Best Compound Exercises for Upper Body Strength

Sports Nutritionist & Fitness Author
  • Chest, Chest, Compound Exercises, Shoulders, Strength Training
  • Posted 9 months ago

Are you looking to build a strong and defined upper body? Look no further!

This article delves into the advantages of incorporating compound exercises for superior upper body development.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced fitness enthusiast, compound exercises can take your upper body strength and muscle development to the next level.

What Are Compound Exercises?

Compound exercises engage multiple joints and muscle groups concurrently. Unlike isolation exercises which target specific muscles or joints.

Compound exercises typically involve pushing, pulling, or lifting movements that require coordination and balance.

For example, a push-up engages the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core muscles all at once.

Upper Body Muscles

When it comes to building a strong and well-rounded physique, focusing on the upper body is essential.

By performing compound exercises, you can effectively target multiple muscle groups in the upper body, helping you achieve your fitness goals faster.

Here are some of the key muscles that are targeted by upper body compound exercises:

1. Chest Muscles

  • The pectoralis major, also known as the chest muscles, are engaged during exercises such as bench press, push-ups, and dumbbell flyes.
  • Compound exercises that target the chest also activate secondary muscles like the triceps and shoulders.

2. Back Muscles

  • The latissimus dorsi, or lats, are the largest muscles in the back and are worked during exercises like pull-ups, bent-over rows, and deadlifts.
  • Compound exercises for the back not only help in building a strong back but also engage other muscles such as the biceps and rear delts.

3. Shoulder Muscles

  • The deltoid muscles are responsible for giving the shoulders a rounded and defined look.
  • Compound exercises like overhead press, push press, and upright rows help in targeting all three heads of the deltoids for overall shoulder development.

4. Arm Muscles

  • The biceps and triceps are the main muscles of the arms and are engaged during compound exercises such as chin-ups, dips, and close-grip bench press.
  • By training these muscles together, you can improve overall arm strength and size.

By incorporating upper body compound exercises into your workout routine, you can effectively work these key muscles and achieve a well-balanced and sculpted upper body.

Make sure to perform these exercises with proper form and gradually increase weights to continue challenging your muscles.

List of the Best Upper Body Compound Exercises

Bench press:

The bench press is a classic compound exercise that primarily targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

To perform it, lie on a flat bench with your feet flat on the floor.

Grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip and lower it to your chest, then press it back up.

Keep your back and hips in contact with the bench throughout the movement.

Overhead press:

The overhead press is a fantastic compound exercise for developing shoulder and tricep strength.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a barbell at shoulder level, with your palms facing forward.

Press the barbell directly above your head, then lower it back down to shoulder level.


Pull-ups are a challenging upper body compound exercise that primarily targets the back, biceps, and shoulders.

Grab a pull-up bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

Hang from the bar, then pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar.

Lower yourself back down with control.


Push-ups are a simple yet effective upper body compound exercise that engages the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core.

Start in a plank position, with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

Lower your chest towards the ground, then press back up to the starting position.


Dips target the chest, triceps, and shoulders.

To perform this exercise, stand between parallel bars, with your arms fully extended and your feet off the ground.

Lower your body by bending your elbows, then push back up to the starting position.

Barbell rows:

Barbell rows effectively work the back muscles, including the lats and rhomboids.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell with an overhand grip.

Bend at the waist while keeping your back flat, then pull the barbell towards your belly button. Lower the barbell back down with control.

Lat pulldowns:

Lat pulldowns target the back and biceps.

Sit down at a lat pulldown machine with your knees positioned under the pads.

Grab the bar with a wide overhand grip, then pull it down towards your chest.

Slowly return the bar back to the starting position.

Shoulder press:

The shoulder press is an excellent exercise for targeting the deltoids and triceps.

Sit or stand with a dumbbell in each hand, at shoulder level.

Press the dumbbells directly overhead until your arms are fully extended, then lower them back down to shoulder level.

Incline bench press:

The incline bench press is similar to the regular bench press, but it targets the upper chest more.

Lie on an incline bench with your feet flat on the floor.

Holding the barbell with a shoulder-width grip, lower it to your upper chest, then press it back up.

