The 15 Best Compound Exercises for Muscle and Strength

Compound exercises are highly effective for building strength, power, and muscle mass. They offer numerous benefits, including improved athletic performance, functional movement patterns, and, of course, strength and hypertrophy gains.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the science behind compound exercises and explore the 15 best ones for all major muscle groups you can implement into your training to reach your fitness goals.

>> Click here if you want to go directly to the compound exercises list.

What are Compound Exercises?

Strength training can be classified according to the joints involved in a specific movement. 

Unlike isolation exercises that target a single muscle group at a time and involve only one joint movement, compound exercises involve several joint movements that activate multiple muscle groups simultaneously, allowing you to do more work in less time.

Examples of compound exercises include squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and pull-ups, while the biceps curl, triceps extension, and leg extension are prime examples of isolation exercises.

The squat, perhaps the most recognizable compound movement of all, vs. the leg extension, a pure isolation exercise:

The squat, being a multi-joint movement, works the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, while leg extensions focus solely on a specific muscle group: the quads.

Compound exercises can be done with any training equipment: free weights like barbells and dumbbells, machines, cables, and your body weight.

Differences Between Compound and Isolation Exercises

These are the five main differences between compound and isolation exercises:

  • Compound exercises engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, while isolation exercises target a specific muscle group or body part.
  • Compound exercises involve movements over several joints, while isolation exercises typically involve only one joint movement. For example, pull-ups (a compound exercise) involve multiple joints and movement patterns, including the elbow and shoulder, while bicep curls (an isolation exercise) only involve the elbow joint.
  • Isolation exercises are typically easier to learn and don’t require as much technical prowess, while compound movements are more complex and require more coordination and balance.
  • Compound exercises require more energy and effort than isolation exercises due to the involvement of multiple muscle groups and joints. As a result, they tend to be more demanding, get your heart rate up, and burn more calories, which is a great thing for fat loss when combined with a healthy diet.
  • Compound movements often mimic functional movement patterns useful in everyday life or sports, while isolation exercises may have less practical application.

Compound Exercises vs. Isolation Exercises: Which Are Best for Strength and Muscle Growth?

While both compound and isolation exercises have their place in a well-rounded fitness program, many lifters and trainers believe compound exercises are more effective for building overall strength, power, and muscle mass.

Here’s what the science says about the benefits of compound exercises for building strength and muscle hypertrophy.

Compound Exercises for Strength

Traditionally, compound exercises are considered more effective than isolation exercises for increasing maximal strength.

However, a recent study showed similar strength improvements from single-joint and multi-joint exercises.1 Performing isolation movements like dumbbell flyes and leg extensions increased bench press and squat strength just as much as performing the actual compound exercises.

An earlier study came to similar conclusions, with single-joint exercises producing similar strength gains as multi-joint exercises.2

However, you should take those results with a few grains of salt, especially regarding long-term gains and strength progress.

I don’t think anyone truly believes you can become a good powerlifter by only training leg extensions instead of squats.

Indeed, most research shows that you become good at what you do. You need to squat if you want your squat to improve in the long run. You’ll get stronger by doing other leg exercises, but to maximize your strength gains in the squat, you have to get into the squat rack.

Accessory isolation work can benefit your strength gains, but you can only recover from so much heavy lifting. In many cases, it’s better to do more of the exercises you want to get stronger in than “wasting” your recovery ability on isolation exercises.

Increases in muscular strength are the largest in the exercises performed at the beginning of an exercise session.3 In other words: when you want to get stronger in the squat or bench press, do those lifts first.

In addition, focusing on compound lifts can save time, as adding isolation work to a compound workout routine might not lead to greater strength gains.4

Compound Exercises for Muscle Growth

For muscle hypertrophy, research suggests you can train how you like as long as you challenge your muscles through progressive overload. Single-joint and multi-joint produce similar muscle growth.5

That being said, preliminary evidence suggests combining compound and isolation exercises might be the best of both worlds and offer additional benefits for more complete muscle development.

In most instances, starting with compound movements when you are the strongest is the best way to structure a workout. You activate more muscle fibers early in the training session, then move to isolation work to complement the compound exercises and finish with a great pump.

Leg press for compound exercises list article
Do your compound lifts first in the workout when you are mentally and physically fresh.

