Blog Weight Loss 7 of the Best Compound Exercises for Weight Loss

7 of the Best Compound Exercises for Weight Loss

For many of us, weight loss means spending hours on the treadmill or elliptical machine. But there are more efficient ways to get your heart rate up and burn fat. 

Compound exercises, which involve multiple muscle groups and joints working together, offer a great way to challenge your body and maximize your time at the gym. 

They’re part of what’s known as functional training, which helps mimic real-life movements and improve overall strength and coordination. They also have a higher calorie burn than isolation exercises as they require more energy and effort to perform. 

So if you’re looking for an effective way to lose weight, here are seven of the best compound exercises that should be part of your workout routine.

What Are Compound Exercises?

Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that involve using more than one muscle group at a time. They are often referred to as “big” or “complex” exercises as they require the use of large muscle groups such as those in your legs, chest, and back (9).

Examples of compound exercises include squats, deadlifts, bench presses, pull-ups, and rows. These exercises involve multiple joints working together simultaneously, which engages more muscles and leads to a greater calorie burn.

There are two types of compound exercises:

  1. Single-move compound exercises: These are exercises that work multiple muscle groups but involve one primary movement. For example, a squat engages your glutes, hamstrings, and quads while primarily targeting your lower body.
  2. Multi-move compound exercises: These are exercises that combine two or more single-move compound exercises into one fluid movement. A good example is a squat to overhead press, which combines a squat and an overhead press into one movement, engaging your entire body.

Why Are Compound Exercises Good for Weight Loss?

Compound exercises are highly effective for weight loss as they require more energy to perform, they build muscle over time, and they boost metabolism.

They Require More Energy to Perform

Compared to isolation exercises, compound exercises require more energy and effort to perform.

As multiple muscle groups are working together, your body must work harder to execute the movements (1). This leads to a higher calorie burn and a greater demand for oxygen, which helps boost your metabolism, even after you’ve finished your workout.

They Build Muscle

When you apply resistance to your muscles, such as when lifting weights during compound exercises, tiny tears occur in the muscle fibers. This leads to muscle growth and strength gains over time (4). 

The more lean muscle mass you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate will be (12). This means that even when you’re at rest, your body will burn more calories to maintain your muscle mass.

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They Boost Your Metabolism

As compound exercises work multiple muscle groups and require more energy, they also have a greater impact on your metabolism (5). Your metabolism is the process through which your body converts food into energy (13).

The high energy demand of these exercises elevates your heart rate and oxygen consumption, both during and after your workout. This phenomenon, which is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) (2) (5), means that your body continues burning calories at an increased rate even after you’ve left the gym.

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7 Best Compound Exercises for Weight Loss 

You now have a better understanding of the benefits of these multi-joint movements, so here are some of the best compound exercises for weight loss you can try at home or the gym:

1. Deadlifts

This is a well-known exercise that works your hamstrings, glutes, back, and many other muscle groups. 

How to do deadlifts:

  1. First, stand with your feet hip-width apart. While bending your knees, reach down and grab your dumbbells or barbell, whichever you’re using. If you’re using dumbbells, you can use a neutral or overhand grip. With a barbell, beginners should start with an overhand grip, while more experienced lifters will often utilize a hook grip or a mixed grip, as this increases grip strength and allows you to pull more weight. 
  2. Beginners should typically start with a conventional deadlift setup, hands outside of your feet when gripping the barbell (or dumbbells). With this setup, your hands should be approximately shoulder width apart, while your feet are slightly narrower.
  3. Hinge at your hips while keeping a neutral spine with a slight lumbar lordosis. It’s important that you keep your neck in a neutral (straight) position throughout the movement. Many beginners (and experienced athletes) tend to want to look up during a deadlift. While you can often get away with this with lighter weights, it’s a bad habit to get into as you become stronger. Neck extension during a heavy pull can increase your chance of injury.
  4. Keep your spine locked in neutral, your shoulder blades squeezed back, your core engaged, and lift the weight at a rate that your hips and knees extend at an equal pace. You shouldn’t straighten your knees and then pull yourself up to standing as this provides increased stress on your lower back while underutilizing the large, strong muscle groups of the lower extremities.
  5. You should breathe out as you pull the weight up and breathe in as you let the weight back down to the floor.
  6. While deadlifts can be performed at higher rep ranges as a beginner, you should be using light weights and focusing on mastering the movement pattern, and you’ll most likely want to decrease reps per set as you become stronger due to how taxing this exercise is on the central nervous system.
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compound exercises for weight loss  

2. Squats 

Squats primarily work the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. They also work the back muscles and core. 

