Ready to get in shape, but you’re short on time? Chances are pretty good you’re busy. Spending hours in the gym probably isn’t realistic. Right?

The truth: only 23% of adults exercise at least 20–30 minutes a day.1 If you want to get in shape, lose weight, get stronger, and improve your health, exercise will help you get there. And you don’t have to run a marathon or climb a mountain.

So what’s the secret to getting into the gym, getting fit and getting out? Two words. Compound lifts. It’s the fancy fitness term for using multiple joints and muscle groups when you exercise. And there’s some big benefits to working out this way.

Get in Shape: 5 Benefits of Compound Lifts

If you want to get in shape, research shows compound lifts can help you:2

  1. Burn more calories in less time than typical workouts
  2. Strengthen joints and muscles
  3. Improve flexibility
  4. Strengthen your heart
  5. Improve balance and movement

When you exercise using compound movements, it’s like two or three exercises in one. It’s a smart way to work all your major muscle groups in less time than typical workouts.

Some common examples of compound lifts you can do to get in shape include:

  • Squats
  • Bent-over row
  • Chest press
  • Pull-ups
  • Chin-ups

Functional Movement for Everyday Life

If you want to get in shape to make the rest of your life better, your workouts should support all the functional movements you do in your everyday life.

One recent study found that functional movements and regular exercise cut the risk for disability by 40% as you age.

  • Lifting a box
  • Carrying groceries
  • Moving furniture
  • Picking up a child
  • Working the yard

Using compound movements to exercise will help you reach your health and fitness goals, and lower your chances for falls and injuries. Here’s a good example of a compound lift: you’re in the middle of moving. You pack some books into a box. It’s heavy.

  • You squat down, bending at the knee.
  • You put your hands under the box.
  • You keep your back straight.
  • Then you lift the box off the ground using the muscles in your arms, back, core and legs.

Sweet! You just picked up a box. That’s a functional movement. In the gym, the compound lift that looks a lot like this is called a deadlift.

3 Exercises to Improve Your Health

In weight training, the big three compound lifts that can help you get in shape faster than traditional workouts include the:5

  • Bench Press (strengthens the chest and arms)
  • Deadlift (strengthens the legs and back)
  • Squat (strengthens the legs and core)

There’s a couple ways you can do these compound lifts:

  • Use barbells
  • Use dumbbells
  • Do at-home exercises

Before you begin: you’ll need a basic understanding of how to do each of these exercises. There’s lots of video tutorials online that can show you how to bench press, deadlift and squat. You can also ask a personal trainer. Or ask a friend or someone at the gym who’s familiar with working out. A few more tips…

  • Use lighter weights to start
  • Practice good form and technique for each compound lift to protect your back, joints and muscles.
  • A “spotter” can help make sure you’re using good form and assist you if the weight becomes too heavy.

Ready to get started? Here’s a quick guide on how to do each of these exercises:

Bench Press

Lie flat on your back on a bench. Keep your feet flat on the floor on either side of the bench.

  • Barbell: grab the barbell a little wider than shoulder width. Lift the weight off the rack. Slowly lower it to your chest. Then push the bar back up.
    • The first several times you do this exercise, use only the barbell, and don’t add any extra plates. This will help you to learn the movement and improve your form.
  • Dumbbells: lying on your back, push the dumbbells up, until your arms are extended. Slowly lower the dumbbells to your chest. Repeat.
  • At home: if you don’t have barbells or dumbbells at home, do push-ups.


At its most basic, a deadlift is just picking something up from the floor and raising it to around hip level. Remember the moving box example?

Start with your feet about shoulder-width apart, and the weight on the ground by your feet. Your toes should be pointed straight ahead.

  • Barbell: use an overhand grip to grab the barbell. Bend at the hip and knee. Keep your back straight. Then slowly stand and lift with your legs, until the weight reaches the upper thigh.
  • Dumbbells: grab each dumbbell with an overhand grip. Bend at the hip and knee. Keep your back straight. Then slowly stand and lift with your legs until the dumbbells are touching your thighs.
  • At home: if you don’t have barbells or dumbbells at home, you can use another piece of exercise equipment like a kettlebell or a medicine ball. You could also use a gallon jug filled with water, or even practice with something like a box of books.


Want to get in shape? Training your legs by doing squats is one of the best exercises you can do. Why? Squats engage multiple muscle groups. Every time you complete a single rep, you’re building muscle strength and endurance. You’re burning calories, too.

  • Use a squat rack. Step under the bar. Rest it on the back of your shoulders, slightly below the neck. Use an overhand grip to grab the bar, wider than shoulder width. Point your toes straight ahead. Lift the barbell off the rack. Keeping your back straight, slowly squat down like you’re going to sit in a chair. Once you’re almost in a sitting stance, push the weight back up to standing.
  • Hold one dumbbell in front of you with both hands. Keep it close to your chest. Squat down to about sitting stance. Then stand up.
  • At home. Use a piece of exercise equipment like a medicine ball or kettlebell. A milk jug could work too. Then follow the steps to do a dumbbell squat. If you don’t have a weighted object, do bodyweight squats.

Note: When you’re just getting started, use lighter weights. Do 8 to 12 repetitions per exercise. Complete 2–3 sets per exercise. Practice good form and technique for each lift. Using proper form is critical to protecting your back, joints and muscles. Increase the weight as you get stronger.

Before you start an exercise program, you should always check with your doctor. Compound lifts can help you get in shape faster than typical cardio workouts. You’ll also burn calories, get stronger, improve balance and your overall health.

Get in Shape to Improve Your Health

Strength training and other forms of exercise will improve your health and make you stronger. But that doesn’t mean you’re invincible. If you want to stay healthy and live longer, schedule an annual check-up and see a doctor if you’re not feeling well or you’re dealing with an injury.

Don’t have health insurance? No problem. At HealthMarkets, our licensed health insurance agents can help you find a plan that suits your needs and budget. Call us Now at (800) 429-5058 or get a quote online.



1. Exercise or physical activity. Retrieved from: Accessed on March 3, 2022. | 2. 5 benefits of compound exercises. Retrieved from: Accessed on March 3, 2022. | 3. Evaluation of light physical activity measured by accelerometry and mobilty disabilty during a 6-year follow-up in older women. Retrieved from: Accessed on April 7, 2022. | 4. Training the industrial athlete: Targeted exercises to reduce occupational injury risks. Retrieved from: Accessed on April 7, 2022. | 5. Body recomposition: Can trained individuals build muscle and lose fat at the same time? Retrieved from:
Accessed on April 7, 2022.


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