Man squatting in a Mirafit squat rack

If you’re looking to build size and strength, then you need to be doing compound exercises. 

Compound lifts are exercises which work several muscle groups simultaneously. They are your main, ‘heavy’ lifts which form the base of any strengthening routine. 

And if you train regularly, it’s most likely that you’ll already be including a few of these compound exercises in your workouts. But what’s so important about them? Why do we need to do them to get stronger? And which compound lifts will get you the best results? 

Here, we’re going to break down the core principles of compound lifts and go through some of the most effective ways to build muscle. 

What are compound lifts? 


Compound lifts are any strengthening exercise where you’re using more than one muscle group at the same time. They include exercises such as squats and deadlifts, and there are plenty of benefits to be had from doing them: 

  • They’re efficient – by working several areas at once, you can save time. Perfect if you’re trying to squeeze a couple of workouts around a busy schedule, or simply if you want to fit more in at the gym.  
  • They allow you to lift heavy – by relying on more than one muscle group, you can afford to load up the weight and go heavy. And this is exactly what you want if you’re looking to get stronger, build muscle and progress.  
  • They’re complex – compound lifts also require a lot of focus. And unless you’re a really experienced lifter, you’re always going to be looking to improve your form. So, there’s always something to work towards when you’re down at the gym. Perfect if you’re the type of person who gets bored easily. 
  • They burn more calories – doing bigger moves that engage more muscle groups while lifting heavier loads, are all things that contribute to burning more calories. And by taking on more weight, you use more of the glycogen stored up in your muscles. Great for using up that pent-up energy. 
  • They get your heart rate up – done right, strength-based workouts can be just as good at getting your heartrate up as cardio-based ones. The reason being, you’re using several muscles at the same time and you’re also asking a lot out of them. So, to make sure your muscles are kept topped up with enough energy to lift, your heart needs to pump harder.  
  • They help improve your mobility – compound lifts are often quite technical. And being able to do them correctly, as well as hit all the right muscles, means having a good amount of joint mobility. Hips, shoulders, knees, ankles and wrists all play their part in helping you build muscle. And so, as well as working on your strength, compound exercises also help you focus on improving your mobility. 
  • They help to improve your coordination – compound lifts often take years to master. Every little detail should be spot on – not only so you can build muscle but also so you can avoid getting injured. So, learning the movements and allowing your muscles to learn as well, is great for helping you focus and improve your coordination.  

Now that we know why compound movements are so important, we can start to look at which ones are going to help you get the best results.

Best compound exercises 

Below, we’ve listed a compound workout that is the most effective in building muscle across all of your major muscle groups. 

1 - Squats 

mirafit fitness expert does a squat using a barbell

Why do them: 

Squats are most likely going to be the exercise when you can take the most weight. Mainly because the weight is already placed on top of you, but also because you don’t need to arch or move around to complete the exercise. 

That’s not to say they’re easy. And getting the technique right when you’re lifting a decent amount of weight at the Squat Rack is all the more reason to be accurate with your form. 

But in terms of building muscle mass, squats are vital as they hit so many areas at once. Plus, you can pile on the weight for maximum gains. 

What they work: 

Quads, lower back, glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors and core. 

2 - Barbell hip raises 

fitness expert performs barbell hip raises with mirafit gym equipment

Why do them: 

Your glutes and hamstrings are two of the most important areas to strengthen. They’re your support when you squat, your strength when you deadlift and your power when doing any form of plyometrics or sprint work.  

They can be, however, notoriously difficult to strengthen. And when looking to target these areas, many people will do squats, not realising that these aren’t necessarily the best exercises to do to work these muscles. Unless you can really push your weight back, squats mainly focus your quads. And to really bring your glutes and hamstring up to speed, you need to be changing it up with some more focused lifts. 

Barbell hips raises are a great way to work your hamstrings and glutes. And because you can load the Barbell up, you can really bring your posterior chain up to speed, which will help with a range of other exercises as well. 

What they work: 

Glutes, hamstrings, lower back, core, hip flexors and biceps. 

