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The best compound exercises to get more bang for your workout buck

17 November 2021|3 min read

Key Points

  • Compound exercises work multiple muscle groups in one movement. 
  • The best compound exercises include squats, planks and step ups. 
  • A good bodyweight workout should include movements that target all areas of your body.

You’ve set your fitness goals and started a 30 day family fitness challenge. You know you need to move your body more. You’ve even bought all the right at home gym equipment to make it happen. 

But now what?

It’s time to work out, that’s what!

If you’re stuck on where to start, you might want to acquaint yourself with a particular type of exercise called compound exercises. Not only are many of the best compound exercises really simple movements you’re probably already familiar with, but they’re also efficient and effective. That’s definitely what you want from your workout. 

Here’s what you need to know about compound exercises, with some hot tips from Personal Trainer, Gabrielle Petterwood. 

Compound exercises explained

There are two broad categories of exercises you could do. Isolation exercises target a single muscle. A bicep curl is an isolation exercise as you’re primarily targeting one muscle group – the biceps.

A plank targets muscle stamina and that’s really important. It’s also great for your core, your glutes and your shoulder health.

- Gabrielle Petterwood, PT

Compound exercises target multiple muscle groups with one movement. If you’re short on time or don’t like spending ages working out, these are some of the best resistance exercises you could do at home to target different muscles in your body.

The benefits of compound exercises

We know the benefits of HIIT workouts for helping to raise your heart rate and improve your fitness. We understand the benefits of lifting weights for improving your strength. We’re also aware that the best compound exercises may also be beneficial for your overall health and fitness.


Compound exercises target multiple muscle groups with one movement

Research has shown that compound exercise is also beneficial for improving muscular strength. But there’s more to it than that. Some of the top benefits of compound exercise from working multiple muscles at the same time include:

  • burn more calories
  • do more in less time
  • elevate your heart rate more for cardiovascular benefits
  • improve the coordination of different muscles for movement.

So alongside doing your core exercises at home or free yoga online classes, you could incorporate compound exercises to take the burn to the next level. 

The best bodyweight exercises for each muscle group

While it was hard for her to pick just three, Gabrielle says that the following are the best compound exercises for strength, mobility and overall fitness. 


Gabrielle says that squats are one of the best bodyweight exercises for glutes. But it’s not just your buns that benefit. 

“When you do a squat properly, you hit some big muscle groups including your core, glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves. It’s a really great, functional movement that translates into everyday life. It’s also really good for ankle mobility as well as knee and joint health,” Gabrielle explains.

Gabrielle’s advice for doing a squat properly is to make sure that your core is engaged, your shoulders are retracted and your feet are hip width apart. Lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor, keeping your feet flat on the ground the whole time. Squeeze your glutes as you come back up.


When you’re doing a plank you should keep your spine in a neutral position with your core engaged.


According to Gabrielle, one of the best full body exercises at home is a plank.

“A plank targets muscle stamina and that’s really important. It’s also great for your core, your glutes and your shoulder health,” she says.

When you’re doing a plank, Gabrielle says whether you’re doing it on your toes or on your knees, you should keep your spine in a neutral position with your core engaged.

You might only be able to hold a plank for 20 seconds when you start, but as you build strength and stamina this time will increase.

Step ups

For another simple exercise you could do with just bodyweight, Gabrielle suggests step ups. 

“Step ups are a great functional movement that helps with stability. They work the quads, glutes, hamstrings and core. Plus, you’re also getting your heart rate up for cardio,” she says.

If one of your smart fitness goals involves hitting 10,000 steps each day, step ups will also get you one step closer to that. 


It’s important to do a full body workout to help keep your body evenly balanced

Tips for developing a bodyweight workout at home

Gabrielle says that the best bodyweight exercise programs include exercises that work across all planes with different push and pull movements along with core exercises. It’s important to do a full body workout to help keep your body evenly balanced.

“For example, you want to have a chest exercise like a push up and a back exercise like a back extension or a bent over row. To work the posterior change you need something like a deadlift or squat to work your glutes, hamstrings and back. Then add in a plank or the like to really work your core,” Gabrielle says.

Of course, don’t forget your warm up to prevent injury and also familiarise yourself with the signs of overtraining. It’s also OK to not exercise every day and to take a day off for rest. 

Compound exercises for the win

Want to know one of the secrets for how to get rid of sore muscles? More exercise. Compound exercises are an efficient and effective way to get fitter and stay that way without needing to spend hours and hours at the gym. 


Gabrielle Petterwood is a Personal Trainer with a holistic approach to fitness, nourishing the body with fresh foods and living a healthy and balanced lifestyle to realise full body health.

Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board October 2021.


This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you have any concerns or questions about your health you should consult with a health professional.