top of page
  • Clem Duranseaud

compound movements for home workouts to be more effective

In the continuously evolving world of fitness, a cornerstone of any successful workout routine that has surmounted to test of time are compound movements. These exercises target two or more joints which makes them effective at building muscles and burning calories.

Compound exercises are great to build muscle, lose weight. For those reasons they are often in HIIT workouts

Table of content

As a trainer I always make sure the workouts I do with either individuals or groups are centered around these exercises, and you're about to understand why you should also include them in your routine.

What are compound movements

These exercises require you to move two or more joints. For example, a reverse grip pull up engages your shoulder joint as well as your elbow. A squat works your hips, knees and ankle joint.

List of compound movements

Lower body*

  • Squats

  • Deadlifts

  • Lunges

  • Cleans

  • Snatches

  • Step up

  • Hip thrusts

  • Kettle bell swings

  • Burpees

  • Thrusters (squat presses)

Upper body*

  • Bench press

  • Push ups

  • Pull ups

  • Shoulder press

  • Rows

  • Lat pull downs

*These are the main variations of each movements. Each of these have numerous alternatives. For the bench press you have the incline bench press and decline bench press. For the rows you have the bent over rows, renegade rows, single arm rows...I chose not to include all the variations here since there are hundreds of them.

What equipment do you need

You can do any of the compound movements with either dumbbells, barbells, body weight or any other equipment. You are only limited by your imagination.

It's important to remember that with the body weight variations you'll have to do those until you reach failure (or close to), in order for them to be effective.

When you use weights, you can bring your muscles close to failure and create a lot of tension on them with few reps. When you do lunges or squats with a heavy weight on your back, it gets very hard after 5-8 reps. During these heavy reps, you break down your muscles which makes them adapt by growing a little bigger and stronger during your recovery phase (2-3 days after).

When you do lunges or squats with only your body weight, you can easily do 5-8 reps. Dare I say that you may not even feel a sweat going.

For that reason, you have to do a lot more reps for your muscles to adapt. How many more depends on your fitness level. That's why our HIIT workouts have very little breaks in them: it's to keep our muscles close to failure and burning for a long time in the workout.

Regardless of which equipment you have access to, compound movements will almost always be effective.

Compound vs isolation

An isolation exercise only works one joint. A bicep curl is an isolation exercise. A lateral raise or leg extension are also isolation exercises.

These movements have their place in every workout regimen and have precise purposes:

  • Strengthen a weak spot

  • Complement a workout

  • Burn out a muscle

I won't elaborate too much on these for now since we are focusing on compound movements. The important takeaway is that compound exercises work two or more joints whereas isolations ones only implicate one joint.

One cool thing to note: you can combine different isolation exercises to create compound movements. For example, you can do a bicep curl as you do a back lunge, or a shoulder front raise in a wall sit position.

Compound movements to build muscle at home

When we talk about building muscles and size, compound and isolation exercise both work well. However, I see three main advantage of compound movements:

  1. They save time. When you do a squat, you mainly work on your glutes, quads and hamstrings at the same time. You would need to do three isolation exercises to train these muscles individually.

  2. You need less reps to achieve the same results. The studies I read about the effect of compound and isolation exercise mentioned that in order for them to both have the same result on muscle strength and mass, work volume had to be the same. Because you have more muscles working in compound movements, you can use much heavier weights. This means that you achieve the same results with less reps.

  3. They are better for your mobility and general movement patterns. Once again, isolation movements can also help you there, especially with corrective drills and whatnot, but as a general rule, compound movements will be better overall.

These three advantages lead to one big advantage: using compound exercises will save you a lot of time during your workouts. That is time you can use for the things you enjoy in life.

How many compound exercises you do in each of your workouts entirely depends on your goals, type of workout you're doing and your training experience. When we talk about weightlifting workouts having at least one compound movement per workout is a good place to start.

We will talk about their place in HIIT workout in a few points.

Compound exercises for weight loss

Because they work two or more joints, they work more muscles per unit of time and so, burn more calories.

Once again, this boils down to time efficiency. Yes you could burn the same amount of calories only doing isolation movements, but it would take you much, much longer.

The best exercises to burn more calories are, in my humble opinion, squats, lunges, deadlifts, burpees, cleans and snatches. These will work the most muscle per unit of time and burn the most calories for each rep you do.

Isolation exercises do have their place in a weight loss program, as workout finishers for example. They can really help you bring a muscle to failure which will help it get stronger, increase your mental resiliency and keep burning calories for a little longer.

This should only be for a small portion of your exercise routine though. You mainly want to focus on compound exercises and then have a few isolations one here and there.

One of the best ways compound exercises can be used to lose weight is in HIIT workouts.

Compound exercises and HIIT workouts

The whole point of HIIT workouts should be to work as much of the body as possible in the least amount of time.

For the reasons mentioned in this article, you can see why compound movements are better suited for this than isolation ones.

The exercises in your HIIT workout should be done at a quick pace and it's usually easier to do some with moves like squats, lunges, burpees and push ups. It's a little harder to with bicep curls and lat raises.

In the high intensity workouts I do on youtube and the ones I did in Vancouver, I use isolation exercises as active breaks between the compound movements. I find this to be a fantastic way to get every type of exercises in one workout.

A typical combination could be:

4 rounds of:

  • 10 squats

  • 10 push ups

  • 10 lunges

  • 10 burpees

  • 15 bicep curls

You can see that the first four exercises are all compound exercises and the last one is an isolation one. People will find the bicep curls challenging no doubt, but they will be resting the rest of their bodies a little bit.


Compound exercises are very effective movements that should be incorporated into most home workout routines. They are great to strengthen you muscles, burn more calories and are the ideal selection when it comes to high intensity interval training.

There are many options for you to chose from, you can use a wide range of equipment and they are also beneficial when done body weight.

If you want a good example of a workout that uses them, try this one out!

Happy training!





Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page