the bar to the floor

4) Bench Press

Primary Muscles Worked:

– Pectorals (Chest)
– Anterior Deltoids (Shoulders)
– Triceps (Arms)

How To Bench Press:
  • Start by lying flat on the bench and align the eyes directly under the bar
  • Using a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip, grasp the bar
  • Pull the feet in towards the body, press the heels into the floor, and engage the core
  • Lift the bar off and lower it to the lower chest while preventing the elbows from flaring out
  • Powerfully drive the bar straight back up to the starting position

5) Bent Row

Primary Muscles Worked:

– Latissimus Dorsi (Back)
– Trapezius (Back)
– Biceps (Arms)

How To Bent Row:
  • Start with the feet under the hips, pick the bar up safely from the floor using a shoulder-width, overhand grip
  • Engage the core and hinge the hips so that the trunk tips forward and the bar descends to the knees
  • Keeping shoulders down and elbows tight to the body, pull the bar into towards the hips
  • Squeeze tightly between the shoulder blades before controlling the bar back down to the starting position

6) Overhead Press

Primary Muscles Worked:

– Deltoids (Shoulders)
– Pectorals (Chest)
– Triceps (Arms)

How To Overhead Press:
  • Begin with the feet directly under the hips and grasp the barbell using a shoulder-width, overhand grip
  • Ensure that the bar is touching the upper chest before unracking
  • Step back and, before lifting overhead, engage the core and squeeze the glutes
  • Keeping the bar close to the face, press the bar up and finish with it directly overhead
  • In a controlled fashion, drop the bar back down to the upper chest

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