Compound exercises are defined as any movement that works multiple joints, they also work multiple muscles. They are great for building strength, increasing muscle size, and burning fat, they can also help improve athletic performance. Basically, compound exercises can benefit you no matter what your goals are, hence we’ve developed this article about some best compound exercises.
The same cannot be said of isolation exercises, these are exercises that only work one joint and primarily work one muscle. Isolation exercises can be fantastic for building strength, and can also really help increase muscle size (think bicep curls increasing bicep size). But isolation moves are not great at improving athletic performance in the same way that compound movements are, nor are they great for fat burning.
Considering the many benefits of using compound movements (many programs exclusively use them) it’s perhaps surprising how few people use them in their programs. Or if they do use compound movements they usually use the slightly easier and less effective ones such as chest press machines, leg presses, or lat pull downs.
In this article, we are going to mention a list of compound exercises that you need to start doing in 2021 if you want to see really impressive results. We’ll also look at a way to make the exercise easier, and a way to make them more difficult. This way this compound exercises list will have exercises to suit all abilities.
Exercise #1 The Barbell Deadlift
Probably the best compound exercise out there, the barbell deadlift works more muscles than any other. Set a barbell up on a flat surface with a weight plate on each end. Ideally you want to use proper plates as they are a perfect height. Walk up to the bar and place your feet so that the middle (where you tie your laces) are directly underneath the bar.
Bend your knees until they touch the bar, your feet should be around shoulder width apart with toes turned outwards ever so slightly. Grab the bar with both hands, your elbows should brush your knees as you do so. That way your hands are the right distance apart. By now your back should be hunched over the bar, this is not ideal so push your chest out and pull your shoulders backwards. This will create a nice straight back.
Take a deep breath and pull the bar upwards, waiting until the bar has travelled past your knees before straightening up. At the end of the movement your hips should be pushed forwards and flush against the bar. Breathe out as you do this. Keeping your chest pushed out and shoulders pulled backwards you now want to push your hips backwards and lower the barbell back to the floor. Once the bar touches the floor you have completed the movement.
Benefits: The barbell deadlift will help strengthen muscles in the upper and lower body, it will really help you to improve your posture for other exercises, as it is all about keeping a flat back throughout. Deadlifting will help improve your pulling power, and will also help with your squat. Deadlifts will improve your hamstring flexibility which will help reduce injury risk while running or performing other lower body movements. You’ll also learn how to pick up heavy items safely.
Make it Easier: If you don’t feel comfortable with barbell deadlifts just yet, you can start with kettlebell deadlifts. The weight is lighter, which makes it a lot easier. But also, kettlebells have a handle on the top which really helps you to deadlift it upwards.
Make it Harder: If you’ve already mastered regular barbell deadlifts then the obvious way to make them harder is to use more weight. Alternatively, you could look at attempting different variations of the deadlift. Sumo deadlifts are performed with a very wide stance and with your hands placed between your legs rather than outside them. Then there are deficit deadlifts, which involve placing the bar on a slightly lower surface (best done by standing on a very small and stable platform). This increases the range of motion slightly making the exercise more difficult.
Exercise #2 Pull Up
Without a doubt, the best upper back exercise around. The pull up also strengthens the biceps – particularly when performed with an underhand grip. It can prove to be one of the best compound exercises for arms. Place your hands (use an overhand grip this time) slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Hang from the bar with your chest pushed out slightly. Take a deep breath and then pull your chest up to the bar, pause when your collar bone is in line with the bar.
As you are raising yourself up to the bar try to keep your elbows flared out rather than tucked in. This will engage your lats properly throughout the movement. When you have reached the top, you can slowly lower yourself down again. The slower the better.
Benefits: Pulling yourself up is a fantastic feeling and a great way to low-key show off your strength. They’re also great for your upper back and arms, great for posture, and surprisingly good for your core strength. Keeping your abs braced is essential for perfect form.
Make it Easier: If you have an assisted pull up machine then that would be perfect. Alternatively, you can attach a resistance band to the bar and use that to make the exercise a lot easier. If you can’t manage that then stay on the lat pull down until you’ve either 1) lost enough body fat or 2) gained enough strength to pull yourself up.
Make it Harder: The best way to make pull ups harder is to firstly make sure that your technique is perfect. Nice and smooth on the way up, and then controlled on the way down. Your hips should be stable throughout. If you’re still finding it too easy then a weighted vest is a great way to increase difficulty, this is much better than a weighted belt, as the weight won’t swing wildly and make you put your hips at an awkward angle.
