Biceps curls will build your biceps, and chest flies rush blood to your pectorals. You’ll feel serious abdominal burn when you do hundreds of sit-ups or hollow rocks, and you’ll feel a localized shoulder pump if you do lateral raises.
Every one of those exercises has a place in your fitness routine, but they’re not necessarily the best way to build full-body strength and muscle. Why? Because they’re not compound movements. For as much as curls may make your biceps burn, they’re training just one muscle group.
Compound movements, on the other hand, actively train multiple muscle groups at once — which is very similar to how you use your muscles in real life. Yes, your biceps put in work when you pick up a bag of groceries or open a door, but they’re not the only muscles working. Lats, abs, glutes, and many other muscles are also firing. Very few real-life movements have exactly one muscle working at a time.
Training multiple muscles at once has a host of benefits. When multiple muscles work together, that’s more muscle tissue working at once, and that means you can move bigger weights. Moving those larger loads will help you build more strength and muscle. And when you force muscles to work together, you’ll improve your coordination, too. And by moving bigger weights and recruiting more muscle at a time, you’re also maximizing calorie burn.
Attack key compound movements in this month’s workout, a great general workout that can build the total-body muscle and strength you need.
DIRECTIONS: Do this workout four times a week. On days you don’t do this workout, aim to do a light 20-minute run or walk.
Warmup for every workout with 1 minute each of plank walkouts, reverse lunges, and bear crawls. Use medium-weight dumbbells for the workout.
Exercise One: Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift to Row
Start standing, holding dumbbells at your sides, core tight. Keeping your core tight, push your butt back and lower the dumbbells slowly, taking three seconds to do this. Stop lowering before you feel your back round, or when you feel your hamstrings tighten, whichever comes first. Tighten your core. Now row the dumbbells toward your rib cage, squeezing your shoulder blades. Lower the dumbbells. Stand up, squeezing your glutes. That’s 1 rep. Do 4 sets of 10.
(You’re attacking glutes, hamstrings, and abs together on the deadlift, then hitting biceps, forearms, and back muscles when you row.)
Exercise Two: Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press
Lie with your back on a bench, core and glutes tight, feet flat on the floor, and dumbbells held directly over your shoulders, arms straight. Tighten your core and squeeze your glutes. Lower the left dumbbell, keeping your right arm straight. Press it back up. Lower the right dumbbell. Press it back up. That’s 1 rep. Do 3 sets of 10.
(You’re building chest, triceps, and shoulders with each press, and abs and glutes are getting more work than you think too.)
Exercise Three: Goblet Squat to Reverse Lunge
Hold a single dumbbell with both hands at your chest, core tight, feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your core tight and chest up, bend at the knees and hips, lowering your butt until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Stand back up. Immediately do a reverse lunge rep with each leg. That’s 1 rep. Do 4 sets of 8.
(You’re building quads, hamstrings, and glutes on every squat and lunge rep, and activating calf muscles too. Oh, and abs and shoulders must stabilize the weight and thus never stop firing.)
Exercise Four: Split Stance Overhead Press
Stand holding dumbbells at your shoulders. Step back with your right leg, lowering into a reverse lunge. Keep your right knee a few inches off the ground. Tighten your core. This is your starting position. Now straighten your arms, driving the dumbbells overhead, and keeping your core tight so your back doesn’t arch. Lower back to your shoulders. That’s 1 rep. Do 10 reps. Do 2 sets in each split stance.