Bench press

Compound Exercises

What are compound exercises?

Weight lifting exercises can be separated into two broad categories: compound movements and isolation movements.

Isolation exercises are different from compound exercises

Isolation exercises are those which move a single joint through its range of motion. Examples include:

  • Bicep concentration curls (elbow joint)
  • Triceps kickbacks (elbow joint)
  • Leg extension machine (quadriceps muscle and knee joint)
  • Calf raises (ankle joint)

These moves are called “isolation” exercises because they put major stress on a single, isolated muscle.

A strongman performing an overhead press

A strongman performing an overhead press

Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that rely on the coordinated actions of several muscle groups to move two or more joints through a range of motion.

For example, the squat involves both ankles, knees, and hips. And it puts major training stress on the quads, hamstrings, glutes, back and core, and a host of small, stabilizing muscles. Even though it’s a single strength training exercise, it works many parts of the body.

With a half-dozen compound exercises, you get a full-body workout. This style of strength training quickly builds muscle mass and overall fitness and it strengthens the body as a whole. Plus, it builds athleticism.

Training for speed versus training for strength

Although it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, you can generally divide compound exercises into two main types:

  • Olympic lifts, such as the clean and jerk or the snatch. These movements develop power and speed.
  • Power lifts like the bench press, deadlift, and powerlifting squat. They’re deceptively named because they don’t actually build power. They develop pure max strength.

Compound exercises are more suitable for skinny guys who want to bulk up than isolation exercises will ever be

Devotees of either style of lifting will undoubtedly argue the minutiae of the distinction I draw between Olympic lifts and powerlifting. But the point to take away from it all is that there are two different schools of thought about which compound exercises are best. Let me explain:

Some athletes use weight training as a tool to improve their sports performance. These guys tend towards the Olympic-style lifts.

Other folks view weight training as an end in and of itself. They gravitate towards powerlifting.

Both styles have their good and bad points, but one thing is clear: compound exercises of any stripe are more suitable for skinny guys who want to bulk up than isolation exercises will ever be.

Compound exercises for bulking up

Adding significant muscle mass is not a trivial task.

To put on good quality muscle, you must work out very hard. And you also have to steadily increase your body weight. Furthermore, your joints and connective tissue must strengthen and adapt in concert with your muscles.

Just like you wouldn’t put a high-performance engine into a compact car with a puny power-train, you can’t put 10 kilos of muscle on a frame that’s weak and unprepared for the additional stress that comes with being bigger and more powerful.

This is where compound exercises come in.

Olympic-style lifts are compound movements

Olympic-style lifts are compound movements

Compound exercises stress not only your muscles, but your joints, ligaments, and tendons.

They develop the body as a whole rather than as a collection of seemingly-unrelated parts.

Make no mistake about it: the body is not a collection of unrelated parts. If you train like it is, you will eventually injure yourself. Compound movements find the weak link in your power train and put maximum stress right there where it will do the most good. Your muscles won’t get stronger unless and until your joints can handle the additional power. This is a good thing.

Bodybuilders and others who incorporate isolation exercises into their workouts are training for hypertrophy, not absolute strength. Anyone who relies solely on isolation movements will inevitably develop weak spots. These areas of weakness will eventually give way when they’re subjected to enough stress.

Why do people perform isolation movements?

Large 200-pound and above bodybuilders know they can get an extra inch or so out of their arms by doing curls and tricep isolation exercises. They want the extra size, regardless of whether it translates into real strength.

But don’t be fooled. These big fellows didn’t get huge by ignoring the compound lifts. The huge guys in any bodybuilding gym paid their dues with compound moves when they were developing, just like every other successful weight lifter.

Smaller lifters do isolation exercises because they don’t know any better.

Yes, it’s true that smaller guys can pump up a bit with isolation movements. But this is a Faustian bargain. When these guys stop working out, the size goes away quickly. And if they ever get stressed to the max, the weak links fail because of the lack of athleticism.

Aside from bodybuilders who are already big, the people who use isolation exercises while supposedly bulking up do so because these movements are easier than heavy compound lifts like squats, overhead presses, or pullups. They would rather “feel the burn” in their biceps than feel like they were just hit by a freight-train after doing a set of squats. Compound exercises are hard, but there is no substitute for the effect they have on your body. Nobody said bulking up wasn’t hard work.

Which weight lifting exercises are the best?

There is a classic combination of compound weight lifting exercises that most successful lifters used to bulk up. It’s known as the “golden five”. When most people talk about doing a “whole-body routine”, this is what they are referring to.

Exercise Name Major Muscle Groups Minor Muscle Groups
Squats Quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back Lower legs, upper back, core stabilizing muscles, hip complex
Deadlifts Grip, lower back, hamstrings, traps, back of shoulders Lower legs, core, upper legs, isometric work for biceps, and virtually everything else
Bench press Pecs, triceps, front of the shoulders Serratus muscles at side of ribs, side of shouders, neck
Pullups (or rows) Lats and upper back, biceps, grip Core, neck
Overhead pressing Shoulders, triceps Core stabilizing muscles, neck

These movements will stress your entire body and cause it to grow as a unit, with no weak links. Other than that, all you need is a bit of running or other high-rep work for your calves. Heavy squats and deadlifts will stress the soleus muscles of your calf complex, but calves are probably not suitable for direct, low-rep isolation work while you’re also trying to bulk up.

Compound lifts for building muscle mass

Lots of people don’t like compound lifts for these reasons:

  1. It takes time and effort to learn proper technique.
  2. It takes time to build up the degree of flexibility needed to take compound exercises through a full range of motion.
  3. Compound exercises are hard and exhausting. A set of pullups is an ordeal; a set of bicep curls is something you can do while talking on the phone.
  4. Free weight barbells are intimidating. Dumbells suitable for isolation exercises are less scary.

Barbells are perfect for use with compound movements

Barbells are perfect for use with compound movements

Stick to compound exercises while you are in your mass-building phase.

Play around with isolation exercises if you are bored, but don’t wear yourself out. The real work should go into the compound movements during your regular workout. While isolation exercises are good to know, especially if you are nursing an injury and you can’t perform a full range of motion compound exercise, they don’t take the place of a proper weight training workout.

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{ 114 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael November 3, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Mass Phase ? What other phases are there? What do they consist of? How long is each phase? What do the exercise routines look like. I work Full time And drive home 3.5 hours on a daily basis. Thanks Kindly

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Thomas November 3, 2009 at 6:58 pm

Hi Michael:

During a mass-building workout, you are gaining weight and muscle by eating an excess of calories and lifting with a high level of intensity. Your body can’t withstand this intensity year-round. A typical mass phase might be three months at the most. After that, you probably need a period of rest and recovery.

Other than mass-building workouts, you can do sports-specific strength workouts, general fitness and strength-maintenance workouts, rehab workouts, etc. Basically, if you are gaining weight you are in a mass phase, but if not, you are doing something else.

I am hesitant to recommend a one size fits all workout here on this website, but you can see some of the thinking that goes into program design in this article: designing a bodybuilding workout.

The length of a typical routine depends on your level of proficiency with weight training. As long as the gains keep coming, don’t change what’s working. When your results begin to plateau, then you are no longer a beginner and you will need an intermediate or adanced routine.

If you like books, here is a good one at amazon.com: Starting Strength (3rd edition)

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Ken D'Aquila March 3, 2010 at 1:56 pm

How does weight training for the abdominal come into all this? Why are abdominal exercises not included in the golden five?

