Bicep curls, triceps dips, chest press. If it’s upper-body day, chances are you’re including these signature arm exercises into your routine. But why not kick things up a notch and chisel more than just your guns? Enter: compound exercises. These multi-joint movements combine two moves into one, incorporating multiple muscle groups at once.
Nikki Snow, a Chicago-based Les Mills trainer, says, “Compound exercises provide functional training benefits and enhance the movements you use in everyday life. They also increase your heart rate, so you burn more calories.” Compound moves are particularly great for toning your arms because you’re able to target larger muscle groups, like your chest, shoulders and back, which support the entire upper body.
But even if getting swole isn’t your goal, a strong upper body is key to performing daily tasks, like pushing doors open and carrying heavy laundry bags. To help you score stellar arms and more, follow these five compound exercises from Snow. She recommends doing 15 reps of each exercise and resting for 30 seconds before moving onto the next move. Aim to repeat three sets of the entire circuit. All you need is a weighted plate — or a heavy book if you don’t have one!
The overhead press is one of the most powerful arm exercises because it strengthens your shoulders and triceps, the muscles on the back of your arms. But by adding a lunge, you work your lower body, too. “This compound exercise isolates the shoulders and back, while strengthening your legs and core at the same time,” Snow says.
How to: Stand with your feet together and hold onto the weighted plate in front of your chest. Pull your shoulders down and back. As you lunge back with your left leg, brace your core to press the plate up overhead. Lower your body towards the ground without arching your back or swaying sideways. Be sure to keep the plate slightly forward on the face. Then, drive the left knee forward to bring it back to the starting position as you rack the plate back on your shoulders in line with the collar bone. Repeat on the right leg and alternate for 15 reps.
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Squat Plate Press
Your glutes are the prime muscle movers in a squat, but when you add a plate press, it becomes a total-body exercise. Anytime you press a weight overhead, you’re also working your arms, shoulders and core. Want to get your heart rate up? Make it plyometric. “You can kick this move up a notch by adding a jump with the squat. Just remember to land soft into the knees to absorb the impact,” Snow says.
How to: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold onto the weighted plate in front of your chest. Pull your shoulders down and back. Bracing your core and keeping your chest high, sit into your heels and bring your hips and butt back and down. As you drive your hips forward to stand, press the plate up overhead. To make this move plyometric, add a jump squat. Instead of straightening your legs to stand from the squat position, drive your hips forward and jump up explosively as you press the plate overhead.
Reverse Lunge With a Plate Arc
Rotations are a key functional movement pattern, and this compound exercise helps you hone this skill by challenging your stability. Unlike a squat, the lunge forces you to recruit other muscles to maintain balance. This move targets your quads, glutes, obliques and arms at once. “The bigger the arc you make, the more you work your shoulders and core,” Snow says.
How to: Stand in a lunge position with your left leg extended behind you and your right leg in front. Hold onto a weighted plate on the outside of your right knee with your arms extended. As you drive your left knee up to stand, create a rainbow with your arms and bring the plate to the outside of your left knee. At the same time, step your right leg back into a lunge.
Squat Jump With a Plate Snatch
There’s no better exercise that tests your quickness and strength like a snatch, and this combo move is packed with explosiveness to get your heart rate up. “As much as this exercise is great for your quads and glutes, it’s also reactive training for the core and arms,” Snow says.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and hold onto a weighted plate in front of your thighs. Jump forward, landing in a sumo squat position, as you snatch the plate overhead. Be sure to keep your arms straight throughout the entire movement.
Single-Arm Fly Crunch
If you want to get rid of those pesky love handles, this crunch variation is for you. It incorporates abduction to help you target your obliques more effectively, while strengthening your chest and shoulders. Snow says, “Keeping one arm on the ground will help stabilize you, but it also makes the move more challenging.” Form is key with this exercise, so move slowly through the entire movement to fully engage each muscle group.
How to: Lie on your back and bend your knees in front of you. Make a “T” with your arms and hold onto a weighted plate with your right hand. As you crunch up, bring your arms together towards the midline of the body. Repeat with the plate on the left hand and alternate for 15 reps. To isolate one side more, crunch the side with the plate towards the midline while keeping the other arm flat on the ground.