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Compound Exercise Benefits

Posted by Chris Comella on Jun 9th 2022

A female athlete performing kneeling windmill with a YBell
YBells are the perfect functional fitness tool for compound exercises and outdoor workouts.

The Benefits of Compound Exercises

You may have heard about compound exercises and asked yourself, “What’s the big deal?” or “What advantages do they have over machines or isolation exercises?” Some of you may even say, “I get why, but how do I incorporate them into my current routine?”

This blog will cover those questions, discuss the importance of compound exercises, and share some compound exercise workouts you can use regardless of your current fitness level.

What are Compound Exercises?

A compound exercise is any exercise that enlists more than one muscle group at a time to perform the movement. They’re dynamic movements that help you increase strength and build muscle. If improving physical strength is one of your fitness goals, then compound exercises will be critical for your workout regimen.

The Benefits of Compound Exercises

When performing a compound exercise, you're using multiple muscle groups simultaneously. For example, when performing an air squat, you’re engaging your abdominal and core muscles, hip flexor muscles, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calf muscles.

There are many reasons to perform compound movement exercises regularly. In no small part to their incorporation of more muscle groups, you’ll have short and long-term benefits from compound exercises. And those benefits are transferable to more than just an increase in strength and muscle size.

Pros of compound exercises include:

  1. You’ll burn more calories per movement with compound strength training than with isolation exercises.
  2. You’ll improve your mobility, flexibility, balance, and coordination.
  3. Compound exercises build muscles (far more than isolation exercises), which burns even more calories over time (even when you’re not exercising).
  4. You’ll be able to maintain a high heart rate for a longer duration, improving your cardiovascular endurance.
  5. You’ll strengthen your core without having to do endless crunches.

7 Types of Compound Exercises

Compound movements are commonly found in functional training. The most effective exercises are similar to your everyday movements — squats, hinges, lunges, pressing, pulling, carrying, and rotating.

The best compound exercises to add to your fitness routine are the ones you can accomplish according to your current fitness level. See the list of compound exercises below for examples:

1. Squats

As a compound leg exercise that focuses on developing your hamstrings, glutes, and quads, the squat is the favorite exercise by strength and weight loss coaches and physical therapists. Perfectly trained squats burn a ton of energy and build protection around your knees and lower back. Think about how many times you get up off the couch or a chair — those are a form of squatting. What would happen if you were to lose that ability?

Try these beginner to advanced squat exercises:

  1. Beginner method: Bodyweight Squat
  2. Intermediate method: YBell Low Squat
  3. Advanced method: Barbell Back Squat or YBell Rack Squat

2. Hinges

A proper hip hinge with a full range of motion at the hips works both your hamstrings and glutes. People who understand how to hip hinge with proper form typically have fewer back problems.

Deadlifts are a common and crucial hinge movement found in strength training that mimics the activities of your everyday life. It’s the definition of picking something off the floor and placing it down. Imagine picking your toddler up or lifting a laundry basket off the floor — that’s hinging.

Try these beginner to advanced hinge exercises:

  1. Beginner method: Glute Bridges or Bridge Taps
  2. Intermediate method: Dumbbell or YBell Deadlift
  3. Advanced method: Barbell Deadlift

3. Lunges

Lunging is a crucial compound movement pattern that transfers to walking and running, moving up and down a flight of stairs, and kneeling. Lunging requires both legs as well as strong hips and solid core strength. The lunge also offers dozens of variations by incorporating upper body movements such as curls, presses, shoulder raises, and rotations.  

Try these beginner to advanced lunge exercises:

  1. Beginner method: Bodyweight Forward or Reverse Lunges
  2. Intermediate method: Dumbbell Walking Lunges or YBell Rack Lunges
  3. Advanced method: Alternating Back Lunges With Tricep Extension

4. Pressing

Pressing should be a familiar upper-body compound movement. We incorporate pressing movements in two directions: vertical (overhead) pressing works the shoulders, and horizontal pressing (like push-ups) works your chest.