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Thomas March 4, 2010 at 8:47 am

Hi Ken:

Virtually all compound exercises involve the core (or abdominals). If you add separate ab work, you will probably limit your ability to make progress in the main compound lifts.

You can bulk up with a full body compound exercise routine, or you can isolate the abdominals and build a six-pack, but unless you are genetically gifted and a bit lucky, you can’t do both at the same time.

Just as the arms get a lot of (indirect) work from bench presses, pull-ups, and other compound exercises, so do the abdominals. If your abs (or any other part of your core) are the weak link, compound exercises will strengthen them up just fine.

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Sixpacker July 20, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Yes, all of these compound exercises work out the abs and core muscles tremendously.

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danny May 5, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Hey there,

Just wondering about the rep range. Can mass still be put on by using a maximal strength workout (i.e. approx 5 reps/set) rather than a traditional hypertrophy program (8-12 reps)??
thanks

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Thomas May 21, 2010 at 1:56 am

I believe it’s easy to gain mass at 5 reps per set, especially for guys who are skinny or underweight. I think 5 sets of 5 is a great program for strength or hypertrophy. The only thing to worry about is that at 5 reps, the intensity is very high and this can lead to injury if your form isn’t perfect. At 10 reps, intensity is lower and technique isn’t quite as important.

My theory is: if you’re going 5 reps to failure in the squat, you’d better have good technique and proper flexibility. If you have bad squatting technique or flexibility problems on that last rep, you’re going to cause trouble for yourself. But at 10 reps to failure, things are a lot more forgiving: you can squat your way into shape and work on technique at the higher rep ranges.

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joseph June 3, 2010 at 11:11 pm

I am 40 years old and had three back surgeries (disc problems) years ago. My last back surgery was at age 38. I was dead lifting about 275 and “pop”. I have been working out with weights for a few years since but have recently started light weight squats and dead lifts. I have been trying higher reps but have no clue how many sets or reps to shoot for. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

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Thomas June 6, 2010 at 6:15 am

Hi Joseph:

I am not qualified to give you any advice about training with a surgically-reconstructed back. What I do know is that if a person has had back or knee surgery, they’re never going to be as capable as someone who has avoided injury, and they’re going to have to face up to the fact that certain activities will forever be off-limits.

There comes a point in lots of peoples’ lives when their youthful dreams of immortality suddenly disappear with a “pop“. After that, training is best geared towards injury prevention, joint mobility, and quality of life.

Although there are plenty of anecdotes on the ‘web demonstrating how someone was able to deadlift heavy weights after disc surgery, I’m not prepared to ever recommend deadlifting to someone with back problems. I have absolutely no experience in the matter, one way or the other.

Weight lifting — even for young, healthy, athletic people — is implicated in tens of thousands of back injuries every year. According to the US Government’s Consumer Products Safety Commission, in the year 2009 there were 14,734 emergency-room visits just in the United States because of lower-back injury during weight lifting. That figure doesn’t include emergency-room visits by people who hurt their back lifting things other than weights.

Heavy deadlifting should be done only after a thorough warmup, and then only if your flexibility is sufficient to allow you to keep your back/spine oriented properly, and then only once per week. Anyone who is unsure whether they are flexible enough to deadlift heavy weights should read Mark Ripptoe’s Starting Strength. A lot of the weight-training advice on some well-regarded internet sites is simply re-written directly from Ripptoe’s book. In lieu of that, perhaps get some advice from an experienced trainer who has a degree in something like kinesiology or exercise physiology and is a member of a professional organization like the NSCA. For those who want more reading, Krista gives some useful info on how to choose a personal trainer.

Good luck!

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Charles Hines August 4, 2010 at 2:08 am

I have been working out for 4 months now and I don’t see any difference in my body I wonder if me working 12 hours at work could be the problem with me not bulking up because I’m still stuck at 185 pounds and I would like to be 200 pounds

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Thomas August 5, 2010 at 6:46 am

Working out doesn’t make you bigger; eating does. Everything starts with your nutrition. Frankly, if you’re 185, you’re already pretty big unless you’re carrying a lot of body fat. To get up to 200 pounds ripped is very difficult. On the other hand, getting to 200 pounds and 20% body fat is easy (that means you have 40 pounds of fat).

I’d suggest this:

  • Figure out your body composition
  • Create an eating plan that causes you to gain a pound of body weight per week (unless you’re carrying too much fat already)
  • Add a bit of weight to the bar each time you lift

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Charles Hines August 5, 2010 at 8:09 am

I forgot to mention that I’m 5’11 and 185 pounds I lift as heavy as I can doing 5 sets of 5 – 7 reps mainly with squats and bench I really do believe that I could get up to 200 pounds if I could get my bird legs to grow, but it really is very difficult with lack of rest because of my 7 p.m. – 7 a.m. work schedule. Sometimes I’m drained please give me a workout schedule that I could do on my days off which is 3 days one week and 4 the next. I’d really appreciate it Thomas.

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Z.N khan August 17, 2010 at 2:58 pm

now i m away from gym for last 2 years coz i was fail to get mass. Now i m again trying to start using only 5 major compound exercises. i m 6.3 ft tall and only 80kg. I lived in Pakistan where mostly weather is hot. I tried with heavy lifting with 8 reps max with 4 sets but no gains. i did one body part once in 5 days. I also use mage mass gainer etc suppliments for 6 months but got some weight like 2 to 3 kg. i want to be 96kg atleast. Someone told me to do compound one. i.e for chest only do bench press. some one help me.
just tell me for chest, should i do only bench press and for shoulders should i do only over head press and for back only pull ups. or i must do inclines bench press too?
Please send tips on my email eddress.

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SteveD August 29, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Hi.
Just about to start a programme using compound moves for the first time in an attempt to bulk up. Your site has offered loads of good advice, many thanks! One question: once I reach the three month mark and take a rest, what can I do to prevent dropping the weight that I will hopefully have added? Thanks for a reply.

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Thomas September 5, 2010 at 2:56 pm

There’s no need to take a rest unless your body demands it. Unfortunately, it takes experience to know if your body is in need of rest.

The cruel fact is: when you stop (or slow down) your workouts, you will lose strength. Even the best pro athletes reach a “peak” when they’re at their best. But they can’t peak continuously; they have to back off at some point.

If you want to back off a bit, try working out at 50% to 80% for a while. Doing that, you’ll probably avoid losing strength and mass.

I advise you to avoid getting obsessed with maximums and constant progress. True success past a certain point requires long-term thinking and injury prevention.

Good luck; I wish I could offer a more satisfying answer but I don’t want to pretend I know things that I don’t.

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bhavya October 7, 2010 at 8:09 pm

hey there hi i loved your article but i have a huge problem you look like professional so i hope you can help me out , i m skinny and i need help increasing the width of my arms i m pretty satisfied with my side view but when i see my front view they are so thin that elblw is seen out of my arms like this ,
shoulder—–>======( )===3^<— my fingers please help me i really need help

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Thomas October 7, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Hi. It’s very difficult to increase the size of your arms unless you also add muscle to your torso. I wrote some more about this in compound exercises for biceps and triceps.

If you want to stick to typical isolation exercises for the arms, concentrate on your triceps since they are naturally larger than the biceps. You might also add some hammer curls to your arm workouts; some people claim hammer curls target the brachioradialis muscles which sort of stick out the side of your arm near the elbow.

