The Case for Compound Lifts

“What the fu*# is Dave making us do right now?”

A hidden thought by more than a few of my gym members the first time we did Olympic-style lifts at P360.

The WTF Face. Any coach is familiar with it.

Athletes are the most notorious as most are very particular about what they will or won’t do, and it’s based largely off of a perception that comes nowhere near reality (such as, “weights will limit my mobility” or the opposite, “I have to lift weights to get better” when both are not necessarily true).

It’s a completely fair thought, but one I am happy to dispel and tell you exactly why we think they are quite possibly the best exercises for changing your body composition and improving physical condition.

What Are They?

The only two official Olympic lifts are the clean & jerk and the snatch (get your mind out of the gutter). However, at my gym we prefer to lump deadlifts, hang cleans, and front squat press into this category due to their complex nature, coordination demands, similar intensity and demand on identical metabolic pathways and the inclusion of so many muscles.  They are like a compound exercise on steroids.

(Note: you won’t see us doing any barbell snatches at P360.  I am a very big believer in risk vs. reward and simply don’t believe the reward to be worth the risk and wear and tear on your shoulders.  You lose your shoulders, you lost the ability to do anything.  Your rotator cuff muscles are under unbelievable stress at that degree of rotation and you can very easily strain or tear it…just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should.)

The primary reason why we love deadlifts, cleans and squat press so much is because of the easy ability to make them custom for goal (fat loss, strength, growth, sport-performance, etc) and how effective they are at improving members across a spectrum of fitness capabilities.

So, let’s break these down and really explain the awesomeness of them.


I fell in love this exercise for a variety of reasons.  First, they’re just so bad ass in how primal they are, literally picking weight up and putting it down is how our ancient ancestors got their ‘exercise’ for the most part only it was in the form of carrying and moving large dead animals.

Most importantly, deadlifts engage a staggering amount of muscles in your body which, when working ‘reps for goal’ (RFG) will either result in

a) rapid fat loss and unbelievable caloric burn if you work light weight with higher reps (15+)
b) huge strength gains when working at heavy rate with low reps (2-6), or
c) explosive and fast hypertrophy when working for muscle growth at moderate weight with moderate reps (8-12)

Client Brandon Flora pulling 435#

The 411

What’s with the Name?: The weight is picked up from a ‘dead hang’, hence deadlift.
Number of Muscle Groups Worked: 12  (compare this a standard quad extension that works one)
Really Targets: Hamstrings, Shoulders, Back & Core
How You Implement:

  • for Strength Gain: 5 sets of 5 reps at very challenging weight
  • for Muscle Growth: 4 sets of 12 reps at challenging weight
  • for Fat Loss & Toning: 4 sets of 15 reps at lighter weight

Another excellent thing about deadlifts is their ability to increase pure strength.   Adding strength is functional for hundreds or reasons (including everyday life), especially as it pertains to fitness since increasing your strength will allow you to burn more calories in a circuit.  Burn more calories = become leaner.

Of all the exercises profiled in this blog entry, deadlifts are the most readily capable to increase our maximum strength when working towards that particular goal because mechanically speaking you can move the most weight in this position.

Hang Clean

The hang clean is an outstanding exercise for the exact same reasons as the deadlift, only it takes it a little bit further in the conditioning aspect since you have to” hang” onto the weight the entire time which is grueling and exhausting when performed with any type of volume.

Here’s yours truly showing you how to hang clean.

The 411

What’s with the Name?: You are forced to ‘hang’ onto the weight throughout the entire exercise as opposed to power cleans that start on the ground.
Number of Muscle Groups Worked: 8  (compare this a standard tricep extension that works 1)
Really Targets: Core, Shoulders, Traps & Grip
How You Implement:

  • for Strength Gain: 5 sets of 4 reps at very challenging weight
  • for Muscle Growth: 4 sets of 8 reps at challenging weight
  • for Fat Loss & Toning: 4 sets of 12 reps at lighter weight

Overall, the clean and press is an outstanding exercise due to it’s ability to simultaneously increase strength while also providing that feeling of aerobic activity (‘cardio’) disguised in anaerobic activity (the kind of exercise that actually changes the composition of your body).

Squat Press

This is an extremely efficient and effective exercise due to it’s inclusion in two of the best compound exercises out there:  the front squat and the press.  This is a great exercise to blend both the feeling of ‘cardio’ and being winded while also maintaining some semblance of strength training.

Because you can’t generally front squat that much weight, this exercise is a favorite of mine for really targeting the conditioning and the shaping/leaning of your body.

The 411

What’s with the Name?: Uh, nothing.  There isn’t much to it aside from the name of the two exercises combined.  You’ll hear this referred to as a ‘thruster’ in the CrossFit circles due to the thrusting transition of squat to press.
Number of Muscle Groups Worked: 9  (compare this a standard quad extension that works 1 set.)
Really Targets: Just about everything
How You Implement:

  • for Strength Gain: 5 sets of 5 reps at very challenging weight
  • for Muscle Growth: 4 sets of 8 reps at challenging weight
  • for Fat Loss & Toning: 5 sets of 12-15 reps at lighter weight

First half (front squat)

First half (front squat)

Of all three of the exercises profiled, in my opinion the squat press is most geared towards conditioning and leaning.  While it can ABSOLUTELY be tweaked to go heavy and work on pure strength, it’s most realistic to implement this a lighter exercise with higher reps.

Parting Words

While Olympic lifts are incredibly intimidating at first, we have found that once people give them a go for the first time, their guard is down and more times than not they love them in a love/hate sort of way.

Compound lifts are like black coffee.  At first, most people are reluctant to give up their cozy, sweet and easy gingerbread latte style cardio workouts but once you cut through the bullshit and go straight to work works you’ll see just how awesome compound.  Somehow that’s like drinking black coffee.  It worked in my head, okay.

The lifts work.  Amazingly well, in fact.  Every client you see in pictures or videos on this website is trained frequently in those movements.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are a few very important requirements before getting aggressive with them, and we watch our members closely on these categories when they first start.

  • Hip mobility
  • Shoulder mobility
  • Hamstring mobility and strength

We are not so concerned with being able to get completely full range of motion on this to start because frankly, a lot of folks don’t have it yet.  So we keep it relative in that whatever your maximum range of motion or flexibility allows is what we’ll encourage you to start out doing.

You should absolutely be including these lifts in your routine if your goal is any of the following: gain strength, muscle growth, conditioning or fat loss/toning.

At the very minimum you’ll at least look better naked.  And let’s be serious.  Deep down that’s what most are after.


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