If you want to maximise efficiency with every workout, then compound exercises should be your best friend. These are moves that work multiple muscle groups at once, allowing you to build strength more efficiently.

The opposite of a compound exercise is an isolation exercise, which allows you to strengthen a specific muscle group. If you’re hoping to lose weight while increasing muscle mass, then mastering these compound exercises should form the basis of your workouts. You may also see compound exercises referred to as multi-joint exercises.

what are compound exercises

We build muscle through a process of muscle damage which prompts a period of recovery followed by adaptation when more muscle is built. Muscle damage occurs when a muscle is placed under tension through contractions.

It was once thought that the more muscle damage, the better, but it is now known that high levels of damage are only linked to repairing the muscle, not necessarily building new muscle. High levels of muscle damage are also more likely to lead to excessive soreness and injury, which could prevent you from sticking to a routine.

If you’re hoping to build muscle, lose weight and improve your cardiac health, adding compound exercises to your gym schedule is a great way to achieve this. It’s also a great way to keep things interesting and avoid boredom in the gym.

What is a compound exercise?

Compound means “a thing that is composed of two more more separate elements”, and this explains a compound exercise perfectly. A compound exercise targets multiple muscle groups and encourages the parts of the body to work together to complete the movement.

An example of a compound exercise is a barbell back squat, which will work your quadriceps, adductors and glutes, but also employs your hamstrings, spinal erectors and abdominals to stabilise the movement.

Compound exercises often challenge your coordination and mechanics, since improper form could lead to injury. In a barbell back squat, you need to maintain a good posture to protect your lower back. Your upper body muscles might not be doing the heavy lifting, but they are key to stabilising the weight.

Why should you master these moves?

  • They’ll save you time. Compound exercises are incredibly efficient because they work multiple muscles at once. If you want to make the most of your time in the gym, then these moves will provide an effective workout. 
  • You can lift heavier. If your goal is to lift heavy, then compound exercises will help you to get there faster. You aren’t relying on a single muscle group, which means you’ll be able to lift heavier than you ever could with an isolation exercise.
  • They’re just as effective as cardio. If you want to break up with the treadmill, then compound exercises could help to replace your cardio. When done correctly, they’ll raise your heart rate as effectively as a cardio workout.
  • They’re incredibly complex. If you easily get bored in the gym, then mastering these moves will give you something to look forward to. They require focus and concentration, and there is always something you can do to improve your form. This is great news if you need a good source of motivation.
  • You’ll burn more calories. Since they work multiple muscle groups at once, your body will require more energy, which means you’ll burn more calories. You’ll also enjoy something known as the caloric afterburn, which means you could continue to burn extra calories for up to 72 hours after your workout.
  • You’ll improve your coordination. These complex moves require complex and precise movements, which can take a long time to master. As you learn these movements, you should notice your coordination improves.
  • You can use free weights and machines. Many people shy away from compound exercises because they’re afraid of the free weights section of the gym. The good news is that you can perform some of these moves on machines, which can be a great way to build your confidence. However, since machines control the plane of movement, you won’t see as many of the benefits that occur when your body has to stabilise the movement.

Compound exercises to add to your workouts

There are so many compound exercises to learn, but the following are popular with beginners and advanced lifters alike. As we mentioned above, the technical nature of these lifts means that there’s always something new to learn. And as the weight increases, your form becomes even more important, so you shouldn’t get bored of these any time soon.

Barbell Back Squat

The barbell back squat uses multiple joints and is perfect for targeting the quads, adductors and glutes. You’ll also use your hamstrings, spinal erectors and abdominals to stabilise the movement. If you don’t have access to a barbell, you can modify this movement with a kettlebell, dumbbell or just use your body weight.

how to do a barbell back squat

Barbell Hip Thrust

Also known as a hip thrust, this move allows you to load the glutes without the need to load the spine. You’ll need a barbell, plates, a sturdy bench and a barbell pad. You can also try this with a dumbbell if you don’t have access to a barbell.


This powerhouse movement helps to target most of the muscles in your lower body, making it incredibly versatile for building strength. Learn how to do a deadlift in our recent blog.

how to do a deadlift

Bench Press

The ultimate upper body workout, you can’t beat a bench press. You’ll hit muscles in your chest, shoulders and triceps. You can do a bench press with a barbell or dumbbells. 

how to do a bench press

Shoulder Press

A shoulder press will target the shoulders and triceps while also challenging the upper back and the core. You can do a shoulder press seated or standing using a barbell or with dumbbells.

how to do a shoulder press

Pull Up

If you’re looking for a sign that you’re progressing in your fitness journey, then you need to add pull-ups to your routine. The grip you use (wide or narrow) will determine which muscles are worked the hardest.

how to do a pull up

If you’re looking for ways to get more from your workout, why not consider a home gym setup? With a home gym, you don’t have to waste time travelling to and from the gym. And you never have to wait for equipment to become available. Explore our range of home gym packages to get started.