But mainly, I think you shouldn’t worry too much about what you see in the mirror. Once you add 10 to 15 pounds of overall muscle mass, your arms won’t look as skinny. Good luck and don’t worry about the mirror!

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bhavya October 9, 2010 at 11:54 am

can you recommend any exercises for bulking up your torso?

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Hasan Bige March 4, 2011 at 11:19 am

I’ve mostly read in my life that to grow bigger, one must do low reps/heavy weights (plus nutrition), and that high reps/lighter weights come in the “cutting ” part of the season.

Your website seems to suggest the opposite? I’m trying to bulk up. Help me out here.

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KodiakCoastie March 25, 2011 at 1:24 pm

When I Joined the Coast Guard I weighed in at 165 at 6′ 0″. I had minimal body fat, but I wanted to gain more lean muscle mass. I started reading Brooks Kubik’s book, Dinosaur Training, and started to implement some of his suggestions in my workouts. I cut out all isolation exercises and only do heavy compound exercises now. I usually do a push/pull/legs split routine, very basic and it gives me time to rest and recooperate after training. Bench press, overhead press/ pullups, barbell rows, deadlifts/ squats, lunges, sled pulls. I have gained 40 lbs of lean muscle since then and I can now squat 365, deadlift 405, bench press 315, and overhead press 225. In my opinion there is no substitute for a balanced healthy diet and honest hard work with the compounds. Hope this helps!

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Thomas March 25, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Hi Coastie:

Thanks for the comment. It’s great to hear about your lifting success.

Brooks Kubik — via his Dinosaur Training books and videos — was an inspiration to a generation of web-savvy weight lifters. He was the first guy on the internet who showed how conventional wisdom about weight lifting (bodybuilding-style workouts) wasn’t right for everyone. His back to basics style appealed to a lot of guys who wanted to get as strong as possible. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for the lessons he taught us in an era where marketing hype often seemed to trump common sense.

But he has his detractors too. His ultra-hardcore lifting style is very hard on the body; many folks complain that Dinosaur-style training isn’t sustainable over the long-term. In fact, Brooks acknowledges that he made mistakes in his younger years. His shoulder joints are very unhealthy now, and I think I heard him mention that he also has back problems. Last I heard, he now trains mainly with bodyweight exercises.

Brooks was (and still is) a talented weight lifter and an intelligent, articulate teacher. But he was a lawyer, not an athletic trainer. Unlike someone like Ripptoe, Kubik didn’t watch hundreds of different kids get stronger and more powerful over a period of several years. Kubik’s lifting philosophy was shaped by what worked for him in the moment. He erred when he assumed everyone was just like him. Furthermore, he erred when he assumed that his body would last forever under a workload that would kill an ordinary man.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is: everything in moderation. We can’t go 100% all the time. When designing a program, rest, recovery, and an off-season should be given just as much attention as diet and lifting. In his early days, Brooks Kubik de-emphasized rest and recovery while over-emphasizing year-round ultra-intense heavy lifting.

I’ve devoured all of Brooks’ books and vids and I loved every word of them. They’re very inspirational. But I wouldn’t give them to a kid that was just starting out.

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KodiakCoastie March 26, 2011 at 7:07 pm

I agree, his training philosophy is not for year round training. But when applied to a consistent lifter’s regimen for short cycles it can be very effective in producing both gains in lean mass and in strength. Of course proper warmups and prehab are necessary, without it one would certainly increase the chances of sustaining an injury.

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john April 23, 2011 at 7:22 am

hello
I was wondering if you could give me some advice in how to get bigger legs. You see i have skinny legs that look out of proportion with the rest of my body and for a few months i ate a lot thinking that it would help get them bigger but I gained weight everywere but nearly nothing on my legs and arms. Will doing heavy squats and deadlifts really help my legs get bigger? thanks

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Lester May 4, 2011 at 7:33 am

I am 19 years old, and I think it’s getting me harder to gain weight. Eating on time, more foods. But, there’s no changes. What should I do?

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jamie May 16, 2011 at 6:26 am

hi there
i just wanted to know if u can use all those compound movements in one workout three times a week. please help many thanks.

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David June 6, 2011 at 7:33 am

I just wanted to see if you could create a successful bulking up routine of pure compound exercises (such as your golden five) using dumbbells rather than barbells?

Thanks, David

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Thomas June 8, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Dumbbells won’t work very well for you. You need heavy weights. Yes, heavy dumbbells exist, but it’s hard to get them in position.

(On the other hand, dumbbells can be useful for developing power. One-handed DB snatches are fantastic for this sort of thing.)

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John June 26, 2011 at 6:04 pm

I’ve been hearing a lot of stuff regarding compound movements and how they affect a teenagers growth. I just wanted to know what weight lifting exercises I should be doing. I’m 15 years old, 5’11 and 175 lbs.

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Donovan July 4, 2011 at 9:44 am

Hi

I just wanted to know, by doing these compound movements in my bulking stage will I see a growth with regards to my chest. Coz I really want a huge ‘arnold’ chest.

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james cleary July 21, 2011 at 11:24 am

hey my name is james i work out and born very lean but cant gain mass,i was reading up bout compound movements and just wondering do i do the same rountine mon,wed,fri,,thanks alot,,,

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Thomas July 24, 2011 at 8:11 am

It’s virtually impossible to perform heavy deadlifts 3 times per week. It’s too hard on the body. I suggest getting a good strength training book and following one of the programs therein.

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ryan thomas August 11, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Hi thomas I’m a senoir in high school and am trying to put on some mass for wrestling right now I’m about 125 do u think I would gain more weight from 3 sets of 5 reps or 3 sets of 8 reps

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ash August 30, 2011 at 3:26 am

Ey there
I’m 20, fair fit, been doing a little bit of gym work
I wanna bulk up bit still keep it lean. I’m 75 kgs and want to bulk up to 80-85. What sort of rep and set numbers should I follow?

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rockysingh October 22, 2011 at 6:57 am

my body was lean my workout going last 1/5 yr continue .
1-is it possible doing biceps & then triceps .{same priod}
and tell me how can get bulkey body.
wht am doing double body part or single body part.which of best ?

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np October 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Hi,
Thanks for this wonderful column, I am sold on compound exercises and have switched my workouts routines to now focus on compound exercises.
I have a question on diet front. I am a lanky 5’ 11, 155-160 lbs, a lifelong vegetarian that can only eat eggs in sparing intervals and dislike tofu. I have been looking get up to 170 lbs but have been unable to do so by working out for past two years (mainly focusing on isolations) and taking in protein shakes along with steady meals.
I am wondering if you are for or against the use of creatine to supplement muscle growth. Any other tips and suggestions are also welcomed.

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Thomas October 26, 2011 at 12:31 pm

I’m not against creatine, per se, but I don’t think it will benefit you very much, if at all. I will write an ‘intro to creatine’ article at some point. Your best bet is to track your nutrition and your body weight (and your body composition, if possible) while making changes or additions to your nutrition that cause you to gain weight at a slow but steady rate. Good luck!

PS – There have been some successful vegetarian bodybuilders (‘though they used anabolics), so it’s possible to gain significant amounts of muscle mass without using large quantities of animal proteins.

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np November 1, 2011 at 10:05 am

Thanks for your response Thomas. I hope see gains with continued focus on compound exercise. Having done so in the last 3 weeks is already showing some promise.

