You may be wondering, what are compound lifts and why should you include these into your training routine? In this blog post, you’ll find a list of compound exercises, what compound lifts are, how to perform them and some tips to improve your form.

Let’s jump right in!

What are compound lifts?

Compound lifts are any exercise that works more than one muscle group at a time.

List of Compound Exercises

Why are compound exercises good for you?

Compound exercises are great for building muscle, increasing strength and improving overall fitness. They’re also time efficient because one exercise targets multiple muscle groups which means you can train more muscle groups in less time.

Compound lifts also stimulates a higher release of human growth hormone which also helps to increase your muscle mass. Lastly, creating a routine comprised of mainly compound lifts will ensure that you train your entire body and prevent any muscle imbalances that could lead to injury.

The list of compound exercises to target every muscle group.

Here is a list of compound lifts you can include in your training routine. Performing each of the exercises in this list of compound exercises will ensure that you train your full body since these exercises cover all 6 of the basic movement patterns.

  1. Squat
  2. Deadlift
  3. Bench Press
  4. Pull Up
  5. Bent Over Row
  6. Overhead Press
  7. Hip Thrust

Read on to learn more about each exercise including how to them and tips to improve your form.

The Squat

Barbell Squat

How to perform the squat

  • Place the barbell on your back and position it near the middle of your shoulder blades.
  • Bend both knees to lower yourself as if you were sitting down in a chair, keeping your toes pointing straight ahead or slightly outwards (not turned inward).
  • Keep your head and chest up at all times and make sure that your back is straight.
  • Push up through your heels until you are standing upright again.

Muscles worked

This exercise targets your quadriceps (front of thighs), hamstrings (back of thighs), glutes (bum) as well as other muscles in the legs. This exercise is a knee dominant movement because it targets your quads.

The squat can be performed with a barbell on your back, with dumbbells or with your bodyweight. There are a ton of different squat variations but the barbell back squat is the most popular variation.

Tips to improve your form

-Keep your back straight and make sure that you do not extend over your toes. In some instances, like when you are squatting very deep, your toes may extend over your toes a little bit but if you are squatting parallel to the ground you should not be extending your knees over your toes.

-Push through your heels and keep your glutes engaged as you perform the squat.

-Keep your core tight as you complete the exercise, this will provide more strength and stability as you do the exercise.

-When doing a barbell back squat, make sure to place the bar across your shoulders blades and not your neck. If you place the bar directly on your neck, it will hurt you since it will be placed directly on your spine.

The Deadlift


How to perform the deadlift

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart with a barbell placed in front of you. Keeping your spine neutral, bend down to grip the barbell.
  • Grip the barbell with your palms facing your body or a mixed grip. Your hands should be placed on the bar so that it is just outside your knees.
  • Tighten your core muscles as you pull up on the barbell with straight arms.
  • Once the bar has travelled about half way up your shin, start pushing your hips forward until you have straightened up and the barbell is almost level with your pelvis.
  • Lower the barbell down to the starting position ensuring that your spine is kept neutral.

There are also a ton of different variations for the deadlift including the Romanian Deadlift, the Stiff Legged Deadlift and the Sumo Deadlift.

Muscles worked

The muscles worked during a deadlift include your Glutes, Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Lower Back, Lats and Core. The deadlift is a hip dominant exercise since the exercise targets your glutes and hamstrings.

Tips on how to improve your form

-Keep your back straight.

-Keep the bar close to your shins as you pull up on it with a neutral spine position.

-Do not bend forward too much or lean backwards at the beginning and end of the movement.

-When you start pulling the weight up, imagine that a string is tied around your pelvis and that someone is pulling it backwards. This will ensure that you are hinging at the hips.

The Bench Press

List of compound exercises :Bench Press

How to perform the bench press

  • Start by lying on a bench with your feet placed firmly on the ground on either side of the bench.
  • Place your hands so that they are gripping the bar just wider than shoulder width.
  • Roll your shoulders back and down and create good arch in your lower back, then push through your feet while simultaneously pushing the bar up towards the ceiling.
  • Lower the bar to your chest until it touches your chest and repeat the movement.

Muscles worked

The bench press mainly works your pectoral muscles as well as your front deltoid. The Bench Press is a horizontal push exercise since you are pushing the weight in the horizontal plane.

Tips to improve your form

-Keep your elbows tucked in close to your body.

-Tighten the muscles around your upper back, and keep them engaged throughout the exercise.

-Brace your core to help create more force.

-Make sure to push with your chest muscles, not just your arms.

The Pull Up

List of compound exercises: Pull Up

How to perform the pull up

  • Start by hanging from the bar with your hands at a wide grip.
  • Contract your shoulder blades and start pulling yourself up towards the bar making sure to contract your lats.
  • Once your collar bone is about parallel to your hands, lower yourself down again and repeat the movement.

Muscles worked

The Pull Up primarily works your latissimus dorsi and biceps as well as your rhomboids and core. The Pull Up is a vertical pull movement.

Tips to improve your form

Brace your core and make sure to pull with your lats.

-Don’t use momentum or swing back and forth, instead focus on the contraction of the latissimus dorsi muscle.

-Keep your shoulders down and back, do not shrug them up to your ears.

