Unleash Incredible Muscle Mass With These 10 Awesome Compound Exercises

Published: 07th October 2009
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There is an endless choice of exercises to include in a weight training program and they can all be quite effective if performed with proper technique and intensity. However, some exercises have a far greater positive impact on the body and should be included in your training program each week. If a range of goals can be achieved from just one movement then it becomes more efficient and more effective than an exercise that has only one specific goal. We are talking about Free-weight, Compound Exercises.

What Is A Compound Exercise?

A compound exercise is a movement that occurs through two or more joints in the body involving a range of muscle groups. It is a synchronised, coordinated, team-effort and is an effective way to build muscle strength, size, tone and fitness.

Example: The Squat - this a compound free-weight exercise that delivers resistance and movement through the hip, knee and ankle joints engaging a diverse range of muscles.

Movements that occur through a single joint are called Isolation Exercises. They can be very useful but are inefficient as limited muscles are involved.

Example: Leg Extension - this is an isolation exercise that only affects the muscles used in knee-extension (the quads).

What Are The Benefits Of Employing Compound Movements?

* They are time-efficient because many muscles are trained in a single exercise. If you are using isolation exercises more are required because fewer muscles are involved.

Example: A 'Push-press' trains the shoulders, triceps, quads, glutes and a range of ancillary muscles. If you were performing isolation exercise to train these muscles you would need to do 'lateral raises, tricep extensions, leg extensions, hip extensions' and more to emulate the same amount of muscular stimulation.

* There is a greater capacity to build mass and strength. This is because heavy loads can be applied safely with the pressure divided between multiple joints and muscle groups all contributing varying levels of force.

* Inter-muscular coordination is learned through different muscle groups and joints interacting to execute a large, complex movement with synchronised efficiency. This means that the muscles become a powerful team that work well together.

* There is a reduced risk of injury (if good technique is always applied). With compound movements the load and stress is shared between many muscle groups and joints. During an isolation movement a single joint must handle the lot.

* You must build a strong core and mid-section. If you intend to lift heavy weights with good technique and intensity your abdominals, lower back and the inner muscles of the spine must be strong. Focussing on compound exercises will stabilise your body and keep you safe. Build up the weights slowly and engage your abs and core all the time.

* A positive hormonal environment is created when big muscles are stimulated with big exercises. When you focus on the big exercises larger amounts of growth hormone and testosterone are released into the system to support your body's battle with the heavy weights.

* The cardio-vascular system is more heavily involved because the greater amount of large muscles working in compound movements require increased quantities of blood and oxygen. This of course must be supplied by the heart and lungs.

10 Great Exercises



It is a great foundation exercise that involves many muscles groups that must interact safely to potentially lift very heavy weights. Expect massive increases in strength and size on the quads, glutes and traps and muscle thickness in the middle and lower back. It is a workout unto itself.


* Set up a barbell (BB) on a rack at waist height
 * Grasp the BB with straight arms a hand-space wider than your hips
 * Feet are shoulder width apart with toes slightly turned out
 * Head and chest are up with the back arched and the abdominals engaged
 * With the BB against the thighs slowly lower it towards the floor bending the knees, letting the hip go backwards and the chest go forwards
 * During the descent; the back must remain arched, the abdominals must remain engaged and the BB must remain in constant contact with the front of the legs
 * Stop at the point where you either reach the floor or your lower back starts to round then be ready to perform the ascent
 * Before you lift the BB back up to the starting point force the hip down and the chest up, tighten the abs then pull with the legs not the lower back
 * Follow the same path up as you did on the way down and stand up straight at the top
 * Breathe in on the way down and out on the way up
 * After a warm-up and stretch pyramid the weights and perform; 1 x 15, 1 x 10, 2 x 7

2.Medium Grip Chin-up


This is the best exercise for building serious back width and arm thickness. Massive amounts of controlled, positive stress are powered through the latissimus dorsi (lats) and the muscles surrounding the shoulder blades (scapula). The biceps and forearms also get thoroughly trained by assisting the back muscles. Neutral grip chin-ups and reverse grip chin-ups should also be used frequently to hit slightly different areas of the back. Sometimes my entire back workout is spent on the chin-up bar.


* Take a grip on the chin-up bar so that when the elbows and shoulders are at 90° the hands are a hand-space wider
* Stretch the body out to full extension, lift the head and chest, arch the back slightly and engage the abdominals
* Pulling through the elbows lift the body up until the chin is level with the hands then slowly release down to full extension
* Breathe out on the way up and in on the way down
* After a warm-up and stretch perform; 3 x 10

3.Fit-ball DB Press


Thickness and strength can be built through the entire chest while stabilisation work is encouraged through the rest of the body. The fit-ball ensures that strict technique is employed, the spine is supported, the back muscles are protected and the abdominals, core and hip create a stable foundation for heavy lifting. If you are strong on the fit-ball then the bench exercises become easy.


