The Complete List Of Compound Exercises You Need To Do [46 Awesome Variations]

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Why do mediocre exercises, when you can do the best exercises?

You already have an awesome workout template, now you need some exercises to fill it in.

Today, we will go over the complete list of compound exercises you need to do to get amazing results.

Each compound exercise will be listed by the body part, and it will include an instructional video.

Keep reading.

list-of-compound-exercises

This post will cover:

    • A List of 46 Compound Exercises For Each Body Part

    • The Best Compound Movements For Legs

    • The Best Compound Movements For Chest, Triceps, Shoulders and Back

    • And A Resource For The Best Compound Exercises You Can Do Without Weights

Why You Should Do Compound Exercises

What if I told you that the exercises that you use in your routine can make or break your workout program.

It’s true.

Improper exercise selection can mean the difference between accomplishing your fitness goals and wasting your time.

The good news is…

All of the compound exercises in this post will help you achieve your fitness goals, no matter what they are.

So what are compound exercises?

What Are Compound Exercises? Simple Definition

Compound exercises are movements that train multiple muscle groups at once- making them the most efficient exercises you can perform.

As a result, you get the biggest bang for your buck.  You get to train more muscles with less exercises.

This is especially critical for busy people like you me, who don’t have hours to spend at a gym.

These exercises are not only efficient, they are also essential.

What Are The Main Compound Exercises?

There are 4 main compound exercises.

  1. The Push: Trains the pressing muscles of the chest, triceps, and shoulders
  2. The Pull: Trains the back muscles of the rhomboids, lower traps, lattisimus dorsi, and the biceps
  3. Knee Flexion: Trains the muscles of the quadriceps and adductors in the leg
  4. Hip Extension: Trains the muscles of glutes, hamstring, and low back

To keep things easy, this guide will divide exercises into 5 categories:

  1. Legs: (Quads and Adductors)
  2. Posterior Chain: (Glutes and Hamstrings)
  3. Pulling: (Rhomboids, Traps, Lats and Biceps)
  4. Pushing: (Chest, Triceps, and Shoulders)
  5. Core Stabilization: (Rectus Abdominis, Obliques)

Alright, enough chit chat.

Let’s get started…

A List of The Best Compound Exercises For Each Body Part

In this next section we will cover…

  • The Best Compound Exercises For Legs (Quadriceps and Adductors)
      • Back Squat
      • Pause Squat
      • Front Squat
      • Box Squat
      • Barbell Split Squat
      • The Goblet Squat
      • Front Rack Reverse Lunge
      • Bulgarian Split Squat
      • Step Ups
      • Pistols
      • Thrusters
      • Wall Sits
  • The Best Compound Exercises For Glutes and Hamstrings
    • Conventional Deadlift
    • Sumo Deadlift
    • Romanian Deadlift
    • Trap Bar Deadlift
    • Goodmorning
    • Dumbbell RDL
    • Back Raise
    • Cable Pull Through
    • Kettle Bell Swings
    • The Suit Case Deadlift
  • The Best Compound Exercises For Pulling (Back & Biceps)
    • Barbell Pendlay Row
    • Underhand EZ Bar Row
    • Pull-ups/Chin-ups
    • Power Cleans
    • Lat Pulldowns
    • Seated Cable Rows
    • Dumbbell Rows
    • Horizontal Pull-ups
    • Face Pulls
    • Chest Supported Rows
  • The Best Compound Exercises For Pushing (Chest, Triceps, and Shoulders)
    • Bench Press
    • Incline Bench Press
    • Overhead Press
    • Dumbbell Press
    • Dumbbell Incline Press
    • Push-ups
    • Dumbbell Overhead Press
    • Dips
  • The Best Compound Exercises For Abs 
    • Plank Variations
    • Side Planks
    • Ab Wheel Rollouts
    • Weighted Carries
    • Leg Raises
    • Reverse Crunch

Let’s get started.

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1. The Best Compound Exercises For Legs

The Squat pattern is the most fundamental Lower Body Compound exercise for basic human movement.

If you could only do one exercise, the squat would be it.

Believe it or not, everyone squats numerous times a day.

Every single time you sit down and stand up you are squatting.

Every time you pick something up off the ground (if you do it correctly) you are squatting.

