How Compound Exercises Help Burn More Calories

How Compound Exercises Help Burn More Calories

Compound exercises work multiple muscles at a time and are therefore a magnificent way of not only targeting a certain muscle group but burning calories. They're much harder to perform, but you'll largely be better off for it! This article will teach you what a compound movement is, and how it will help you burn more calories, and how to replicate them into your training.

What is a compound exercise and how can I do one? 

Compound exercises are exercises that work for multiple muscle groups at the same time. 

Here are some popular ones: 

  • Squats 
  • Deadlifts 
  • Lunges 
  • Bench presses 
  • Dips 
  • Push-ups. 
  • Pull-ups. 

An exercise like the seated leg extension doesn't incorporatethe hamstrings as much as squats (1). 

It's rather obvious when you think about it; seated at a machine to work your quadriceps doesn't call upon as many muscles and thus energy, compared to standing up and folding your body in half with weight on your back (squatting).

Recent research has examined leg extensions vs leg presses vs half squats, with the table below from Reis et al showing how much more calories squatting burns than the aforementioned exercises: 

You can clearly see how the half squats burn much more energy when performed at 20% of a subject's one rep max, and 80%. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of the fewest calories burnt was bicep curls (2). 

On average, the researchers found squats burned an average of 35 calories per minute. 

Daily nutrition for fat loss 

lady eating food

With this information, we can now schedule our workouts depending on how we want to eat each day. 

For example, if you like to spend Saturdays in a slight calorie surplus, it stands to reason that you would schedule in squats or deadlifts for that matter, on that same day. 

Days that you're focusing on smaller muscle groups like biceps, are when you'll burn the least amount of calories, and are probably not the best days to be scheduling in heavier eating days! 

A great compromise is scheduling in 1-2 compound movements for each day at the gym. That way, you know you're burning more calories than a day of total isolated movements, and are making better inroads to not only losing more fat (if that's your goal) but all-round body strength and functioning, too. 

Real-world example: Incorporating compound movements into your daily exercise routine for better strength and muscle gains 

Try and fit 1-2 of the below compound exercises into each workout you do in the gym (and if you're utilising Workout Meals 360, tell your personal trainer this is how you want your program to be crafted!). 

Here are some great compound exercises for quadriceps and adductors (Legs): 

  • Back Squat 
  • Front Squat 
  • Box Squat 
  • Barbell Split Squat 
  • The Goblet Squat 
  • Front Rack Reverse Lunge 
  • Bulgarian Split Squat 
  • Step-Ups 

For your glutes and hamstrings, try the following: 

  • Conventional Deadlift 
  • Sumo Deadlift 
  • Romanian Deadlift (try them with dumbbells, too) 
  • Trap Bar Deadlift 
  • Good mornings 
  • Cable Pull Through 
  • Kettle Bell Swings 

For your back and biceps, try these: 

  • Pull-ups/Chin-ups 
  • Barbell Row 
  • Underhand EZ Bar Row 
  • Lat Pulldowns 
  • Seated Cable Rows 
  • Dumbbell Rows 
  • Inverted barbell row 

For chest, triceps, and shoulders, try: 

  • Bench Press 
  • Incline Bench Press 
  • Overhead Press 
  • Dumbbell Press 
  • Dumbbell Incline Press 
  • Push-ups 
  • Dumbbell Overhead Press 
  • Dips 

The bottom line is that compound movements call upon multiple muscles, therefore, help you burn more calories. 

Remember: Try and fit 1-2 compounds movements in every day for maximal calories burned, muscle growth, and functioning. 

You'll then be giving yourself the best chance at success! 


(1) Escamilla RF, Fleisig GS, Zheng N, Barrentine SW, Wilk KE, Andrews JR. Biomechanics of the knee during closed kinetic chain and open kinetic chain exercises. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998 Apr;30(4):556-69. 

(2)Reis VM, Garrido ND, Vianna J, Sousa AC, Alves JV, Marques MC. Energy cost of isolated resistance exercises across low- to high-intensities.PLoS One. 2017;12(7):e0181311. Published 2017 Jul 24. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0181311 

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