17 Best Barbell Compound Exercises to Level Up Your Fitness

A barbell is a versatile, easy-to-use, and effective piece of equipment that allows you to perform various compound movements.

Compound exercises bolster multiple muscles simultaneously and help promote strength, endurance, and muscle development.

In this article, I’ve shared some of the best compound barbell lifts that are widely used in various workout programs, from functional and powerlifting to bodybuilding and combat training.

Whether you want to build strength and mass or enhance your speed and endurance, the compound barbell exercises can help you take your fitness to the next level.

Here’s a quick list of all exercises you’ll see in this article.

  1. Back Squat
  2. Bench Press
  3. Military Press
  4. Barbell Hang Clean
  5. Sumo Deadlift
  6. Good Morning
  7. Push Press
  8. Overhead Squat
  9. Conventional Deadlift
  10. High Pull
  11. Zercher Squat
  12. Split Clean
  13. Squat Jerk
  14. Clean and Press
  15. Jammer
  16. Split Snatch
  17. Thruster

17 Barbell Compound Exercises for Strength, Power & Mass

compound barbell lifts

1. Barbell Back Squat

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, and Abs,
  • Force Type: Push
  • Equipment Needed: Barbell, Plates, Rack, and Gym Belt

Benefits

  1. Strengthens quads and beefs up muscle mass.1 Esformes JI, Bampouras TM. Effect of back squat depth on lower-body postactivation potentiation. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27(11):2997-3000. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31828d4465 – PubMed Central
  2. Increase strength and functional fitness.
  3. Crushes plenty of calories, increases stamina, and enhances athleticism.
  4. Induce greater hormonal response than machine exercises.2 Shaner AA, Vingren JL, Hatfield DL, Budnar RG Jr, Duplanty AA, Hill DW. The acute hormonal response to free weight and machine weight resistance exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2014;28(4):1032-1040. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000317

How-to Instructions

  1. Put the appropriate weight into the bar, unrack it, and hold it on your shoulders.
  2. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly out, and chest up.
  3. Brace your core, inhale, and bend at your hips and knees to squat down until your glutes are parallel to the floor.
  4. Press into the floor with your feet to slowly return to the standing position.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Keep your core tight, chest up, and knees aligned with your toes.
  • Avoid letting your knees move inward during the ascent part.

2. Barbell Bench Press

powerlifting bench press
powerlifting bench press

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Chest, Shoulder, Core, and Triceps
  • Force Type: Push
  • Equipment Needed: Olympic Bench, Barbell, and Plates

Benefits

  • Enhance pushing strength and build a muscular torso.3 Schick, E. E., Coburn, J. W., Brown, L. E., Judelson, D. A., Khamoui, A. V., Tran, T. T., & Uribe, B. P. (2010). A comparison of muscle activation between a Smith machine and free weight bench press. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 24(3), 779–784. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cc2237
  • Engage multiple muscles simultaneously, especially the pectoralis major.

How-to Instructions

  1. Put the required weight into the bar and lay down on a flat bench with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Unrack the bar and hold it firmly over your middle chest. That’s the start.
  3. Brace your abdominal muscles, inhale, and press the bar with your strength until your arms are straight and directly over your chest.
  4. Pause at the top for a moment, then return to the start.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Maintain a natural arch in your lower back for stability.
  • Ensure the bar reaches your chest for full effectiveness.
  • Hold the bar with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width.

3. Military Press

Barbell Overhead Press

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Shoulder, Triceps, and Core
  • Force Type: Push
  • Equipment Needed: Barbell, Plates, and Gym Belt

Benefits

  • The military or overhead press is a primary compound lift for shoulder muscles. You can do it both in the seated and standing positions. However, standing overhead also engages core muscles and improves balance.4 Coratella, G., Tornatore, G., Longo, S., Esposito, F., & Cè, E. (2022). Front vs Back and Barbell vs Machine Overhead Press: An Electromyographic Analysis and Implications For Resistance Training. Frontiers in Physiology, 13, 825880. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2022.825880
  • It maximizes your pushing ability and enhances your performance during the various push exercises.

