Thursday, January 24, 2013

Article # 234. What Is a Compound Exercise?

What Is a Compound Exercise?

A compound exercise targets more than one joint and muscle group, as opposed to a single-joint exercise, which works only one muscle or muscle group. Compound exercises typically emphasize the major muscle groups, such as the buttocks, hamstrings, lower and upper back, quadriceps and shoulders, and involve lifting relatively heavy weights. Consult a personal trainer to determine which compound exercises are appropriate for you and how to fit them into your exercise regimen.


Emphasizing compound, or multijoint, exercises during your workouts will likely prove more effective at helping you reach your goals than single-joint exercises, says Roger Earle and Thomas Baechle, authors of "NSCA's Essentials of Personal Training." This is perhaps due to the fact that many daily activities -- sitting, standing and walking -- involve multiple joints and muscle groups, making compound exercises more practical than single-joint exercises. Additionally, workouts that stress compound exercises are more efficient, allowing you to train all the major muscle groups in less time than those that emphasize single-joint exercises.

Lower Body

The back squat, deadlift, front squat, leg press, lunge and stepup are classic examples of lower-body compound exercises. Each targets the gluteus maximus and hamstrings, which extend your hips, and the quadriceps, which extend your knees. The deadlift and squat exercises also work your lower back, so they could also be classified as full-body exercises, but they primarily emphasize the hips and knees.

Upper Body

The bench press, bent-over row, lat pulldown and military press are examples of upper-body compound exercises. The bench press strengthens the pectoral muscles of your chest, the front of your shoulders and the triceps on the back of your upper arms; the bent-over row targets the back of your shoulders and your upper back; the lat pulldown works the latissimus dorsi muscles, or lats, that span the sides of your back and the elbow flexors; and the military press strengthens your shoulders and triceps.

Full Body

The clean, jerk, push press and snatch are examples of full-body compound exercises. These are explosive exercises performed with light-to-moderate resistance to increase your power. Each exercise targets the buttocks, calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, lower back and various muscles within your forearms, shoulders, upper arms and upper back.


Perform compound exercises before single-joint exercises during each workout to ensure your muscles are fresh. Always have a spotter nearby to provide encouragement, feedback about your technique and assistance, if necessary. Compound exercises are more difficult than single-joint exercises because they're more complex, requiring coordinated efforts from multiple muscle groups. Consequently, performing them may increase your risk of injury, so start with light resistance until you master the correct techniques, and then increase the amount of resistance conservatively. Consult your doctor if any exercise causes pain.


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