Looking for the secret sauce that will make your workouts shorter and more effective? Search no further than compound exercises.
Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that target multiple muscle groups at once. While biceps curls only involve your elbow joint and challenge your biceps, a squat, for example, relies on both your hips and knees and recruits all of the big muscles in your lower-body (think glutes, quads, and hamstrings) while activating your core, too.
By getting more of your body working, compound movements give you more bang for your workout buck than isolation moves (like those curls). Working multiple muscles allows you to accomplish a lot more in a lot less time, so you can reap full-body benefits with every rep instead of relying on a whole slew of different moves to get your entire bod in on the action.
Compound exercises also burn more calories than single-muscle moves—yet another reason to love ’em if you’re all about efficiency.
Want to slice your workout time in half? Build your sweat around combo moves.
Time: 20 minutes
Equipment: dumbbells and/or medicine ball
Good for: total body
Instructions: Select one low-impact bodyweight, two strength, two cardio, and one core exercise from the lists below. (That’s six exercises total.) Perform each exercise for the indicated amount of time, then continue onto the next as quickly as possible. After you’ve completed all six moves, rest for 20 seconds, then repeat twice more for a total of three rounds.
Low-Impact Bodyweight Compound Exercises
1. Lateral Lunge to Glute Pull
How to: Start standing with feet hip-width apart, hands at sides. Take a big step to the right, then push hips back, bending right knee and lowering body until right knee is bent to 90 degrees. Push back to an upright position, lifting right knee and pulling it into chest with arms. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep. Repeat for one minute.
2. Hand-Release Pushup
How to: Start in a high plank position with shoulders over wrists. Keep core tight, bend elbows, and lower body all the way down on to the floor. (Elbows should point 45 degrees away from sides.) At the bottom, lift hands a few inches into the air. Replace hands, then press back up to start. That’s one rep. Repeat for one minute.
3. Squat with Reach
How to: Start standing with heels wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly. Bend knees, reach hips back, and lower down into a squat, dropping arms down in between legs. Then, drive into heels to stand up, lift arms straight up overhead. That’s one rep. Repeat for one minute.
Strength-Building Compound Exercises
1. Squat to Overhead Press with Rotation
How to: Start standing with feet hip-distance apart, toes pointed out slightly, and dumbbells in hands, resting on shoulders. Sit back into a squat until thighs are parallel with floor, then drive up through heels to return to standing while pressing right arm toward ceiling, turning torso toward left, and pivoting on right foot. Return to center, drop into another squat, then press back up, this time raising left arm toward ceiling, turning torso toward right, and pivoting on left foot. That’s one rep. Repeat for one minute.
2. Dumbbell Deadlift
How to: Start standing with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, holding a pair of dumbbells. Position weights in front of thighs with palms facing body. Keeping knees slightly bent, press hips back, hinge at the waist, and lower the dumbbells towards floor. Squeeze glutes to return to standing. That’s one rep. Repeat for one minute.
3. Lunge with Twist
How to: Start standing, holding a medicine ball or dumbbell at chest. Take a big step forward with left foot and lower into a lunge until both legs are bent to 90 degrees while extending arms straight out at shoulder height. From here, twist arms and torso over left leg, return to center, then step back to start. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep. Repeat for one minute.
4. Rainbow Slam
How to: Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a medicine ball in front of right hip. Rise up on balls of feet while lifting weight overhead and pivoting on right foot to turn body toward left side and swing medicine ball in arc with force to bounce off ground outside left foot. Catch it and return to start. Repeat on opposite side. That’s one rep. Repeat for one minute.
5. Oblique Curl to Press
How to: Begin in a half-kneeling position with left foot flat on the floor in front of body and a dumbbell in right hand at side. Bend slightly to the right, lowering dumbbell towards floor. Using obliques, return to upright position. Then, bend elbow and curl dumbbell towards chest so palm faces inward. Keeping your core tight and chest tall, press the dumbbell directly overhead. Reverse to return to start. That’s one rep. Repeat for one minute.
Pro tip: Stay on right side for first round. In second round, switch to left side. Then, in final round, do 30 seconds on each side.
Core-Focused Compound Exercises
How to: Start lying on back with legs extended and arms by sides, both on mat. In one movement, lift upper body, arms, and legs, coming to balance on tailbone, forming a “V” shape with body. Lower body back down. That’s one rep. Repeat for one minute.
2. Lateral Bear Walk
How to: Start in bear plank, with shoulders over wrists and knees under hips, hovering a few inches off mat. Move hands and feet left for three steps, keeping hips stable, head in line with tailbone, and knees lifted off of the floor. Don’t let feet or hands cross. Pause, then reverse and move hands and feet right for three steps. That’s one rep. Repeat for one minute.
3. Plank Dumbbell Drag
How to: Start in a high plank, shoulders over wrists and feet wider than shoulders. Place a dumbbell or other weight outside right wrist. Keeping hips and shoulders level, reach left hand across body to drag the weight outside where left wrist will land. Return to high plank and repeat on the other side. That’s one rep. Repeat for one minute.
Cardio Compound Exercises
1. Star Jump
How to: Start standing with feet together and arms at sides. Bend knees to crouch down, bringing fingers to hover above toes. Then jump up into air bringing legs straight and wide outside of shoulders and arms out overhead, forming “X” with body. Softly land back into a crouch. That’s one rep. Repeat for 20 seconds if you’re a beginner, 30 if you’re intermediate, and 45 if you really want to sweat.
2. Fast Feet with Punches
How to: Start standing with feet slightly wider than hips, knees softly bent, and arms bent with fists up at chin height. Take small, quick, alternating steps with feet while at the same time, extending arms in an alternating pattern to perform quick punches. That’s one rep. Repeat for 20 seconds if you’re a beginner, 30 if you’re intermediate, and 45 if you really want to sweat.
3. Sprinter Starts
How to: Start in a low lunge position with right foot forward and left back, both bent at 90 degrees, torso parallel to floor, right hand on right thigh, and left arm extended, fingertips on mat. Push through right leg to take small jump up into air, lifting left knee off the floor and driving it toward chest, while swinging bent right arm forward until elbow is in line with shoulder. Reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep. Repeat for 20 seconds if you’re a beginner, 30 if you’re intermediate, and 45 if you really want to sweat.
4. Single-Arm Side Burpee
How to: Start in a standing position, with hands at sides. Jump up and lift both hands into air. Squat down, lean to the right and press right hand into ground, then jump feet to the side so body is in a side plank position (stagger your feet if needed). Engage your obliques to reverse the movement and return to start. That’s one rep. Repeat for 20 seconds if you’re a beginner, 30 if you’re intermediate, and 45 if you really want to sweat.
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