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Soly November 3, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Hi,

Many thanks for this great article. I will definitely do more compound exercises .
I have a question. I was 215lbs (lots of body fat and out of shape) I started exercising 7 months ago, doing cardio and basic weight. I have advanced in my cardo and weights. Initially I dropped down to 196 lbs then when i progressed with weights I got to 202lb. I still have fat, especially around the belly area (although it went down). I really want to get my weight (fat) down while gaining muscles as well. I am getting confused, I feel I am stuck at this weigh for 2 months now. I go to the gym 3 times a week, 30 mins cardio and 50 mins weights. and 2 days a week i do 45 mins cardio. What do you think would be the most effective way to lose all the fat and bulk up on muscles?

Thanks!

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Thomas November 4, 2011 at 8:45 am

Most bodybuilding experts — who are expert at manipulating their body composition — say it’s best to first lose the fat and get “cut”, then start eating and lifting heavy.

I won’t promise that you can lose the belly fat while also adding muscle mass. Some athletically-gifted people may be able to do that, but most folks can only reach one of those goals at a time. Good luck!

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LostIt June 21, 2012 at 10:27 am

In that regard, bodybuilding experts may not be the right people to listen to when you are an overweight person. It may sound crazy but it seems bodybuilders who were thin or really didn’t have any real fat to loose don’t really understand how to help someone with real fat problems. You DO need to eat and lift heavy if you are very overweight and your weight WILL increase. That isn’t a problem. Eventually the muscle you are adding will help you loose the fat you are carrying. The fitness you are increasing will help you loose the fat you are carrying. The increased calories you are eating will help your body STOP thinking it’s starving and will help you loose the fat you are carrying.

But that’s not all. You have to also do some work to figure out why your metabolism is not what it should or could be. Some things to consider:

1. Do you have gallbladder problems? 1 tablespoon of Olive oil first thing in the morning helps.

2. Do you have low stomach acid? This is a BIG one and can easily be remedied by taking HCL Plus before every meal, especially if consuming protein. You do this until your body is able to produce adequate stomach acid. This actually will fix most any other gut related issue I could list. It will also impact gallbladder issues unless you have large stones. The main symptoms I had for low stomach acid was acid reflux (yes this means low stomach acid) and I had a hard time eating more than once a day because food would just sit in my stomach and rot/ferment.

3. How is your water quality? Not bottled water, not tap water but FILTERED water is what you should be drinking. Then go one step further and add iodine rich foods or a supplement to your diet to keep the Fluoride that can’t really be filtered out of water from taking up the receptors in your thyroid and making your deficient in Iodine (very important to thyroid function).

4. Do not eat Soy of any kind.

5. If you can afford to, buy pastured meats with no antibiotics or hormones, raised and finished on grass. I buy 1/4 cow, whole lamb and uncured pork once a year and it saves me money, tastes better and has also helped eliminate hormone related problems caused by feedlot meat. And of course organic produce.

6. Add probiotics to your diet. The good stuff like raw goat or cow milk Kefir from local farmers.

Feel free to google this. As a 5’4″ woman with PCOS that topped out at 298 and lost over 100lbs, this has worked miracles for me. It wasn’t until I started lifting heavy weights that my PCOS symptoms disappeared but also I wasn’t able to loose fat until I did a group of supportive things (not just one or two) to help me loose weight. I can also say that until I started lifting heavy and eating more I was absolutely unable to shed significant amounts of fat.

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LostIt June 21, 2012 at 10:31 am

Calrification: The heaviest I was when I was very unhealthy and fat was 298lbs. I weigh 140lbs now, mostly muscle.

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LostIt June 21, 2012 at 10:40 am

I apologize for the multiple posts but I also forgot to add that one who has trouble loosing weight should also be tested for food allergies. All these years I was allergic to grains with gluten and had no idea. It the autoimmune response caused by eating gluten was causing my body to attack my thyroid cells. So I also don’t eat grains or too many carbs. The bottom line, if you don’t protect your thyroid, you will have trouble loosing weight. What is comes down to is nutrition as many one here have mentioned. But also adding muscle and increasing your fitness also helps you loose fat and that shouldn’t be overlooked.

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Romanenko November 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Hello, Im 22, 6 feet tall and weight 136 lbs, I just started working out at the gym and the trainer put me doing isolation exercises with low weight, 1 exercise per muscle per training.
I wonder, would it be better if I did compound exercises with low weight?
What should I do at the very begginning, I never trained before. I will need 3-4 weeks just to adapt, what exercises are best for this “adaptation phase”? And what after?
Thanks.

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kapil Shah November 25, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Hey read your article, Needed a little help and advice.. I started gymming abt 5 months now . I am 5’11 tall . My weight was 46 when i started now its 51 . But now its not gaining .. I read what you wrote abt compund exercise . But can u give me schedule which i can do for a month . Means monday to saturday . IT would be a great help . I really need to put on weight . As i know i am underweight according to height . And to add to it i really want to wear T-shirts as i cant wear them right now .. lolz.. if can please help..

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michael December 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Hi Steve,
Im just begining a hardgainer 3 day workout with coumpound exercises. My question is, should i wait until the soreness from my last workout doing squats is completely gone bfore working my quads again? At what point are your muscles, lets say “rebuilt” and ready to be torn doun again?

Thanks: Mike

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Thomas December 8, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Just squat 3 times per week; don’t try to delay until the soreness goes away. After a few weeks of lifting regularly, you won’t feel sore after a workout. Most of the soreness experienced by beginners is the result of stretching, rather than muscular fatigue. Good luck, and remember to constantly think about maintaining proper squat form as you squat your way into shape.

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jason January 8, 2012 at 1:45 am

Hi Thomas, I want to increase my upper body size but not my lower body( ive always had a good lower body and with the addition of all the sports i played it really helped me develop my lower body even more), how would i get the benefits of squats and deads without gaining the size, if thats possible?

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Santiago January 31, 2012 at 7:26 pm

what would be a good compound movement to work your calves ?? I’ve been looking for one but all i could find were isolation movements like the calve raise ??

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Thomas February 10, 2012 at 2:17 pm
  • Running up hills or stairs
  • Pushing a sled or auto
  • Snatches or cleans
  • Box jumps

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Efrain February 3, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Hey Thomas, thanks a lot this has really helped me understand how to workout and not waste energy. My question is if you can recommend any routine? I heard that I should workout three time a week and each day should be different but im not sure what is the “correct routine”

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Thomas March 1, 2012 at 5:43 am

I don’t recommend any routine. I want you to make up your own personalized routine. There are many good routines already published in various places on the ‘web or in print, and I’m not going to pretend to re-invent the wheel.