A chest workout for muscle growth, starting with compound movements and finishing with an isolation exercise, could look like this:

  1. Bench Press
  2. Incline Dumbbell Press
  3. Cable Chest Fly

There are exceptions, like when you want to pre-exhaust a muscle by starting with an isolation movement. The use of compound exercises may be limited because smaller and weaker muscles tire first. By “pre-exhausting” a muscle group, for example by performing chest flyes immediately before switching to the bench press, the theory is that you’ll stress the pecs more because the triceps won’t be the weak point.6

In general and for most lifters, though, starting with a compound exercise where you can move a lot of weight is a good idea for both muscle strength and hypertrophy.

Compound exercises are likely more efficient and effective for building overall strength and functionality, while isolation exercises allow you to focus on specific muscle groups. Both options are valid when training for muscle hypertrophy.

Compound Exercises List

So, we’ve determined that compound exercises are the bee’s knees for strength and muscle gain. But which ones are the cream of the crop? 

The following compound exercises list explains each movement’s benefits, with detailed instructions on performing them correctly. You can’t go wrong by implementing these great exercises into your training program.

Compound Chest Exercises

These are the best compound exercises for the chest muscles, ranging from perhaps the best overall upper-body strength exercise to one you can do anywhere without any equipment besides your body weight.

Bench Press

It might not be the best indicator of overall strength, but when someone wants to know how strong you are, chances are they ask how much you bench.

As the most popular exercise for building muscle and strength, the barbell bench press lives up to its “King of Upper Body Exercises” moniker. It’s primarily a chest exercise but also targets your front delts and triceps.

The bench press is the main event for powerlifters measuring upper-body strength during a competition. For bodybuilders, it allows the use of heavier loads than other chest exercises to stimulate muscle growth.

Including bench presses in your chest training program is one of the best ways to increase the strength of your pushing muscles and add muscle mass to your pecs.

Muscles Worked in the Bench Press

Bench press muscles worked

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How to Bench Press with Proper Form

  1. Lie on the bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, and slightly arch your back.
  2. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Inhale, hold your breath, and unrack the bar.
  4. Lower the bar with control, until it touches your chest somewhere close to your sternum.
  5. Push the bar up to the starting position while exhaling.
  6. Take another breath while in the top position, and repeat for reps.

Incline Dumbbell Press

The incline dumbbell press is a great accessory movement to the bench press for building upper body strength and a fantastic exercise for pec muscle growth in its own right.

Performing the exercise on an incline bench emphasizes your upper chest muscles compared to the flat dumbbell chest press. Research shows that incline presses lead to more significant muscle growth of the upper chest than using a flat bench.7

You can perform the barbell incline bench press instead, but many lifters find using dumbbells more comfortable and easier on the shoulder joints. In addition, they allow you to get a full range of motion both at the bottom and top of the movement.

Muscles Worked in Incline Dumbbell Press

Muscles worked in incline dumbbell press

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How to Incline Dumbbell Press

  1. Adjust the incline of a bench to be around 30-45 degrees.
  2. Sit down and lift a pair of dumbbells to the starting position.
  3. Press the dumbbells up to straight arms while exhaling.
  4. Inhale at the top or while lowering the dumbbells with control back to your shoulders.


The push-up is a classic bodyweight exercise that strengthens your chest, shoulders, and triceps. It’s a good example of a compound exercise you can do anywhere without specific training equipment besides your own bodyweight. Anywhere and anytime is the right place and time for some push-ups.

Research shows that push-ups are as effective as the barbell bench press for building muscle and strength.8 9 10 You also activate your core muscles significantly more than the regular bench press. The only issue is that adding more weight to your push-ups as you get stronger can be awkward.

You can make the exercise easier by performing kneeling push ups or more challenging by using an elastic band for added resistance.

resistance band push-up
A resistance band can make push-ups more challenging as you get stronger.

Muscles Worked in Push-Ups

Muscles worked in push-ups

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How to Do Push-Ups

  1. Assume the starting position, with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Try to form a straight line from head to feet, and brace your abdomen slightly.
  3. Lower yourself as deep as you can, while inhaling.
  4. Reverse the motion when you’ve touched the floor, and push yourself up to straight arms again while exhaling.
  5. Repeat for reps.

Compound Back Exercises

The back consists of several powerful muscles best trained with multi-joint movements. This list of the best compound exercises includes both pulldown- and rowing types of lifts.


The barbell deadlift is one of the best compound lifts to strengthen your thigh and posterior chain muscles, specifically your gluteus, hamstrings, erector spinae, and quadriceps. It’s almost a full-body workout in and of itself and benefits everything from your most prominent muscle groups to your grip strength.