The fascinating thing about squats is that it has so many different variations that every single human can find a scalable version of the squat that they can perform.

compound-exercises-for-legs

You can do squats:

– Against resistance (barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, and even weight vests)

– With your body-weight (air squats, jump squats, box squats)

– With support (i.e. holding onto a chair that is placed in front of you for additional support)

It is unfortunate to hear people say that they cannot squat down because of pain or restrictions.

So what you’re saying is that you cannot ever sit or stand back up?

Regardless of whatever limitation you may have, there exists a squat variation that you can perform to strengthen and relearn this natural pattern.

This is a movement pattern that must be trained and nourished for the rest of our lives.

Squat Exercises Improve

  • The strength of the legs, glutes and core muscles,
  • The mobility of the hips, knees, and ankles,
  • Lean muscle mass development of the lower body

Ok so without further ado… here are the best compound squat exercises.


Major Compound Leg Exercises

1. The Back Squat

2. The Pause Squat

3. The Front Squat

4. The Box Squat

5. The Barbell Split Squat


Now we will cover what I call the minor compound exercises.

These are exercises that are done either with a dumbbell, a kettlebell, or your own bodyweight.

The only reason why they are considered ‘minor’ is because they do not cause as much fatigue as a barbell squat exercise.

Here are the best of the best…

Minor Compound Squats Exercises

6. The Goblet Squat

7. The Front Rack Reverse Lunge

8. The Bulgarian Split Squat

9. The Front Rack Dumbbell Step Up

10. The Pistol Squat

11. The Thruster

12. The Wall Sit

With that we transition into the best compound exercises for glutes and hamstrings.


2. The Best Compound Exercises For The Hips (Glutes & Hamstrings)

The next best Lower Body Compound pattern is the hip hinge. These include exercises that activate and strengthen your glutes, your back, and your hamstrings.

These are likely to be the compound exercises women are looking most forward to.

These powerful muscles work synergistically to extend (straighten) your hips from a flexed position.

compound-exercises-for-glutes

Not only do these muscles look good, but many trainers would also argue that the glutes are one of the most important skeletal muscles in the body.

The glutes are responsible for keeping you erect while you stand and while you walk, and allow you to stand up from a seated position.

Hip hinge exercises include all variations of the deadlift exercise and a few other close variations.

Hip Hinge Exercises Improve

  • The strength of the upper back, low back, hamstrings, glutes and core muscles,
  • The mobility of the hips and thoracic spine
  • Lean muscle mass development of the lower body and posterior chain

Ok, let’s get to the best glute exercises


Major Compound Glute & Hamstring Exercises

13. The Conventional Deadlift

14. The Sumo Deadlift

15. Romanian Deadlift

16. Trap Bar Deadlift

17. Goodmorning


Now we transition to the minor compound glute and hamstring exercises.

Minor Compound Glute & Hamstring Exercises

18. The Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

19. 45 degree Back Raises

20. Cable Pull Throughs

21. The Kettle Bell Swing

22. The Suitcase Deadlift



3. The Best Pulling Compound Exercises (Back & Biceps)

The upper body pull is the first essential Upper Body Compound exercise that training programs must include in their arsenal.

These exercises train the large muscles of the back including the rhomboids, the posterior deltoids, the trapezius muscles as well as the spinal erectors.

Don’t worry.

These exercises also train your biceps too.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when it comes to their training is neglecting the upper body pull.

compound-exercies-for-back-pulling

Unfortunately, the back muscles are not ‘mirror muscles.’  This means that they are less likely to be trained because they cannot be readily seen in the mirror.

Being able to pull objects towards you is a critical human movement that deserves constant attention.  These exercises include all rowing variations as well as pull-up variations.

Pulling Exercises Improve

  • The strength of the upper back, lats, and posterior shoulder muscles,
  • The posture that is created from rounded shoulders and a kyphotic spine,
  • Lean muscle mass development of the upper body

Here are the best back exercises..


Major Compound Pulling Exercises

23. The Barbell/Pendlay Row

24. The Underhand EZ Bar Row

25. The Pull-up/Chin-up

26. The Power Clean


Minor Compound Pulling Exercises

27. The Lat Pull Down

28. The Seated Machine Row

29. The Dumbbell Row

30. Horizontal Pull-ups/Inverted Row

31. Face Pulls

32. Chest Supported Dumbbell Row

You can also vary the height at which you pull which can emphasize a different part of the back; i.e you can row towards your face, towards your chest or towards your abdomen.

