The Advantages of Combination Exercises (Compound Movements)

Incorporating combination aka compound exercises can really take your workout from good to great. Combination movements use several muscle and joint groups simultaneously in order to perform the same amount of work. This means a more effective and complete training for the whole body. In fact, combination exercises are so effective that you can train on a simple three-day cycle, one hour per session, and see significant performance results. Here’s how you can take advantage of combination or compound movements.

What are Combination Exercises?

There are two types of combination exercises. The first type are classic exercises, like squats and deadlifts. Each exercise activates several joint and muscle groups at the same time creating more metabolic challenge in a shorter time span (1).

The second type of combination exercises is a mix of two isolation movements. An isolated exercise can be a bicep curl or a leg extension. Add a shoulder press to your bicep curls and you’ll have a compound movement!

The only people who should perform isolation movements at each workout are bodybuilders who need a program that isolates each muscle group to ensure it develops at the right pace for the competition.

But when it comes to health and well-being, becoming stronger or more athletic, basic movements are certainly the way to go. The most common combination exercises are:

  • Deadlifts

  • Squats (front, back and overhead)

  • Bench press

  • Power cleans

  • Overhead press

  • Bent-over rows

  • Lunges

  • Push-ups

Benefits of Combination Exercises:

Combination exercises are not just “doing more in one exercise”!

The most beneficial advantages include:

Calorie Expenditure

With combination exercises you create more metabolic and muscle demands in each repetition, which usually takes only two to three seconds. For example, each repetition of a squat uses the muscles of the back, quadriceps, gluteus, hamstrings and calves. If you opt for an isolation program, you will need eight different exercises to work all those muscle groups.

The more muscles you contract in a single movement, the more energy you will expend. Each minute of a combination exercise can be four times more effective at burning calories than an isolation movement (2).

Becoming Stronger

Combination lifts are known to be crucial for getting stronger. Overall strength can be improved with combination movements since the body has a habit of moving in this fashion naturally. Raising, carrying, pulling and pushing are natural movements. A triceps extension, for example, is not.

A program with combination exercises quickly becomes a strength program, and believe me you will notice how much stronger you will get after a few sessions. This type of movement also highlights all your weaknesses. The weaknesses of a muscle group stimulated by a deadlift will appear fairly quickly. For example, if your back bends, you will need to work the muscles of the back, or core, in order to have an improved physique.

Do More in Less Time

Combination exercises are also very practical, meaning they will get more done in a smaller time period. If you don’t have a lot of time to spend in the gym, combination exercises can be more effective since you will be working multiple muscles at a time.

Core Activation

Finally, expect to see a big improvement in your core stability. All movements that engage the extremities require some degree of core involvement. The core is the central activation point of virtually all body movements. The use of combination exercises will activate the core strength and improve your overall performance (3).

Simple and Effective Combination Workout Plan

Three-day combination movement program:

Day 1


  • Deadlift

  • Rows (sitting or on incline bench)

  • Power Cleans

Day 2


  • Front or Back Squat

  • Reverse Lunges

  • Step-ups

Day 3


  • Bench Press

  • Barbell Shoulder Press

  • Overhead Press

This program consists of only nine exercises. However, if you perform five to eight sets of about five to seven repetitions for each exercise, you will without doubt notice a huge increase in strength and overall muscle gains. Rest for approximately 90 seconds between sets and work at a high enough intensity so that your heart rate increases significantly after the last repetition. These basic combination exercises improve your strength, burn calories and improve your overall physical performance.

Now that you know everything about combination or compound exercises, rather than sitting on a workout machine, get up, grab a barbell or dumbbell and do some real work!





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