Diamond push-ups:

Diamond push-ups are an advanced variation of the push-up that focuses more on the triceps.

Get into a push-up position, placing your hands close together to form a diamond shape with your thumbs and index fingers. Lower your chest towards the diamond shape, then push back up.

Benefits of Upper Body Compound Exercises

Upper body compound exercises offer numerous benefits for individuals looking to improve their overall fitness and strength. Incorporating these exercises into your workout routine can lead to:

Improved Strength and Power

One of the primary benefits of upper body compound exercises is the improvement in overall strength and power.

These exercises engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, allowing you to lift heavier weights and push your limits.

Regularly performing compound exercises like bench presses, pull-ups, and shoulder presses can lead to significant increases in upper body strength and power.

Muscle Development and Hypertrophy

Another advantage of upper body compound exercises is their ability to stimulate muscle development and hypertrophy.

These exercises target large muscle groups, such as the chest, back, and shoulders, resulting in significant muscle growth and definition.

By engaging multiple muscle groups at once, compound exercises promote overall muscle development and create a more balanced physique.

Eccentric Training for Upper Body Compound Exercises

Eccentric training, a key component of upper body compound exercises, offers its own unique benefits.

Eccentric contractions involve lengthening the muscle under tension, which is particularly effective for muscle growth.

By incorporating eccentric training into your upper body compound exercises, you can further enhance muscle development and strength.

Improved Shoulder and Arm Strength

Upper body compound exercises specifically target the shoulder and arm muscles, leading to improved strength and functionality in these areas. As these exercises engage multiple muscle groups surrounding the shoulders and arms, they can help improve stability and prevent injuries. Additionally, stronger shoulders and arms can enhance performance in various sports and activities.

Improved Strength and Power

Compound exercises are highly effective in developing overall strength and optimizing power. These exercises engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, allowing you to lift heavier weights and challenge your body in a dynamic way.

By targeting several muscles at once, compound exercises improve your coordination, stability, and balance. This translates into enhanced performance in other upper body movements, such as pushing, pulling, and lifting.

Regularly incorporating compound exercises into your workout routine can lead to significant improvements in your strength and power. Whether you’re an athlete looking to improve your performance on the field or an individual aiming to increase your functional strength, compound exercises are a key component to achieving your goals.

Eccentric Training for Upper Body Compound Exercises

Eccentric training is a crucial aspect of upper body compound exercises. It involves emphasising the eccentric, or lowering phase, of the exercise. This technique can enhance muscle strength, size, and overall performance. Let’s dive deeper into the benefits of eccentric training for upper body compound exercises.

Weight Selection for Upper Body Exercises

Choosing the appropriate weight for your upper body compound exercises is crucial for achieving optimal results and preventing injury. The weight selection varies depending on your fitness level and experience. Below are recommendations for beginners, intermediate, and advanced individuals:


  • Start with light weights that allow you to perform each exercise with proper form.
  • Focusing on mastering technique and improving range of motion is more important than lifting heavy weights.
  • It is recommended to begin with a weight that you can comfortably lift for 10-12 repetitions.


  • As you progress, gradually increase the weight you are lifting.
  • Aim to choose a weight that challenges you, but still allows you to complete 8-10 repetitions with good form.
  • Progressive overload is key – strive to continually increase the weight as your strength improves.


  • For advanced individuals, it is important to constantly push your limits and challenge your muscles.
  • Select a weight that allows you to perform 6-8 repetitions with proper form.
  • Consider incorporating techniques such as drop sets, supersets, or pyramid sets to further intensify your workouts.

Regardless of your fitness level, remember that proper form should always be prioritized over lifting heavy weights. As you become more experienced, gradually increase the weight to ensure progressive overload and muscle adaptation.

Implementing Progressive Overload Techniques

One of the keys to maximising your results with upper body compound exercises is implementing progressive overload techniques. These techniques involve gradually increasing the demands placed on your muscles over time, forcing them to adapt and grow stronger.