Pressing overhead is an excellent indicator of your total body strength. An overhead press with proper form strengthens your shoulders, arms, core muscles, and even your glutes.

Try these beginner to advanced vertical pressing exercises:

  1. Beginner method: Seated Dumbbell or YBell Shoulder Press
  2. Intermediate method: Standing YBell Rack Press
  3. Advanced method: Barbell Overhead Press

Try these beginner to advanced horizontal pressing exercises:

  1. Beginner method: Tricep Push-ups
  2. Intermediate method: Dumbbell or YBell Floor Press
  3. Advanced method: Barbell Bench Press

5. Pulling

Most of our life is in front of us. We rarely consider our backs unless there’s a problem, but that’s where pulling exercises come in. Pulling exercises, like pull-ups, are compound back exercises that help strengthen the areas that generally start causing pain — problems we tend to view as “normal” parts of the aging process.

As with pressing, we have vertical and horizontal options to work on multiple planes of movement.

Try these beginner to advanced vertical pulling exercises:

  1. Beginner method: Lat Pulldowns
  2. Intermediate method: Banded Chin-ups
  3. Advanced method: Bodyweight Pull-ups

Try these beginner to advanced horizontal pulling exercises:

  1. Beginner method: Bodyweight Row
  2. Intermediate method: Dumbbell 3-point Rows or YBell Push-up Rows
  3. Advanced method: Dumbbell or YBell Bent-over Row

6. Carrying

How is carrying a functional movement? Proper carrying uses every muscle group in your body at once — legs for walking, hips and core for stability, back for bracing, and arms for carrying. You can't get more compound than that.

You can progress your carry grip to make the movement even more challenging once you master the basics.

Try these beginner to advanced carrying exercises:

  1. Beginner method: Dual Dumbbell or YBell Farmer’s Carry 
  2. Intermediate method: Single-arm Dumbbell or YBell Farmer’sCarry
  3. Advanced method: Mixed Rack Dumbbell or YBell Farmer’s Carry

7. Rotating

We generally view strength training in terms of linear movement — moving the weights up and down. However, your daily life takes place along multiple planes of movement, and if you don’t work on strengthening those planes, you’ll significantly increase your chance of sudden and lingering injury.

Imagine trying to put on your seatbelt, swing a golf club, or play with your kids without the ability to twist. Incorporating twisting and rotating will help strengthen those forgotten areas in your core and back.

Try these beginner to advanced rotating exercises:

  1. Beginner method: Resistance Band Rotations
  2. Intermediate method: Dumbbell or YBell Russian Twists
  3. Advanced method: Sledgehammer Slams

Compound Exercise Workouts

Looking for some workouts you can add to your routine? Try one of these three workouts based on your current fitness level.

Beginner Compound Exercise Workout

Complete 3 rounds of each set with a moderate weight, like a YBell Neo. You can start with YBell Arcs if you’re new to using weights and want to start with something lighter. Remember to rest between sets.

Set 1

  • Bodyweight Squats, as many reps as possible in 30 to 45 seconds
  • Bodyweight Reverse Lunges, 10 to 12 reps per leg
  • Glute Bridges, 10 to 15 reps
  • Rest: 60 to 90 seconds

Set 2

  • Push-ups, 8 to 10 reps
  • Suspension Row, 10 to 12 reps
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Set 3

  • 3 Point Row, 10 reps per arm
  • Seated Shoulder Press, 10 reps
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Intermediate Compound Exercise Workout

Complete 3 rounds of each set with a moderate free weight, like a YBell Neo. Remember to rest between sets.

Set 1

  • YBell Shoulder Squat, 10 to 12 reps
  • YBell Lunges, 10 reps per leg
  • Rest: 60 to 90 seconds

Set 2

  • Dumbbell or YBell Deadlift, 10 to 12 reps
  • Single Arm Carry, 20 feet and back
  • Rest: 60 to 90 seconds

Set 3

  • Shoulder Press, 8 to 12 reps
  • Banded Chin Ups, 6 to 10 reps
  • Russian Twist, 10 to 15 reps per side
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Set 4

  • Floor Press, 8 to 12 reps
  • Single Arm Row, 10 to 12 reps per arm
  • Rest: 45 to 60 seconds

Advanced Compound Exercise Workout

Complete 3 to 4 rounds of each set with a moderate to heavy free weight, like a YBell Neo or YBell Pro. Remember to rest between sets.

