What Is A Compound Lift? An Incredibly Easy Way For Skinny Guys To Gain Muscle!

Have you just begun your weightlifting journey? Are you interested in compound lifting, but still have some questions or reservations? Well, you have come to the right place! Today, we will be answering the question “what is a compound lift?”.

A compound lift is a weight-lifting exercise which simultaneously engages multiple muscle groups. Consequently, a compound lift also moves through multiple joints. Examples include the bench press, overhead press, pull-up, row, squat, and deadlift. Compound lifting is an excellent way to build muscle and burn calories.

I have personally been performing compound lifts exclusively for 2 years now. And I love them! In fact, I credit compound lifting for my personal skinny to muscle transformation!

And today, I’ll be explaining why they can be good (and also why they can be not so good.

So let’s dive right in!

infographic to show what a compound lift is?

What Is A Compound Lift?

What is a compound lift? they are excellent at building muscle

Compound Lifts Activate Multiple Muscle Groups.

As Mike Dewar from Fitbod explains, A compound lift is any weight-lifting exercise which activates multiple muscle groups.

An example would be the barbell squat activating the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

This is in contrast to isolation-type exercises which activate only single muscle groups.

The classic example of an isolation lift would be the bicep curl activating the biceps

Note of interest: the biceps actually consists of the smaller biceps brachii and biceps femoris, but can be grouped into a single muscle group (the biceps).

What is a compound lift? compound vs isolation

Compound Lifts Are Multi-Joint Exercises

Additionally, compound lifts revolve around multiple joints in the body.

For example, the squat movement requires movement around the hip, knees, and ankles.

In contrast, the isolated bicep curl only requires movement around the elbow.

Why Are Compound Lifts Good For Skinny Guys?

Advantages Of Compound LiftsDisadvantages Of Compound Lifts
Activate multiple muscle groups.Steeper learning curve (compared to isolation exercises)
Allows for heavier weight lifting.Competition for equipment in gyms.
Movements replicate daily tasks.Limits small muscle development.
Efficient way to work the entire body.
Develops balance and coordination

1. Compound Lifts Activate More Muscle Groups.

Eric Broser from Muscle & Fitness notes that since compound lifts activate multiple muscle groups, they are also the ideal exercises to build muscle mass.

For example, let’s compare a bench press (compound) with a pec fly (isolated):

A single bench press movement would work your pecs, shoulders, AND triceps. In comparison, the pec fly would only really activate the pecs.

Therefore, compound lifts are an excellent way to engage multiple muscle groups and a quick route of Skinny Town!

2. Compound Lifts Allow You To Lift Heavier.

Compound lifts are commonly referred to as the “Big Lifts”. This is because they allow you to lift heavier weights compared to isolated exercises.

Therefore, compound lifts are excellent for skinny guys looking to gain muscle, since muscle growth is proportional to weight lifted.

3. Compound Lifts Replicate Everyday Task Movements.

A practical advantage of compound lifting is that they replicate the same movement patterns of everyday tasks. These include lifting, carrying, and grabbing.

If you are a skinny guy, will know that this can be a real struggle.

Since compound lifts replicate the same movements of everyday tasks, they will also improve your quality of life as a skinny guy!

4. A Compound Lifting Programme Works The Entire Body.

Due to the multi-joint/multi-muscle nature of compound lifting, they are great ways to work the entire body.

In general, if you are a skinny guy, you are skinny across your whole body.

Therefore a compound lifting programme is great for skinny guys looking to add musculature onto their entire frame!

5. A Compound Lifting Programme Develops Balance And Coordination.

Not only are compound lifts a great way to work the entire body, but they also develop overall balance and coordination.

This is because compound lifts require complex movements around multiple joints.

For example, the barbell squat requires you to unload the barbell from the rack, lower the barbell evenly with your back kept straight, and drive back up evenly with both your legs.

Therefore, skinny guys may benefit from an increased everyday function by compound lifting!

6. Compound Lifting Programmes Are Time Efficient.

A workout programme based on compound lifting is extremely time efficient.

As I explained above, compound lifts by nature activate multiple muscle groups and allow you to lift heavier weights.

Therefore they provide the biggest bang for buck when it comes to developing serious muscle mass seriously quickly!

This makes compound lifting a great fast-track ticket out of Skinny Town!

Disadvantages Of Compound Lifts.

1. Compound Lifts Have A Steeper Learning Curve.

Unlike their isolated counterparts, compound lifts do have a steeper learning curve.

This is because compound lifting requires you to shift heavy weights through a relatively complex movement pattern.

As Gymaholic explains, the risk of injury becomes much greater when you are loading heavy weights and overcompensating the movement with weaker secondary muscles.

Therefore, it is essential that you learn the proper form and technique for compound lifting.

