Introduction to Compound Lifts

Almost everyone knows what a compound movement, or compound lift is. It is a form of exercise in the gym that uses multiple muscle groups at the same time.

It involves moving more than one type of joint in the same movement. For example, a bench press involves moving both your elbows and your shoulders – it is a compound movement and works your chest, shoulders and triceps.

Something that is not a compound movement would be a bicep curl. It works only your bicep and only involves moving your elbow as you curl it towards yourself.

There are a time and place for bicep curls, but I feel I get the most benefit when training in compound lifts.

What are the benefits of Compound Lifts?

There are several reasons why compound lifts are a great choice of exercise when training in the gym.

Here’s a quick run down of some of the reasons I like them, and how they can help you:

1. They’re great for functional strength

Bicep curls may help your arms look great, but when it comes to overall power, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

This is why compound lifts are so important, because every muscle group being used counts. If they’re not strong enough, the other muscle groups can’t compensate to carry them, they all get stronger together.

By perfecting compound lifts you can help improve your overall functional strength. This is the strength that you need for every day activities. There are no natural actions in life that require a bicep curl. However, something more complicated like a deadlift can help you when it comes to picking up heavy objects off the ground and allows you to transfer the weight across your body evenly.

2. Improves Muscle Coordination

By having all your muscles work together, they get naturally better at responding to one another. Things seem to flow more easily, as you get better insights into how to distribute weight between them all.

The advantage of this is that you become much more coordinated. This can help with numerous activities including sports, exercises and general movement. Your brain gets more experience in timing muscle contractions and in doing so can give you a better performance in general exercise.

3. They Burn a Lot of Calories

Not only are compound lifts good for improving your overall strength, they’re also good for trimming down your waistline.

The main reason being that they use a lot more muscle groups than you would use with the standard isolation routines. More muscles being used require more energy, and by using more energy you’re using more calories.

Compound exercises also require a lot more effort because they typically deal with much heavier weights – which also helps ramp up their calorie consumption.

The ‘Big Three’ – Most Popular Compound Movements

Of course, there are hundreds, if not thousands of compound movement exercises you can perform in the gym. However, the most common ones that you’ll come across again and again are the ‘big three’.

That’s Bench Press, Deadlift and Squat. Combined, these three exercises work all the major muscle groups in your body. These exercises are so popular that they are the lifts that are used in powerlifting competition as the true measurements of strength.

Here’s each of them in more detail:

Bench Press

This is the most popular upper body compound exercise by far. A lot of guys like to measure their overall power by how much they can ‘bench’.

This certainly doesn’t apply to your whole body, but it is probably the best gauge for how strong your upper body is.

The bench press works the following muscles:

  • Chest (Pectorals)
  • Front Shoulders (Anterior Deltoids)
  • Triceps
  • Back (Latissimus Dorsi)

How to perform a Bench Press:

  1. Lie on the bench, keep your eyes level with the bar.
  2. Grab the bar with your ring-finger landing on the ring on the bar.
  3. Straighten your arms to unrack the weight.
  4. Lower the bar to your chest to nipple-level and pause for a moment in that position.
  5. Press the bar by straightening your arms in front of you.

Things to remember:

  • Keep your shoulder blades on the bench at all times.
  • Make sure your butt doesn’t leave the seat.
  • Keep your feet flat on the ground.
  • Make sure your head doesn’t lift off the bench.
  • The bar should touch your chest for full range of motion.
  • Don’t let your ego get the better of you.

Instructional Video on Benching

Here’s a good video I’ve found on benching. Combined with what I’ve told you, it should really put it all together. I’ve taken the liberty of making the video start at the important part:


This is the most intense exercise of the three, and works the most muscles while performing it. It trains parts of both your upper and lower body. The deadlift is great for functional strength, and gets it’s name from how you would lift a ‘dead weight’.

The deadlift works the following muscles:

  • Butt (Gluteus Maximus)
  • Upper Front Legs (Quadriceps)
  • Inner Thigh (Adductor Magnus)
  • Small Calf Muscles (Soleus)
  • Upper Back Legs (Hamstrings)
  • Big Calf Muscles (Gastrocnemius)
  • Lower Back (Erector Spinae)
  • Back Neck (Trapezius)
  • Front Neck (Levator Scapulae)
  • Inner Neck (Rhomboids)
  • Abs (Rectus Abdominis)
  • Side Abs (Obliques)

That’s right. It does all that.

How to Perform a Deadlift:

  1. Stand with your feet under the barbell about shoulder-width apart. The bar should look like it over the center of your foot.
  2. Bend down with bent knees and grab the bar at a shoulder-width grip. Keep your back straight.
  3. Touch the bar to your shins.
  4. Lift your chest and straighten your lower back. Take a big breath, hold it, and stand up with the weight

Instructional Video on how to Deadlift

Here’s another good video on how to perform one of these exercises. You have to give it to BuffDudes, this is a short, to the point and above all entertaining video:


This is the compound lift for the lower body, and it works the biggest muscle groups in the body: your legs. Be warned that if you take squats seriously, they will take you seriously – the soreness the next day can really take a toll. Be wary of that.

Squats work the following muscles:

  • Front Upper Legs (Quadriceps)
  • Butt (Glutes)
  • Back Upper Legs (Hamstrings)
  • Lower Back Muscles (Erectors)
  • Neck (Trapezius)
  • Abs (Abdominals and Obliques)
  • Upper Back (Latissimus Dorsi)

Again, although you’re using mainly your legs there are a lot of other muscles at play keeping you upright while you perform this exercise.

How to Perform a Squat:

  1. Stand with the bar on your upper-back, keep your feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Squat down by pushing your knees to the side while moving hips back
  3. Break parallel by squatting down until your hips are lower than your knees
  4. Squat back up while keeping your knees out and chest up
  5. Stand with your hips and knees locked at the top

Instructional Video on how to Squat

Again, from the BuffDudes, here’s another great video on how to perform a traditional squat. It also gives you some good details on what not to do:

Signing Off!

That about does it for this article. I use compound movements religiously and I have nothing but good things to say about them.

If you’re looking to improve your overall strength while also helping yourself get in shape at the same time – compound lifts are perfect for boosting your health and performance.

Thanks for reading!