Set 1

  • Back Squat, 8 to 12 reps
  • YBell Step-ups, 10 reps per leg
  • Rest: 60 to 90 seconds

Set 2

  • Deadlift, 6 to 8 reps
  • Rest: 60 to 90 seconds

Set 3

  • Barbell Overhead Press, 8 to 12 reps
  • Pull-ups, 6 to 10 reps
  • Dual YBell Overhead Carry, 25 feet and back
  • Rest: 60 seconds

Set 4

  • Bench Press, 6 to 8 reps
  • Bent-over Row, 10 reps
  • Rest: 45 to 60 seconds

Conditioning

  • Sledgehammer Slams, 6 to 8 reps per side
  • Rest: 30 seconds

Why You Should Work Compound Exercises Into Your Fitness Routine

Routine

Compound movement exercises effectively achieve your fitness goals, whether you're trying to build more muscle or want to become an endurance runner.

They burn more calories for weight loss, work multiple muscle groups for strength training, and transfer to your everyday movements to keep you strong as you age.

Compound movements are also scalable to your fitness level. As you get stronger, you can continue to make them challenging, and adding free weights is just one way to do it. You can quickly progress each exercise by adding in another movement. Here's an example of how you could progress a squat into a complex yet fluid compound movement:

  1. Start with a basic squat
  2. Add resistance and squat while holding a free weight
  3. Add a lateral cross-catch movement for a Cross-catch squat
  4. Add a pick-up movement for a Pick-up cross-catch squat
  5. Add a shoulder press for a Pick-up cross-catch squat press
  6. Add a rotational movement for a Pick-up cross-catch squat press with a spinal twist

With compound movements, you'll never get bored while training! You can see how easy adding more challenges to your workout is. Not only that, by using compound movements, you can perform shorter, more efficient activities when you're short on time or motivation.

Get the Best Free Weights for Compound Exercises at YBell Fitness!

YBell is a four-in-one functional fitness tool that’s perfect for compound exercises. Its award-winning multi-handle, multi-grip design allows it to function as a dumbbell, a kettlebell, a double-grip med ball, and a push-up stand.

That means you can seamlessly transition the YBell from a two-handed grip to a single-handed grip, or even from your left hand to your right hand, without throwing off the weight distribution. Keeping an even weight distribution significantly lowers your risk for injury and helps you keep your workout moving.

Take the squat compound movements above: You’d grab the top handle with an outer grip to pick the YBell off the ground. When you transition to the cross-catch or the press, you will hold the center handle of the YBell with your other hand for a center grip, which keeps the weight evenly distributed around your hand. The multi-handle, multi-grip design allows you to transition those movements, and transition the YBell from one hand to the other, with ease.

If you’re ready to add more compound strength training exercises to your fitness routine, consider picking up a pair of YBells today. You can also check out the YBell Fitness App for more great compound movements and YBell-specific functional exercises you can do in your home gym.

FAQs About Compund Exercises

Compound Exercise vs. Isolation Exercises: Which is Better?

Much like the name suggests, Isolation exercises target (AKA: isolate) one muscle group or joint at a time. Many of the machines you see in clubs and studios offer isolation exercises. Isolation movements are primarily used for rebuilding the muscle or tendon during injury rehab or heavy volume work to build physique or bodybuilding muscles.

While isolation movements can be beneficial even if you're not focused on building muscle or muscle recovery, compound movements offer more benefits to everyday life and often help you reach your fitness goals faster. This is mainly because you'll build more lean muscle and burn more calories with compound movements. Additionally, working multiple muscle groups allows you to perform a full-body workout in less time.