Next we move onto the best compound exercises for chest.


4. The Best Pushing Compound Exercises: (Chest, Triceps and Shoulders)

The opposite of the upper body pull is the upper body push.

The upper body push is the group of movements that train the deltoid (shoulder) muscles, the triceps and the pectoralis (chest) muscles.

The options are numerous, and they include

  • horizontal pushing,
  • vertical pushing,
  • and incline pushing variations.

compound-exercises-for-chest

These exercises are extremely popular and are already being performed frequently in all gyms.

It is important to know that excessive use of the upper body pushing exercises can exacerbate an anterior dominant posture, creating muscular imbalances and shoulder pain.

Push exercises must be balanced by an equal amount of pull exercises.

Examples are the barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press, barbell overhead press, dumbbell overhead press (standing and seated varieties), incline barbell bench press, incline dumbbell bench press and all pushup variations.

Pushing Exercises Improve

  • The strength of the chest, the arms, the triceps, and the shoulder muscles,
  • Stable shoulder positions in the horizontal and vertical plane,
  • Lean muscle mass development of the upper body

Let’s cover the best ones now…


Major Compound Pushing Exercises

33. The Bench Press (Close, Medium and Wide Grip)

34. The Incline Bench Press (Close, Medium and Wide Grip)

In order to get the most tricep activation from these two exercises, bring your hands closer together and perform them with a close grip.

In addition, the bench presses train the shoulders well, but they tend to stimulate the chest more than the shoulders.

In order to compensate for this, you should aim to include the best compound shoulder exercise which is the..

The Best Compound Shoulder Exercise

35. The Barbell Overhead Press

Again, you can vary your grip here too.

The closer your hands are, the more tricep activation you will get.


Minor Compound Pushing Exercises

36. The Dumbbell Bench Press

37. The Dumbbell Incline Bench Press

38. The Push-up


Minor Compound Shoulder Exercises

39. The Dumbbell Overhead Press (Seated and Standing)

You can do this exercise standing or seated.

If you sit, less muscles get activated, namely your core.

40. The Dip

In order to stimulate the shoulders during the dip, it is important to maintain an upright posture.

Naturally, you are going to lean forward some, but try to limit this. The more you lean, the more your chest will get activated.



These Are The Only 4 Exercises You Need To Do

I could stop there. These would be the only 4 exercises you need to build muscle, get in shape, burn fat, get ripped, and create effective workouts.

  1. Knee Flexion Aka Squat

  2. Hip Hinge

  3. Upper Body Push

  4. Upper Body Pull

These 4 exercises will provide a full body workout and drive significant changes in your body composition.

The other advantage is that you can use a variety of exercises that fall into one of these four categories.

But what about abs?

Many of the aforementioned exercises will train your core indirectly, but no training program is complete without some direct ab work.


5. The Best Compound Exercises For Abs

Core training is already a key component of all training regimens.  However, most programs go about training the abs in the wrong way.

The abdominal muscles should not be trained via sit-ups or crunches.

Sit-ups are a horrible exercises that have become extremely popular with magazines and other fitness ‘gurus.’ These exercises create poor spinal mechanics and repetitively place your neck and spine in compromised positions.

compound-exercises-for-abs

Your abdominal muscles are meant to stabilize your core and allow you to maintain a well-aligned posture despite external forces.  This is why your abs should be trained for stability.

Having true core strength will allow you to resist lateral, sagittal, and rotational forces on your spine.

Core Exercises Improve

  • The stability of the rectus abdominis, the obliques and the transverse abdominis muscles
  • Spinal health and integrity
  • Low back pain

Okay, the best ones are..


Major Compound Ab Exercises

41. Plank Variations

42. The Side Plank

43. The Ab wheel Rollout

44. The Weighted/Loaded Carries

45. The Leg Raise Progression

46. The Reverse Crunch Progression


To see more amazing core exercises, check out our post on the 17 best core exercises.


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Other FAQs

How Many Compound Exercises Are There?

There are hundreds of compound exercises you can do. But the good news is, you only need a handful to get great results.

Pick 1-2 exercises from each of the main compound exercise categories to create a routine with.

I show you how to do this in my post How Many Exercises Per Workout Should I Do?

What are compound exercises good for?

