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DEC 12, 2023

The Best Compound Exercises for Strength Training and Muscle-Building in 2024


Discover our comprehensive overview of compound exercises, highlighting their effectiveness in building muscle and strength through techniques and form.

Read time: 7 minutes

Did you know you can harness more power, develop extra muscle strength, and reap even greater physique-sculpting rewards from your workout routine? No? Well you’re about to. Say hello to compound exercises. They boost your heart rate, burn more calories, improve coordination, and speed up muscle growth.

The best compound exercises for strength training and muscle-building include the barbell bench press, dips, deadlifts, squats, bench step-ups, bent-over rows, pullups, military presses, shrugs, and close-grip bench presses. These exercises engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously and allow for heavier weights, making them highly effective for building overall strength and muscle mass.

Top Compound Exercises for Muscle-Building

When it comes to strength training and muscle-building, compound exercises are key. As stated, these exercises involve multiple joints and muscle groups, allowing you to lift heavier weights and stimulate more overall muscle growth.

Squats are often considered the king of compound exercises because they target your lower body's major muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. This exercise helps build strength and size in your legs and engages your core muscles for stability. Squats can be performed with various techniques, such as barbell squats, which challenge your entire body or goblet squats, which provide a great foundation for beginners.

Squats and Variations

While the traditional barbell squat is highly effective, variations of this exercise can add variety and target specific muscles even further. For instance:

  • Front squats shift the load to the front of your body, increasing emphasis on the quadriceps while engaging the glutes and hamstrings.

  • Bulgarian split squats challenge balance and stability by placing one foot on an elevated surface behind you. This variation targets each leg individually while providing an increased range of motion.

  • Sumo squats involve a wide stance with toes pointing outward, emphasizing the inner thighs and glutes.

Let's take a look at different squat variations that you can incorporate into your workout routine:

Variation Targeted Muscles

Barbell Squat

Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes

Goblet Squat

Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes

Front Squat

Quadriceps (with emphasis), Glutes, Hamstrings

Bulgarian Split Squat

Quadriceps (each leg independently), Glutes, Hamstrings

Sumo Squat

Inner Thighs, Glutes

Remember, to avoid your progress plateauing, consider adding different variations of squats into your workout routine.

Bench Press and Variations

The classic bench press has long been hailed as one of the most effective compound exercises for building upper body strength. Primarily targeting the chest, anterior deltoids, and triceps helps develop muscular power and mass. However, variations of the bench press can provide added benefits and target specific muscles in unique ways.

  • For instance, the incline bench press shifts the focus to the upper pectorals, emphasizing the development of the clavicular head of the chest. This variation can be particularly useful for individuals looking to sculpt their upper chest region.

  • Another alternative is the close-grip bench press, which emphasizes the triceps and anterior deltoids more. Adjusting grip width and technique allows you to customize your bench press workout to fit your specific goals.

It's important to note that proper form and technique are essential to maximize results while minimizing injury risk. Keep your rib cage high and shoulders down during the exercise, engaging your chest muscles rather than relying solely on delts and triceps. Maintaining a stable torso position while performing dips can also help target specific muscles effectively.

  • Remember, different individuals may find certain variations more suitable for their unique physiology and fitness goals. Experimenting with different forms will help you discover what works best for you. For example, if you struggle with a range of motion during standard barbell bench presses due to shoulder issues, incorporating dumbbell bench presses into your routine can offer a greater range of motion and help alleviate discomfort.

Deadlifts and Safe Practices

Deadlifts are unparalleled in building lower body strength while engaging multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Targeting the thighs, hamstrings, lower back, traps, and forearms, deadlifts offer functional strength benefits and contribute to overall muscle development. However, performing deadlifts with proper form is essential to ensure safety and maximize results.

  • Maintaining a neutral spine is crucial throughout the movement. It's important to engage your glutes and hamstrings while lifting and avoid rounding your lower back. This requires strength and flexibility, so incorporate exercises that target these areas into your training routine.