Are Kettlebell Swings a Compound Exercise?

Kettlebell swings are a full-body, compound exercise. Swings work your posterior chain — from your shoulders and forearms down to your lower back and the back of your legs — and are great for strengthening your arms, shoulders, and legs. While there are several variations (kettlebell high swing, kettlebell low swing, alternating swings, etc.), the kettlebell swing will work the following muscle groups:

  • Trapezius
  • Deltoids
  • Rhomboids
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Forearms
  • Abdominals
  • Erector spinae
  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings

How to do a kettlebell swing with YBells:

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, pointing your toes forward. Keep a slight bend to your knees.
  2. Ensure that your back is flat and your neck is straight. Pull your shoulder blades down and back to engage your lats.
  3. Place a YBell Pro about 12 to 15 inches in front of you on the floor. Engage your core, then hinge forward at your hips and grab the top handle of the YBell with both hands (this is an outer grip). This is your starting position.
  4. To load the swing, engage your hamstrings and contract your lats. Then swing the YBell behind you between your legs.
  5. Now forcefully drive the YBell forward with your hips while straightening your knees to bring yourself to an upright position.
  6. When the YBell reaches the peak of the swing (no higher than shoulder height), your torso should be stacked above your hips, knees, and ankles.
  7. Keeping your shoulders and arms loose and your core engaged, allow the YBell to fall and swing between your legs in one fluid motion. This is one rep.

How Often Should I Do Compound Exercises?

Compound exercises are efficient and ideal for maximizing your workout, regardless of your fitness goals. If you’re not training for a muscular physique, you can add bodyweight compound movements to your current workout routine. Or, perform compound exercises for active muscle recovery between your cardio or HIIT workouts.

If you're performing compound exercises with free weights for muscle gain, the minimum volume for beginners is twice per week. This is effective for moderate muscle gain or general maintenance if strength training isn't your primary modality. To see more significant muscle gains, you should train with compound movements at least three times per week.

Don’t focus on high rep ranges when performing compound movements. While there’s no magic number for reps, you generally want to shoot for 6 to 12 reps per set. And don’t forget to allow your body to rest between sets.

Can You Build Muscles With Compound Exercises?

Compound movements are not only phenomenal for increasing your strength and power, but they’re also the fastest way to build lean muscle. Compound movements increase the release of testosterone and growth hormones during your workout, which help your body to build muscle, burn calories, and burn fat.

Compound strength exercises with heavy free weights, like the YBell Pro, also enable you to recruit more fast-twitch muscle fibers (type II fibers) during your workout. This is vital to muscle growth.

Why Are Compound Exercises Important?

Compound exercises are movements that use multiple muscle groups and joints simultaneously. Not only do they save you time while working out, but they also help you to achieve lean muscle and burn calories faster than isolation exercises. You'll find compound exercises in quality strength training or resistance training programs.

Compound movements are vital for athletes because they improve balance and intermuscular coordination (how the muscles around a joint function together to control force). They're also great for cardiovascular health since working multiple muscle groups simultaneously will increase your heart rate (and keep it up). Moreover, compound movements are functional exercises that prepare your body for movements naturally occurring in your daily life and sports.

Chris Comella Profile Picture

Chris Comella, NASM CPT

Chris has been a personal trainer since 2016, starting at Lifetime Fitness. He graduated from DePaul University in 2011 with a degree in Political Science. Since then, Chris discovered a passion for fitness and wellness, and helping others achieve the healthy lifestyle they desire. He is constantly looking to learn more ways to help his clients succeed, and has experience partnering with other health and wellness professionals to make sure his clients have the tools they need to be successful. Chris believes that if you don't make time to invest in your wellness, you'll be forced to make more time for sickness.
 
Certifications:
 
  • NASM Certified Personal Trainer
  • NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist
  • Precision Nutrition Level 1
  • USA Weightlifting Level 1
  • CrossFit Level 1
  • Reflexive Performance Reset Level 1
  • Trauma Informed Weightlifting Certified