* Sit on a fit-ball holding two dumbbells on your legs
* Roll forward and lie down bringing the dumbbells onto the chest
* The feet should be shoulder width apart, the hips pushed upwards, the abdominals engaged and the head slightly down over the back of the ball
* Push the dumbbells to full extension above the middle of the chest then pull the shoulder blades together and keep them there throughout the movement
* Slowly lower the dumbbells down to the outside of the chest until a gentle stretch is felt * Push them back up to the starting position
* The path that the dumbbells follow is like an inverted U
* Roll back to the seated position when the set is finished
* Breathe in on the way down and out on the way up
* After a warm-up and stretch perform; 3 x 10

4.70° BB Row


This exercise is the best for developing thickness through all the back muscles. A lot of weight can be moved safely with assistance from the quads, hips and mid-section. If incorrect technique and poor body position is used then it can be a dangerous movement but if your form is strict it will make you big and strong. Mr Olympia 'Dorian Yates' called this exercise the 'Upper Body Squat'. The Squat is known as the 'King of Exercises' and will build overall mass in the body. The 70° BB Row will do the same.


* Stand with feet shoulder width apart holding a barbell with an overhand grip -on the outside of the legs
* Bend the knees slightly and lean forward until the torso is at 70°
* Keep the back arched, the chest and head up and the abdominals engaged
* From full extension pull the BB in constant contact with the thighs up the legs into the hips squeezing the shoulder blades together
* Slowly release the BB down the thighs stretching the upper back by opening the shoulders blades, maintain the original body position
* Breathe out on the way up and in on the way down
* After a warm-up and stretch pyramid the weight performing; 1 x 20, 1 x 15, 2 x 10

5.BB Squat


As discussed above the squat is a super effective exercise for developing muscle strength and size. The target muscles are the quadriceps and gluteals but many other muscles groups are needed to support this lift. The entire body must become a rigid powerhouse in order to properly support the weights that the powerful muscles of the hips and thighs can lift. It is another exercise where strict technique is a must. If you squat correctly everything will grow.


* In a power rack set up the barbell so that it is slightly lower than shoulder height and set up the safety bars in line with the top of the hips
* Grip the BB a hand-space wider than shoulder width and step under it squeezing the shoulder blades together to rest the BB on the trapezius
* Stand up with the weight and step back so there is room to perform the movement
* Take a shoulder width stance, lift the chest and head, arch the back, engage the abdominals
* In this position bend the knees lowering yourself towards the floor allowing the chest to go slightly forwards and the hips to go slightly backwards
* Stop before the lower back starts to round or at 90° at the knees then push back up to the starting position but don't lock out the knees
* Breathe in on the way down and out on the way up
* After a warm-up and stretch pyramid the weight performing; 1 x 20, 1 x 15, 2 x 10



This is one of my favourite exercises. It builds mass and strength through the entire shoulder girdle with assistance from nearly every muscle in the body. The thighs and glutes begin the movement by driving the BB up with a ¾ front squat. Then the shoulders and triceps take over pressing the BB powerfully above the head to full extension. At this point the BB is at a great unstable height and requires full engagement of the abdominals, lower back and core to keep it still and to keep your body safe. Big movements like this tax the entire body stimulating it to become big, fit, toned and strong.


* Stand up with the legs wider than the shoulders and feet turned out to 45°
* Hold a BB a hand-space wider than shoulder width just in front of your chin
* Arch your back slightly, lift your chest, engage your abs and bend the knees slightly
* Slowly squat down to just above 90° at the knees then drive the BB up with the legs and press it over the head with the arms in one big, powerful yet controlled movement
* The legs and arms must straighten and complete the movement at the same without fully locking out
* Pause at the top of the movement to gain control and make sure the abs are contracted tightly protecting the lower back
* Lower the BB slowly down to the front of the chin, pause briefly, then squat down slowly to continue the exercise
* Breathing; Take a slow, deep breath in as you squat down, breathe out forcefully as you drive up, breathe in on the way down to the chin, breathe out as you pause at the chin, repeat
* After a warm-up and stretch pyramid the weight performing; 1 x 15, 1 x 10, 2 x 8

7.Standing Single-arm Press


Let's compare it to a standard Seated Overhead DB Press. With the Seated Overhead DB Press; you are completely supported by a bench taking away any need for the ancillary muscles, core and abs to stabilise your body. There is no need to employ coordination and control. Both sides of the body aren't forced to do exactly the same amount of work. Only the shoulders and triceps become strong. With the Standing Single-arm Press the entire body becomes strong, stable and under perfect control while strength and size is gained evenly by safely pressing a heavy DB above the head.


