Upper Body Compound Exercise Workout for Busy Schedules

We all struggle to fit exercise into a busy schedule, but there are ways to make the most out of the time you have. It's nice if you have an hour or more to exercise but if you don't, you can't still get an efficient, effective workout. The key is to work more muscles at the same time, which increases the intensity, allowing you to get more done.

One of the best ways to do that is to do more compound exercises. These moves take two or more different exercises and put them together so that you're doing more in less time. This workout below includes a variety of compound exercises that are designed to involve multiple muscles and joint actions. Each compound exercise targets one or more upper body muscle groups. You will need a set of weighted dumbbells.

How To

First, see your doctor if you have any injuries or medical conditions. Skip any exercises that cause pain or discomfort. Do this workout one to three times a week, with a day of rest in between.  

Warm Up

Start with 5 minutes of light cardio or do this workout after your usual cardio routine. Just make sure the muscles are warm.

Choose Weights

Perform each exercise as suggested, taking your time and doing each move with slow and controlled movements. Choose a weight heavy enough that you can only complete the desired number of reps. The last rep should be difficult, but not impossible. Because you're working more than one muscle group, you may have to experiment with the weight you're using.

  • Beginners: Do 1 set of 12 to 16 repetitions of each exercise.
  • Intermediate/Advanced: Do 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.

Bicep Curl and Overhead Press

Woman doing overhead dumbbell press during fitness class in gym
Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

This move works both the biceps and the shoulders in one smooth exercise.

  1. Stand with feet about hip-width apart and hold weights in front of the thighs, palms facing out.
  2. Start by curling the weights towards the shoulders, targeting the biceps.
  3. At the top of the movement, turn the palms out and raise the arms so that they look like goal posts.
  4. Press the weights overhead, targeting the shoulders.
  5. Lower and repeat.

Concentration Curl and Kickback

This compound exercise targets the biceps and the triceps.

  1. Hold weights in both hands and sit on a chair.
  2. Lean forward with the back straight and prop the right elbow against the right inner thigh, weight hanging down towards the floor. 
  3. At the same time, bend the left elbow and bring the weight up towards the waist. This is your starting position.
  4. From this position, simultaneously bend the right arm into a concentration curl and straighten the left arm in a kickback.
  5. Do one set (8 to 16 reps) and then switch sides.

Chest Press and Close-Grip Press

For this exercise, you'll focus on the chest and then reposition the weights to target the triceps.

  1. Lie on a step or bench and hold weights straight up over the chest.
  2. Bend the elbows and lower them to torso level, targeting the chest. Press the weights back up over the chest.
  3. This time as you lower the weights, reposition the arms so that elbows are next to the torso and palms face each other. The weights should be on either side of the ribcage.
  4. Contract the triceps and push weights straight up, keeping them positioned over the ribcage. Lower back down, reposition the arms for the chest press and repeat. 

Dumbbell Pullover and Tricep Extension

With this move, you're targeting the back with a pullover and then turning that into an extension that will work the triceps.

  1. Lie down on a bench or step and hold a heavy weight in both hands straight up over the chest.
  2. Keeping the elbows slightly bent, slowly lower the weight straight back, only lowering as far as your flexibility allows.
  3. Squeeze the back to pull the weight back to start.
  4. From this position, bend the elbows and lower the weight to 90 degrees in a triceps extension.
  5. Straighten the arms and repeat.

Dumbbell Row and Straight Arm Raise

Continuing with the back, this exercise combines a dumbbell row for the lats with a straight arm raise, which works the triceps and the back of the shoulders.

  1. Holding a weight in the right hand, hinge from the hips, keeping the back flat, until the torso is parallel to the floor.
  2. Bend the elbow and contract the lat muscles to pull elbow up towards ribcage.
  3. Lower the weight to the starting position. Then with a straight arm lift the weight backward until it is level with your hip.
  4. Lower and repeat the series. 

Push-Up and Tricep Push-Up

Putting together a regular push-up and triceps push-up targets all the muscles of the chest as well as the shoulders and triceps.

  1. Get into a push-up position on the hands and the knees (easier) or toes (harder). Make sure the hands are wider than the shoulders.
  2. Bend the elbows and lower into a push-up.
  3. Push back to start, then reposition hands so that they're closer together on either side of the ribcage. 
  4. Lower into a push-up, this time concentrating on using the triceps muscles. If you started on your toes for the regular push-up, you may need to go to your knees for the triceps push-up.
  5. Repeat.

Deadlift and Clean and Press

The last exercise targets the muscles in the back, glutes, and hamstrings as well as the shoulders.

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, weights in front of thighs.
  2. Keeping the knees slightly bent, hinge from the hips and lower weights towards the floor.
  3. For the clean and press, come back up and, as you stand, bend the elbows, bringing them up to shoulder level in an upright row.
  4. Taking your time, flip the arms so that palms face forward with your arms like goal posts.
  5. Press arms up into an overhead press.
  6. Lower and repeat.
1 Source
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Paoli A, Gentil P, Moro T, Marcolin G, Bianco A. Resistance training with single vs. multi-joint exercises at equal total load volume: Effects on body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness, and muscle strength. Front Physiol. 2017;8:1105. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.01105

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."