Compound lifts plus body part training | the best of both worlds?

I have a short attention span when it comes to fitness. It’s not that I don’t like exercising, it’s that there are just so many fun options out there to choose from!

compound lifts

As much as I understand the benefits of sticking with a specific training program for long enough to see results, I find it hard to resist adding extra exercises to my program and always find myself longing for whatever it is I’m not currently doing.

For the past few years I’ve been combining metabolic workouts with body part training. Two to three days a week, while teaching group fitness classes, I do full body, heart-rate elevating, bootcamp style workouts with plyometrics, body weight exercises and speed and agility training.

The other three days I head to the gym for body part splits; chest and back, shoulders and biceps, triceps and core.

While I’ve managed to get reasonably good results with this approach, for my current muscle-building goals, I know that I really need to be hitting each body part a second time every week AND that I’m missing Β ‘leg day’ in my routine…

But how to fit it all in AND avoid overuse injuries?

My solution? Add a ‘big’, compound lift to the beginning of each body part split workout, while I still have lots of energy to lift heavy and with proper form.

compound lift

I aim for 5 sets of 5-6 reps of my compound liftΒ (with 60 s rest between sets) before I move into 3-4 supersets of 8-10 reps of 3 difference exercises for each body part. Confused? Sounds more complicated than it is! (And takes significantly less time than it appears!)

This is the schedule that I’ve been following for the past six weeks;

compound lifts

And is it working????

You bet! I’ve been able to consistently increase the load I’m lifting each and every week; not on every single exercise of every single workout, but on all of my compound lifts as well as my chest, shoulder and tricep exercises during the body part splits. The body part exercises seem to be supporting the strength gains required to keep improving my compound lifts.

If I had just one more day to train I’d start with pull ups (assisted, that is) and finish with legs and glutes.

Unconventional? Perhaps! But sometimes unconventional is what’s needed to remain excited and enthusiastic about exercise!

Do you include compound lifts in your strength training program?

Which of the compound lifts is your favourite?



  1. we’d be perfect training partners….I love compound lifting, too.
    Miz recently posted…Fitness mission statements.My Profile

  2. Love this — of course. Funny, especially for those of us who making our living at this, there often seems not enough time to get it all in. Heck I literally live in my gym, and don’t always have the time πŸ™

    One thing I always make time for, is deadlifts twice per week. The utility of this exercise, done properly, is off the charts. Deadlifts are a life-skill, and good lesson in how to lift in life — with our legs, not our back…
    Contemplative Fitness recently posted…The inner light…My Profile

    • Tell me about it! I have a client that has commented on my ‘short’ workouts before. Everybody else gets their training in before me…

      Deadlifts rock. I enjoy them way more than squats (my knees like them better too…)

  3. I think I need to learn more about the compound lifts. Squats are an awesome move to add in more often–they work so much of your body all at once!
    Michelle @ Eat Move Balance recently posted…Too Cute Not To Share!My Profile

    • Michelle, the big four (squats, deadlifts, bench presses and pull ups) are really all you need for a complete strength training program!

  4. I LOVE THIS!!!! I LOVE UNCONVENTIONAL!!!!! Such a great way to fit it in Tamara – LOVE!

    You know me, I am the queen of crazy & different ways of working out. My workouts are like none other I have seen & that is cause I am a bit crazy in the gym. πŸ˜‰ I do compound & isolation & superset & circuits & well, I think it is a style all my own without a name! πŸ˜‰

    I got to say I love the deadlift – I love stiff legged deadlifts.. πŸ™‚
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted…Gratitude Monday & More FUN NewsMy Profile

  5. πŸ™‚ Love your picture at the top. Way to illustrate your blog! So cute. And great info too! Winning!
    Gaye recently posted…Happiness: On OptimismMy Profile

    • Thanks Gaye! I was ready for something a little lighter and fresher; my designer captured exactly what I was looking for!

  6. Way to go Tamara! I am trying to get motivated to simply weight train consistently, much less with an organized approach. Cardio is fun and easy for me to perform; resistance training has been getting a back seat. Can you please do some pull-ups for me?
    KymberlyFunFit recently posted…Want Oscar-Worthy Abs? Right and Wrong Way to do Crunches on the Stability BallMy Profile

    • Thanks Kymberly! Yes, cardio is easier to fit in. I know that on days when I’m really short on time I head to the Arc Trainer. Doesn’t require me to think as much… LOL!
      How about I do your pull ups if you do my cardio?

