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Hang around a gym long enough, and you’ll probably hear talk of compound versus isolation moves. It’s pretty self-explanatory: Compound exercises recruit multiple muscle groups (squats, for example, recruit your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and even your core for stability). On the other hand, isolation movements zero in on just one muscle (like the leg extension machine).
Both forms of exercise have merit, depending on your individual goals. But frankly, we like compound moves because they work more muscles in less time. (And who isn’t time-crunched these days?) These 25 moves will not only slash your workout time, but they’ll also challenge your upper body, lower body, and core in totally creative ways so you’ll never get bored.
For some of the moves (including the workout at the end provided by Brynn Putnam, certified trainer and founder of Refine Method), you’ll need a medium-weight kettlebell or dumbbell.
1. Box crawl
From all fours, lift your knees off the ground until hips are slightly higher than shoulders and you’re supported by the balls of your feet. Crawl forward, stepping with your right hand and left foot, then left hand and right foot. Crawl in a box formation, with two crawls in each direction: forward, to the right, back, and to the left.
2. Bird dog
Start on your hands and knees, keeping shoulders over wrists and hips over knees. Engaging your abs, reach your right arm forward so it is in line with your ear, as you simultaneously extend your left leg straight back. Repeat on the other side.
3. Rotational lunge
Step your right foot back, bend your knees, and engage your glutes, hamstrings, and quads as you lower into a lunge position. Reach your arms straight out in front chest, hands clasped together. Squeeze glutes and abs. Keeping shoulders and hips in one line, rotate 180 degrees toward your right shoulder, pivoting on the balls of your feet. You should now be in a lunge facing the opposite direction. Rotate left back to starting position. Make sure you rotate with enough force so you almost knock yourself off balance. Use your abs to stabilize.
4. Hinge and reach
Kneel with your right foot forward so you are supported by your left knee. Reach your right arm overhead, engaging your abs and glutes. With your left hand, reach on a diagonal in front of you, hinging at the hips to touch the ground while keeping your right arm up. Using obliques, slowly return to starting position. Repeat on the other side.
5. Rotational squat lift
Stand with feet wider than hip-width, holding one weight in both hands. Send hips back, engage glutes, bend knees, and lower into a squat, bringing the weight to your left hip. Stand and lift the weight on a high diagonal toward your right shoulder. Focus on keeping your hips forward and abs engaged, as your allow your shoulders to twist. Repeat on the other side.
6. Quadruped row to arm extension
Start on all fours with a weight near your right hand. Pick up the weight and, using upper back and shoulders, perform a row, pulling the weight up toward your right ribs. At the top of the row, your elbow should be hugged close to your body, and your forearm in line with your natural waist. Lower the weight back to the floor. Holding the weight, straighten right arm and simultaneously raise a straight left arm reaching until arm is in line with left ear. Focus on keeping shoulders pressed down and neck long throughout (no shoulder scrunching!).
7. Push-up with row
In a high plank position, perform a push-up. Then perform a row with your right arm, squeezing your shoulder blades together and engaging your upper back to pull your elbow toward your waist. Do another push-up, this time rowing with your left arm. Focus on keeping your chest down (not twisting in the direction you lift). Continue alternating sides.Make it harder: Place a weight next to each hand and lift the weight when performing each row.
8. Squat to overhead press
Hold a weight with both hands at your chest and stand with feet hip-width apart. Send your hips back and bend your knees as you come into a low squat. Stand and press the weight overhead in one fluid movement. Bring the weight back to your chest.Make it harder: Hold a kettlebell upside down in one hand, balancing so the bell always faces the ceiling.
9. Step-up with press
Holding a weight at your chest, step up onto a step, bench, or chair with your right foot. Focus on engaging your right glute and right hamstrings (not just pushing off with the left foot) as you step up. As you straighten right leg, press the weight overhead with arms by your ears and shoulders pressed down. Bring the weight back to your chest and slowly step your left foot back down. Repeat on the other side.
10. Squat with biceps curl
Hold a weight in front of your hips with straight arms and stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Perform a squat. At the bottom of your squat, perform a biceps curl, bending at the elbows to bring hands to shoulders, and extending all the way back down before rising to starting position.
11. Plank jack with tap-up
In a high plank position, jump feet hip-width apart, then back together, keeping core tight throughout. Still holding a high plank, tap left shoulder with right hand, then right shoulder with left hand. Use your core to make sure your hips do not twist. Repeat the entire sequence as quickly as possible while maintaining proper form.
12. Hip drive into triceps extension
Sit on your knees. Hold the weight against your chest with both hands. Squeeze glutes and drive hips forward to an upright kneeling position. At the same time, press the weight overhead. Bend elbows, using triceps to lower weight behind head. Press weight back up, then lower it to your chest before returning to starting position. Focus on engaging your core throughout the exercise.
