11 Best Compound Exercises for Weight Loss

When you’re ready to ramp up your weight-loss journey, few exercises rival the effectiveness of compound movements in the gym. These powerhouse exercises kickstart your metabolism, help you sculpt lean muscle, and enhance your overall strength. Compound exercises, which are known for engaging multiple muscle groups simultaneously, allow you to lift heavier weights, intensifying your workouts. To help you implement this type of exercise into your fitness routine, I have 11 of the best compound exercises for weight loss you can possibly do.

Due to their high energy demand, you’ll typically position compound exercises at the beginning of your workouts. These exercises include well-known moves like squats, pushups, deadlifts, lunges, and rows, yet a wealth of others can add depth to your regimen and amplify your fat-burning potential. While compound exercises are ideal for strength training and muscle hypertrophy, they are seamlessly adaptable to HIIT and interval training as well, creating versatile and effective workouts.

Below, I’m sharing my top 11 compound exercises for weight loss. Each exercise is accompanied by insights into its effectiveness, detailed instructions on proper form, and recommendations for sets and reps to optimize your results.

Dumbbell Bench Press

seated dumbbell bench press

Incorporating dumbbells into compound movements enhances their weight-loss potential by increasing stability demands and engaging multiple muscle groups simultaneously. The dumbbell bench press, for instance, targets the chest, delts, triceps, and core, effectively sculpting key upper-body muscles while boosting overall strength and stability.

Start by sitting on a flat bench with the dumbbells at shoulder height and your palms facing inward. Press the dumbbells until your arms are straight, then lower them slowly until they tap your shoulders. Next, push the dumbbells back up, squeezing your chest and tricep muscles. Keep your feet flat on the floor and your core engaged. Perform three sets of 12 to 15 reps with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

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Barbell Deadlifts

barbell deadlift

The barbell deadlift is a superb compound exercise for weight loss because it engages numerous muscle groups with each rep, promoting calorie burn and muscle development. Deadlifts are an excellent exercise for improving body composition as they target major muscle groups in both the lower and upper body, including the quads, glutes, hamstrings, lats, mid and upper back, and arms.

Start with your feet shoulder-width apart to set up for deadlifts. Next, bend your knees, and push your hips back to reach down and grip the barbell (or equipment you’re using). Push through your heels, and bring your hips forward to stand up, squeezing your glutes. Keep your back straight, core tight, and the bar close to your shins as you move. Carefully return the bar to the floor by reversing the movement. Complete three sets of eight to 12 reps with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

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Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows

single-arm dumbbell row illustration

Dumbbell row variations primarily target the upper back muscles, including the lats, rhomboids, and rear delts, while also engaging the biceps and forearms for added strength and definition. Plus, they rely on core engagement to stabilize the torso, creating more work and muscle engagement to increase caloric expenditure.

To execute the dumbbell row exercise, stand with your feet hip-width apart, and hinge forward with a flat back until your upper body is nearly parallel to the floor. Reach out with your non-rowing hand for stability, and support yourself on a bench, box, or rack. Hold a dumbbell in your hand, allowing your arm to straighten. Pull your elbow up along the sides, engaging the back muscles in a rowing motion. Slowly lower the dumbbell to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Perform 15 to 20 reps with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

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Back Squats

illustration of barbell back squat

Back squats are a stellar compound exercise for boosting your metabolism as they recruit numerous large muscle groups, triggering a significant calorie burn and promoting lean muscle growth. They primarily target the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back while also engaging the core and stabilizer muscles for improved strength and balance.

Start by stepping underneath the bar, squeezing your shoulder blades together, and positioning the barbell on your traps. Have your feet firmly planted on the floor and your hands gripping the bar close to your shoulders. Brace your core, unrack the barbell, and take one or two steps backward, adjusting your feet to hip-width apart. Maintain a proud chest as you squat down, ensuring your quads are parallel to the floor and your knees align with your toes. Drive through your feet to return to the starting position, completing the movement. Complete eight to 12 reps with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

Shoulder Presses

illustration of seated dumbbell shoulder press

Shoulder presses are a renowned compound exercise for weight loss as they engage multiple muscle groups in the upper body, leading to improved muscle definition. This exercise primarily targets the deltoid muscles of the shoulders while also engaging the triceps and upper chest muscles for added strength and toning. To make presses even more effective, utilize single-arm, alternating, or slow-rep variations!