3 - Deadlifts

fitness expert performs a romanian deadlift using mirafit gym equipment

Why do them: 

Deadlifts are one of those compound strength exercises that many people are just not sure about. From a young age, many of us are taught that bending while lifting is bad. So, from a beginner’s perspective, they can look like injuries waiting to happen. 

However, the correct technique involves keeping your back straight throughout the whole exercise.  

It’s true that technique is really important when deadlifting. However, once you have got the form correct, they are more likely to help prevent injuries then create them. They’re incredibly useful for targeting the weaker areas of your posterior chain and they will really help you to make great strides in reaching your strength goals.  

The important thing to remember is to get the technique right. Practise with just a barbell and make sure you’re lifting with your glutes and hamstrings, not your upper body.  

Just starting out? Trap Bars will help you perfect your form while you’re still learning. They will also help to eliminate the temptation to let your weight fall forward as you lift. 

What they work: 

Hamstrings, lower back, glutes, hip flexors and core. 

4 - Incline bench press 

fitness expert on a mirafit weight bench doing incline dumbbell bench press

Why do them: 

Bench presses are great, but pecs are big muscles. So, doing flat bench presses tends to just target one part. By varying your bench presses and doing both incline and decline versions, you can target the upper and lower chest as well. 

Incline bench presses are particularly important because they work your upper chest. This is going to help lift your chest muscles as well as balance everything out. 

You probably want to go for a 45-degree angle, but this will change slightly depending on your height and body type. The most important thing to do is remain engaged with your muscles. That way, you’ll be able to tell you have the right angle because you’ll be able to feel what muscles you’re working.  

What they work: 

Upper chest, front delts and triceps. 

5 - Clean and press 

mirafit fitness expert does olympic weightlifting

Why do them: 

The clean and press is a slightly simplified version of the clean and jerk which is an Olympic weightlifting move. It’s a very technical exercise and is something that’s more suited to experienced lifters. It is, however, fantastic for building muscle because it works so many areas in one go. And because it’s so complex, it’s ideal for developing your functional fitness levels. 

A clean and press is basically a close-body deadlift which is then followed up with a shoulder press. The most difficult part of this exercise is the transition in the middle. This is where you need to change your grip on the bar so you can go from a pull to a push. You also need to have a good amount of flexibility to be able to catch the bar and pause with it front-loaded at the top of your chest. 

They take a lot of practice but are great for building strength as well as Crossfit style exercises. 

What they work: 

Quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, core, hip flexors, delts, upper chest, lats, traps and triceps. 

6 - Parallel dips 

fitness expert doing parallel dips compound exercise

Why do them: 

Parallel dips are fantastic for building muscle mass across your upper body. They’re not the easiest of exercises, but that’s what makes them a fantastic challenge and all the more satisfying when you finally get the hang of them.  

There are a couple of different types of parallel dips – those that target the chest area and the type that focuses your triceps. It just depends on how you position yourself. 

Do them with weighted chains, to really pile on the muscle.

Just remember, if you have any shoulder issues, particularly with your ac joint, you’re better off leaving these and substituting them with upper body exercises that are less strenuous. 

What they work: 

Delts, triceps, chest and core. 

7 - Pull ups 

mirafit fitness expert does a pull up on a multi grip bar

Why do them: 

The term ‘pull ups’ refers to a multitude of exercises that can be done on a Pull Up Bar. The most popular type being chin ups. However, all forms have their benefits so once you have mastered one type, it’s good to keep mixing it up. 

Pull ups are one of the best ways to target your back and they’re great for improving your functional fitness levels too. And by having to take your entire bodyweight, they’re ideal for building up your grip strength too which is vital for a full range of lifts.  

What they work: 

Lats, delts, traps, biceps and core. 

Include accessory lifts 

fitness expert doing skull crusher exercises using mirafit gym equipment

Compound lifts are ideal for ensuring your training is both efficient and effective. But it’s also important you supplement your heavy lifts with accessory lifts – such as working with dumbbells – to help maintain balance and improve functional fitness. This is also a good way to target any weaker areas. 

Want to know more about including compound lifts in your training? Check out the different types of deadlifts for building both strength and muscle mass.

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Tags: Equipment > Barbells ; Exercise Type > Strength