Compound Lifts

What are compound lifts?

Compound lifts are the lifts that use multiple muscles at once. Compound exercises should form the basis of any strength training routine as these types of lift build quality muscle quickly.

In contrast, isolation lifts are the lifts that focus on one specific muscle group. These are best used in moderation to fatigue an individual muscle after a compound workout. Isolation lifts are also good for aesthetic purposes, to develop and fine tune balanced muscles.

The big 3 compound lifts

The deadlift, squat and bench press are the three most important compound lifts. If you focus on these three movements, you are sure to pack on good, lean muscle.

The deadlift, squat and bench press are the three important lifts that make up power lifting competitions and serious lifters will form their routine around these big three.


These most important compound lifts are idea free weight exercises, but they can also be created using weight machines.

For example, the bench press can be recreated with the chest press, which uses the same muscles. Similarly, the squat can be recreated with the movement of the leg press.

Body builders will also use the isolation exercises to balance the overall look of their muscles, but isolation lifts are not the best way to build muscle in general because they are too specific.

squat - compound lifts

Other important compound lifts

The other compound lifts that should be used are the shoulder press or overhead press, dips, chin ups and pull ups.

Dips, Chin ups and Pull ups are bodyweight exercises, so they can be performed without using any extra weights.

Shoulder press, dips, chin ups and pull ups all work large muscle groups. When used alongside the big three compound exercises (deadlift, squat and bench press), these will help to form a great strength training routine.

Other compound lifts to add to your workout include the lat pull down, assisted pull ups, seated row and single arm row for back development.

Groups of compound lifts:

Deadlift / Squat / Bench Press

Shoulder Press / Lat Pull Down

Seated Row / Single Arm Row / Dips

Assisted Pull Ups / Chin ups

compound lifts - dips

How to use compound lifts

Compound lifts should form the backbone of your strength training workout. For each muscle group it is a good idea to perform two compound movements as the main part of your workout then finish off with an isolation exercise to fatigue the muscle.

For example, compound lifts for your upper back workout could be the lat pulldown and seated row. At the end of your workout, the isolation lift to complement these movements could be a couple of sets of reverse dumbbell flyes.

By prioritising the basic, compound lifts you can make the fastest gains. Compound exercises use more muscles to create the movement, so you get an overall workout with each compound lift. This maximises the efficiency of your workout and minimises your time spent in the gym.

Compound lift movements

The compound lifts all use big movements, such as pushing, pulling, lifting and squatting, which are all functional movements. These are the types of movements we all make in real life, outside the gym. This means compound movements help to develop functional strength which benefits you every day, not only in the gym.

Because compound movements use many muscles together, they leave our muscles more depleted than isolation exercises, which are much easier on the body as a whole.

Compound movements also demand much more from the heart and lungs, giving us a better cardio workout at the same time as muscle development, thanks to the exhausting nature of all-over body workouts.

Due to their superb body-conditioning results, compound lifts give you a solid strength foundation which can be used as the basis for all your other health and fitness goals.

Read about isolation lifts as the ideal way to finish your workout and fine tune individual muscles after compound exercises.

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