How to do squats:

  1. First, stand with your feet at a stable and comfortable distance apart. For most people, this is hip-width to shoulder-width apart, but some may find it more comfortable to be a little narrower or a little wider based on their anatomical structure. Keep your toes pointed straight forward or slightly turned out.
  2. Lower yourself down as if going to sit down in a chair. You should hinge at your hips so your butt moves backward and down simultaneously. Your torso shouldn’t be straight up and down as you squat. Keep your feet flat on the floor the whole time. 
  3. Ensuring you keep your spine neutral and shoulder blades back throughout the movement, lower yourself as low as you can while maintaining proper form and alignment. A good goal for beginners is to squat to a depth where the thighs are parallel to the floor at the bottom of the movement.
  4. Stand back up to the starting position. Breathe in as you go down and breathe out as you come back up.
  5. For beginners performing bodyweight or light-weighted squats, you can incorporate higher rep ranges to perfect the movement pattern. As you increase weight, you may want to decrease your reps per set due to the high metabolic demand of this exercise.

3. Bench Press 

This is an exercise that primarily works the chest, shoulders, and triceps. 

How to perform a bench press:

  1. A bench press can be performed with a barbell or dumbbells. Start by lying flat on the bench with your feet flat on the ground. If you’re using a barbell from a racked position, you should position yourself so your eyes are directly under the bar. 
  2. Grip the barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. This grip width should ensure your forearms are perpendicular to the ground at the bottom of the movement. 
  3. Start with the weight directly above your chest with your elbows straight.
  4. Lower the bar at a controlled pace toward your lower chest or upper abdomen (depending on your body type and proportions).
  5. Lightly tap the bar or dumbbells to your body, then press back up to the starting position.
  6. You should inhale as you lower the weight and exhale as you press the weight up.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 
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Read more: Thigh Workout Guide: 7 Effective Exercises for Building Leg Strength

4. Pull-Ups 

These primarily work the lats and biceps. 

How to do a pull-up:

  1. Stand directly underneath a pull-up bar, reach up, and grip the bar with your palms facing away from you at shoulder-width or slightly wider.
  2. Pull your body upward as you bend your elbows and engage your back muscles. Keep your core engaged throughout and maintain a neutral spine.
  3. Aim to bring your chin above the bar.
  4. Lower yourself back to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner.
  5. You should inhale while you lower and exhale as you pull yourself up.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

5. Shoulder Press

The shoulder press primarily works your shoulders and triceps.

How to do a shoulder press:

  1. While standing, hold a barbell or dumbbells with an overhand grip and your hands approximately shoulder-width apart. The weight should be resting on top of your anterior deltoids. 
  2. Keeping your knees straight, tighten your core and press the weight straight overhead, making sure not to arch your back. Any sagittal plane (forward and backward) movement that occurs at your torso should derive from your hips.
  3. Lock the weight out overhead with your elbows fully extended, then lower the weight back down to the starting position in a controlled manner.
  4. You should inhale during the lowering of the weight and exhale when you press the weight overhead.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

6. Renegade Row

This multi-joint movement is known for working the back, biceps, and core. 

How to do a renegade row:

If you’re new to the workout, you should use a light weight and/or perform from a kneeling position.

  1. First, get into the push-up position with your hands gripping a pair of dumbbells directly under your shoulders. 
  2. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart or wider to ensure a stable base of support.
  3. While maintaining square hips and shoulders, pull the left dumbbell up toward your rib cage.
  4. Squeeze your shoulder blade back without letting your hips rotate.
  5. Lower the dumbbell back to the ground and repeat on the other side.