Exercise #3 Barbell Squat
Known as the king of exercises, the barbell squats is one of the most effective movements that you can perform in the gym but it is also one of the most ignored. People seem to think that barbell squats are too difficult or possibly they’re a little nervous after witnessing somebody making a fool of themselves. But performed correctly and with the right weight squats are as safe as any exercise, and are amazing for fat burning, strength building, or hypertrophy. It is indeed one of the best compound exercises for legs.
Place a bar at around shoulder height within a squat rack. Place your hands shoulder width apart on the bar and then duck your head and climb under it. Push the barbell onto your upper back and get it nice and comfortable. Use your hands to push the bar into your back, and your back to push against the bar, this will create the right amount of tension. Take a deep breath and then take the bar off the supports and walk backwards slightly.
Place your feet shoulder width apart and turn your toes out slightly. Push your chest out and slowly sit down until your thighs are around parallel to the floor. Some of you will find that you can go lower than parallel, but just ensure that your form is still perfect. Others will find parallel is perfect for you. If you can’t reach parallel then you’re either using too much weight, or your technique needs work (which means you should make it easier).
Once you have reached parallel (or lower) pause, and then drive back upwards, breathing out as you go. Make sure you don’t bounce up as this will take all the tension out of the exercise, and is also a great way to ruin a squat. Once you reach the top of the movement your hips should be pushed forward and chest should be pushed out.
Benefits: An amazing exercise for burning calories and one of the best compound exercises, the barbell squat can also be used to build huge legs and to build amazing lower body strength. Being able to squat loads will also help you on the sports field as you will be able to jump better, push further, drive forward, and reduce injury risk.
Make it Easier: Instead of performing a barbell back squat, you can hold a dumbbell to your chest and perform a goblet squat. This exercise is great for improving your squatting technique, and it is also great for people who are a little intimidated by the barbell squat.
Make it Harder: You might think that barbell box squats would be easier, but by taking momentum out of the equation they make it much more difficult to rise back up again. This will really work your quadriceps. Box squats also force you to perform the exercise with control, slowly, and it’s really difficult to cheat.
Exercise #4 The Dip
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Most people perform the bench press when working the chest, or they’ll do chest flyes, chest press machines, or push ups. But the dip is one of the best compound exercises for chest around. You’ll need a dip station to perform this exercise, two parallel bars that you can hang between. Grab a handle with each hand using an overhand grip, hold yourself upright with chest pushed out and shoulders pulled back.
Bend your knees behind you and then slowly lower your body down until your arms are at a 45-degree angle, they should be close to your body rather than flared out. Pause, and then drive back upwards. You can lean your chest further forward if you want to place more emphasis on your chest, or you can remain fully upright if you want to target your triceps more. This exercise will also work your shoulders hard, so be aware of that.
Benefits: This exercise puts the chest through the full range of motion. It can be changed to focus more on the chest or more on the triceps, and as such it is great for improving your bench press. Once you become proficient, you can use dips for fat burning workouts, strength building, or hypertrophy training, making it a part of best compound exercises for mass.
Make it Easier: If your gym has an assisted dip machine, or a seated dip machine then you can use that. Alternatively, you can use the same resistance band technique as you used for the pull up.
Make it Harder: Using a weighted vest is the best way to increase the resistance, failing that you can use a weighted belt, but the vest is definitely a better option.
Exercise #5 The Push Press
The final exercise that we are going to take a look at is a shoulder exercise that also works the triceps, core, and the legs. It’s a variation on the traditional military press. Hold a barbell so that it is in line with your collarbone, place your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your knees slightly, and then drive the barbell up in the air as you straighten your legs.
Once the bar has cleared your head bring it backwards slightly in a curve. When you finish, the barbell should be directly over your head. Pause, and then lower the barbell back down to the starting position.
Benefits: This exercise allows you to use a heavier weight, and partially works the lower body as well as the upper. It is one of the best compound exercises that helps to burn more calories, increase testosterone and growth hormone release, and will help you gain strength. It’s also quite a fun exercise.
Make it Easier: You can use dumbbells instead of a barbell if you want, just hold the weights in a neutral grip at shoulder height with your elbows pointed in front of you.
Make it Harder: There’s no real way to make this exercise harder than by adding more weight, more reps, or by improving form until it is perfect.
Make sure to implement these best compound exercises for mass in your training schedule for 2021 and reap the rewards! If you have great experiences with one of these exercises or if you want to share a different compound exercise that’s also great to develop muscle, feel free to leave a comment below.