Including the deadlift in your workout routine improves your overall functional fitness movement patterns you can use in everyday life, like picking something up off the ground.

There are several different variations of the deadlift exercise.

  • The sumo deadlift is equally effective but engages the quadriceps and glutes more than conventional deadlifts.
  • The trap bar deadlift also engages your quads more but with lower mobility requirements, puts less stress on your lower back, and is often easier to learn. Not every gym has trap bars, but they make the deadlift viable even if you have back issues.

Muscles Worked in the Deadlift

Deadlift muscles worked

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How to Deadlift with Proper Form

  1. Step up close to the bar so that it is about over the middle of your foot.
  2. Inhale, lean forward, and grip the bar.
  3. Hold your breath, brace your core slightly, and lift the bar.
  4. Pull the bar close to your body, with a straight back, until you are standing straight.
  5. Lower the bar back to the ground with control.
  6. Take another breath, and repeat for reps.


The pull-up is an old-school bodyweight exercise for building a strong, wide back that has stood the test of time. Pull-ups target the back muscles, primarily the lats, but also involve your rear delts and arms, making them an excellent exercise for building overall upper-body pulling strength.

If you find yourself struggling to complete more than a pull-up or two, try one of these tricks to help you along:

  • Loop a resistance band around your legs and the pull-up bar. The band assists you in lifting your body weight and makes the exercise significantly easier. Use lighter bands as you get stronger, and you’ll eventually be able to do regular, unassisted pull-ups.
  • You can ask a partner, friend, or roommate to stand behind you, grab your feet, and assist you in completing your pull-ups.
  • If you have no one to help you, you can place a sturdy chair or bench behind you, bend your legs, and place your toes on it. Then use a slight leg drive to assist your pull ups.

On the other hand, if you can do a dozen or more bodyweight pull-ups without too much effort, hold a dumbbell between your legs or put on a backpack with a couple of books or something for added resistance.

The lat pulldown is an equally effective exercise for building your upper back and a great way to develop your lats if you find pull-ups too challenging.

Muscles Worked in Pull-Ups

Muscles worked in pull-ups

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How to Do a Pull-Up

  1. Grip the bar with palms facing away from you, slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  2. Keep your chest up, and look up at the bar.
  3. Inhale and pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar or the bar touches your upper chest.
  4. Exhale and lower yourself with control until your arms are fully extended.

Barbell Row

If the bench press is the king of upper-body pushing exercises, you could crown the barbell row the monarch of pulling movements.

Few exercises are as effective for building a thick back as the barbell row. It primarily works your lats, traps, rhomboids, and posterior deltoids but also effectively hits your lower back, biceps, and forearms.

Barbell rows are typically performed using an overhand grip, but you can switch to an underhand grip for variation. It targets the biceps more but can also make keeping your elbows tucked by your sides easier.

The barbell row allows you to use heavy weights to overload your back muscles for maximal muscle growth. However, it’s easy to cheat in this exercise and use your hips to use heavier weights than your upper back muscles can handle. If you must raise your torso to an almost upright position to pull the bar up, you’re using too much weight for proper form.

Muscles Worked in Barbell Rows

Barbell row muscles worked

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How to Do Barbell Rows With Proper Form

  1. Grip the bar with an overhand grip.
  2. Lean forward with the bar hanging from straight arms.
  3. Inhale and pull the bar towards you.
  4. Pull the bar as high as you can so that it touches your abs or chest, if possible.
  5. With control, lower the bar back to the starting position.

Compound Shoulder Exercises

Broad shoulders make an immediate impression of strength and power: the hallmark of an athletic physique. These compound lifts will put some meat on those delts.

Overhead Press

The barbell overhead press, also known as the shoulder or military press, is a mainstay movement for improving upper-body pushing strength and building deltoid muscle size. Primarily a shoulder exercise, it also targets your chest muscles and triceps.

Shoulder presses also improve sports performance and other activities requiring overhead movement, such as throwing and climbing. They engage your shoulder stabilizer muscles, which help improve shoulder stability and reduce the risk of injury.

To maximize the activation of your shoulder muscles, perform the shoulder press using strict form without bouncing or using leg drive. This variation is ideal for bodybuilding purposes and for powerlifters focusing on upper body strength.

