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Save Time in The Gym With Compound Movements

Save Time and train with compound movements

Being efficient and knowing how to save time in the gym is the name of the game in this day and age. The most common reason someone gives for not exercising is lack of time. Day after day our calendars are filled with a never ending list of tasks. We have to get the kids up, make breakfast, shuttle them to school, work all day, drive the kids to practices and activities, make dinner, and then prepare for the next day. When in the world would you fit in time to train? Luckily I have a simple method to get the most bang for your buck. Utilizing compound movements is an easy way to hit multiple muscle groups fast. This strategy ensures you save time in the gym so you can get back to that task list that is piling up. It is like taking your task list and checking 3 boxes off at one time! Now that is efficient.

What is a compound movement anyway?

There are two main categories of training movements: isolation and compound. Isolated movements contain only one joint or muscle group. A common example would be a bicep curl; you are isolating the bicep (one muscle) and moving only the elbow (one joint). There are over 650 muscles in the body… going 1 by 1 is no way to save time! The other category is compound movements, in which we move multiple joints and muscle groups at the same time. A well-known example would be the back squat. The back squat uses every muscle in the lower body in some way. Your glutes and quads will be your main movers, and the other muscles in the low body will aid in keeping you grounded and centered. Also, because the weight is on our back, we need to utilize the upper body and core to make sure the weight stays stable.

How do THESE movements save time?

Going off of the example above, in one exercise, we use a larger number of muscles, target multiple muscle groups as our main movers, and as a result, burn more calories. Keep in mind that compound movements will be more taxing to the body and harder to do with proper form. With that being said, the upside definitely outweighs the downside. Life happens different parts of the body move together, not in isolated segments. Compound movements are not only smarter from a time managements perspective, but also a functionality standpoint as well!

Upper body compound movement examples

All this talk is great, but let’s get into some specific applications exercises you can do to save time in the gym. Let’s start with the upper body. Upper body movements will fall mostly into a “push,” “pull,” or “carry” modality. A good rule of thumb is to pick a few exercises from each type to ensure you are training the body evenly. Push exercises generally work on the pectorals, anterior deltoid, and triceps, and the back and core are used as stabilizers. Pull exercises generally work the muscles of the back, such as the latissimus sorsi, upper and lower trapezius, rhomboids, rotator cuff, and extensors. Exercises in the carry category will work on dynamic stability of both the push and pull musculature. All of the following exercises focus on more than one muscle and can be used to speed up your time spent training.

Push :

  • Barbell/Dumbbell(DB) Bench Press – close or wide grip
  • Overhead Press – single arm (SA) or double arm (DA)
  • Bicep Curl to Overhead Press
  • Chest Dips
  • DB/Cable Chest Flys
  • Push-Ups – close or wide grip


  • Bent Over Barbell or DB Row
  • Pull-Ups – close or wide Grip
  • Power Clean
  • Hang Clean
  • High Pulls
  • I’s T’s Y’s and W’s
  • Lat Pull Downs


  • Farmers Carry – SA or DA
  • Rack Position Carry – SA or DA
  • Waiter Walk – SA or DA
Lower Body Compound movement examples

Now that we have covered the upper body, let’s move on to the legs. The major muscle groups of the legs consist of the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, adductors, and the muscles of the calf and lower leg. When we are breaking down the compound movements that work these muscles, we disperse them into three movement modalities: hinge, squat, and lunge. These three categories will cover most strength training movements in the lower body. Hinging will use the glutes and hamstrings as their drivers. Squatting will rely on different muscles depending on where the weight is, so it is a great total leg developer. Finally, lunging will focus on glute and quad development while using the muscle of the low leg for stability. Make sure to pick from each category to ensure even training. Here are some examples to help you save time in the gym during leg day.


  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Single Leg (SL) Romanian Deadlift
  • Conventional or Sumo Deadlift
  • SA deadlift
  • Suitcase Deadlift


  • Barbell Front Squad (quad dominant)
  • Barbell Back Squat (glute dominant)
  • Goblet Squat
  • SL Split Squat
  • Zercher Squat
  • Pistol Squat


  • Reverse Lunge
  • Forward Lunge
  • Lateral Lunge
  • Reverse Lunge with plate press
  • Overhead Walking Lunges
  • Reverse Lunge with Pallof Press
A starting point

Giving you these exercise examples is simply a way to get your creative juices flowing in an attempt to streamline training. If your training covers all the bases from a movement perspective, the exercises you pick matter less than the amount you do them. A good starting point is to incorporate all the different types of movements throughout different days of your plan. By doing different movements on different days, you train smarter. Training different movements on different days also limits the soreness factor that could stop us from training. The rational is that the muscles worked on Day 1 get adequate time to recover while you work different muscles on Day 2. Try this: pick a few exercises from the categories listed above for Day 1, and see how your training time and intensity changes. If you are like everyone else in the world and looking for a way to make your daily list disappear a little faster, consider compound movements.

Sample Program

To illustrate how this might work, here is a sample program template. You can fill these days with exercises from the lists above. Or if you want to incorporate some different movements, scour the internet and find more examples. Eventually you will get to a point where you can mix and match exercises to make a program. From there, do the same exercise routine for 4-6 weeks, and then change it up to give the body another stimulus. Research shows that 4-6 weeks is an ideal amount of time for the body to learn movements and adapt to training stressors, but not too long that it hinders development. Performing 6-7 exercises per day will do the trick of hitting all your muscle groups and save gym time.

Day 1: Push, Hinge, Lunge

  • Pushups – 3 x 10
  • SL DB RDL – 3 x 8 ea. leg
  • Cable Chest Flyes – 3 x 12-15
  • Conventional Deadlift – 3 x 6-8
  • Lateral Lunges – 3 x 8 ea. leg
  • Reverse Lunge with plate press – 3 x 10 ea. leg
  • Bicep Curl to Overhead Press – 3 x 12

Day 2: Pull, Squat, Carry

  • Barbell Bent Over Row – 3 x 8
  • Back Squat – 3 x 10
  • Waiter Walk – 3 x 30 seconds ea. side
  • Goblet Squat – 3 x 15
  • Pull-Ups – max reps
  • TRX Y’s – 3 x 12
  • SA KB Rack Carry – 3 x 30 seconds ea. arm

Day 3 : Mixed Bag

  • Overhead Walking Lunges with DB – 3 x 12 steps
  • High Pulls – 3 x 8
  • Incline DB Bench Press – 3 x 6
  • DA Farmers Carry – 3 x 1 min
  • Lat Pull Downs – 3 x 12
  • Suitcase Deadlift – 3 x 8 ea. arm
  • DB Overhead Press – 3 x 12
Extra Credit

Now, not everyone will be able to do every movement from the list. Some people may have a hard time hinging or squatting, while others can’t push or pull. Everybody and every body is different, so you may need some extra help when deciding which exercises will help the most. After all, we are going for the best AND most efficient exercises. Remember earlier when I mentioned the complexity of these movements? These compound movements are complex because of the multiple joints involved, so ensure you are using proper form with each and every exercise. The last thing we need is an injury that adds doctor appointments to our checklist… If you find you are looking for some guidance, come on down and get your Performance Assessment done. It is the most streamlined way to find out which movements you excel in and which movements might need some work. Click this link to get started and see how you can maximize your efficiency and, therefore, help you save time in the gym! Now get out there and get stuff done!