But here is a typical compound-exercise routine that’s very similar to the “starting strength” routine(s) that I like…:

  • Week One
    1. Monday
    2. Squats 5×5
      Bench Press 5×5
      Rows 5×5
      Pullups 3xfailure

    3. Wednesday
    4. Squats 5×5
      Overhead Press 5×5
      Deadlifts 3×5
      Dips 3xfailure

    5. Friday
    6. Squats 5×5
      Bench Press 5×5
      Rows 5×5
      Pullups 3xfailure

  • Week Two
    1. Monday
    2. Squats 5×5
      Overhead Press 5×5
      Deadlifts 3×5
      Dips 3xfailure

    3. Wednesday
    4. Squats 5×5
      Bench Press 5×5
      Rows 5×5
      Pullups 3xfailure

    5. Friday
    6. Squats 5×5
      Overhead Press 5×5
      Deadlifts 3×5
      Dips 3xfailure

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Will February 12, 2012 at 2:08 am

Im not sure if anyone listed this because I dont have the time at the moment to read through all the comments but make sure you are doing isolation excersises for rear delts. Compound lifts dont work these as much. If your front delts are a certain degree stronger then it will cause injury from what I hear. Besides well rounded shoulders make you look bigger.. am I right? DONT FORGET REAR DELTS

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billy jackson February 19, 2012 at 3:58 pm

….best advice ever >>larry scott …way ahead of his time …quote ” get the best pump from the least amount of time …sets ..reps ..and never cheat .”….I still see pros doing barbell curls with the elbows moving forward …3 4 5 …6 inches …>not good , lat pulldowns …relax biceps and forearms …lats must do the work …you are working lats right ?…ok .. …you wanna get as big as possible …bench, squats , I like romanian DL.lat pulldowns mil press standing, BB curls, crunches …ok …end of my rant

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Tony February 21, 2012 at 3:09 am

Hey,
I am about begin weight training soon. My only problem is how to find what is the correct weight to use? Like what would be considered a workout weight?

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Rob February 22, 2012 at 5:43 pm

I’ve been doing a compound/powerlifting routine for almost 3 months now. I did isolation routines for almost 2 years before i started this routine. i’ve seen gains in my lifts, but my problem is losing body fat. I used to be really really heavy and over the years have slimmed down, but can’t seem to burn the last 15 or 20 pounds of fat to reach the ripped physique that i want. My diet is good and i powerlift 3 times a week with light isolation or cardio on off days. Any advice on how i can burn this gut off so my 6 pack is visible? Also, will isolations on off days hinder my powerlifting?

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Mike June 1, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Rob,
Working out hard and lifting heavy is not the way to loose fat. You will loose a little fat along the way when working out but loosing fat all starts from your kitchen. Watch your carbs and fats intake, especially the simple carbs and non-essential fats. Try the 40%/40%/20% (protein, carb, fat). This has work for me, hope this help.

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Anuk February 25, 2012 at 4:57 am

Hi Thomas,

Please rate my workout routine.

2 days a week (Mon and Thurs)

squats 3×6-8
bench press 3×6-8
pull ups 3×8-12
barbell rows 3×6-8
military press 3×6-8

I rotate exercises every 2 weeks, ex) first two weeks I would start with squats then after two weeks I would start with bench press, etc.

Thanks.

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Thomas March 1, 2012 at 5:25 am

I’d rearrange the order of the rows and military presses so you alternate push and pull exercises. It’ll give your body more time to recover between sets/exercises. I don’t think there’s a good reason to switch the order every 2 weeks, but it’s not a big deal.

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John February 26, 2012 at 7:48 am

I take it that although the rewards may be higher with compound exercises, the risk of injury is higher as well compared to isolation exercises? Given the horrors of spinal injury, I don’t think many beginners would want to risk getting an exercise like deadlifts wrong.

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Thomas March 1, 2012 at 5:22 am

Don’t blame the exercise(s) for lower-back injuries. Blame the lack of mobility. These are time-tested exercises. Used wisely, they’re OK.

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Sayid Gera February 29, 2012 at 10:50 pm

I have a few questions… When doing the goldend five, excluding the pull ups. Is it ok to keep all the weight the same? For example, 95lbs for the squats, deadlifts, and so on…. and also for the pull ups, over hand or under? Lastly, would doing this full bod workout twice a week be sufficient with 3 days in between?

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Thomas March 1, 2012 at 5:19 am

You make progress on “big” lifts like squats faster than you can make progress on smaller lifts like overhead presses. While it’s convenient to keep the weight the same, it’s not ideal.

For pullups, concentrate on hand over with shoulder width or wider. Of course, you can and should mix it up a bit.

Two times per week is fine. Many good programs have you lifting 3 times per week, but they’re designed as a “split” cycle that specifies different lifts on different days and/or weeks. Once you start to find that you are no longer making steady progress — in terms of adding weight to the bar regularly — then you can look into a more advanced program. Good luck.

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Norm March 4, 2012 at 4:49 pm

I have been lifting for about 6 weeks after a year+ layoff. I have lifted in the past several times, but never more than 1.5 years at a time. My present goal is to add some meaningful muscle mass, but with an emphasis on total body fitness and strength rather than hypertrophy. I am 57 years old.
My present routine is 3 workouts with weights a week, and a 2-3 mile walk on weight days, and a run on alternate days. I am presently running 4.5 miles/run 3 times a week, with a 10% distance increase/week. Thus far I feel good with this mix and level–no sense of fatigue. I will increase to 7 miles/run by April, and then start doing 50% of my runs as HIIT speed work intervals.
I have always used compound exercises to some degree (last night did squats with barbell, and deadlifts) but have also always done isolation exercises. I would to some extent think of myself as a ‘hard gainer’ On the basis of your article I am considering the following change(s): I will do exclusively compound exercises on alternate weeks. This will still involve 3 weights workouts each week with the following routine x 3 on the compound week:
Barbell squats 4 sets
Deadlifts 4 sets
Bench press w/bar 4 sets
Military Press w/bar 4 sets
Pull ups 4 sets–each to failure
Alternate weeks I will continue to use my present routine as follows:
Workout 1 Chest and shoulders:
Bench Press 4 sets
incline Dumbell press 3 sets
Flat bench fly 3 sets
Military press 4 sets
Dumb bell press 3 sets
Standing upright row 3 sets

Workout 2 back and legs:
Squats with barbell 4 sets
bent over dumb bell row 4 sets
Deadlifts 4 sets
Pullups 4 sets to failure on each set
Lunges 4 sets

Workout 3 Arms:
Biceps curl 4 sets
Dumb bell curl 4 sets
close grip bench press 4 sets
skull crushers 4 sets
wrist curls with bar or dumb bell 2 sets to failure

My current approach is to use a starting weight that I can lift for 7 reps, but by the last set or 2 cannot do 7 reps i.e. lifting to failure on last set(s) with less than 7 completed reps (this would not apply to squats or deadlifts which I do not do to total failure–too risky). Once I can do 4 sets x 7 reps the weight is increased. My current body weight is 157 lbs at 5 foot 8″ tall. My goal tentatively is to lose around 5-7 lbs. of body fat, and gain 10 lbs. of muscle by one year–to be a lean 160-165 lbs.
I know some people would say the running may be a hindrance. I will switch to cycling (road and MTB) as an alternative during the summer but dropping aerobics is not an option, as it has been an integral part of my fitness program/goals for many years. I would be interested in any tweaks you might suggest on the lifting side of things in light of my current goals. My present approach will of course be modified as the coming year goes by. Thanks for any advice.
**A quick note on diet–I am currently eating around 1.7 grams of protein/Kg. of body weight or around 125 grams a day to maybe 150 grams tops. Am reducing fat intake with almost 0% saturated, but have not figured out a percentage of total calories from fat yet. I take a protein shake with whey protein and carbs after all workouts–weights and runs. Any thoughts on what my total daily calories should be?