  7. my husband and I were just talking about this yesterday and I am torn on the 2 days per week necessary or not. I have done that for a long time, but now am switching to 1 focused day a week and he’s had great results that way
    Amanda @RunToTheFinish recently posted…Activity Tracking Devices: Worth it or Not?My Profile

    • Amanda, I think it’s good to switch it up. If you’ve been doing 2 days/week for awhile, 1 heavier, more concentrated day may be a great way to break through a plateau.
      Change is always good πŸ™‚

  8. How long does it take you to do the strength/weight session? Are you still doing yoga?

    • Bev, each strength training day I’m in the gym for about 50 minutes (including a 5 minute warmup and a 5 min (too short…) stretch).

      I have not been to yoga for awhile. I miss it. Something shifted in my perspective when I did that inversions class back in October. Fear and lack of confidence have kept me from going back…

  9. I totally have a short attention span in the gym! And often have a hard time deciding on what to focus on. This is great information. I’m just starting to train for a race but I think once that’s done, I need to sit down and map out my plan a little bit better.
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted…Let the training beginMy Profile

    • Christine, I find that I get the best results when I have a clear view of where I’m going for the next 3 months. I like that each strength day in the week is different, but that I’m repeating exercises from one week to the next.

  10. Love compound exercises!!!
    I’m in total agreement on the idea that there is so much I want to do with my work-out every day and only so much time and energy! I like programs, too but then I feel like I’m missing out on so much!
    Great solution for at least part of the problem!!
    Kim recently posted…Exercise: Fun or Dreaded?My Profile

    • Kim, yes it’s hard when you have exercise ADD! But so important to stick with a plan for at least a month to gauge whether it’s really working or not πŸ™‚

  11. That’s a great idea. I’m always mixing up my workouts to avoid boredom, but doing some heavy lifting of one body part before I start makes good sense. I’ll have to give it a try. πŸ™‚
    Carrie Rubin recently posted…Freshly Pressed, Featured Blogs, And Time For Another GiveawayMy Profile

    • Carrie, for me, it’s all about the efficiency. Instead of adding an extra day or two of lifting, I’m really only adding about 10 minutes per workout.

  12. I think you have come up with a great way to get your training done in spite of a busy schedule. I love compound lifts, though I’ve not been very good about getting back to the gym to actually do them. Depending these days on classes I teach and yoga. Not enough, but you’re inspiring me to try harder. Pinning!
    Debbie @ Live from La Quinta recently posted…Weekly Training Recap: La Jolla Half Marathon Week 5My Profile

    • Debbie, and that’s the problem with compound lifts; most of us don’t have the equipment to do them at home. While I have dumbbells, they aren’t nearly as heavy as an Olympic bar with weight plates. I find that my body really needs the heavy weights to show progress.

  13. That is such a good idea! I train with a PT 2x per week, so I always try to fit in at least one more day of weights so I may have to try this out. Thanks for the detailed instructions!
    Kimberly recently posted…Magazine InspirationMy Profile

    • Kimberly, you’re so very welcome! I didn’t list all of my body part exercises, but if you’re curious, let me know!

  14. Are kettlebell workouts the same as compound. That is the core of my strength training. I just started doing a compond workout DVD. I am a pure at home workout gal. It is the only way it works for my schedule.

    • Hmm, kettlebell exercises are often compound (meaning they use more than 1 muscle group to perform), but I’m not sure they can replace the benefits of heavy squats, bench press, pull-ups and dead lifts. Given that the Olympic bar weighs 45 pounds, you’d have to be hoisting pretty big KB’s to get the same effect.
      I think KB training is great for the metabolic part of your workouts, though!

  15. I love lifting heavy, esp. compound moves like dead lifts and squats. I do pull ups and push ups weekly, but havent been putting much effort into my bench press. I am really lacking in upper body strength and have been working on my push press, snatch and thrusters. But I dont seem to be making any progress. I am have much stronger legs.

  16. You sound like me! I do so many things that I’m like ‘wait, am I doing too much?’ coupled with ‘but am I doing enough XYZ?’. But it seems to be working!
    Viane recently posted…Diet to GoMy Profile

  17. Great information as usual Tamara. You’re so right about there being so many fun options for working out. I want to try them all! This week I’m trying HIIT πŸ™‚

    I incorporate compound lifts for the sake of time and hitting all the muscles.
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