13. Split squat chop
Holding a weight with both hands, step your right foot back and hold. Reach the weight up on a high diagonal toward your right shoulder, keeping hips facing forward and allowing shoulders to twist. Bend your knees and lower into a lunge as your bring the weight toward your left hip in a chopping motion. Return to starting position with weight on a high diagonal. Repeat on the other side.Make it easier: Keep the weight at your chest as you perform the lunge.
14. Hip drive halo into bottoms-up lunge
Sit on your knees holding a weight against your chest in both hands. Squeeze your glutes and drive hips forward to an upright kneeling position. Step your right foot forward. Squeezing your abs, circle the weight around your head (making a “halo”). Bringing the weight to your chest, step up to stand, keeping left foot off the ground. Lower left knee back to the ground, and reverse the entire movement to starting position. Repeat on the other side, making sure to halo the weight in the opposite direction.Make it easier: Perform the same movement, but skip the halo. Complete the hip drive, to kneeling lunge, to standing position without pause.
15. Reverse lunge with biceps curl
Standing holding weights with palms facing forward. Step your right foot back, engaging glutes and abs to lower into a lunge. Perform a biceps curl, keeping shoulders pressed down and abs tight. Lower weights and step right foot forward to starting position. Repeat on the other side.
16. Glute bridge chest press
Lie faceup, knees bent, core engaged, hands at your sides holding weights. Squeeze glutes to raise hips into a bridge. Perform a chest press by pushing both hands up over chest, engaging pectorals. Lower weights and hips together. Make it easier: Drop the weight, and practice raising your arms in a chest press motion, creating your own resistance.
17. Glute bridge with overhead press
Lie faceup, knees bent, and core engaged. Holding a weight with both hands just below your sternum, squeeze glutes to raise hips into a bridge. Push the weight straight up, then slowly lower it overhead with elbows slightly bent. Slowly bring the weight back overhead, then lower to your chest before lowering hips to the ground.Make it easier: Skip the overhead press. Hold weight in place while lifting hips, or extend weight up without bringing it overhead.
18. Hip thrust abs rocker
Sit with knees bent and legs hip-width apart. Place hands on the ground directly under shoulders, fingers facing away from your body. Squeeze glutes and lift hips straight up so you’re in a table-top position. Lower hips back to the ground. Now engage your abs and lift hands and feet off of the floor, reaching arms forward. Lean back and extend your legs forward, coming into a “V” shape, keeping your shoulders and upper back off of the ground. Return to starting position.
19. Lateral lunge with chest press
Hold a weight in both hands at your chest with feet wider than shoulders. Lean to the right, pushing hips back, bending right knee and keeping left leg straight. (You should feel your right glute engaged and a stretch on left leg.) At the lowest part of the lunge, push the weight forward, engaging pectorals. (Your arms don’t need to get totally straight; focus on keeping your upper body upright.) Pull weight back to chest and return to starting position. Repeat on the other side.
20. Single-leg deadlift to hammer curl
Holding a weight in your left hand, stand on your right foot, knee slightly bent. Keep your back straight as you hinge forward at the hips. With left leg straight out behind you, let arms relax at the shoulders and weights hang toward the ground. Engage glutes and hamstrings to slowly stand. Perform a biceps curl, keeping shoulders down and engaging your core for stability.
21. Single-leg Romanian deadlift with row
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart holding a weight in right hand. Lift right foot off the ground and hinge at the waist, leaning forward with a straight back. (Think of your body as one straight line from head to heel.) Let right arm naturally fall forward so it’s perpendicular to your torso. At the lowest point, perform a row with the weight. Return to starting position.Make it easier: Skip the row.
22. Push-up to side plank
In a high plank position, perform a push-up. Lift your left hand off of the ground and rotate your hips to come into a side plank on your right hand, extending left arm up. Return to high plank. Perform another push-up and repeat the side plank on the other side. (Make sure to keep your shoulders and hips moving in the same line.)
23. Low-to-high Spiderman plank
Start in a forearm plank, shoulders directly over elbows, core tight. Push off right forearm to come to right hand, then repeat on left side to come to a high plank position with shoulders over wrists. Keeping your abs tight and your hips still, bring your right foot toward the outside of your right hand and tap the ground so you’re in a low lunge position for a moment. Return to high plank, then tap left foot to outside of left hand. Return to starting position.
24. Squat jumpback to push-up
Stand with feet hip-width apart and lower into a squat. Jump back into a high plank position, keeping your abs tight and hands under sternum. Perform a push-up. Hop feet forward to a wide squat so hands are between feet. Stand up and jump. Make it easier: Step back one foot at a time into the high plank (instead of hopping) and skip the push-up.
25. Side plank with leg lift
Start in a right side forearm plank, feet stacked on top of each other, hips lifted, core engaged, and shoulder directly above elbow. Raise left leg six inches, then slowly lower. Repeat on the other side.
Now put ’em together with this highly efficient and super-creative workout created by Brynn Putnam, certified trainer and founder of Refine Method (who also models the exercises).
Special thanks to our friends at Lululemon for outfitting our model!