How-to Instructions

  1. Grab a loaded bar with a shoulder-width grip and stand tall with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Hold the bar on your front shoulder with your elbows pointing down and palms facing up.
  3. Brace your core, inhale, and press the bar overhead until your arms are straight.
  4. Exhale, pause for a moment at the top, then return to the start in a controlled manner.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Do not let your wrists arc; keep them firm to perform each rep safely and effectively.
  • Put on a gym belt, hold your abdominal muscles tight, and keep your chest up during the exercise.

4. Barbell Hang Clean

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Legs, Shoulder, Arms, Back, and Core
  • Force Type: Pull
  • Equipment Needed: Barbell, Plates, and Gym Belt

Benefits

  • It improves explosiveness, power, and balance and takes your fitness to the next level.
  • Annihilates the significant calories in a short time.
  • Improve aerobic and anaerobic fitness simultaneously.

How-to Instructions

  1. Grab a loaded barbell with an overhand grip with your hands shoulder-width apart and stand upright.
  2. Keep your arms straight so the bar is in front of your thighs. Maintain a tight core.
  3. Slightly bend your knees (to generate power) and use your hip and knee to clean the bar over your shoulder.
  4. Extend your knees to stand up back. That’s one rep.

Tips and Suggestions

  1. Use a powerful hip and knee extension for the lift.
  2. Pull the bar upward while keeping your elbows high.
  3. Drop into a partial squat to catch the bar at shoulder height.
  4. Ensure a smooth and controlled movement throughout.

5. Sumo Deadlift

Barbell Workouts for Beginners
Sumo Deadlift

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Integrated Full Body
  • Force Type: Pull
  • Equipment Needed: Barbell, Olympic Belt, Plates, and Chalk

Benefits

  • The sumo deadlift is a powerlifting workout that reinforces the lower body, especially the quads, adductors, and glutes.5 Sumo Deadlift: Muscles Work, Form, Benefits & Variations – The Fitness Phantom
  • It makes hips strong and flexible.
  • It is slightly easier than a conventional deadlift.

How-to Instructions

  1. Insert the required weight into the barbell and stand upright with your feet two times wider than shoulder-width apart and toes pointing 45 degrees outward. Make sure the bar is close to your shin.
  2. Keeping your back straight, bend your hips to grab the bar. Make sure your arms are between your legs.
  3. Take a deep breath and pull the bar with your total strength until your hips are fully extended.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Use a wide grip, keeping your hands inside your knees.
  • Lift with a powerful hip extension until your knees are straight.

6. Barbell Good Morning

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Lower Back, Hamstrings, Glutes, and Abs
  • Force Type: Hip Hinge
  • Equipment Needed: Barbell

Benefits

  • Reinforce the posterior chain muscles, especially the lower back and hamstrings.6 McAllister, M. J., Hammond, K. G., Schilling, B. K., Ferreria, L. C., Reed, J. P., & Weiss, L. W. (2014). Muscle activation during various hamstring exercises. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 28(6), 1573–1580. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000000302
  • Improve hip mobility and flexibility.
  • Enhance functional fitness.
  • Support proper spinal alignment that contributes to an upright posture.

How-to Instructions

  1. Grab a bar, put it on the back of your shoulder, and stand straight in the shoulder-width stance.
  2. Brace your core, push your hips back, and slowly lean your torso forward until it is parallel to the floor.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Keep your back as flat as possible during the entire movement.
  • Focus on hip hinges instead of bending your knees.
  • Start with an empty barbell.

7. Barbell Push Press

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Shoulder, Legs, Abs, and Triceps
  • Force Type: Push
  • Equipment Needed: Barbell and Plates

Benefits

  • The push press is an excellent workout to increase strength, mobility, and explosiveness.
  • It is an excellent exercise to enhance lower-body power and upper-body strength simultaneously.7 Lake, Jason & Mundy, Peter & Comfort, Paul. (2014). Power and Impulse Applied During Push Press Exercise. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 28. 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000438.
  • The push press also improves hip drive, which helps in various high-intensity functional exercises.

How-to Instructions

  1. Insert the required weights into the barbell, stand upright, and hold the bar over your shoulder with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Slightly bend down and then explosively press the bar overhead until your arms are straight.
  3. Return the bar to the start and repeat for the desired number of times.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Use your legs to generate power during the lift.
  • Extend your arms fully overhead.