Compound movements allow your body to train multiple muscle groups at once.

As a result, you will be able to lift more weight per exercise.  This will allow you to

  • produce greater increases in muscle growth
  • burn more calories
  • have a more efficient workout

Is it better to do compound exercises or isolation Exercises?

Overall, its better to do more compound exercises than isolation exercises.  Go for an 80:20 split.

Isolation exercises are different from compound exercises in that they only train one muscle group per exercise.

A common example is bicep curls.

While there is nothing wrong with isolation exercises, you can have a much more efficient workout by doing compound exercises.

Instead, you can do pull-ups: which train your lats, your rhomboids, and your traps, in addition to your biceps.

I’m all about efficiency. If I can do more work in less time, I prefer to do that.

Should I Do Compound Or Isolation First?

You should always do the harder exercises first. Compound movements will fatigue you much more than isolation movements.

Therefore you should always do compound exercises before isolation exercises in any given workout.

Can I Just Do Compound Exercises?

The short answer is yes.

If you only did compound exercises, you would be training more than 80% of all the muscles in your body.

That is not a bad proposition.

With that said, some compound exercises are difficult to recover from, and may not allow you to strengthen specific weak points you may have.

Therefore, I recommend that you do an ~80/20 split.

80 percent of the exercises you do should be compound, and 20 percent could be isolation.  Even if you did 90/10 you would probably still be perfectly fine.

What Are The Best Compound Exercises With Dumbbells?

I went over them above, but I will list them here again.

What If I Have Pain When Doing Compound Exercises?

One of the biggest excuse people have for not exercising is… pain.

I’ve been there many times, and believe me, pain sucks.

Sometimes pain only occurs during certain exercises such as a squat or a bench press.

The number one reason for pain is improper technique AND poor joint positioning when performing the movement.

Besides working on your technique, your posture may also play a role in preventing you from achieving these positions.

Check and see how your posture holds up at You Probably Have Bad Posture- Here’s How to Tell.

You will be shocked to learn how pivotal a role posture plays in how well you move and exercise.

A Workout Routine That Uses Only These Compound Exercises

So now you know the 5 best exercises ever.

If you only use the exercises listed above, you will improve your strength and fitness levels significantly over the long haul.

Stop wasting your time doing tricep kickbacks and bosu-ball sit-ups.

If you want real results, and you don’t have an hour to spend at the gym, then check out our compound exercise program for busy professionals.

It is a step-by-step 15-week strength program that utilizes only compound exercises.

The best part?

Each workout only takes 30 minutes to complete. Check it out at WCT Strength Program.

Can I Do Compound Exercises At Home Without Weights?

What if you can’t make it to the gym and you could only exercise from home?

Thankfully, our bodies could be used as external resistance. There are several bodyweight exercises that you can do, all of which resemble the 5 exercises described above.

We have created a comprehensive post on The Best Compound Exercises You Can Do At Home

In this post, we cover the 7 key fundamental movement patterns and provide several variations to increase or decrease the difficulty of each exercise.

What Do You Think Of Our List of Compound Exercises?

So there you have it. These are the only exercises you need to create effective workouts, get in shape, build muscle, and lose fat!

compound-exercises

To quickly recap

  • The best exercises to build muscle and get in shape are large compound exercises that train functional movement patterns

  • These include the squat, the hip hinge, the upper body push, the upper body pull and ab stabilization exercises.

  • Each of these 5 exercises has many variations, making them useful for any trainee at any level.

Related Posts On Compound Movements:

Now we turn it over to you. What do you think?  

Do you agree with our list? 

Any exercises you would remove from the list?

Any exercises you would include?

Comment below and let us know!

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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM CPTs, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader's Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

Learn More About Them Here

4 thoughts on “The Complete List Of Compound Exercises You Need To Do [46 Awesome Variations]”

  1. This is a great post for anyone looking to maximize their workouts and get strong fast! (I was also pleasantly surprised to find out I am already doing most of them!)

  2. Wow, this is honestly the first article I have seen that has addressed most of the exercises that I believe are the most important along with the 9 exercises that you should not do. I completely agree!! This is awesome. I am also a personal trainer and group ex instructor and I have never once asked my participants or clients to perform trunk flexion on the floor. It’s horrible form and I don’t understand why people don’t think they can work their core without doing these exercises! Thanks for your article!!

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