Involving your lower body for momentum turns the overhead press into a push press, a viable option and a good idea for athletes looking to move as much weight as possible using the entire body, like in strongman training and Olympic lifting, as well as some CrossFit workouts.

Muscles Worked in the Overhead Press

Muscles worked in overhead press exercise

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How to Overhead Press with Proper Form

  1. First, place a barbell in a rack at about chest height.
  2. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and step close to it.
  3. Inhale, lightly brace your core, and unrack the bar.
  4. Let the bar rest against your front delts while you step back from the rack.
  5. Press the bar up to straight arms while exhaling.
  6. Inhale at the top or while lowering the bar with control back to your shoulders.
  7. Repeat for reps.

Seated Dumbbell Press

While the standing overhead press is ideal for improving functional strength, the seated dumbbell shoulder press might be the better choice for muscle growth.

Performing the exercise seated requires less overall body stabilization than the standing barbell overhead press, meaning greater isolation of your delts. In addition, using dumbbells allow for a more extended range of motion, which is slightly more effective for muscle hypertrophy.11

Muscles Worked in Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Muscles worked in seated dumbbell shoulder press

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How to Do Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

  1. Sit down on a bench with a raised backrest.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells and lift them up to the starting position at your shoulders.
  3. Inhale and lightly brace your core.
  4. Press the dumbbells up to straight arms, while exhaling.
  5. Inhale at the top, or while lowering the dumbbells with control back to your shoulders.
  6. Repeat for reps.

Upright Row

The upright row is the only open chain multi-joint movement targeting the middle deltoid and effectively works both that muscle and the upper trapezius. It is also an important movement to master in weightlifting as a part of the high pull portion of the clean.

The upright row has a bad rep because it requires the arms to be raised away from the body above shoulder height while in an internally rotated position, which might increase the risk of shoulder impingement when performed in the traditional way.

However, most people can perform it safely by avoiding elevating their upper arms above shoulder height at the top of the movement.12 If you feel discomfort at any point, the upright row might not be for you. In that case, try the dumbbell monkey row, an excellent old-school exercise that has undeservedly been forgotten over the decades.

When performing upright rows, pull the bar as close to your body as possible throughout the movement to maintain stress on the middle deltoid. Also, focus on pulling through your elbows, not your wrists, to maximize the muscle activity of your delts.

Muscles Worked in Barbell Upright Row

Muscles worked in barbell upright row

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How to Do Barbell Upright Row

  1. Grip the bar with an overhand grip, slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Pull the bar straight up, until it is at the level of your chin.
  3. With control, lower the bar back to the starting position.

Compound Bicep Exercises

Some people can build bulging biceps without isolation exercises, instead relying solely on back compound exercises to target the front of their upper arms. However, most of us must do at least some curls to get those guns to grow.

One multi-joint movement stands out as an excellent biceps-builder, making it a no-brainer for this compound exercises list.


Like the pull-up, the chin-up is an effective exercise for building your upper back muscles. However, using a supinated (palms facing you) grip allows you to focus more on your biceps. As you pull your body up towards the bar, your biceps are heavily engaged to help lift your body weight.

Most bicep exercises, like the barbell and dumbbell bicep curl, are isolation movements. Chin-ups are one of the few compound movements that emphasize your biceps, making them an excellent addition to your compound workouts.

Also like the pull-up, you can use an assisted chin-up machine or resistance bands to make the movement more manageable or add weight with a weighted vest or belt to increase the resistance and make the exercise more challenging.

Muscles Worked in Chin-Ups

Muscles worked in chin-ups

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How to Do Chin-Ups

  1. Grip the bar with a supinated grip (palms facing you), about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keep your chest up, and look up at the bar.
  3. Inhale and pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar, or the bar touches your upper chest.
  4. Exhale and lower yourself with control until your arms are fully extended.

Compound Tricep Exercises

The triceps is one of the largest muscle groups in the upper body. It’s twice as big as the biceps and makes up roughly two-thirds of your upper arm size, meaning you can’t neglect it if you want to fill out your sleeves.

Most exercises that target the triceps effectively are isolation movements, but a couple of exceptions are shoo-ins for this compound exercises list.

Bar Dip

Dips are a compound exercise that primarily targets the chest, triceps, and shoulders muscles, making them effective for building upper body strength and muscle gain.

While dips fit just as well under the best compound chest exercises list, you can shift the focus to your triceps in three simple steps.