* Stand up with the legs slightly wider than the shoulders
* Hold a single DB just above the outside of your shoulder with the elbow pointing to the floor
* Arch your back slightly, lift your chest, engage your abs, bend the knees slightly and place the free hand on the hip
* During the movement your focus in on maintaining a straight line through the middle of the body because force will be applied on one side at a time
* Press the DB up and in until the whole arm is straight and perpendicular to the floor
* Pause briefly then release back to the starting position
* Breathe out on the way up and in on the way down
* Repeat on the other side
* After a warm-up and stretch perform; 3 x 10 each side

8.Fit-ball DB Pullover


Performing a DB Pullover on a fit-ball forces you to use far greater control than on a bench. If you do not use strict technique and engage the abdominals properly you will fall off and hurt yourself. Pullovers train the lats, triceps and chest very thoroughly but on a fit-ball the abs, core, glutes and thighs are employed too. You have to think about each rep which will make each set perfect. It is a great exercise to include on back day.


* Sit on a fit-ball holding a single dumbbell and roll forward lying back on the ball placing the feet wide on the floor* The hips should be extended up, the chest should be lifted up and the head sloping slightly down over the back of the ball

* Hold the DB vertically above the chest cupping the underneath of the upper side with both of the hands and bend the elbows slightly

* In this position lower the DB very slowly over the back of the head tensing the abdominals hard so that your position on the fit-ball is secure

* Stop when the hands are in line with the back of the head or when a good stretch is felt through the latissimus dorsi then lift it back to above the chest
 * Make sure the fit-ball remains stable throughout the movement
 * Breathe in on the way down and out on the way up
 * After a warm-up and stretch perform; 3 x 15

9.Close Grip Bench Press


I think people waste far too much time on little, 'fluffy' exercises for triceps. The close grip bench press is a great way to apply heavy but safe stress to the triceps building mass and strength. It also is great for targeting the inner chest and front of the shoulders. A lot of weight can be moved safely and it is actually far more comfortable than a standard bench press. Whether you are training large muscle groups like the back or small muscle groups like the triceps you must focus on free weight compound movements before moving onto the smaller exercises.


* On a flat bench set up the barbell at a height where the hands are shoulder width apart and the arms fully extended towards the ceiling
 * Lie under the BB so that it is above eye level and take a shoulder width grip
 * Lift it off and bring it forward holding it above the chest then with elbows pointing forwards lower it slowly down to just below the chest
 * Then push it back up to above the middle of the chest keeping the elbows in
 * Breathe in on the way down and out on the way up
 * After a warm-up and stretch perform; 3 x 10

10. Dynamic Wood-chop


This is the best total mid-section exercise. It trains the lower abs, upper abs, obliques, erectors (lower back), and the internal muscles that support the spine (core). The ancillary muscles include nearly the rest of the body. The whole body works together in a smooth, flowing, powerful movement. A crunch will only train the upper abs, this efficient movement will do the lot.


* Attach a straight bar handle to the upper attachment of a cable cross-over
* Standing side-on to the pulley grasp the handle with an alternate grip (closest hand to pulley is underneath and facing out other hand above facing in)
* Walk two metres out from the pulley and stand side-on one foot back from being in line with the pulley
* Feet are very wide apart, knees are bent, abs are engaged inwards hard, arms are straight and pointing up towards the pulley and the body is braced in readiness for the movement
* With good force drive the handle with almost straight arms in a wide arc away from the body and down until it touches below the inside of the knee of the outside leg
* The torso can bend forwards during the powerful downward motion and the hips can move naturally side-to-side when needed
* Pause very briefly at the knee then release slowly back through the same path to the starting position
* Repeat on the other side taking care to set up the body position as a mirror image of the first side
* Breathe out on the way down and in on the way up
* After a warm-up and stretch perform; 3 x 15 each side

Last Word...

These exercises are so effective in building total strength, mass, muscle tone and stabilisation that it is a crime against your body to not perform them. Include them in your training schedule with focus and intensity but get the technique exactly right. You will find that gains are greater and results faster. You will also get far more bang for your buck. This is training with the bigger picture in mind. Don't waste time on isolation exercises until you have built a solid, fantastic foundation. Enjoy yourself, push the envelope and get what you want.

Joey Sheather is the head trainer at Global Weight Training, which provides step-by-step instructions on how to get into shape in the shortest possible time. For more information, visit Weight Training.

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