Build strength, increase endurance and improve total body conditioning with this full body workout: the nine best compound exercises with dumbbells. Compound exercises engage multiple muscle groups at once. This functional style of training is perfect for anyone with a busy schedule; hitting every major muscle group in around 30 minutes.
A compound exercise engages several different muscle groups to perform a lift or movement. For example, a squat engages the muscles in your glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves and core. Compound exercises are a form of functional strength training, building strength for the motions you perform every day, such as pressing, pushing, lifting and twisting.
What Are The Best Compound Exercises?
The best compound lifts are variations of squats, deadlifts, chest presses (or bench presses), shoulder presses (overhead presses), back rows and pull ups. These exercises can be done in a conventional gym with equipment such as benches and barbells, or at home using dumbbells.
Are Compound Exercises or Isolation Exercises Better?
Both compound exercises and more targeted isolation exercises have benefits and should be included in a well-rounded training program. Compound exercises are more efficient, meaning you can often lift heavier weights and burn more calories. Whereas isolation exercises (or exercises that focus on a specific muscle group, such as tricep exercises, back exercises or chest exercises) can improve muscle definition and address muscle imbalances or weaknesses.
9 Best Compound Exercises
Build total body strength with this efficient workout: the 9 Best Compound Exercises.
Each exercise engages multiple muscle groups at once. This functional style of training is perfect for anyone with a busy schedule; hitting every major muscle group in around 30 minutes.
Targets: Lower body (glutes, hamstrings, hips, quads, calves), upper body (trapezius, deltoids, lower back), abs and core.
How To Do Deadlifts, Cleans and Lateral Squats
Start standing, feet hip-distance apart and knees slightly bent. Hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs.
Hinge forward at the hips to perform a deadlift, pushing your hips back as you lower the dumbbells down along the front of your body. Focus on keeping your back in neutral alignment with your neck and shoulders throughout the entire movement. Keep a slight bend in your knees.
Then, drive through your heels to push your hips forward, squeezing your glutes as you return to a standing position.
As you press your hips forward to stand up, “clean” the dumbbells up towards your shoulders. Catch the dumbbells at your chest in a front rack position.
Then, step out to the right as you bend your knees, lowering into a squat. Push your knees out towards your outer three toes as your hips lower. Repeat twice, performing two lateral squats to the right.
Then repeat, this time performing a deadlift, clean and two lateral squats to the left side.
Balance Bicep Curl and Shoulder Press
Targets: The biceps brachii (the front of your arms), shoulders, triceps, rear delts, upper back and core.
How To Do Balance Bicep Curls and Shoulder Presses
Start standing, feet shoulder-width apart and core engaged. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, palms facing in towards each other (hammer curl).
Transfer your weight to your left foot as you float your right knee, balancing on your left leg. Engage your core to protect your lower back.
Then, perform a bicep curl, squeezing the front of your arm to curl the weights up to shoulder height. Think about keeping elbows tucked into your sides and shoulder blades pulled down. Repeat, performing two bicep curls.
Then, perform a narrow overhead press by pushing the dumbbells overhead until your arms are fully extended, biceps near ears. Repeat, performing two shoulder presses.
Slowly and with control, lower the dumbbells down to shoulder level. Then curl them down to your sides, returning to starting position.
Return your floating right leg to the ground, then switch feet; balancing on your right leg and floating your left knee.
Continue this pattern, alternating two balance bicep curls with two shoulder presses.
Modification: Keep both feet on the ground, omitting the balance portion of this exercise.
Plank Row and Open to Side Plank
Targets: Latissimus dorsi (or lats), upper back, chest, shoulders, arms and core (emphasis on obliques).
Your core stabilizes your hips as you pull the dumbbell overhead.
How To Do Plank Rows and Side Plank Opens
Start in a high plank position, both hands on your dumbbells, shoulders stacked over wrists, core engaged.
Perform a single arm plank row (or renegade row) on each side, pulling first your right elbow to right hip, then planting it on the ground and pulling left elbow to left hip before returning it to the ground.
Then, holding the dumbbell in your right hand, open your upper body into a side plank towards the right. As you rotate open, pull the dumbbell in your right hand first across your chest and then extend overhead. Dumbbell is stacked directly over the right shoulder. Your body should look like a sideways “T” shape.
Slowly and with control, lower the dumbbell to the mat, returning to a high plank position.
Repeat, this time beginning with a plank row on the left side, then the right side, then opening to a “T” towards the left.
Modification: Take this move from your knees, or place your hands on a bench or chair to find a modified plank position.
Single Leg Glute Bridge and Tricep Skull Crusher
Targets: Legs, glutes, hamstrings, inner thighs, triceps and core.
How To Do Single Leg Glute Bridges and Tricep Skull Crushers
Start laying on your back, right foot planted flat on the ground, left foot extended overhead. Hold one dumbbell in each hand, fully extending your arms so the dumbbells are directly overhead, palms facing one another.
Press through your heel to lift your glutes off the mat, squeezing your glutes as you lift. Think about keeping your core engaged and knees in line with your hips. Hold this single leg glute bridge.
Bend at the elbows to slowly lower the dumbbells towards your head, perform a skull crusher.
Then squeeze the back of your arm to straighten your elbows, pressing the dumbbells back overhead to return to the starting position.
Modification: Option to perform skull crushers while holding a double leg glute bridge (keeping both feet flat on the ground).
Targets: Legs, hamstrings, hips, glutes, back, shoulders and deep transverse abdomen (core muscles).
The single arm dumbbell snatch is a compound exercise that works the full body and improves coordination, explosiveness and strength.
How To Do Dumbbell Snatches
Start standing, feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Place a dumbbell on the floor between your feet.
Hinge forward at the hips, pushing your hips back towards the wall behind you as you lower down, reaching for the dumbbell with your right hand.
Then, drive your hips forward as you ‘snatch’ the weight overhead with your right arm. Use the power and momentum created by your legs and hips to drive the weight overhead. You should finish standing tall with your right arm straight overhead, right bicep near your right ear.
With control, lower the dumbbell back down to the ground, returning to starting position.
Then repeat, this time performing a dumbbell snatch with your left hand.
Modification: Perform a dumbbell clean instead of a full snatch, catching the dumbbell at shoulder height.
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