Training With Only Compound Lifts  


compound lifts

Want results? You have to master the basics! Compound moves build the best bodies.

Here’s how to make them work for you! Compound lifts are often a topic of discussion.

Yet, so many people still use isolation training for the majority of their workout. The point of strength training workouts is to develop muscle strength, power, definition and/or size.

Regardless of the training program being chosen, compound lifts are capable of being inserted into everything. Let’s take a look at this type of exercise and what benefits may await you.

What Are Compound Lifts?

All across the internet this term is used. Still, not too many actually give enough info about compound lifts. That changes here! A compound lift is also referred to as being a big lift or core lift.

Basically what is being stated is that the compound lift will be the strongest exercise being performed with top training priority. That means all energy is concentrated on a compound movement. The energy left after this is then depleted with isolation lifts.

Compound movements are ones that use multiple muscle groups and joints to perform an exercise. The muscles in your body work to encourage contraction, balance and energy. This allows you to target multiple muscle groups that increase strength and power. In short, the compound lift is like a full body workout and an awesome strength training workouts for beginners.

Isolation lifts are when you target a particular muscle region.

Some fitness pros have stated that in order to have big arms, you must gain 10 pounds of weight.

This is just a theory, but it does make pretty good sense. Your body must grow as a whole in order for you to get the body type you want.

Compound training requires resistance. That resistance can be from your bodyweight or some type of equipment involving free weights to progressively change your resistance levels.

Compound Lifts Revolve Around Push and Pull Exercises

Push and pull exercises require multiple joints and muscle groups to move the resistance. Hence the reason compound based moves revolve around these two categories of training.

There are lots of examples of compound lifts. These include deadlift variants, squat variants, pull-ups (no barbell required), dip (no barbell required), lunges, bent over rows, overhead press and chest press variants. You can always find fitness videos to show you how to do deadlifts, squats, etc.

These are the primary exercises you will use for compound training. They all work similar muscle groups, but more emphasis is placed on varying muscle regions. For example, squats focus more on your quads. Meanwhile, deadlifts focus more on spinal erectors.

The barbell is great for these lifts.


The reason is because you are forcing your muscles to work together during resistance movement. But, if you have only dumbbells available it is okay.

You just have to make sure that you are moving the dumbbells at the same time unless you are focusing on offset and unilateral training.

Compound Lifts Are The Foundation For All Exercises

You have probably heard it time and again because it’s true. Proper form allows you to prevent injuries and receive benefits from training. Compound exercises were not only created to change your body structure, but also to help you develop proper form.

Think about it for a second. Almost all exercises require your spine to be in the neutral position. Of course, this is where all vertebrae are vertically straight with each other.

Each compound exercise uses the neutral spine position to allow core muscle activation for stabilization and max energy output. You properly learn to move the weight safely and effectively, while also learning how to properly breathe and create the most beneficial workout possible.

Proper breathing patterns are not only crucial for energy output, but they are also needed to prevent blacking out. Black outs after a strenuous lift are common for powerlifters. The reason is obvious. There is a heavy load being moved. But, the average person should not be blacking out during training.


Safety concerns. The whole load could drop on your body. That could be devastating. Once dizziness and black spots start to appear, stop what you’re doing. Rack the weight right away. Go take a seat with your body sitting upright. Regroup and recover.

Breathing is natural, but can be hard for a lot of people when it comes to coordinating it with exercise movements. You just have to not think about it. There is a right way to be breathing during compound lifting.


Grasp your bar and inhale deeply and slowly with your stomach. Do not breathe in with your chest. Of course, this is when you roll your shoulders back.

Stomach breathing is properly using your core muscle known as the diaphragm. Exhale slowly as you lift the load and move the weight for contraction. Inhale again as you lower the load down and repeat for every rep.

Simply put, inhale before and after rep. Exhale during the rep. Once you have the squat, deadlift, chest press and overhead press down, you can then move on to all the other exercises since you would have the basic fundamentals of movement and posture perfected.

compound lifts and circuit training

All Load Types Can Be Used To Fit Your Training Program

The common belief is that compound lifts are only good for you with heavy load settings. Wrong! This is a false assumption that should be changed. Compound movements can be used for circuit training with lighter loads and muscle building with moderate loads.

It’s true that heavy weight settings are beneficial.

Doing 5x5s non-stop could be bad for your joints with all the heavy loads being used. A lot of bodybuilders from Arnold’s days have even stated that they wish they lowered the weight and increased the reps more often. A good workout to check out is The Arnold Workout

Keep this in mind when you choose any exercise for training. It is not the amount of weight being used necessarily. It is the type of training program that best fits the chosen load to be used.

The compound training program that will be given shortly is not being stated as the only training you should be doing. You are just taking a break from isolation training.

With that being said, you could of course just stick to the compound training if you wish. Isolation exercises are still good for targeting areas where you may be lacking in strength or size. Of course, taking a break from them is good from time to time.

Doing so will help you get your focus back on the big lifts that truly matter.

Rest And Recovery Are Important For A Compound Lifts Workout

Big lifts require a lot of energy since you are using a large number of muscles to boost your maximum power and strength output. With that being said, you need at least 24 hours of rest between each training day since you will be doing a full body workout.

This guarantees full recovery that allows your muscles to heal and grow. You will most likely still feel sore, but just not as much once the next training day arrives.

Proper nutrition planning is essential for recovery. When you do not have enough nutrients within you, your body suffers terribly. Muscle soreness is going to be high and fatigue will be long lasting.