Start by sitting on a bench with back support, and grip a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level, palms facing forward. Press the dumbbells overhead until your arms straighten, keeping your elbows slightly bent to avoid locking them. Lower the dumbbells back to shoulder height, and repeat for the desired reps. Perform three sets of 12 to 15 reps with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

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Front Squats

barbell front squats

Front squats are notorious for targeting the quadriceps, glutes, and core while engaging the upper back and shoulders to maintain proper posture and stability. If you’ve experienced a few sets of front squats, you know firsthand their intense nature and their remarkable ability to engage and strengthen your abs.

Step under the bar, and grip it close to your shoulders, ensuring your feet are planted on the floor and your elbows are up. Brace your core, and unrack the barbell, then take a couple of steps back, positioning your feet hip-width apart. With your chest and elbows up, squat until your thighs reach parallel to the floor or lower, ensuring your knees track over your toes. Drive through your feet to return to the starting position, completing the squat. Complete eight to 12 reps with 90 seconds of rest between sets.


front lunge exercise

Lunges are responsible for single-handedly single-legging your weight to weight loss. (Get it?) Lunges offer a versatile and effective way to ramp up your calorie-burning workouts, sculpting and defining key muscle groups such as the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Various lunge variations provide a dynamic and engaging element to your routine, ensuring your workouts remain enjoyable and stimulating.

Start with your feet hip-width apart. Step forward with your right foot, ensuring your knee aligns with the ankle, and lower the back knee above the ground. Push through your right foot to bring the left foot forward into the next lunge. Alternate legs with each step, maintain an upright posture, engage your core for stability, and maintain a smooth, controlled movement. Repeat for the desired number of reps or distance. Perform three sets of 12 to 20 reps per side with 45 to 60 seconds of rest between sets.


woman doing pull-ups

Pull-ups are one of the best exercises to program in your workouts for shredding and defining the upper and mid back. You’ll engage your lats, rhomboids, traps, and other prominent back muscles while showing a little love to your biceps and forearms.

Grab the pull-up bar with an overhand grip, shoulder-width apart, ensuring your arms are straight. Squeezing the lats, upper back, and arms, pull yourself up until your chest is at the bar. Lower yourself with control, keeping your lats, upper back, and arms tight until your arms are straight. If you don’t quite have the strength to perform a full range of motion pull-up, use controlled lowerings or snag some assistance from bands. Complete three sets of eight to 10 reps with 90 seconds of rest between sets. If using assisted pull-ups, bump the reps up to 10 to 15.

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illustration of Romanian deadlift exercise

RDLs are the posterior facilitator of lean muscle mass, definition, and enhancing your fat-burning abilities. Switch up your RDls using variations such as slow reps, staggered stances, and even elevated toes to target the hammies and glutes.

Begin with a barbell or dumbbell in each hand, feet hip-width apart, maintaining a straight back and keeping your shoulders engaged. Hinge at your hips, lowering the dumbbells while keeping your knees slightly bent until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Drive hips forward to return to start, engaging hamstrings and glutes throughout. Perform three sets of eight to 12 reps per side with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

Split Squats

Bulgarian split squats

Split squats deliver similar benefits and target the same muscle groups as lunge variations but with an added intensity. They engage muscles such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes while activating stabilizer muscles for enhanced balance and strength. By incorporating “time under tension,” split squats maximize muscle engagement throughout each repetition, resulting in greater muscle definition and endurance gains.

Begin by assuming a hip-width stance, and step one foot forward. Elevate your back foot on a workout bench. Next, lower your back knee to the ground until it’s slightly above it. Maintain an upright torso, activate your core, and push through your front foot to return to the start position. Keep a solid posture throughout. Complete three sets of eight to 12 reps per side with a 90-second rest between sets.


squat thruster

Thrusters are a phenomenal exercise for weight loss, combining a squat and overhead press into one dynamic movement that torches calories and ramps up your metabolism. This compound exercise engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously, including the quadriceps, glutes, shoulders, and triceps, making it incredibly effective for building strength and burning fat. Incorporating thrusters into your workouts can help you achieve a leaner physique while improving overall cardiovascular health and muscular endurance.

Hold a pair of dumbbells at shoulder height with your palms inward, standing shoulder-width apart. Squat, and then press the dumbbells overhead while driving with your legs to stand. Lower them back to shoulder height as you descend into the next squat. Perform three to four rounds of continuous reps for 45 seconds with 30 seconds of rest between rounds.

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