  • Keep your upper body more upright as you perform the exercise to place more emphasis on the triceps and less on the chest.
  • Use a narrower grip. Instead of gripping the bars slightly wider than shoulder-width, place your hands closer together to make your triceps do more of the work and reduce the involvement of the chest muscles.
  • Keep your elbows close to your body and tucked to your sides during the movement to help target the triceps more.

Overall, the dip is a great mass-builder for your upper body, and depending on how you perform it, you can zero in on the triceps.

Muscles Worked in Bar Dips

Muscles worked in the bar dip exercise

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How to Do Bar Dips

  1. Grip a dip station about shoulder-width apart, and climb or jump to get into the starting position.
  2. Lower yourself with control until your shoulder is below your elbow, or as deep as you comfortably can.
  3. Reverse the motion and return to the starting position.

Close-Grip Bench Press

The regular bench press is a decent but not great triceps exercise. But when you move your hands closer together, you shift the focus away from the front delts, making the triceps do more of the work. That makes the close-grip bench press a go-to exercise for overloading the triceps muscle for strength and growth.

There is no official definition of grip width for performing the close-grip bench press. However, most studies typically position the hands on the bar at 95–100% of the biacromial distance.

Biacromial distance or width is simply the width of your shoulders. Specifically, it refers to the distance between the two acromion processes, the bony points at the top of your shoulder blades that you can easily feel on your shoulders. 

  • Too narrow a grip means unnecessary stress on your wrists and internally rotates your shoulders, putting them in a vulnerable position without added triceps activation.
  • Too wide a grip and you reduce the triceps activation, which was the whole point of the exercise.

You can also perform the close-grip bench press in a Smith machine. Doing so removes the stability requirements and allows you to focus on working with your triceps, which can be a benefit if your goal is muscle hypertrophy.

Muscles Worked in the Close-Grip Bench Press

Muscles worked in close grip bench press exercise

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How to Close-Grip Bench Press

  1. Lie on the bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, and slightly arch your back.
  2. Grip the bar narrower than in a regular bench press so that your hands are directly above your shoulders or even closer.
  3. Take a breath and hold it, and unrack the bar.
  4. Lower the bar with control until it touches your chest somewhere where the ribs end.
  5. Push the bar up to the starting position while exhaling.
  6. Take another breath in the top position, and repeat for reps.

Compound Quad & Glute Exercises

The different muscles in your lower body are large and powerful and require hard work and heavy weights. Compound exercises are where it’s at, and these are the best.


The barbell squat is one of the most widely used exercises in strength training programs for a good reason. Beginners doing the bodyweight squat to powerlifters moving half a ton: all benefit from this fantastic exercise, regardless of fitness level.

Squat exercises like the back squat and the front squat involve the hip, knee, and ankle joints and recruit several major muscle groups in the lower body. It’s one of the best exercises to improve lower body strength and muscle gain.

Whether you’re training for specific squat strength like a powerlifter or to enhance general functional strength and athletic performance, back squats are a crucial part of your workout routine.

In addition, the squat is an excellent exercise for building muscle mass, primarily your quads (the front of your thighs) and your gluteus maximus (your butt.) Squatting promotes little to no hamstring growth, though, meaning it’s not enough for complete lower body development. However, it is a staple in many bodybuilding programs and an unparalleled overall mass-builder.

Muscles Worked in the Squat

Muscles worked in the squat

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How to Squat with Proper Form

  1. Place the bar on your upper back. Inhale and brace your core slightly, and unrack the bar.
  2. Take two steps back, and adjust your foot position. Both a narrow and wide stance are viable, but most novice lifters tend to thrive with their feet hip-width or slightly more apart.
  3. Squat as deep as possible with good technique.
  4. With control, stop and reverse the movement, extending your hips and legs again.
  5. Exhale on the way up or exchange air in the top position.
  6. Inhale and repeat for reps.

Leg Press

The leg press works the same lower-body muscle groups as the squat but with some differences and emphasis on how it targets the muscles. Both are effective exercises for building lower body strength and hypertrophy.

The squat is generally considered the superior exercise for general strength and athletic purposes. It requires more stabilization, core activation, and overall muscle recruitment, particularly in the hip flexors and glutes. The squat also demands more from the posterior chain muscles, including the lower back.

The leg press is still valuable for developing leg strength, especially if you struggle with proper squat form due to mobility limitations or injuries. However, it typically relies more on the quadriceps and doesn’t engage the posterior chain muscles as much as the squat.