The reason is because your muscles are injured and crying for nutrients to repair and recover. Don’t forget that! It’s a mistake made by a lot of people. You need to eat the right amount of nutrients that fit with your training and muscle building diet.

Protein is your primary concern when it comes to muscle repair and growth. This nutrient is essential for your body to live and function properly. That is especially the case when it comes to fitness training. Carb cycling is also quite important.


They give your body instant access to use nutrients for energy. Fats then become the secondary energy source once your carb storage has been depleted.

This Is The Compound Lifts Training Program

You will be doing a three-day per week workout program. This will last a whole month. You will use only moderate weight settings for the first three weeks of training. After that, you will do heavy load training in the final week.

Here is what your training program will look like:

Monday you do compound lifts.

Tuesday is for rest.

Wednesday you do compound lifts.

Thursday is another rest day.

Friday you again do compound lifts.

Saturday and Sunday are both for rest.

Weeks 1-3 is for Moderate Load Training

Moderate load training is using moderate load settings. You can progressively increase the settings after each set is done. The last set may or may not cause failure. But you should be close to fatigue by the end of the workout with the exercises given.

Notice that it does not take a lot of exercises within a training day to get the job done. You will train for three days each week. On those days, you’ll be doing four different exercises. You should be resting for the remaining four days of the week.

Here’s a more in-depth look:

Monday Exercise Sets Reps

Barbell squat 5 8-10

Barbell flat bench press 5 8-10

Bent over rows 5 8-10

Bodyweight dips 5 15

Tuesday is for rest.

Wednesday Exercise Sets Reps

Conventional deadlifts 5 8-10

Leg press 5 8-10

Overhead barbell shoulder press 5 8-10

Barbell lunges 5 8-10

Thursday is for rest.

Friday Exercise Sets Reps

Stiff leg deadlifts 5 8-10

Front squats 5 8-10

Incline barbell bench press 5 8-10

Bodyweight pull-ups 5 15

Saturday and Sunday are both for rest.

compound lifts in the gym

Week 4 Is For Heavy Load Training.

Heavy load training should be done with a spotter to prevent injury. But, if no spotter is present, then you should just slightly increase the load amount beyond your moderate load setting.

During this week, you will be doing four exercises on each of your four training days. Of course, you will rest on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

Here’s a more in-depth look:

Monday Exercise Sets Reps

Barbell squat 5 5

Barbell flat bench press 5 5

Bent over rows 5 5

Weighted dips 5 10

Tuesday is for rest.

Wednesday Exercise Sets Reps

Conventional deadlifts 5 5

Leg press 5 5

Overhead barbell shoulder press 5 5

Barbell lunges 5 5

Thursday is for rest.

Friday Exercise Sets Reps

Stiff leg deadlifts 5 5

Front squats 5 5

Incline barbell bench press 5 5

Weighted pull-ups 5 10

Saturday and Sunday are both for rest.

Stretching Is Key With Compound Lifts.

Make good use of the rest days. Be sure to stretch and keep your muscles on the right course to recovery. This is the only way to allow for muscle growth and strength increases. You could also do this training program using lighter load settings (12 to 15 reps per set) in the first three weeks.

In the final week you can perform with moderate load settings.

Stretching is mentioned because this allows your muscles to keep from tightening up and actually prevents the soreness. Using dynamic stretches prior to training for a warm up is good.


Simple, it gets your joints ready for the strenuous exercises to come. This is not a requirement, but it may be a good thing to do. Static stretches are better performed after your training program.


If you ever had any doubts about compound moves being great for your body, they should be erased by now. These simple moves are the basics you need. Train smarter and hit more muscles per rep.

Make sure you aren’t sacrificing form to get through your workout. Compound moves are precise. If you do them right, results will follow.


– By Brian Pankau, CPT


  1. Hey can I do conditioning on days off. Im not looking to look like a body builder, I just want to be strong and healthy. I do kickboxing 2 times a week, plus gym (lifting) 3 times

    • Tim,

      That’s a pretty solid plan, I don’t think with that current plan you will look like a bodybuilder. I would make sure you are doing a 3 day split routine however so you hit all muscle groups when you are at the gym 🙂

      -Terry Asher

  2. Hey that’s a great program. As I’m a novice lifter,i want to focus more on compound lifts to develop overall strength and have a solid foundation for further exercises. I like your program with incline bench press and lunges in it unlike starting strength program.But can you please tell me how is this program different than Mark Rippetoe’s starting strength?
    My goal is to put on muscle mass and strength gains

  3. After these 4 weeks are up do I continue with the same exercises and routine? I want to get back into it I’ve been doing Bjj for 12 yrs and the last time I touched weights was about 5 6 years ago. I probably lost all form. I really love what I read on this article considering i wanna get back into weight liftIing just for more of a solid body for tournament’s. Thanks

  4. Great article! I’m on week three now and I have a question or two.
    1. Does the “ramping” of the weights with each set in the first 3 weeks help to build strength overall? So that on the 4th week I am able to lift heavier with more ease?

    2. On the 4th week, do I go back to my heaviest weights for those exercises, or do I stick with a lesser weight?

    and 3. Is this program good for overall strength or just muscle building. As in, after the first three weeks, will my heaviest lifts see improvement?

    Thank you for your time and I appreciate any feedback. I’m looking to gain strength and muscle and this program has given me good results muscle wise and is overall fun.


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