8. Barbell Overhead Squat

Barbell Overhead Squat

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Target Muscles: Legs, Core, and Shoulder
  • Force Type: Push
  • Equipment Needed: Barbell, Plates, and Gym Belt

Benefits

  • Engages various muscles simultaneously, particularly the shoulder, core, and legs.
  • Improve balance, stability, and functional fitness.

How-to Instructions

  1. Grab a loaded bar with your hands slightly wider than a shoulder-width grip and hold it over your head with straight arms.
  2. Stand upright with your back straight. That’s the starting position.
  3. Squat down until your hips are parallel to the floor, and then return to the standing position to complete one rep.
  4. Do the required number of sets and reps.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Keep your core engaged, back straight, and chest up throughout the movement.
  • Maintain flexibility in your hips.

9. Conventional Deadlift

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate to Advanced
  • Target Muscles: Integrated Full Body
  • Force Type: Pull
  • Equipment Needed: Wrist wrap, Olympic bar, plates, and waist belt.

Benefits

The Deadlift is a compound movement that engages various muscles simultaneously, such as the hamstring, quadriceps, back, and core.

It builds up ultimate strength, promotes hypertrophy, improves athletic performance like jumping and running, and helps you perform other barbell workouts efficiently.

How-to Instructions

  1. Put the desired weight into the bar and stand upright with your feet hip to shoulder-width apart and shin close to the barbell. Please wear the gym waist belt for safety.
  2. Push your hips back and bend your knees enough to grip the bar.
  3. Hold the bar with an alternate grip with your hands just outside your legs. Your back should remain flat during the entire movement.
  4. Brace your abdominal muscles, take a couple of deep breaths, and lift the bar with full strength without bending your elbows until your hips come forward at the end of the lift.
  5. Pause momentarily, then return the weight safely to the floor.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Initiate the lift with a hip hinge.
  • Hold your core tight throughout the movement by pulling your stomach toward your lower back.
  • Stand tall with hips fully extended while returning to the upright position.

10. Barbell High Pull

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Target Muscles: Integrated Full Body
  • Force Type: Pull
  • Equipment Needed: Barbell, Plates, Gym Belt,

Benefits

  • The barbell high pull solidifies various upper body and lower body muscles at once, primarily the shoulder, quads, hips, biceps, and back.
  • It enhances speed, stability, and balance and helps power up your overall performance.

How-to Instructions

  1. Please put the desired weight into the barbell and hold it with straight arms in front of your thighs.
  2. Pull the bar toward your neck as quickly and high as possible.
  3. Pause at the top and then lower the bar to the start.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Retract shoulder blades.
  • Utilize your hip and knee to generate power so you can pull the bar efficiently.
  • Keep elbows above the wrists.

11. Zercher Squat

Zercher Squat is one of the best barbell squat variations

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Quads, Forearms, and Core
  • Force Type: Push
  • Equipment Needed: Bar and Plates

Benefits

Not as popular as the front and back squats, the Zercher squat is an advanced squat variation that requires enough strength and balance to do it. Doing it properly will increase your quad stability, build mass, and reinforce your forearms and core.

How-to Instructions

  1. Put the desired weight into the barbell and hold it on your arms (in the crooks of your elbows).
  2. Stand upright with your back straight and core tight. That’s the starting position.
  3. Squat down as low as possible so your elbows can reach inside of your knees.
  4. Push your feet onto the floor and stand up back.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Maintain an upright posture throughout the squat.
  • Position the bar in the elbow crease.

12. Split Clean

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Legs, Abs, and Shoulder
  • Force Type: Pull-Push
  • Equipment Needed: Bar and Plates

Benefits

  • Level up explosive power and athletic performance.
  • Bolster various muscle groups from the lower to the upper body.
  • It enhances coordination and balance and improves functional fitness.

How-to Instructions

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, barbell at mid-shin, and grab the bar with a wider grip.
  2. Explosively lift the bar, shrug shoulders, and pull elbows high.
  3. As the bar rises, quickly split feet forward and back.
  4. Land in a split stance, catching the bar at shoulder height.
  5. Stand tall to complete the lift.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Thrust your hips to generate power.
  • Land into a split squat, holding the barbell with control.

