7 Best Lower Body Compound Exercises (with Pictures!)

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
October 24, 2022

Compound exercises are often used to train efficiently as they organically mimic natural movements. The lower part of the body benefits from such activities because unlike isolation exercises, compound exercises use multiple muscle groups, crossing multiple joints at once to produce a movement.

The simultaneous usage of multiple muscle groups aid in developing a more balanced, well-rounded physique. Lower body compound exercises that can help reap these benefits include deadlifts, squats, kettlebell swings, and barbell hip thrusts, among others.

Compound exercises are among the most popular and commonly performed activities in the gym due to the benefits and efficiency it offers. They have a plethora of advantages and are fairly enjoyable if the proper technique is mastered.

What is a Compound Exercise?

Compound exercises are a type of exercise that makes use of multiple muscle groups at the same time. An example of a compound exercise is squats that work the quadriceps, glutes, and calves, as opposed to the hamstring curls that solely work the hamstring muscles alone.

lower body muscles

A way to do an isolation exercise into a compound exercise is by combining 2 different movements into one move that enables targeting multiple muscle groups at the same time. An example of this would be, dumbbell squats with bicep curls, this will allow working the glutes, calves, and quadriceps together with the biceps at the same time. 

This type of exercise enables a shorter exercise period as multiple muscle groups are already working in one movement unlike if the individual works on each muscle group 1 by 1 lengthening the time needed for an exercise session. Compound exercises also enable the lifting of heavier loads as more muscles will assist the lift, unlike isolated exercises. 

Benefits of Compound Exercises

More Caloric Burn

Exercises that involve more muscular tissue demand more oxygen which helps the body burn more calories overall. Compound activities such as squats, burn more calories than isolation workouts such as seated leg extensions due to having multiple muscle groups at work - boosting the net energy expenditure.

Elevates Heart Rate

Compound workouts raise the heart rate and enhance cardiovascular conditioning, increasing the heart's ability to act as a pump. In terms of exercise, the higher the heart rate, the greater the aerobic and cardiovascular effects.

 As compared to isolation exercises, compound exercises elevate the heart more efficiently. This is because it involves more muscle groups to perform compound exercises, which then challenges the heart to pump out blood more efficiently to supply the working muscles with oxygen.

Increased Flexibility

Flexibility isn’t only achieved through static stretching but through dynamic stretching as well. Compound exercises imitate movements of daily activities and move through an active range, thereby lengthening the surrounding tissues. This is possible through reciprocal inhibition, or what other allied health disciplines refer to as reflexive antagonism.

Reciprocal inhibition describes the relaxation of the muscles opposite to the contracting side to allow movement. Over time and through multiple repetitions, this elevates the temperature and inhibits muscle activity which lengthens the muscle and reduces tension.

Increased Strength

Because it engages multiple muscle groups, compound exercises allow for heavier weights to be lifted. The use of heavier weights allows for more muscle fiber recruitment. This translates to an improvement in overall strength because when utilizing a larger load, the potential for muscular development and strength increases.

Improves Stability and Intramuscular Coordination

Most compound exercises imitate movements used in daily activities. It trains the muscles involved to move as one unit to control the output force and produce a movement. Furthermore, by strengthening and training the muscles that are used to produce movements used in daily activities, stability and balance are improved as well. 

That is due to how one stabilizes themselves when performing lower body compound exercises. To put this into perspective, take squats for example. Performing a squat entails the need to maintain the balance while keeping proper form. This means employing the muscles up to the core to prevent losing proper form or even falling.

Lower Body Compound Exercises

Aside from what was mentioned above, compound exercises also  aid in functional strength. The following compound exercises may be employed and injected into a workout program for stronger legs.

1. Bulgarian Split Squats

A Bulgarian split squat is a squat variation that only uses one leg at a time while performing the exercise. This exercise primarily strengthens the quadriceps femoris and gluteal muscles but also works the hamstrings, calves, and adductors.

bulgarian split squat

The activity is carried out by positioning one leg behind the individual and elevating it with a stool, chair, or box. The height of the object used for the hind leg must not be too high so that the individual's balance. The size should ideally be at the level of the knee.

To begin, keep the feet shoulder-width apart, the core muscles engaged, and the shoulders rolled back to maintain proper posture. As the front leg lunges by bending the knee, bend forward towards the waist. After that, extend the knees and hips again to finish the exercise.

2. Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift is a variation of the traditional deadlift that involves taking a very wide stance and performing the activity with the toes slightly pointed out. This places the person in a deeper initial squatting position, putting more emphasis on the gluteus maximus and adductor magnus muscles.

Because of the lift's wide stance and deeper initial squat, the hips begin closer to the barbell and the trunk is more upright. Compared to a traditional deadlift, this puts less strain on the back extensors and more on the hip musculature.

sumo deadlift form

To begin, the individual takes a very wide stance—wide enough to allow the arms to be extended downwards in between the knees to grab the bar. The toes point slightly outwards, and the lower leg is perpendicular to the floor. The spine should be in neutral extension, and the shoulders should be directly above the bar.

After getting into position, the core muscles tighten and the extensor muscles of the back, leg, and hip are engaged to create tension and allow the individual to pull the slack out of the bar. As the lifter stands up, the weight is lifted by driving through the legs while keeping the barbell close to the body.

