5 Compound Lifts that will Make you Stronger

What is your goal with weight training? Do you want to become stronger? Leaner? Maybe you are starting a new sport and want to improve performance. Whether you are toning down or bulking up, compound lifts should be a part of your program. But what are they and why do you need them? We’ll address that and go over some of the best options for which ones to include in your programming.

Why are Compound Lifts Important

Simply put, compound lifts are a type of exercise that works multiple muscle groups at the same time. Typically, a compound lift also works around two or more joints. Compound lifts are fantastic for building a base level of strength and developing it over time. And because they target multiple muscle groups simultaneously, they are efficient. Consistently including this sort of lift in a training program will yield better results over time than a program that focuses more on isolation lifts (which target only one muscle at a time).

Because of their efficiency, and the fact that they can be trained at higher loads than isolation lifts, compound lifts promote significant gains in the gym. Of course, using these lifts causes you to become stronger, but they also promote muscular size in addition to strength. A larger muscle also means a higher metabolism; therefore you can lose a significant amount of body fat using these kinds of lifts. Further fat loss can also be achieved by the actual doing of the exercise, not just in the aftermath. Compound lifts require more muscular effort, so just doing them can help increase the conditioning of the lifter who uses them.

Starting with the Right Lifts is Important

There are a great many compound lifts. There are dozens of possible choices, and variations on all of them. Choosing which compound lifts to do can be a daunting task, especially for a novice lifter or someone just starting out on their fitness journey. This article has distilled them down to five basics. These lifts are tried and true; they have been used by beginners and professional athletes and withstood the test of time. They are: the squat, the deadlift, the bench press, the row, and the overhead press.

1. Squats

Sometimes dubbed “the king of exercises”, and with good reason. For return on investment, it’s hard to beat the squat. The squat primarily targets the quads and glutes but it works more than just that. The spinal erectors, hips, upper back and even the abs are all called into play in this lift. Another benefit that squats bring to the table is their potential as a conditioning exercise. Done with sufficient intensity and volume, a heavy set of squats can be a powerful tool in the pursuit of better physical conditioning.

2. Deadlift

Another classic that has been part of training programs for decades, the deadlift is a powerhouse compound lift. The deadlift pretty much epitomizes the notion of efficiency when it comes to compound lifts. With its main emphasis on the back, traps, and hamstrings, this lift is critical in building a strong, powerful foundation. Its secondary effects on the spinal erectors, traps, and hips mean that the deadlift should be seriously considered as part of a strength training program. Leaving this one out is not recommended; once you have done it for a while, you’ll be glad you included it in your program.

3. Bench Press

This is a perennial favorite of all kinds of lifters which promotes strength and mass in the upper body. The bench press is a compound lift that translates to pure power when included as a regular part of a training regimen. The bench press promotes development of the chest, triceps, shoulders and upper back. What the squat does for the lower body, the bench press does for the upper. As such, making sure this lift is part of your program is definitely recommended.

4. Row

The back is often overlooked when training with weights. Deadlifting can make up for this in part, but adding in heavy rows can really help you take your back training to the next level. The primary movers for the row are the traps and the lats, but that’s not all. Heavy barbell rows will also help develop strength in the biceps and even the abs as they require quite a bit of core stabilization. It may not be as popular as other upper body lifts like the bench press, but do not underestimate the benefits that regularly training rows can bring to your muscular development.

5. Overhead Press

Finally, we have the overhead press. This compound lift is a great counterpart to the pulling movement of the row. Overhead pressing gets a bad rap sometimes, but done with care, they have a lot to offer. The overhead press targets the shoulders in a big way, as well as promoting the development of the lats. It should also come as no surprise that the overhead press has other benefits, most notably in the abs and lower back, but also in the traps and triceps. You would definitely be doing yourself a huge favor by finding a regular place for this particular compound lift in your training program.


Whatever your goals in the gym, compound lifts can help you achieve them. These lifts target multiple muscle groups over multiple joints and offer massive returns on investment. They can help you develop the muscular size and strength that will be useful in just about any athletic endeavor. The five compound lifts presented here represent the best of the best in compound lifts. These lifts, when placed into a workout program with regularity and consistency, can get you the gains in strength and size that you are after. The squat, deadlift, bench press, row, and overhead press have been in the training programs of lifters for generations and rightly so. Taking their advice and adding them to your own workouts is definitely doing yourself a huge favor.