The 15 Best Compound Exercises for Super Efficient Workouts

Nov 7, 2012

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I was reading an article earlier today that was talking about getting a great workout in minimal time. Mainly, how to get the most bang-for-your-buck when it comes to workout design and exercise selection.

The author writes that focusing on exercises that work a lot of muscles at the same time is the key to exercising efficiently. I tend to agree with this. What we're talking about is utilizing compound exercises as the foundation for your workouts.

Compound exercises utilize multiple joints and usually incorporate multiple, major muscle groups at the same time. Compound movements are at the heart of power lifting, Olympic lifting and CrossFit. These types of exercises will also help you burn a lot of calories and a lot of excess fat because you're using so much muscle to do the movement.

For those of you that know me it should come as no surprise that I'm always looking for more efficient ways to do things (BTW this is Chris). This is especially true when it comes to getting results in the gym.

I've found that there are a lot of exercise techniques that all have a time and a place. The issue most people run into is that they don't have an overall strategy when they workout. They blindly go to the gym without any idea why they're there in the first place.

You have to differentiate between tactics and strategy.

Tactics are simply techniques and specific exercises you can use or do. A strategy will take these techniques and exercises and turn them into a comprehensive program that will lead you to goal achievement.

Most websites focus on tactics. Tactics are sexy and fun. It's always fun to learn a new way to crunch your abs that guarantees a six pack in just 2 minutes a day. Deep down we all know that without a good strategy or plan, no specific tactic will be able to help us reach our goals. The strategy I want to focus on is using compound exercises at the foundation of your workout program design.

I'm going to give you a list of the best compound exercises you can implement right away into your workouts to see better results. The exercises are just tactics. The strategy is to put these compound exercises at the core of your overall program.

I also want to help you NOT be the out of shape guy staring at himself in the mirror doing bicep curls #FAIL.

The 15 Best Compound Exercises

1. Front Squat - quads, hamstrings, core, back, shoulders

2. Back Squat - quads, hamstrings, core, back, shoulders

3. Barbell Thrusters - quads, hamstrings, core, back, shoulders

4. Kettlebell Swings - quads, hamstrings, core, back, shoulders

5. Conventional Deadlift - quads, hamstrings, core, back, shoulders

6. Sumo Deadlift - quads, hamstrings, core, back, shoulders

7. Romanian Deadlift - quads, hamstrings, core, back, shoulders

8. Flat Bench Press (Dumbell or Barbell) - chest, core, arms, shoulders

9. Incline Bench Press (Dumbell or Barbell) - chest, core, arms, shoulders

10. Decline Bench Press (Dumbell or Barbell) - chest, core, arms, shoulders

11. Push Press - shoulders, quads, hamstrings, arms, core

12. Power Cleans - shoulders, back, quads, hamstrings, arms, core

13. Hang Cleans - shoulders, back, quads, hamstrings, arms, core

14. Back Rows (Dumbell or Barbell) - back, shoulders, arms, core

15. Pullups (All Variations) - back, shoulders, arms

How to Implement the Best Compound Exercises Into Your Program

You will exhaust yourself with compound movements. As mentioned before, they utilize multiple major muscle groups at the same time and they often incorporate many small, stabilizing muscle groups as well.

These movements will cause you to suck wind and sweat a lot. Since they are such taxing movements it's probably not the best idea to build a workout program that is made up entirely of compound movements. This is especially true if you're focusing on a specific part of the body in workout.

A good example are legs. If you are going to the gym to give your legs a good workout it would not be a smart idea to do heavy front squats followed by heavy back squats then followed by stiff-leg deadlifts. This is asking for an injury.

A more intelligent approach would be to look at your legs in sections such as quads, hamstrings and calves. Then you would choose a section, such as your quads, and decide if there is a good compound movement to attack them with. In the case of your quads you could do front-squats or back-squats. Both are compound movements and when done correctly will utilize many muscles in your body other than your legs. You'll work a lot of your core and back muscles as well. Choose one compound exercise and do it.

Now you follow your squats with a secondary exercise that also hits the quads. I would recommend something like walking lunges or split squats. An exercise that uses lighter weight and is less taxing on the central nervous system.

I'm not going to get into the specifics of program design even though I'm a total programming nerd. But I just want to give you a little food for thought about how your workout program is put together and show you that compound exercises belong at the core. I will write a future post about designing your program around these compound exercises.

These are the best compound exercises that I've found through years of being a gym junkie. You get great results from just one compound exercise for each major muscle group.

This goes along nicely with our 90/10 rule. Which is, we want to find what actions fit in that 10% category that give us 90% of our results. When it comes to working out, compound exercises are the 10%.

Of course... none of this matters if your nutrition isn't in check. So sign up for PrimalPal and build a paleo meal plan that will help you achieve your goals.

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