Building Muscle? Why Compound Exercises Should Be Your Go-To

When it comes to building muscle, most gym-goers are familiar with the basic concept of lifting weights. But not all exercises are created equal, and if you're looking to maximize your muscle-building potential, it's worth taking a closer look at the benefits of compound exercises.

What Are Compound Exercises?

Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that work for multiple muscle groups at the same time. Examples of compound exercises include squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and pull-ups. Unlike isolation exercises that target one specific muscle group (such as bicep curls or leg extensions), compound exercises require coordination between multiple muscle groups and joints, making them more challenging and potentially more effective for building muscle.

Increased Muscle Activation

One of the key benefits of compound exercises is that they activate more muscle fibers than isolation exercises. Because they involve multiple muscle groups, compound exercises stimulate greater overall muscle growth and can help you build muscle mass more quickly. For example, a squat not only targets the quadriceps but also activates the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, resulting in greater muscle activation overall.

Greater Overall Strength

In addition to building muscle mass, compound exercises can also help you develop greater overall strength. Because they require coordination between multiple muscle groups and joints, they can improve your body's ability to function as a whole and may help you perform better in everyday activities. For example, a deadlift not only works the back, hamstrings, and glutes but also strengthens the grip and core, resulting in greater overall strength and stability.

Improved Functional Fitness

Another benefit of compound exercises is that they can improve your overall functional fitness. Because they involve movements that are similar to those we use in our daily lives (such as squatting, lifting, and pulling), they can help you develop the strength and mobility you need to perform everyday activities more easily and with less risk of injury. This is especially important as we age and may need to rely on our physical abilities more to maintain our independence.

Time Efficiency

Finally, compound exercises can be a time-efficient way to build muscle and improve overall fitness. Because they work for multiple muscle groups at once, they allow you to get more done in less time, making them ideal for busy individuals who don't have hours to spend in the gym each day.


If you're looking to build muscle, improve your overall strength, and enhance your functional fitness, incorporating compound exercises into your workout routine is a smart choice. By targeting multiple muscle groups at once, compound exercises offer greater overall muscle activation and can help you achieve your fitness goals more efficiently and effectively. So next time you hit the gym, consider swapping out those isolation exercises for some compound movements and see the difference for yourself.

Caroline Buckee

Caroline Flannigan is an epidemiologist. She is an Associate Professor of Epidemiology and is the Associate Director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.

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