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Brian March 6, 2012 at 11:18 am

Wow, seen a lot of great stuff here.. I am 17 years old 6ft 140lbs, and I had read a bit into lifting before I really got into it about 3-4 weeks ago. I want to build mass, my goal is to be 160lbs by the time I am 19, and I turn 18 years old on March 9. I want this real bad, I hate being skinny and weak, I get pushed around at school by bigger kids and I’m sick of it. If you could just hook me up with some helpful tips on what to eat, and how to exercise right, then that would be really helpful. Thanks

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Mike June 1, 2012 at 8:41 pm

I am jumping into conclusion and assume you are a hardgainer by your stats. In your case you will need to eat more. To Grow big you will have to Eat big. By BIG I mean eat like a bear. Don’t worry too much about what to eat just try to avoid too much fat. You will gain some fat along the way but I would not be worry since you are a hardginer. It will be easy for you to later once you reach your desire weight. Eat big to get big.

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Matt July 7, 2012 at 12:30 pm

ok first off you have to not be afraid to lift. the truth is your not going to add mass doing 5×5. you add mass doing 20×5. my program is one day a week squats, bent over barbell rows, deadlifts (double overhand grip, your grip should be going on the 5th rep, but always end your deadlift day when you feel it, your back will give you signs that the day is over LISTEN TO IT or get injured), bench press, clean and press, standing military press. I do 20 sets of 5 reps with :90 rest. The workouts usually take around 40-50min. Truthfully the best lifts are squats, deadlifts, bench, and clean and press. Sometimes I get busy and lazy and dont do the rows or military, but the deads and clean and press hit those muscles so…. its up to you. Also to get big arms after the rows or deads do 10×5 barbell curls and after the bench do 10×5 skull crushers. There you go. Thats all you need to do to become the strongest biggest baddest kid at school. Now use this power wisely dont be dick read the bible cause believe me someone is always out there bigger stronger that can put you in check. And as far as diet I dont go crazy I just eat when I’m hungry pretty much and eat balanced diet. There ya go kid have fun :)

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James July 8, 2012 at 7:09 pm

I agree pretty much with this but … I dont like barbell bench press. I only do clean and press, squats, deadlifts. bench makes my shoulders round.

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Thomas July 18, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Thanks for the comment. As you know, everybody needs to design his/her own strength program. There is no one size fits all formula. There are lots of folks who don’t bench press once they reach a certain level of experience.

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Brian March 6, 2012 at 11:35 am

Also if you could offer a suggestion for a book I should buy to educate myself further, it would mean a lot. Thanks Thomas

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Day March 12, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Hi Thomas,

I’ve been doing full body 3x a week for the past 3 months and have gotten some moderate gains. My question is would a 3 day split be more beneficial vs. full body? The reason I thought I would change my routine to a split is because I’ve been increasing weights per workout and the increased amount has been a bit taxing on my body. I thought if I split up my routine, I would do less sets with heavier load.

Thanks in advance.

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John March 13, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Hi Thomas

great article, it winds me up to see guys at my gym waste their time with pointless isolation exercises, then they wonder why they never get big!

I do a full body workout routine 3 times per week and it only consists of the “golden five” and one night a week I add cleans for 3 sets as its good to get some power work into my routine to keep me on my toes.

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chris March 21, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Hi Thomas,
I am a skinny guy and a friend of mine train me for almost a year already and I gained around 15 pounds. My buddy is muscular and has a very big and huge shoulder and he always told me that he rarely invest time on shoulder exercises; what he always does is to do major compound movements. Is it true that doing compound movements with heavy weight can also increase the size of the shoulder? I am specifically talking about Deltoids. Your comment is appreciated. Thanks so much, Chris

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Trevor Ross March 30, 2012 at 11:16 am

Sorry, but it’s actually the golden six. It’s not pull ups or rows, It’s pull ups and rows. You have to do them both.

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J.C. Scott April 1, 2012 at 8:35 am

Most big bodybuilders don’t simply perform compound movements predominantly, they also take steroids, and most of them will admit it’s nearly impossible to obtain the size that the general populous associates with professional bodybuilding absent their inclusion. It’s not strictly a matter of compound vs. isolated movements.

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Sean April 19, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Ok so this is my problem. I’m 17, 105 pounds, and skinny as a stick. I have been working out, but i think I’ve been doing isolation exercises this whole time. I’ve been doing 3 sets of 8 reps of pullups, dumbbell benchpress, and dumbbell flys. I do this 3x a week(monday, wednesday, and saturday). I haven’t counted but I think I’ve been doing this for 3 months since january. I’ve seen some growth but not as much as I hoped. I’m still a stick but with the little chest that I have. I don’t go to the gym and I really don’t know any recipes to add weight. I eat snacks all the time everyday. I’m really disappointed and I need huge help.

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Thomas April 19, 2012 at 9:48 pm

First, congrats on working out for 3+ months. Many people quit after a month or two. Don’t get discouraged. It takes time to see the effects of a training routine.

Now, I want to stress to you that working out isn’t what makes you grow. You grow by eating. If you are not eating enough food to gain weight steadily, your workouts won’t make you any bigger — especially since you’re currently “skinny as a stick”. Let me put it another way: YOU MUST EAT A LOT!

I have articles on this site that show you how to estimate the number of calories you need to put on weight at a steady rate. Find them and read them. (Start with this one: How to design a bulking diet)

Once you know how many calories you need to accomplish your goals, you’re still not done. Now you need to keep accurate records of everything you eat so you know whether you’re reaching your calorie target. And you’ll need to determine — from your nutritional records — if your macronutrient profile is suitable. This is important because while you may eat enough to provide your desired number of daily calories, you still need to be properly nourished to fuel muscle growth. For example, you can eat a gallon of lard every day and get a ton of calories, but if that’s all you eat you’ll be malnourished and you won’t grow more muscular.

Once you’re sure you’re eating enough to gain weight healthily at a steady rate (perhaps a pound per week), you’re still not done.

Now you have to lift according to a good workout plan. This means regularly adding weight or intensity to your lifts. If you lift the same weight (or lift at the same intensity) every time you work out, your body will adapt to the workouts and you will cease to get more muscular. Eating a caloric excess without increasing the intensity of your workouts only makes you fat.

Additional points:

You say you do sets of 8. Read How many reps to build muscle to double-check that you understand what a “set of 8″ really means.

Please, add some leg workouts to your routine. Consuming a caloric excess without working your legs is a recipe for a fat belly.

Good luck!

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Jonathan April 25, 2012 at 1:16 am

Great article!

I have been working out for almost a year, was 150 in june now am 175. Ate like crazy and took high calorie protein shakes. I’m 6’1 and still look skinny but with some muscle definition, and a “tiny” bit of fat on stomach. How do you get rid of the stomach totally for a six pack? They say cardio is out since I have a very high metabolism. And i need to eat alot in order to put on mass. I could be over working muscles also, so I will stop the isolation and do compound. I guess I feel like I’ve hit a plateau. I also only have time to work out 2 days a week. Any extra tips would be great

thanks

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Thomas April 25, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Congrats on your success. Gaining fat on the stomach is a real risk when you take in a lot of extra calories. It’s really impossible for a natural lifter to gain more than 2 to 4 pounds of muscle per month, so if you gain more body weight than 2 pounds per month, you’ll inevitably deposit some fat. And the fat generally ends up around your midsection. Hopefully it’ll start to go away if you track your nutrition a bit more closely and adjust your diet according to your goals.

