Not all exercises are created equally – some, like compound moves, have the ability to encourage more muscle growth than others, and using this to your advantage can make you a beast in no time!
Everyone, ranging from the average couch-potato-Joe to the bodybuilding champion, can benefit immensely from training with compound exercises. Being multi-joint movements, they work multiple muscle groups at the same time, which makes them an efficient use of your time, and equally important, they stimulate anabolic environment like nothing else. Furthermore, science has proven that compound exercises burn more calories than exercises focused on one muscle group. These bad boys also help you gain more muscle mass and strength, improve intramuscular coordination, increase the production of growth hormone (HGH), protect cardiovascular health and improve flexibility.
So, whether you’re here to explore ways to build some serious muscle, or you’re still dipping your toes in the exciting world of bodybuilding, here are 8 absolutely-must-have compound exercises and some tips to help you benefit fully from them.
The deadlift is the most physically stressful exercise in this game, no doubt about it. Which is perhaps why it’s incredibly powerful in building thick layers of muscle all over your body, especially your posterior chain and core muscles. These benefits then allow you to progress in other heavy lifts such as squats. Shortly put, if you need to do one exercise, this is the one to do.
To get the most from deadlifting, don’t pause on the floor after each rep – this kills intensity and decreases the efficiency of the workout. In addition, always lock out at the top portion of the rep, as this is crucial for fully engaging all muscles of the upper back.
#2. Bent-Over Row
Bent-over rows are what you need if you’re hoping to build a wide, thick, defined back and strong, muscular arms. This exercise predominately works the lats, rhomboids and lower trap region, and although it’s considered a compound exercise, it’s far more isolated and less versatile in its effects than the deadlift. As a bonus, bent-over rows also involve the spinal erectors and the core muscles, giving them solid workout.
While performing bent-over rows, if you want to focus more on the lower portion of your lats, drive you elbows back and keep them tight against your sides. This also allows for more power, and therefore heavier weight and more muscle stimulation.
Important note: Avoid excessive torso movement because it can shorten the range of motion, and that will hinder your gains.
#3. T-Bar Row
What sets T-bar rows aside from bent-over rows is the grip. And the fact that Schwarzenegger absolutely loved them. While people typically use a pronated grip for bent-over rows, T-bar rows require a semi-supinated position with the palms facing each other, which is perfect for heavier weight. Similar to almost all row variations, this exercise works all the major muscles in your back, including your lats, teres major, trapezius and erector spinae, while also powerfully hammering your shoulders and arms – especially the biceps, brachialis and brachioradialis. On top of that, your abs, hamstrings and glutes are also engaged to help stabilize your body as you lift.
Increase the effectiveness of the T-bar row by pausing at the top of every rep and contracting your lats and rhomboids as hard as you can.
Just like deadlifts, squats are great for creating the optimal anabolic environment in your body, resulting with the most bang for your buck. If deadlifts are the golden standard for posterior chain mass building, then squats are the ultimate leg and butt builder. Regularly performing squats will do more than enhance muscle building in the legs and butt though – it will also work your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, abs, and lower back. Moreover, all of these muscles must work in unison while performing a squat, which improves muscle coordination and athletic performance in general.
The potential for hypertrophy here is really high. Nothing exhausts a muscle fiber better than a couple of challenging sets of heavy weight squats. Remember to push through the heels in order to keep the tension on the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps.
#5. Leg Press
Leg presses are sometimes overlooked and considered a “lesser” exercise when compared with major compound lifts. And this cannot be further away from the truth. Sure, squats have more advantages overall, but leg presses are insurmountable when it comes to adding pure size to your legs. By enabling you to focus on your major leg muscles, leg presses will help you strengthen these massive muscles and unlock their full potential for growth. On the other hand, since they don’t require you to use your stabilizer muscles, you can add more weight faster and create a solid progressive overload.
When performing leg presses, always include a warm-up set before your working sets. Getting all the joints warmed up and ready to work is crucial for injury prevention and maximum results. Find a weight that allows you to perform 15-20 clean reps and fire away.
#6. Shoulder Press
The shoulder press is a versatile compound movement that can be performed with dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, resistance bands or a machine. It can be done while standing or sitting, and the most important part is to keep your back straight. Among other things, it’s the perfect way to build volume in the anterior and medial heads of the deltoids, while developing tricep size and strength as well. It also targets the traps, serratus anterior and the upper portion of the pecs, although to a lesser extent. The shoulder press is simply a must-do for everyone who wants to build wide, thick shoulders.
Depending on the grips used, angles, and variations of the shoulder press, certain aspects of the anterior, posterior, and overall shoulder region can be highlighted. If you want to remain focused on the delts, shorten your range of motion. On the other hand, locking out will engage the triceps more.
#7. Bench Press
The bench press comes in many shapes and flavors, and all of them come with their awesome benefits. The flat bench press, often regarded as the measuring stick of pressing strength, is a staple in the bodybuilding world for as long as the latter exists, and there’s a good reason for that. Besides building the pectoralis major, the ultimate glamour muscle of the chest, the bench press strengthens the pectoralis minor (the muscle lying deep under the pec major) and serratus anterior. For best results, use a wider grip and press through a nearly full range of motion, avoiding lock out at the top.
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#8. Weighted Dips
Dips are another cool multi-joint movement that is predominantly used for building mass in the pecs and triceps. When performed correctly, dips can add pounds of muscle to your upper body and improve your strength for other exercises such as bench presses and military presses. Much like other compound exercises, the way you perform dips can change which muscle group is emphasized the most. Using a narrow grip with an upright torso keeps most of the focus on your triceps, while a wider grip with your weight shifter forward will target your chest more.
While performing dips, make sure to start and finish each repetition with your elbows locked out. Your descent should take around 2-3 seconds to maximize muscle breakdown. To up the intensity, overload your triceps with a heavy set to failure, then reduce the weight and perform an immediate drop set to welcome more blood flow – this will enhance nutrient transportation and thus encourage growth.