You should keep in mind that this exercise is advanced. Performing alternating shoulder taps without weight or from a kneeling push-up position are great alternatives for beginners.

7. Resistance Band Seated Row 

This compound movement primarily works your lats, rhomboids, and biceps. 

How to do it:

  1. Start by sitting down on the floor with your legs extended in front of you.
  2. Wrap a therapy resistance band underneath the curves of your feet. You should keep your back upright, chest out, and shoulders rolled back. 
  3. Flex your elbows and draw them back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Don’t lean back.
  4. Slowly extend your elbows and bring them back to the original position. 
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 
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compound exercises for weight loss  

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More Benefits of Compound Exercises

In addition to weight loss, incorporating compound exercises into your workout routine has many benefits, including:

Improved Muscle Coordination

Compound exercises are excellent for improving muscle coordination across different parts of the body (1). Unlike isolation exercises, which target a single muscle, compound movements require the coordinated action of various muscles and joints. 

This improved coordination enhances athletic performance and makes everyday tasks easier and more efficient. Better muscle coordination reduces the risk of injury by ensuring your muscles work together harmoniously.

Enhanced Functional Strength

Functional strength—strength that translates into everyday activities—is another key benefit of compound exercises. As these movements mimic real-life tasks such as lifting, pushing, pulling, and squatting, they prepare your body for various physical challenges you may encounter outside the gym. 

Functional strength is vital for maintaining independence, especially as you age, and helps improve overall quality of life (8).

Time Efficiency

Time is often a limiting factor for many people who want to exercise. Compound exercises are exceptionally time-efficient as they target multiple muscle groups in one go (1).

Rather than spending hours isolating each muscle, you can achieve comprehensive strength and conditioning in a fraction of the time. This efficiency is particularly beneficial for busy individuals who are looking to maximize their workouts without sacrificing effectiveness.

Boosted Hormonal Response

Compound exercises have a profound effect on hormonal response, particularly the release of anabolic hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone. These hormones play a crucial role in muscle growth, fat loss, and overall physical performance (10).

Performing compound exercises stimulates the release of these hormones, which helps you achieve your fitness goals more effectively. For lifters, this means faster gains in muscle mass and strength, which contributes to a leaner and more toned physique.

Increased Flexibility and Mobility

One of the often-overlooked benefits of compound exercises is the increased flexibility and mobility they offer. Flexibility refers to the range of motion around a joint, while mobility encompasses the ability to move through a full range of motion efficiently and effectively (7).

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Compound exercises typically involve complex, multi-joint movements that require a great deal of both flexibility and mobility (1). For example, exercises such as lunges or deadlifts stretch and strengthen the muscles simultaneously, which promotes better joint mobility.

Improved flexibility and mobility are essential for preventing injuries, enhancing athletic performance, and ensuring muscles and joints function optimally (15). For lifters, this translates to a better capacity for executing various exercises correctly, minimizing the risk of strain or injury.

Enhanced Core Strength

Strengthening the core is another substantial benefit of engaging in compound exercises. Unlike isolation exercises that target specific muscles, compound movements often involve the core to stabilize the body.

For example, exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and rowing actions inherently activate the core muscles as they work to maintain balance and posture.

A strong core is essential for overall stability and helps in virtually every physical activity, from lifting weights to daily tasks such as bending and twisting. Core strength also contributes to reduced back pain and increased power in other movements (3).

For lifters, enhanced core strength provides a solid foundation for improved performance and safer lifting practices.

Greater Bone Density

Resistance exercises are particularly beneficial for improving bone density, a critical factor for long-term musculoskeletal health (6).

Weight-bearing compound movements, such as squats, lunges, and overhead presses, place stress on the bones, which stimulates bone growth and strengthens the skeletal system. This is particularly important for preventing osteoporosis and fractures, particularly as you age (5).