You don’t want a loaded barbell falling onto your face (trust me!). In fact, you don’t want to injure yourself in training. Period!

2. Compound Lifts Are Extremely Popular At The Gym!

Due to the extremely robust nature of compound lifting, they are also very popular amongst gym-goers.

Furthermore, many gyms often have a limited number of racks, benches, and barbells (often required for compound lifting). As a result, you may have to wait in line for your turn.

This may be a huge turn-off for skinny guys who have limited time or “gym intimidation”.

Trust me, I know how uncomfortable it can be trying to complete your sets with a 200 pound beast breathing down your back……

3. Compound Lifts Limit Small Muscle Development.

Although compound lifting is great for overall muscle mass development, it can limit small muscle development.

For example, smaller muscles such as the triceps may develop more slowly from a bench press, compared to the larger pectoral muscles.

That being said- as a skinny guy, this should be the least of your current concerns. Instead, you should focus on building a big frame first, and then refine the frame later!

Examples Of Compound Lifts.

1. Bench Press

 bench press is an example of compound lifting

Muscles Activated: Pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, anterior deltoids, triceps.

How It Will Benefit Skinny Dudes: The bench press is the classic chest builder! A big chest will help to fill out your frame. The pushing nature of this exercise will also benefit your daily life activities.

Top Tip: Contract your shoulder blades and hold them in this position throughout the entire up/down movement. This will help engage your chest muscles rather than your arms.

2. Overhead Press.

over head press is an example of compound lifting

Muscles Activated: Anterior deltoids, posterior deltoids, triceps, upper pectoralis major, trapezius, abdominals.

How It Will Benefit Skinny Dudes: The overhead press will help you develop your upper body shape. This exercise primarily works the shoulders, but secondary muscle activation occurs in the back and core (stabilises the movement).

Top Tip: Keep your back upright and your glutes contracted. This will help prevent the temptation to lean backwards during the upward phase (which would shift the exercise into an incline bench press).

3. Bent-Over Row.

bent over row is an example of compound lifting

Muscles Activated: Trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoids, latissimus dorsi, biceps.

How It Will Benefit Skinny Dudes: This is a great back-builder. It will help to add muscle bass to the back of your frame and contribute to the much coveted V-shaped body. This pulling exercise is also a common movement in everyday activities!

Top Tip: Bend the knees, keep your head facing forward, and stick your butt out to help maintain a straight back. This will decrease the risk of injury and provide maximum training results.

4. Squat.

barbell squat is an example of compound lifting

Muscles Activated: Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, abdominals, erector spinae.

How It Will Benefit Skinny Dudes: Don’t forget leg day dudes! The squat is an excellent way to build powerful legs. This will contribute to an overall stronger physique and balanced body development (i.e no chicken legs!). Leg training will also help with everyday physical tasks and postural improvements.

Top Tip: Keep your back straight to prevent injury, and ensure the hips reach knee level on the downward phase to ensure maximum leg muscle engagement!

5. Deadlift.

dead lift is an example of compound lifting

Muscles Activated: Quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, gluteus maximus, trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoids, abdominals.

How It Will Benefit Skinny Dudes: There’s a reason why many Strongmen competitions are based around the deadlift. This is a powerhouse of a lift. It will engage the entire body and build your upper and lower body. As the name implies, it will also help with everyday lifting.

Top Tip: Keep. Your. Back. Straight. Cannot stress this enough. You can cause yourself serious back injury otherwise. Check your form using mirrors! Also, many people find the sumo deadlift variant easier to perform than the conventional deadlift!

6. Overhand Pull-Up.

Muscles Activated: Trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, posterior deltoids, biceps, abdominals.

How It Will Benefit Skinny Dudes: Just like the row, the pull-up is another great back builder. It too will also help you develop a powerful V-shaped physique. It differs from the row in that it focuses more on the latissimus dorsi (this will help your upper body flare up into a V-shape). The pull up is also a great way to grow your biceps!

Top Tip: Not many people can perform the overhand pull-up right from the get-go. Instead, build up to it. Start on an assisted pull-up machine, then progress to underhand pull ups (which are easier than overhand). Once you have mastered the underhand pull-up, try the overhand pull-up!

7. Barbell Lunge.

lunge is an example of compound lifting

Muscles Activated: Gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, erector spinae, abdominals

How It Will Benefit Skinny Dudes: This is a great complement to the squat and deadlift. Although all 3 exercises work the leg, they all shift the emphasis on different leg muscles. For example, the squat focuses more on the quadriceps, whilst a lunge shifts focus on the hamstrings and glutes. Adding variety to your leg workouts will fix chicken legs in no time!

Top Tip: Bring the entire hip forward during the downward phase of the lunge, as opposed to simply jerking your front leg out. This will ensure you are engaging the glutes and hamstrings as much as possible.

