I’ve had many people ask me over the years about what the BEST exercises are. And quite honestly, thats a very hard question to answer. Throughout my week I usually do about 40 different exercises hitting every single muscle group in the body, and they’re ALL great exercises! If by BEST someone were to mean most efficient, then thats a different question which can be answered a little easier.


“I know what you're thinking, its bicep curls.. right?” Nope.

“Bicep curls IN the squat rack?” Still no.

“Sit-ups?” No way.

“Okay its got to be shrugs!” Not even close.


While these previous exercises are good in certain situations (besides curls in the squat rack… those are highly discouraged), they only target one specific muscle group at a time, and are therefore called “isolation exercises.” When used properly, isolation exercises can be great to to really hit that one target muscle group. But when talking about efficient exercises, you should be looking strictly at “compound exercises,” which always involve more than one joint and muscle group.


Say for example you get to the gym but you’re pressed for time, you’re scrambling for the best exercises that will get you a great full body workout in the shortest amount of time. Do you think it would be a good idea to do all isolation exercises (bi’s, tri’s, calves, abs, etc..)? Nope, not very time efficient. Instead you’ll be doing all compound exercises, and hit two or three or four muscle groups at once for a much better overall workout in less time. Here I am going to list my personal favorite three compound lifts. There are obviously many more great compound lifts, but these three alone hit every major muscle group in your body. My big 3 are…


  1. Bench Press

  2. Squats

  3. Pullups


  1. Some people might think of the bench press as an isolation exercises (hitting chest only), but they would be dead wrong. The bench press (and its many variations… flat, incline, decline, dumbbell, barbell, close-grip, machine, etc...) is a great compound lift which might feature the chest, but also hits your shoulders and triceps quite nicely. This one powerful move will strengthen all three muscle groups simultaneously! If you’re trying to hit upper chest a little harder you can make the bench incline, and if you’re trying to hit lower chest you can make the bench decline. If you opt to use dumbbells over a barbell you will be using more stabilizer muscles, and this is the prefered method to start with to find out if you have any imbalanced from one side to the other. So there you have the single best compound exercise for those 3 muscle groups. Whats the best compound exercise for your lower body and legs? Squats!


  1. Squats are a must-do exercise! They are beneficial in so many ways and hit numerous muscles at the same time. Squats are a “functional exercise,” which means the movement pattern is often used in everyday life and getting better at squats will help you avoid injury and increase efficiency in everyday life. But now onto the reason why its my favorite compound exercise for lower body… it hits over 5 muscle groups! The main muscle groups targeted during squats are the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. To a lesser extent however, its still targeting and strengthening your calves, core muscles, and lower back/posterior chain. Just like bench press there are many variations of squats, standard, sumo, box squats, barbell, dumbbell, etc. It really is a no-brainer when you’re looking for the best leg exercise out there, look no further! Note: when performing squats form is of utmost importance, so make sure you know what you’re doing before you attempt to do heavy free-weight squats! Onto the next…


  1. Pull-ups! (Or Lat-Pulldowns). So far we’ve targeted almost every single major muscle group in the body besides our back and biceps, and for those two muscle groups there is no better compound exercise than pull-ups. Just like the bench press and squats there are many variations of pull-ups. My favorite and perhaps the best for targeting lats its the wide-grip overhand pull-ups. However you can also perform neutral-grip (palms facing toward each other) pull-ups which target biceps a little more than standard wide-grip, and reverse-grip (palms facing toward you, also known as chin-ups) pull-ups which place an even greater emphasis on your biceps.  While mainly targeting your lats, the pull-up also hits upper and mid-back muscles, while working on grip strength and strengthening arms. Pull-ups will always be better than machine lat pull-downs. Even if you can only do ONE pull-up, do it! Start there and work your way up, it will pay off in the end.


Okay now say for example you get to the gym, you’re going to only do these 3 exercises, will you still get a good workout? You most certainly can, but the widely used 3 sets of 10 reps will simply not get the job done. Because you’re using just 3 moves total, you’re going to have to increase your difficulty in any number of ways to produce results. You can increase the weight used, increase the number of reps per set, or increase the total number of sets. I would recommend increasing the total sets performed of each exercise, and make sure the weight is heavy enough that you’re struggling by the end of each set. If you aren’t struggling, its not hard enough and won’t be doing you any favors while you're trying to build muscle. So you could do 4-5 sets of 10-12 reps, and as long as you pushed yourself hard you would leave the gym knowing you had a kick ass total body workout!


Well there you have it, my 3 favorite compound lifts. If I could only perform any 3 exercises for the rest of my life, it would without a doubt be these three! If any of these 3 are not currently in your exercise routine, put them in… now. As always, any questions feel free to e-mail me!


Until next time guys, keep it healthy!


Brian Lepine