6 Compound Movements for Biceps and Triceps

by Carla Henderson

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What’s the difference between compound movements and isolation exercises? We’ll tell you: Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that work more than one muscle group at a time. Isolation movements are the opposite and work only one muscle or muscle group. There are benefits to both! Isolation movements are great when you want to target one specific area of the body and compound exercises help you increase the amount of weight you’re lifting.


The biceps are what first comes to mind when most people think of an upper body workout. As long as you choose multi-joint pulling exercises (think rows) that work the entire biceps muscle, you can say good-bye to isolating dumbbell, cable and barbell curls. Try performing sets of compound pulls, where your hand position mimics traditional curling movements. For instance, use a variety of grips, such as supinated (palms up), neutral (palms facing each other), and even a rotating grip throughout your back workouts.


Because your triceps make up more than half of the musculature of your upper arms, targeting them will certainly help you get the definition you desire. But squeezing out hundreds of rope extensions or kickbacks isn’t going to cut it – you need to work in exercises that hit other areas of the upper body, too, including the key ingredient to buff-looking arms: your shoulders. The great news is that your delts can be developed at the same time as your triceps – if you choose the right compound (read “multi-joint”) pressing exercises.

Replacing Isolation Movements with Compound Movements

Build your arms by doing the following compound exercises for the biceps and triceps. Do them twice per week, eitehr combined into their own training day or tacked on to the end of a back (biceps moves) or chest (triceps moves) day.

Do three sets of 12-15 reps of each exercise, with 90 seconds of rest in between sets.


DO THIS COMPOUND MOVEMENT: TO REPLACE THIS ISOLATION EXERCISE Narrow-Grip Lat Pulldown With Supinated Grip (Palms Facing You) EZ-Bar Preacher Curl Neutral-Grip Seated Cable Row Dumbbell Hammer Curl Single-Arm Rotating Seated Cable Row (Palm moves from facing in to facing up during each rep) Rotating Dumbbell Biceps Curl


DO THIS COMPOUND MOVEMENT: TO REPLACE THIS ISOLATION EXERCISE Bench Dip With Feet Elevated Dumbbell Triceps Kickback Rotating Dumbbell Press on an Incline Bench Cable Rope Extension Barbell Close-Grip Press on an Incline Bench Overhead Dumbell Triceps Extension