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 in a short amount of time. 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.

The workout below has a variety of compound moves, exercises that are designed to involve multiple muscles and joint actions. Each compound exercise targets one or more upper body muscle groups.


See your doctor if you have any injuries or medical conditions. Skip any exercises that cause pain or discomfort.

Equipment Needed

Various weighted dumbbells

How To

  • Warm up with 5 minutes of light cardio or do this workout after your usual cardio routine. Just make sure the muscles are warm.
  • 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.
  • Do this workout 1-3 times a week with a day of rest in between.  
  • Beginners: Perform 1 set of 12-16 repetitions
  • Intermediate/Advanced: 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions 

Compound Bicep Curl and Overhead Press

woman doing upper body working in gym with dumbbells
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This timesaver move works both the biceps as well as 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 for 12-16 reps.

Compound Concentration Curl and Kickback

This compound exercise targets both the biceps as well as 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. Repeat for 12-16 reps and then switch sides.

Compound 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 for 12-16 reps. 

Compound Dumbbell Pullover and Tricep Extension

With this move, you're targeting the back with a pullover and then turning that right 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 for 12-16 reps.

Compound Dumbbell Row and Straight Arm Raise

Continuing with the back, this exercise combines a dumbbell row for the lats along with a straight arm raise, which works the triceps as well as 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 and, this time, keep the arm straight and lift it straight up until it's level with the torso.
  4. Lower and repeat the series for 12-16 reps. 

Compound Pushup and Tricep Pushup

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

  1. Get into a pushup 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 pushup.
  3. Push back to start and now reposition hands so that they're closer together on either side of the ribcage. 
  4. Lower into a pushup, this time concentrating on using the triceps muscles. If you started on your toes for the regular pushup, you may need to go to your knees for the triceps pushup.
  5. Repeat for 12-16 reps.

Compound Deadlift and Clean and Press

Your last exercise will target 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 for 12-16 reps.
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