Without a doubt, the following four exercises are the best compound exercises going and should be a workout staple of anyone looking to pack on lean muscle. If you’re not already doing these gems, than read on and get with the programme!
If for some strange reason you were only ever allowed to perform one exercise, Squats should be that one exercise. Why? Squats are the king of exercises because not only do they workout all the muscles groups in your legs (quads, hamstrings, calves) but they force your core stabilizing muscles into working overtime.
Throw in the fact that they provide a built in cardio workout too and you have got an absolute total body killer (in a good way). If you have ever done squats before, than you will know that your heart is pounding out of your chest by the end of your set and you’re having to wipe the beads of sweat of your forehead. You know you have worked out if it’s been a squats day.
Form is critical to get the most benefit, so if you feel your form is slipping; you need to reduce the weight. We’ve all seen those guys at the gym trying to push way too much weight with bad form and they look ridiculous. Worse still, they are not really doing much muscle building.
Play second fiddle only to squats and is your next best bet. Again, uses all the muscles in the legs and works your back, shoulders and arms. Also gives you a great cardio workout as noted by the gasping breaths you need to take by the end of it.
The deadlift is an exercise that ‘fills you out’ working all the layers of muscles across your whole back and it even has some real world functionality (great for moving day).
Holding onto the bar can be a problem when first starting out, as your grip strength is usually nowhere near as strong as what you legs and back muscles can handle. This may mean you need to start out a bit lighter until it builds up. Caulk powder or a pair of gloves can help.
Like squats, form is extra important, so this is another reason to start out with a lighter weight to ensure you get this right first.
Being able to pull your own body weight up comes in real handy sometimes. If you ever found yourself hanging off the edge of a cliff, you will be glad that you added these to your workout.
If you currently do lat bar pull downs, you need to switch to pull-ups immediately. There are so many people out there that can do huge amounts of weight on the lat pull down machine, but can’t even do a single pull-up. That says it all really.
Specifically, you are going to want to do wide grip, palms facing forward pull-ups. These will work your entire back, including your lats, and give your biceps a pretty good pump too.
“But I can’t even do one single pull-up” you say? Not to worry. Find something to stand on that will allow you to jump up to the top position of the pull-up and then slowly lower yourself down. This allows you to complete the isometric part of the exercise, which still works the muscle and builds strength.
Do as many as you can and eventually you will be able to do a complete pull-up (the up and down). Combine your ‘completes’ and ‘halves’ until such time as you can do a set of 10-12 complete pull-ups. Then you can start adding weights to your body to keep it challenging.
Unless you are completely new to weight training, you are probably quite familiar with this exercise and most likely already have it in your routine. If that’s the case, great! Keep it in there.
Mix it up by doing both the barbell press and dumbbell press as they target slightly different areas of your chest. The fact that you are also giving your shoulders and triceps a good blasting when doing the bench press is why its one of the best compound exercises for your upper body.
If possible, try and find someone to spot you so you can get the very last rep (or partial rep) out of yourself. No one wants to be the guy who tried one rep too many and has to call out for help when they find themselves trapped under the bar. That fear (and probable reality) stops you from working to full failure, which is where you want to get to in order to see maximum results.
How often Should you Perform these Compound Exercises?
Being compound exercises (and the best compound exercises at that), you are not going to want to try all four of these in a single workout. They work too many of your major muscle groups and therefore are extremely taxing.
If you are pushing yourself hard (you should be), you will find yourself pretty exhausted after probably just two of them and will not be able to be effective with the other two.
To this end, look to schedule a maximum of two per workout (maybe just one if you’re only just starting out) and look to then move to a couple of isolation exercises for the rest of your workout, using similar muscles. E.g. after completing squats, you could do calf raises, or following pull-ups, you could do bicep curls.
Having said all that, these four best of the best compound exercises are more than capable of building plenty of lean muscle and a fantastic physique all on their own, so if you are short on time, you could make these the only exercises you ever do and still end up looking like a Greek god – they really are that good.