Compound Exercises Are the Workout Hack Everyone Should Be Doing

People are always looking for the quickest way to lose weight, get in shape, and build muscle, and honestly, there’s no get-fit-quick scheme. Depending on your genetics, body type, and fitness level, it can take anywhere from a couple of months to years to see a transformation – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

One style of training that can help simultaneously lower your body-fat percentage and build muscle is weightlifting. There are a lot of ways to lift weights like circuit training, bodybuilding programs, and HIIT workouts. Regardless of how you decide to lift, I highly recommend incorporating compound exercises into your weightlifting routine. Instead of focusing on spot reduction, I find that these moves will strengthen and define multiple muscle groups at once and allow you to have more efficient workouts.

Related: This Weekly Workout Plan Is Perfect For When You’re Too Tired to Think

Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that work groups of large muscle like squats, deadlifts, and push-ups. These movements elicit a greater energy expenditure (they require more energy to perform) and as a result, your body burns more calories and fat. The more muscle groups working at once, the more energy you will expend, which means the more calories and fat you’ll burn.

Begin incorporating the following exercises into your strength routine in order to get maximal results at the gym. If you aren’t sure where to begin when it comes to lifting weights, you can follow this four-week strength training program to get started.

Related: I’m a Trainer, and These Are My 8 Favorite Exercises For Losing Fat and Building Muscle

POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

Goblet Squat

  • Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart, holding one dumbbell vertically close to your chest, beneath your chin, with both hands.
  • Slowly bend your knees as if you were going to sit in a chair, keeping all the weight in your heels. Don’t let your knees move beyond your toes, and don’t let the knees roll out or in. Squat down as low as you can, keeping your head and chest lifted, your spine long, and your shoulders relaxed.
  • Press through your heels and slowly straighten your legs to stand up, completing one rep.
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

Romanian Deadlift

  • Stand holding a pair of medium-weight dumbbells in each hand, arms at your sides, with your knees slightly bent.
  • Keeping your arms straight and knees slightly bent, slowly bend at your hip joint (not your waist) and lower the weights as far as possible without rounding your back, which should remain straight.
  • Now squeeze your glutes to slowly pull yourself up (don’t use your back). This counts as one rep.
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

Hip Thrust

  • Sitting on the floor with your legs extended, rest your back against a stable bench.
  • Place a towel or shoulder cushion on the bar for comfort (optional). Hold a dumbbell in each hand over your thighs, so the bars are directly above your hip joints.
  • Brace your core. As you drive your heels into the ground, squeeze your glutes, lifting your hips up to full extension, meaning your hips are even with your knees.
  • With control, lower back down to the ground.
  • This is one repetition.
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

Step Up

  • Find a step or a bench that, when you place your foot squarely on it, your knee is at roughly a 90-degree angle. A step deck or exercise bench works great.
  • Step up with the right foot, then the left, bringing both feet completely onto the surface.
  • To return to the starting position, lead with the right foot to step down to the floor, then the left, until ending with both feet on the ground.
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

Dumbbell Walking Lunge

  • Stand upright, feet together, with 10-pound dumbbells at your side. Take a controlled step forward with your left leg, lowering your hips toward the floor by bending both knees to 90-degree angles. Your back knee should point toward but not touch the ground, and your front knee should be directly over your ankle.
  • Press your left heel into the ground, and push off with your right foot to bring your right leg forward, stepping with control into a lunge on the other side. This completes one repetition.
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

Split Squat With Overhead Press

  • Holding a dumbbell in each hand, step one leg roughly three feet behind the other.
  • Press your weights up to the ceiling.
  • Bend your knees to roughly 90 degrees, and at the same time lower your weights to your shoulders.
  • Pushing through your feet, straighten your legs to standing as you press your arms overhead. This is one rep.
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

Split Squat

  • Begin by placing the toes of your left foot on a bench, box, stair, or chair, with your right leg straight.
  • Make sure your right foot is out far enough so that when you lower your hips, your knee stays directly over your ankle.
  • Bend your right knee, squeeze your left glute, and lower your pelvis toward the ground.
  • Press your right heel into the ground to straighten your right knee. This completes one repetition.
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

Upright Row

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells.
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Let the dumbbells rest in front of you on your thighs with your palms facing inward (toward your thighs).
  • Begin raising the dumbbells up to your shoulders. Your elbows will bend out to the sides. Keep the weights close to your body throughout the movement.
  • Slowly lower the weights back down to starting position.
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

Dumbbell Bench Press

  • Grab a set of dumbbells, and sit on a flat workout bench.
  • With one dumbbell in each hand resting on your thighs, lie back onto the bench.
  • Hold the dumbbells above your chest, shoulder-width apart, creating a 90-degree angle between your upper arm and forearm. Palms should be facing forward.
  • Exhale as you push the dumbbells up, fully extending your arms. Hold for one second.
  • Inhale and lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest with control.
  • This counts as one rep.
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn


  • Lower into a crouching squat with your hands on the floor.
  • Do a squat thrust by jumping your feet back into a plank position.
  • Do one basic push-up, bending the elbows and then straightening back to a plank.
  • Jump the feet forward to the hands, and come into a squat.
  • Do an explosive jump straight up, getting as much height as you can.
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

Overhead Shoulder Press

  • Start in a standing or seated position, making sure to brace your core.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand just above your shoulders, palms facing in.
  • Straighten your arms above you.
  • Bend your elbows, coming back to the starting position to complete one rep.
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

Bent-Over Row

  • Lean forward and bend both knees, remembering to keep a flat back.
  • Extend your arms so they are straight. Lift the dumbbells straight up to chest level, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do. Be sure to keep your elbows in and pointed upward. Don’t arch your back.
  • Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position to complete one rep.
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

Push Up

  • Start in a plank position, with palms spread out evenly and your shoulders over your wrists and legs out behind you. Pull your belly button in, and keep your back straight.
  • As you lower and exhale, bend your elbows outward to the sides. Hold at the bottom before you raise back up to complete one rep.

Tamara Pridgett was an associate editor with PS Fitness. She’s a NASM-certified personal trainer and Precision Nutrition level 1 coach, and was a Division 1 All-American sprinter.

Mirel Zaman is the wellness director at PS. She has nearly 15 years of experience working in the health and wellness space, writing and editing articles about fitness, general health, mental health, relationships and sex, food and nutrition, astrology, spirituality, family and parenting, culture, and news.

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