13. Barbell Squat Jerk

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Target Muscles: Integrated Full Body
  • Force Type: Push
  • Equipment Needed: Barbell and Plates

Benefits

The squat jerk is another explosive exercise that involves performing overhead press and squat simultaneously. It works on multiple muscles at once, primarily the legs and shoulder, and helps you improve other overhead pressing movements.

How-to Instructions

  1. Grab a loaded bar and place it on the front of your shoulder.
  2. Stand tall in the hip-width stance and grab the bar firmly with your hands wider than shoulder width.
  3. Bend at your hips until you reach the quarter squat position, then press the bar overhead in an explosiveness manner.
  4. Holding the barbell overhead, lower into a squat.
  5. Pause for a moment, return to the upright position, lower the bar on your shoulder, and repeat.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Drive your hips forward to thrust the bar overhead.
  • Maintain a tight core and wear a belt to protect your lower back.

14. Barbell Clean and Press

The clean and press is an explosive full-body exercise that works throughout the upper and lower body and improves strength, power, and endurance.

I’ve already shared a compressive guide on clean and press; you can check to learn more about it.

15. Barbell Jammer

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Target Muscles: Thighs, Shoulders, Calves, and Arms
  • Force Type: Push
  • Equipment Needed: Bar and Plates

Benefits

The jammer is one of the best compound barbell lifts that helps hit multiple muscles at once, primarily the legs and shoulders.

If you’re on the way to a fat-to-fit journey, you can do a barbell jammer to burn plenty of calories while building lean mass.

How-to Instructions

  1. Place one end of the bar in a corner so that it stays intact, and insert the appropriate weights into another end.
  2. Stand in front of the barbell with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and hinge at your hips to squat down and grab the head of end (2) of the bar firmly with both your hands. The bar should be between your feet.
  3. Push your feet into the ground and drive your hips forward until your knees are fully extended.
  4. In the running motion, raise your heels off the ground and press the bar in front of your head simultaneously until your arms are fully straight. That’s one rep!

Tips and Suggestions

  1. Perform each rep in a slow and controlled manner.
  2. Ensure your back is straight and your abdominal muscles are tight throughout.

16. The Split Snatch

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Target Muscles: Shoulders
  • Force Type: Pull
  • Equipment Needed: Barbell and Plates

Benefits

  • Promote strength, power, and coordination and level up your athletic fitness.
  • Engage various muscles from the upper to the lower body.
  • Improve balance, agility, and functional fitness.

How-to Instructions

  1. Place a loaded barbell on the floor above your feet and close to your shin.
  2. Lower into the deadlift start position, and grab the bar with your hands wider than shoulder-width.
  3. Extending your hip, lift the bar until it reaches your thigh.
  4. Then, explosively drive through your hips, snatch the bar overhead, and land in a lunge position simultaneously.
  5. Stand up to complete the lift.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Hold the bar firmly when landing into a split stance.
  • Use a wider grip than the overhead press.

17. The Thruster

About Exercise

  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Target Muscles: Shoulder, Legs, and Abs
  • Force Type: Push
  • Equipment Needed: Bar and Plates

Benefits

The barbell thruster is a multi-joint compound exercise that includes several movements, such as snatch, squat, and overhead press.

It solidifies various muscles of the upper and lower body, such as the quads, shoulders, and core, and enhances endurance, mobility, and strength.

How-to Instructions

  1. Put the appropriate weight into the bar and stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend at your hips to grip the bar and hold it firmly with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  3. Lift the bar off the floor, and as the bar reaches halfway (above your knees), pull it on the front of your shoulders and stand upright.
  4. Now, perform a squat and press the bar over your head when you return to the standing position.
  5. Again, do a squat and press the bar until you stand up back.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Start with an empty bar to prepare your muscles before going heavy.
  • Put on a belt to provide stability during the lift.

References

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Author
Murshid Akram
I'm an online personal trainer, fitness blogger, and fitness enthusiast. I love researching and writing about exercise and nutrition. I share science-based, practical, and logical information that can help you achieve your desired fitness goal.
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