The chest must not fall forward as the weight ascends, as in rounding the shoulders. The gluteal muscles are squeezed to drive the hips forward and lock out when the lifter is upright at the top of the movement. The barbell is held in this position for a second before slowly lowering it to complete one repetition.

3. Kettlebell Swings

The kettlebell swing is a challenging workout that works for multiple muscle groups at once. The glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors, and upper back muscles are the primary muscles used in this exercise. The movement also aids in the improvement of flexibility and mobility.

how to do a kettlebell single arm swing

To perform kettlebell swings, start by standing with the feet shoulder-width apart and the knees slightly bent. Hold the kettlebell by the handle with both hands so it rests between both legs. Bend forward at the hips while keeping the back in neutral extension until the individual feels a stretch in the back of the legs around the hamstrings.

Swing the kettlebell backward to gain momentum before lifting it to shoulder level. The individual stands back straight as the kettlebells are swung forward, thrusting the hips forward while extending the knees. To complete a single set, repeat this motion for the desired number of reps.

4. Good Mornings

Good mornings are a weightlifting exercise that strengthens the hamstrings, glutes, back, and core. It requires the use of a barbell, but beginners may begin without weights.

The lifter must stand with their feet shoulder-width apart and their knees slightly bent to perform the good morning exercise. A weighted barbell is placed near the shoulders and rests on the trapezius muscle.

barbell good morning

The back and core muscles are braced in the standing position as the hips hinge to send the hips backward and the torso forward while keeping the knees extended. The end of the movement is usually signaled by a stretch in the hamstrings or the beginning of the rounding of the back. The torso is nearly parallel to the ground in this position.

To stand upright and return to the starting position, drive through the legs while thrusting the hips forward. After finishing the motion, the glutes are squeezed.

5. Barbell Hip Thrust

The barbell hip thrust is a compound exercise that strengthens the core, quadriceps femoris, adductors, hamstrings, and calf muscles in addition to the glutes. A glute bridge is performed with the aid of a barbell and a bench.

barbell hip thrust

To begin, the individual sits on the floor, knees bent, back against a bench, and a barbell at their hips. Before elevating the hip by forcing the feet into the ground and pulling the back towards the bench, the barbell should be comfortably placed on the hip crease.

At the top of the movement, the torso must be parallel to the ground, with the knees flexed at about a 90-degree angle. The scapula (shoulder blades) should be solid on the bench as the lifter leans back to form a straight line from the hips to the torso. The hips are then lowered slowly and controlled to return to the starting position.

6. Cable Pull Throughs

The cable pull-through, like the kettlebell swing, is a compound exercise that targets the muscles of the posterior chain. These muscles include the glutes, hamstrings, and lumbar muscles. It aids in hip-hinging exercises and promotes gluteal muscle hypertrophy through overloading.

A cable machine and a rope handle are used for cable pull-throughs. To begin, the desired weight is placed on the machine and the pulley is set to the lowest height setting. The individual faces the machine and reaches for the rope handle between the legs. The individual then advances until the weight is removed from the stack.

To begin the movement, the person stands tall with his or her feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and his or her knees slightly bent. The hips are hinged backward until the hamstrings are stretched and the torso is almost parallel to the floor.

To begin the upward movement, extend the hip while keeping the spine in neutral extension. To complete one repetition, the gluteal muscles are squeezed as the hips move forward until the individual is standing erect.

7. Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is a deadlift variation that targets the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. It is an excellent way to develop strong functional muscles. This exercise improves strength in the hamstring, glutes, adductors, and core, and improves power-to-weight ratio. It's also a great way to help strengthen the core muscles as the person lifts off the floor.

barbell Romanian deadlift movement

Begin with a chalked or non-slippery surface and a weight that feels heavy but not too heavy. Stand with the feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and toes pointed outwards. Position in front of the barbell so that the shins are just about to touch the bar.

Bend the torso so that it forms a 90-degree angle with the knees slightly bent. Take an overhand grip on the barbell, slightly outside of the legs. Lift the barbell by erecting the torso and fully extending the hips and knees. At the top of the movement, a pause is observed, while the buttocks are squeezed to emphasize the contraction.

Lower the barbell to just below the knees by pushing the hips back and slightly flexing the knees while maintaining a neutral spine. To complete one set, repeat the motion for the desired number of reps.

Final Thoughts

Compound exercises provide a total-body workout in a time-efficient manner, burn more calories, improve coordination, and increase muscle strength for daily living. Using compound exercises to strengthen the lower body would provide such benefits and more.

It is critical to perform compound exercise movements correctly and focus on appropriate techniques to avoid injury and get the most out of the exercise routine.

References

1. Mihalik, Jason P1,2; Libby, Jeremiah J1; Battaglini, Claudio L1; McMurray, Robert G1,2. Comparing Short-Term Complex and Compound Training Programs on Vertical Jump Height and Power Output. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: January 2008 - Volume 22 - Issue 1 - p 47-53 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31815eee9e 

2. Weakley, Jonathon J.S.1,2; Till, Kevin1,2; Darrall-Jones, Joshua1,2; Roe, Gregory A.B.1,2; Phibbs, Padraic J.1,2; Read, Dale B.1,2; Jones, Ben L.1,2. Strength and Conditioning Practices in Adolescent Rugby Players: Relationship With Changes in Physical Qualities. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: September 2019 - Volume 33 - Issue 9 - p 2361-2369 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001828 

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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