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syed ali April 29, 2012 at 11:40 am

hi , i was wondering if i train shown on your routine of compound exercises lets say 3 days a week monday wed friday would i gain size? i eat 3 meals a day some times four and am hoping to begin to take suppliment and find it hard to eat too many meals and train more often. how many sets and reps should i do for all exercises im really skinny and i would like you to tell me if i 3 4 meals a day or okay and how many sets and reps i should do since im doing all of those exercises per workout session 3 days a week

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Thomas May 1, 2012 at 8:49 pm

You gain size by eating, not by lifting weights. Weight training serves to skew that size gain towards muscle growth rather than the deposition of fat. I have several articles on this site that show you how to estimate the number of calories needed to gain weight at a sensible rate. You don’t need ‘supplements’, you just need self-discipline.

I don’t recommend any particular workout program on this site. I believe most people benefit from experimenting and developing their own personalized workout plan. Start with a 3×5 program of the type found all over the ‘net; I don’t have a ‘secret’ workout plan that is better than anyone elses’. Good luck.

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Basil June 15, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Hey Thomas,
I’ve been following Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program, working out 3 times a week. I think the program is great but I’m not sure I’m on the right track doing “5 reps x 3 sets” for each exercise. I know he says that developing strength = muscle, but my main goal is to build muscle and not go towards the “powerlifting” path, which usually consists of 5 or less reps. Would you recommend I change around my routine a little to perform something in the 6-8 rep range?

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Thomas June 16, 2012 at 2:53 pm

I think highly of Rippetoe’s SS program. I think it’s a great way for beginners and intermediates to build a solid base of strength. I’d advise you to stick with the program. If you’re already squatting 1.5 times your body weight for reps, then you can alter your routine to bring it more in line with your goals. Is there something about 5 reps that concerns you? It can be pretty intense once you start to get near failure/stalling. Don’t be afraid of hard work! Make sure to incorporate flexibility/joint mobility training into your routine. Good luck!

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Basil June 16, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Hello again, thanks for the reply. I’m not concerned with the 5 reps being too intense, but I’m just concerned that training only 3 times a week using the 3×5 routine will go more towards the path of building strength(as opposed to building muscle which is my main goal). I will definitely however stick to these program for at least a couple of weeks to see how it goes.

Also I’ve been finding it very difficult to learn the squat properly the way Mark Rippetoe teaches it. I see hundreds of different ways on the internet that people try and teach it, and it just leaves me confused. Would you recommend any method to learn a proper way?

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Syed June 15, 2012 at 5:27 pm

With a good diet if I was too use the golden 5 as a routine 3 days a week would I see a difference since its compound lifts? What do I do once pull ups chin ups get easy for me ?

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Thomas June 16, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Those exercises are not a weight-lifting routine. They’re just a collection of exercises that can potentially comprise a full-body routine. Everyone is different. A routine that works for one person probably won’t be suitable for another.

Once the weights get relatively heavy, you won’t be able to do those 5 exercises 3 times per week. It’s just too hard on the body. I recommend you start with one of the typical 3×5 routines that are published all over the ‘web.

You might find my article about reps of interest (here). In it, I explain why different goals require different exercise routines. Good luck!

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kev June 17, 2012 at 5:25 pm

great tips, what do you make of of the 5×5 but starting light to heavy, as in the last set going all out, the heaviest yo can possibly do for 5 reps, is this bad for beginners, should i just stick to the same weight and move up when i think im ready, thanks.

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Ravi June 18, 2012 at 3:38 pm

How many reps / sets per exercise is good? Also, is it good or ok to be hitting the same muscle group in every workout? which typically for me is monday to friday with rest over the weekend? Please let me know.

Thanks.

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Eduardo July 29, 2012 at 12:54 am

Im 18 just starting to lift weights i want to bulk up but the thing is i already have some fat on me it mainly on my stomach so i dont know if i should start a bulk phase right away or try to burn offf the fat i have on my stomach and then start a bulk phase? can i get a tip on what to do?

Thanks

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Thomas July 29, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Start tracking your diet/nutrition. Keep daily records of whatever you eat/drink. Along with that, get yourself fitter by doing calisthenics (pushups, situps, jumping pullups, bodyweight squats and lunges, etc.) After a month, you’ll be in better shape and able to work out heavy. Then, you’ll still need some time to learn the lifts. All this while, you can eat at your maintenance level of calories. Hopefully, the belly should get smaller with the portion control and the increased level of activity. That’ll get you ready to lift ‘for real’. Good luck! PS – don’t get obsessed with your body image.

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harrison July 30, 2012 at 11:57 pm

Hey Thomas
I play baseball and my coach is really wanting us to get stronger but I still have to work on speed as well. While I’m mixing the compound lifts and springs will I still see muscle gain? And do compound lifts help explosiveness?

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Thomas July 31, 2012 at 3:45 pm

You’ll need to gain weight (by eating a caloric excess) to gain muscle past a certain point. Lifting weights, in and of itself, won’t cause muscle gain; unless, that is, you gain body weight by eating. Compound moves are good for “explosiveness” (which I like to call power training). Read my article on rep ranges for some additional information on how to tailor your weight lifting to your personal requirements. One-arm dumbbell snatches are a fantastic power/explosiveness movement. So are jump squats. But you’ll want to build a good base of strength and make sure you’re injury-free before you add explosiveness training or plyometrics to your s&c routine. Young novices are often tempted to work out just like they see highly-paid professional athletes working out on youtube. But these professionals are already fully developed and in tip-top shape. Novices can’t benefit from those sorts of high-impact routines because they don’t yet have the foundation of strength and resilience that takes years to develop. So start with a full-body strength routine in the 5-8 rep range (unless your coach says otherwise). Good luck! PS – ask your coach these questions; it’s part of what he’s there for. It’s much more efficient for your coach to collate basic information and develop a basic routine for all of his players than it is for each individual player to try to figure these things out on his/her own.

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harrison July 31, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I read your rep ranges part and I have this last question what would I do if I wanted both muscle size and muscle strength?

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bill bikin September 10, 2012 at 6:36 pm

For a good strength/mass building program, look at Stronglifts. Very basic, very easy to understand and learn, very hard once the weight get heavier. Eat and lift and you will get bigger and stronger. But be prepared to commit at least 3 months to see results. Just do this and stop asking questions. Also, read the net, read the net, read the net. You won’t get stronger reading the net but you will learn. Oh, and in between reading the net, lift heavy, eat hard and get bigger.

Basic routine:
Workout A
Squat 5×5
Bench 5×5
Bent over barbell rows 5×5

Workout B
Squat 5×5
Overhead press 5×5
Deadlift 1×5

Start all lifts with an empty bar to learn technique, add 2.5 kg to each lift each workout. If you train M/W/F then A/B/A then following week B/A/B.

Keep a record of what your lifting, eat and rest and you will see results. Don’t over complicate things with too many questions, just lift correctly re read the net.

If you don’t lift you won’t know and you can never know everything, so keep lifting and keep learning.

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Justin August 2, 2012 at 1:39 am

I’m 5’3, 150 lbs. and I’ve been somewhat unsuccessful during my training regimen. I’ve done a three-day cycle, doing elliptical for warm-up on all days, isolation exercises + sit-ups on Day One, using a rowing machine + sit-ups on Day Two and more elliptical + sit-ups on Day Three.