  • In addition to technique, equipment like lifting straps or belts is worth considering, which can provide additional support and stability during heavier lifts. However, it's crucial not to rely solely on these aids as they should be used as a supplement rather than a crutch.

  • For instance, if you aim to emphasize upper back development while performing deadlifts, incorporating pause deadlifts into your routine can be valuable. These involve pausing briefly just below knee level before completing the lift, emphasizing the back muscles more.

The Science Behind Compound Exercises

To understand why compound exercises are highly regarded in strength training and muscle-building, let’s talk about the science. To reiterate, compound exercises involve using multiple muscle groups and joints simultaneously. This allows for greater muscle fiber activation and stimulation. Which, in turn, leads to more efficient muscle recruitment and overall muscular development.

  • When performing compound exercises, the body is forced to work more cohesively, creating a synergistic effect among various muscles. For example, exercises like the deadlift engage not only the thighs and hamstrings but also the lower back, traps, and forearms. Compounding exercises promote functional movement patterns that closely mimic real-life activities by targeting multiple muscle groups at once.

  • Additionally, compound exercises allow for heavier weights compared to isolation exercises since they involve larger muscle groups. The increased load stimulates significant strength gains and triggers hormonal responses that support muscle growth. The production of anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone is amplified during compound movements, further enhancing muscular adaptations.

Adjusting Compound Exercises for Maximum Strength

While compound exercises are already excellent for strength-building, there are ways to optimize them further for enhanced gains. Here are some key factors to consider when adjusting compound exercises:

  1. Form and Technique: Proper form is crucial when performing compound exercises to ensure optimal muscular engagement and prevent injuries. Pay close attention to alignment, range of motion, and muscle activation to maximize the effectiveness of each repetition.

  2. Targeting Specific Muscles: Compound exercises work for multiple muscle groups simultaneously, but by adjusting certain aspects of the exercise, you can emphasize specific muscles. For example, varying your grip during pull-ups can target different areas of your back.

  3. Experimenting with Variations: Compound exercises often have different variations that can provide unique challenges and target specific muscle groups differently. Incorporating these variations into your routine can help prevent plateaus and promote overall muscle development.

  4. Progressive Overload: To continually gain strength, gradually increase the weight or intensity of compound exercises over time. This progressive overload stimulates further muscle adaptations, increasing strength and growth.

Optimizing Technique for Enhanced Gains

Regarding strength training and muscle-building, technique is so important in maximizing your gains. Proper form and execution of compound exercises are essential for targeting the intended muscle groups and minimizing the risk of injury. So let's explore a few simple tips to optimize your technique for enhanced gains.

  • First and foremost, focus on maintaining proper posture and alignment throughout each exercise. Keeping a stable and aligned spine is crucial, whether the barbell bench press or deadlift. Engage your core muscles to provide stability and support during compound movements.

  • Secondly, pay attention to the full range of motion. While cutting corners or using momentum to lift heavier weights may be tempting, this can hinder your progress in the long run. Ensure you perform each rep through its range of motion to target the muscles involved fully.

Conclusion

If you’re not already incorporating compound exercises into your routine, you’re missing out. By engaging multiple muscle groups, not only do they offer a more efficient and effective workout, but they also mirror real-life movements, enhancing functional strength.

So, whether you're a beginner or a seasoned athlete, incorporating a variety of exercises like squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, along with their variations, can lead to significant gains in muscle mass and strength.

And remember, the key to success lies in proper form, technique, and progressive overload. By understanding and applying these principles, you can maximize the benefits of compound exercises and achieve a stronger, more sculpted physique. Embrace these exercises as your allies on your fitness journey, and watch as they transform your workout routine and body.

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Written by Matthew Stogdon

Matt has been writing for two decades, across print and digital media. He is also an accomplished filmmaker, with several accolades under his belt.

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