Example Techniques

There are several effective ways to implement progressive overload, including:

  • Increasing Weight: Gradually adding more weight to your exercises will increase the resistance and challenge your muscles to keep up.
  • Adding Repetitions: Once you can perform your desired number of repetitions with good form, aim to add a few more to push your muscles further.
  • Altering Tempo: Changing the speed at which you perform your exercises can introduce new challenges and stimulate muscle growth.

By incorporating these techniques into your upper body compound exercises, you can continually push your limits and avoid hitting plateaus.

Tracking Progress

It’s important to track your progress when implementing progressive overload techniques. By keeping a record of the weight you lift, the number of repetitions you perform, and any changes in tempo, you can easily see how you are progressing over time.

Make sure to consistently challenge yourself by gradually increasing the weight, adding repetitions, or altering the tempo of your exercises. This will ensure that you continue to make progress and achieve your fitness goals.

Improving Shoulder and Arm Strength

When it comes to building a strong upper body, improving shoulder and arm strength is crucial. Strong shoulders and arms not only enhance your overall physique but also contribute to better athletic performance and daily activities. To achieve these goals, incorporating the right exercises into your workout routine is essential.

Focusing on Shoulders and Arms

There are various top upper body compound exercises that specifically target the shoulders and arms. These exercises engage multiple muscles and joints simultaneously, leading to more efficient strength gains. Some of the most effective compound exercises for the shoulders and arms include:

  • Barbell Overhead Press: This exercise involves pressing a barbell overhead from shoulder height. It primarily targets the deltoids (shoulder muscles) and triceps.
  • Push-Ups: A classic exercise that targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Variations like diamond push-ups and wide grip push-ups can also place additional emphasis on the triceps and shoulders, respectively.
  • Chin-Ups: This exercise targets the biceps, lats, and shoulders. It involves pulling your body up using an overhead bar.
  • Dips: Dips are highly effective for building triceps and shoulder strength. They involve lowering and raising your body by using parallel bars.
  • Barbell Rows: This exercise primarily targets the upper back muscles, including the traps and rear delts. It also engages the biceps and forearms.

To improve shoulder and arm strength, incorporate a combination of these exercises into your training regimen. Aim for a well-rounded approach that targets all major muscle groups, including the shoulders, arms, and upper back.

Proper Form and Techniques

While performing these upper body compound exercises, it’s crucial to maintain proper form and technique. This ensures optimal muscle activation, reduces the risk of injuries, and maximizes the effectiveness of the exercises.

Here are a few key tips to keep in mind:

  • Start with lighter weights: If you’re new to these exercises, begin with lighter weights to focus on mastering the proper form. Gradually increase the weight as you become more comfortable and proficient.
  • Maintain a stable core: Engage your core muscles by keeping your abs tight throughout the movements. This helps stabilise your body and prevent unnecessary strain on your shoulders and arms.
  • Avoid excessive swinging or momentum: Control the movements by using controlled and deliberate motions. Avoid using excessive swinging or momentum, as it reduces the effectiveness of the exercise and increases the risk of injury.
  • Breathe properly: Pay attention to your breathing pattern during each exercise. Inhale before starting the movement and exhale when exerting effort.

By practicing proper form and techniques, you’ll optimize your shoulder and arm strength gains and minimize the chance of any setbacks.


Upper body compound exercises are an essential component of any well-rounded fitness routine. By targeting multiple muscle groups simultaneously, these exercises offer a number of benefits that can help you achieve your strength and fitness goals.

Throughout this content, we have explored the importance of upper body compound exercises and understood what they are. We have discussed the muscles targeted by these exercises and the benefits they provide, including improved strength, muscle development, and hypertrophy.

We have also delved into the concept of eccentric training and its benefits for upper body compound exercises. By incorporating weight and implementing progressive overload techniques, we can further enhance our training and achieve optimal results.

Furthermore, we have focused on improving shoulder and arm strength, highlighting the specific exercises that can help us achieve this goal. Proper form and techniques have been emphasized throughout, ensuring that we maintain safety and effectiveness in our workouts.

In conclusion, by incorporating upper body compound exercises into our fitness routines, we can achieve balanced muscle development, improve overall strength and power, and enhance our physical performance. The top upper body compound exercises summarised in the next section will serve as a handy reference to help you design and plan your workouts.

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