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Compound Lifts for Beginners

barbell back squat arnold

Arnold, Franco, and a very heavy compound lift

If you’ve ever glanced into a bodybuilding magazine or spent any time on a strength and conditioning forum, you’ve probably heard about the benefits of compound lifts. Today I’ll provide a brief introduction to what is meant by the term, and give some examples of compound lift exercises.

A definition of compound

From dictionary.com:

Made up or consisting of several parts or elements

In the case of movements and exercises, we’re talking about body parts involved. The joints, specifically. A movement like the biceps curl is not a compound lift. It’s a movement performed in relative isolation. The arm is flexed during the concentric part of the curl, then extended back to straight during the eccentric portion of the lift.

One joint, the elbow, does the work.

So a compound exercise simply means an exercise in which there are two or more joints involved.


  • The barbell back squat. Take a look at the video below. During the squat it’s challenging to find a joint that isn’t moving at some point

Or the deadlift:

That’s a world record deadlift, by the way, so don’t feel bad if your deadlift doesn’t like this one. Mine certainly doesn’t!

Other examples include the Olympic lifts, the power clean, kettlebell clean and jerks, etc. Once you get a couple of joints involved, you’re performing compound exercises.

So why all the praise for these “big” lifts, as they’re often called?

Simple: most people I know that lift weights want bigger muscles, whether they’ll admit it or not. A lift like the squat allows a strong person to move hundreds of pounds for reps because it uses more muscles, joints, and provides better leverage. Consider the relatively small load that a movement like the aforementioned bicep curl provides and ask which is more likely to make your entire body grow.

Just something to think about.

The big lifts allow you to get more work done, work referring to the volume of poundages moved within a given time frame.

If you’re trying to put on muscle mass, and your body can handle the big lifts without pain and damage occurring, they are going to benefit you, although for hypertrophy, speed in lifting is not without its benefits as well, but that’s another post.

As always, it depends on your goals. Don’t go out any do anything just because someone says you should. Experiment, enjoy yourself, and stick to what treats you best. If compound weight lifting exercises work best, go for it.


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