Basic Compound Lifts

Add Mass Quickly and Effectively With Compound Movements

I have said it before and I will say it again. The core of any productive weight training program should be built around the basic compound lifts. When I talk about the core compound lifts, I am thinking about:

Bench Presses
Military Press

The basis of any decent mass building weight training program will have to contain these exercises, and variations upon these core exercises.

You can perform all of the isolation exercises that you want, but compound exercises are where the majority of your mass will come from.

Woman SquatSquat

The squat is the grand daddy of all leg exercises. For new weight lifting enthusiasts, the deep squat is the exercise that they will want to build their leg training around. Once you master the deep squat, you can move on to leg squat variations like front squats, zercher squats, hack squats, etc.

Squat Tips:
Form, form, form. I say this about every exercise, but it may be most important with the first two exercises that we will talk about today. For one, good form leads to better results. Secondly, poor form can lead to injury, especially with squats.

Breathe, breathe, breathe. This is another tip that I constantly mention. Breathe in with your nose as you go down and breathe out with your mouth as you explode up with your weight.

Go as deep as your flexibility allows. You want to squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground, but some people cannot go this low without curving their back, and you do not want to curve your back during a squat.

As we just mentioned, keep your back straight.

Point your knees in the same direction as your toes.

Use a weight that you can handle with proper form. If the weight is too heavy, you are wasting your time. If the weight is too light, you are wasting your time. Depending on what your fitness goals are, you may want to do 4 reps, 8-12 reps, 12-15, etc. See which range works best for you to meet your goals.

Use someone to monitor your form, or video tape your form while squatting. You might be surprised with what you see.


Deadlifts, like squats, have a multitude of variations. Also, just as squats, deadlifts are incredibly important to back development. I will never understand how people could neglect such an important body part as the back, but yet they do. A thick, wide back is an accomplishment that everyone should aspire to. Like your legs, your back gets used with pretty much every body movement. How could you not pay such close attention to a body part like your back?

Variations of the deadlift include stiff-legged deadlifts, romanian deadlifts, rack deadlifts, and so many more. I include various deadlifts in every cycle that I incorporate into my workout program, but the important thing is that deadlifts are always incorporated. I could not imagine a back day with deadlifts.

Deadlift Tips:
Form, form, form. I know that I sound like a broken record, but it is so important. Keep the natural curve of your back as you perform any deadlift. Do not bend your back and this can very easily lead to an injury.

Keep the barbell (or dumbbells) close to your legs as you perform a deadlift. Your arms should remain in light contact with your legs as you raise and lower.

Make use of the overhand-underhand grip for heavy barbells.

Bent Over RowRows

Let’s stick with the back for rows because they are serious mass builders for the back. Whether you are doing barbell rows, dumbbell rows, single-arm dumbbell rows, t-bar rows, just do rows. Pretty much every back day for me contains bent-over barbell rows and single-arm dumbbell rows. Sounds like overkill, right? No way. Rows add mass to your back, which is also one of the biggest muscle groups in your body. You need to work it hard.

Row Tips:
Minimize the involvement of the biceps by concentrating on contracting your back.
Pull the weight upward to your lower abdomen. Do not pull to your chest as most do incorrectly.


Since we are having so much fun with the back, why leave now? Pullups (palms facing away) and chinups (palms facing toward you) are great muscle-building exercises for your back. If you see someone with a wide back, chances are that they are doing pullups every back day.

Pullup/Chinup Tips:
Pull yourself up to the bar at about a chest level instead of just the top of the head or the eyes.

Lean back slightly at the top of the movement.

Do not swing your body.

Use slow, controlled movements.

If you cannot perform pullups or chinups, try use a weight-assisted machine or concentrate on the negative of the pullup until you have enough strength to perform pullups. The heavier you are, the harder pullups will be to perform.

Once bodyweight pullups/chinups become too easy, add weight to yourself via a dip belt or dumbbell held between your legs.

Bench PressBench Presses

Every novice fitness enthusiast performs the barbell bench press, and most of them perform it incorrectly. I prefer dumbbell bench presses myself, but will use barbell bench presses at times to shake things up a bit.

Bench Press Tips:
Use a weight that you can control.

Do not bounce the weight off of your chest.

Watch videos, or better yet, video tape yourself to see how the exercise should be done and to find out how you are doing it.

If you have shoulder issues with barbell bench presses, use dumbbells. They allow for more freedom to move your arms in a natural path and allow you to work your stabilizers.

Military PressMilitary Presses

Military presses, or overhead presses, are the best mass building exercises for your front deltoids. Variations can also hit your center and rear delts, but I would rather hit those muscles with isolation exercises. I always include some variation of the military press with every shoulder workout. Whether I use a barbell or dumbbell or perform an Arnold press, I am pressing something.

Military Press Tips:
Perform military presses from a seated position, a standing position, barbell or dumbbells.

Keep the weight directly over your shoulders. As you lift the weight, bring your body forward to come under the weight and bring it back once you lower the weight.

Keep the natural curve in your back.

These are just the big six compound lifting exercises, but they are many more compound exercises that you can employ in your workouts. Until you have a few years of lifting under your belt, you want your workouts to almost exclusively consist of compound movements. Even after you get the experience, compound lifts should still comprise the bulk of your workouts.

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