Compound Sets

Twice the fun, half the time.

A personal favorite of mine, this method of training allows you to derive the maximum amount of discomfort out of a given time frame. The technique is simple; perform at least two exercises back to back with minimal time in between sets that stress the same muscle groups. An example would be a set of dips immediately succeeded by a set of push ups. Another benefit is that compound sets can be used by novice or experienced lifters simply by adjusting factors such as resistance, tempo of your lifts and time between sets.  My entire workout this morning consisted of all compound sets, while increasing difficulty each set by adjusting resistance and tempo of repetitions. Let's review a few benefits of doing compound sets.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash
  1. Can be easily performed with body weight, free weight, resistancee bands, suspension trainers or machines
  2. Intensity is easy to modify via resistance, tempo and time between sets
  3. Allows for more work to be performed in a shorter amount of time compared to more traditional methods
  4. Allows you to work the same muscle groups from different angles. Pecs and triceps are your prime movers for push ups and dips but are engaged differently during those movements
  5. If done correctly, should leave you feeling exhausted, relieved and thankful that it's over with

Let's dive into some examples of exercises you can use. A favorite of mine for upper body is dips and pulls ups. Perform a set of six dips followed by six push ups. Too easy? slow down the tempo for your reps to 3/1/3. Lower for 3 seconds, hold for 1 at the bottom, then up for 3 seconds. Too hard? try assisted dips and elevated push ups instead. Tempo is a wonderful variable to play with to adjust difficultly, especially if your access to weights is limited. Banging out a set of 10 push ups in 15 seconds isn't too bad, but doing 10 over the span of 1 minute? Bring on the burn. The time between sets can be adjusted as well. You can choose to so straight from one movement to another with as little rest as possible to make it harder, or give yourself a 10 to 15 second breather to make it suck slightly less. Remember, this shouldn't be 'easy' but rather choosing the lesser of two evils.

For upper body pulling motions, I'm a fan of pull ups and inverted rows. Again, the same principals apply about increasing or decreasing intensity. Doing assisted pull ups on a machine or band assisted pull ups are good choices to make them more palatable.

When doing lower body I like to stick with squat variations since they are the easiest to transition between. It's also easy to pair a weighted movement with a bodyweight or plyometric exercise. For example today I did Zercher squats, followed by bodyweight jump squats, then an isometric squat hold for 15 seconds.

Below is the workout I did this morning, notice how each round I modified the weight and/or tempo to increase intensity. Each set of exercises was done with as little rest as possible between sets.

Round 1: 6 reps each of:

Weighted inverted row with feet elevated and 20 lb vest, neutral grip pull ups

Weighted ring dip with 20 lb vest, weighted push ups

Zercher squat 155 lbs, jumps squats, 15 squat iso hold

Round 2: 6 reps of each. Lengthening tempo to increase intensity and weights for lower body.

Weighted inverted row 3/1/3 tempo, neutral grip pull ups

Weighted ring dips, 3/1/3 temp0, weighted push ups

Zercher squat 180 lbs 3/1/3 tempo, jump squats, 15 second iso hold

Round 3: 6 reps of each. Again, tempo and lower body weights have increased.

Weighted inverted row 3/1/3 tempo, pull ups with overhand wide grip

Weighted ring dip 3/1/3 tempo, weighted push ups 3/1/3 tempo

Zercher squat 205 lbs 3/1/3 tempo, jump squats, 15 iso hold

In sum, I was able to complete 6 sets of 6 reps for my upper body movements and 6 sets of 6 reps and 45 seconds of isometric holds for lower body, with progressively higher loads each round, all in about 15 minutes, not including warming up and cooling down.

Below are some examples of movements to choose from when performing compound sets.

Upper Body Push

Dips, push ups, chest press, overhead press, chest flies, triceps extension are all great options to start with. Today I used weighted ring dips and push ups as mine.

Upper Body Pull

Pull ups, inverted rows, seated rows, lat pulldowns, biceps curls, reverse fly.


Back/front/goblet/Zercher squats, isometric squat hold, any lunge variation, box/broad jumps, jump squats  


Deadlift, kettlebell swings, hip thrusts