Improved bone density means the structural support for muscles and tissues becomes more robust, which reduces the likelihood of bone-related injuries (16).

For lifters, greater bone density supports heavier lifts and enhances overall body resilience and longevity in their fitness journey.

Read more: 10 Best Glute Exercises To Add To Your Routine and Why

compound exercises for weight loss  


  • Do compound movements burn belly fat?

Compound movements don’t target belly fat (no exercise does), but they contribute to calorie burn and can help with overall fat loss. As you continue engaging in compound exercises and reduce your overall body fat percentage (14), you’ll eventually see a reduction in belly fat.

  • Which compound movement burns the most calories?

Compound exercises that are known to burn a significant amount of calories include the deadlift, squat, and rowing movements. These exercises require the use of multiple muscle groups and are typically performed with heavy weights, which makes them effective calorie-burning compounds.

Exactly how many calories you burn during these exercises will depend on a variety of factors such as intensity and duration.

  • What are the negatives of compound exercises?

The negatives of compound exercises are:

  • They may neglect certain muscle groups if you don’t incorporate enough variety in your routines. However, this is true of any type of exercise.
  • Learning and maintaining proper form and technique is often more complex than for isolation exercises due to the inclusion of multiple moving joints in conjunction with one another.
  • Some individuals may find compounds to be too physically demanding and prefer isolation exercises.
  • What happens if you only do compound exercises?

Compound exercises are the most effective variation of strength training exercises for developing overall strength and functional fitness (10). Realistically, you can exclusively perform a variety of compound exercises in your strength training routine and achieve terrific results. Many people like to incorporate some isolation exercises to focus on specific muscle groups that require a little extra attention, rehab from an injury, or simply because they can be fun and less physically demanding. If you incorporate isolation exercises into your routine, they should typically be performed after you have completed your compound exercises.   

The mix of compound vs isolation exercises you use in your routine should depend on your individual goals.

  • How many times a week should I do compound exercises?

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, individuals should aim for at least two to three days a week of strength training, including compound exercises (11). However, the frequency and intensity of your compound exercises will depend on your fitness goals and current level of fitness. 

Beginners may start with one or two sessions a week, while experienced lifters can aim for three to four sessions. It’s important to remember to allow your muscles adequate rest and recovery between workouts (17).

The Bottom Line 

We’ve outlined the definitions, benefits, and considerations associated with compound exercises, and how they may contribute to weight loss. The seven compound exercises outlined in this article are just a small sample of the seemingly endless options that are available.

Compound strength training exercises provide an excellent training stimulus that promotes muscle growth, improved strength, enhanced functional capacity, and weight loss (when paired with a calorie deficit diet and other positive lifestyle factors). 

Make sure you incorporate variety into your strength training routine and place high importance on proper form, pacing, sequencing, and rest. As with any physical activity, you should consult your doctor before you start a new exercise program.


This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!


  1. 5 Benefits of Compound Exercises (2016,
  2. 7 Things to Know About Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) (2014,
  3. Core Stability Exercise Principles (2008,
  5. Effect of exercise intensity, duration and mode on post-exercise oxygen consumption (2003,
  6. Effects of Resistance Exercise on Bone Health (2018,
  7. Flexibility Exercises and Performance (2016,
  9. Get Bigger, Faster, and Stronger with Compound Exercises (2022,
  10. Links Between Testosterone, Oestrogen, and the Growth Hormone/Insulin-Like Growth Factor Axis and Resistance Exercise Muscle Adaptations (2021,
  11. No Time to Lift? Designing Time-Efficient Training Programs for Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review (2021,
  12. Physical activity and resting metabolic rate (2003,
  13. Physiology, Metabolism (2022,
  14. Resistance Training with Single vs. Multi-joint Exercises at Equal Total Load Volume: Effects on Body Composition, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Muscle Strength (2017,
  15. Stretching: Focus on flexibility (2023,
  16. The Basics of Bone in Health and Disease – Bone Health and Osteoporosis (2004,
  17. Why Rest Days Are Important for Muscle Building (n.d.,
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