Since you mentioned that it’s impossible to define and build at the same time, I’m wondering if I’m trying to achieve the wrong thing. What could you recommend on how I can change my physique? I’d like to get leaner but also lose weight.

As well, I have split my meals into six, intaking roughly 400-800 per. I’m trying to eat more protein and less carbs. Is this bad?

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bill bikin September 10, 2012 at 6:36 pm

For a good strength/mass building program, look at Stronglifts. Very basic, very easy to understand and learn, very hard once the weight get heavier. Eat and lift and you will get bigger and stronger. But be prepared to commit at least 3 months to see results. Just do this and stop asking questions. Also, read the net, read the net, read the net. You won’t get stronger reading the net but you will learn. Oh, and in between reading the net, lift heavy, eat hard and get bigger.

Basic routine:
Workout A
Squat 5×5
Bench 5×5
Bent over barbell rows 5×5

Workout B
Squat 5×5
Overhead press 5×5
Deadlift 1×5

Start all lifts with an empty bar to learn technique, add 2.5 kg to each lift each workout. If you train M/W/F then A/B/A then following week B/A/B.

Keep a record of what your lifting, eat and rest and you will see results. Don’t over complicate things with too many questions, just lift correctly re read the net.

If you don’t lift you won’t know and you can never know everything, so keep lifting and keep learning.

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Abu Musa August 21, 2012 at 5:38 am

Hi Thomas,

I have a lot of fat I need to lose, I play basketball two nights a week and have started running in the mornings. I want to add compound exercises for strength, would that be adviseable? Would a rep range of 5 reps for 5 sets be suitable in my case? I am aiming to burn more calories then I eat so quite the opposite of most posters here.

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bill bikin September 10, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Yes, 5×5 is and excellent regime when using compound exercises, start light and progress steadily. Lay off the donuts, keep up the exercise and you will lose weight, give yourself at least 3 months of serious commitment. Serious does not mean beating your self up but giving yourself a serious chance at change. If you want a donut, have a donut but consider is that donut helping you to achieve what you want to achieve. That said, it’s Saturday night and your having some fun, so why not have a donut.

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Sophie September 2, 2012 at 6:13 am

I have been told that compound exercises are great for weightloss, if one keeps their HR within the fat burning zone, is this true?

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bill bikin September 10, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Why do people complicate things with HR and this and that. No offense Sophie, but really, just lift the weights, its that easy. Start light and progress. Stick with it for at least 3 months consistently and it will happen.

If you like donuts, have a donut although you will find that as you lift more and train harder the donuts won’t have what you need to sustain you. So you will naturally start to eat smarter and healthier to fuel your desire to lift more and lift harder.

Again, things will not happen overnight, so give yourself at least 3 months. And don’t beat yourself up for eating donuts, just realise that you’ll need to burn them off somehow, and the best way to do this is not to eat too many of them.

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Luke November 8, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Hi im the classic ectomorph and have tried and failed trying to bulk up. Im keen and motivated to get things going but have read so many different dos and donts. i can grasp the fact that i need a bulking phase (say 3 months) where ill gain muscle and fat then ill need a similar period stripping fat-if i want to get cut. am i right in thinking i should exercise the same muscle group only once every 72 hours? Should i only work out for 45 mins as im a ectomorph? how many sets/rep should i do per excersize and how many exercises per muscle group?

thanks man.

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bradley November 13, 2012 at 2:48 pm

So i am thinking of giving the compound workout ago but how may days should I do this a week? and how many reps / sets should i aim for? would 5 days a week and two weekend rest days be any good?

I am also thinking of including a day boxing for cardio among-st the 5 days, so I will always have minimum 2 days off a week. any thoughts please?

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Sam December 9, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Thanks for great advice Thomas I find it really helpfull, please keep up the good work and do drop me more tips on my email

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Aaron December 12, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Cheers! What an article! Hope you don’t mind but when I’ll encounter problems whilst training I will ask you! Well done for the article !

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Hreinn January 18, 2013 at 6:58 pm

I just wanted to say, that I really appreciate this article and the work you’ve put into it. Good on you.

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RNR39 February 21, 2013 at 1:40 am

Hey Thomas,

Ia m 39, 5.8, 135lbs and looking to bulk up. I have been going to gym regularly for the last 3 months and seeing results. I want to be more serious now and try your compound exercise method.

Can you please advise with some workout routine for 10-12 weeks. And also if you can give some meal examples that would be very much helpful.

I know you have already some examples here but they are mostly young guys in 20s so i just wanted to know if i have to follow some different routine at my age.

thanks

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Rich April 9, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Hi Thomas,

just wondering when doing compound exercises what is the recommended rest time between sets.

Regards
Rich

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Thomas April 11, 2013 at 12:15 am

Up to 5 minutes for heavy full-body exercises. If it takes longer to recover between sets, you need to increase your work capacity. In fact, it can be counter-productive to do heavy weight lifting if you don’t have good work-capacity (i.e., if you’re not fit yet). A heart-rate monitor helps you figure out if your recovery is complete, but perceived level of intensity also works.

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Rich April 20, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Hi Thomas

Would like to find out if training to bulk up using strictly compound exercises if a routine of 5sets of 5reps is ok to use or 4 sets with the 8 to 4 rep range.

Regards
Rich

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Gareth April 24, 2013 at 7:40 am

I’m a soldier in the British Army and access to a gym isn’t an issue I’m a physical training instructor so i primarily do alot of CV the only problem is i would like to build my body up but i don’t have the first clue about weight training I’m dedicated but everytime i do it i never seem to see any results even after a couple of months. I’m either doing it incorrectly eating incorrectly or not doing to the right exercises..

Help!!!!

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David June 17, 2013 at 3:18 pm

I’m a novice weightlifter trying to bulk up. I’m following a typical 5×5 routine consisting of “the golden five” but I find myself struggling to finish my workout. After 5 sets of heavy squats I feel drained. Is this simply laziness or am I not fit enough to lift weights? How can I go about increasing my work capacity?
thanks

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Thomas June 18, 2013 at 9:33 am

There is nobody on this planet that doesn’t feel “drained” after 5 sets of heavy squats. You should feel drained. If you can’t recover sufficiently in time for your subsequent workout, then you need to increase work capacity or decrease your volume. Perhaps you can do 3×5 for a while. Or, google ‘work capacity 101′ for some non-specific work capacity ideas.

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varun arora September 7, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Hi
I have been working out for last three years ad have not gain significant size may be because i was concentrating on isolation excercises.Can you help me pls???Give me a routine that i can follow

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john March 18, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Hi All, First off what a great article to get so many people talking. I am not going to chip in any advice about Compound Exercises. The benefits are well documented and if you ain’t doing them more fool you. All I would like to say is just strap a pile of weight on a bar and lift it just for the primal joy of lifting it. Of course learn how to do it correctly, you cannot lift with a blown knee or damaged rotator cuff. One thing for sure there is no perfect routine. Find what works for you. Eat good body building fuel, forget about on-line ebook selling gurus, forget about rest and recovery and get lifting some heavy ass weights. Gerrr!
John
PS-I agree with Tomas get Mark Ripptoe’s Starting Strength.

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Mae Russell April 14, 2014 at 9:08 pm

It seems like I’m the only girl commenting around? Anyways, I’ve been searching through articles and blogs about powerlifting for women since I have a friend who wants to go into this program. I am doing research for her. Can you give me tips on how to start and where to look? thanks!

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