Squat Pros ✔️

  • Simple equipment. Barbells and weight plates are cheap, standardized, and available in every good gym.
  • Proven track record. The squat has ample evidence showing that it is effective for building muscle, increasing strength, and improving vertical jumping and sprinting.
  • Real-life strength. The squat is more similar to lifting objects in real life than the leg press is.
  • Easily modified. The squat can be varied by simple means to fit your body type or training goals better, for example by doing box squats, jump squats, or front squats.

Leg Press Pros ✔️

  • Easy to learn. The learning curve of the leg press is very low, and most people can get a good leg workout in the very first time they try it.
  • Stable. The stability of the leg press means that you can focus more on the muscles being worked, and train closer to full exertion without risking a loss of balance. It also means the leg press is more accessible to people with compromised balance, such as the frail or elderly.
  • A little safer. Unless you are an experienced barbell squatter who knows how to set up safety racks or get out from under a failed barbell squat, I think it’s fair to say that the leg press, with its built-in locks and safety pins, is a slightly safer exercise.

The leg press is an excellent exercise for building muscle. It’s straightforward to learn, and you don’t have to think about stability and balance, making it easier to exert yourself fully and overload your quadriceps muscles for growth.

While the leg press allows you to use heavy weights, a lot of people you see in the gym load the machine with too much weight, using a short range of motion and cheating themselves of effective workouts.

Prioritize form and range of motion instead of using as much weight as possible to get the maximum benefit from the leg press. Go for a full range of motion without lifting your hips.

Muscles Worked in Leg Press

Muscles worked in leg press

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How to Leg Press

  1. Adjust the machine so that you only need to extend your legs slightly to be able to release the weights. The most important thing is to ensure the safety pins can catch the weight if you fail a rep.
  2. Place your feet on the platform, about shoulder-width apart.
  3. Inhale and lower the weight by bending your legs.
  4. Lower the weight as deep as possible without rounding your back and while keeping your glutes on the seat.
  5. Press the weight back up again as you exhale.

Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat is a unilateral (meaning you train one side at a time) exercise that targets the legs, particularly the quads, glutes, and hamstrings, as well as the stabilizing muscles of the core and hips. Compared to regular barbell squats, the Bulgarian squat variation involves your hamstring to a significantly higher degree.

It’s an excellent exercise for building overall muscle mass and strength in the lower body and improving balance and coordination. It also trains your hips in different ways than traditional squats and deadlifts, leading to improved strength you can then use to further your progress in those exercises.

By working one leg at a time, the Bulgarian split squat can help correct muscle imbalances between the legs.

Muscles Worked in Bulgarian Split Squats

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How to Do Bulgarian Split Squats

  1. Stand with your back turned against a bench, which should be at about knee height. Stand about one long step in front of the bench.
  2. Place your right foot on the bench behind you.
  3. Inhale, look forward, and squat down with control until right before the knee of the left leg touches the floor.
  4. Reverse the movement and extend your front leg again, while exhaling.
  5. Inhale at the top and repeat for reps.
  6. Switch legs, place your left foot on the bench, and repeat the steps above for the other side, working your right leg this time.

Compound Hamstring Exercises

Most compound exercises for the lower body involve your hamstrings in some capacity, but none do so optimally. To work your hammies for maximal strength and muscle development, you must get creative with your compounds.

Honorable Mention: Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is a great barbell hamstring exercise and one of the best exercises for your posterior chain muscles. It’s not an actual compound exercise because it only utilizes movement in one joint: the hips. However, it does activate multiple muscle groups. There are no genuinely great multi-joint hamstring exercises, so Romanian deadlifts get a pass and a spot on this list of compound exercises.

The hamstrings cross two joints: the hip joint and the knee joint. You need to train both functions for optimal gains in muscle and strength. That means one hinging movement that works your hamstrings through the hip joints, like the Romanian deadlift, and another exercise that works them directly through knee flexion, like the leg curl.

The Romanian deadlift is a highly effective exercise to strengthen the posterior chain muscles, which are critical for athletic performance and everyday movements. It also helps improve flexibility in these areas. In other words, you can’t go wrong by including it in your workout routine, whether you consider it a compound exercise or not.

