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5 Best Compound Exercises to Strengthen Your Whole Body

Cut your workout time in half and hit a bunch of muscles at once with these efficient moves.


Read when you’ve got time to spare.

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Compound exercises are some of the best ways to get a body-transforming workout fast. These efficient movements require the use of multiple muscle groups at once, meaning you can spend less time getting your cardio in while still toning your abs, arms, and legs. The best compound exercises help you build strength while also getting your heart rate up—all in a single, super fun sweat session. These five moves from Betina Gozo, Nike master trainer and creator of Prevention's STRONG with Betina Gozo: Total-Body Fitness In Under 20 Minutes, hit all those notes. Try them out today and you’ll start seeing results in no time.

What are compound exercises?

Compound exercises are movements that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. For example, a plank is a compound exercise because it engages your abs, quads and glutes, among other muscles. Calf raises, on the other hand, are not compound movements because they isolate one main muscle group: your calves.

Will compound exercises help me lose weight?

Compound movements help you lose weight by firing up several muscle groups simultaneously and encouraging muscle growth. When you add weights to the mix, you get even greater benefits through afterburn. Resistance training like this causes your body to continue burning calories even after you’ve stopped working out.

What are the benefits of compound exercises?

In addition to potentially boosting your weight-loss efforts, compound exercises can:

  • Build muscle
  • Tone your whole body
  • Improve your coordination and balance
  • Challenge your brain
  • Save you time in the gym

That means every one of these movements will not only help you sculpt your whole body but also improve your overall wellness. All you need is a pair of light dumbbells and a mat.

Try running through the whole routine below three times. With just five fun exercises, you can start seeing results faster.

Squat to Overhead Press

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Targets: glutes, thighs, shoulders, arms

How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold one light dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in, elbows bent and facing down so that the weights are shoulder-height. Sit into a squat position by driving your knees out. As you return to standing, lift the dumbbells directly overhead. Repeat 15 times.

Plank Drags

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Targets: upper back, obliques, arms

How to do it: Come down to your knees, setting them wide apart. Hinge forward to a plank position, keeping your knees on the mat. Place a dumbbell on the mat right above one leg. With the hand that’s furthest away from the dumbbell, slide the dumbbell across the mat to rest above the other leg. Replace your hand on the mat. Repeat with the other hand, keeping the hips level while you pull. Perform 10 reps each side.

Lateral Squat with Bicep Curl

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Targets: biceps, abs, glutes, quads, inner thighs

How to do it: Start with a light dumbbell placed at shoulder-height in each hand, palms facing in and feet planted wide apart. Shift your body weight to lean on to your right glute, bending the right knee and pushing your hips back as you squat down. Make sure your bending knee is pointed forward, and your left leg stays straight. As you squat, bring your arms down to frame your bending leg in between both dumbbells. Push off your right foot to come back up to starting position, curling your arms up so that dumbbells are at shoulder-height once again. Repeat on the other side. Perform 10 reps each side.

Low to High Dumbbell Chop

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Targets: glutes, arms, shoulders, obliques, upper abs

How to do it: Standing with your feet set wide apart, hold one dumbbell with one hand on each end at chest-height, elbows pointed down to the ground. Rotate to your right and bend down slightly to bring the dumbbell to your right knee. Push off your right foot to come back up to starting position, bringing the dumbbell back up to your chest. Then rotate to your left, pivoting on your right foot. As you pivot, bring the dumbbell up, stretching both arms up at a slight angle so it’s not directly over your head. Repeat 10 times and then do the same on the other side.

Dumbbell Single Leg Lifts

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Targets: abs, quads, hip flexors, back

How to do it: Lying back on your mat, bring one dumbbell above your chest, arms stretched straight out. Raise your legs up until they are perpendicular to the ground. Using your abs, press your lower back into the mat. This is your starting position. Slowly lower one leg down as far as you can without lifting your back off the floor. Raise your leg back up and do the same with the other leg. Repeat 10 reps on each leg.

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This post originally appeared on Prevention and was published February 10, 2020. This article is republished here with permission.

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