How Skinny Guys Can Incorporate Compound Lifts Into Their Programme

incorporate compound lifts int your programme

1. Create And Plan A Programme Based On Compound Lifting.

The first thing you need to do is to create and plan a workout programme that is focused primarily on the compound lifts.

Ideally, you should aim to incorporate 5 to 6 training sessions per week. Each workout should last for around 45 minutes to 1 hour. That is if you are serious about bulking up…

Each workout should be based on the compound lifts. A good way to start would be to aim to hit your body with 8 different exercises per workout. For each exercise, perform 4 sets. This means you will be performing 32 sets in total per workout.

Furthermore, I like to split my sets across two different muscle groups each day.

For example, Monday could be chest and back (4 chest exercises and 4 back exercises), Tuesday could be back and legs (4 back exercises and 4 leg exercises).

I call this my Split Volume Training– instead of destroying each body part once a day (as in bro splits), I am spreading the volume out over the course of the week.

I do this because a 2017 study has indicated that after around 5 sets per body part per workout, the muscle-gaining benefits of additional sets are drastically reduced. In other words, there is a point of diminishing returns.

As an ex-skinny guy myself, I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of a compound lifting programme to build a powerful physique!

2. Perform Compound Lifts At The Beginning Of Your Workout.

Compound lifts should form the foundation of a skinny guy workout programme. That being said, many people also like to incorporate isolation exercises too.

This is generally acceptable. In fact, it’s a great way to allow your body to recover (since compound lifts are energetically demanding).

Allowing sufficient recovery is particularly important to those who have just begun their weightlifting journey. You don’t want to burn out by over-exerting yourself!

If you do decide to combine compound and isolation exercises, make sure you perform the compound lifts first. This will ensure you are able to push the hardest where it matters (i.e. the big muscle-building exercises!).

The main point to remember is that isolation exercises are OK, but focus your efforts mainly on compound lifting.

3. Barbells Are The Best Muscle Builders.

Compound exercises can be performed using different types of equipment, and barbells are my favourite.

This is because barbells allow me to push heavier weights. And heavier weights = bigger muscles!

However, they may not be a suitable starting point for skinny dudes due to their heavy-lifting nature.

4. Dumbbells Are Also Awesome.

Dumbells are also a great muscle-building way to perform compound lifts.

Dumbbells are essentially smaller barbells. In turn, they are also lighter. Indeed, many commercial gyms offer dumbbells that go as low as a few pounds.

Dumbbells are a great way to practice your form and technique. And once this has been mastered, you can progress to the barbell!

Additionally, dumbbells are awesome because they will develop your stabiliser muscles. These muscles support the joints during intense lifting. And strengthening the stabilisers is essential to lift heavy loads in the future!

This is particularly important for skinny guys since our stabiliser muscles are often naturally weaker than our bigger peers.

5. Machines And Bands Are Great For Beginners.

Finally, compound lifting can also be performed using weight machines and resistance bands. These are great ways for newbies to become accustomed to the movement patterns involved in compound lifting.

Weight machines are guided exercises. This means they restrict an exercise to a single direction of movement.

In contrast, free weights are free to move in any direction. And if your form is bad or your stabilisers are weak, this can cause joint injury.

Additionally, weight machines will often have an instructional sticker attached.

Therefore machines are great for skinny dudes who are learning the ropes!

Resistance bands are also great for beginners because they are much less likely to lead to injury. However, you need to get the right form and technique to really gain the maximal benefits from a band workout.


That’s it!

Today, I have answered the question “what is a compound lift?”.

I have explained what a compound lift is, why they are great, provided some drawbacks (for balance), given you some examples of muscle-building compound lifts, and explored how you can incorporate more compound lifts into your training programme!

As an ex-skinny dude myself, I know how hard it can be to gain muscle mass. But it doesn’t have to be!

By simply including more compound lifts into your training programme, you can expect to gain faster AND bigger results!

In addition to the 7 compound lifts examples, you can also perform variations. And variations will hit different muscle groups. For example, where a flat bench press hits the main chest, an incline bench press will target the upper chest!

How many of my 7 compound lift examples have you tried?

Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions! You can find my details on the “contact us” page.

You may also be interested in the downloadable Kalibre Blueprint PDF which details exactly how I gained 40lbs of lean muscle (it’s 100% free!). It details the exact exercises and nutrition (with printable worksheets) I used to go from skinny to ripped!

Thanks for reading guys!

Peace Out,


(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)


I'm Kal (B.S, M.S)- a health & fitness writer and owner of Kalibre Fitness. I love to nerd out on weight training and nutrition. My primary interests are in muscle hypertrophy mechanisms and strength development. You can connect with me in the "Contact Us" section below!

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