Articles » Exercise » Strength Training » What Is The Best Combination Exercise?

What Is The Best Combination Exercise?

By Marc Perry / August 2, 2017

If you’ve ever skipped a workout or trip to the gym because you told yourself you just didn’t have enough time, these combination exercises might be just what you need to tighten up your workout time! Combination exercises involve more than one joint and muscle group, which makes them a great choice for effectively utilizing more muscles in less time.

There is a diverse set of combination exercises, and depending on what your workout focuses on, obviously you would want to pick different exercises for specific muscle groups. But since combinations allow you to work more of them, therefore also burning more calories, choosing the best exercises gives you an even more efficient routine.

We’ve had our exercise experts explain what their favorite combination exercise is, and why it is such an effective choice. Give them a try and see if you find it makes a difference!

Best Combination Exercise #1 | DB Lunge With Shoulder Press

A great combination exercise is a dumbbell stationary lunge with an overhead shoulder press. Set your lunge stance, holding your dumbbells down by your sides. Lunge down, then as you stand back up curl the dumbbells and press them overhead. As you lunge down again, reverse the movement and bring the dumbbells back down by your sides. Complete 5-8 reps on each leg.

Combination exercises challenge multiple muscles in a single exercise, increasing their efficacy and intensity. They fuse together upper and lower body movements, increasing your total body control and integration, and making you stronger overall. Because you’re working more muscles in a given movement, you end up burning more calories in less time.

Kristin Rooke, CPT

Best Combination Exercise #2 | DB Clean and Press

I already listed the DB Clean and Press as the best exercise to lose weight, which is also a combination movement. Some others to consider are reverse wood chop using the cable machine, which combines a rotation, squat, and a pull, T-push ups, which combine rotation and pushing, and a DB stiff legged deadlift with an upright row. On a cable machine, you can get creative and create many different combination exercises and movements. Generally, I prefer circuits of exercises rather than choosing several combination exercises, but that’s me. I find I can lift harder and heavier using circuits, so I stay strong without sacrificing my overall conditioning.

Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT

Best Combination Exercise #3 | Shoulder Press To Reverse Lunge

I like the step-up with a shoulder press into a reverse lunge. This exercise is accessible to a large number of people, helps to work on one side at a time and works a lot of musculature throughout the whole body. In addition to that, since you are working one leg at a time, this allows you to increase total volume of the movement (or weight x reps).

This happens since more than ½ your weight is being worked when doing a lunge and your whole body weight is used during the step up portion. In other words, you use more weight, for more reps with this movement, while preventing neural fatigue (for example, the clean and press can be more taxing to the body) than with almost any other combination exercise. Combination exercises burn calories so efficiently because they work so much musculature in one exercise.

John Leyva, CSCS, CPT

Best Combination Exercise #4 | Barbell Front Squat & Press

I would have to say the best (aka, the most difficult) combination exercise I have ever done would be a barbell front squat to overhead press using a tabata protocol. For those of you who aren’t familiar with tabata it is a 4 minute interval circuit made up of 20 second work and 10 second rest intervals. These are difficult enough but when you add a moderately heavy weight into the equation, be prepared to be peeled off the floor.

Why is this so difficult? Every muscle in your body is working hard at a very rapid rate with little to no rest. You are working all of your biggest muscle groups for each move, which makes this a huge time saver when you don’t have a ton of time to spend in the gym. Trust me and give it a try!

Stephen Bergeron, CSCS, CPT

Best Combination Exercise #5 | Burpee Variations

With all exercise, calories are burned in proportion to the amount of work done. Since most combination exercises (super-sets, burpees, etc.) entail doing more work, they burn more calories. Thus, combination exercises are a great time saver and there are some speculated benefits that can be achieved by working multiple muscle groups either simultaneously or in close succession: the greater overall tax on the body is matched by a greater overall response in terms of improvements in strength, speed, and coordination.

My favorite combination exercises are burpee variations. To do a burpee is simple: from a standing position, put your hands on the ground in front of your feet, then jump your feet all the way back like you’re in the top half of a push-up, then jump your feet back up to your hands and jump as high in the air as possible. To spice it up a bit, do an actual push-up from the bottom position; or when you jump, grab a pull-up bar and do an actual pull-up. Burpees can be extremely tiring and impose a great deal of fatigue to the central nervous system, so plan accordingly (e.g., don’t do burpees prior to kettlebell swings).

William Lagakos, Ph.D.

We hope you find some new exercises to try from these combinations to give your muscles a great workout!


  • Tarek says:

    Hey Marc,

    It's Tarek (from Portledge). Just wanted to let you know I was looking over some of your articles to help me start working out. Your site looks great. Keep up the good work.


  • Steve Brown says:

    Some great excercises to try out, thanks!

    I've recently been doing supersets of 6 combination exercises that all share the same secondary muscle (primary varies to include total body). Is there any negatives to using combination exercises like this 3-4x/week? If not, what would be a good way to progress them (other than +weight/reps)?

    Thanks again!

  • Will Fleischer says:

    These combos are a butt buster for sure!! Thanks for sharing your insight :) I read these articles every day and they have helped immensely!!

  • Rosemary says:

    Hi mark, I've been following your blogs for some time now, with great interest, I want to ask you a quick question, I've been a strong swimmer for many years(2000metres front crawl x 4 weekly ). But my weight has been gradually increasing, so I've decided to switch to using kettlebells, I'm using quite heavy weights of 12, 14, 16, and 18 kg bells, I'm swinging, high pulls, clean &press, 1hand swings etc, using HIIT for 25 sets of 60 second work, 30sec rest, it's very tough, but my weight and size dosnt appear to be changing, I do this x 5 per week.
    PLUS walking my dogs each day, I'm definitely stronger and getting muscle definition, but I still can't fasten my jeans!! My diet is good, raw veg, protein, few carbs, I still eat auger but have cut down, I'm also replacing 3 meals a week with whey protein powder shakes,
    Any tips would be great? Also are kettlebells better than swimming for weight loss? Many thanks Rosemary

  • Boon says:

    @Marc, I favor your view. I also experienced higher exertion using combo moves like Dr. Lagakos wrote.

  • dev says:

    running is the best option to remove belly fat..!!!

  • Alexander says:

    Hi Marc!
    I am working on gaining sum muscles yet I want to get rid of some extra weight. Should I do cardio at the same training, after weights, or it would be better to do it on separate days?


    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Hey Alexander, I apologize for the late reply! If you are working on gaining muscle, I would recommend going light on the cardio, or doing HIIT on a separate day, or at the end of your strength training workout, but keeping it very brief. So during a muscle building program you could consider doing a couple short hiit workouts per week to stay in good cardiovascular shape, which will help your strength workout as well.