Muscles Worked in Romanian Deadlifts

Muscles worked in romanian deadlift

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How to Do Romanian Deadlifts

  1. Get into the starting position by deadlifting a barbell off the floor, or by unracking it from a barbell rack.
  2. Inhale, brace your core slightly, and lean forward by hinging in your hips. Keep your knees almost completely extended.
  3. Lean forward as far as possible without rounding your back. You don’t have to touch the barbell to the floor, although it is OK if you do.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position. Exhale on the way up.
  5. Take another breath, and repeat for reps.

Note: you can stand on an elevation (for example a weight plate) if you want to extend the range of motion without hitting the floor.

How Many Exercises Should You Do Per Muscle Group?

Now that you’ve learned about the best compound exercises for building muscle and strength, the next question is: how many should you do per muscle?

That depends on the muscle.

For some muscles, a single exercise is all that is necessary for optimal muscle growth. For other muscle groups, several exercises might be required.

To learn how many exercises each muscle group needs, check out our guide:

>> How Many Exercises Should You Do per Muscle Group?

Compound-Based Workouts and Training Programs

We have plenty of workouts and training programs based on compound exercises available in our workout app.

Here are some of the most popular ones:

  • Beginner Barbell Workout Plan. 2–3x/week. Simple and effective, this training program gives you a perfect start in your training career. You will build muscle and strength swiftly by doing two to three barbell-based, whole-body workouts per week.
  • StrengthLog’s Upper/Lower Body Split Program. 4x/week. One of our most popular programs. Four workouts per week, emphasizing getting stronger in the compound lifts. For increased muscle mass and strength!
  • StrengthLog’s 5-Day Workout Split. 5x/week. This is a hybrid program designed for the intermediate to the advanced lifter who wants to build muscle like a bodybuilder and get stronger in the three powerlifting lifts.
  • Intermediate Powerlifting Program. 3x/week. A training program for the intermediate powerlifter, where the weights increase weekly, with light and medium workouts in between the heavy workouts.

StrengthLog is 100% free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app. All the basic functionality is free – forever. It’s like a personal trainer in your pocket.

Download StrengthLog for free, keep track of your weights and reps, and try to beat your previous numbers each workout. 

Download StrengthLog Workout Log on App Store
Download StrengthLog Workout Log on Google Play Store

Check out all our workout routines in our full list of training programs.

And for more resources like this, take a gander at these articles:


  1. Int J Exerc Sci. 2020; 13(4): 1677–1690. Multi-joint vs. Single-joint Resistance Exercises Induce a Similar Strength Increase in Trained Men: A Randomized Longitudinal Crossover Study.
  2. Asian J Sports Med. 2015 Jun; 6(2): e24057. Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy.
  3. Eur J Sport Sci. 2021 Feb;21(2):149-157. What influence does resistance exercise order have on muscular strength gains and muscle hypertrophy? A systematic review and meta-analysis.
  4. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 9 April 2015. The effects of adding single-joint exercises to a multi-joint exercise resistance training program on upper body muscle strength and size in trained men.
  5. Strength and Conditioning Journal 45(1):p 49-57, February 2023. Hypertrophic Effects of Single- Versus Multi-Joint Exercise of the Limb Muscles: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.
  6. Int J Exerc Sci. 2022; 15(3): 507–525. Pre-exhaustion Training, a Narrative Review of the Acute Responses and Chronic Adaptations.
  7. Int J Exerc Sci. 2020; 13(6): 859–872. Effects of Horizontal and Incline Bench Press on Neuromuscular Adaptations in Untrained Young Men.
  8. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: January 2015 – Volume 29 – Issue 1 – p 246-253. Bench Press and Push-up at Comparable Levels of Muscle Activity Results in Similar Strength Gains.
  9. Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness. Volume 15, Issue 1, June 2017, Pages 37-42. Low-load bench press and push-up induce similar muscle hypertrophy and strength gain.
  10. J Sports Sci Med. 2020 Jun; 19(2): 289–297. Push-Ups vs. Bench Press Differences in Repetitions and Muscle Activation between Sexes.
  11. International Journal of Strength and Conditioning, Vol 3 No 1 (2023). Partial Vs Full Range of Motion Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.
  12. Strength and Conditioning Journal 33(5):p 25-28, October 2011. The Upright Row: Implications for Preventing Subacromial Impingement.
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Andreas Abelsson

Andreas is a certified nutrition coach and bodybuilding specialist with over three decades of training experience. He has followed and reported on the research fields of exercise, nutrition, and health for almost as long and is a specialist in metabolic health and nutrition coaching for athletes. Read more about Andreas and StrengthLog by clicking here.