Compound Lifts: The Challenge

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I’ll admit. Compound lifts can look scary, but then again, anything new can seem scary at first. You may be wondering what a compound lift even is. A compound exercise is a movement that uses multiple muscle groups. The 3 compound movements included in this article are a barbell back squat, bench press and a barbell deadlift. A squat, for example, works the quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips and even the core. Because a compound lift uses more muscles, it’s more challenging. Keep in mind though that the greater the challenge, the greater the reward!

RANT: One thing that I want NEED to address before we go any further is this fear of “becoming bulky.” LADIES… LISTEN. Unless you are using steroids, you WILL NOT and CANNOT get bulky. It is physically impossible for a woman to naturally produce enough testosterone to get that big. Enough with this, “I just want to tone” nonsense. To Tone, as defined by is ‘to give greater strength or firmness to’. This is the same as saying, “I want to get stronger.” There’s no difference between toning and building. We want the same thing! I promise I’m not trying to sabotage you and turn you into a dude. I do this job because I want you to love yourself. Only 2 things can happen to your muscles. They can get stronger, which means that they will grow. Now, when I say grow, I don’t mean that you’re going to GET HUGE. I mean that you are going to look awesome, athletic and fit! Okay? Any questions? Can we move on? Now that we’ve cleared that up we can get on to the “Big 3” Compound Lifts Challenge!

The Challenge

This is a 6-Week Challenge but my hope is that you’ll take it further (for like…EVER) However, 6-weeks is a great place to start! The goal here is to get into the gym at least 3 times per week. As you become more familiar with the exercises you can step it up to 6 times a week, performing each lift twice per week. You need access to a barbell with plate weights, a squat rack and a bench.

What you do:

A 5 X 5 training scheme is meant to build strength and as we mentioned earlier, this means you will firm and build also. You will perform each lift on a different day. When you’re just starting out, give yourself a day of rest in between each lift. The “Big 3” are your main lifts of the day so you will perform them right after your warm-up (5-15 minutes on the treadmill). After you’ve completed the day’s “Big Lift” you can perform whatever accessory exercises that you’d like.

So, 5 X 5 means 5 sets of 5 reps equaling 25 reps total. Now, these reps should NEED to be challenging. You should be struggling at rep number 5. Your 5 X 5 scheme will be at 85% of your 1 Rep max. Your 1 rep max is the heaviest weight that you can lift with proper form, one time. For example, let’s say that your 1 rep max for squats is 100 pounds. 85% of this is 85 pounds. Your 5 X 5 would be 5 reps of 5 at 85 pounds. Get it? If you need help feel free to ask! I’ll help you out. You can also calculate your percentages HERE.

I want you to give yourself 60 to 90 seconds of recovery in between each set. If you can stay consistent, you will see substantial strength gain and physical changes after 6 weeks. Again, in order to maintain and continue progressing you must stay consistent and keep challenging yourself. You will need to step the weight up after a few weeks, I guarantee it. You’ll just need to recalculate your 5 rep max if it begins to feel too easy.

The Takeaway

The main thing that I want you to remember is that it takes time to build muscle. It won’t happen over night. It takes dedication. Any intelligent personal trainer will tell you that 99% of people will benefit from some kind of strength training routine. Should everyone be a Power lifter? No. Should everyone do Crossfit? No. You need to find what’s right for you. I used to be terrified of compound lifts, partially because they looked hard but also because I too, had the fear I’d become this hulk of a woman. Once I gave it a chance, I absolutely fell in love with it.

Obviously, it’s always a smart idea to check with your doctor before beginning a new workout routine. Once you’re cleared as healthy enough to partake in this challenge, give it a go! 6 weeks is going to pass anyway, you might as well use that time to improve your health!

Reference Videos:

Flexibility is an integral part of a training routine. In a perfect world, you would stretch everyday. At the very least I want you to stretch on your workout days. Try our Lean & Limber Routine or the Top 10 Total-Body Stretches. What do you think? Any questions about the compound lifts? Remember, if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. You’re capable of more than you know! Get to it!

Until next time…


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I'm an NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist. I worked in a gym setting back in Florida for over 2 years, training one-on-one clients and leading group fitness classes. I absolutely loved it, but once we moved across the country to Colorado, I decided to take the opportunity to pursue a slightly different career! My obsession with exercise and love for writing collided, which is how I became a fitness lifestyle writer.


  1. David Pitruzzello

    April 25, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    Great Post Erin !
    I messed up my back again, May need some delicate recommendations from you to help strengthen it up again. 🙁

    • Chinups_and_Cupcakes

      April 26, 2018 at 11:54 am

      Ughhh that’s the worst!
      Once it heals I’ll send you a few ideas to strengthen it to hopefully prevent future injury!

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