If you’re trying to strengthen your body from head to toe, add a liberal dose of compound exercises into your routine. When you perform compound exercises, you move more than one joint and work multiple muscle groups. Choose from a long list of compound exercises and vary your workouts every month or so to avoid the dreaded exercise plateau.
The triangle, or close-grip, pushup is the most efficient triceps exercise, according to a 2011 study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Perform the exercise like a standard pushup but place your hands close together below the middle of your upper chest. Other compound triceps exercises include dips and close-grip bench presses. To work your biceps or forearms, do compound back exercises, such as pullups, chin-ups, inverted rows and bent-over rows.
Overhead presses, such as the seated shoulder press, target the anterior deltoid in front of each shoulder. Sit on a bench or chair, hold the weight in front of your upper chest with an overhand grip and press the weight straight up to the ceiling. Alternate compound exercises for the fronts of your shoulders include military presses and Arnold presses. Work the lateral deltoids with upright rows. Target the posterior delts by doing inverted rows or rear-delt rows. These shoulder exercises also work muscles of your back and either your triceps or biceps.
A 2012 ACE study determined that the barbell bench press was the most effective exercise for your chest. Lie face up on a flat bench with your feet on the floor. Hold the bar above your upper chest with a wide, overhand grip and press the weight toward the ceiling. You can also work your chest with pushups and dips, both of which, like bench presses, also strengthen your shoulder muscles and triceps.
Pullups, which target your latissimus dorsi muscles, are among the best compound, body-weight exercises you can perform because they also work muscles of the arms, chest and shoulders and several other back muscles. Chin-ups and high-cable pulldowns also work most of those areas. To perform pullups, spread your hands wider than shoulder-width apart on a bar, with your palms facing forward. Hang naturally and then pull your chin above the bar before returning under control to the starting position. Other compound back exercises include bent-over rows, inverted rows and cable rows, which also work your shoulders and upper arms.
According to a 2001 ACE study, the bicycle maneuver is the best exercise you can do to strengthen the rectus abdominis in your abdomen. Lie face up on the floor, raise your legs and lift your shoulders and upper back. Pull one knee toward your chest and rotate your torso as you touch your elbow to the opposite knee. Continue the exercise by rotating your torso in the opposite direction, bringing your other knee forward and touching it with your opposite elbow. Continue alternating sides throughout the exercise. Situps and leg-hip raises target your abs but also strengthen your hip flexors, while deadlifts target your lower back and hit numerous other muscles, including the glutes and hamstrings.
In addition to targeting the gluteus maximus muscle, squats also work your quads and calves. Stand straight, holding weights if you wish -- such as a barbell across the back of your shoulders -- and squat, as if you were sitting straight down. Push through your heels to return to the starting position. You can also work your glutes plus the quads and calves with compound exercises, such as lunges and step-ups.
The leg press targets your quads but also works your glutes, while your hamstrings and calves engage as stabilizers. Sit in the leg-press machine’s seat, place your feet flat on the resistance plate and extend your legs. Return under control to the starting position. Squats, lunges and step-ups also strengthen your quads, calves and glutes, while straight-leg deadlifts target your hamstrings but still hit a variety of muscles, including the lower back and glutes.