The Bent Over Row

List of compound exercises :Bent Over Row

How to perform the bent over row

  • With a barbell in front of you, bend at the waist until your torso is parallel with the floor.
  • Grasp the barbell with each hand using an overhand grip and keep your elbows close to your body as you lift it off the ground.
  • Keep your chest high as you row by pulling on the bar towards your torso.
  • Once you have rowed the bar to your sternum, lower it back down again and repeat the movement.

Muscles worked

The Bent Over Row works the following muscles:

-The Latissimus Dorsi: This is the largest muscle of your back.

-The Teres Major: This muscles attached to the upper part of your arm and to your shoulder blade.

-The Rhomboids: These muscles are located in your upper back attach to each side of your spine.

-Upper Traps or Trapezius: Located on top of your shoulders.

The Bent Over Row is a horizontal pull exercise.

Tips for form

-Contract your shoulder blades together and keep them down throughout the exercise.

-Keep a flat back as you bend over, do not round your lower back or overarch it.

-Do not row by simply pulling your shoulder blades together and down, instead focus on pulling the bar with your elbows.

The bent over row can also be performed with dumbbells or kettlebells.

The Overhead Press

List of compound exercises: Overhead Press

How to perform the overhead press

  • Stand tall with a straight back and your feet should be shoulder width apart.
  • Grasp the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart and your palms facing forward.
  • Press up and exhale as you push the weight toward the ceiling until your arms are fully extended; then lower the bar back down again.
  • Bring the bar down with control to your collar bone, and repeat the movement.

Tips for form

-Make sure to lock your elbows at the top of the movement and to not overextend your arms either forwards or backwards. the bar needs to be above your shoulders.

-Look forward when performing the exercise and make sure to move your head slightly backwards to make way for the bar as you push it upwards.

-Keep your wrists straight and your palms facing forwards throughout the movement.

Muscles worked

The Overhead Press works the following muscles:

-The anterior and lateral deltoids, which are your shoulders.

-The triceps at the back of your arms.

-Your chest muscles and upper pectoralis major muscle in particular.

-A large portion of your traps.

The Overhead Press is a vertical push movement.

The Hip Thrust

Hip Thrust

How to perform the Hip Thrust

  • Sit on the floor with a barbell placed over your lap, your feet shoulder width apart and flat on the floor and your back up on a bench.
  • Start by pushing the barbell up towards the ceiling with your hips while keeping your spine neutral and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Push the bar up until your body forms a straight line and contract your glutes.
  • Lower your hips down again and repeat the movement.

Muscles worked

The Hip Thrust works the following muscles:

-Glutes : The muscles located in your buttocks.

-Quadriceps : These muscles are located in your thighs.

-Hamstrings : The hamstrings are the group of muscles in the back of your leg.

The Hip Thrust is a hip dominant movement.

Tips to improve your form

-Don’t round your back, instead keep it neutral.

-Use a barbell pad if you find that the barbell is hurting you.

-Keep your chin tucked to your chest throughout the movement.

-Push your feet into the floor to help you push up.

-Don’t let your knees cave inwards.

Now that you know what compound exercise are and why they are important, let’s have a look at isolation exercises.

What are isolation exercises?

Isolation exercises are exercises that target small groups of muscles.

A good example is the biceps curl, which targets only your arm and elbow muscles.

Why are isolation exercises important?

  • They allow you to target muscles that are weak and that could potentially lead to injuries or affect your performance. Strengthening all your smaller muscles is important because it helps to improve your performance on your compound lifts.
  • Doing isolation exercises also helps to break up the monotony of always doing compound lifts, which gives your muscles more time to recover and grow as well.
  • Isolation exercise allow you to fix muscle imbalances. In addition to strengthening a group of muscles that are weak, it can also help you to build and strengthen muscles that are imbalanced. For example, your bicep may be stronger and bigger on your left side and weaker on the right. Isolation exercises allow you to fix the imbalance by focusing on the weaker muscle.
  • Aside from targeting weak muscles and muscle imbalances, isolation exercises also allow you to grow a particular muscle group more. For example, if you wanted to grow your glutes in particular, you could perform a series of exercise specifically targeting the three glute muscles.

How to Programme compound and isolation lifts into your training routine

Your training routine should be 80% compound lifts since these exercises will work multiple muscle groups and help you build overall strength and size. Compound lifts are also great for fat loss since they are so taxing on your body.

The other 20% should be dedicated to isolation exercises which should be targeting muscle imbalances, weaker muscle groups or any areas you want to focus on.

When creating your workout, make sure you include compound lifts from each of the movement patterns. The 6 primary movement patterns are:

Vertical Push

Vertical Pull

Horizontal Push

Horizontal Pull

Knee Dominant

Hip Dominant

Including exercises from each exercise will ensure that you don’t develop any muscle imbalances since exercises from these categories work all your major muscle groups.


Compound lifts will help you build muscle, lose weight and improve your conditioning. They are a great way to pack in the most amount of work in the shortest period of time. If you’re not performing exercises from all six movement patterns, then consider adding some exercises from the categories where you aren’t performing any of the exercises. Use this list of compound exercises to help you create a well balanced workout plan that will help you achieve your fitness goals more effectively.

Don’t forget to check out the freebie library for some great free resources.

Happy lifting!

Anna Mathis, CPT,CNC
Anna Mathis, CPT,CNC

Anna is a certified personal trainer, certified nutrition coach, and science junkie who has a passion for teaching women about weight training, nutrition, and wellness.